Tag Archives: One Thousand Gifts

Thankfulness as a Sacrifice?

Make thankfulness your sacrifice to God,
and keep the vows you made to the Most High.
Psalm 50:14, NLT*

Usually our thanks is a spontaneous response to something that delights us. It’s sincere and heart-felt. It costs us nothing.

But is there more? In Bible times, the people of Israel had a regular schedule of sacrifices and offerings. You didn’t just sacrifice when you felt like it, although you could bring extra if you were especially thankful.

I keep a gratitude journal, but I don’t write in it every day. Not a very regular sacrifice, and it’s not that God isn’t active on those days. It’s that I forget to take notes, or more often that I forget to take note. I don’t see what He’s doing. I’ve forgotten to look.

There’s another aspect to this sacrifice: the Apostle Paul tells us to give thanks in all things. Even in the ones we don’t like and wish we’d never experienced. Ann Voskamp calls this the “hard eucharisteo” and her book, One Thousand Gifts, shows how important this intentional, teeth-gritted or tear-streaked thanksgiving is.

We may not be able to thank God for the pain, but we can always thank Him for His presence with us in it and for His power to make it count for something.

God our Shepherd, our Provider and Protector, forgive us for our ungrateful hearts and for the times we take Your gifts for granted. Open our eyes daily to see the many opportunities to give You thanks. Delight us with Your presence. And strengthen us to thank You in the hard times too.

Matt Redman’s “Blessed Be Your Name” reminds us to praise in the good times and the bad.

*New Living Translation (NLT)Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Three Good Things

Today is gone, it was not fun. Tomorrow is another one. Every day from here to there, funny things are everywhere.” (With apologies to Dr. Seuss’ One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish)

Certain Seuss-isms have lodged in my brain and pop out at times to bother my children. The good Doctor actually wrote “today was fun” and I tend to quote this one properly at the end of a good but tiring day. But the day in question had been stressful and I was glad to see the end of it.

Instead of his usual Seuss-induced eye roll, my 15-year-old stepped into my personal space, index finger outstretched, and challenged, “Name three good things that happened today. Fast.”

Umm.

There had been good things, not least being that although anxiety had hounded me all day I hadn’t crumpled. I was just tired of the repetitive battle.

He didn’t move. “Three good things.”

I don’t remember now which three I told him, but his moment of tough love is up there with the best things in that day.

How quickly we forget the good, or focus on the bad instead. And as Ann Voskamp says in One Thousand Gifts, even the bad can be a gift if we choose to recognize God there and continue giving thanks.

Gratitude has to be intentional. Deliberate. Radical.

For further reading:

At A Voice Crying Out into the Wilderness, Roger Tharpe reminds us of the importance of remembering the good.

At Other Food: daily devos, Violet Nesdoly affirms that gratitude is a choice.

And you’re bound to find something valuable about gratitude at Ann Voskamp’s A Holy Experience.

Picks from 2011

I’m borrowing this idea from Laura Davis at Interviews and Reviews, and picking my favourites from what I’ve reviewed in 2011:

Books

Most life-changing (tie, listed in order I read them):

Most fun:

Most laugh-inducing:

Best dramatic novel:

Most personally helpful writing how-to:

Music

Favourite album of the year (tie, listed in order I heard them):

Gratitude

Now the people complained about their hardships in the hearing of the LORD, and when he heard them his anger was aroused. Then fire from the LORD burned among them and consumed some of the outskirts of the camp. When the people cried out to Moses, he prayed to the LORD and the fire died down. So that place was called Taberah, because fire from the LORD had burned among them.

 The rabble with them began to crave other food, and again the Israelites started wailing and said, “If only we had meat to eat!”
Numbers 11:1-4, NIV*

The people complained… the Israelites started wailing… Numbers 11:10 says every family was “wailing at the entrance to their tents.”

The people had hardships, real or perceived. But look at all the good things:

That’s a lot of good! What if they’d concentrated on the blessings instead of their hardships? What if they’d trusted God to do what He said?

Mighty and rescuing God, holy and faithful, forgive us for the times we concentrate on the negatives and complain. The Bible says we’re welcome to bring You our pain, because You are our refuge. But You don’t want us spreading dissension and discontent among our brothers and sisters. Open our eyes to the gifts You give. Help us not to take them for granted, and not to prefer our own ways. Create in us grateful hearts to worship and to wonder at all that You’re doing in our world.

