Monday, September 5, 2011
Upon Reaching One Thousand
Like many around the globe, I've been mesmerized by the tally of grace. For the last few years, Ann Voskamp has challenged thousands to seek the thousands: To chronicle one by one the beauty in every moment, the grace in every heartbeat.
Last week I reached the big mark. One thousand.
When I started my notebook months and months ago, I was convinced that reaching the thousandth gift would be a huge milestone and worthy of much celebration. I couldn't wait for the joyous penning of #1000.
I was a rather inconsistent chronicler, but as the numbers soared and the gifts poured, I indeed felt the joy. I loved having a record of God's goodness in my life. My heart raced as I entered the 900s. I was almost there. I knew that my day of celebration was just around the bend.
But I was wrong.
You see, my gratitude journal is also a scrapbook of sorts. Each page contains not only my list of gratitude, but also my kids' memorable quotes, event ticket stubs, programs and brochures, pictures and sketches.
But this page in particular, this page on which I reached #1000, happened to hold just one piece of paper. A program from a memorial service. For a baby. Dear family friends whose daughter lived for a mere twenty days.
How could I record praise alongside death? How could I express gratitude when life seemed so unfair?
When I first started my gratitude journey, it was easy to focus on the beauty. The sunset glow on apple blossoms, the verdant forests, the taste of summer strawberries. What's not to love? It's easy to give thanks when "God's in His heaven and all's right with the world."
But what about when things aren't at all right with the world? Where is the joy in that?
This, dear reader, is the great paradox. The mysterious shift. The kingdom that makes no sense at all but is somehow absolutely perfect.
How do I know this? Because I've seen the greater, deeper joy that comes through loss. The joy that comes out of brokenness. Perhaps even a sliver of the unexplainable joy that Christ wraps around His children as they work their way through the agony of death.
You see, this thousand-mark page also recorded another series of events in my life. Time shared with my grandparents.
Just months ago, my grandmother lay in a hospital bed in Southern California with a dangerously low heartbeat. I cried and prayed and wanted desperately to hop on the next flight out. But I couldn't. So I kept on praying.
God intervened. Her heart and body miraculously gained in strength. As she healed, she ministered to those at her bedside, giving God the glory. We rejoiced to hear that she and my grandfather would indeed be able to make their annual trip north.
So for the past two weeks I truly reveled in the moments my Nanee and I shared together. As she recounted the events surrounding her hospitalization, she drew special attention to a word that the Lord used again and again throughout her healing.
The word? Joy.
My eyes filled with tears. There it was again. The eucharisteo that Voskamp writes about. The grace we receive from our Father, the thanks we give because of it, and the indescribable joy that fills our spirits when we dwell in a spirit of gratitude.
Because of my grandmother's experience, I was that much more aware of how precious our time was together. We came too close to not having it. So for the whole two weeks, we crammed in as much togetherness as we could. We lived in the moment because we knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that every single moment was a gift.
My eyes were wide open, that I might not miss a single gift. Especially the gift of now.
Throughout their visit, my grandmother demonstrated yet again the way she has perfected the art of living in the moment. I watched the way her eyes sparkled as she wove stories for my children. I watched the way she deftly pulled together darling outfits on our annual girls shopping trip. I watched the way she engaged in conversation with others, treasuring their company.
I watched her live and delight in the moment, the way she always has and the way she always will.
This, my friends, is the only way to live. In moment by moment gratitude. This is the lens through which we must view life in order to experience true joy. Yes, even joy in brokenness, even joy in loss. The lens that goes so far as to enable a young couple to treasure every single moment of twenty priceless days with their daughter. To treasure the little fingers, the little squeaks, the little pink bows and the little pink dresses. To store up in their forever memories the snuggles in mama's arms, the last waltz with daddy. And to count it all joy.
It's true that as I recorded my one thousand gifts I wasn't counting on brokenness. I wasn't counting on loss. But because of them, I've tasted the true depths of joy.
And the result? I simply cannot stop at one thousand.