How a Cynic Met a Gratitude Journal – Thanksgiving 2013

It’s 39 pages and counting. It’s sometimes written in black ink, sometimes blue; there’s an occasional pencil entry and red ink dots a few of the pages. Some of the entries are scribbled, others are printed carefully, some hold explanations in brackets. “It” is a gratitude journal and I am a cynic. 

For a full year after Ann Voskamp’s book, One Thousand Gifts, was released I had people tell me I should read it. “You need to get this!” said one emphatically. “You will love it” said another.

Oh.Really. I thought. It sounded so boring. It reminded me of Nicky Gumbel’s view of Christians before he became one “They were sooo boring. And no matter what” he told his friend “Never let them into your room!” 

On a whim one day as I was idling, I happened on a website where you could download the first chapter of the book at no cost. This was perfect. I would now be able to confirm my opinion with authority. By page three my throat was catching, by page five I was sniffling, by page seven tears were pouring down my cheeks. All my cynicism, all my ignorance of the book and its premise, all my skepticism about best-selling books by Christians — all of that was washed away in a tearful apology that Ann would never receive.

My cynical heart was moved. The words in the book pierced with the challenge of “Eucharisteo”.  The author notes that every time Jesus performed a miracle, he first gave thanks. “In everything give thanks” the words of scripture tell me. Seemingly an impossibility, words written by someone who didn’t live in my reality, and yet there it was. And a deeper look at the man who penned the words, the Apostle Paul, made it clear that his reality was far more difficult than mine could possibly be.

As I read the book, I began to get the gnawing sense that I needed to do this, that I needed to begin a journal. I didn’t want to admit it, so stubborn am I, but I was deeply affected by the importance of thanks – the truth that Eucharisteo precedes the miracle.

So I began.

At first it felt silly. I would sit at dawn as per my routine, looking out a window at a sky not yet ready for morning. I would hold my pen and my journal, lost in thought. And then I would begin to write.

Warm home-made bread with honey on it.


Hurting heart.

Pain and healing.

Day after day, page after page, this cynic’s icy heart melted with the warmth of gratitude. 

At 39 pages I reached one thousand. I look back and see miracle on miracle. This conflict resolved, this child in college, another with a heart restored. The list is a story that only God and I would understand. It would make sense to no one else, but I think that’s the way it is supposed to be. I marvel at the way just listing thanks, inscribing gratitude in ink on a plain page, is changing the way I see life, the way I view my reality. It is healing my mind and changing my vision.

So today I remember this journey and I thank God that he saw fit to change a cynic’s heart and begin to fill it with gratitude.


The turkey has brined since early yesterday morning with a savory concoction that my daughter created. Pies are everywhere, and our refrigerator has vegetables, fruits, olives, and cheeses in such abundance that each time we open it, we fear the door won’t shut.

This afternoon our home will be filled to capacity with people from Israel, Iran, and Russia. As Christians, Muslims, and Jews we will share the holiday together with traditional Thanksgiving foods that include turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, and stuffing.

I am so grateful to you who read and share in this writing journey. Ann in Cambodia, Jill in New Mexico, Petra in Phoenix, Pari in Kuwait, Janet in Minnesota, Rachel in Djibouti, Lara in Somerville, Carol in Istanbul, Donna in Chicago, Stacy in Dubai, Judy in Moscow, Bruce in Gardner, Jayna in San Antonio, Leslianne in Washington DC, Dounia in New England, Bettie in Macon, Sophie in Australia, my mom in Rochester. There are so many more of you who have emailed or commented, letting me into your world. It is a gift.

So from me, sitting at my computer trying to write out thoughts that make sense:

 *  Thank you *  شكرا  *  danke  *  آپ کا شکریہ  *  спасибо  *  merci  *

* teşekkür ederim *

Gratitude – Number 245 & Muffin Monday

In my worn journal I look back until I find it — Number 245. I’m frantic to find it, it seems crucial to the day.

It’s written in slightly messy, black cursive, as if the writer was in a hurry. The journal is 39 pages of thanks — my first foray into giving thanks in a concrete way, a way where I can look back.

Number 245 is squeezed between ‘Les Miserables – stories of grace’, and ‘rental cars’, as if an afterthought. But it’s there as I knew it would be.

The words are ‘Monday Mornings’ and then in brackets beside the words ‘knowing I can’t do it on my own’. And it’s true. I can’t. What is true every day, that I can’t do this alone, comes with a force on Monday.

