just a month before cancer my sweet friend, karen, made me aware of a significant book - One Thousand Gifts. i was taken with it. head over heels. completely smitten. so much so, i even wrote a review type piece in my Being Still blog, because it seemed one of those treasures i just had to share. i couldn't help myself. i bought copies and mailed them off across the country to the females in my family...i left copies on the doorsteps of friends... i cornered anyone i could about this book....i even convinced a group of women to take it on as our next bible study. and we did. in fact, we meet again tonight.
i read a lot of books each year. it is just what i do. i am pretty sure God isn't thrilled with every novel i pick up or every non-fiction piece i add to my bedside pile. but i have this hunch He made certain this book was securely in my hands one month before my diagnosis. ann voskamp is not only brilliant and eloquent, but she's encouraging. i connected with her writing immediately. she is a farmer's wife, a mother of six and a lover of beauty. all wonderful things to be sure. but as much as i like her and think we'd be fast friends, it is the task she set before me which has been most inspiring. she was dared by a friend to assemble a list of 1000 gifts: simple blessings she found in the context of her day -- her daily day. yes, even in her farm-and-mother-life drudgery. she bought a journal and took the dare and with pen in hand, went hunting through her ordinary moments - recording the treasures she came across -- one word, one image, one gift at a time. they weren't all pollyanna-perfect, some of the things she put down on paper were hard. hard and hurtful, but this gal named ann deemed them blessing still. i was wooed with her writing and challenged by this thinking. i certainly had been taught to count my blessings - even to, as the sunday school song suggested, name them one by one. and i did. i do. but there was something more in this task. there was the chance to see all the way through to the beauty of things. things which at first blush were anything but beautiful.
and then there was the listing. writing things down takes effort. it is easy to stand in the midst of my disorderly days and nod my head approvingly at things i like....at trinkets which catch my fancy and baubles which win my womanly affection. that is nice and good and sweet. but what about holding a pen in my hand and a journal on my lap and bending the back in effort to put ink hard to the paper? what about pausing the great rush long enough to accomplish this treasure-recording? what about the muscle required to do this day after day, moment after moment, gift after gift? that doesn't sound hard at first. but what about when the novelty wears off and the three year old hangs on and the journal goes missing and the ink pen dries up and the dinner is burning. what about then? you know what i mean. we've all started lists and resolutions and goals only to find ourselves waning and weighted with the sag of routine. when the shine dulls and the spark dims the quest takes on a different monotony. a burdensome doing. this has been the story of my life. it is, in fact, the story of life.
so i write all this tonight to tell you i have a journal. it is blue. it goes with me most places. though i have to confess, i am not quite so picky about my writing instrument. living in a household of seven, i am often challenged to come up with any instrument of writing. admittedly, i am a mother who has scribbled out many a grocery list or school note or birthday card in orange crayon -- i use what i find. and there's blessing in the finding of even an orange crayon. anyway, i too, have a list going of 1000 gifts. i discover them in my day. they are scattered across the cluttered rooms of our home and in the piles of stuff all around our life. i find them better each day because i am willing to search. i am looking. i find them in the chaos and confusion, as much as i find them in the quiet and the calm.
i started my list on march 22. i have to say, it was going quite well for me. i was kind of proud of my ambitious hunting. even kind of proud of myself. i took great delight in the way it was coming along, all the while enjoying the challenge and encouraging others. i was writing easily. deliberately. vehemently. and then on april 19th i heard the word cancer. cancer brought quite a bit in my household to a halt. i mean we all kind of Just Stopped. we couldn't progress any further in anything, it seemed. not in our laundry or lunch dates or laughter or even in our lists. we were stuck. i was stuck. stuck right there under the frightening and forceful thumb of cancer and no wiggling or will was allowing us breath or escape. at least not for while. that is how it felt. i had stacks of things on my desk...piles of things in my life to address. a long list of items carefully written under the title To Do. but there was nothing To Do and nothing got done. and when i looked at my pretty blue journal sitting neglected on my counter, it made me want to weep. i finally placed it in a drawer. i could stand it not one minute more. i had fallen under the crush of cancer and there seemed to be no possibility for the recording of blessing.
but then something happened. it wasn't all of a sudden. just small things.... glimpse of baby girl's brown eyes. unexpected hug from teenage son. bird song. lavender. friend at back door with a meal. perfect blue of hydrangea. pink morning light framed in window above dish-dirty sink. medication. praying doctor. gentle husband. teen girl clearing dinner plates. fingers deep in spring soil. rain. bandaid's calm on angry stubbed toe. notes and cards arriving daily. my sister's long distance voice. thunder at three am....and there was the old breathing again. i began to breath and then i began to look. and when i began to look, i began to see. and the listing came next. i felt the cloud lifting. slowly. like morning fog which hangs around until well past noon. little by little the gray was traded for blue. i peeked into that closed drawer of my desk. my heart. my soul. ever so slightly. and i picked up that journal again and i held it in my hands and i read the things already written and the fog moved even further. i watched its leaving. and then finally i began to write. i began my gift-hunting and the old delight rose up in me. the cancer wasn't gone, but the blessings were found.
i have continued to write and record. not everyday do i list. because somedays i can't. there are certainly days when my eyes won't meet those of my waiting, blue journal. i find myself at times stuck and stopped and blank. because that is how life comes in hard times...in hard places. we walk through and climb over in tiny steps. steps which require pausing and stopping. there is breath to catch and muscle to flex. we are often lightheaded and weary. and we need our moments. but i am finding even these interruptions can allow for some seeing. we need only be willing. this has not been a time for me of great leaping. i am a woman taking small steps these days. something new. but in this smallness i find myself even more apt to see. we see when we slow. and i have slowed.
God is good. He encourages me in the very grand and the most minute. and both are needed. perfect fingerprint of my 8 year old on a window pane to our deck. almost wiped away with a spray of windex and a swoosh of efficient towel. but i stop. i see. design of sand on our deck from little girl sandbox. mother-on-mission ready to spray it fast and furious...but first stopping and seeing and thanking and yes, even recording. i can give thanks for the gift of small child from china in our sandbox this june. she is here. it may be a small scattering of sand but a very large blessing when i truly look. when i take time to see. and living is about seeing. we forget that sometimes. even in our health and our wealth and our continual comforts. maybe you don't require a blue journal and an orange crayon...maybe you stop all on your own accord. i applaud you if this is possible. but for this slowed woman i find myself dependent. i find myself in need. and i can find myself thankful. but only if i look.
that is my encouragement this evening: take time to see. go hunting. journal in pocket and pencil in hand. maybe. but clear eyes of the mind and the heart and the will. even when we find ourselves bent double in the hard grip of life, there is something to see. sometimes it is in the glorious looking up. and sometimes it is in the desperate looking down. there is seeing in both. we need only be willing to look.