Here’s a gratitude song I first heard live in concert, and I fell in love with it on the spot: Geoff Moore’s “Saying Grace.” This is a live recording, the sound isn’t great, but listen for the words… and watch the love on this Christian’s face as he sings his thanks.

For more on gratitude, consider joining Ann Voskamp’s gratitude community.

*New International Version (NIV) Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Scattered Thoughts

We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.
2 Corinthians 10:5b, NIV*

Take captive every thought…

Paul is calling Christians to live “in the world but not of the world” and not to judge by human standards but by God’s. He’s talking about spiritual warfare and tearing down everything that “sets itself up against the knowledge of God”.

There’s a fierceness to his tone even though he starts with “By the humility and graciousness of Christ I appeal to you.

For me, the idea of taking every thought captive has meant not allowing myself to dwell on negatives and other temptations, but choosing to think about good and positive things. In reading Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts I’ve come to apply the verse by choosing gratitude instead of ingratitude.

But what if there’s more?

Take captive every thought…

Sometimes when I’m tired, this means pulling my thoughts together and marshalling enough mental energy to carry on in His strength.

Far more frequently than that, it means not letting my thoughts skitter away in all directions. Some of them rabbit-trail, others try to get into the future ahead of me.

“Take captive” is a good picture of what’s needed: they can bolt like a herd of wild horses, and I need a firm hand to lasso them and get them back into the corral.

Father, I want to live in the present, grounded and aware, seeking You first. I can’t do this on my own. Help me bring every thought and focus in line with You. Help me take one thing at a time, walking with You, open to hear anything You might say.

Here’s Michael Card’s “In Stillness and Simplicity.”

*New International Version (NIV) Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Friday Friends: Author Sara Davison (part 2)

Last Friday we chatted with Canadian author Sara Davison, whose novel, The Watcher, released in March 2011. [You can read part one of the interview here.]

Janet: Welcome back, Sara. You’ve persevered a long time on the road to publication. What hope can you share with those of us still slogging?

Sara: It is a difficult journey, and a tough business that is only getting tougher as a result of uncertain economic times and on-going developments in technology. When this book was rejected yet again a year and a half ago I launched a blog called Choose to Press On, emphasizing the fact that if you believe in your story, and believe that God gave you this gift and this calling (and you really, really have to believe that or I would strongly recommend looking into other career options) then you have to just keep going and not give up. The stories are given for a purpose, and that purpose will be fulfilled in God’s time and in his way, not ours. In the meantime, keep working on your craft, honing it to  continually become a better and stronger writer. To get published now, work can’t just be good, it has to be excellent which, as writers working for the glory of God, should be our objective anyway. After that, we have to leave the results up to God.

Janet: Sound advice. Thank you. Are you working on a sequel?

Sara: Good question Janet. And the answer is maybe. When the book was UnBroken, I had a sequel written. Now that it has all been changed I’m not sure if the sequel still works or is needed. However, people have been asking about one, so I am taking a hard look at the other book to see if it can be rewritten to follow The Watcher or not. I will have to keep you posted on that. I do have another suspense novel written, The Child-Snatchers, which was short-listed in the Word Alive contest, so I am currently looking into publishing options for that one as well, but that one is the first in a completely different series.

Janet: Is there a particular song or Scripture verse that’s made a big difference for you?

Sara: The song “Praise You in the Storm” by Casting Crowns has had a big impact on me. The first time I heard it, a girl from our church was singing it at the funeral for her twenty-year old brother who had died suddenly in a car crash. Praising God is always powerful, but I was overwhelmed by how powerful it was that someone could be in the midst of devastation and heartbreak, and still praise God. I often thought of this song, and of the moment I first heard it, when I was writing about how Kathryn dealt with what happened to her in The Watcher. 

Janet: I think the choice to praise God in the hard times and in the pain is very powerful. And it’s something we all need to do at times. Next question: Are you a writer who likes to immerse herself in details of the setting while incubating the story idea?

