I don't know how my sister, Leigh does it. She's a mother to three children under 6, wife to a military husband who's been on three combat tours, and a certified Crossfit instructor who had the privilege of training George W. Bush (okay, so maybe they just worked out in the same gym one day, but still, that's pretty cool). In these busy times, Leigh and I don't get to talk as often as I would like, but if there's anything she's good at, it's remembering birthdays and always sending a thoughtful gift to celebrate. (I really wish I was better at that).
This year, when I turned twenty-six, she sent me a book.
So when Leigh told me to read this book, and when she subsequently wrote a blog post that brought me to tears—I paid attention. I started reading.
What I found in Ann Voskamp's book, One Thousand Gifts, was a challenge to live with gratitude. Not for what could be, what I feel like ought to be, but for what already is.
This is hard. My natural state is to be complaining, wishing, wanting, needing. While cooking dinner the other night, I found myself frustrated with the pants I was wearing, itching my legs. I was angry at the simmering beef that was cooking too quickly—it burned before I could finish chopping the onion to add. There were breakfast dishes still in the sink, and crud on the floor—that ugly tile that I want to demolish anyway—and before I knew it, I was just angry. At dinner. At life. At the fact that everything is hard, dinner is never easy to make, and the house will never be clean.
And then I think about my sister. And about how she has twice the family that I have, and twice the dishes and twice the laundry and that means she has twice the frustration and anger, doesn't it? If life is already this hard to manage—I wondered, how will I ever be a mother without becoming an alcoholic, rageaholic, shopaholic, or divorcee? How is it even possible? In her reaction to this book, Leigh wrote words that cut to my soul.
"My heart claws for something, ANYTHING to make this motherhood journey more graceful, clear, predictable, and if possible, that I remain largely undisrupted. Regrettably, there is always more. More laundry, more groceries, more dishes, more clutter. More spit-spray on that bathroom mirror. All this endless hassle-work when our souls are screaming for rest, solace, order. (When you think about it, everything under the sun constantly moves toward disorder, and we can only do so much to subdue the process.)"
I feel that way. And it's just me and Patrick. And I feel that way.
How do I ward off depression and frustration and thirty more years of "this is not enough?" Voskamp eloquently explains that there is only one response that will make any difference. It's the response of King David and Daniel and Jesus and Ruth and anyone who's ever been called close to God. The response is gratitude.
The dare is simple. Write down 1,000 things you are grateful for that are right here in your every day life. Purposefully, carefully chronicle the gifts that already exist here and now. Leigh shared the start of her list here. She said the practice has changed her life. And I deeply want it to change mine, too.
So here I go.
- sugar crystals like glass shards on a ginger cookie
- red haunches stoic in a bay window
- sun bathing an orange velvet chair
- cream swirling through black coffee, spoon led
- bitter, fragrant fresh cinnamon
- a pregnant blank page and blinking cursor
- rushing drips of his morning shower
- smell of warm rain on grass
- sore muscles from work in earth
The beautiful thing about gratitude is that it focuses my eyes on details that every single day I let pass me by. As a writer, I need this discipline to be observant. As a woman, I need this discipline to be grateful. As I human, I think I need this discipline to survive without becoming bitter, angry, and hardened.
Thank you, Leigh, for this book. Thank you Ann, for writing it. Thank you God for giving us words and "pens as eyes," and people to share the gifts we find like hidden secrets, whispers of heaven on earth.
So grab a pen. Ann dared Leigh. Leigh dared me. Now I dare you.