It’s as though God is whispering to me, urging me to remember. Urging me to remember that it is He who redeems Mondays, who takes me from Sunday’s rest through Monday’s unknown, who reminds me I can’t do this on my own. The words of author Ann Voskamp, challenged to speak words of gratitude through her pen, through keeping a journal that resulted in the book One Thousand Gifts, resonate:

“That which I refuse to give thanks for, I refuse to believe Christ can redeem”

So I thank God for number 245 in my list of One Thousand Gifts: Monday Mornings (knowing I can’t do it on my own).

“But, first, remember, remember, remember the signs. Say them to yourself when you wake in the morning and when you lie down at night, and when you wake in the middle of the night. And whatever strange things may happen to you, let nothing turn your mind from following the signs. And secondly, I give you a warning. Here on the mountain I have spoken to you clearly: I will not often do so down in Narnia. Here on the mountain, the air is clear and your mind is clear; as you drop down into Narnia, the air will thicken. Take great care that it does not confuse your mind. And the signs which you have learned here will not look at all as you expect them to look, when you meet them there. That is why it is so important to know them by heart and pay no attention to appearances. Remember the signs and believe the signs. Nothing else matters.” Aslan to Jill in The Silver Chair


Pumpkin Pie MuffinsI love the muffin cookbook I am getting through connecting with Stacy and today’s recipe is a perfect fall Muffin: Pumpkin Pie Muffins. They’re called ‘Pumpkin Pie Muffins’ because they are made with canned pumpkin and the same spices as pumpkin pie. Stacy promises that the whole house will smell like you’ve been baking pie. Either click on the above link or the picture to get to the recipe.

All is Grace

All week Grace seemed hidden in heavy rain, short tempers, and the Great Unknown. All week it took faith to see that those too were moments for Grace. The question I asked of myself: “how is it that I am willing to say ‘Yes’ to my name being in the book of Life but unwilling to say ‘Yes’ to the rest of what is offered?”

And then Saturday comes with this glorious burst of sunshine and beauty that catches the heart, for all is Grace.







Someone Has to be in the Middle

Uzbekistan Airways Boarding Pass

I looked at my boarding pass. 8B. Smack in the middle like the white of an Oreo cream cookie, only not yummy.

And I hate the middle.

The tickets were purchased late. A last-minute trip to grieve with family over loss. Last-minute tickets yield middle seats. The grid that showed us available seat options on the website was blue in the middle and occupied white everywhere else.

While the middle of a cinnamon roll is something to crave, to fight over, the middle airline seat is something to run from. Squished between two strangers, last zone to board, looked at with hostility as you walk down the aisle — nothing good about the middle!

But. Someone has to be in the middle. Someone has to squish between those two strangers. Someone has to turn this seat into opportunity. Someone needs to see the humor of two people whose names you don’t know, mouths open in sleep, a slight snore coming from one of them, falling on my shoulders. The one in yellow is on my right, the one in black on my left.

I settle in for a long flight. Can there be hope in the middle?

I’ve packed all my reading material, and, because I was last to board they took away my bag at the gate telling me I would meet it at the other end. All I have is a One Thousand Gifts Devotional I’d ordered on a whim. There’s a space at the back to count those gifts or graces, count the moments I’m thankful for — even if I’m not really thankful.

So I open it and write “Seats in the middle” Right under it I write “Hope in the middle”.

I scan through the titles of the devotionals. The word Grace is in all 60 titles. I flip to Devotion number 5. It’s called ‘Here-Now Grace’. That’s the one I need. I’m tired, I know it’s a long flight, I’ve got worry hanging on my shoulders like a back pack full of bricks. And I’m in the middle seat. I need ‘Here-Now Grace’.

I read the words several times before I accept their reality. “The holy grail of joy is not in some exotic location or some emotional mountaintop experience. The joy wonder could be here! Here in the messy, piercing, ache of now, joy might be – unbelievably – possible. The only place we need see before we die is this place of seeing God, here and now.”*

So I’m not off the hook. The holy grail of joy is here in the middle and I need ‘Here-Now Grace’. Because Someone has to be in the middle.

*From One Thousand Gifts Devotional by Ann Voskamp

Complaining or Lamenting

I struggle with the ‘in all things give thanks’ piece of scripture. I know. I know. Many of us have read with poetic passion Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts and no doubt most of us think it is an amazing book. We marvel at how we feel as we begin to keep that journal and give thanks. Initially words fly onto the pages, our pens barely keeping up with the flowing ink.

