It was summer in South Haven, MI. Life was full of fresh blueberries, Kilwin’s ice cream, and white pizza from Venezia brought down to the beach to watch the sunset, but I couldn’t taste any of it. A conflict was escalating in our small church plant and so was my anxiety. I lived, breathed, and slept tense, shoulders tight to my ears.
Our parish was struggling financially and everyone felt responsible. That summer anxiety played itself out in an argument of hurricane proportions. We wondered daily if a gust would slam shut our doors. People chose sides. Others chose to fume in secret but could no longer look us in the eye. These were people we had loved for nine years, who had loved us. Our livelihood was at stake. God’s harvest in that town was being tested.
That summer I read Ann Voskamp’s book, One Thousand Gifts. I read it one small mobile page at a time and then downloaded the audio version on my phone so I could have Ann’s poetic rhythm of grace spoken over me. I listened while driving our minivan to and from the beach, while running on a treadmill, and while putting together a casserole for my family. Soon I began writing my first thanksgiving list. I still have it:
1. Baby boy curls
2. Gentle breeze rustling maple leaves at the park
3. Static hair on yellow plastic slides
4. My son feeling the texture of a hosta leaf between his fingers
6. A book that is leading me straight into the heart of all You’ve been teaching me.
At first, it felt rote and awkward but just a few days later I was shocked as it began healing my fixation on the conflict. All of a sudden I could taste my food again, smell the sandy hair of my children after a day playing in the sand. Anxiety was no longer undoing me. I began to live slowly and more present, searching for joy moments, then turning back around to thank the Giver. I remember holding onto that simple list as if it was holding together my world. Every night I would review the list and hold on tight. First thing in the morning I would reread it. Joy built to a crescendo thanksgiving upon thanksgiving, full feast after full feast.
Six weeks later we witnessed a miracle. Not only was the conflict healed, but we saw the glory of God brought on by a season of humility and true repentance. That next sunday we had a true, Biblical passing of the peace, with tears and hugs and Tenth Avenue North’s This is Where the Healing Begins. We witnessed heaven touch down in the cafeteria of the middle school where we met.
A year later when we began to sense the Lord was moving us out of that beloved people, I began to listen to Ann’s chapter 8 on trust and how the written thanksgivings can become a bridge from one unknown to another. The thanksgivings, Ann said, could become the planks we walk on…one solid simple gift of God after another.
This weekend I began scrawling down thanks, one at a time. Again, that small shift occurred. I began to return to joy as once again I began to taste and see that God is good.
This weekend I gave thanks for:
1. The cushions on the pews at Holy Cross (don’t laugh…they’re seriously fantastic!)
2. Xavier’s teachers who cause him to strut into school every morning
3. Geese honking in long “V”
4. Toast with ricotta and orangemarmalade
5. Caedmon kneeling for the confession on his own
6. The gift of a bag of granny smiths turned into fresh apple cake
7. Night jumping on the trampoline
8. Bird chatter
9. Madeline’s invitation to a neighborhood tea party
10. hike on the Chatahoochee (pic by Maddie)
Action: What are you thankful for, my friends? Might I suggest you join me (and Ann) in this writing down of gifts.
We’re on a 31 day journey toward falling in love with our zip code. Our family just moved down five states south and are loving the warm October. Would you like to come along? Slip your email address (I’ll guard it with my life) into the CONNECT box on the front page and we’ll journey together. Start here.