Dear Heavenly Father,
Thank you for being all powerful and all knowing. I am glad your ways are higher than my ways. Lord I ask for a blessing over my hands, my heart and my mind as I begin to write this post. Lord I ask that it be your words and not mine. We both know that void of you this is impossible. So Lord I thank you for your wisdom and words that you will pour out of me. Lord let this post touch someone today. Let it bring one of your sons or daughters closer to you.
In Jesus name, Amen.
A list. Simple as that. What could possibly be so special about a list?
A dear friend of mine, we will just call her T so as not to thrust her into stardom, had spoken to me about an author named Ann Voskamp for over a year. She told me about a book called 1,000 Gifts and I am sure there was more to the conversations each time she brought it up but I honestly can’t remember more than that. I can see now that God was putting this author’s name and title of her book on my mental bookshelf to read later.
Later came in January. The weekend before I started reading the book a beautiful blonde haired, spirited girl in my 5th period class suddenly passed away. The week after it happened was extremely difficult for the district and even more so for the students who walked the halls with her everyday since kindergarten. Starring at their bewildered faces in the days that followed was excruciating. I had no answer for their questions of why.
On my drive to work that Tuesday, as I was praying, God put an exercise of thanksgiving on my heart. I went to school that day and explained to my students that for the rest of the school year we were going to focus on joy, gratitude and happiness. That day and each day since the students write down one thing that brings them joy. The darkness of loss can swallow even the happiest of people if allowed and I knew my kids needed to focus on the light rather than the darkness.
That same week for whatever reason I started reading Ann Voskamp’s 1,000 Gifts. Maybe it was to escape a little from the grief that threatened to swallowed us all. Within the first two chapters I was quickly thrust back into reality with the retelling of Voskamp’s personal tragedy. The heartache I felt as I read threatened to stop me from finishing the book. I still can’t really say why I kept reading but I believe it was hope. I held out hope for Voskamp that somehow she managed to make it through that tunnel of grief and that she was telling her story from the other side. You see I’ve been through that tunnel before and it is one of scariest places I’ve ever been. I know what it takes to get to the other side and it is not easily done. It is dark and it threatens to close in around you making you feel at times like you can’t breath. It’s also one of the loneliest places I’ve ever been. You can not travel through the tunnel with anyone else, no one can that’s just how it works. You must travel alone and that for me was the worst part of it all. So I continued to read because I was curious and hopeful that Voskamp had made it.
My curiosity of how Ann Voskamp would make it through the tunnel quickly turned into intrigue as I learned about the list. Somewhere along Voskamp’s journey she was challenged to write a list. A list of 1,000 gifts from God. As I read I thought about what gifts from God look like and how we tend to focus on God’s gifts as situations, circumstances and people that make our lives easy and enjoyable. But anyone reading this knows that as we love when life is easy and simple it is also not the reality of life. Life is messy, sad at times, scary in the dark places and exhausting. So how do we express gratefulness to God in those times when we don’t have the answers of “why”?
As the chapters unfolded she shared her list with her readers. The list was interesting to me. Simple things were on it, nothing fancy to the average person. It seemed as though she was a making simple observations of her surroundings and writing them down. And then came the part where I wanted to take the challenge. She said the list made her happy, it brought her joy. Now I was curious if the list would make me feel the same. So I began
- Books on audio
- warm socks
- God’s word
- the sound of children in my house
- my name sake
- That my mom prayed for my name & God answered
The list I learned was the practice of eucaristeo. Eucaristeo is a greek word which is defined as “to be grateful, feel thankful, give thanks”. But what I love about this word more than anything is that it is a verb, meaning something you do. Meaning that I don’t just feel grateful or thankful but I AM thankful by giving thanks. Eucaristeo is active, it is a posture to hold not merely a feeling. Sometimes this translates to giving thanks for things I do not understand through gritted teeth.
As I continued my list I began to feel joy in looking for more things to add to my list daily. I remember sitting at a stop light on a gray, cloudy day looking up at an old church standing boldly on the corner and thanking God for the old wood doors that have welcomed so many searching and broken people throughout the years. Prior to listing God’s gifts I am not sure I would have even noticed the doors of that old church. Well I might have because I have a thing for doors of any shape or size but I’m not sure I would have thanked God for what those doors represented: a welcome, a come on in and be one of us, a we are all broken and messy and doing this together, a you are wanted here. I was becoming intentional about giving thanks in all things.
We all give thanks from time to time but to give thanks continually and consistently was now my focus through this list. So how do we give thanks continually when we are wading through grief and loss. I don’t claim to have the answers for that but I do know that as we continue to move on we continue to give thanks to God even through broken hearts and tears. There was a time when I had to focus on the 16 years I enjoyed my father’s laughter and conversations instead of being consumed with the pain that he’d never watch me walk across the stage for graduation or hold one of his grandchildren. So I gave thanks for what I knew was a blessing. I gave thanks for a life lived. I gave thanks for a girl who made so many others laugh and smile. I gave thanks for the reminder that life is precious and delicate and should be cherished. These are the ways in which I actively give thanks.
No one, not Ann Voskamp, a grieving family or myself, like pain, suffering or loss. But in that pain and loss we have a choice, look for the light in the darkness or let the darkness swallow us up. So I chose light. I chose to actively thank God for all the ways in which He chooses to remind me that He loves me, that He is here even in the pain and suffering and that in His omnipotence He has a plan for my life even when that life is messy, scary and sad. As I write this I am reminded of what Jeremiah the prophet was told to say to God’s people, “This is what the Lord says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future”(Jeremiah 29:10-11, NIV). The plan for God’s people was not without turmoil, long suffering, death or hardship but through all that God was saying that inspite of what they saw or felt that He had a plan and that they must remain faithful. Faith in God has to be more that what we feel or see. We are reminded by Paul the Apostle to “rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, NIV).
So I continue the practice of thanksgiving, of eucharisteo. I fix my eyes upon my Savior and all that He did on the cross.
I thank Him for the happiness of marriage, children, and family. I thank Him for the little blessings no matter how small or insignificant they may seem to the world. I also thank Him for the pain when it is hard to say thank you. I thank Him as he refines me with affliction. I thank Him when I have to learn my lessons the hard way. Why? Because He loves me enough to teach me. He has not given up on me or my constant sin and forgetfulness of His blessings. And it all comes down to faith. Do I believe He is who He says He is? Do I believe His promise that He will never leave me or forsake me? Do I believe that the good works He started in me He will finish? Do I believe that He loved me enough to send His only son to die for me, not the Mother Teresa’s of the world but me!? And if I do then His grace is enough; It is sufficient. It is sufficient in want or in plenty.
So my list continues.
Challenge: Start a list! I challenge you to write a list of 1,000 gifts from God. Start today! Grab a notebook and begin. I also challenge you to pick up Ann Voskamp’s 1,000 Gifts and read it for yourself!
Tip: I use a small notebook that I can keep in my purse so that when I feel the need to write my notebook is right there with me. I bought mine at Hallmark.