And then life happens with all its fights, disease, chaos, uncertainty, and discord. And suddenly the pen feels heavy on our paper, the passion is gone. We shout “Where is Ann Voskamp when I need her?” (and Ann undoubtedly shouts back “You’re supposed to say “Where is God, NOT Where is Ann!”)

I think what I haven’t always understood is that lamenting, and by that I mean true grief over a broken world, a broken relationship, a death, is not complaining. Lamenting is aching for a world that is not as it should be. Lamenting is crying out to a God who cares that it’s not as it should be. Lamenting is giving appropriate voice to those things that disappoint, those things that grieve.

If God had wanted our constant happiness he would have created wind-up robots – instead he asks for our deepest trust, faith, and yes – a lamenting now and then. We have evidence of this through the book of Lamentations where the prophet Jeremiah laments for the fall of Jerusalem. He’s in solitude in a fixed posture of grief. He cries out to God with his whole being – from his toes to his nose. And through his cries we are given a portrait of one in anguish.

“He has filled me with bitter herbs and sated me with gall. He has broken my teeth with gravel; he has trampled me in the dust.I have been deprived of peace; I have forgotten what prosperity is. So I say, ‘My splendor is gone and all that I had hoped from the LORD.’ I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me.”*

Laments can heal the soul because they take us back to God as God. While complaints lead us into an abyss of discontent and wondering why the manna went bad, laments get at the core of the human heart, the dilemma of living out truth in a broken world.

At the end of complaining is greater discontent; at the end of lamenting is the whisper of hope, for at the end of the bitterness and gall is this: “Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.”*

*Lamentations 3: 15-20 *Lamentations 3:21,22

Blogger’s note – and today I am lamenting for Israel and Gaza as rockets fly and civilians are killed. My heart goes out to those who have already died with prayers for what seems an impossible peace.

Imperfect Community or Safe Isolation

Ann Voskamp has a way of getting inside my head. For those unfamiliar, she has written a book called “One Thousand Gifts” that ended up on the New York Times Bestseller’s list for quite some time. She never expected this and her future writing has thus far not been affected by this success – a rare treat indeed.

Ann weaves words together, creating a blanket that covers me and makes me cry. It is simultaneously frustrating and life replenishing. So yesterday she did it again. In a contributing piece to the blog {in}courage she wrote about why we need community. Only because she is Ann, she pushed the envelope; she wrote about why we need community even when we’re hurting. That’s a big caveat.

You see, I can find community in many places when I’m not hurting. I have a community with my coffee shop as we laugh and joke together; I have a community with my neighbors as we exchange conversation and slowly move into knowing each other a little better; I even have a community of sorts on the subway of glaring people – that’s when I’m not hurting. When I’m not hurting I trust and open up. That’s when I’m not hurting.

But when I’m hurting? My inside self curls into a tight fetal position as I try and protect my wounds; my inside self doesn’t want anyone too close because close means I’ll have to share; my inside self screams “leave me alone” even as it cries out “I don’t want to be alone”. When I’m hurting I want to hide and self isolate and medicate – that’s what happens when I’m hurting.

So Ann Voskamp comes along with her post and she writes about me. Oh it’s a different name and a different place and different DNA – but really it’s me. She is honest about where community fails and insistent on why we still need it. And though I want to accuse her of not knowing what it is like to be hurt by community I know deep down that she knows exactly what it’s like to be hurt – she wouldn’t be able to write the way she does if she hadn’t experienced it.

“You belong in the imperfect pews, you belong in the community that disappoints yet is anointed to keep on pointing to Him who cannot disappoint, you belong to the club of all the failing passing on all His mercy, all the members of the marred sisterhood being impossibly redeemed by love, lit by transparency, perfected by grace.”from Why You Need Community{even when you’re hurting} 4.12.12.

I’ll close with the words of my friend who read it and says “the message that imperfect community is better in every way than safe isolation is an important one for all of us…” What do you think? How have you made community work even when it’s hurt you? 


“Humbly Letting Go”

There are a thousand ways to humbly let go” Ann Voskamp ~ One Thousand Gifts

It begins the moment you see your newborn with the soft downy fuzz substitute for hair, the baby soft skin, the red marks showing the struggle of the birth process on their faces, and that new-born cry that only the mom and dad can soothe. You are vulnerable. You have begun on the path of vulnerability that is parenting. From now on people will have a weapon against you that was previously unavailable: that weapon of your children.

