Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Gifts I Didn't Want

A dear friend of mine bought Ann Voskamp's One Thousand Gifts early this year. I'm pretty sure she even preordered. And she told us that she'd ordered extras because she knew she'd want to share it. I'm gonna be honest, and hopefully she doesn't get hurt or offended by this, but I didn't want the book. All I could think of was the post on Stuff Christians Like I'd just read about "Not Knowing how to tell someone their favorite book didn't change your life." Sure it was great for her and doing wonders, but I didn't need to be "more" grateful. I was doing just fine thank you very much. but, I accepted the book (graciously I hope) and put it in my pile of devotional books I'm slowly working my way through.
(note, when I say devotional books, it's the pile of books I read in little bits during my "coffee, waking up, time in the morning," the only time I take all day to sit and intentionally find God. Only one out of the current 6 is an actual "devotional". And the reason I have 6 is because I get bored that easily that I can't finish one book straight through.)

I intentionally and purposefully ignored the book for quite awhile. Probably a month or more. The thing was, I was unemployed but finally had the opportunity to build the life I'd always dreamt of. Working for myself. Helping others. Selling the skincare line I use. Marketing my computer services. Sleeping in and being perpetually well rested instead of perpetually exhausted. Planning to go back to school in June, IF I could make it that far and still be on unemployment. I was doing pretty well. My meds were fully kicked in and keeping me above "just functioning."

But I check in with God regularly. Especially in the morning. I take a moment and ask Him what I need to read. What will speak to me today. And sometimes I get a significant tug in my spirit and sometimes I just grab whatever is on top. One day I finally had a Significant tug towards this book. So I opened it and started reading. I'd read Ann's blog for awhile. But she's married and working hard at her marriage, and although she doesn't share icky intimate details she is very open about her marriage. And that hurt. It was too hard for me to read those posts. And the homeschooling posts just got old. So i took it off my reader. In that absence, I had forgotten how lyrical her writing is. How flowing and beautiful like a full stream over rocks and through timber is. And I got hooked.

I read it in very small pieces. So much of it was dense with Truth and Wisdom and Encouragement, that it was like trying to eat a very very rich dessert. A bite or two is plenty and it almost ruins the dessert to eat more than just a bite or two. So I read it in fits and spurts. And I rebelled against the idea of needing to write out my gifts. I was quite grateful thank you very much. I often appreciated the sky around me, and the smells of fresh cut grass and blooming flowers, even the smell of rain. I thanked God often for breath and life and job and body and family and friends.

And I am anal. I don't have a journal to write these gifts in. I have journals, but they don't feel worthy of that type of list or they are already started with other things. But I finally gave in. And a beautiful journal my sister gave me that had been started and been unused for possibly a year, was changed into a Journal of Thanks.

That was on March 16. We didn't know yet how sick Dad was. We knew there were tumors. We knew it was cancer. He'd had a liver biopsy and colonoscopy with biopsies. We had begun planning for colon cancer. We didn't know yet that it wasn't colon cancer. We didn't know yet that it would be called cholangiocarcinoma. We didn't know that it would be terminal. I didn't know that in a month he would be dead. But a part of me, probably a spirit part, was insisting that I give thanks regardless of what happens with Dad. If Ann could figure out how to give thanks after her sister died in a tragic accident in their farm lane, If she could figure out how to give thanks after her family fell apart because of that, If she could figure out how to give thanks while figuring out how to raise children and love a man who adored her even though she had no idea how to raise the kids or why that man loved her so. Then I could certainly try.

Even in that I tried to be arrogant and smug. She would write overly simple things.
Jam piled high on toast.
Morning shadows across the old floors
Leafy life scent of the florist shop
Mail in the mailbox.
Wool sweaters
Faint aroma of cattle and straw.

