The Handy Man gave me something I really, really wanted for Christmas: a copy of Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts. I told him last night how much I am loving this book. He remarked that I am sure reading it slowly. And that is true. Usually, I ravenously devour new books. I am a voracious reader–when I have the time. This book has been different. This book has caused me to read slowly, to ponder, sometimes to weep with the beauty and searing truthfulness of the words. This book has been like a mirror to my soul, showing me where I have been and where I am headed. I say that with a bit of fear and trembling, for only God’s Word should be that clear a beacon. And yet, One Thousand Gifts is full of Scriptural references couched in the testimony and spiritual journey of the author. Her journey mirrors my own in so many ways. As I read and digest, I see on almost every page a new way to phrase the heart shift God has been working inside of me. All I can say about this book is that if I did not know better, I would swear that the author somehow lived inside my own soul and recorded the devastation that once thrived there.
The book so far has been about how thanksgiving is the key to unlocking the miracles of knowing Christ through thankfulness. One of the analogies that is so poignant to me is one of remembering God’s past fulfilled promises. She writes of the helpless fears she felt as the economy in their area crashed, and how the felt the weight of uncertainty for their farm and their neighbor’s farms. She drove over a bridge as she pondered the truth of God’s Word, and suddenly, she understood. The Bible is FULL of records of God’s faithfulness. Look in the Psalms (Psalms 77 and 78 are a good place to start, but there are many more!) or in Hebrews 11, or in countless other places in God’s Word, and you will see records of God keeping His Word to his chosen, not-always faithful people. We reflect and remember on what God has already done to help us believe that he is working on our behalf NOW and in the future. Those thankful reminders are the bridge between God’s past faithfulness and our belief that He will continue to be faithful today and tomorrow. Even if that bridge appears to crumble, even if we feel God absent, even if the way is dark, God is still there faithful and true. God covered Moses in the cleft of the rock as He passed him by. It must have been dark there in that cleft. What did the world feel like to Moses as God Himself passed him by? I bet the earth shook! Ann Voskamp so beautifully points out that maybe the dark place God has placed us is the cleft, the place where He is passing us by. We cannot look on His face and live (not until heaven!) but in the darkness, God’s glory is passing us by. How this shifts my understanding of those dark places!
Our family has lived this. Forty months of unemployment became a testing grounds. After the unemployment compensation was exhausted, after the part time income came to an end, after school stipends dried up, when all that was left was faith that He who called us is actually faithful and will DO it (1 Thess 5:24), that is where we countlessly recalled all the ways God provided in the past in order to believe that He would not forsake us in that moment. This is where we saw God’s glory, even if in that moment we didn’t recognize it.
People would ask me how we were doing, and I would respond with, “the bills are paid today, we have food, we have shelter. We are blessed.” And we were. Even if the bank balance showed less than $10, even if the gas tanks were on empty and we had no earthly assurance that tomorrow we would have provision, as long as we looked at how God had been faithful to us in the past, we could go on believing his faithfulness for today and tomorrow. And it is still true today.
Ann Voskamp calls this eucharisteo (from the root word actually used in the Bible)–this giving of thanks. Sometimes the eucharisteo is difficult–to thank God in the midst of trial can be a step of faith that feels like a split over a deep canyon. It is something we learned to do in the last part of that forty months. Instead of just wishing it away, we learned to thank God for right now, for this moment of provision, for his Grace now. Like the the Israelites depending on manna (literally, what is it?) we had to face each day anew, trusting that God would provide. My thankfulness for God working yesterday helps me believe that He is working today in those situations where I cannot see the way. (I am not sure I would have learned this had the Handy Man gotten a job after one year or two years or even three years. It took three years and four months. Wounded Heart happened during this time. I am a slow learner sometimes.)
It is something that God has been teaching me through my whole journey of spiritual healing, this giving of thanks in the midst of pain. To look at my past, to see the devastation of my soul and to see how He has knit the fractured pieces back together, to see that there are places He will continue to mend and reveal to me….this is something for which I am so very thankful. I am thankful for the pain, for it taught me how to feel again, it taught me that there was joy. I am thankful for the damage done to me, not for the damage itself, but because in healing, now I can see and empathize and connect to others who have faced damage like that, too. We are large in number, you know, the damaged. But by the grace of God, we, the healed, are also large in number.
Ann Voskamp says that we don’t have to change what we see in order to see God at work, just how we see. It is a challenge to me, this giving of thanks in everything, for everything. It is a heart shift that has opened my soul to healing, my heart to greater love for others and for my Lord. This heart shift has helped me to not fear the darkness, but to know that it is simply God passing by and revealing to me (sometimes MUCH later) His glory and His grace.
Are you in a dark place? Are you facing fearful, uncertain times in your life? Are relationships with people you love feeling hopeless? Give thanks. Give the difficult thanks. Recall God’s faithfulness to you in the past, count those blessings, name them. Those offerings of thanks may well be the bridge to faith for today. It may well begin your own heart shift.