This year has been a journey of gratitude. Some might call it my theme, my focus. At times I tried to escape but I found that no matter what I read in the Bible or sermons I heard or even conversations I had with friends, led me back to grappling with this concept.What is thanksgiving? What does it truly mean for the Christian? For Americans? For me?
On January 30, 2011, I officially started numbering gifts. A dear friend delivered a book to me tied in pale blue ribbon. That gift, written by a woman in Canada whose life seemed such a stark contrast to my own, was actually a glimmer of light that would help me see. Ann Voskamp writes about her gratitude journey and her journey has ushered me down an unexpected path of redemption in my own thoughts and heart.
These six months of counting I have been learning to adjust my lens. God has been training me to open the eyes of my heart. Whereas before I might have followed my human instinct to complain, put on a hat of cynism – even a robe of jealousy – now there are new grooves of habit prompting me to pray and see each moment as a gift.
To be thankful in all things seems too simple – downright trite – but what I discovered is how deeply the wound cuts when I am nailing down gifts. In fact, the more I counted the hard gifts among my blessings, the more I understood that the nail hammered into flesh meets grace on the other side.
I look back over the last six months of my life, this gift list, and I know God has challenged me to dig deep. I know He has asked me to come face to face with some of my biggest fears and insecurities. I cannot hold on to these and be truly thankful at the same time.
It’s definitely been a heart-journey.
I love the word “journey” because it implies movement, something ongoing. I know I have not arrived at a destination now that I have this list of 1,000 gifts before me. It has been more about the journey to get here. I am moving forward gift by gift, step by step.
Some days it’s easy to count gifts. They abound in every corner:
43. a stack of books to read my girls
64. an afternoon walk in the sunshine
90. the magic of chocolate-dipped strawberries
124. a community meal with a treasured circle of friends
Other days I have to work to see the gifts. I read Ann’s words and make them my mantra: “Wrestle with God, beg to see the blessings…and all the faces become the face of God” (One Thousand Gifts, p. 138). I have adjusted my lens, my attitude, to record the blessing-moments:
103. stroking my daughter’s hair as she surrenders from tantrum to grace-sleep
147. shelf full of discounted organic produce when I only have $15 for this week’s groceries
356. a roof over our heads, albeit leaky
415. a positive pregnancy test and the assurance that nothing is a surprise to my God
448. for Leo Ford, a kind MediCal case worker who finally helped me through the hoops and paper trail after 6 hours of waiting
This journey to hunt down gifts has taught me to stop clinging to my plans, my American conveniences, my security, my sense of safety and health. This journey has taught me to trust my Maker and to swallow down even the “hard eucharisteo,” the trials of life, the I’m-too-weak-to-endure moments.
This journey has also nudged me to celebrate the minute details, the sometimes-mundane routine, the quiet. Ann writes, “There is a way to live the big of giving thanks in all things. It is this: to give thanks in this one small thing. The moments will add up” (One Thousand Gifts, p. 57)
I am at once grateful for:
285. the sunset pooling color on earthy fields
504. my girls singing their hearts out in the shower
845. ice-cold water on a dripping-in-all-crevices hot day
880. new-baby-wings fluttering in my belly
And soon my list has reached one thousand.
My love takes my hand with some urgency. We must reach our destination. This morning we piled the kids and my parents and a few Haitian friends into our pick-up truck for a family day away. We drive four hours from our Haitian mission house in Pignon to this place: Haiti’s Citadel constructed in the 1800s by the bare-hands, sweat and blood of Haitian slaves. Today, the people stand free.
We hike one last steep mile up to the top of this fortress. Ericlee and I have been here before. Yet we see this place, this country, this blue sky-with-rainstorm-impending with such different eyes. God has journeyed with us from the top of a mountain in Yosemite, California where we whispered our vows eight Aprils ago back to this mountain-fortress in the heart of Haiti where it all started.
Nine years ago, Ericlee bent on one knee and asked me to marry him. He presented a ring. I was so shocked that this was the God-plan; I thought it was a joke. Too good to be true. Too amazing and scary and beautiful in one moment. I whispered yes to a life of many unknowns.
1000. Standing at the top of the Citadel with my love, 2 girls & baby in belly, marking the spot 9 years ago where my love proposed
“Counting His graces makes all moments into one holy kiss of communion and communion comes in the common. He will break bread and I will take and the world is His feast! And He is love! And nothing will keep my hand from filling His,” she writes (p. 221).
To me, this one-thousandth gift is a scene. It’s a place. It’s a kind of mountain-top glow I feel when I look back and survey a journey. It is, indeed, a gift.