Saturday, May 3, 2014

The Search for Life

This is my second 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.

Chapter 2: A Word to Live... and Die By

Chapter two is about the search for life.

"It's the life in between, the days of walking lifeless, the years calloused and simply going through the hollow motions, the self-protecting by self-distracting, the body never waking, that's lost all capacity to fully feel -- this is the life in between that makes us the wild walking dead."

If we are what we do, many of us are wastes of time. We are unfinished products and boring desk jobs and staring off into space. Me? If I am what I do, I am an applesauce distributor, couch surfer, and Plants v. Zombies 2 champion. Is that it? Is that what I want from my life?
The idea that our lives preach... it struck me. What was my sermon? How far was my living from my believing? As it turns out, very far. I was living as the walking dead, going through the motions, hanging on as I tried to mother and mother well to two babies, two years old and younger. This is no small task, and I try not to be hard on myself, but mostly, I needed new life for myself. I spent my days trying to self-distract so that I didn't have to tune in to the hard stuff, so that I could self-protect. But I could not persist as a cook-cleaner-day care worker. I had to be more; life... had to be more. But how? I can't shed my skin and fly off to the Caribbean. These children, at least for the short while they are in my care, they are my life in many respects. My soul does not revolve around them, but much of my physical, waking (and sometimes sleeping) life does. It's just where we are. So how to find life in my right now, my right here?

"Isn't it here? The wonder? Why do I spend so much of my living hours struggling to see it? ... Who has time or eyes to notice? All my eyes can seem to fixate on are the splatters of disappointment across here and me... I don't need more time to breathe so that I may experience more locales, possess more, accomplish more. Because wonder really could be here -- for the seeing eyes. So -- more time for what?"

 I guess the better question than how to find more life is what should life look like? What is a life well-lived, a life fulfilled? This is sort of the human question, isn't it? And there are billions of human answers, grasping straws, flailing arms. We've got to figure this out. Ann (wisely) turns to Jesus:

"With an expiration of less than twelve hours, what does Jesus count as all most important? 'And he took bread, gave thanks, and broke it, and gave it to them...' (Luke 22:19 NIV)."

Jesus did life with these men. He gathered them together and taught and healed and walked and walked. They walked everywhere together, much like my children and me, walking and talking and eating together. And when He had just a touch more time with his partners in life, they sat to eat and He gave thanks. This word -- "he gave thanks" -- becomes the foundation. The word is eucharisteo. And it means everything. Literally it means "grace": "The root word of eucharisteo is charis, meaning 'grace'... It also holds its derivative, the Greek word chara, meaning 'joy.'... Grace, thanksgiving, joy. Eucharisteo."

This, on the darkest night. Jesus gives thanks. He sees the grace of God, He thanks God, and He has joy. This is our model. This is our how and it is also our why. And it is the reverse of our very nature.

"Non-eucharisteo, ingratitude, was the fall -- humanity's discontent with all that God freely gives. That is what has scraped me raw: ungratefulness. Then to find Eden, the abundance of Paradise, I'd need to forsake my non-eucharisteo, my bruised and bloodied ungrateful life, and grab hold to eucharisteo, a lifestyle of thanksgiving."

The waking dead life is one that searches for something that can't be found. It is a life that searches for something that simply isn't. Often, we really don't even know what we want, only that whatever it is isn't this. "This isn't what I signed up for." I can't even tell you how many times I have thought that thought. While holding a baby, back arching, screeching because she doesn't want to eat. "I didn't sign up for this." While wiping up the stomach ooze from her leaking G-tube. "I didn't sign up for this." While holding her stiff as the nurse sticks her for the third time for her blood, her panicked eyes red and tearing into me, trying to figure out why I was letting this happen to her. "I didn't sign up for this." I'm not strong enough. I didn't ask for it. I'm not made for this. This wasn't my plan. No one ever in the history of ever would sign up for this, would ask for this. Yet here I am.

And instead of searching for that other, for that alternate universe that will never be, I have to change my lifestyle. Instead of living the ungratefulness of wanting other, I need to grab hold to a lifestyle of thanksgiving. A lifestyle. Not a once-a-year celebration, not a every-now-and-then "oh yeah!", not a "Wow, this was a really good day" of passing thought. A way of living.

I believe that God is good. I believe that God loves me and that He gives His children good gifts. I believe that God authors our lives and numbers our days and cares for us. I believe that He wants the best for us. If my life is a sermon and this is what I believe, I want this to be what I preach.

The thing about a belief is for it to really be what you believe, it must transcend your experiences. It must be true, and you must believe it to be true, despite how you feel or what you go through. Sometimes life requires that we change our beliefs, but we should change them only because they were not true to begin with, not simply because they do not feel true any more. And these beliefs I had about God, have about God? They are true. And they don't change just because life is hard. So what does that mean?

If God gives good gifts and He gave me my daughter, my daughter is a good gift. If God cares for me and wants the best for me, then the gifts He has given me in my children -- even when they are hard -- are caring and loving gifts, the best gifts. It means that when I am trying for the hundredth time to explain to my toddler why he cannot play with the scissors and he is crying and crying (yet again) and I can't get through to Him -- that this is a gift of God. It means that when I get frightening phone calls from doctors and I can't make sense of what they're saying, what this could mean for my family -- this is a gift from God. It means that when I tell my daughter I love her and she hears silence -- this is a gift from God. It has to be because I believe it is, because the Word says it is.

So how do I live as though this is what I believe?

"Thanksgiving is the evidence of our acceptance of whatever He gives.
Thanksgiving is the manifestation of our
Yes! to His grace."

 I give thanks. I live eucharisteo. And instead of the voice of ungratefulness saying, "I didn't sign up for this," I live the voice of thanksgiving saying, "I receive this from you, Lord, with joy." Instead of the bitter confusion of loss, I live the open-armed life of grace. Instead of the worry of what will be, I live the peace of welcoming God. If I truly believe that God gives all things in love, then for my life to preach that sermon, I must receive all things with thanks. This transcends circumstance and occupation and emotion. And beyond just lifting us up to the joy -- remember: grace, thanksgiving, joy -- it is essential to our salvation.

"The act of sacrificing thank offerings to God -- even for the bread and cup of cost, for cancer and crucifixion -- this prepares the way for God to show us His fullest salvation from bitter, angry, resentful lives and from all sin that estranges us from Him... Thanksgiving -- giving thanks in everything -- is what prepares the way for salvation's whole restoration... I would never experience the fullness of salvation until I expressed the fullness of my thanks every day, and eucharisteo is elemental to living the saved life." 

If we want to live redeemed lives, if we want to walk the walk (as they say), we must give thanks. We must offer up our thanks as a sacrifice. The blood of the Lamb has been shed and we must say, "Thank you, Lord."

We are saved, not by saying thank you, but by the grace of God. Ann is sure to point this out. But -- we live our salvation in response to that. And what should our response be? Thanks. God showers with grace, we thank Him for it, and our joy is complete. This is the redeemed life. This is the life taken from the pit of anxiety and depression and anger and loss and ungratefulness. This is a life of grace, so flowing with the waters of mercy that our hearts cannot contain our gratitude. It overflows and runs down and waters the ground of our lives and we grow and grow into joy.

"But, Aleah, are you blind? How can all this be grace?" Preach, sister. Preach. I hear you. It is a wild, ugly world out there. "And we have to say thank you for it?" I get you. I am with you. Sometimes it doesn't feel like grace. Sometimes it doesn't look like grace. But that doesn't mean it isn't. We must learn to have eyes to see.

Tune back in on Monday, 5/5, for my post on Chapter 3: First Flight

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