Sara: Actually, that depends on what I am writing. The Child-Snatchers is set in a diner in Toronto, so I have spent a lot of time in diners in my town, trying to capture the feel, sounds, smells etc. Other than my husband questioning why I am suddenly spending so much more money on coffee and breakfast, I love being surrounded by everything my characters see and experience in the book. In The Watcher, the setting doesn’t play as big a role as the actions and interactions of the characters, so I did not end up spending extra time on a ranch, or travelling out to British Columbia. I do immerse myself in the dialogue, internal and verbal, of the characters whenever I write, however. I don’t tell this to many people, but I do act out a lot of the scenes, holding up both (or more) ends of the conversation and really putting myself into the action so that I can feel and think everything the character would be feeling and thinking. Like most writers, I find my characters become very real to me. In fact, I realize they are becoming too real to me when my poor husband says something to me and I find myself thinking “Nick would never say that to Kathryn!” That’s when I have to stop and remind myself that Nick is a fictional character and it’s not really a fair comparison.  

Janet: What do your family think of your writing?

Sara: Well, other than moments like that, they are unbelievably supportive. It’s not an easy thing to live with a writer, and to go through all the emotional ups and downs that come with that calling. It would be extremely difficult to pursue that vocation if your spouse and children (and, in my case, grandmother, parents, sisters, brothers-in-law, nieces, nephew, aunts, uncles, cousins etc.) didn’t support you and encourage you daily not to give up. My husband Michael is my biggest encourager, and tells everyone about the novel, whether they want to hear about it or not J. My kids think it’s pretty cool that I’ve written a book, and they seem to be impressed. My older two anyway. My youngest son, who is seven, recently said to me, “I’m glad you stay home with us and don’t work. Well, except for writing books, but that’s easy!” They make me laugh, anyway, and that goes a long way toward keeping me sane and keeping me going.

Janet: Writers are told to read widely and voraciously. I think that’s one of the perks of the deal. What are you reading these days?

Sara: At the moment I am reading The Story of Edgar Sawtelle for a book club I attend and it is a beautifully written book. I am also reading One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp, another beautiful, poetic book that is teaching me to live with a perpetual attitude of gratitude, and an awareness of the grace of God in the ordinary and everyday things of life. I also recently read In the Company of Others by Jan Karon, as enjoyable as the rest of the series, and Rescued by Donna Dawson is next on my list. I try to read a variety of books and authors, and to expand my horizons beyond what is familiar and, sometimes, even comfortable, in a desperate attempt to learn how great writers tell a story that has a powerful effect on their readers.

Janet: What do you like to do to get away from it all?

Sara: Is that an option? It’s pretty tricky for me to get away from it all these days, as I have three kids and have moved away from my family and don’t know very many people in town yet. Mostly I escape up to my room with a book, and I walk every morning with a friend down to the lake or on one of the many trails around here. Now that my kids are a little older, my husband and I do actually get out for a meal or a movie once in a while, and an hour or two of uninterrupted conversation is pretty much as close to a getaway as we’re taking these days.

Janet: Uninterrupted adult conversation is nothing to sneeze at! What’s the most surprising/fun/zany/scary thing you’ve ever done?

Sara: Wow, after contemplating this question for quite a while, I have come to the conclusion that I mustn’t be a very surprising/fun/zany/scary kind of a person, as nothing significant immediately came to mind. I’m not a huge risk-taker by nature, so this whole journey of putting myself and my work out there has been an on-going process of pushing myself further and further out of my comfort zone, which is always a good thing. Flying is I guess the scariest thing I have done, mostly because I have encountered pretty much everything that can go wrong with a flight short of crashing – being lost in fog, landing in tornadoes and the plane almost tipping over, having the plane searched for a bomb after someone checked in and didn’t get on a flight loaded with Hell’s Angels. I will still do it when necessary, but it does require a leap of faith and trust every time. Oh, and one of the most fun things that ever happened to me was bumping into Donny Osmond – literally – on a sidewalk in Toronto one day when he was there performing in Joseph. 

Janet: Sounds like plenty of things that could work into future novels! Sara, thanks so much for taking time to let us get to know you a bit. May the LORD continue to bless you and make you a blessing to others—in every area of your life.

===

Sara Davison blogs at Choose to Press On, and you can also find her on Facebook and on the Great Canadian Authors site. Visit her website, saradavison.org, for information on her current projects, an excerpt from and discussion questions for The Watcher, interviews, reviews and more.


