In her book One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are, Ann Voskamp describes her journey to find God - and joy - in the midst of the harsh, sometimes heart-breaking realities of daily life. As her website explains:
Ann Voskamp's story is not happily ever after. As a child, her sister was crushed under a truck in front of her and her mother. Consequently, her mother checked herself into a psychiatric hospital and her father couldn't find God. As an adult, she stood beside her brother-in-law as he buried his first two sons. Voskamp is a wife and mother who does not grin through pain but battles to believe that God is joy, and that there are as many gifts amid the grittiness of life as in the moments of celebration.
In One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are, Ann strives to find the meaning of life and fully embrace the surprising truth from the final scenes of Jesus' earthly life. In the hours before Jesus' execution, he took bread and gave thanks. This fresh, heart-wrenching book unveils the long forgotten wonder that through the imitation of Christ's thankfulness, we too can experience a life of joy. (Read more at Ann's website here.)
Ann was challenged by a friend to make a list of 1,000 gifts - 1,000 things for which she was thankful. She accepted that challenge, and, notebook in hand, began jotting down simple things from her daily life for which she was grateful. This exercise of opening her eyes to the good gifts God placed all around her transformed Ann's thinking and her life.
A friend gave me a copy of Ann's book a couple of years ago, when I was struggling through a particularly difficult season and was feeling completely overwhelmed and discouraged. What struck me first about Ann's story was the foundation on which she built this journey: Ann was intrigued by the fact that Christ took bread and gave thanks...right before walking to the cross. Christ's earthly, physical circumstances were about to become unimaginably horrible, yet, only hours before His crucifixion, He prayed a prayer of genuine thankfulness.
Ann began a study of prayers of thankfulness in Scripture. What she found surprised her. Prayers of sincere gratitude were often recorded in the midst of - or just preceding - great trial or distress. This puzzled her. Ann's study - and her resolution to fill a notebook with "1,000 gifts" - led her to discover that she had been understanding joy backwards. She had thought that joy came first, that true gratitude and thankfulness to God were based on, were the fruit of, His tangible blessings in this world. On the contrary, Ann found that it is thankfulness that produces joy.
Looking over my notes from a couple of years ago, I find these thoughts jotted in my own notebook: "To be free of ingratitude is to be free TO thankfulness." This observation from page 177 of Ann's book: "The demanding of my own will is the singular force that smothers out joy." Or this, from page 178: "My own wild desire to protect my joy at all costs is the exact force that kills my joy."
Ann found that she needed wider eyes to see the blessing of God in all of life's circumstances, instead of categorizing what God gave her into "good"/blessing - or - "bad"/curse. She wanted to learn to receive thankfully all that God put into her hand.
But I'm not writing all this to tell you to go read Ann's book. This is not a book review. I'm writing all this because, this morning...
Again, I am discouraged. Hurt. Weary. Longing for things to just be better. But, they're not.
I opened my Bible this morning to the book of Haggai, simply because it's what came next in my daily reading. Really, Lord? I wondered. Do you really have anything to say to me from the book of Haggai? What possible encouragement could an Old Testament prophecy about the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem give me?
But I read these words in Haggai, chapter 2: Who is left among you who saw this house in its former glory? How do you see it now? Is it not as nothing in your eyes? (v. 3) Yep, Lord, that's about how things look from where I stand. I blew my nose and kept reading. My spirit remains in your midst. Fear not. (v. 5) What? I read that verse again, several times in a row, then continued onward. "The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former, says the LORD of hosts. And in this place I will give peace, declares the LORD of hosts." (v.9)
Those verses in Haggai are not talking about circumstances in my life, Dear Reader. They're not about my family, or my marriage, or my finances, or my house. They are talking about the temple of God. But, these verses remind me that God is a God who redeems. They remind me that, yes, God's people (including me) have known Glory, and have, because of their sin, lost Glory. That now, we long desperately to get back, to be in the dwelling place of the Lord, to have peace. How my heart yearns for peace, aches for Glory!
God has promised that He will "shake the nations," that He will rebuild His house, and that He will "fill this house with His glory." (Haggai 2:7)
What about Ann Voskamp? What does she have to do with all of this?
In her book, Ann challenges readers to develop the discipline of thankfulness. To stop and see the face of God in the ordinary, and to rejoice in His beauty and majesty and goodness. Ann began with a spiral bound notebook and a pen. She stopped and said "thank you" for the colors that danced on the transparent film of soap bubbles in her kitchen sink. For the laughter of her children. For sunflowers on the kitchen table. This simple exercise of stopping to say "thank you" transformed her world.
Today, discouraged and hurting and tired, I read Haggai and found my faithful God. Thank you.
Tears. A reminder that my heart is still soft enough to be broken. Thank you.
When I went out to feed the chickens, I found a mouse scrambling to get out of the feed bin. Lifting him carefully with a plastic bucket, I studied the tiny mouse closely before turning him loose outside the shed. He was absolutely beautiful: glossy brown velvet coat, bright eyes, ears and whiskers twitching. A frightened, quivering handful of beauty. Thank you.
A rainbow of chickens bursting out of their small door, racing down the gang plank into the chicken yard, fluttering and squawking and eager to find the morning's cracked corn. A gangly, adolescent rooster, cack-cacking an almost crow. They are such very silly birds, but they make me smile! Thank you.
2 hours ago