Oct 10 2016

Counting Gratitudes

Day 10 in a month-long series on Cultivating Sanctuary.

Contemplative Cottage photo

The Contemplative Cottage – Credit Unknown

Every time I walk back from work to the cottage, and I see it perched on it’s little hill, I am incredibly thankful. Thank-full. To the brim and overflowing. I had never really believed that I would own a house, nor one that fit so perfectly my internal image of the Contemplative Cottage. Even photos of lovely English cottages in Oxford, or thatched-roofed cottages in Ireland, do not make me wish for those other houses in those wonderful, but distant, places. They only give me ideas for decorating my house, here, rooted in a community I love.

In 2008, when I was first contemplating starting a blog, I discovered the blog of Ann Voscamp, author of the New York Times bestseller One Thousand Gifts, a Christian, Canadian farmer, and mother of 7. Ann introduced me to a practice that has woven itself into my life now for 8 years: counting gratitudes.

Challenged by a friend to count to 1ooo things she was thankful for, Ann began a list. Every Monday on her blog, she would share her list from the previous week. For her, this practice radically transformed her life, one that had been marked by depression, debilitating fear, and grief over the tragic death of her younger sister. While all that she wrestled with did not suddenly disappear, she found that keeping a running record of her thanks built a habit of thanksgiving, eucharisteo, and changed how she saw her life and the world. She began to see more and more to add to her list.

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Inspired by her practice and testimony, I began a list. After a few months, aware that keeping up the practice in times of stress would be difficult, I created a gratitude journal, as she suggested, one that could be open on the counter in plain sight. A memory for which I’m thankful is making the journal while on a Christmas visit to my parents’, taking over the dining room table with crafting supplies. This past year, on December 31, 2015, I entered the 1330th gratitude on the final page. My new journal began at the start of 2016 and I continue counting.

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The power of the practice, even doing it semi-regularly as I do, shifts my attention from all that is wrong or negative, to all the beauty and love that surround me. It helps me pay attention (the primary practice for so many spiritual disciplines!) to the little graces and gifts that the frenetic pace of life often blinds me to.

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But there is another, even more powerful outcome, one that the great medieval theologian Thomas Aquinas discusses when talking about virtue. We can be trained in the virtue of moderation by the experience of delight by learning (hopefully) the moment that delighting in something turns into self-indulgence. Delight reinforces our habits, but it does more. Remembered delight–delighting in the memory of the delight–is joy. When I reread the years and years of gratitudes, small and large, I’m not simply delighted, I experience a deep joy, that leads to an even deeper thanks.

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If this practice resonates with you, the easiest way to begin is to write a list 10 things you are thankful for…get detailed, get specific.

It can be something very small, like how the sun light reflects beautifully on a wall, or the smell of baking bread, or the buzzing bees in the garden. It can be thanks for the life of loved one, a specific list of how you are thankful for them. It can be the hindsight gratitude for redemption of a hard or painful experience.

Once you’ve counted ten, make that list the beginning of a longer list. Put it in a visible place–on a kitchen counter or nightstand– and add to it from time to time, until you have counted to 1000. And once there, why stop?

 

 


Oct 22 2012

Lullaby

The twindlers are so tired, they fight sleep. Luke sits up in the bed wailing, his brother Ben, next to him, smiles at me, eager for anything that will distract him from napping.

Luke knows by now that when I come into the room that nap time is far from over. He wails louder as I gently encourage him to lie back down. He hides his face in the pillow. After a moment his wails become loud rhythmic whimpers. Ben takes the cue and lies down again, burrowing under the covers.

Then I pat Luke on the back and start to sing.

Almighty Three, our protection be

Encircling we, you are around

Our life, our home, our protection be

O Sacred Three, Almighty Three

I’ve been singing this song to them since they were born, over and over, its low minor tones wooing them to rest. It’s called The Caim, a protection prayer that I heard sung years ago by the group Watch the Sky. Over and over, the song repeats, weaving together breath and word and voice, until eyes droop and fighting sleep seems too much effort.

Maybe its just that I’m novel. I’m not their mom or dad. Maybe by the time I go in, they are so tired that the song is just the last nudge they need. Or maybe this prayer for God’s encircling is not just a lullaby but something so much more. God loves the least and smallest, the weary and weeping. The wails of tired babes are heard, and prayers for their rest are answered.

Luke finally stops whimpering. His breath slows and he drops off to sleep.

We don’t outgrow our need to be wooed to rest. We don’t outgrow our need to know that the Almighty One encircles us. We don’t outgrow our need for a lullaby.

The God of the universe sings over us, too. Every day, every moment.

The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing. (Zephaniah 3:17)

The past weeks have been full to overflowing.  I find myself weary, even in the midst of incredible joy, eyes drooping, yearning to trust the Lord’s encircling presence.

As I sing to Luke and Ben, I allow myself to breathe deep and rest.

***

Counting gratitudes today:

850. Not one but two jobs. After two years of searching, I’m now on staff at my church, managing communications. And in January, I will start teaching a freshman course, Christian Formation, at Seattle Pacific University.

