I can feel it moving through me, slowly, like molten lava, changing the very foundations upon which I’ve stood for so long. I was taught as a child that life was not changed by single, flashing, throbbing moments of movement but by the patient, steady, putting of one foot in front of the other. This plodding along the road to joy that I seem to be on, it’s changing me. The words were nowhere to be found, though I could feel their taste on my tongue. Joy was fleeting, the ultimate tease. During this winter season, in the midst of holiday cheer and revelry, in the dawn of a new year, my heart searched for every reason to be glad. And the words came, unbridled and vulnerable in the most exquisite way:
As far as my eyes could see, trees stood laden with pristine, powdery snow, atop mountains that stretch their peaks to heaven and all that is holy. How could I look out on the very essence of grandeur, in the aftermath of a joyous new year, and not be overwhelmingly thankful?
I have found in the past months of counting gifts that too often I have counted on these sweeping moments of awe-struck wonder to enter into thanksgiving. Discontent may run rampant in the everyday but I need only steal a moment of awesome delight to consider it all well with my soul. This settling, this pacifying, this pattern of thinking – it steals my joy. It convinces me that I am indeed thankful “in all things”. I fool myself into believing the lie that one sweeping moment of joy, awe, praise to God, is enough to wash over my life of discontent. It is not enough.
I am learning to count the gifts; I am learning to see the gifts. A challenging exam? A call to work harder, to be diligent. A difficult conversation? It makes me think, makes us wonder aloud at our actions. The list goes on and one, some gifts simple, some gifts hardly able to be explained in the small blank space they fill on the page. White bread, with peanut butter oozing through the freshly baked cracks. My sister, the giggles and glee, the soul tie. Time to be still and do absolutely nothing. His long overdue laugh, the way I witness it consuming all of the hurt and isolation. A cookie jar – full. Wrapping paper flying through the air. Seeing myself, seeing the ugly, and being called to mend the bridges I’ve burned to the ground. My eyes are opening just a little more every day.
The truth is, it’s not easy. In a 12 hour day at work, there is hardly patience enough to keep my voice down, let alone hear that quiet voice that knows how beautiful each moment can be. Dancing in the kitchen, singing my song in praise, spinning around in elation – these are brave things. But what of the nights where all I am is a tired lump in bed? Put this pen to use, My child. Exalt Me with the quiet gifts I’ve given you, in the quiet of night, and then rest your eyes. Be it in the freshness of morning or by the soft glow of the lamp at my bedside, this putting of pen to paper has become a lifeline to which I cling. In the business of Christmas I fought to see togetherness instead of bodies underfoot, humour in an incomplete job, rather than an ever-growing to-do list, and honest, powerful truth, instead of the sting of a thousand mistakes confessed. In counting one thousand gifts, in declaring on paper His gifts of grace, I learn to truly see them. And joy abounds.
The word thanksgiving, at its very core, is rooted in joy. As long as thanks is possible, joy is possible. Joy, this elusive, holy state that I pray for and revel in; it is possible as long as my heart chooses to reach for the glorious, the grace, to bow low in wonder. Discontent has robbed me of that which I have prayed so fervently for. And I couldn’t even see it. The counting of gifts, the seeing, it takes practice. For me, it has begun with the pen. Joy is waiting and with eyes wide open, with pen to paper, I see her beckoning with a soothing hand of peace. Come to Me. See Me and choose Me. Choose joy. And oh, I do, I do, and with the empty spaces, numbered as they are, one through one thousand, I can run headlong into her arms. My pen is learning this language of thanksgiving and though my inadequacies, my discontent, threaten progress on some days, I think perhaps my heart is beginning to learn as well.
Since I’ve returned to the pressures of school, the endless and aggravating, I’ve asked Him what feels like a dozen times, to keep prying these stubborn eyes open. Now that I’ve tasted the Light, I fear the pain of darkness. I don’t want to go back. When I cannot see it, may I earnestly seek the Light. Lord knows, sometimes that Light seems so hopelessly hidden. But as long as there’s an empty page, ready for the counting of gifts, there is hope. Hope that I might find beauty in the mundane. Beauty and grace. I long to know grace-beauty, inhale its sweet scent, feel it in the quiver of my bones. To see heaven float down to rest on the tip of my nose. To call on Him, cry to Him: “One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple” (Psalm 27:4). I don’t want to merely see beauty but to feel it resonate in my soul, feel it coursing through my blood, a part of me. Be Thou my vision… In thanksgiving, the key is turned and the floodwaters, joy, bursts forth in triumphant jubilee.
As long as there is emptiness, there is space to give thanks. As long as the journal lies open, like “white spaces opened wide, empty pages like cups to heaven, waiting to be filled with the colour of His graces” (Ann Voskamp, aholyexperience.com), there is space to gather grace, to be filled with more of Him. There is space for joy to fill the emptiness.