Monday, September 26, 2011

Counting Gifts

"The world I live in is loud and blurring and toilets plug and I get speeding tickets... and I forget everything and these six kids lean hard into me all day to teach and raise and lead and I fail hard and there are real souls that are at stake and how long do I really have to figure out how to live full of grace, full of joy - before these six beautiful children fly the coop and my mothering days fold up quiet? How do you open the eyes to see how to take the daily domestic, workday vortex and invert it into the dome of an everyday cathedral?" (121).

A few months ago, while reading Ann Voskamp's book, One Thousand Gifts, I stopped on this paragraph and read it twice.

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In the margin I wrote, "How I understand!"

This question tugs at my heart because I want to know too - how to invert that daily vortex into a dome.

Ann believes the answer is this:

"Pay tribute to God by paying attention" (111).

One Thousand Gifts is about Ann's personal journey towards more gratitude. An invitation came to her inbox one day. A challenge from a friend that got her thinking. Could she count one thousand gifts? She was intrigued. So she picked up a notebook and began.

Her discoveries along the way have me convinced she is onto something. Gratitude is not as simplistic as we might think. The effect more profound than I imagined. It might just be the answer to most stumbling blocks, sorrows, hurts, and frustrations. Not all. Only Christ can truly heal us, and in ways we do not fully understand (Revelation 21:4). But gratitude helps us trust Him, turn to Him, see Him at work in our lives.

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I've been dabbling in it - trying out this place of giving thanks for all things. I've been trying to notice the gifts, the ordinary things, the small joys that fall kindly at my feet, like children tumbling into our bed on a Sunday morning. And I believe Ann is right. Gratitude spins the world right. It helps you find your proper, humble, and dependent place in it.

See the ugly-beautiful - like the markers all over my boys hands this afternoon, the pile of lunch plates on the picnic blanket, the muddy smudges tracked across the bathroom sink - as boys wanting to write like their sisters, the gift of hungry little ones, and girls needing to dig into the earth. It flips your world. Gives you new eyes.

Say thank you and you give yourself the freedom of not wanting more, of being content.

I've thought a lot about it, and wondered if I could work on gratitude without counting gifts. Surely, I could. But over the last few days, I can tell I need practice. I'm not as good at counting gifts as I would like to be. I want to develop this skill of seeing God in the everyday.

So I started last Friday. The first day of Autumn.

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Here was my list.

1. a husband home for dinner.

2. the slippery feel of a peach in my hand.

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(We harvested enough from our tree to make one cobbler! Yes, I ate this entire bowl friday night. Scraped it clean.)

3. watercolors in celebration of fall.

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I am writing each gift in the gratitude journal Mary gave me.

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I'll also post them daily on my sidebar. Mostly for me. As an incentive to keep going.

Numbering gifts, writing them down, makes the invisible visible. As Ann says, "slapping a sloppy brush of thanksgiving over everything in my life leaves me deeply thankful for very few things" (57).

Counting blessings, however, helps us bless His name, know Him as the giver of all good gifts. It helps us accept our circumstances and learn to be happy "whether our hands are full or empty" (47).

4. remembering those wet curls and red tricycles in the rain.

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5. A mother-in-law who happily takes my children.

6. Sami's flower - stuck like a toothpick into my burger.

7. Soft baby cheeks on mine.

I've also printed a gratitude book for each of my girls. Folding instructions here.

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Here's what Ali and Sami were thankful for today.

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Maybe we can learn this art together.

Want to join me? Count your own thousand gifts? I'd love to hear about it if you do.

And if you haven't read Ann's book, I recommend it. Her message, whether you hang on her kind of words or not, is worth the read.

18 comments:

  1. This is a good idea. I know I get bogged down with annoyances when I really should be counting my blessings. Maybe it's time for accountability! :)

    Thank you for suggesting this book. I'll definitely seek it out!

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  2. what a perfect way to usher in this season of Thanksgiving. Thanks Catherine. Inspiring and real as always.

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  3. The wet curls and red trikes you will remember so clearly when you are my age, and just ache to go back,even for an hour :)

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  4. Actually, I used to have a gratitude diary, but after a few months I came to realize that I am already pretty good at enjoying these little moments, and taking the time to smile. I decided to quit the diary after one day I wrote something along the lines of: "Today was a sh.itty day -- but, hey, once in a while that's okay, too." It sort of became too one-dimensional for me -- I was missing a place to go to with all the not so gratefull and sad thoughts, too.

    If that makes sense, ;-).

    So long,
    Corinna

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  5. Thanks for this great post Cath! I totally stole your idea of the little booklets for the kids. I printed them out and we had the kids fill out the Monday page for FHE last night. They LOVED thinking of things that make them happy and that they're thankful for. Hopefully we'll do this every night this week and finish those little books. Thanks again!

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  6. like Grandma Honey it was the wet curls and tricycle photo that brought a lump to my throat. Oh to go back to that! If only for an hour...

    love you always.