851. My church called a new senior pastor yesterday. What an amazing morning of worship and prayer and excitement.

852. Quiet mornings

853. Leaves bright and golden, blanketing the ground.

854. Morning carpool and conversation.

855. Tea and biscuits after a long day.

856. Drawing a tree with my favorite Jane.

857. Rereading LeGuin’s Earthsea books, swooning over the language. Remembering my dad reading them to me as child, now looking forward to sharing them with my students.

858. My church community.

859. Delighted hugs from little ones.


Sep 6 2012

Every Thursday, Thanksgiving

Counting thanks to 1000 and beyond…

822. A finished paper and the lovely spaces in which to write it.

823. A night of blackberry and plum crisp making with Jack and Jane, dancing in the kitchen to the Pirates of the Caribbean soundtrack.

824. Kitty company

825. 45 days of sunshine and counting. I’ve forgotten it’s September.

826. The Sergio Leone Suite, Ennio Morricone, played by Yo-Yo Ma. I weep everytime is comes on Pandora.

What are you thankful for this week? Might you share with us 1 or 2 gratitudes in the comments so we can rejoice with you?

Join my friend Kimberlee and I as we give thanks together.

And the inspiration for counting gratitudes:


Aug 23 2012

Every Thursday, Thanksgiving

Counting thanks to 1000 and beyond…

813. The slight crisp scent in the air that makes me want to shop for school supplies. I’ve taken to using a #2 pencil. I’m especially relishing the memory of pencil boxes–you remember, the cardboard ones? Here is one I found on the web. What was your favorite design?

814. After my finger unhappily met with a fan blade two weeks ago, I’m so thankful it has fully healed.

815. More books read and quotes entered into the (massive) dissertation database. I’m over 1000 quotes now and with every book, page, and quote, I’m praising God more for the amazing gift he has given us in the practice of prayer.

816. Lovely words in a century-old book.

817. Sunshine!

818. Yummy Indian dinner with the sunset.

819. Craft fun with two young friends.

820. Women studying Proverbs and taking photos with the #shereadstruth tag on instagram or go here to see the journals.

821. A beautiful wedding that was a little taste of heaven: friends, flowers, pie, beauty, delicious food, trees, wild berries, leisurely conversation, more pie, kids playing, reconnecting with friends. Congrats, Becky and Jarad!

What are you thankful for this week? Might you share with us 1 or 2 gratitudes in the comments so we can rejoice with you?

Join my friend Kimberlee and I as we give thanks together.

And the inspiration for counting gratitudes:


Aug 16 2012

Every Thursday, Thanksgiving

 

Counting thanks to 1000 and beyond…

803. Pike Place and The Flying Fish

804. Yummy and colorful salad

805. The thoughtful discussion and prayerfulness of Session meetings.

806. An amazing stack of books for this chapter’s research. (And I need to say a little more about this…I’m excited and incredibly grateful to be pondering these books about reading and prayer, so grateful that I can say, it’s all been worth it.)

807. Lunch outside in the sunshine

808. Unexpected, serendipitous meetings

809. Listening to the birds coo and chatter as they bedded down for the night…and then, silence.

810. Pastries at Honoré

811. Giggles and swinging

812. Crushing on the Tiny House movement and the Tumbleweed Fencl design. (And this is on wheels and easily towed!)

812. Dinner with friends and hearing about the adventure of living mobile and minimalist.

What are you thankful for this week? Might you share with us 1 or 2 gratitudes in the comments so we can rejoice with you?

Join Kimberlee and I as we give thanks together.

And the inspiration for counting gratitudes:


Aug 9 2012

Every Thursday, Thanksgiving

Counting thanks to 1000 and beyond…

793. An empty email inbox. (Be encouraged. It is possible!)

794. I finally learned how to make my own salad dressing, one that doesn’t trigger a migraine:

1/4 cup olive oil
1/8 cup apple cider vinegar
2 tbsp water
1 tsp brown sugar
1/8 tsp salt
a dash of soy sauce
Shake vigorously.
(measurements are approximate and to taste, so sample and adjust as necessary)

795. Eating salads everyday–I’ve eaten more salad this week than in the last year. Thankful  for coming close to being more vegetarian than not.

796. An enjoyable evening around a bonfire, toasting marshmallows and getting to know my neighbors.

797. A lovely lunch with my friend Beth.

798. Hanging out with 8 great young people while their moms planned children’s ministries for this coming year. Olympic bean bag dives, feeding cheerios to baby ducks, tracing hands and feet, reading stories, lots of giggles, all the while soaking up the lake view.

799. Sun through leaves

800. Loving Hugh of St Victor’s Didiscalicon, a 12th century text that focuses on the spiritual practice of reading.

801. Speckled robins

802. Blown away by a familiar worship song sung in multiple languages, and the beautiful video paired with it:

(To listen, please pause the blog music first, found in the right column, under Music for Dreaming.)

 

What are you thankful for this week? Might you share with us 1 or 2 gratitudes in the comments so we can rejoice with you?

Join Kimberlee and I as we give thanks together.

And the inspiration for counting gratitudes:

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