Tuesday, February 25, 2014

How "You don't seem happy anymore" Changed Everything

On Wednesday night I sat in a small circle of moms in mismatched chairs. I was back in my hometown, but I knew none of the faces snacking on chocolate covered rice crispy treats except the one who invited me there to speak. She looked exactly the same as she did in high school.

After the coffee and icebreaker, it was my turn to share the word God had put on my heart. I was excited to tell these ladies about joy! About how giving thanks is the key to the fullest life promised by Christ!  

 But before I got to the full part, I first had to tell them about being empty.

I took a deep breath and told the story of that night at my kitchen sink about a year ago. How in the midst of scrubbing dirty dinner dishes my husband made the comment that changed everything.

"You don't seem happy anymore."


It wasn't an accusation or a put-down. He wasn't mad. It was more an observation that made him sad.

I was completely caught off guard. How could he say that? I mean, I was a pretty positive person. I laughed throughout the day at my trifecta of tiny testosteronies. People often told me that I have a great smile. I often told people how my life is so blessed.

And to top it all off, I had spent that year studying the Book of James. Not just studying. Memorizing James. The famous words of the half brother of Jesus were etched on my heart,
"Count it all joy.."
So why would he say that? I wanted to defend myself. I wanted to quickly refute his statement and spew out all the reasons he was wrong. But thankfully, instead of being defensive the Lord allowed me to be reflective.

As I reflected over the days and weeks that followed, I had to admit that Chris was right. I really wasn't happy. More than that...I wasn't living the full life of joy. The root of my problem? Ingratitude. I knew it deep.

I asked God to show me the source of my ungratefulness and he first pointed to my thought life. I started to take note of my inner dialogue. Soon I came to recognize the familiar tape that told me I was a quasi-victim of my own life. 

It was subtle. But it was there. 

The voice that said this life of mine was just too much for anyone to handle. The dishes, the laundry, the three ACTIVE little boys, and the part time job. Time with God and time with friends. Time for my husband and time for myself. Time to scrape that mystery muck off the refrigerator shelf. The dissonant melody in my mind sang there was just never enough time for it all. And how could there ever be enough time to serve my neighbor, celebrate my friend, and remove the green crayon marks marring the white walls when I simply struggled to make dinner while not losing my temper and keeping my monkeys from jumping out of their make-believe trees?! 

But I didn't bemoan these thoughts to everyone. I wasn't an outright complainer. 

But my ingratitude did slip out.

It seeped out in the long sigh that immediately followed whenever someone asked, How are you doing, Becky? It leaked out with every comment about how tired or busy or worn out I was by my crazy boy crew--the precursor to any positive update I might give.

And I started to realize that each wayward sigh I made was a sideways means of seeking affirmation.

I wanted someone to understand, to acknowledge the challenges I faced each day. I wanted someone to see all the unseen effort I put forth to keep three kids and a household thriving, or at least surviving.

I knew I wasn't the only hardworking mom of littles. Yet, I felt...overlooked.

But the tape in my head and sighs slipping out weren't the only indications of my ingratitude. Each day I saved spewing all the poor-me sewage for someone. My husband.

For who on earth did I want affirmation from the most? Oh yes, my husband. Why hadn't I seen it before? Then finally I saw. Finally understood what compelled me to downloaded the grievances of my day just moments after he walked through the door. Every tantrum, backtalk, and timeout. Every less than terrific mothering moment that made me want to pull my hair out, he had to hear. 

No wonder he thought I wasn't happy.

I knew my husband thought I was a great mom. I knew he didn't think motherhood was easy. But still I wanted more. More affirmation. More validation. More shiny gold stars to show that I made it through even when it was hard. And somehow I thought the way to get that was by making sure he knew that it. was. hard.

Yes, my eyes were hard set on the wanting of more.

Around that time I started reading One Thousand Gifts. These words from the opening chapter confirmed what convicted my heart:
“Satan’s sin becomes the first sin of all humanity: the sin of ingratitude: Adam and Eve are, simply, painfully, ungrateful for what God gave.

Isn’t that the catalyst of all my sins?
Our fall was, has always been, and always will be, that we aren’t satisfied in God and what he gives. We hunger for something more, something other.”
The sin of ingratitude. Yes. Hungry for something more. Yes.