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  7. knit1, knit2 - I understand. It is so easy to feel bogged down. I'm hoping a focus on being thankful will shift my eyes a little more upward, temper the triggers.

    Saydi - I'm working on a booklist to send you. Maybe by Christmas it will be in the mail! ;)

    Grandma Honey - I know you are so right. I always love your perspective.

    Corinna - Yes, you make perfect sense! And you make me laugh. It would be a bit ironic at the end of "one of those days" to sit down and try to count gifts. I did worry that this post might sound like we can't accept the fact that some days will be so hard - so hard we won't feel much gratitude. I think it's healthy to be real with ourselves - to say it how it is. Occasionally, this venue is a place I've voiced my frustrations, alongside the thanks. But I am hoping with practiced eyes and a desire to slow down/open my heart, I can see more of the gratitude, let it sweep over the angst I sometimes feel. Thanks so much for your insight. You make an important point. Blessings to you!

    Hill - So glad you had fun with the booklets. My girls thought they were so cute. (Kids love little things, don't they?)

    Michelle - It's good we have each other. You can re-live the past with me and I can look ahead through you. Love you so much. Hope to see you in the morning.

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  9. I'm still trying to figure out how you think such deep and beautiful thoughts with five little ones underfoot! My brain doesn't get past the mundane feed-dress-clean stuff most days but I want to see the beauty you describe more. Thanks for these wonderful ideas and the book review. You always leave me feeling inspired! This is why I always look forward to seeing your posts in my 'Inbox'--they always make my day brighter! Thank you!

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  10. Krilafis - Hope you got my comment on your blog. What a lovely post. I appreciated your perspective so much. And I plan to peek in on your numbered gifts, if that's alright. Congratulations on your first baby! Sending blessings your way.

    Steph - Believe me, most of the time it's feed-dress-clean for me too. And I didn't have a baby this last year! I'm pretty sure finding things to write about it keeping me sane. Your photography is so luscious. Stilling those moments is a beautiful gift. Love you!

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  11. I am definitely going to join you in this. I think it is a great idea...and I could really use it :)
    Love you!

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  12. I so needed this today. And every day. Thank you.

    (And that booklet is ADORABLE. i might have to start with that myself.)

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  13. Love you. Love Ann's book. Love those sweet, precious kids in your bed and the curly-headed boys on tricycles. I'm so glad you are starting your own list. I really do think there is power in writing the gifts down, as Ann says in "naming" them.

    I started a gratitude journal more than a year ago. I feel like my eyes truly have been opened to wonders and beauties in the everyday moments. I've savored more of my life as it has unfolded before me, and writing about the blessings has helped me to pause and really let it all sink in.

    I adore One Thousand Gifts. I'm not even sure where to begin with my favorite quotes. The one you shared at the top of your post is powerful. I love that image of the vertex transforming into a dome. One of my very favorite parts was in Chapter 9 entitled "Go lower" when Ann recounts her sister coming to visit. Her sister had spent time with Ann's daughter, who as a toddler, found joy and wonder in rolling a ball. Later Ann's sister wrote and said, "I will never forget your daughter's wild joy in that ball--a happiness like I have never seen in all my travels through all these years. And in the simplest of experiences." She's hit upon one of the best parts of raising little ones. You really do get to see the world through new eyes, and all the ordinary, small things are wondrous and awesome. Ann says later in the chapter, "Instead of filling with expectations, the joy_filled expect nothing---and are filled. This breath! This oak tree! This daisy! This work! This sky! These people! This place! This day! Surprise!...The humble live surprised. The humble live by joy." The small and simple things. Yes, that's where true contentment is found.

    Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and gifts with us. xoxo

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  14. Great review, Cath. I don't think I had read anything about it One Thousand Gifts. I am so interested. And I feel like this ties right in with President Uctdorf's message from last weekend about not waiting for the Golden Ticket and just enjoying the chocolate! Thanks for your thoughts.

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  15. Deb - It's been a great thing for me so far. Let's swap notes. love you too.

    Jennie - Agree. The booklet is adorable. My girls are loving them.

    Anne Marie - so grateful for your thoughts. I really ought to have included that quote in the original post so EVERYONE could read it. "The joy-filled expect nothing... they live surprised." That is so powerful! I would love to hear more about your list of gifts. Ann quotes G.K. Chesterton quite a bit. But this line is one of his best. "The greatest of poems is an inventory." True, no? Sure love you.

    Liz - Okay. You have to read Ann's book. You will love it, be changed, pick it up again. I promise. ;)

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  16. I love this post...I'm going to have to get that book. It sounds marvelous. I always love your perspective on life. I'm always in awe. Love you...

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  17. It's really appreciable message for every body thanks for sharing this information.............

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  18. Yes! I'm counting too. I should continue my list...
    http://blue-jeans-girl.blogspot.com/2011/07/one-thousand-gifts-part-five.html

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