one + one + (a step-stone arithmetic to joy…)

one + one sunrise

i’m not one for self-help. (actually, i tend to seem to excel at self-demise, throwing myself down the proverbial dark stairwell before i’ve given myself a chance to trod two steps up, or sweet-talking myself out of risk-taking for 1,001 safe, solid reasons before i’ve so much as squirmed from my cozy armchair.)

so wasn’t i surprised — flabbergasted, flummoxed, fill in the exclamatory modifier — when this week i found myself reading along in a book i’d long been meaning to peek inside.

the book is lovely, is this:

one thousand giftsthat’s ann voskamp’s poetic, riveting, often soaring flight to ecstasy, bound under the bird’s nest cover and quietly titled, “one thousand gifts: a dare to live fully right where you are,” (zondervan, $16.99). while the writing alone is worth the ride, it’s the simple profound premise at its core that just might launch a revolution of the soul. (my soul, anyway.)

voskamp dares you — dares me, dares herself — to train a scrutinizing eye on the everyday, and begin to count to 1,000. that’s one thousand blessings — points of joy, moments of grace — in the course of one holier-than-you’d-imagined year.

she begins:

1. Morning shadows across the old floors

2. Jam piled high on the toast

3. Cry of blue jay from high in the spruce

she doesn’t even bother with periods at the end of her 1, 2, 3s (though she does employ upper-case starts to her each and every blessing). and she sits easy with the notion that her jottings are rooted in the quotidian, the messy, the right-before-her-blurry-eyes. this is not some celestial divination going on. just sponge-mopping up the poetry that spills and splatters and muddies up the daily works. and counts for joy.

she explains that what she’s doing is “eucharisteo,” giving thanks, the word in ancient greek, a word whose very root is charis, meaning grace. she writes that eucharisteo also holds the derivative, the greek word chara, meaning joy.

grace, thanksgiving, joy, “a triplet of stars, a constellation in the black,” she writes. “a greek word that might make meaning of everything?”

it’s a sacred calibration: the height of joy, she calculates, dependent on the depths of eucharisteo, thanks.

she stumbles on what turns out to be this holiest of paths because she’s found herself plopped, of all places, in a chair at the beauty salon, and the woman next to her is reading the best-seller, “1000 places to see before you die.” that gets voskamp — voskamp, a canadian farmer’s wife, mother of six, woman who witnessed her baby sister get crushed under the wheel of a delivery truck back when she, voskamp, was a mere child of four, and who felt her heart and soul slam shut in that very bloody instant — it gets her to thinking about why it is we think we need to travel far and wide to gather up armloads of wonder.

she writes: “isn’t it here? the wonder? why do i spend so much of my living hours struggling to see it? do we truly stumble so blind that we must be affronted with blinding magnificence for our blurry soul-sight to recognize grandeur? the very same surging magnificence that cascades over our every day here. who has time or eyes to notice?”

and you know it wouldn’t be a book, bound between those lovely covers, if she hadn’t found the answer to that rhetorical question. so what she does, on a blithely-flung dare from a friend, is she begins to track her grace notes. and in time, in not so much time, she realizes “this daily practice of the discipline of gratitude is the way to daily practice the delight of God.”

once she’d counted past the halfway mark, had teetered past 513. Boys jiggling blue Jell-O, she realized she couldn’t stop. she was “always looking for just one more in this unfolding of a chronicle of grace, our life story in freeze frames of joy.”

maybe it had a sudden and deep resonance with me because i’ve been a list maker my whole life long. i’ve called them wonderlists, and they’ve served as blueprints and launching pads for a life i dreamed of, and they’ve been the inventory of a day i’d hoped would come. i tick through lists of of blessings all around. but i’d never set out, as if a lepidopterist equipped with long-poled net, to catch myself a year’s — let alone a day’s — flock of godly wonders.

i’d made the mistake of list-making as wishful thinking, failed to exercise the possibility of list-making as blessing counting.

but i’ve started to think that voskamp — a writer whose sentences often make me stop, stare, hit re-wind and read again, for the sheer joy of discovering such wonder packed in words — has hit on something at once profoundly simple and simply breathtaking. something that just might fill the glass with wonder. even when it’s half empty by worldly measure.

if we can count our joys, pick up pen, jot words to paper, consecutively, one + one + one, we’ll soon arrive at a notepad account of accumulated and undeniable graces. we’ll hold it in our tight-clenched fists. we’ll read it, black-etched words on unbleached paper.

you might see fit to snatch up a moleskin pad or two. or perhaps at the grocery store, you’ll scoop up nothing fancier than a spiral-bound lined-rule pocket notebook.

the point is, you’ll be engaged in the exercise of combing your every day for the poetry of grace, as it falls across your old pine floors, your whisker-worn bedclothes, or even the orange-juice-splotted kitchen counter.

i’ve a hunch you too will be caught up in the counting. in the accumulated wonder that won’t escape your gaze.

once we teach ourselves to pay attention, the 1s and 2s and 3s come tumbling swiftly.

next thing we know, we are deep in the 300s, 500s, 800s, counting our way to seeing what’s always been there: heaven’s grace seeped into the cracks and crevices of a life we might have mistaken for humdrum and rather parched.

when really, all along, it was spilling over with joy upon joy upon a thousand joys. God’s way of whispering, “you are so abundantly awash in love.”

start counting…

anyone inclined to begin the 1, 2, 3s? and if so, the space below is a fine place to jot whatever snippets of the divine you’ve captured in your counting net….

p.s. ann voskamp is a blogger, too; in fact, that’s how i first heard about her, when a friend sent the link to ann’s blog, a holy experience, and said she thought i’d love the writing and the gorgeous photography. that friend was right. and though i’d known she had a book, i’d not found it in the library till last week, when i had reason to scan the daily-blessing bookshelves. 

the tangerine sky, above, is one recent morning’s first tabulation of the brush stroke of wonder, just beyond my windowpanes….