Though I was sincerely thankful for my children, my husband, my home... Honestly grateful for God's provision of work and finances... My focus was still so fixed on my lack (of time, affirmation, space to breathe) and my wanting more of all of it. Ann Voskamp makes it so clear:
"The real problem of life is never a lack of time. The real problem of life--of my life--is a lack of thanksgiving."
 You and me both, Ann!

So I started to give thanks. Day by day, gift by gift. One all the way to one thousand!

So that's where my story of joy--a dare to live fully right where you are--started. The story of what came before I could write the ones about Always Joy and Fighting for Joy and how there's No Check Box for Joy.

 I told those MOPS mamas in the mismatched chairs that if they suffer from the first sin like I did, they don't have to stay stuck in their ingratitude. The full life IS available through thanks. No one has to stay empty.

There have been painful moments. Humbling moments. Moments I still fail miserably in "counting it all joy" and I unleash my ungrateful tongue on my husband. But through it all I am most thankful for the moments God reminds me of what I am really hungry for. More of Him. More joy with Him.
"Thanks is what multiples the joy and makes any life large, and I hunger for it."

*     *     *
One last note, dear friends:

If you read here regularly I'm sure you've noticed that I've been writing a lot about Ann Voskamp. I don't intend for my blog to be a catalogue of her quotes or a sales pitch for purchasing One Thousand Gifts. But I feel compelled to share the words, the wisdom that God has used to revive my heart and draw me closer to His. God is doing a mighty work through this faithful sister.

I have been changed by it. I pray the same blessing for you.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

No Check Box for Joy

I'm the kind of girl who likes feeling accomplished.

Even though I vowed almost four years ago to take productivity off her pedestal, checking boxes off a to-do list still may be one of my favorite things. (And I still may be in the practice of adding already completed tasks to a list just for the satisfaction of marking another big X. Maybe.)

So you can imagine my pleasure in counting one thousand gifts! Yes, the daily delight of tangible progress toward a lofty goal. But, oh the joy of actually finishing the task! I never inked a big open box on a folded piece of computer paper or on a long skinny notepad with a black magnet glued to its backside. No, this beautiful box was only written on my heart, seared in my mind.

Choose joy.

Count gifts.

Name God's grace.



Last month I opened my spiral bound journal to record a milestone. For weeks I had wondered what this final gift would be. What could be worthy to hold such a significant marker?  Would it be beautiful enough, poetic enough? Demonstrate that my life had been changed enough?

I didn't want it to be creatively conjured or self made. I didn't want to manipulate my own mind or finagle my own words to make this thousandth gift seem perfect, picturesque, even productive.

As I reached 700, 800, 999 gifts I kept thinking, would the anticipation of this capstone leave me disappointed?

No, not at all disappointed.

For the 1,000th gift was not a premeditated word-picture, but an honest outpouring of praise.

My heart whispered, my hand wrote:
#1,000. Wanting more of Jesus.
I never saw it coming.

But...then I saw.

The counting of each gift was itself the gift. The gift of seeing more of Jesus. The gift of wanting more of Him.

And of course Ann Voskamp knew it. Saw it. Wrote it.

 "I don't need more time to breathe so that I may experience more locales, possess more, accomplish more. Because wonder really could be here--for the seeing eyes."

Every time I scribbled a gift: spring blossom in afternoon sun. nuzzling kisses in my Noah's little warm neck. the perfect cup of coffee. friends who pray for my heart. the best bite of tiramisu. breath... Each gift I scrawled was a God-grace I saw. A moment that didn't slip through time's fingers because it was truly savored.

I completed her joy dare. Do I feel accomplished? Yes.

But more than that. I feel more ALIVE!

Half way through the journey to joy I wondered if once I reached one thousand if that would be enough. If I would have my tidy little journal filled and my dare box checked with a finished red X.

But now I wonder, how could I stop?

The more gifts I see, the more I see my need. My need for more of Jesus. Because I know God is not done with me. My heart is still messy. So messy. My life, my attitude, my actions...far from being His holy perfect.

But I say in one heart with Ann,

"I look for the ugly beautiful, count it as grace, transfigure the mess into joy with thanks and eucharisteo leaves the paper, finds way to the eyes, the lips."