For the month of February I made a secret vow to give thanks. Sounds simple. Maybe even trite. Really this was a challenge of sorts to move beyond my natural self so frequently frustrated with the mundane, complaining about timing and questioning my calling.
Four weeks ago my dear friend gave me a book. She tied it with a blue ribbon. One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp. This truly was an unexpected gift.
Ann’s writing was not entirely new to me. I have been reading her blog, A Holy Experience, since the beginning of December when I discovered her free Jesse Tree Advent calendar. I was captured by her poetic prose and her deep-seeded conviction to thank God in all circumstances.
Why February? Why now? Isn’t November the month for Thanksgiving, and sharing thankful things around the table, and feeling sentimental about the abundance we have?
After reading the first chapter of One Thousand Gifts tears bubbled up and I knew this was exactly what I needed for this season of life. Maybe even for the rest of my life.
Right now I’m in this season of waiting. God continues to prepare our family for a move to Haiti to serve with Christian Friendship Ministries. We cram Haitian Kreyol language lessons. We anticipate what life will be like in the developing world. We daydream about living the need with the people, the children of Haiti. Some days I feel like I’m in a holding pattern: existing here in Fresno and trying to prepare my heart and family for life in such a different place.
In One Thousand Gifts, Ann uses the original Greek word “eucharisteo” from the Bible to light her path to healing, to teach her language lesson. The word eucharisteo means “thanksgiving.” This word knits together two other Greek words: Charis = grace and Chara = joy.
“Eucharisteo – thanksgiving – always precedes the miracle,” writes Ann.
These words, this thesis, this enlightenment-made-mantra now penetrates me daily. I can’t stop thinking about it, seeing it everywhere in the Bible, experiencing it in my footsteps.
Jesus thanks God before he turns five loaves and two fish into a feast for thousands.Twelve baskets of leftovers sing of the miracle.
Then there’s Daniel who has a practice, a discipline of waking each morning, kneeling and thanking God (Daniel 6:10). That’s the same Daniel who was sentenced to the lion’s den. And there thanksgiving preceded the miracle when the man became a miracle untouched by lion’s teeth.
This February I challenged myself, like Ann, to write it all down. Each day I write the gifts in a journal, post a few on Facebook, text some to my dearest friends who walk this journey with me. I am counting the gifts – maybe one thousand, maybe more. Very few of them are wrapped in fancy paper or even tied with a simple blue ribbon. These gifts are eucharisteo – teaching me to give thanks to my Maker for every moment.
#1. Slipper socks to warm my toes on hardwood floors.
#14. Singing my girls to sleep with the same song-spirituals my mama sang to me.
#50. Kiss on the collarbone.
#86. Lemon curd on lemony scones.
I keep counting. A few here. A few there.
Believe me, it hasn’t always been easy. There was plenty of hard thanksgiving this month. Contrary to popular belief we are not all shiny, happy Gilmores every day in our house. This mama is annoyed by urine-stained sheets, exasperated by the 187th reminder to stop wiping sticky fingers on the cushions, sick of the Pantry Challenge and tired of folding mountains of laundry. And that’s sweating the small stuff.
The discipline of giving thanks is marathon-training-hard when my sister’s divorce drags on or a friend’s wife and mother of three lives brain-damaged and paralyzed from the neck down. It’s hard to see through to the light when your kid’s fever rages wild or your uncle has a heart attack.
Thanksgiving is tough when our house has been on the market six long months and we’re still paying the fat mortgage. I am humbled when I walk into the W.I.C. office for my monthly checks to get a share of “healthy” food for my kids. In fact, I’m downright ungrateful sometimes when I look at the bills and the numbers and my husband’s small paycheck and it just doesn’t add up . We argue. That place between my shoulder blades pulls tight as I stress. I cry out to God asking Him, Am I doing something wrong? Isn’t this your calling on my life? Didn’t you want me to go to Haiti? Why does it have to take so long? Why do I have to wait? Why does it have to be so grinding-teeth, nails-on-the-chalkboard hard?
Then I scrawl gift #100. Four-year-old’s persistent prayers for our house to sell.
She never forgets. Every time she prays. She expects the miracle. Not only that but she prays for the orphans in Haiti. The ones “who don’t have a mama or a Daddy to sing to them at night.” She prays for the people to get over “this cholera.” I weep because I’m so thankful for her. I’m learning again from her childlike faith.
Time to stop feeling sorry for myself, whining about the manna God’s provided. No, I’m not just programming my brain to think good thoughts. I don’t want it to be mindless, but rather mind-full.
Time to breathe in and breathe out thanksgiving again.
#108. Little girls praise-dancing like Miriam with her tambourine.
#109. A hot shower at the turn of a faucet .
#110. Mountain majesty sunrise.
#113. The promise of a tax return big enough to pay next month’s mortgage.
#115. Belly laughs.
#117. Baby-girl stitching together words into first sentences.
#121. Rain pouring over thirsty earth.
I’m getting the hang of it. Slowly, but surely…
#123. Stroking my daughter’s hair as she surrenders from tantrum to grace-sleep.
#124. Community meal shared with a circle of treasured family-friends.
#137. Corridor of snow-heavy pines welcoming us.
#140. Organist playing our theme song: “Strength will Rise When you Wait Upon the Lord”
#152. Chocolate-dipped strawberry
#153. Sounds of daddy teaching his big girl math.
#159. Sinking into sheets touching sleep.
I’m turning off Facebook and getting addicted to a new game called Thanksgiving. Before long, the month is ending. I’m jotting down gift number two hundred representing two thousand more.
#200. Green hope-leaves pushing up from hard earth in my neglected garden boxes.
I’m believing thanksgiving always precedes the miracle.
