"Sometimes you don't know when you're taking the first step through a door until you're already inside", that's what Ann Voskamp says in one of the opening chapters of her book One Thousand Gifts. To be honest, in some ways my own life feels like a series of stepping into new doors and new rooms that I've never knew existed, or was to afraid to peer inside because of who or what I thought it would make me, not realizing in the moment I was even doing so. Lately, I've been a little less afraid... or rather a little braver in the midst of my fears. For the first time ever I find myself realizing that maybe the way I've looked at the world has been wrong. Maybe the reason why I think things are a certain way, isn't because they are that way, but because I've blinded myself to the truth... afraid of what that truth might be. This kind of living though, has come at a cost. Over the years I've become quite pessimistic. I always see how things can/will go wrong. I dwell on the brokenness and the hurt of myself, others and the world around me. I question everything... even God. But I'm silent about it all... keeping all those things wrapped up tightly in the caves of my heart. I don't want anyone to know, anyone to see. But maybe... just maybe... I am the one who needs to have her eyes opened... and maybe in the opening of my eyes I will release me grip and become more real with myself and the world around me.
I think Ann Voskamp does a great job of showcasing how to do just that in this book. Sewn throughout the chapters and pages you can see her very person journey not only from depression to joy and ingratitude to gratitude, but also from hidden doubt to firmly planted faith. She asks in the very beginning of the book, "Can there be a good God? A God who graces with good gifts when a crib lies empty through long nights, and bugs burrow through coffins? Where is God really? How can He be good when babies die, and marriages implode, and dreams blow away, dust in the wind? Where is grace bestowed when cancer gnaws and loneliness aches and nameless places in us soundlessly die off without reason, erode away? Where hides this joy of the Lord, this God who fills the earth with good things, and how do I fully live when life is full of hurt? How do I wake up to joy and grace and beauty and all that is the fullest life when I must stay numb to losses and crushed dreams and all the empties me out?". We've all been there haven't we? At least I have... in the dark quiet nights of loneliness or the pain of suffering loss. We sit there in these moments and we wonder, "where is God? Does He even care?" and if we are lucky, if we listen closely enough, we might actually hear His answer....or we might not.
It's in these moments of not that we start to doubt...walking ever so slightly away from faith. But, as Voskamp says, "Perhaps the opposite of faith is not doubt. Perhaps the opposite of faith is fear. To lack faith perhaps isn't so much as intellectual disbelief in the existence of God as fear and distrust that there is a GOOD God". She follows that up with the idea that maybe "that which tears open our souls, those holes that splatter our sight, may actually become the thin, open places to see through the mess of this place to the heart-aching beauty beyond. To Him. To God whom we endlessly crave". What a thought...albeit not new... to think that maybe the brokenness of our lives are the cracks not only through which God can shine through us, but also through which we can see Him! Maybe it's like Ann says, "When we lay the soil of our hard lives open to the rain of grace and let joy penetrate our cracked and dry places, let joy soak into our broken skin and deep crevices, life grows". I want to see life grow in me again, don't you?!
This whole book is the story of Ann Voskamp's dead things coming back to life... of her finding God in the midst of looking for His blessings. After writing down, day after day, week after week, month after month, a list of over 1000 ways God has shown His love and blessing and love towards her... His gifts".. she reflects that "the secret to joy is to keep seeking God where we doubt He is", advice that we all need to hear, because it's so easy to close up and shut down in those moments when He seems most absent. But as Ann learns in all her listing and her noticing of God in the mundane and holy moments of life, "Nothing I am counts for anything, but all that I count of Him counts for everything"!. She says, "While I may not always feel joy, God asks me to give thanks in all things, because He knows that the feeling of joy begins in the action of thanksgiving" and that "it's impossible to give thanks and simultaneously feel fear". I have so much to learn! And yet maybe this... the seeing and giving thanks for the blessing that Voskamp talks about again and again in her book... actually is the key. Maybe in doing so we discover, as she did, that the answer to the question can God be trusted is found only when we take the time to "count blessing and find out how many of His bridges have already held". I guess it's time to start my own gift list! How about you?