On occasion, I read something that touches my soul, speaks to my heart, takes my breath away. I read the words and remember similar thoughts and feelings that made me feel alone, questioning, separated by a sea of grief yet connected in a way that gave me a painful sort of joy. But hard as one tries, words cannot fully express. We each must walk the path and find our own way. It is so individual and yet all so connected. With lives intertwined, we are asked to love one another. Choosing love, we also choose pain and suffering because we just can't have one without the other. It's the painful sort of joy.
My friend coming out of the grocery story is choosing love. Carrying three cases of old-fashioned canning jars, I asked, "Henry, what in the world are you doing?" He laughed and said, "Canning pears." And then he turned to a more serious subject and we talked about his beautiful daughter walking through cancer, looking for options, choosing love and hope. I came home thinking about how hard we work to preserve what we know and love. Canned Pears. Beautiful daughters.
I am reading the book One Thousand Gifts. I downloaded the book on my Kindle, but already know it is one I need to buy to underline and return to often. The author Ann Voskamp is challenged to write down 1000 things for which she is thankful. I will not tell you the story because, as my friend wrote to me, saying "stop what you was doing and go get the book," I would echo the same thoughts. Finding gratitude in everyday life events is what saves us. Nothing else. Voskamp says, "Thanksgiving always comes before blessing." I know this to be true. As I look out the window at the sudden change of the season, I smile and am grateful... for the red streaks in the Maple trees, one last rose begging to sit at my desk, cardinals playing hide-and-seek, Dr. Feelgood's morning call, Bodey at my feet, my son's emailed travel itinerary, my daughter's bright attitude toward her first jury summons, a repairmen on time. One thousand gifts is a short list. I smile and I know.
Because I know, there is strength for this life journey. I know God stays with us through the bad times - all the way. I know he is "close to the broken-hearted and draws near to the crushed in spirit." I know He blesses us with friends and material comforts, but the real blessing is in knowing Him. I know the power of his comfort, his strength, his wisdom, his staying power. I know Him and want others to have strength for their journey. And as our paths cross in our daily events, I want to be joyfully present in each event - welcoming the traveler, sharing an omelet, reflecting what I know. Maybe that is why these words come - sometimes with humor, sometimes with anger and often with questions - lots of questions. But never without gratitude and trust in the One I know.
Maybe we have just never been challenged to make the list. We'd rather be grumpy. We offer a perfunctory, skin-deep "thank you" and move on as opposed to really listening or really observing or really paying attention to the present that is offering moments of real wonder. John Milton said, "Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world." Until we can stop and be still -- be reverent-- gratitude will elude our hearts and we will miss the blessing. Thanksgiving always precedes the blessing.