Friday, October 31, 2014

Attitude of Gratitude

As soon as I hung up the phone, I reached for the courtesy tablet provided by the hotel and started making my list. March 18, 2011. I was in Mexico, she was in Pennsylvania. She'd been for an ultrasound that morning to check her gall bladder. What they found floored us all: they thought the cancer was back and in her liver.

My list wasn't a list of people to call, things to do, how to figure out how to get home early. It was a list of gratitude. I instinctively knew that if I was going to make it through this leg of the journey, I was going to have to focus on gratitude, on finding something to be thankful for every step of the way.

I had gotten Ann Voskamp's book One Thousand Gifts as soon as it was published, but it had been sitting on my shelf for a few months. Ann writes like a poet and poetry with its often flowery wording isn't a favorite of mine. I wanted to read her book, though, and learn more about her answer to the question: "How do we find joy in the midst of deadlines, debt, drama, and daily duties? What does a life of gratitude look like when your days are gritty, long, and sometimes dark? What is God providing here and now?"

Even without reading the book, I knew I wanted, needed to start retraining my mind toward thanksgiving and the practice of enumerating the gifts of each day because there were undoubtedly going to be very hard days ahead. And so my list of 1,000 gifts began in a hotel room by the ocean 3,000 miles away from where I wanted to be.

Gift 1: God writes the story. 

I didn't like the suspected plot twist that has just been revealed, but I know who writes the story. I wasn't looking forward to the story we were called to live over the next 60 days, but we found joy and thanksgiving and confidence even in the midst of great suffering and sorrow. Over those last two months of her life, I recorded more than 200 gifts. After she was gone, I breathed deeply, soldiered on and filled that journal to the very last line with 1,217 gifts.

Gift 1,217: Planting roses, rhododendron and peonies to add color to our yard. 

I wrote that gift 369 days into my life without my friend by my side. It was my birthday. On that day, we had a child in trouble and were trying to redirect our hearts toward grace and gratitude instead of courtrooms and jail. Thankfully, thankfully, we were also anticipating the upcoming nuptials of another child. There was much to be grateful for in the midst of dueling pain and joy.

Since then, I've run hot and cold with continuing my list, but when I am intentional about being thankful - whether I've written down the gift or merely whisper a prayer of thanks while walking the dogs, whether it's on a beautiful day or one filled with challenges - I am more content, happier and better able to love and serve the people in my life.

Every day last November, I posted something for which I was grateful on Facebook. This year, I want to go a bit deeper and explore my gratitude further. I'm going to try to write a little something here every day - it may not be very long or deep, or maybe it will be. It may be serious or silly. My hope is that the daily discipline of writing my gratitude will reinvigorate my desire to give thanks in everything.

Postscript: When I returned from Mexico, I read One Thousand Gifts and have kept it propped on my bookshelf where it serves as a daily reminder to have a grateful heart. I don't know that I'll ever reread it, but it is a book that has changed my life. I haven't written in my second gifts journal since January of this year when I was sick and feeling pretty miserable. I'm almost at 1,900 gifts and counting. Always counting.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Just Like Them - An Anniversary Post

They were holding hands as they walked along the retirement community sidewalk that was scattered with leaves. Taking their time, no rush to their steps. Getting their daily exercise, headed to visit a neighbor, returning home from lunch ... it doesn't matter where they were headed, their steps were in sync.
"Excuse me, sir. Would you be able to give us some advice about apples? We want apples that are good for both eating and cooking." Bent a bit by age, they were in the farm market on a grey autumn day, seeking the expertise of the market manager and learning something new together in their sunset years.
They had just walked their tandem bike across the busy state road and were ready to mount it to start the next leg of their journey on the rail-trail. She was bundled in her winter coat, ears covered by bright earmuffs, grey hair peeking out from her knit hat. He wore a cap to protect his head from the brisk air and was assuming the lead position on the bike. They rode in tandem ... a rhythm perhaps forged from decades of life together.


My hope and prayer for us is that we get to be just like them. That we grow old together, cherishing the simple things, like holding hands while we take a walk; learning new things together; and riding our bikes together - provided I still have enough balance - with you in the lead, guiding the way.

Today marks 14 years since we said, "I do," and I'll continue to say it every day we have together. In our marriage, we've celebrated milestones, mourned losses, and laughed our way through and beyond things that otherwise would have chipped away at our love and relationship. I'm ever thankful for the steady anchor you are and the joy you bring to my heart.

No one knows the number of their days, so I'm going to count each one we have together as a blessing. And I'm going to hope we get to be ... just like them.