Friday, May 27, 2011

Gifts Discovered at the Beach

"Each day is a precious gift from my Father.  How ridiculous to grasp for future gifts when today's is set before you!  Receive today's gift gratefully, unwrapping it tenderly and delving into its depths.  As you savor this gift, you fine Me."  -Sarah Young in Jesus Calling


Every summer my family takes a trip to the powdery white shores of the Gulf Coast for a week of uninterrupted family time and relaxation.  At some point during the month of February my ache to return to Florida quietly slips into my daily routine and I spend many moments dreaming about our trip.  This year may have been the best beach trip yet.

My entire family (plus my brother's roommate from college) was able to spend a full 7 days together amidst warm (not hot), sunny skies and refreshing, crystal-clear water.  Seeing the beach through the eyes of an almost 16 month old was nothing other than pure joy and awe.  When Addison sees something she likes she says "oooooOOOOOoooooo."  This was her reaction to almost everything this week...sand, waves, shovels, buckets, bike rides, rocks, grass, bubbles, flowers, and new adventures. 

What a gift it is to spend such quality and quantity time together as a family.

This may have been the best beach trip yet because I tried to view everything as a gift from God.  Yes, even the long car ride there with an unhappy baby, short naps, and sunburn.  I am learning and I am discovering how much God loves me on a much deeper level.

A few gifts I discovered and thanked God for while we were there...

#2  Spending Mother's Day with my mom and Addison at the beach

#3 Quiet, calm moments enjoyed at a usually crowded beach

#8 Our entire family sitting around one table for dinner (12 people!)

#10 Clear, emerald water overlapping white sand

#13 Nightime bike rides and walks on the beach with my One and Only under the glow of the sliver moon

#14 Early morning fog inviting your mind to "finish this picture in your head"

#15  Proud, colorful flowers dancing in the fog while soaking up a morning drink from nearby sprinklers

#16 Big, melt-in-your-mouth chocolate chip cookies

     (Note - These were cookies I made a few months ago - I didn't take a picture of the ones we had in Florida!)

#18 Starting the day off with a date with my Beloved at 7:30am over a warm Modica Market muffin

#21 Sandy baby toes

#22 Riding bikes and walking to get anywhere I could possibly want to go! 

#28 Celebrating 16 months with our little miracle

# 29 Spending every moment of the day together as a family

A precious reminder of how dearly we are loved by God...
"Every desirable and beneficial gift comes out of heaven.  The gifts are rivers of light cascading down from the Father of Light."  -James 1:17 (The Message)

Thursday, May 26, 2011

#1 - the privilege of being home with Addison all day, everyday

# 1 - the privilege of being home with Addison all day, everyday

                                                      2 months old

Exactly one year ago today I closed the door to my second grade classroom and teaching career and opened the door to the full-time honor and joy of being a stay-at-home-mom.  After Addison was born I took 8 weeks off for maternity leave and then I had to go back and finish out the year.  Being away from my precious baby from the time she was 2 months old until she was 4 1/2 months old was one of the most challenging things I have ever done.  Every ounce of my being wanted to be at home caring for her, loving her, and enjoying her.  However, I am so thankful that Matt and my mom were able to love on her in my absence. 

                                                      4 months old

Looking back over this year I am so, so thankful that I have the opportunity to stay home with Addison. These years will melt away before I know it and I don’t want to miss a moment with her (yes, including those long, difficult days). She will grow and learn more in these first few years than any other time in her life. As she does grow, I am overly thankful that I can be the one to encourage her and cheer her on when she learns something new. I love being the one to hold her, kiss her, and dry her tears when she gets hurt. Along with Matt, I want to be the one to instill God’s love into her heart from a young age. I want to talk with her, listen to her, and laugh with her all day long. I want to sing, dance, blow bubbles, and read books with her throughout the day. I want to have spent so much time with her that I can translate her words and know how she’s feeling based on her actions. I want to change all her diapers, pick up her toys 100 times a day, clean her sticky face after each meal, know what scares her and what makes her happy, and teach her right from wrong. I want there to be nicks in the paint on the walls and dings in the furniture because our house is more than just a house, it is our home. We live here, learn here, and love here 24/7. Once she’s grown I want her to look back on her childhood with fond memories of not only quality time, but quantity time spent with family. I am so blessed to have a husband who makes it possible for Addison to have her Mama home with her all day. Every day I thank Matt that I get to stay home. He responds by thanking me that I want to stay home. Wow. I love him more than ever.

                                                     15 months old

My little angel...

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A Big, Sloppy Paintbrush Stoke of Thanks

I was a 2nd grade teacher before I had the joy of staying home with Addison.  Writing was my favorite subject to teach.  As I discovered each year, writing is difficult and many students do not enjoy it.  However, watching timid, idea-less, uninterested pencils transform into dancing, little Energizer Bunnies as the year progressed was an excitement I'll never forget!  (Thankfully I have the opportunity to tutor several students now, and I am able to continue to observe/celebrate this amazing transformation.)

