Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Book Review: One Thousand Gifts

I'm a pretty even-keel sort of girl. I don't get angry often, don't usually raise my voice, and I rarely cry. It's a calm and relatively stress-free life I lead, and I am grateful for that. But on the flip side, I also don't often experience the thrill of belly laughs, tears running down my face in glee, pure joy (unless I'm watching a dear sister slide backwards, fully dressed, helpless to stop her progress, into Lime Lake while her husband stands by doing absolutely nothing because he doesn't want to get his new shoes wet). And although I haven't often felt that incandescent feeling of joy, I want to. I've been in pursuit of it now for years, and that search led me to this book, One Thousand Gifts, by Ann Voskamp.

One Thousand Gifts

Ann is a farmer's wife, a home-schooling mother of six, and a writer whose prose reads like poetry. She has a gift for finding the beautiful in the common-place, in what others might shrug off as mere part and parcel of everyday life. Ann's life has been one of stunning early loss (her young sister was killed in an accident), mental and spiritual anguish as a result, and finally, a sense of peace won through hard-fought battles with her self. She has found this peace only through daily communion with God. And this is the message that threads through the book.
Here is a transcription of the notes I took as I read:

- Satan's greatest lie is that God is not good. God is all and only good.
- Mankind's first sin was ingratitude: God had given everything, and we wanted more.
- Sin blinds us to God's goodness.
- Eucharisteo: a Greek word meaning "he gave thanks." This is the foundation of the sacrament of Holy Communion and of this book.
- Eucharisteo comes from the Greek word charis, which means "grace," but it also comes from that word's root, chara, which means "joy."
- We are designed and compelled to give thanks in all things and for all things.
- The act of thanksgiving is integral to faith.
- Ann began keeping a daily gratitude journal, in which she listed the gifts she already has.
- Erasmus said: "A nail is driven out by another nail; habit is overcome by habit." We can overcome a bad habit (complaining, discontent, anxiety) by replacing it with another habit (gratitude, peace, service).
- The importance of naming things goes back to creation. Naming, counting, listing our blessings is a valuable exercise.
- J.R.R. Tolkein: "All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us." Words to live by.
- We stress often because we feel we don't have enough minutes in a day. But giving thanks creates time because the attitude of thanksgiving in all things redeems time we waste in apathy, inattentiveness, and boredom.
- G.K. Chesterton: "Joy is the gigantic secret of the Christian."
- All is grace; all is God's plan. Even that which seems bad, ugly, painful. She says: "God is always good, and I am always loved." There is grace in that, and great joy.
- Faith is in the (constant) gaze of the soul: a soul that is always seeking, seeing God in His creation.
- Deeply seeing leads to gratitude, which leads to joy.
- Complaints about setbacks, trials, tribulations: these are actually blasphemy because they doubt God's divine power to work good through all things. This is painful to consider, isn't it?
- Joy is always present. We must not turn from it but turn toward it and receive God's ever-present gift.
- G.K. Chesterton: "Our perennial spiritual and psychological task is to look at things familiar until they become unfamiliar again." Recognizing God's gifts to us in the familiar is one of the key steps to the daily practice of gratitude.
- Although dark times may loom heavy over us, we must remember that it is in those troubled times that God is closest.
- We must make ourselves small, must humble ourselves in order to truly stand in awe.
- Anger, pride, fear: these things smother joy.
- We open our hands wide to receive God's grace and joy--and then we keep them open to give it away. If we clench our fists tight around what we've been given, it molders.
- This act of service--of giving and sharing grace--is central to the faith-walk. We cannot just sit back and accept. We must in turn share God's goodness.

This book was full to the ends of each page with moments that made me think, made me breathe deeply, made me ponder who I am and who I can be. After reading it, I set a blank journal near my Bible, on a table in the dining room. In it, I began a list of things I am grateful for, gifts God has given me this day.



At lunch, with my family gathered around, I read my list, talked about this book, and encouraged Clint and the kids to add to the list. At dinner, I read what had been written: 18 things in one day! We plan to keep adding to the list throughout the year, maybe reaching Ann's goal of one thousand--or maybe surpassing it. It is our first step in a conscious journey toward gratitude for the grace God showers upon us, and in this list and the path it will inevitably take us down, we will all find the joy He longs to give us.
If you long to find joy, to find a spot of peace in your fast-paced life, I urge you to read this book. Also, Ann's blog is a place to find peace, encouragement, and joy. Check her out; check this book out.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Birthday Weekend

June is a very busy month in our family. Clint and I celebrate our birthdays at the beginning of the month, and then Jared and Lauren celebrate theirs back to back at the end. So, Jared (somehow) has skipped right along to his eighth birthday. 


