In April, I stood in front of a group of ladies at our church clutching my copy of One Thousand Gifts and said, “I don’t want to sound overdramatic, but I think this book might change my life.”
All spring, I had been struggling with resentment, irritability, and dissatisfaction (selfishness, in a word). I found myself easily angered and frustrated at myself, my husband, my child, my circumstances. I had a much easier life than many people I knew, and yet I went around feeling like a martyr, all. the. time.
After reading One Thousand Gifts, I wondered if it could really be that simple. Instead of counting the number of times I’d been inconvenienced, or the number of minutes I had been waiting for Stephen to get home, or the number of times Abby had pushed my buttons, I began counting gifts. How many reasons could I find to give thanks in a day?
Abby laughing, the smell of new soap (not Black Orchid and Juniper, by the way), cool breezes, clean sheets. It was a small start, but intentionally cultivating the habit of giving thanks (or eucharisteo, as Ann Voskamp calls it) did begin to improve my attitude.
I found lots of things that were easy to give thanks for: happy moments with Abby and Stephen, comforting tastes and smells, unexpected sources of beauty. As I gained momentum with my gift list, I tried my hand at what the book calls “hard eucharisteo,” giving thanks even for things that were uncomfortable, unpleasant, or frustrating.
Could I learn to see every moment as a gift from God? I tried. I gave thanks when Abby threw fits, when I made a mess in the freshly-mopped kitchen, when the internet was slow, when my pregnant belly and ill-fitting clothes made my body ache. I was not very eloquent, and sometimes I spoke the words of thanksgiving through gritted teeth, but it did help to say out loud what was true, even if I didn’t feel it.
Then came the test.
Five weeks before my due date, the on-call doctor looked into my eyes and said, “Mrs. Watson, I’m sorry to have to tell you that your baby does not have a heartbeat.”
As I sat alone in the hospital room with an eerily still ultrasound image on the computer screen, waiting for Stephen and Abby to come up from the parking lot* and feeling myself starting to hyperventilate, words recently read came to mind: “If God really works in everything, why don’t we thank him for everything? Why do we accept good from his hand–and not bad?”
If God was good two days earlier, when I laid on a similar table on the other side of the hospital and heard the swish-swish of Cheerio’s heartbeat, He had to be good today, when that same heart was still. If He wasn’t, or if He was as surprised by this news as I was, God would be no comfort to me in the days ahead. All is grace, or there is no grace.
We wrestled with lots of questions for the next 48 hours. How could I go through labor for a baby I would never take home? What did we want to say and sing at a funeral for our Cheerio? When I saw the baby, could I love him, or would the moment be too terrible? How could this possibly be happening to us?
We found our answers in thanksgiving. Watching for gifts, we found ourselves overwhelmed by beauty and grace, through days that could have buried us in sorrow. Even in the hardest moments, we found hope.
It’s been 16 days since Sam was born. We’ve made it through many hard milestones: the memorial service, postpartum recovery, the day my milk came in, cleaning up the baby’s room. I’m doing okay, although everything I’ve read or heard about grieving over a lost child tells me that some of the hardest days are still ahead of me.
On the dark days, on the is-it-okay-that-I-feel-normal days, and on the mostly-okay days in between, I will keep counting gifts.
“All gratitude is ultimately gratitude for Christ, all remembering a
remembrance of Him. For in Him all things were created, are sustained, have their being. Thus Christ is all there is to give thanks for; Christ is all there is to remember. To know how we can count on God, we count graces, but ultimately there is really only One.“
As one of Stephen’s favorite hymns says bluntly, “Give me Christ, or else I die.”
(If you’re praying for us, pray that we remember this even in the moments when grief overwhelms.)
*(“Don’t wake Abby up,” I had said as we pulled into the parking lot. “I’ll run in and let them tell me that I’m overreacting, and if it’s anything more than that, I’ll call you.” Reluctantly, Stephen had yielded.)