While I was still a classroom teacher, about 23 students and myself would sit cross-legged on the old, blue carpet in the corner of my room- the corner near the window.  The students would take turns reading aloud a certain piece of writing.  For those teachers out there, a.k.a. Author's Chair.  After reading aloud, the student would call on two classmates.  The classmates' purpose was to share two things they appreciate about the writing and one thing that could be changed to make it better.  Every year (with some classes it felt like every day!), a student would comment on the shared writing in this manner- "I appreciate all of it."  I would quickly intervene, "Now 'Paul,' you need to be specific.  What is one specific thing you appreciate about 'Rebecca's' writing?  One thing I appreciate is how she described her brown dog- 'as brown as hot chocolate.'  Her descriptive words clearly paint a picture in my head!  Ok, Paul, let's try again.  What is one specific part of her writing that you appreciate?"  Paul's response, "I like her beginning sentence because it makes me want to read more because I want to find out how she lost her brown as hot chocolate dog."  "Excellent!  Now Rebecca knows exactly what you like about her writing!  Hopefully she will continue to use these techniques in future writings."


How does that simple story relate to God and One Thousand Gifts?  My mom reminded me of a passage in Ann's book that discusses how easy it is for people to paint a big, sloppy paintbrush stroke of thanks over their entire life - "Thank you, God, for everything."  This does nothing to draw us to the heart of God.  We do not form a deeper understanding of the love of our Savior with this mind-set.  I imagine that God feels like I did as the teacher - "I want to hear specifically what you love that I created and gave you!"

What did my paintbrush strokes look like prior to reading One Thousand Gifts?  Wide.  More or less I focused on the large blessings in life.  As I mentioned earlier- a loving husband, healthy little girl, safe home, financial blessing, etc.  I feel like I have always been an overly thankful person, but not for the microscopic details of my daily life (and especially not the difficult times).  Beginning to write down 1,000+ gifts with a narrow paintbrush has opened my eyes to the gifts right in front of me that I may have previously overlooked.  Is it tedious and do I sometimes feel silly?   A little.  However, I see the big picture and I desire to grow closer to God as He is constantly inviting me to Him. 

James 4:8 says, "Draw near to God and He will draw near to you."  By specifically counting His gifts, I am on the road to drawing closer to His heart.

And finally, let me leave you with a quote from Ann Voskamp, found in One Thousand Gifts,

 "This act of naming grace moments, this list of God's gifts, moves beyond the shopping list variety of prayer and into the other side.  The other side of prayer, the interior of His throne room, the inner walls of His powerful, love-beating heart.  The list is God's list, the pulse of His love- the love that thrums on the other side of our prayers.  And I see it now for what this really is, this dare to write down one thousand things I love.  It really is a dare to name all the ways God loves me.  The true Love Dare.  To move into His presence and listen to His love unending and know the grace uncontainable.  This is the vault of the miracles.  The only thing that can change us, the world, is this-all His love.  I must never be deceived by the simplicity of eucharisteo and penning His love list."

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Counting Gifts

One Thousand+ Gifts...that's the title and my intentionally notice, thank God, and write down 1,000 gifts He has given me, and to not stop there.

I strive to be thankful and I feel that it is a strength for me.  Daily I thank our Heavenly Father for all of the many, many ways He has so richly blessed me.  I admit, my gratitude wades in the pools of the bigger things in life...salvation, a loving husband and fulfilling marriage, a beautiful, healthy daughter, a comfortable home, health of family members, safety, etc.  Reading One Thousand Gifts has challenged me to continue to be thankful for those big areas of my life, but also to take out the magnifying glass and look more closely at the smaller things.

"There is a way to live the big of giving thanks in all things.  It is this: to give thanks in this one small thing.  The moments will add up." -Ann Voskamp

In light of eucharisteo, I am following Ann Voskamp and learning to count my gifts- not gifts that I desire, but the gifts that are right in front of me.  Ann shares her first few gifts...

"1. Morning shadows across the old floors
 2. Jam piled high on the toast
 3. Cry of blue jay from high in the spruce"

She continues, "...they are just common things and maybe I don't even know they are gifts until I write them down and that is really what they look like.  Gifts He bestows.  This writing it down - it is sort of like....unwrapping love."

"Well, if all these were gifts that God gives - then wasn't my writing down the list like...receiving.  Like taking with thanks.  Wait.  "And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them..."  Gave thanks."

Do you see the connection??  When we purposely recognize the smallest things as gifts from God, our mind shifts.  With that understanding, we then have a clearer picture of God and His immense love for us.  In turn, we live a life of joy and thankfulness for the countless ways he gives so freely.  God longs for us to have joy overflowing!

Ann quotes Alexander Schmemann, "Now, in the Bible a name....reveals the very essence of a thing, or rather its essence as God's gift....To name a thing is to manifest the meaning and value God gave it, to know it as coming from God and to know its place and function within the cosmos created by God.  To name a thing, in other words, is to bless God for it and in it."

