On New Year's Eve of 2018, my boss, Dorothy, laid a bright blue spiral notebook on my desk. I slipped my thumb under the front cover and turned to the first page, the quiet crack of the card stock separating from the paper it protected, proving it had never been opened.
“A new notebook for a new year,” she said.
This was a challenge.
Several years ago, Dorothy read a book called “One Thousand Gifts” by Ann Voskamp, and remembering it sparked her to buy the entire staff a notebook and a copy of the book. The challenge was to chronicle 1,000 God-given gifts, no matter how big or small, by the end of 2019. It could be a good meal or beautiful flower, a credit card paid off or sweet baby laughter. The first chirp of a bird when spring arrives. Family. Common things. Uncommon things. Silly things. Serious things. Any good gift from God.
At first thought, this sounds cliche. It's so easy for me to gloss over those sticky-sweet quotes dressed in beautiful fonts slapped on a well-edited photo of some snow-covered trees that friends on social media post almost daily. Those graphics that say, “Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened,” or “Life's a journey, not a destination.” Ugh. Give me a break. The quotes never really have anything to do with the background they're plastered on and they kind of make me want to throw up, but I digress. If those kinds of things help you, that's great. More power to you, I say. For me, its a big “thanks, but no thanks."
For the first half of last year, I participated in this challenge, chronicling nearly 500 of the thousand I was to come up with. I must say, I was feeling mighty fine. I was loving life — taking care of myself, seeing some relationships in my life have some major breakthroughs, cooking supper for my family every night. I was making my list day by day and it was really making a difference.
That summer, one of the most unknowingly overwhelming seasons of my life hit like an anvil to the forehead. I had family members become life-threateningly ill. My 1-year-old started day care for the first time, causing a change in my work schedule and time at home, in addition to bringing sickness after sickness home with him for months. My husband and I sold our home and moved back to my family's farm to better tackle some debt and be near to those sick family members. Most of it was not all that weighty, but all at once, it was a lot of change in a short amount of time.
Somehow, as I tried to keep on keeping on, my 1,000 Gifts list trailed off.
Over the course of just three months, I found myself irritated, unmotivated, easily offended, critical of others, overwhelmed, exhausted, disappointed, disengaged, crying a lot, inattentive, rude to my husband and telling myself how much of a failure I was because of the important things I let slip through the cracks at work and at home.
I had a lot on my plate, but I know that all those things would have been easier to chew if I feasted on thanks-giving.
I am convinced now more than ever that there's actually something to this gift list. In the last 24 hours of Jesus's life before he was crucified, he did a strange thing. In Luke 22, we find the account of the Last Supper, where Jesus brings his disciples together to share a meal. Luke 22:19 says, “And He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them ...” Originally written in Greek, the word for “he gave thanks” is “eucharisteo." The root word of eucharisteo is "charis," meaning “grace.” Jesus took bread, saw it as grace, and gave thanks. Also found in eucharisteo is "chara," which means “joy.” Isn't that what we all long for? More joy? It seems that deep chara joy is found at the table of euCHARisteo — the table of thanksgiving.
Voskamp writes, “So then, as long as thanks is possible, joy is always possible ... Whenever, meaning now. Wherever, meaning here.” In every circumstance, in every season of life, joy can be found if we can focus on giving thanks. To say it better, joy is found when we see God in the here and now.
So, I'm starting over. This year, I'm making a list called “Seeing 2020” — get it? It's time for a new perspective — a grateful perspective — that can only come by finding today's good and lovely. I'm filling it with things Philippians 4:8 talks about. It says, “...whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Today's things.
You can find — I can find — today's good and lovely in the middle of heartache, tumult, emotional debris and disappointment. It's there. We just have to look.
I want more joy. I definitely want God's grace. I must be intentional in giving thanks no matter what this year holds.
You find what you look for. What can you find today?