January 22, 2013

The Joy Dare

I have been deeply ungrateful. I bet you have too.

Consider this:
Every time you or I complain about anything, we're really saying, "I'm not thankful for what you've given me in this moment, Lord. Take it back. I don't want it." Even though He says in Romans 8 that He works all things together for our good, to conform us to the image of Christ, we're ungrateful for the refining fires. I've written before about my struggle with discontentment; it is, at heart, a struggle with ingratitude.

I'm not thankful for the weeks when we don't know how the rent will get paid. I'm not thankful for diseases that afflict the people I love. I'm seriously not thankful for the painful moments of being the only woman in the group who can't join the conversation about toddler trials, when all I ever wanted was to mother a houseful of children and start young at it too. I'm not thankful for hospital bills, broken washing machines, or midsummer car rides with no air conditioning.

My heart says: These parts of your plan, God they're a mistake, clearly. They'll never work for my good. Take them far away from me. 

I can spend so much of my energy being ungrateful that it sucks the joy right out of me. I become like the Israelites in Numbers 11, who had miracle-food from God's hand spread all around each morning; yet they lost the wonder of that mysterious entrée and complained about missing out on the spices and side dishes of Egypt.

Have you ever been there?

In 2011, I ordered a little book called One Thousand Gifts. While that neat brown package was on its way to my mailbox, something was eating away at my newlywed husband's insides. We had no clue until extreme pain drove us to the emergency room on a Thursday night and kept us at the hospital for two weeks straight. In those two weeks my husband had a major operation, was laid off from his brand new job, and began a very dark road to recovery. As he lay in the intensive care unit, monitors of all sorts softly beeping while he slept,  I started reading the book that had arrived the day we went to the hospital.

The book spoke of God's goodness even in the hard times, even in death and loss and pain. It spoke of that joy that comes with knowing God is good, and that His plans for me are all gifts meant to make me more like Christ. Ann Voskamp writes, "When I realize that it is not God who is in my debt but I who am in His great debt, then doesn't all become a gift?"

It was hard to view as gifts that hospital stay, that lost job, those dark months that followed. But if I deserve nothing no life, no moments, nothing precious to me (which one must have in order to feel loss or pain at all) then wasn't every moment and every thing a gift?

So on Easter Day 2011, in a clinical, pale blue hospital chair that had become my desk-sofa-bed, I took Ann up on her Joy Dare. I started writing in a gratitude journal, recording "gifts" from God that I didn't deserve. Skillful doctors' hands. Being allowed to stay by Steven's side in ICU. Beeps from monitors that kept me awake all night but reminded me he was still breathing. 

Almost two years later, I'm still not thanking God profusely for every trial. However, the discipline of daily recording His gifts to me forces me to confront my ingratitude and practice thankfulness. It helps me give thanks for gifts I would've overlooked otherwise.

Groceries. An extra hour of work this week. Truth that does not change. Lunches at home with my husband. Fresh eggs in the hen-house.  Purple blooms on front-yard weeds. Early morning rays through fog. 

At the beginning of 2013, I started over with my journal. I want to be more consistent in listing gifts every single day of this year. I want to end up with over a thousand gifts recorded in my little book. So every day I write down at least three. No repeats allowed.

Fingers digging in soft, cold garden dirt. Vegetable seeds not yet sown. Sun-soaked white towels on the clothesline. Routine. Soap. The ability to read. 

I'm currently at #112. One hundred twelve separate undeserved gifts God has given me so far this year. And it's only mid-January.

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