A few months ago, I shared about the “One Thousand Gifts” challenge I was working on. The goal was to write out 1,000 gifts by the end of the summer. (Here’s the link to that post: http://www.charliessong.wordpress.com/2013/05/16/1000-gifts/.) It felt good to post it. The list making was good. The accountability was good. And the fact that Ann Voskamp even read it and left a comment…meant a lot to my broken heart.
Now that summer is over, and the list is finished, I wanted to share a few thoughts on what I learned in the “midst of the list.”
I’d like to say, “List making is SO great! It makes you feel soooooo much more thankful!” But I can’t. It was a stretch every single day, and most days it was a downright challenge. Some days I even felt kind of mad at the list. The last eight months have been the darkest, most excruciatingly painful months of our lives. To say that these were not easy months to count fresh mercies and things I was grateful for…is a major understatement. Some days, I would sit there for a profoundly long time, just trying to come up with my little list of ten.
And some days, I would get done with the list, and then read back over the ten and think to myself, “But I don’t CARE that I saw a beautiful sunset! I had wanted Charlie. I had wanted to be too busy holding Charlie, and feeding Charlie, and doing extra laundry for Charlie, to have time to watch a sunset. I had wanted to be too busy enjoying what I HAD WANTED… to have time for this dumb sunset!”
I’d like to say, “Counting kept me faithful and grateful on even the darkest of days!” But the truth is…some days, I couldn’t even make a list. The day I felt so disheartened and beaten down that I actually broke our bathroom sink in anger…I didn’t make a list. The day last week when new neighbors moved into the house next door with their eight-month-old baby, and we had to listen to someone else’s baby crying all night long while ours is buried in the ground…I didn’t make a list. And the day this June when another sweet baby passed from this life to the next…I didn’t make a list. Just. Couldn’t. Do. It.
So those are all the things I can’t say about counting gifts. But here is the one thing I can say…
There are always gifts.
Always. Even on the days it took forever to come up with ten. Even on the days they didn’t feel like gifts. Even on the days I couldn’t bring myself to count them…there are always, always gifts.
To the little girl who will sleep on the streets of Calcutta tonight…that unexpected crust of bread- is a gift.
To the mommy at Emma’s school who has been given three weeks to live…the hug she will give her sweet daughter tonight– is a gift.
And to my broken heart that has been literally dragged along by my body through the last eight months of life…each and every one of the One Thousand- is a gift.
There is so much to grieve as I think of the list I had WANTED…
Watching Emma cuddle with her sweet baby brother.
Charlie’s squeals of delight over bright balloons.
A stroll to the park on a cool summer night.
But this is what God GAVE US…
A few weeks ago, we were walking to the park and Emma spotted a huge bunch of pink balloons in our neighbors yard. The gigantic “It’s a Girl!” balloon was impossible to ignore, so I had to explain to the kids that our neighbors had just had a baby girl. Emma was silent for a moment and then said to me, “Mommy, did the same thing happen to their baby that happened to Charlie?”
“No, sweetie, they got to bring home their baby home.”
I wonder sometimes…what is she thinking? What goes through her precious heart and mind as she reels and stumbles through the unfairness of life? What war is being waged in her soul as she lives with the pain of being broken people in a broken world? The other day, Emma found me laying on the floor in her room weeping as I looked at Charlie’s pictures. She told me later that night, “Mommy, I don’t want to have kids when I grow up. I don’t want my kids to die.”
I hope this blog never gives you the impression we are doing good. Because we are not. Our big feet, and our children’s little feet, are literally stumbling through this broken life. We live with a suffering inconcievable to most adults…and it breaks my heart that my children have been to two baby funerals in that last eight months while everyone around us gets to bring their babies home.
But here is the part I cannot escape. The part that brings me to my knees in worship again and again, even when my whole soul screams out against it. Even when my soul screams out against Him…
“Who gave me ANY of this?”
The same God who has allowed for my sweet six-year-old to experience such suffering and heartache…is the One who made her heart in the first place. He gave us Emma. He gives her every breath she breathes. He gives her every tender thought. He makes her deep, and gives her heart the capacity to even wrestle with the suffering of this world. And…He gives her Himself.
I had wanted to put, “Emma’s joy over her baby brother” on my list. But God has given us something different. Something I did NOT want. But something that is still, most certainly, a gift.
“Emma’s faith in the UNSEEN goodness of God.”
“Emma’s joy in the promise of eternal life to come.”
“Emma’s tenderness towards the sorrow and suffering in others.”
I’d rather have baby Charlie in my arms. I’d rather be pregnant with his little sibling right now. But I would be a fool to not find gratitude in who God is making us through the gifts He HAS given.
And so we make our list. With tears, we make our list. With anger and confusion, we make our list. With unanswered questions, and broken and bleeding hearts, we make our list. Because they are hearts that cannot escape His goodness.
Because there are always, always gifts.
Undeserved, unexpected fresh mercies EVERY DAY that remind us of His love. Love that outlives the life of any gift. Love that we will still be counting on when we’ve been there 10,000 years. Love that outlasts the lists.
I am more grateful for having made the list. Not just grateful for the things on it, but grateful that in the darkest night of my soul…there were still 1,000 gifts. And grateful that when the paper is gone, and the people are gone, and these gifts are just faint memories of a life long lived…
His love outlasts the list.