The Goodness of the Lord

I remain confident of this:
I will see the goodness of the LORD
in the land of the living.
Wait for the LORD;
be strong and take heart
and wait for the LORD.
Psalm 27:13-14, NIV*

This verse gave me a lot of comfort during a hard time. I don’t know the translation a friend sent to me, but the wording for verse 13 is “I would have despaired if I had not believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” (It’s similar to the NASB translation of Psalm 27:13)

I clung to that promise, repeated it over and over, and although that crisis has passed the words are still on my fridge. Things were bad, and I needed help believing there would be good days ahead.

The verse has been going through my head again this week, in the form of a song by Carolyn Arends, “Land of the Living”. Just the chorus:

I would despair
If I did not believe
That I would see again
Your hand in the land of the living.

And I saw something deeper: the promise doesn’t say anything about what this goodness will look like. Doesn’t say the pain will go away, health or wealth be restored, wars and natural disasters cease.

What it says is that we will see the goodness of the Lord.

See the goodness of the Lord.

One of the points I took from Ann Voskamp’s amazing book, One Thousand Gifts, is that sometimes God’s goodness—the grace He gives us—is hard to recognize. It comes disguised as what we call more bad news or hard times.

She also points the way to see it: “praise precedes the miracle”. As we pray, praising God for who He is, asserting our confidence in Him, He helps us recognize His hand even in the hard experiences.

If the circumstances don’t change, or while we’re waiting for the change, don’t we need to recognize—to see—the goodness of the Lord present with us? Don’t we need His goodness to get us through? That’s grace.

Father God, Giver of all good gifts, open our eyes and our spirits to see Your goodness here with us, in the land of the living. We will still pray in trust that You will deliver us from our hard places and heal our hurts, but in the here and the now, help us praise You. Praise You with no strings attached: not if You work things out a certain way, but because of who You are. And we will remember that the praise does precede the miracle, whatever that miracle will turn out to be.

 

I couldn’t find “Land of the Living” as an audio file, so here’s a video of my first favourite Carolyn Arends song: “Seize the Day.”

*New International Version (NIV) Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Review: One Thousand Gifts, by Ann Voskamp

One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully, Right Where You Are, by Ann Voskamp (Zondervan, 2011)

One Thousand Gifts is a rare book: at once a very personal story of one woman’s journey, and yet it’s everywoman and everyman’s story. It’s a journey we can all join.

Which of us hasn’t struggled with ingratitude? It is, after all, Satan’s oldest lie. It can root so deeply that we don’t even see it anymore.

Listen to how Ann Voskamp describes it, describes the too-familiar wretched state and the haunting questions that lured her out of it:

“If I’m ruthlessly honest, I may have said yes to God, yes to Christianity, but really, I have lived the no. I have. Infected by the Eden mouthful, the retina of my soul develops macular holes of blackness…. One life-loss can infect the whole of a life…. Now everywhere we look, we only see all that isn’t: holes, lack, deficiency.” (p. 16)

“How do we choose to allow the holes to become seeing-through-to-God places? To more-God places?

“How do I give up resentment for gratitude, gnawing anger for spilling joy? Self-focus for God-communion.” (p. 22)

For Ann, the answer started with a Greek word, eucharisteo [yoo-khar-is-teh’-o], which means ‘thanksgiving’ and which contains the root words of ‘grace’ and ‘joy’. From reading her Bible, she discovered “Eucharisteo—thanksgiving—always precedes the miracle” (p. 35). And that’s what God proved in Ann’s own life as she kept her friend’s challenge to list 1,000 blessings—gifts—from God.

She came to this point in her life with more pain than some of us have: the most significant cluster in the form of losing her younger sister as a child. But whether you’ve lost more or less, whether it’s been taken from you or you’ve given it away, you can find healing in these pages.

Read the book slowly, let it encourage your spirit by its message and by the poetry that is Ann Voskamp’s prose. Walk with her as she learns to thank God for the sweet blessings—graces—in her day. Keep walking as she learns to see His grace in the painful moments, to practice what she calls the “hard eucharisteo” by giving thanks even when what He gives doesn’t look like grace to our eyes.

