Archives for posts with tag: gratitude

For a while now, my life has felt like this — like a toddler got into my carefully crafted bouquet.

My plans just haven’t been working out the way I imagined them, and when I do get things the way I want them… well, someone else seems to redecorate. It’s not that things are bad, just different than I pictured. And I have a tendency to hold on to my mental picture until it crinkles under the pressure of my grip. I forget to open my hands to the gift of something else. I forget to be thankful.

But what helps me, ironically, is taking pictures with my camera. When I’m  looking through the camera’s lens, I’m purposefully seeking beauty. I’m trying to capture poetry before it slips away. I’m documenting the everyday moments, savoring them now and saving them for later. If I look through my camera lens often enough, it changes how I see.

I notice the light making Colt’s curls glow.

The tiny flowers at the base of the grape vine.

The bright red against the cool blue of the strainer.

And, on really good days, I can watch the broken flowers from the bouquet become something else beautiful.

 

Tina wanted to wait until her new home was unpacked to send pictures, but who can wait to tell the good news?

Tina has everything she needs.

“I have an entire bedroom set — even a washer and dryer,” she told me as she unpacked and settled in to a borrowed home. “We still need a couch and a love seat but those are coming in another week. We may have to buy a hot water tank, we’re not sure… oh, wait, no we won’t. Dad just said he’d buy one for us if we need it.”

In the week since the wildfire, her voice has grown stronger and our conversation has gone from worry and uncertainty to celebration and gratitude.

“People have responded like crazy,” she said, still in awe of how folks opened their hearts and their homes to help her. Now, when she and Lee return from their honeymoon they’ll have a two-bedroom house waiting for them. “God is great,” Tina said.

And they’ll know that they aren’t starting their new lives alone.

We’re all standing with them.

 

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. 

Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ 

The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” — Matthew 25: 35-40 (NIV)

 

 

On the day our two oldest sons were being dedicated, a wind storm knocked out power at our church. Suddenly, instead of electric guitars and drums, there was almost silence in a room of about 400 people.

Someone thought to bring out a couple of camping lanterns and put them near the pulpit while our pastor stalled for a few minutes, waiting for the power to come back on and our service to return to normal.

Still, nothing. So, he did something a little unusual for a Sunday morning: He asked if people would like to stand and share how God had blessed them.

There, in the darkness, they began to rise from their pews. One was thankful for help with finances. One was glad that God is helping her family make tough decisions. And several told how God had helped them through illnesses.

As each one of them spoke, it felt like the room got smaller, more intimate. By the time my little family went to the front, it seemed the world had stopped and given me a moment dipped in gratitude and grace.

By flashlight, the pastor read the words of the dedication ceremony. And it was perfect, especially for someone like me — someone who too often allows the noise of everyday life to drown out the whispers of God.

Apparently I’m not alone, though. Many of the people who come to see Sue Staropoli are looking for ways to lead a quieter, more prayerful and balanced life.

“We’re so activity focused,” said Staropoli, a spiritual advisor in Penfield, NY, who teaches classes on contentment and taking better care of ourselves.  “We under value the little things.”

Like an act of kindness. Like a crimson leaf falling. Like the sound of a sleeping baby breathing in and breathing out.

We can take note of those things, she said. We can train ourselves to slow down. We can change our lives a moment at a time.

I’m ready.

When my mama talks about her third pregnancy, she always says that she knew something wasn’t quite right. “It’s nothing,” my daddy would say — right up until the doctor saw that I was blue and fading fast.

Mama had been right. The umbilical chord was wrapped around my neck and arm, and I was choking.

As my parents tell it, the doctor never said a word or asked their opinions, he just reacted as a man sworn to save lives. He got me out as fast as he could, knowing that he might be causing nerve damage in my neck and arm.

Later, he would tell my parents that my arm might not ever grow or move on its own. “But, I figured you wanted her alive,” he told them.

So, my parents took me home to my two older sisters and they waited and watched. Two months and three weeks later, I moved my right arm. I could move my wrist and wiggle my fingers, according to my baby book. By six months, I was crawling — not on all fours like most kids, but I could sit and scoot with my left arm. It was progress.

Eventually my arm did grow, although it’s still a little shorter than the left. I can lift my right arm almost to my chin but my wrist seems to always be bent under a bit, something that has forever bothered me in photos.

