1000 Gifts

1000_Gifts_JournalI 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:

  1. The gift must be from today (no stealing from yesterday or borrowing from tomorrow)
  2. The gift must be specific (no “everything in my room”)
  3. 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 . . .

1000_gifts_listThe 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 . . .


Grace life

Today I glimpsed grace.

A group of women gathered to play volleyball for the evening. I’m not good at volleyball, but I do know the rules of the game. So I came ready to (fail to) meet the expectations, the universal laws of hitting a ball across a net. And I expected to reward and be rewarded points accordingly. Life of perfectionism, life according to the law.

But my community does not do life according to the law, and it’s not a very comfortable place for perfectionism! Someone served, and hit the rafters. “Redo!” They served again, and managed to get the ball on the side balcony. “Redo!” The next time the ball made it in the right direction and landed three feet short of the net. “Redo!” (How much grace are we allowing here?) Others encouraged them to come toward the net, halfway down the court and try again. The ball hit the net. “Redo!” (Really??) Finally the ball made it over, and we returned the serve, only to lose the point and have the whole process start over again. (Now you know we’re actually winning, right?)

Eventually we got the ball. A lovely serve over into the right area, and the opposing team stood like statues, except for the three women closest to the ball. They screamed, ducked, and covered their heads. Again, and again, and again. But we weren’t adding points to our score. Finally, someone elbowed the ball. Cheers all around. (What is this game all about anyway? Isn’t the point of life — I mean, the game — keeping the rules, scoring points, and winning?)

Over the next hour of attempting to hit the ball back and forth across the net, God shifted my heart, reminded me again of grace. There was a day, not that many months ago, when I was the frightened woman trying to avoid getting hit by the ball. That day I was shown grace upon grace, and in that grace I began to like volleyball. Grace made space for me to grow. Yet I had forgotten, and returned to thinking that pressure and rules would teach the new women to do well at the game. But, no. It was this wide place of grace, where people cheered ecstatically for a (miserably failed) attempt, it was here that the women found joy in the game, and found courage to try at least kicking the ball. I finished the evening calling “Redo” and cheering along with the others, and thinking . . .

Grace didn’t just give me space to love and learn volleyball. Grace gives me space to love and learn life. I am well accustomed to rules, to expectations, to pressure, to rewards for achievement and punishment for failure, to standards and performance. Those have shaped and formed me, pressure pushing in, leaving me fearfully good. But it is grace that frees me, that teaches me to love God and to love this life He has given me.

I am called to remember this grace. I am called to live this grace. And, as I grow in grace, I’m called to accept grace for self-centered perfectionism, and extend grace to others for their selfish sins. I am called to offer to others this space of grace, this room to find love and joy that I have been given.

*written February 12, 2012