"Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire."
Beau bought himself a new TV a few weeks ago, and finally got around to hooking up our old one in our bedroom last Sunday night. It had been a very busy weekend - we had spent over two days at his parents' house in Hampton hosting a large garage sale, and Sunday was spent reorganizing, re-energizing, and recuperating before we headed into another work week on Monday. Things had finally slowed down after supper and I was in the bathroom keeping Cruz company while he took a bath when Beau starting taunting me from our bedroom.
"Look who found Ashley's old college journal under the dresser..."
I shrieked like a junior high girl, grabbed the dusty journal out of his hands, and retreated back to the bathroom to read a page or two in privacy. Soon, a few pages turned into wrinkly toes in the tub as I became lost in journal entries from the months after I found Beau. I had kept sporadic journals throughout my life; however, most good intentions faded away after a few days. But as I read these pages - my thoughts after a special date night, the night he told me he loved me for the first time, or even a few of those early dating fights, it seemed God had put my hand to paper in those months after my freshman year of college before I even knew how special they would someday be to me. I became lost in those pages and was teleported back to those romantic, messy, and passionate days of falling in love with the man I would spend my forever with. I had forgotten so much - the night we decided to cook a pan of lasagna at 10:00 at night, or play Scrabble at the laundromat across from Kwik Star. I had forgotten how fast I fell for him, the things he said that no one had ever said to me before, and how quickly my initial attraction turned to plans of weddings, houses, and babies. I read, laughed a lot at my immaturity, and wrapped my arms around my husband at the end of the night, overwhelmed with gratitude at how special our love came to be. It wasn't a perfect story by any means, but that blue spiral journal provided a unique lens into my past years later, and left me standing in awe at the story God wrote for us and continues to write today.
I wrote a lot about what I desired my life to look like with Beau, and as I sat cross-legged on our bed that Sunday night, I realized I was living in the midst of what I had pictured years before. Okay, maybe not exactly, as my journal didn't include dreams of scrubbing Oreo off the kitchen chair, or pee off the living room carpet, or googling how to teach your toddler to stop picking his nose, but the life I once hoped for in that journal was now a picture of grace all around me. It was in our dimly lit kitchen where we had sat as a family to eat homemade spaghetti around the table we purchased after getting engaged. It was in that tub, smelling the top of Cruz's shampooed head, remembering how it felt to snuggle his soft newborn scent just three years before. It was in the sweet bubbly kicks from the baby girl growing inside me as I squeezed in close to the man that has loved me so from those early days that June.
I'll admit that I spent a lot of my college years walking away from my relationship with God. When I look back, though, I realize he was walking beside me all the way through. He was there, in the details and moments, the pencil that sketched my story to paper and brings me here today. Here, to a life of raising babies the best I can, balancing life, family, work, and play, and learning how we can best keep Him at the center of it all. It seems hard sometimes, but I'm finding tools to help simplify the quest and I believe the rewards have the power to be life-changing.
I'm finally reading Ann Voskamp's, One Thousand Gifts, a book that traces a young woman's quest to live a life of deeper gratitude. I've heard so much about this book and so far, I've really appreciated her simplistic, yet powerful approach to living a deeper and more meaningful life. She sums up her quest with the Greek word, Eucharisteo, which means thanksgiving. But within the word itself, lies two other Greek words that together form her road map for embracing a lifestyle of gratitude and change.
First, is charis, or grace --- the witnessing and realizing of the undeserving picture of love that exists in our world, all around us. There are beauty and blessings everywhere; however, we live in a world that seems caught up in what we don't have instead of focusing on what we do. Voskamp says that "everywhere we look, we see a world of lack, a universe of loss, a cosmos of scarcity and injustice" (16). She even argues that this blindness to the grace of God was the first of sin of Adam and Eve --- the sin of ingratitude. The world was perfect and "they were lured by the deception that there was more to see" (15). "Our fall was, has always been, and always will be, that we aren't satisfied in God and what He gives."
Voskamp believes that once we shift our paradigms to focus on what we have instead of what we don't, we can begin to live a life of true thanksgiving. She did this by keeping a running list and naming 1,000 gifts in her life. Small, simple details --- the crackle in a fireplace, the creak of her wood floors, clean sheets smelling like the wind, that became her act of slowing down, giving thanks, and seeing God. As she did this, the small acts of writing down and naming things began to multiply and she saw great change in how she went about her daily life. I loved when she described her pen as "nothing less than the driving of nails - nails driving out my habits of discontentment and driving in my habit of eucharisteo" (49). Soon, this quest to cultivate an attitude of gratitude (as a teacher at church put it on Sunday), led to more noticeable amounts of chara, or joy in Voskamp's life. Those three things - grace, gratitude, and joy seem to be the center of it all and seem fairly straight-forward to follow.
I've always loved the story in the Bible of feeding the five thousand with not-enough bread and not-enough fish, but I understand it deeper now thanks to Voskamp's book. Jesus took the not-enough, gave thanks for it, and was blessed with more than enough for whoever wanted it (John 6:11). I believe God wants to fill our lives with more joy than we can ever imagine; however, it's our job to open our eyes and see it when it's staring us in the face.
I realize this is sometimes hard to do when life takes over. Right now, I am mixed up in my attempt to figure out what's next for me. I've started and quit a doctoral program twice, and should be using this time writing an appeal to try to get a tuition refund for a class I've decided I cannot take. I have a stack of paperwork that needs to be completed this week for various events - picture day for Cruz, a new bank account for us, and several journals to grade. I have emails to respond to, Cruz's birthday to plan, and vitamins that I keep forgetting to take. My mind quickly becomes overwhelmed and it seems impossible to do anything well when there is so much to do. But then I'm reminded that it's not that I dislike all there is to do, I dislike my constant fight with the clock. Voscamp reminds me that, "Wherever you are, be all there. I have lived the runner, panting ahead in worry, pounding back in regret, terrified to live in the present, because here-time asks me to do the hardest of all: just open wide and receive" (69). I've always been intrigued by the quote that says we should treat every day as a single life and find thankfulness in the smallest things. If that is the case then everything becomes a gift instead of a chore.
So, I use this blog to look for my gifts. To open my eyes to the grace I'm so undeserving of, and find gratitude in the smallest details. And just as that blue spiral bound journal became a time capsule of growth, and joy, and overwhelming thanksgiving, I hope I can cultivate a way to keep my eyes open wide to the beauty that's painted in every piece of this life.
A few gifts I've jotted down since starting my book...
1. reading books and sharing cute conversation with Cruz under the soft lamplight in his room
2. feeling this baby move at the best times
3. the way Beau's arm feels around me in church
4. the taste of a fresh tomato from the garden
5. walking barefoot on the hot cement to retrieve the mail - the touch of Cruz's hand as we stop and look both ways for cars
6. board games and Mumford on a Friday night
7. listing to Beau tell Cruz pirate stories
8. mukluk mornings on the deck
9. pretty painted nails and a bowl full of bing cherries
10. seeing Cruz's smile and hearing him proclaim "I'm a big fan of God" as he marches out of Sunday school
And finally, the pictures! Courtesy of Darcy from At Play Photo, who's had a big part in documenting our story since I became pregnant with Cruz. We had a photo shoot planned shortly before I found out I was pregnant and I decided to do something special after our news. I love these photos so so much and can't wait to share the story that goes along with them with this baby girl someday.
Happy Monday! Wishing you a week full of grace, gratitude, and joy.