Tuesday, April 05, 2011

One Thousand Gifts

Writing a post about Ann Voskamp's book, One Thousand Gifts, has been on my to do list for at least three weeks now.  I've stared at that item on my list and wondered how on earth I was going to talk about this book.

It wasn't revolutionary, and it was totally revolutionary.

For close to two years now, I've been pausing each night to list at least five things from that day that made me smile, five things for which to give thanks.  The Daily 5 started out as a moment of desperation.  A terrible weekend, the weekend following my 26th birthday, found me crashing, despondent, and left me desperate for a reason to keep walking, a reason to find joy, a reason to get out of bed in the morning.  Was there something, anything, that was worth smiling about as I went about my days?

As I prayed out of that desperation, I was reminded of a practice I'd read about and even tried occasionally.  I'd heard somewhere that trauma counselors had done some studies showing that making a short list of things you're thankful for had the same affect on your brain chemistry as taking a mild dosage of an anti-depressant.  I'd found it had helped in the past to pick up my mood on a bad day - listing things I loved, or things that made me smile for one reason or another - essentially listing things because of which I'd paused, even momentarily, to give thanks.

And so I made it a habit, these lists.  My "Daily 5".  Each night, showing up here, and listing those things.  At least five, more if I could make it, but those first months five was a stretch.  My lists were (and sometimes still are) repetitive, and yet unique.  I was desperate - if I spotted something odd or quirky as  I traveled around the city, and it made me smile even just a little, it made the list.  And I've been doing it now, nightly, for close to two years.  And it has changed me.  I wrote this, a month or so ago, about the way that counting those moments of thanks has oh so slowly changed my inner dialogue, changed my gut reaction, even just a little.

And so, I picked up Ann's book, already convinced of the value in giving thanks.

What I found, was, as I said, not at all revolutionary, and yet completely revolutionary.

I found a theology, written out, for what my heart had spent a few years discovering.  A theology for giving thanks.

And a reminder.  "Eucharisteo always precedes the miracle."

Giving thanks always comes before the miracle.

It was a truth that registered as I was reading, and one that hit home a week or so after I finished.

I was sitting, quietly, in a church service, and God was speaking.

I wasn't happy.  I'm not at all in love with what he was placing in front of me (well, on a head level, anyway - on a heart level, I'm finding it nestled there, already, unexpectedly.)

And I sat there, stunned, arguing, and that phrase came back to me.  "Eucharisteo always precedes the miracle."

Could I really give thanks, even for this?  This thing that was so contrary to all the plans so nicely formed in my head? 

My pen didn't want to move across the pages of the journal.

"Thank you, God, for speaking.  Thank you that even in this direction, especially in this direction, you can be trusted.  Thank you that you will make the way plain.  That you are the one who calms the storms, even if they're only the ones inside of me, the ones that rage against your direction and obedience."

I haven't made peace yet, but Ann's words, her book are still with me. 

This practice of gratitude, one that I thought would be a temporary goal, has, I think, become a permanent part of my heart.

I've had the chance to share the making of those lists with friends, as we've spent the day together, and there was, for me, a special communion in those moments of laughter as we listed the moments of our day.

I've had the chance to make those lists on some very hard days, in the midst of some very hard circumstances, through this year of deconstruction, and that practice has allowed me to recognize grace in dark moments.

I don't really plan to list one thousand gifts.  I've been doing it, in fives and tens and twenties for nearly two years, and this is a way that works for me.  But, I thoroughly recommend Ann's book, and the practice of counting graces, gifts, from God, reasons to be thankful.  Because it will change you.