One of his cuddliest presents was this stuffed doggie (more about him later).


After presents but before we headed out to the lake for the day, Daddy decided the kids needed to recreate a picture we took of them when we brought Jared home from the hospital. Surprisingly, it was a little more difficult this time around.


And Lauren turned 19 this year (seriously? how is THAT possible?). Jared was so helpful with her present opening. Just always giving, that kid.


Lauren's favorite present was SuperBoyfriend, which Dad picked up at a garage sale a few weeks ago. Who knew something like this would become So Important? (And the bonus: SB is fully poseable.)


But what really surprised us all was the revelation last night that the birthday celebration wasn't over yet. Jared's new doggie was celebrating his birthday TODAY. So, Jared and I spent a few hours last night planning Shorkie's birthday party. Shorkie invited all of his friends. And, happily, they were all able to attend. Even though Grandpa Perry (the platypus) and Grandma Lumberjack (the beaver) are moving to Texas TODAY.


Shorkie loves his new collar, made and designed by Jared.


He's also very thankful for the thoughtful card his grandparents made for him. (That's Grandpa Perry and Grandma Lumberjack, of course.) (Oh yeah, and his full name is Shwarcansquater, but that's a bit of a mouthful for some of us.)


His grandparents also gave him a real dollar bill.


And he got a new home, which smells a little like cinnamon and apples, for some reason. And also a tennis ball.


Jared was hoping I'd make Shorkie his own birthday cake, but I told him two cakes in two days is enough. Shorkie can have some of his or Lauren's leftover cake. Apparently Shorkie is allergic to chocolate, though, so he'll have to settle for Lauren's cake.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Gramps Turns Ninety

I remember when I was a little girl, I would fall asleep next to Gramps, both of us stretched out in the sun streaming in their living room window, the flecked green carpet rough under my smooth cheek. I remember walking across the road to go fishing with him, watching the birds fly to his squirrel-proofed bird feeders, sitting on his lap and watching--fascinated each time--as he sucked his dentures back into his mouth with a click and a grin. 

It seems impossible to believe he turned ninety today, but he did. 

My youngest sister planned a surprise for him: as many of us children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren as possible would meet at his house in the morning and surprise him by cleaning up his yard. Gramps had a stroke about 13 years ago, and while he can still get around in a wheelchair, he certainly can't get outside to tend to his yard, so this sounded like the perfect way to wish him a happy birthday. 

I must have read the memo incorrectly, though, and we arrived almost an hour early. Gramps and Grandma get tired out pretty easily, and we didn't want to cause any fuss by walking in early, so we killed some time at a park down the road. I found the first empty robin's egg, always a reminder of the precious tenderness of new life.

It was a cool, windy morning, perfect for our first family hike in the woods.

A tree had fallen, split maybe by a lightning strike or a heavy burden of ice. Someone had begun to cut up the fallen limbs.

And the best treasure of the trip, this find, sitting near the trail head:


Clint figures it's a chicken egg. 

And then, we left the park and headed over to see Gramps. We raked leaves in the front yard and the back. We didn't have much to do, maybe an hour's work of leaves that had been blown up against the fences and the house.




We found all sorts of treasures as we were working. Gramps and Grandma both hate to throw things away. 


And then, when we were done, we went inside for a few minutes to give them hugs and kisses, to sing, to eat cake, and to remember. 

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Altoid Tin Craft: Young Isaac

A few months ago, I finally bought the pattern from Larissa's shop to make the Wee Princess Pea. I'd had my eye on the pattern for Quite Some Time, but it's a funny thing: our extended family has produced a plethora of little boys but very few little girls, so I didn't feel like I had enough little ones to craft for to make the (not really that expensive at all) purchase worthwhile. So anyway, when Jared got the invitation to his best friend's party (Yeah, she's a girl. I love that/), I felt the craving to buy the pattern again, and this time I caved. Also, I figured I could use the pattern a few months later to make a princess for my god-daughter.
Then, as I was crafting away on the princesses, I had a moment of pure crafting genius. I have lots of little boys to make things for, I thought. Not many girls. If only there were a way I could use this pattern to make little princes. Hmm...but would a boy play with a prince? Probably not.