One of my earliest memories is of having my picture taken in front of a wagon wheel that was almost as big as I was. The photographer had me rest my right arm on top of the wheel and then tried to flatten out my wrist. Within a second, it had bounced back into its U shape. She tried again. It bounced back.

The older I got, the more sensitive I became to being different — and the more determined I became to fit in. Of course, that’s hard to do when you play trombone and have to use your foot to reach seventh position or when you have to swallow your pride and ask a classmate to sharpen your pencil because the sharpener is mounted too high on the wall. Still, I managed, and I even learned a little in the process.

Ironically though, I never knew what my birth injury was called until my late 20s, when pain in my arm made me seek out a specialist in Erb’s palsy. While I was waiting for that appointment I wrestled with my arm in a new way. What if there was something that could be done now to help my arm?

Would I change it if I could? At almost 30, would I re-teach myself to tie my shoes? Would I discover that I’m not left-handed after all?

No, I decided.

I wouldn’t.

I had my arm to thank for my entire world view — a set of values that helps me empathize with others; a set of values that says there are many ways other than the “normal” way.

Like Icy Sparks, a character in a novel by Gwyn Hyman Rubio, my difference has allowed me to flourish. Icy struggles with what she comes to learn is Tourette Syndrome, and in the epilogue she says that life would have been easier without it, “but I would not be me.”

Years later, that book still sits upstairs in my office along with pictures I had taken of my wrist and arm — no longer in hiding, but out front in their rightful place. No portrait of me is complete without them.

For those who missed the chance to chat with Ann Voskamp, author of One Thousand Gifts, I’ve copied (and slightly adapted) the conversation we had on the Simply Faithful Facebook page and provided it for you here. Ann is truly a gift. May you enjoy getting to know her better and may you cherish her wisdom…

  • Simply Faithful Welcome Ann! We are so excited that you are here with us. If it’s OK, we’ll let you say a few words and then we’ll dive in to the questions.

Ann Voskamp Thank you for grace and the warm welcome!

  • Linda Gordon How did you come to know the many references you used in your book? I was totally amazed at how many different sources you knew and quoted.

Ann Voskamp Ahh… the wonder of listening to all the authors and words that have come before! I read a lot… and I think when you begin to answer God’s call — He also providentially has you cross paths with all the words and thoughts you need for the work?

And I remember writing that bibliography — many hours!

Linda Gordon so did you find the quotes as you were writing the book or were there ones you knew and wanted to be sure to include?

Ann Voskamp Yes, Linda — some I found as I read, during the writing process — only God moments. And others had been tucked in a file — as they resonated with the life God was leading me into…. Good questions!

Amy Kushnir Ann – I just stumbled upon this thread riding home from spring break in Texas – that answer about how God has you cross paths with all the work and thoughts you need for the work – profound! Just hit me like a ton of bricks! thank you!

Ann Voskamp Hi Tanya! Warm wave! Yes, the style …

The book is written in its own idiosyncratic language—prose meeting poetry, a strange kind of language.

Throughout Scripture, when a person came into the presence of God, the only language they had to stammer out anything was a different language than their vernacular. The only way to communicate their encounter with God was often through lyrical language.

I didn’t think a book written in that “prosetical” God-encounter language would ever find a real home out in the world.

But God had other plans –

And maybe that is exactly what we’re all hungry for—a powerful, personal encounter with God in a language all of its own?

Simply Faithful How did your editors respond? Were they supportive?

Tanya Shaw Herrold I agree. That connection to our perfect Maker is needed among us today just as in earlier times!

Ann Voskamp Well, Zondervan and Waterbrook both bid for the book, based on the first three chapters, so they knew what the style and voice was at the outset. Zondervan wanted something fresh and “outside of the box” — and were very encouraging to do exactly what God called. They told me to write just vertically, for an audience of One. And I did.

  •  Ann Beaudoin Meyer Hi Ann. I can imagine that sharing your personal life experiences through this book was a challenge. Even greater difficulty must be speaking to large crowds and the medias about such a personal, intimate topic. How do you think you have grown as your book continues to impact so many people?

Ann Voskamp Ah, Ann… such a thoughtful question. I think the Lord has asked me to live the truth/message of the book again now, in deeper ways. Can I trust Him? Is all grace? Will I turn blessings into burdens?

