Monday, May 5, 2014

Naming the Mystery

This is my third post in a series on Ann Voskamp's One Thousand Gifts. Each post will cover one of the eleven chapters of this book on seeing God and learning how to live fully... right where you are. Each post will be tagged 05/2014 and One Thousand Gifts. All quotes in italics are from the book.

"When one is thirsty one quenches one's thirst by drinking,
not by reading books which treat of this condition."
- Jean Pierre de Caussade

Chapter 3: First Flight

"I would have to do something... I scratch it down: Gift List. I begin the list. Not of gifts I want but of gifts I already have."

Chapter three is about the doing. Our lives preach a sermon, and to preach a sermon of God's goodness, we have to live as though God is good. There are as many ways to do this as there are people, but one, simple, practical way to live out your thanks is... to simply give thanks. And not just general thanks for your life or health or this day. Not just once a day or in the prayer before dinner. But to live thankfulness.

"Though pastors preached it, I still came home and griped on. I had never practiced. Practiced until it became second nature, the first skin. Practice is the hardest part of learning, and training is the essence of transformation... I would have to learn eucharisteo."

Ephesians tells us to give thanks for everything, and so we say, "Thank you for everything, God," and go on about our day, never giving it a second thought. But a different kind of living, a kind of seeing God around us always, requires different eyes. It goes beyond an intellectual assent to God's goodness and His gifts and looks instead to find those gifts, each and every one if it were possible. And so my list began... 

1. My daughter's impossibly loud laughter
2. My son singing
3. Fresh music (Paste playlist)
4. Rain and clouds to help babies sleep
5. Warmth
6. Pizza Hut!

So simple, right? And I practiced. I practiced for a few months, three things a day, doing my duty to count and see. But Ann had more in mind. And I didn't know until I read her say it...

"In this counting gifts, to one thousand, more, I discover that slapping a sloppy brush of thanksgiving over everything in my life leaves me deeply thankful for few things... Life-changing gratitude does not fasten to a life unless nailed through with one very specific nail at a time."

And so instead of summarizing my day at the end with three things I remember, I started keeping the journal open and writing down each and every little thing. And this is what I found:

343. My son's creative play
344. Homebaked bread
345. Rainbows in the water drops of my coffee grounds (promises)
346. Ann's words ringing in my ears
347. Smell of rain
348. My son's golashes
349. Fighting blue jays at the top of the tree
350. Pockets, rocks, and running through raindrops
351. Motown!
352. Bunny in the rain
353. My daughter, exactly the way God made her, "just the way she's supposed to be"
354. Sun after rain
355. Oozing cheese on my salty, creamy egg sandwich
356. The way my son says crocodile: "cow-cow"
357. Holding hands up the stairs
358. The moment before and after you know
359. Hearing the rain before feeling/seeing it
360. Tires on wet road
361. Not "what if" or "why" -- what is
362. My son knocking on the door
363. Crispy stromboli
364. Olive oil sealing dough seams
365. My son saying "good morning!" when opening doors (any door, any time)
366. Friday night guitar jam
367. Snuggles with my daughter

24 gifts. 24 gifts!!! In just one day! (Sorry if I made you hungry. Food is an easily seen gift for me!) And the best part of all... is that I needed that to be the day. Number 353 tells you why. That day, that morning I woke up, read this chapter, and said this -- this is what I need to do. I need to number all day. And so I did. While I watched that bunny in the rain, I heard a woman on the other end of the line, a nurse from my daughter's neurologist, tell me about something they called "widespread tissue loss." Not any tissue... her brain tissue. Widespread. Loss. And there goes that bunny, hopping through the rain. And I began to rain. I sat a bit stunned and confused and not really sure, until I heard her, my daughter, screeching with laughter because her brother ran by. And I smiled through my tears (like those promise rainbows in my coffee grounds) because my daughter just is -- she was before I knew and she is now and she will be... exactly who God made her to be. And I needed to count the gift to see it.

"I look at a day, a thing, an event in front of me, and it may look manna-strange: "What is it?" But when I name it, the naming of it manifests its meaning: to know it comes from God. This is gift! Naming is to know a thing's function in the cosmos -- to name is to solve mystery."

That day, I had been handed mystery. This news, what does it mean? And no one can say. No one knows (but God). We only understand a fraction of what the brain is, of what it does, of how it works. We say it is plastic and we can grow new cells but what do we know? I woke up that morning, hand open, ready to receive the gift, even though I did not know what it would be. And I gathered those gifts and named them, one by one. And as I named them, I solved their mysteries.

"The gift list is thinking upon His goodness -- and this, this pleases Him most! And most profits my own soul... If clinging to His goodness is the highest form of prayer, then this seeing His goodness with a pen... these really are the most sacred acts conceivable. The ones anyone can conceive, anywhere, in the midst of anything. Eucharisteo takes us into His love."

"Eucharisteo takes us into His love." Without a name, without a solved mystery, that phone call could have cut me apart from God. He knit my daughter in the womb and when she came to us, she came sick, and this phone call? It was just another thing on that list, on that list of brokens. Without a name, without solved mystery, I would have raised my fists to the air and demanded to know, "What is this, God? What is this?!"

But I already know. I solve the mystery. I name the gift.

353. My daughter, exactly the way God made her, 'just the way she's supposed to be'" (as a lady in Once Upon a Child told me just days earlier)...
354. Sun after rain...
358. The moment before and after you know...
361. Not "what if" or "why" -- what is

This is me learning through gifts, me seeing God in the mystery and knowing it is Him. Knowing He wants me to love and embrace my gifts as He gives them (gift #353), that He has promised goodness in all things (even when it looks like rain, gift #354), that our knowing is only to point our eyes toward Him (because He already knew, gift #358), that we don't need to search for the other ways it could have been or ask why things are the way they are but rather we need to see what is and name it -- gift (gift #361).

"Rejecting joy to stand in solidarity with the suffering doesn't rescue suffering. The converse does. The brave who focus on all things good and all things beautiful and all things true, even in the small, who give thanks for it and discover joy even in the here and now, they are the change agents who bring fullest Light to all the world. When we lay the soil of our hard lives open to the rain of grace and let joy penetrate our cracked and dry places, let joy soak into our broken skin and deep crevices, life grows. How can this not be the best thing for the world? For us? The clouds open when we mouth thanks."

I do my daughter no good to beat the ground and cry, to curse at God and hurl my hate at Him. It changes nothing and it does no one good, not her soul, not my soul, not the world. Instead, to stand in the face of fear and uncertainty and trouble, and say, "God is in this place. This is gift" -- that changes lives. To look in my daughter's eyes and tell her, "You are not trouble. You are not accident. You are gift." -- Those are the words every last one of us is waiting to hear. Those are the words every last one of us needs to hear. You are gift because you are of God. You are gift because I see you and I name you and I solve your mystery. Thanks be... for you.

Tune back in on Thursday, 5/8, for my post on Chapter 4: A Sanctuary of Time

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