My friend's 10 year olds can be thankful for things like that. *I* want to be more profound than that. *I* want to write deeper things. Important Things. Profound Things. Things that go unnoticed. Things that most are not grateful for. But yes, i'll add simple things to the list as I go, because sometimes being grateful for the colors in a beautiful sky is the most profound thing you can see. And I got to #11 before I got a little "shallow." and Thanked God for 50 degrees and sunny in WI in March.

But then #6 was "Having a wonderful Daddy for at least 32 years."
#21 was "Email so I don't have to say the words that make me cry every time over and over.

I stopped writing very shortly after that March 16 start up. On the one hand I felt too busy with a new job and sick dad and life going on to be able to take a moment and write them out. But I carried the journal with me, just in case I suddenly felt like writing one down.

Daddy's been gone a month, and for at least a week I've been purposefully ignoring Ann's book. But today is saturday. And I had a good cry last night. And I don't want to become hard or bitter or rude or crass or unfeeling. I want to feel what I feel and keep walking through life one step at a time. Mom decided she is going to make Dad proud and keep living a life and doing things. But I'm kind of stuck. I'm not sure what would make Dad proud of me right now. I'm trying to find a true north to start pointing towards, and my compass looks like Jack Sparrow's.

We had 7 weeks. That's 7 weeks longer than the family in my church town had when their parents both died in a car accident. We had 24 hours of true, nearly unbearable, suffering. That's days and weeks less than the family we have been friends with since before I was born faced. We had 36, 32 and 30 good years with a good man who lived a good life and loved his family the very best he knew how to do. That's 25 and 30 years longer than a lot of military families have gotten.

Gifts I didn't want.

I was there, by his side, holding his hand. So was Sister. We said I Love You. Mom sang to him. He simply drifted away. Hospice had come, so we didn't have to worry about EMTs or an emergency room. Aunts from both sides were there, so we didn't have to go through any of it alone. I had 14+ friends on text and email and phone helping me through it with their prayers and tears and sympathy.

More Gifts I didn't want.

But yesterday I read this post on (in)courage. From a woman who is homebound and for her birthday was asking us to simply enjoy the life we have and the things she can't. Not at all in a self-pitying way, just in an appreciate what you have kind of way. So today I'm trying to see the gifts around me.

The rain on the pavement last night.
The open windows and cool breezes.
A laptop that works well that I love.
Wonderful friends who call and text to see how I'm doing.
Online continuing education I can do at home so I can keep my job.
Papa Johns pizza - which I thoroughly enjoyed last night, and will enjoy for most of this week.
Chinese from my favorite local dive.
New Shoes
An evening planned with wonderful neighbors who want nothing more than to make a big deal out of my birthday.
A family dinner to Olive Garden to celebrate my birthday.
Olive Garden.
Writing. Processing. Sharing. Pouring out here what I need to get out of my own head.
A wonderful job with a wonderful boss who loves having me there and appreciates me.

Gifts I want.

But that's how life is. Like the underside of a cross stitch project or a quilt top. From our side sometimes it looks messy and ruined and unsalvageable. It looks awful. Like it will never be right. Like something was done wrong somewhere. Maybe a wrong from long long ago that would take much too much work to go that far back and fix. But from this side we can't see the finished project. We can't see the beauty of the whole thing. We can't see the amazing finished picture that awaits. Sometimes we can see The Scarlett Thread that runs through all of it. But we don't see where it ends.

So I will try to give thanks. For the gifts I wanted and even for the gifts I didn't want.


  1. oh my goodness. I LOVE this.

  2. SO well said Kristine. Love it. It is amazing to be able to see the gifts you didn't want. Thank you for that perspective.
    And also, I can appreciate not being able to choose a journal "worthy" of that kind of list. I often don't start something because I am afraid of doing it "wrong". I have started journals in the middle because I didn't want to mess up the first pages of a pretty new one. Most of Jack's milestones are recorded on the backs of used envelopes (along with his eating/sleeping/pooping schedule) because I didn't want to mess up the THREE pretty baby books I have for him.
    I love you.