I think the journey has kept me very small and quiet and hushed under His wing. He’s used it to draw me closer to Him — relying only on Him.

When I am weak — He is strong.

Simply Faithful I loved your blog post about wearing rainbow socks and standing on his promises. I may borrow that idea!

Ann Voskamp Highly recommended, Marketta.

Ann Beaudoin Meyer I think that is the key, really appreciating those blessings. We turn them into burdens all too often!

  • Linda Gordon How long ago did you write the book? How did you meet your farmer?

Ann Voskamp Linda, it took me about 13 months to write the book? And I met the Farmer in his mama’s Good News Bible Club!

Linda Gordon That is good news! Was it love at first sight or a work in progress?

Ann Voskamp Ah, we were young… 14. We had our first date at 16. And were married when I was 20. Grace upon grace… Christ braiding us together in Him.

  •  Simply Faithful How did you get involved with Compassion International and what draws you to that organization?

Ann Voskamp We’ve always been child sponsors, since we were married…. and had several children sponsored through Compassion for many years. I became an advocate for Compassion about 3 years ago? And then Compassion invited me to live blog a trip to Guatemala in Sept. 2009 and Ecuador November, 2011, and see firsthand their work. That sealed it! My heart is forever with His children in need! The proceeds from One Thousand Gifts now has returned to the Guatemala City Dump to build an educational center — thanks be to God alone.

Ann Beaudoin Meyer Do you have plans to return to Guatemala?

Simply Faithful Lida Merrill will want to hear more about that! She has done a lot of missionary work in Guatemala with people who have disabilities.

Courtney Joseph Oh I love this!

  •  Lida Merrill Hi Ann, Thank you for your time this evening. Have your older children read your book?

Ann Voskamp Good evening, Lida…. My oldest, yes, he has — he’s nearly 17.

Lida Merrill What impression did it have on him?

Simply Faithful Is he the one who threw toast?

Ann Voskamp Before the manuscript was submitted, the children whose stories were told, graciously gave their permission, so he had read some of the chapters before. And Caleb was very generously positive. He came to me last week and said I really need to begin another book… Humbling grace.

Ann Voskamp Ah yes — the toast scene. Yes.

Linda Gordon How did keeping a gratitude journal work for him?

Ann Voskamp We have a family gratitude journal that together we work on and we keep sharing each day at the table our thanks — it’s become part of who we are… our new default!

Ann Voskamp Warm wave, Lucinda!

I’m not sure I even now think of it in terms of a gift for words?

I think I just wait over a keyboard and He gives the gift?

Lucinda Mellinger Anderson Your descriptions paint the picture so well i feel like I’m right there with you!

Ann Voskamp Thank you for grace, Lucinda… So kind.

  •  Lida Merrill Are you planning a return trip to Guatemala?

Ann Voskamp Yes! Us as a whole family! We will all return to Guatemala, Lord willing, next January? To celebrate what God has done with the Educational Center!  http://www.aholyexperience.com/?p=8753

Ann Beaudoin Meyer How exciting! What part of Guatemala?

Ann Voskamp ‎(The above link is about Guatemala and how it came to be that One Thousand Gifts is going back there, to BE the gift! I am blessed, I can bless — this is happiness!

Ann Voskamp We will return, Lord willing, to Guatemala City….

Ann Beaudoin Meyer thanks for the link.

Lida Merrill Yes, thank you.

Ann Voskamp I preach out loud to myself.  I count blessings out loud. I memorize Scripture and meditate on Truth. We read Scripture together after every meal, 3 times a day.Here is a bit of where we are memorizing — wonderful resource!

http://scripturetyper.com/Group/View/5d4f33dc33/

Simply Faithful Who selects the scriptures? I love all of your ideas but I know they take preparation, too…

Ann Voskamp Last year, our little country chapel, our faith community were memorizing Colossians together — so we invited blog readers to join us.

Ann Voskamp This year, our faith community is memorizing Sermon on the Mount together — so we made up the resources to share online also. Our son, Joshua, (14) makes up all the downloadable resources from the blog… the monthly Joy Dare, the free printables, the Sermon on the Mount booklet… We love working together! A wonderful way to bond!

