Sunday, July 15, 2012

One Thousand Gifts

Last fall a friend lent me the book One Thousand Gifts.  Written by Ann Voskamp, her story is told from one who has experienced unimaginable suffering and yet has learned in spite of pain, to live a life of humble gratitude. I was excited to read this book.  I was eager to inhale her words and learn from her life.  And then as abruptly as I began my journey with Ann, I stopped.  I couldn't read her words. Her stories were intense, her experiences too much to bear.  I couldn't accept her challenge.  To live fully. To live with gratitude in spite of the small and huge burdens of this life.  Of my life.  Of the lives of those I love.

Pain is everywhere.  Suffering is all around us.  We wade in it and are swallowed by it every day.  It's on our television screens and our news stands.  It's across the world, when I hear stories from my own sister who is experiencing poverty and oppression in Africa and Asia.  It is here at home. I see it played out in the life of one of one of my old lady friends. Only, she isn't really old. She's a brilliantly smart 60-year-old woman.  She has her doctorate degree and was a college professor. But now she is battling mental health problems and has been committed to an assisted living home to rot away for the next 20 + years.  Her daughters have all but washed their hands of her.  She is lonely.  She has no control of her life anymore. She asks God,"Why me?" Wouldn't you? 

And then there's my really old friends.  The ones whose bodies are wasting away but their minds are still sharp.  They can't hold their bladders or their bowels.  They are embarrassed.  They are in physical pain.  Even the smallest of movements reminds them that their best years are gone.  They lug around oxygen tanks just to help them breathe.  When really, many of them just don't want to breathe anymore.  I hear them every single day ask the same questions.  "How did I get here? Why am I back to this place of feeling like a child?  Why?" 

I read it in the daily text messages from a friend, living so far away but whose pain is so close I can feel it within my own beating heart.  More bad news.  Still an empty nursery.  Arms just waiting to hold and rock.  Aching to be the mother she knows she is meant to be.  She hurts so deeply each time she has to congratulate a new friend.  She's angry most days.  Always sad.  Always feeling the pain of loss and of unmet dreams.  Always asking, "Why?"

There's Ann's story.  As a child, she watched her younger sister bleed to death in the arms of her parents. As an adult, she watched her brother and sister-in-law bury their two infant sons only months apart from one another.  Wouldn't you as a reader of her book ask, "Why?"

And then there's me. I've been a mess the last several months. I dress daily and I look down at my midriff.  Not growing.  Not safely protecting a new life.  By now I thought I would be rocking the belly band and the elastic waist maternity jeans.  Instead, I just feel empty.  My heart feels lifeless and my hand is often a clenched fist that pumps at God, asking, "Why? Why my baby? Why me?"

Natalie Grant's song "Held" says it well. "This hand is bitterness. We want to taste and let the hatred know our sorrows." And that's what I feel.  Bitterness. Pain. Loss. Frustration at the dreams that haven't come true. And if I have to be bluntly honest, I feel entitled to them all. Why shouldn't I be angry? Why shouldn't I be bitter? Because of my lost dreams. The ones I thought I was promised.  If I let go of them, who will know the pain and the hurt I feel?  Who will pay for it all?

A few weeks back I had a piece of writing published called "Perfectly Imperfect".  In it I made the statement, "I've often wondered to myself why suffering has to be debilitating. Can it not be something bigger than causing us to stop dead in our tracks, refusing to move forward?" I wrote this piece in hindsight of my journey with PPD but before I lost our baby.  I made this statement when life was good.  When I was living on the mountaintop. But what does it look like to really live out these words?  What does living fully and well look like in the midst of pain and tragedy?  What does it look like when in all honestly, some days I haven't wanted to get out of bed in the morning?  When I have cried myself to sleep more nights than I can count?  When I am moving begrudgingly through the valley?  

So this week, knowing that my words were being put to the test, I picked Ann's book back up.  I knew it was finally time to take my journey with her.  In my gut, I knew I was ready to listen this time.  I began to read One Thousand Gifts and to journal and soak up every God inspired line.  

And so far, this is what I have found:
All sin can be traced back to the fall.  This I knew.
Satan, wanted more.  He wanted more. He wanted more power and more glory.  
Satan was an ingrate and he sank his teeth right into the heart of Eden.  
Adam and Eve's fall was a direct result of ingratitude.  
They weren't satisfied with the lot God had given them.  
They believed Satan when he told them God's provision wasn't enough.

