As a young girl I recall the wonder and awe of the breathtaking mountain scenery and glorious melodies of The Sound of Music. Most likely the first movie I saw on the “big screen”, the story and pageantry of Austria and a home filled with happy children make for a grand early memory. Maria’s sweet voice still brings a smile to my face as she croons, “Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens; Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens; Brown paper packages tied up with strings, These are a few of my favorite things…” These words have the ability to take me to a secure, happy place in time like none other.
In 2011 a friend gave me a copy of Ann Voskamp’s book, One Thousand Gifts. She challenged me to begin to compile a list of things I was grateful for. Rather than the lofty 1,000 gifts that Ann recorded, she suggested starting with 100. At the time I was in a dry, stuck place, and the precious gift of the book and her loving words began to do a deep work of healing in my heart. I listed such things as a warm cup of coffee, birds at the feeder, an unexpected letter from my daughter… all things that reminded me that God was for me, not sitting up in heaven on His throne waiting to fling down hardships and trials, but lovingly guiding me in the dark places of the soul. In that season my husband had decided that with his diagnosis of Parkinson’s he no longer had the energy or felt safe holding down a job. We literally went from being a two-income couple, with his income significantly larger than mine, to a one income lifestyle almost overnight. If I hadn’t already been listing the simple gifts of God, my focus may have strayed off my Provider and onto the circumstances and realities we found ourselves in. James wisely wrote:
“Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way… So, my very dear friends, don’t get thrown off course. Every desirable and beneficial gift comes out of heaven. The gifts are rivers of light cascading down from the Father of Light. There is nothing deceitful in God, nothing two-faced, nothing fickle. He brought us to life using the true Word, showing us off as the crown of all his creatures.” James 1:2-4, 16-18
Our relationship became strained as I worked harder, became the primary care-giver, and watched my once vibrant, protective husband back down to the symptoms of ‘PD’. Continuing to shift my gaze from the trials to the blessings made all the difference. We never missed a meal and our bills were miraculously paid on time. God proved Himself so faithful!
Music had always been a vital part of our life. We met at church at a youth meeting and what drew me to him was his sincerity and love for God as he played his guitar and sang. I remember shyly sitting next to him to hold the songbook so he could read the words. In choir together, later on worship teams and singing duets were always so important, a bond in ministry to God together. At my brother’s wedding we sang Steve Green’s “Household of Faith”, and pledged again to each other to stand alongside no matter what.
As the disease began to take away David’s abilities to play the guitar and sing, we discovered other musical couples, tuning in to their programs on TV and finding a connection that helped feed our relationship and bring a ray of bright joy. We found Joey+Rory, a singing duo with amazing harmony, deep country roots and a sincere faith. Joey’s song, “That’s Important to Me” was her own list of favorite things. “Having somebody to share my life, loving my husband and being a wife… that’s important to me…” Then we found Sharon White & Ricky Skaggs, a bluegrass singing couple who sang “Reasons to Hang On”. Even though life was difficult, there were still many reasons that we both had to hang on to our relationship, as well as the life we were living, because God was with us in it. We would sit together and watch these musical couples as they promised to love even in the hard times, and it made us feel less alone in ours.
Thomas Merton wisely said, “To be grateful is to recognize the love of God in everything He has given us – and He has given us everything. Every breath we draw is a gift of His love, every moment of existence is grace.” So I’m resurrecting my gratitude list, and I encourage you to begin your own as well. I’m grateful for skilled doctors and surgeons, and the Great Physician who is restoring my body during this time of healing. I’m finding simple pleasure in homemade, sweet and tart blueberry muffins, straight out of the oven, fresh and warm in the early morning. Then there are friends who call or text to make sure I’m recovering well and taking care of myself. All these gifts are evidence of my God’s presence even on dark days. I join with Paul and encourage you to:
“… Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” Philippians 4:8
Your gaze will be drawn upwards and I can guarantee that your face will be brighter with each gift you record. Each gift, every reason for life, those favorite and important things you list, will turn into moments of joy and will diminish the dark thoughts, as you focus on the Gift-giver. What are you grateful for today?