Simply Faithful He does fantastic work. They are all gorgeous. A true gift! (Will you thank him for us?)

Ann Voskamp I will thank him for you all. Imagine a 14 year old smiling shyly.

Courtney Joseph I love how your son is able to serve along side of you!

  •  Cathy Spellman Roberts Do you use journaling as a technique as you teach your kids in other areas as well?

Ann Voskamp Yes! Just today I handed out new journals. One of the boys (9) wrote a new title on his journal: “My Life.” Perfect!

  • Cathy Spellman Roberts How do you continually try to keep the negative thoughts out. I know I try to start my day when I’m driving by concentrating on my gifts and listening to what God has in store for me for the day, and I try in the middle of the day at work or with my kids to clear the clutter, but I have a hard time keeping it out.

Ann Voskamp I understand, Cathy… You are not alone. I am with you. Singing hymns for me helps. As does quietly preaching Scripture back to myself — a way to take captive every thought.

Ann Voskamp http://www.aholyexperience.com/?p=9031

Cathy Spellman Roberts Thanks. Music is very healing — and soothing — indeed.

  • Ann Beaudoin Meyer I appreciated your honesty in the book, as well as your blog, about your struggles with parenting. I know I have this vision to be the “perfect” mom. After I yell at one of my kids it hits me in the gut. Good reminder to have a little grace with ourselves!

Simply Faithful I like that you sometimes have dirty dishes in your sink.

Ann Voskamp I do! And dirty laundry in front of the washing machine.  And some parenting days leave me in tears and hanging my head in deep grief over my own sinfulness. My mama said that grace is like a boomerang — if you offer grace to a boomerang to others — you receive the grace. You give yourself the grace on the bad days — knowing Christ’s love covers our sins. Right there with you, beautiful women….

Linda Gordon The part about the glass jar and cutting was so hard. Were you suicidal or trying to cut out the bad parts of your life?

Lida Merrill Your line about “hurry empties souls” struck a deep cord with me in regards to parenting. I think the hurrying I did when my children were little emptied their souls. Thank you God for always refilling them, but it is something I am very aware of with my grandchildren.

Ann Voskamp Beautiful, Lida — I preach it to myself out loud often “There are no emergencies. God is in control… no emergencies. Abandon the fears and abide in the Father.”

Ann Voskamp Yes, Linda, so hard. No, not suicidal… just looking in all the wrong places to relieve pain… escape from my own skin? Hard to think I was there once — but I really, really was. Only God.

  •  Lucinda Mellinger Anderson Ann, Thanks for your idea of singing hymns,etc as I struggle writing.. any suggestions on how to journal?

Ann Voskamp Well — I leave a gratitude journal out permanently on my counter. That helps. And I have journals all through the house  … for specific helps, if you search the journal category at the blog, I wrote a multi-week series a few years ago on how to journal in various, creative ways and readers sent in their ideas and photos of their journals and it was very inspiring!

Ann Voskamp If you scroll back through these, there are so many ideas from so many wonderful women!

http://www.aholyexperience.com/category/journaling/

Lucinda Mellinger Anderson Thanks, I’ll check it out.

  • Lucinda Mellinger Anderson Ann, We are visiting our grandchildren,5 of them in Chicago and the job of getting ready for bed with a special movie after causes me to be grateful for all the noise, fun and hugs we get all to infrequent!! Thanks for sharing.

Ann Voskamp I am smiling, Lucinda! How wonderful! Much joy in Him to you all so beautifully there in Chicago! Blessed evening, Lucinda! It was a privilege…

  •  Simply Faithful Ann, we are so thankful for your time and for your many gifts.

Ann Voskamp Truly, it’s been a humbling grace. Thank you for yours.

Thank you for looking for Christ in the pages.

God go with you…

Eucharisteo, friends!

Ann Voskamp You’ve all radiated and exuded His joy tonight. Thank you!

Simply Faithful Blessings, Ann!

Lida Merrill Thank you for blessing us with your words.

Cathy Spellman Roberts Thank you Ann for your kind words and your time.

Ann Beaudoin Meyer Thank you for your time. I am sure that God will continue to bless use and use your words for the rest of us.

Courtney Joseph Oh bummer I’m late! So glad it’s all saved here to read!

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