Ann writes, "Our fall was, has always been, and always will be, that we aren't satisfied with God and what He gives.  We hunger for something more, something other."
She goes on to write, "We eat. And in an instant we are blind. No longer do we see God as one we can trust.  No longer do we perceive Him as wholly good.  We eat. And in an instant, we see.  Everywhere we look we see a world of lack, a universe of loss, a cosmos of scarcity and injustice." 

And isn't that where we are?  Isn't that everything I just described?  My sister's calls from third world countries.  My sweet old friends locked away in a place of no control. Empty cradles. Death. Sorrow and loss.  Everywhere.  And then we blame our circumstances.  We blame God.  Because we don't know who else to blame.  Anyone but ourselves.

So the question becomes: Is wrong to mourn and to suffer?  If we are the ultimate cause of our own downfall? It can't be. Jesus suffered.  Jesus himself cried at death.  Then is our reaction to mourning and suffering the problem?

Ingratitude.  It was the cause of the fall.  So maybe that's how we find our way back?  We go back to the source?  We go back to gratitude.  Like Christ did.

Jesus, mourning and crying over the death of Lazarus, stood outside of his tomb and prayed "Father I thank You that You have heard me." (John 11:41)

"On the night when he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took some bread and gave thanks to God for it" (1 Corinthians 11:23-24).  On the eve of God's abandonment to him, Jesus gave thanks.

After preaching to country after country only to receive rejection, Jesus prays, "Oh Father, Lord of heaven and Earth, I thank thee." (Matthew 11:25)

So I've been asking myself this week.  Could I live like that?  Could I open my clenched fists? Could I give up this resentment I feel entitled to and replace it with a heart of constant gratitude?  To trust that which I don't see?  To thank God in the mist of failure and suffering just like Christ did?  Could I return to Eden?  The place that once was, before ingratitude pierced through the perfection?

I'll be blunt again.  I've been fighting this.  Every fiber of my being wants to hang on to the resentment and the pain and the anguish that I feel entitled to.  I don't want to give thanks.  I want to suffer and feel sorry for myself and hold on to my hurts and all of my "what could have beens..."  

But I'm not going to.  And I'm asking you not to either.  If you have stuck with me for this long, I'm asking you to take this challenge with me.  Let's see where it will take us.  Read this book with me.  Buy the book.  Borrow it.  Highlight through it.  Journal as you read it. 

Experience something new with me.  Let's start our list together. List the gifts of your daily life. List them on the good days and list them on the hardest days.  Let's just try this and see where it takes us. Let's list our gifts and go on a search for gratitude like Christ demonstrated so clearly to us.  Like Ann did in her book.  Maybe that's what's been missing?  Maybe we really just need to return back to Eden, the place God gave us before ingratitude took hold.  Today, I begin my list.  Today, I am choosing to find joy and thankfulness in the midst of my pain.  Will you join me?

Today's Gifts:
  1. Summer nights spent with new and old friends
  2. Six wonderful years of learning to love my husband
  3. Hardwood floors that lay hold to tiny bare feet
  4. Blue cookie monster cupcakes with googly eyes
  5. Naps
  6. Yarn for the cat to chase
  7. The bubbly sounds of fresh brewed coffee
  8. A good sale
  9. Dental Insurance
  10. A warm rainfall pitter pattering on the roof


  1. Brittany, I LOVE EVERYTHING YOU WRITE. I feel like we are the same person sometimes & I barely know you. How can this be? I am so sorry to hear about your precious baby. I will be praying for you & your sweet family! I really hope to have more time to read through more of your posts soon. I am glad you are reading this book. It is life-changing.

  2. Brittany, you don't know me... I'm Carly, one of Kelsey's friends from GV and the WR. She posted your blog to her Facebook and I just wanted to tell you that this is really exceptional -- your insights AND your prose. I'm so, so sorry for your loss. Kelsey has only incredible things to say about you as a sister and as a mom; I can't imagine how you feel right now, but how beautiful that our God is good and that He STILL has a plan full of beauty and abundance -- even in these ugly times. I've been flirting with the idea of reading _1000 Gifts_ also... maybe when we get back in the country :-) I recommend Shauna Niequist to just about everyone, but I think you might especially love her book Bittersweet right now. She wrote it while she and her husband were struggling with miscarriages, and she constantly comes back to God's goodness in the midst of hard times.

    Thank you for sharing so openly. So much love and so many prayers are coming your way from Malaysia!