Joyful is rarely an adjective used to describe me. I am often deemed stoic or intense as I am usually plagued with more thoughts than with emotions. And unfortunately, most of the time my mind is my choice of habitation rather than my heart. But in all honesty, it is tiring and rarely rewarding to live out of your mind. Over the years I have tasted and am therefore tempted with the glory of living from the heart.
Recently, after purposing to live from my heart, gratitude began to intrude into my daily living. At first, my heart was awakened to how invested into my life has been by so many Truth-carrying, love-bearing people. To actually think back and account over what each of those people have done was a glorious event. It was so refreshing to take the time to think of the blessings that these people have individually gifted me with and then to reflect that gratitude back to both these people and to God. This was an open door in my life for joy to invade.
Aware of what was taking place, I grabbed ahold of Ann Voskamp's One Thousand Gifts. And what a wonderful decision that has proven to be. Once I had started reading, putting this book down was impossible. Joy had lured me in.
Ann shares so confidently that "joy is the realest reality, the fullest life, and joy is always given, never grasped." (page 57) And surely I had been given a gift that was unwrapping into something life-changing.
Even though the door was opening up for me to be more grateful, life wasn't helping me out. It wasn't slowing down purposefully for me to experience all of the gifts that God was giving me. I realized that as Ann said it so eloquently, "I'm responding miserably to the gift of this moment." (page 178) In reality, I was responding miserably to each and every moment. Life's fast speed was guaranteeing that I would miss out on what I would only find by slowing down.
"Being in a hurry. Getting to the next thing without fully entering the thing in front of me. I cannot think of a single advantage I've ever gained from being in a hurry. But a thousand broken and missed things, tens of thousands, lie in the wake of all the rushing ... Through all that haste. I thought I was making up time. It turns out I was throwing it away." (page 65 - 66)
In result, I found slowing down worth it. I purposed myself to fill my life full of joy because I didn't want to waste what He was giving me. I wanted all that He had for me. Nothing less.
All Accounted For
What I really wanted was for every gift to be accounted for. And quickly this became possible. Something that I specifically loved about One Thousand Gifts is that Ann gave the reader something that would remain after the book's pages were read through. She invested into the reader by giving them something to apply into their lives. Something that practically would implement the Truth-read into Truth-lived. Many authors only give you equations of things that you could possibly do, instead of enticing you to live differently.
There is this journal that Ann introduces you to. One that you learn to fill on your own. Full of every blessing in your life. Aiming for one thousand in number, yet still surpassing that once your joy cup is full. A challenge that turns into something like a "joy dare".
Here, taste for yourself. This is what writing in the journal does.
He gives you gifts through this writing down.
"I don't even know they are gifts until I write them down and that is really what they look like. Gifts He bestows. This writing it down -- it is sort of like ... unwrapping love." (page 45)
He opens your eyes through counting your blessings.
"..to name is to solve mystery. In naming that which is right before me, that which I'd otherwise miss, the invisible becomes visible." (page 54)
He gives you priorities through this joy-filled journal.
"I only see it (the gifts) because I'm looking ..." (page 64)
He gives you everything to celebrate through it.
"And I have an appetite to celebrate..." (page 77)
The Real Definition of a Blessing
All of this counting demands one question. It demands a definition of sorts.
"If I am numbering gift moments to one thousand and now beyond -- what moments in my life count as blessings? ... How do you know how to sift through a day, a life, and rightly read the graces, rightly ascertain the curses?" (page 85)
"Could the list teach me even that hard language? Over time? Gratitude in the midst of death and divorce and debt -- that's the language I've got to learn to speak -- because that's the kind of life I'm living, the kind I have to solve." (page 47)
Life is not all bliss. But joy can, no it must, be found in the non-blissful. It must be traceable in the ugly. Is this not the core message of the Gospel? This resurrection powerfully emerging from the death that we find ourselves surrounded by.
"This, the hard eucharisteo. The hard discipline to lean into the ugly and whisper thanks to transfigure it into beauty. The hard discipline to give thanks for all things at all times because He is all good. The hard discipline to number the griefs as grace because as the surgeon would cut open my son's finger to heal him, so God chooses to cut into my ungrateful heart to make me whole. All is grace only because all can transfigure." (page 100-101)
But what if I am repulsed? What if I am scared to peer into the ugly because of the pain and hurt associated with it? All these encompassing fears lie within every moment. But it is absolutely necessary to look. Why?
"Who would ever know the greater graces of comfort and perseverance, mercy and forgiveness, patience and courage, if no shadows fell over a life?" (page 90)
And so, with this reality in mind. I confidently glare into the ugly, hopeful to find it transfiguring into the blessings that I know it to become. And He is all good and I am always loved by Him. And that is why I dismiss my fears and keep on counting.
Our Blessings Counted is His Provision
"For forty long years, God's people daily eat manna - a substance whose name literally means "What is it?" Hungry, they choose to gather up that which is baffling. They fill on that which has no meaning. More than 14,600 days they take their daily nourishment from that which they don't comprehend. They find soul-filling in the inexplicable. They eat the mystery. They eat the mystery. ... But how? How do we choose to allow the holes to become seeing-through-to-God places? To more-God places? How do I give up resentment for gratitude, gnawing anger for spilling joy? Self-focus for God-communion?" (page 22)
So to anyone, everyone who finds themselves longing to see God more...
To anyone, everyone who is hoping for more joy to invade...
I would heartedly suggest Ann Voskamp's One Thousand Gifts.
Give it a try. See if this is exactly where you should be.
Here is a link to the first chapter.