Insults to me? These may hurt, but insults to my children? Those wound. Criticism to me? I’ll think about it and weigh the merits. Criticism of my children? That’s crossed a line – unless I’m the one criticizing. Yes, children are an extreme weapon.

And yet the path of parenting is one that demands that I “humbly let go”. I am called to humbly let go of the control I so badly want and think I need. The control of their lives from what they will eat, to where they will go to college, to who they will marry. I am to humbly let go of the desire to make everything ok for them, set their paths straight.  I am to humbly let go of the hurts that make me want to stalk their friends and scream at them “Be Kind!”  I am to humbly forgive and let go of the times when these fruits of my womb hurt me.

There are a thousand ways to humbly let go – but it’s still so hard. How do you let go with humility and peace? This role of parenting is not a role that can accommodate big egos and selfishness. It’s a role that demands that I “humbly let go”.

How is parenting going for you? Where have you struggled to let go? This mom needs you today! 

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The Poison of Discontent;The Antidote of Gratitude

Some time ago as we went through the arduous process of settling in the United States after years of living overseas, I began realizing that every time a friend said they were traveling somewhere I would look at my life with complete and undisguised discontent. I didn’t want my life. I was discontent with much of what it had to offer. I wanted the life of another. I wanted to be the one on the airplane saying “Goodbye!” – I didn’t want to be the one left, waving goodbye. I didn’t want to be the mom that accompanies the kindergarten class on their field trip to the airport, I wanted to be the mom that packed up her child at the age of 5 and in a frenzied rush of packing, goodbyes and promises to keep in touch settled with a sigh into seat 28C and listened to “Good evening, this is your captain speaking….”

I wanted to be the one with the amazing stories, the stories of a car being held up by four men while the tire was being changed in the middle of a city street. The stories of traveling over mountains and through deserts, having to walk across international borders because you needed a bathroom so badly, sitting at truck stops eating bowls of greasy curry and chapatis while your car was being fixed. So many stories. I didn’t want the stories that could sit on the shelf of a cubicle in a government building, I wanted stories that lived, I wanted a life that mattered and being overseas was representative of a life that mattered.

You can only hide discontent for so long. I remember the day I cried out to God in my discontent, weeping the soul tears that come from deep within and leave you exhausted and humbled. Like the giant hot dragon tears that Eustace Clarence Scrubb cried in “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader” when he saw his reflection in water and realized he had turned into a dragon. And just as Eustace through his monstrous actions took on the skin of a monster, I had drunk the poison of discontent and become poisonous in the process. I realized that day that I hated the place my children called home. I was a dragon of sorts and needed to have my dragon skin taken off no matter how painful.

But taking off something that I had internalized for some time was a challenge. Just like poison that needs a strong antidote to relieve people of its deadly effects, I needed something strong. It initially took the physical act of writing down everything that I had – not what I wanted. It was a long list. It included a Victorian home and healthy children. It could have been someone else’s dream list. That was a shocker. In my discontent, was I living out somebody else’s dreams?

I was thinking about this recently as I began reading a book new to our library. The book had been recommended to me by a couple of different people but I remember shrugging it off, thinking “Wow does that sound dumb. Sounds like a sugary, syrupy non-book”. And then, in yet another humbling experience, I had the opportunity to read the first chapter free. The book is by a woman named Ann Voskamp and called “One Thousand Gifts.” The words on the pages took in my unwilling heart as I read of the pain of a death in her family keeping her from really living. In the words of my sister-in-law, the author writes in “staccato urgency” – she has a message and she wants people to hear it. Her premise is that from the beginning of time, even when there was a perfect garden with more glory than can be imagined, we were “lured by a deception that there was more to a full life*” that God wasn’t really giving us what was good, that there was more. In a poetic passage she says “We look and swell with the ache of a broken and battered planet, which we ascribe as the negligent work of an indifferent creator (if we even think there is one) Do we ever think of  this busted -up place as a result of us ingrates, unsatisfied, we who punctured it all with a bite?” These are biting words to be sure, but she goes on to say that in her journey, she realized that if ingratitude was the sin, the solution was gratefulness, gratitude, giving thanks. I won’t give spoilers because I have none – I am slowly ingesting and digesting this book.

But certainly in my life, my life where discontent has, at times, poisoned me, the antidote is gratitude. It’s as simple as giving thanks. It’s as difficult as giving thanks.

What about you? How has discontent manifest itself in your world and what is your solution?

*The quotes are taken directly from the book One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp Copyright 2010 Zondervan