Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Cultivating Gratitude

HopeAs I shared in my last post, I have been reading Ann Voskamp's blog and her book, One Thousand Gifts, and I've decided to participate in counting the many-sized gifts I receive from God daily.  I want to say more about that. 

God has been so generous to me.  Ridiculously generous.  I struggled with disordered eating in its many incarnations (compulsive overeating, anorexia, and purging via over-exercise, to name a few) for seventeen years.  It started around the time that I entered middle school, born of a need to cope with the overwhelming social pressures of the middle school I attended as well as the stress of living in a home where there was a lot of yelling and not much in the way of hugs and love and grace.

Disordered eating followed me through high school, college, grad school, and beyond.  It nearly destroyed my marriage.  It nearly took my life.  The battle for health in both body and mind has been, in a word, hell.  And for all my hard work and attempts to claw my way into recovery, I never succeeded at getting or staying free from my eating disorder.

Until God stepped in.  In March of this year, I gave up the fight -- and not in the positive, I-give-myself-to-Jesus kind of way.  It was more like, "I've so damn tired, and I just can't bear to try anymore."  So I gave up, resigned myself to a life of disordered misery, and on a whim signed up for an online art class in an attempt to fill up my time.

I don't know if it was the giving up, or my new art-making -- but my life exploded in the best of ways.  Perhaps my giving up allowed God room to finally work, instead of me trying to force Him to fit into my agenda.  Or maybe the art opened my life to Him in a unique way.  I don't know.  I don't think I'll ever know.  But suddenly, without my even asking God for help, He healed me.  Virtually overnight, I went from living in depressing enslavement to eating (and not eating) to shouting-from-the-rooftops freedom.  It was miraculous.

I was (and am) most amazed by the fact that God gifted me with this freedom without my asking.  Without my prayers.  Without my expectation.  Without me doing any work at all.  He did it, and He did it without reserve.  Instead of being trapped in what can only be described as a living death, He unwrapped me from my eating disorder shroud and flung me into joy and color and more life than I could ever have imagined.

I don't know why He did it.  I certainly didn't deserve it.  But He did it, and I imagine that He did so with a delicious feeling of abandon. 

Since then, I have been able to see God's character more clearly.  How "mostly what God does is love you" (Ephesians 5:1-2, MSG).  How much He loves us, and how eager He is to load our lives up with His joy and blessing.

And I began to see His gifts.  Small things and big things.  Gifts that showed me more of God, more of His love.  Gifts that showed me how much He cares for me specifically

But I didn't know what to do with those gifts, or how to keep seeing His gifts when I don't feel particularly blessed.  This summer, as I reveled in my new freedom from disordered eating, I felt like I was on a honeymoon with God.  But I wondered how to retain that hyper-awareness of God's blessing and love and giving when the honeymoon inevitably ended.  This summer I felt that I was living fully for the first time in my life, and I wanted to keep living that way, no matter what lies my emotions or the crush of life tried to tell me.

Enter Ann and her One Thousand Gifts.  The tagline for this book is, "A dare to live fully right where you are."  And while I think that the book is about that, I think it's also about cultivating gratitude, and then letting that gratitude take you deep into the mysterious fulness of life.  A life with God.  A life that sees and is thankful and as a result is glad, no matter what death-shadows loom.

Ann writes about how she decided to write down the small gifts she felt blessed by each day.  Things like "bedsheets in billowing winds . . . fluff of sparrow landing on line, sun winter warm, and one last leaf still hanging in the orchard" (p. 53).  And, through this simple act of noticing the small blessings of life, Ann felt led into a deeper relationship with God.  Into a deeper experience of life.  A more rich experience, and a more grateful one.

I have so much to be grateful for.  Big things, like a whole and healed heart, and small things, like feeling God encourage me through a disappointment this afternoon, and the comfort of one of my pups curled up next to me on the couch while I read.  I want to notice these things, and feel how wide is God's provision and gifts for me, right here, where and when and how I am. 

So I have started my own list of one thousand gifts.  I will share some of them here with you.  I hope that you will be encouraged by them.  I know that even for the week or so that I've been seeing and noticing God through these gifts, I already feel a more profound sense of true thanksgiving and security in the Lover of my soul.

"In naming that which is right before me, that which I'd otherwise miss, the invisible becomes visible.
The space that spans my inner emptiness fills in the naming.  I name. And I know the face I face.
God's!  God is in the details; God is in the moment.  God is in all that blurs by in a life -- even hurts in a life.
How can I not name?  Naming these moments may change the ugly names I call myself."

~ from One Thousand Gifts (p. 54)

Do you already have a practice to cultivate gratitude and living-here-and-now?  What is it?  Will you join me (and many others) in naming your own one thousand gifts?


  1. I'm sitting here stunned and moved simultaneusly.
    That was so so Beautiful what you wrote and how you feel.

    I am

    I am so inspired and encouraged and so grateful for God's grace and his work in you Beth, I think I need to tart my own list today.
    I have had a beautiful wooden journal emblazoned with the names of the Lord on the cover and I have not known what to fill it with. I think I do now!

  2. Missy, thank you. Thank you so much -- not just for your kind words, but for the reminder tucked inside them. I've been struggling a bit with WHY I blog...but now I remember. It's for moments like this, when the blessings of God in my life overflow into the lives of others. Thank you!!

  3. Yay, Beth! I'm so glad you're reading Ann's blog and book. I'm about halfway through the book now, and I keep thinking of you as I read - how much you'd enjoy her way with words and photography, how uplifting her thoughts are to me and how much you'd get out of them. I'm pleased and blessed to know you're on the gratitude journey with me, my sister. :)

    -Traci B (CircularPraise)

  4. I'm glad to, Traci, for everything you mentioned! Funny -- I keep think of YOU as I read, because of when you had suggested the book and I'd pish-poshed you. ;) I don't think Ann's blog and book were right for me at that time, but they're certainly right now. I'm so glad I re-subscribed to her, and I'm getting SO much out of the book. Are you keeping a 1,000 gifts list?

  5. Your art work is beautiful. for sure. But the emotion and depth I feel when I view is now ABSOLUTELY explained. What a blessing to you and to those who view your work- WELL DONE!

  6. Thank you so much, Robin!


"I am glad you are here with me."
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King