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.