Reflections on One Thousand Gifts, Part 1

It has become my new afternoon routine.  A mad-rush shuffle to get both kids fed, cleaned, changed, read to, and then snuggled into bed for a nap, followed by a hurried prayer as I run up the stairs that Eliana will please, please actually take a nap.  I warm my already thrice-warmed coffee from this morning’s failed quiet time, grab my book, and curl up on the couch for ten sweet minutes of quiet solitude. I hope. I pray.

I am reading One Thousand Gifts, by Ann Voskamp.  It has been on my reading list for quite awhile now, and I have scanned through it a few times at friend’s houses, anxious to discover the secret of contentment she seems to have found in simply recording every little gift throughout the day.  But so far, I cannot reconcile the testimonies of lives changed by this simple practice, and I feel the need to really, thoroughly read this book myself. I must be missing something.

My days are a continuous blur of constantly meeting needs. From the moment I rise all too early in the morning, to the time that I finally drop, exhausted, into bed at night, only to be wakened two or three time more, it seems I am ever fulfilling someone’s need for something.  Do this, do that, wash this, wash that, wipe this, clean that up, put this away.  Now do it all over again. And again. And again. I love my family. But I have become bone weary. The multitude of mundane tasks have overwhelmed me, paralyzing me with their monotony, their seeming purposelessness. Each day seems harder than the one before it.  Each day, I feel my soul hardening more and more, restlessness, anger, and bitterness seeping out my pores.  Something has to change. And soon.

So I warm up my coffee and open my book, praying that God will enlighten me and waken me out of his haze I am living in.  As I begin to read One Thousand Gifts, my heart clenches within me, and I am brought to tears.  This woman is writing to me.  No, this woman is me.

“I wake to the discontent of life in my skin.  I wake to self-hatred.  To the wrestle to get it all done, the relentless anxiety that I am failing.  Always, the failing.  I yell at my children, fester with bitterness, forget doctors appointments, lose library books, live selfishly, skip prayer, complain, go to bed too late, neglect cleaning the toilets.  I live tired.  Afraid. Anxious. Weary.  Years, I feel it in the veins, the pulsing of ruptured hopes.  Would I ever be enough, find enough, do enough?

To live either fully alive…or in empty nothingness…It’s the life in between, the days of walking lifeless, the years calloused and simply going through the hollow motions, the self-protecting by self-distracting, the body never waking, that’s lost all capacity to fully feel–this is the life in between that makes us the wild walking dead.”

She is perfectly, completely describing me.  I am both ashamed and relieved to admit it.  I read her words to my husband. He nods contemplatively, a confirming smile on his face. Yep.  That’s me, alright. But it certainly didn’t used to be.  Where on earth did my joy go?

One thing I know. I am done living the life in between. I want to live again. Fully, completely.

As I pick up my pen to start my own list of gifts, I find my mind wandering, grasping, searching for some mundane thing that I can actually be thankful for instead of gripe about. I scratch out one or two, haltingly, hesitantly.  Now I am embarrassed.  How is it that I cannot even think of the simple things to be thankful for? Have I drifted so far from the path of Right Thinking that I cannot even think of blessings? Everything that comes to my mind comes with a caveat, a sarcastic, almost bitter smile, or an exception clause.

1. The words “Help, please” from a little mouth (instead of the usual wail, whine, and ensuing tantrum)
2. A near-disaster averted due to my lightning-fast hands and reflexes
3. No nap for Baby. (Oh, well, now I can put her to bed early!)

No, no, no, this is not what she is talking about when she writes about recording gifts from God!  Things I love.  I can feel the negativity seeping through my pen ink onto the paper, blotting the whole thing into a mess.  I am doing this all wrong.  Little blessings. Real blessings.  Without the complaints along with them. Lord, teach me. Teach me how to do this again. I, like Ann, want to live the fullest life. I “yearn for the stuff of saints, the hard language, the fluency of thanksgiving in all, even the ugliest and most heartbreaking.”

A piercing, mournful wail wafts up from the basement, and I am startled out of my blissful reverie. There will be no nap for Baby once again today.

I close my book, dump the rest of my coffee, and choose to be thankful for the ten minutes of solitude. No, I am nowhere near arrived yet. I am still cynical, doubting, and oh, so weary.  But I will pick it back up again tomorrow, keep digging, and keep choosing thankfulness. I will not give up. I will not give in.

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