I wanted joy. I wanted something new to fill my mind. So, before One Thousand Gifts became a bestseller, when the recording of thankfulness was only a few blog posts, I opened a beautiful journal and began counting.
The Izmit Earthquake of 1999 rocked my country, leaving 17,000 dead and hundreds of thousands homeless. Buildings turned into heaps of dust, leaned wildly to the side, sank four stories underground. People escaped with nothing but the clothing on their backs—and that wasn’t much. August nights are hot.
Six years later an earthquake storm hit my city. Four significant quakes and innumerable tremors shook the ground for weeks. Buildings cracked. People gave up sleeping inside. Those who could slept on their roofs; others slept in their cars or on the sidewalk—anywhere but the potential casket of concrete apartments.
The ground stopped shaking after a month. Our hearts took longer to settle. The first few nights back in my bed I could not sleep. My every movement was amplified by the springs in my mattress. I kept thinking there was another tremor. Only by staring at the hanging light fixture could I be certain that it was just my mattress, not the world, shaking.
That month left me with a fear of showering—not of the shower itself, but of being caught showering when an earthquake hit. What if I had to run outside with only a towel? I would be mortified! I showered as quickly as possible and spent every awful moment in the shower planning what I would grab and how I would escape if the building were to start shaking.
Several months after the earthquake storm I moved to the other side of the globe, to a region that had no earthquakes in recorded history. That ought to have calmed my fears and allowed me to shower in peace, but my mind was in a rut. I continued to spend showers planning my escape.
When I began counting one thousand gifts, evidences of God’s care, I made a few rules for myself:
- The gift must be from today (no stealing from yesterday or borrowing from tomorrow)
- The gift must be specific (no “everything in my room”)
- The gift must be unique (no writing “my house” every day)
The first days were easy, but after a couple weeks I started running out of gifts. I couldn’t repeat myself, so I had to open my eyes wide and pay attention to life. Each day became a treasure hunt, a search for more of the 1000 gifts.
One day, intent on discovering gifts, I started looking for them while showering. Warm water, good water pressure, soft towel, good-smelling shampoo—I stopped, surprised. I didn’t have to worry about earthquakes in the shower. I could pay attention to the present, to God’s presence in the present.
Later that day I found myself worrying about another remotely possible disaster. I stopped myself. And I started looking for gifts: a green pen, the smell of rain, the chance to share my dinner with a hungry boy . . .
As I crawled into bed more worries crowded my mind. I returned to counting gifts: warm colors in a quilt, bright stars, lentils and rice filling my stomach . . .
The treasure hunt continued. I tried to find at least 10 gifts tucked into each day. Spring turned into summer. On July 6 I counted the one thousandth gift. Then I counted the thousand and first, and the thousand and second. I had not worried about an earthquake in months.
Four and a half years have passed. I no longer number lists, but I still count. After a difficult day, tempted to worry, I begin again: a warm house, steady income, my home in the Church, a friend’s “well done,” Your angels watching over me . . .