Monday, November 16, 2015

On Why I Keep this List

I have been an occasional list maker in my life, but this one has been different.

Most lists have a purpose to accomplish, and then I discard them.

This one has been ongoing for several years now, and I don't think its purpose will ever be completed until I stand in Heaven one day!

It is the list that I have been writing of things for which I am thankful to God.

This particular list got its start in 2011, but it is not the first time I have written out a gratitude list.

I was able to grow up under the teaching of a preacher who loved to encourage those in our church to be thankful people.


Colossians 2:6-7 (HCSB)
Therefore, as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him rooted and built up in Him, and established in the faith, just as you were taught, 
overflowing with gratitude.


Thankfulness was one of the frequent themes in his teaching, and he would often encourage us all to make thankfulness a part of our life.

He actually challenged us to do that...
sometimes by suggesting that we write down 100 things that we were thankful for.

So, this idea of writing out things to be thankful for was something I was well acquainted with.

Then I read a book that took the idea of a gratitude list to new levels. 

Levels that changed me.


The book was called One Thousand Gifts.
I first learned about it when I saw a trailer for the book. 
It was made by the author.
Her voice and her words captivated me. 

Her message brought tears.

In the book, the writer Ann Voskamp, wrote about a challenge 
given to her by a friend  
and how that challenge brought about the results that changed her own life. 

The challenge was to write down 1000 things that she loved.


Think just a moment about the things in your life that you love.
People? Memories? Every day simple happenings? Nature's wonder? God's work in your life?

Just look at a few of those and you will probably come to the same conclusion that she did.
All of these things you love are gifts.
Gifts from a God who loves you in unmeasurable ways.

How do you respond to a God who loves extravagantly like that?
With a heart full of thanksgiving of course!

But think about doing this and then take it one step further.
Count all the ways He loves you by keeping a list of those gifts.

It was the perfect time for me to make this simple activity a part of my life.

First, I had an empty journal that would be perfect to use. My daughter had given it to me the year before, and I had not found a use for it yet. I was saving it because it was so pretty, and I wanted to have only lovely thoughts to fill it.

This list would serve a great purpose for that journal.

Second, our church had given several challenges for the start of the new year.  One of the suggestions was to write down one thing a day that you were thankful for.

The third thing was that at this time in my life, we had a lot of things we were dealing with.  I was searching to make sense of all the pain, and where God was in all of it.

I wondered why at this time in my life when I needed Him so much, it seemed that He was nowhere near.

And then came the idea to do this list?  It certainly felt like the perfect thing for me to do at that time, so I took the journal out of the drawer and started thinking about what I should write first.

I mean, this first thing?  It had to be perfect, right?
(Oh how God has showered grace on this perfectionist since I started counting His gifts!)

Soon after I took out my empty journal,  I was driving on my way to the grocers and looked up briefly at a huge black bird that was perched on a light post.  Just as I drove under it, the bird spread his wings out, and God just gave me a sense of peace just knowing that He would keep me through all that was happening... safe under His wings.

And I felt that I had the perfect start for my journal.

It was my #1:
"A big black bird sitting on a lamp post.  As I drove under him, he spread out his beautiful wings... and God spoke peace to my heart.  I will take refuge under the shelter of Your wings."  

Right from that start there was so much excitement and joy in keeping this list.  I started to notice all kinds of things going on around me.  It was almost like waking up to all that was and already had been going on every day in my life... but I had missed it.

#42 berries on a winter bush
#104 hugs
#271 baby toads as seen through the delighted eyes of the kids :)

I reached the goal I had set of recording 1000 gifts during 2011.

As I approached the 1000th gift, I knew this was not going to stop.

So I continued into 2012.

#1,278 cool spring mornings
#1,279 sneezing
#1,280 sneezing stopped

Besides becoming more aware of things He was doing in my life and in the world around me, something else happened. My understanding of His goodness grew, and my trust in His sovereign will also became a more certain thing.