If you like simple, plain language and straightforward sentences, this may not be the book for you. I’ve included some excerpts to give a feel for the flowing language. And be aware that poetic language often uses imagery for a soul’s intimacy with God that strictly-literal thinkers may find difficult.

But if you’re one of the many who choose to read this book, you will be challenged and changed by the example of an ordinary Canadian woman who dares to have a heart like King David’s and to offer the sacrifice of thanksgiving to God in the good and in the bad—not denying the pain, but trusting the Master Designer not to waste it.

This is how Ann describes what she discovered in her list of now well over 1,000 gifts:

“In eucharisteo, I count, count, count, keeping the beat of His song, the love song He can’t stop singing, this long song of longing. That He sings love over me?

“What else can all these gifts mean?” (p. 204)

One Thousand Gifts is a book to read contemplatively, and to keep near to read again. My friends are buying extra copies for their friends rather than lending a copy they might not get back. I can see why. Click here to read an excerpt from One Thousand Gifts. And here’s a link to the book trailer, which is a gift in itself.

Canadian author Ann Voskamp writes a daily encouragement blog at A Holy Experience. She’s also a regular contributor at the DaySpring blog, (in)courage.

Oh… my list? I’m at #33 today. And loving it.

[Review copy source: my personal library]

Marching Forward

I don’t know what time of year our local writers’ group began, or how many months I attended before guilt made me write something: just a short letter to the editor of our local newspaper.

The group, bless their hearts, praised me as if I’d written a feature article. I started listening to my thoughts—and to God—a little better and writing inspirational and personal experience essays.

Got my first rejection letter—and a positive one at that—on my birthday one May.

When a novel started brewing, I resisted for a year before giving in. My earliest dated notes for that manuscript are from March 1994. That means I’ve lived with some of these characters for 17 years now, ignoring the long gestation period. No wonder we have cake every March!

Three years ago, again in March, God nudged me into this blog. It’s been a great way to meet some new friends in the faith, and I need to publicly say that not once has He not provided the input for a weekly devotional. He is faithful.

Since March seems to be the month for significant writing beginnings for me (not that I’d turn one down in, say, September) it feels appropriate to choose now to join the Christians keeping gratitude journals.

Not lists of positive things, but lists acknowledging that those things are gifts from God who loves us. Lists that accept the gifts and thank the Giver.

I’ll add a thank-you to Ann Voskamp, whose lyrical book, One Thousand Gifts, convinced me to give this gratitude journal idea a try.

I won’t post a weekly list, but here are the first gifts I’ve recorded (resisting the urge to play catch-up for the ones in my memory):

  1. Bright, white seagull in a clear blue sky.
  2. Spring sunshine.
  3. Dancing candle flames—and the little girl who shared them with me.
  4. Expansive stillness moment in my spirit.
  5. Michael Tait singing “Glorious”.
  6. Sparkles on my journal cover—and that it was waiting on my shelf for this purpose.
  7. Fluffy black cat nestled on the back deck.
  8. Sun stripe bright on green moss on the willow branch.
  9. Small brown sparrow in the bare, brown hedge branches.

10.  White-gold sun disc behind translucent clouds.

Thank You, God!

To Know He Loves Us

For you make me glad by your deeds, LORD; I sing for joy at what your hands have done. Psalm 92:4, NIV*

Sunday’s sermon taught that God wants us to know He loves us. We need to know it in order to have a close relationship with Him, and to be open to His work in our lives.

We need to know He loves us.

The night before, I’d read in Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts that noticing—naming—in her case writing a list of—those things that bless our spirits is, in a sense, accepting the gifts. God gives them, be they sunsets or fireflies, but if we don’t receive them we miss the blessing.

So… we need to know God loves us. What better way to press it into our hearts than by recording and rehearsing the many small gifts He lavishes on us each day?

Father God, You give so many good gifts to Your children. Many we don’t notice, some we refuse because we don’t like the way they’re wrapped. Help us to know for sure that You are good. Open our eyes to see Your gifts, open our hearts to receive Your grace. Let your gifts prove Your love to our tentative hearts. Draw us into the relationship You’ve designed us for.

Breaking the pattern this week… instead of a song, here is the video trailer for One Thousand Gifts. It will bless your spirit.

*New International Version (NIV) Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.