So…last October!? in another post, I hinted that there was a post coming about a book I had just read and now, nine months later, I have finally taken the time to sit down and actually hash it out. I picked up “One Thousand Gifts” again recently and let the words transform me all over again. There is no other book I recommend more often and more emphatically than this:
In the corner of our living room, sits a table. Just an ordinary square table, nothing fancy bought in the early years of marriage from a Scandinavian furniture store by married babies trying to keep up with the trends. Never could we have pictured that table where it sits now. This simple table and the couch next to it are my Sinai, my Jacob’s well, my garden of Gethsemane, my very own Holy of Holies. It is the very place where I meet God
everyday most days. I wake in the morning, I fill my mason jar of water, settle into the corner of the couch already worn and shaped to my frame. I reach over for my first drink of water then of living water.
Under that most important book, and under my journal lies another important book. One that managed to wreck my world, attitude, theology. I first picked this book up about three years ago when it hit bookstores. I remember getting halfway through that first chapter with all it’s sentence fragments and “blood pooling” and “baby sister dying” and “Does God really love me?” ‘s and I stop. I close the book, I don’t get it. I don’t get the poeticism, the hard agony of loss, of pain, of gut-wrenching heartache. I remember – in my own naïve, holier-than-thou arrogance – wondering “how could anyone who has met God ever doubt his goodness?”
Somehow, through multiple moves and a pregnancy and third new baby. Inexplainable symptoms then ominous diagnosis. An ineffective treatment that rendered me closer to death than ever imagined. Through a marriage on the brink of statistic – talk of logistics and “I give up’s”. Then… through glorious restoration of family and home and heart. Through hearing the prognosis: chronic – but believing in healing. Through unpacking our old life – having sat for countless months in a storage box just south of the city – into our new home filled with hope and love and promise, I open a box marked “books” to find this one long forgotten.
As the summer fades and I lay in the hammock and begin to try to muscle through the hard pages of loss and pain and closed doors, something sparks:
“I wonder too…if the rent in the canvas of our backdrop, the losses that puncture our world our own emptiness, might actually become places to see.
To see through to God.
That that which tears open our souls, those holes that splatter our sight may actually become the thin, open places to see through the mess of this place to the heart-aching beauty beyond. To Him. To the God whom we endlessly crave.”
I pour through page after thankful page of Eucharisteo. The biblical Greek word for “Thanksgiving”. Really, could it be that simple? This plain Ann with no “e” tells of the secret. The secret that really is no secret at all. That “thanksgiving always proceeds a miracle”. Miracle? What is “miracle”? It’s hard to talk about miracles when the word “chronic” has been painted over the canvas your life, your body. Miracle, really? That Jesus broke bread and gave thanks and still he faced death. Where is the miracle? The miracle is in the JOY. That secret that really is not secret is this. JOY. Joy – not in place of, but in the midst of. (Nehemiah 8:10, James 1:2-4)
Through late lunches and “I’m bored’s” and taps on my arm. I smile, I nod, I highlight, I update my status with quotes:
“The only place we need to see before we die is the place of seeing God, here and now.”
“Thanks is what multiplies the joy and makes any life large, and I hunger for it.”
“The only real prayers are the ones mouthed with thankful lips.”
And I am thankful, I am. But this – this daily listing of all the things I am thankful for. I can’t seem to start it. It just doesn’t register yet. The pages get harder more real, more personal. Then I get to the page, the one that stopped me for 2 whole months. Page 89. I just couldn’t get past it. I couldn’t swallow it. I took pictures of it, I texted it to friends. I took it to bible study looking – searching for wise counsel (Proverbs 11:14) on this hard pill to swallow:
“I won’t shield God from my anguish by claiming he’s not involved in the ache of this world and Satan prowls but he’s a lion on a leash and the God who governs all can be shouted at when I bruise, and I can cry and I can howl and He embraces the David-hearts who pound hard on His heart with their grief and I can moan deep that He did this – and He did.”
What!? This? No? It can’t be! How can the God who knows all things. Who formed me and knew me beforehand. Who imagined me and positioned me. Who breathed life and conquered death. Who allowed – no, sent His own son to face the ultimate suffering. How can this very One be involved in my agony?? Because He IS. He is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. The creator of the universe, and the holder of my heart. And I toss and I turn and I flail and I doubt and I ask, those same hard questions that I thought so unthinkable just three years before. “Does God really love me?” Does he really have my best in mind. Is he really working all things for my good? (Romans 8:28)
I see so much agony – my sweet friend who has been sick and never found a name for an illness that tormented her. That would leave her unable to do the everyday that we all take for granted. And I think “God, why!?” I think, “there is no one wiser or more gracious or more faithful or more generous. No one more like Jesus. What could she possibly need to learn or be broken of?” Then – when I finally stop my wrestling and I listen – I hear…”Who would have pulled you through your darkest days of sickness? Who would have spoken life to you? Who would have taught you the true meaning of Eucharisteo, of Thanksgiving?” And it breaks me. I see that he loved me enough to send his son. He loved me enough to let my dear friend suffer so that he could comfort her and teach her how to comfort me. (2 Corinthians 1:4)
I see my sister, the one who would have made a better mother than me – than anyone. This mother without children. And I ache and I scream, God just one? Couldn’t she just have one? And I show my inability to see through the lens of eternity. Again, I still. And I see her children. All the ones she holds in India and in the ER. The ones she fights for and cries for when no other human does. And then I see the possibility. If we are still breathing, our story on this earth isn’t over. Is it ever really over?
So I go back, back to chapter 1 and try again:
“maybe you don’t want to change the story, because you don’t know what a different ending holds.” Then: “There’s a reason I am not writing the story and God is. He knows how it all works out, where it all leads, what it all means. I don’t.”
So I swallow it, that pill that I’m choking on. That page 89 roadblock and I turn the page:
“If I had the perspective of the whole, perhaps I’d see it? That which seems evil, is it a cloud to bring rain, to bring a greater good to the whole of the world? Who would ever know the greater graces of comfort and perseverance, mercy and forgiveness, patience and courage, if no shadows fell over a life?”
There it is, I see it. I am transformed and changed and rearranged and gutted by this truth. The truth that it never was actually all about me. God is for me, but who am I for? Because it only works if I am for Him. When my focus is on me, none of life makes sense. But when my purpose is for Him, the “why” ceases to matter. Because He knows, I don’t have to.
“The quiet song of gratitude, eucharisteo, lures humility out of the shadows because to receive a gift the knees must bend humble and the hand must lie vulnerably open and the will must bow to accept whatever the Giver chooses to give.”
“In an endless cycle of grace, he gives us gifts to serve the world.”
Ahhh…the world. This whole dance of eternity centered around one hard, beautiful theme: redemption.
I finally see what it took this Farmer’s wife counting 1,000 ways that God loves, to see. Joy. The world warps, but He redeems. Everything. Even that which seems unredeemable. I breathe in grace and breathe out thanks one thousand times over and over. Because to stop thanking is to stop seeing through the hard, everyday, muck to this theme of redemption. And I am thankful, thankful that this self-proclaimed farm-hick chose to fight for joy and to share the secret. I will be forever thankful.
So I dare you to read this book. To start counting. “Because thankgiving always turns what we have into enough.”
“And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. They all ate and were satisfied…” Matthew 14:19-21