Monday, February 28, 2011
Monday, February 21, 2011
This weekend we piled in the car and headed for the snow. We didn't go to the usual "snow spots" frequented by Fresnans like Shaver Lake or Sequoia National Park. Instead we drove north to Pollock Pines to visit our friends Doug and Brenda Round and their sweet girls, Jayna and Liana. A corridor of snow-heavy pines welcomed us to their neighborhood when we arrived. We had to stop by the side of the road to put on chains to go through the two-feet-plus of snow. That took more than two hours but Doug came and rescued us and the girls hung out while the daddies figured it out.
Doug and Brenda have a beautiful new home with a breathtaking view of the Sierra Nevada mountains. These cute two-year-olds were cautious but had a real blast in the snow. The Rounds' balcony in itself is a playground and the kids could jump over the balcony and be right on the sled run. Giada wasn't too keen on one too-fast-and-wild trip down the sled hill with mama. After that she preferred to watch and crack herself up by licking the snow. Mama and Daddy got quite the workout carrying our potty-training little one up and down the hill to take off all those wonderful layers of snow clothes and "try" to go to the bathroom. Fun. Fun.
When they weren't outside in the mountains of snow, Meilani and Liana were inside creating a world of dress-up and imagination all their own. They spent hours in the Rounds' playroom. This afforded us parents some great time for talking, catching up by the fire, knitting and even journaling. It truly was a winter retreat.
Saturday we headed south to Escalon where our friends Jen and Dave VanderMeulen live. They spoiled us with a fabulous dinner. Surprisingly, we enjoyed lots of quality adult talking time (and even a played a new game - Blockus) while the Meilani and Giada played, read, danced and even splashed in the tub with Ella and Delia.
Talk about a girls' sleepover weekend!
On Sunday morning, we walked to the Christian Reformed church with the VanderMeulens where Dave is a pastor. We were blessed to see some of the friends we read about on their blog and meet some of the generous people that gave toward our marathon fundraiser in the fall. As we exited the church for the fellowship hall, the organist was playing "Strength Will Rise When you Wait Upon the Lord" in a bouncy rhythm. I had to smile because this song has truly become our "theme song" the last few months. Wherever I go, I hear it playing on the radio, at church, on my iPhone or Meilani belting it out in the backseat of the car.
After church we went back to Jen and Dave's place for already-prepared-and-waiting Wild Rice Soup and warm bread. Yummy! Of course, we couldn't stay put in one place for long. The VanderMeulens brought us on an adventure to a local Gouda Cheese farm where they also have goats and llamas to pet and feed.
These little Dutch girls (well, and one Dutch girl by association) posed by the cheese displays. We were gifted a fabulous wheel of Basil Gouda cheese. You better believe I'm going to be creating some fun new recipes with that baby!
After the Gouda Cheese Factory, we headed to a favorite park in Oakdale. This "old school" park was complete with all kinds of mazes built out of actual wood and creative places for the kids to play. We concluded our time together chasing up the stairs, slipping down the slides and talking about some of the struggles of parenting and seeking God's calling on our life.
On our journey home we stopped for dinner with Jim & Dawn Madsen in Turlock. They set their table for a build-your-own stir fry meal full of veggies, rice and teriyaki chicken - and even tea in special tea cups. Four girls played and sipped tea and cuzzled with the cat. Jim was actually Ericlee's youth leader at EvFree Church in Fresno. Dawn helped out with lots of homeschool tips for us when we go to Haiti. We enjoyed a few hours of time to trace God's provision and fingerprints on our families' lives these past few years.
During this hard season of waiting on a lot of things, God has been teaching our family to be thankful and live in the moment. We are so thankful for the hospitality of these life-long friends. They nourished our souls this weekend.
Sunday, February 13, 2011
On Sunday evening we hosted a Goodnight Moon birthday party for our sweet Giada. We decided to have a "pajama party" with some of our preschool friends complete with breakfast for dinner. I had a lot of fun searching through Margarent Wise Brown's famous children's book for theme ideas. Our "mush" and heart-shaped waffles could be decorated with assorted fun toppings. Goodnight food.
As our guests entered the party, we had them pose in some bright yellow picture frames like in the book. Goodnight Nama.
Corban got the funny-face award.
Daddy Ericlee said the blessing for our birthday girl before we dug into an evening of fun.
Gigi chowed down with her friends, including Caleb Fenton. Poor guy was way past his bedtime but he stuck it out for the party. Goodnight Caleb. Goodnight Friends.
Giada delighted in waffles with chocolate syrup, Nana's carrot cake, bunny-shaped fruit snacks and cereal. After breakfast/dinner, we read Goodnight Moon with all the kids and then went on a treasure hunt to find all the things in the book, which were hidden around our Great Front Room.
Tuesday, February 01, 2011
Part of our journey to Haiti has been downsizing our possessions and putting our Fresno home up on the market. At this point, our plans are to go to Haiti for a one-year commitment. Many people ask why we would sell our beautiful home when the market is so horrible. We certainly have asked ourselves this tough question on many occasions. We continue to believe that God wants us to downsize what we have and go serve without major debts or worries hanging over our heads. Even if we come back to Fresno, we would hope to find something smaller.
These words from Francis Chan's book CRAZY LOVE ring in my ears: "Are you willing to say to God that He can have whatever He wants? Do you believe that wholehearted commitment to Him is more than any other thing or person in your life? Do you know that nothing you do in this life will ever matter, unless it is about loving God and loving the people He made?" (p. 97) Some might say these are harsh words. They cut right to the core. For the Gilmore family, it meant saying we are willing to give up our home. Maybe that's not what God wants other people to do but we heard that message loud and clear. We know if we spend less time spinning our wheels to pay for a house this big that we would have more time and perhaps more resources to share with others. We're moving forward until we hear otherwise.