I want this...I want to see the world around me, the good and the bad, and recognize it as a gift from God (more to come later on how to see the difficult times as gifts).  However, first I must learn.  In Philippians 4:11-12, Paul emphasizes the importance of learning, "I have learned how to be content with whatever I have.  I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything.  I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little." (emphasis mine)

So that is what I am doing through this blog.  I am learning and practicing how to see every aspect of my life as a gift from God.  I am learning to find, unwrap, and thank God for the joy he gives us through his abundance of gifts.

"Joy is the realest reality, the fullest life, and joy is always given, never grasped.  God gives gifts and I give thanks and I unwrap the gift given: joy."  -Ann Voskamp

These first several posts have been the backbone and "why" of this blog.  From this point on most of my posts will be focused on counting my gifts.  However, the book One Thousand Gifts has many more truths I want to share, so I will sway in that direction at times.  In the meantime, I encourage you to read the book for yourself!  My attempt at describing her journey hardly scratches the surface.

PARENTS: I read a blog post by Ann on this topic and how it relates to raising children.  After reading this post it spurred me on even more to make it a priority to count my gifts as I want to instill this mindset in our children from a young age.  How to (help) Raise Grateful Kids


"How," Ann Voskamp wondered, "do we find joy in the midst of deadliness, debt, drama, and daily duties?  What does a life of gratitude look like when your days are gritty, long, and sometimes dark?  What is God providing here and now?"

Eucharisteo, eucharisteo, eucharisteo.

What is eucharisteo?  I had the same question. The majority of the following words are Ann Voskamp's.  Before you read, please find a quiet, uninterrupted moment to let these words penetrate your heart, for they will require much thought.

"And he took the bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them..."  -Luke 22:19 (emphasis mine)  Not long before Jesus willingly gave His life for us, what did he do?  He gave thanks.  Gave thanks? 

Heavy with grief deeper than I've ever experienced and questioning the real purpose of her life, Ann Voskamp discovers that in the original Greek language, "he gave thanks" is translated eucharisteo.  Broken down, the Greek words that make up eucharisteo literally mean grace, thanksgiving, joy.

In her wisdom, Ann unveils...
Grace, thanksgiving, joy = eucharisteo

 Ann searches through the Bible and finds that "Eucharisteo - thanksgiving - always precedes the miracle."  For example, Jesus gave thanks to God before He raised Lazarus (John 11:41 NIV), He gave thanks to God as he took some bread the night before He was crucified (1 Corinthians 11:23-24), and in another instance Jesus gave thanks to God when no one was responding to His teaching (Matthew 11:25 KJV).

She continues, "Non-eucharisteo, ingratitude, was the fall - humanity's discontent with all that God freely gives.  That is what has scraped me raw: ungratefulness."   Later, "If our fall was the non-eucharisteo, the ingratitude, then salvation must be intimately related to eucharisteo, the giving of thanks."

Psalm 50:23 states, "He who sacrifices thank offerings honors me, and he prepares the way so that I may show him the salvation of God."

And her conclusion (read carefully as this is the pinnacle!), "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.  At the Eucharist, Christ breaks His heart to heal ours - Christ, the complete accomplishment of our salvation.  And the miracle of eucharisteo never ends: thanksgiving is what precedes the miracle of that salvation being fully worked out in our lives.  Thanksgiving - giving thanks in everything - is what prepares the way for salvation's whole restoration.  Our salvation in Christ is real, yet the completeness of that salvation is not fully realized in a life until the life realizes the need to give thanks.  In everything?  I would never experience the fullness of my salvation until I expressed the fullness of my thanks every day, and eucharisteo is elemental to living the saved life."

Ann quotes Albert Schweitzer, "The greatest thing is to give thanks for everything.  He who has learned this knows what it means to live....He has penetrated the whole mystery of life: giving thanks for everything."

But wait, there's even more!!

The beauty of eucharisteo, as said by Ann,

"Christian hands never clasp,
and He doesn't give gifts for gain
because a gift can never stop being a gift -
it is always meant to be given."

Ann shares that giving thanks is a verb, something you do.  I love this, "Eucharisteo is the hand that opens to receive grace, then, with thanks, breaks the bread; that moves out into the larger circle of life and washes the feet of the world with that grace.  Without the breaking and giving, without the washing of feet, eucharisteo isn't complete.  The Communion service is only complete in service.  Communion, by necessity always leads us into community."

And later, "I am blessed.  I can bless.  Imagine!  I could let Him make me the gift!  I could be the joy!"

Even in the daily tasks of life such as laundry, ironing, emptying the dishwasher, and dusting, my heart's song must become that of thanksgiving to God as I serve Him by serving others!  Colossians 3:23 reminds us, "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men."

Thank you, God, for reminding me of the greater purpose my seemingly unimportant daily tasks have in your eyes!  May I become the gift as I bless others in  your name!

And Ann concludes, "Eucharisteo!  It really might be the mystery to the fullest life..."

Still have unanswered questions?  Want to go a bit deeper?  I just found this post and you may find it helpful; I did.