One Thousand Gifts: Chapter One

“If I had a gun I would have already blown my head off.”

The brutality of the words shock me. I never get used to hearing them. We’d had a nice conversation and this person was laughing and pleasant. But, when I ask point blank…this is the answer I am given.

“But…is there something that keeps you from doing that? Anything?” I ask.

Besides these four walls, that wheelchair, the weakness in your body…I think. We all know that for those earnest enough there is always a way. But that is not what I’m asking. I want to know where this person’s heart is. What is it that keeps it beating?

“Well, the good Lord says that He won’t give you anything more than you can stand. So I reckin’ He knows better than I.”

So we talk. About prayer. About praise. About finding God in the ugly.

“We call it The Great Hunt for Beauty around here. It’s really a God-hunt. Can you find Him in all of this?”

I look deep into eyes that have been bled of any of the color they used to see through. They look back into mine. And for the first time, I see a spark.

“Because He’s here, I say. Oh, yes. He is in this.”

We talk some more but soon it’s time to leave. When I stand up to brush by the wheelchair, there are suddenly arms around my waist. And they are hugging me hard. A face is buried in my skirt and I feel my heart lurch.

On the drive home I can’t stop thinking about it. The gratitude in that hug.

That person needed that reminder, Lord, I tell Him. To remember that you are in all of this.

And I think about the wellness of my body. How I run each day and lift and carry. My hands are strong, my eyes see fine. I am whole.

But I won’t always be this way.

And I wonder…will I be able to find the beauty?

Really, when you bury a child—or when you just simply get up every day and live life raw—you murmur the question soundlessly. No one hears. Can there be a good God? A God who graces with good gifts when a crib lies empty through lone nights, and bugs burrow through coffins? Where is God, really? How can He be good when babies die, and marriages implode and dreams blow away, dust in the wind? Where is grace bestowed when cancer gnaws and loneliness aches and nameless places in us soundlessly die, break off without reason, erode away. Where hides this joy of the Lord, this God who fills the earth with good things, and how do I fully live when life is full of hurt? How do I wake up to joy and grace and beauty and all that is the fullest life when I must stay numb to losses and crushed dreams and all that empties me out? (Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts)

When grief comes, do I live with hands clenched tight?

In the first chapter of her beautiful book One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are, Ann Voskamp makes me weep with the story of her beginnings. She makes me swoon with her lilting prose. But most of all, she challenges me.

From a family that is intimately acquainted with loss, Ann has the nerve—the compassion and heart—to tell her brother-in-law as he prepares to bury a second infant son…she says to him, “If it were up to me…I’d write this story differently.”

And even as she says the words she wants to take them back. Because we all know a good Christian wouldn’t say such a thing. We all know the lines to give in loss. But isn’t this what we really want?

We want to write our own story.

What He gives is not enough. We want more.

…Though I can hardly whisper it, I live as though He stole what I consider rightly mine: happiest children, marriage of unending bliss, long, content, death-defying days. I look in the mirror, and if I’m fearlessly blunt—what I have, who I am, where I am, how I am, what I’ve got—this simply isn’t enough…(Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts)

This is where we begin. But we won’t be staying here. This awareness takes the author on a journey of self-discovery–and she invites us along. You might be surprised where this journey takes us. Come count the gifts with me. Accept the dare to an emptier, fuller life.

This is the first in a series on Ann Voskamp’s book One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right WhereYou Are.  Join me this time next week for a reflection on Chapter two.