#1,382 deep thoughts - on deep grace
#1,431 for words to speak my heart to You...even when they don't form in my mouth

I knew that no matter what kind of things I might face in life, the God that I served was a GOOD God, and He loved me more than I could ever imagine.
He loved me much more than I could ever deserve.

My relationship with Jesus became increasingly very real... and personal.

My love for Him grew by leaps.

 And then...

Near the end of 2012, my husband was in a terrible accident.
He walked away from it, but we were faced with a long list of unknowns at the time.

#1841-  praising You now for how You will walk through the unknown that is ahead of us.
#1844-  for seat belts and air bags that worked
#1845-  for Your invisible protection that surpasses seat belts and air bags!

Just seven months after the accident, in July of 2013, while we were in the middle of discussions about surgery to repair his collarbone, I discovered a lump under my arm.

Tests followed.  And then a biopsy.  While we waited on results, the list continued.

#2,688- for laughter in hard times
#2,732- that only when we are weak, but also certainly when we are weak, YOU are our strength!
#2,746 - 2,758 - these are the items in the picture you see of His promises at the top of this blog.

We found out I did indeed have cancer.
2013 ended with treatments and baldness.  2014 started with a calendar filled with doctor appointments and planned surgeries for both of us; chemo treatments and radiation for me.  It was a full calendar of not so fun things.

And we learned this... facing hard things in life does not mean He is not near or that He is not good.

Even when what is going on around us does not look very good.

We were more convinced than ever that He loved us more than we can begin to imagine; and so much more than we will ever deserve.

And we know more than ever that His grace will always be there to meet us in our need.

Because we had already seen it happen.
Over and over again.

Because I wrote down even tiny things, I am able to go back and remember them; things I might have forgotten had I not recorded them.

#3,260- Aloxi and Benadryl and Zantac
#3,976- sad movies that led to hard discussions that we needed to have

Through all of it, the good, the bad and the hard.
We saw it over and over again.
His grace displayed in big and small ways.

#4,891- these long hard years ... You have held onto us.

Over the years since I started this list, I have seen Him make needed changes.
Changes in me and in my heart.
I have dealt with pride, perfectionism and my need for control.

He has shown me that He loves working with and in broken people.
It hasn't been easy.
Still isn't.

These are ongoing changes.
But it has been so good to face the areas that need to change in my life and experience His mercy towards me in the midst of them.

And today?
What am I going to write down today in this ongoing list of God's gifts?

Besides a very timely audio recording sent to me by my far away loves?

#5,623 This list.

I can't imagine going through the things we have faced without the grace I have seen by keeping this ongoing count of His abundant and never ending gifts to us.

To me.

This simple list ... a habit I hope to never stop.
Because His gifts to us never end.


Hebrews 12:28

Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us hold onto grace.
(note: or let us give thanks, or let us have grace)
By it, we may serve God acceptably, with reverence and awe...

(Holman Christian Standard Bible)


So how do you get started?  Get a notebook.  (It doesn't have to be a pretty one. ) The real treasure you will find out is what you are writing inside this book.  A simple spiral notebook will do just fine.

Make it easily accessible.  I keep mine out on a table or near where I have my Quiet Time. This way if something comes up during the day, I can jot it down before I forget it.

Be spontaneous with it.  Write it whenever you feel a nudge to do so, even if you feel it is silly at the time. Trust me, those things have been some of the most delightful to me when I read the list now.

Be honest with it.  Sometimes, especially if I am hurting, I take mine and just go sit outside - anywhere that I can be alone and share honestly what is on my heart.  Some of my journals contain those painful moments where I pour my heart out to God even on paper with ink; with tears.  And then just wait somewhere. Wait on God to show me something.  He always has. Sometimes it is a promise He brings to mind, or sometimes it's just the majesty of a sunset.

Be creative with it.  It is YOUR journal.  Let your own creative gifts determine how you fill it.  I have drawn pictures, glued little flower gifts from grandchildren, tickets to the zoo, and traced their handprints in mine.

There is no wrong way to do this, so get started!  You'll be oh so glad that you did...


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