Friday, May 31, 2013
Recently, within a week of each other, two friends randomly suggested to me that I read Ann Voskamp's "One Thousand Gifts." I had the experience of reading the inspirational photography book based on her bestseller last year when I bought it for my second mother in law to encourage her through a difficult time she was having. I gave her a journal and challenged her to record a thousand things she is thankful for, offering that we could do it together when she was ready. I never heard from her about it. Now, with this challenge on my plate from two friends in my own life, I thought it was time to stop waiting around and do something for myself for a change.
I started reading the book and immediately was inspired to begin my list. One of the things I have come to realize is that a lot of the "luxuries" I thought were making my life easier were in fact inhibiting my ability to notice some of the gifts and blessings in my life, rendering me unable to acknowledge and then be thankful for them. For instance, we finally got a new dishwasher. After spending much of 2012 and the first few months of 2013 without one, my husband decided it was time to get one. At the time, I was a little nervous. I had enjoyed my time washing dishes by hand and with my daughter's on again/off again ailments, she had not had to do so much and the task fell mostly upon my shoulders. I painted a piece of wood to put above the sink with St. Teresa's quote: "God walks among the pots and pans" to remind me of the fact that in all things, especially chores of the home, I could find Him, find solace and strength and the means to draw closer to Him. It was a huge blessing to do this in the unhurried nature of washing a sinkful of dishes. On the other hand, though, I was sort of tired of doing the dishes. I almost longed for the old days when it took just a few minutes to load the dishwasher and then there would be nothing left on my counter, not even the clean dishes left to dry as before.
But, over the last few months that things have been difficult, and even more-so as I began my list, I realized that I really have missed the blessing of washing dishes by hand. Yes, it's also a blessing to have a dishwasher. But the blessing of spending some time, my hands soaking in hot soapy water, thinking about the gift of the meal we ate together as a family, the semi-quiet spent in prayer as I said a Divine Mercy Chaplet or just spoke to God in random utterings, burns deep and ignites the soul. You don't get that as easily or as long when all you have to do is rinse and load a dishwasher. The nature of doing it that way seems to shirk the desire to idle there at the sink, immersed in the chore, taking time. Breathing.
There have been other things, too, which have shown themselves to me...little reminders that even in the smallest of things I can find a blessing, something to be thankful for. Early in her book, Ann writes about a plate of grated cheese and the blessing this cheese is; how she photographs it showing her thanks in that particular way. The joy with which she writes about a plate of cheese is crazy to me, and yet I find myself desiring that. Desiring the joy that seems so elusive though is always right there in front of my face. In my children's eyes. In my husbands embrace. In the slowness of the mornings when coffee drips hot into a mug and I stir cream into the black liquid. In the tired murmurs of a nursing baby, and the way his soft tufts of new hair curl around his ears. In the hum of the vacuum and the sloshing of the laundry turning in the washer. And I stop and think about these things and wonder how many of these types of moments and these small gifts I really have ever contemplated before, acknowledged, and thanked God for....and how many I completely missed.
Ann also writes about how putting a blanket of thanksgiving over life in such general terms is not the same.
It's not the same. And yet, I find it difficult to really articulate these specific things, each moment, each tiny detail that I SHOULD be thankful for, but don't make time to express. Or worse - soil the blessings and gifts with scolding tongue or harsh looks, instead of drinking them in for what they are - laughing children, creative hands, laboring through a house impregnated with unending supplies of joy - and offering up a prayer of thanks for them, for the blessings that they are, for the flow of abundance despite my being unworthy to receive them. They are daily, hourly, moment-to-moment gifts, many of which I miss out on.
And I think....my writing....as undisciplined and amateur as it is, it has been another gift because I find it so freeing and so comforting to be able to express myself with scrawled words on pages, thoughts unbridled, raw, and to also sometimes receive people respond to me in various ways telling me they know, they understand, they are thankful for what I write. And I am thankful too, as God has shown me many things about myself and others, through that which I write. And it has saved me many days from despair. And that is a gift, something to be thankful for, because this life is not about me.
It's not about me.
A few months ago, I wrote this blog post about our blessings, and unfortunately, it was like a one-hit wonder because since then, I've been hard-pressed to continue to take inventory. I am hoping that will change, that this list I am keeping will grow and it will become second-nature to me- this acknowledging gifts God blesses me with- so I can cultivate as much joy as He will allow me.
And in doing this project, digging deep to find the tools to be able to acknowledge each gift for what it is, and hone in on the purpose of my life, I am living. I am living despite my soul wanting to sleep. I am living despite my desire to turn inward and focus only on myself. By acknowledging every small gift I am given, I am seeing much of the bigger picture of life. I am freeing myself and drawing closer to Christ, and realizing that even my suffering is a gift. Even my dark moments are gifts. And I am thankful. And I find joy.