Now get ready: here's where the genius part happened.

As I drew a face and glued on lovely long hair, I kept thinking: What would a little boy play with if it was tucked into an Altoid tin? Especially a tin a thoughtful Mama has tucked into her purse to keep the boy quiet during...say...church?

I thought of my nephews: Elijah, Sam, Noah, Micah, Jacob, Thaddaeus, Gideon, Isaac...Hmm...Yes! That's right. Bible characters. They wear long cloaks and tunics not much unlike a princess's nightgown and robe. I would just need to alter the pattern a bit. And that's how Young Isaac was born. You see him above with his princess friend. He's wearing his tunic and has long-ish hair. (My artistic critics thought it was a bit too long, but I was happy with it.)


This is his Altoid home. I glued paper inside the tin, and I copied out the verse from Genesis that is the climax of young Isaac's story.


And here he is with his robe on. I added cross stitching to the hem to spiff it up a bit.


 I cut some strips of leather for his bundle of sticks and tied them together with a piece of brown embroidery floss.


And of course he needed a lamb friend, so I made a very tiny lamb out of wool felt. He's about as big as the last joint of my thumb.


And here's Isaac waiting to be packed up into his new home. I gave him to my tiny baby nephew as a baptismal gift. I hope my sister tucks him into her purse when her Isaac is old enough to play with him in church.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Pioneer Living

It's tradition at their elementary school that the 2/3 graders visit the local historical museum to learn about daily life for pioneers. Jared was really excited about the trip because they'd finally get to see Inside the Log Cabin. I didn't go along, but I heard the following report from a Very Reliable Source.

When they entered the pioneer log cabin, the tour lady invited the children to look around carefully and observe ways this cabin was different from their houses. One child raised his hand and pointed out the ladder to the sleeping loft.
"Yes, good job!" the lady said. "We don't have ladders in our houses anymore to get into the upstairs. We have stairs."
Jared raised his hand. "Actually, I have a ladder in my house."
The lady smiled at him. "But you don't use the ladder to get into the upstairs, do you?"
Jared nodded. "Actually, we do. That's how we get into my bedroom."
Nonplussed, the lady looked around at the adults. My Source nodded. "He's telling the truth. He does basically have a ladder up into his bedroom."
The lady continued. "Pioneer children slept in lofts like this one," she said, pointing up. "Don't you think it would be unusual to sleep in a loft like this?"
Jared raised his hand. "I sleep in my attic."
The lady stared at him for awhile, maybe uncertain whether or not to believe him. Then, she continued. "Well, children, do you see any other things that are different from what you have in your houses?"
A child pointed to the wood burning stove. "That's right," the lady said. "In pioneer days, people used these to heat their homes."
Jared raised his hand. "We have one of those."
The lady raised her eyebrows. "Okay, but you probably don't use it to cook your food like pioneers did."
"Actually, we do. Sometimes. My mom makes soup on it in the winter and my dad likes to cook on it too."
The lady eyed my Source. He shrugged. "They probably do," he said.
The lady continued, talking about chores and how hard pioneer children had to work to bring in enough firewood to keep the house warm in cold months. Jared raised his hand. "I help bring in firewood at my house."
At this point, the lady just led the group outside, where she showed them trees
with sap-collecting buckets.
The children listened attentively as she explained how syrup is made from sap. Jared's teacher leaned in close to the lady before they moved on. "Jared's dad collects sap too. Just thought you should know."
I do not know how she responded to this little tidbit.

So there you have it. Apparently, we live like pioneers. Who knew?

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Lesson Learned

I've been nagging Jonah all week (yeah, I know it's Spring Break) (yeah, I know I'm mean) to study for his upcoming AP World History test. But I have to add this note: he stresses out about these tests, and his teacher Kindly Gave them extra time by setting the test after break. So WHY shouldn't he take a few hours here and there to study and prepare for the essay questions?
Today, after I nagged him once again to stop procrastinating (this morning, it was building darts out of thorns and printer paper), he asked if he could invite a few friends over to study. Why not? I thought. Why not indeed.
This is what I pictured: while I finished up a project upstairs, Jonah and his well-mannered friends would sit around with binders and highlighters, politely asking: "What do you think are the impacts of globalization and industrialization in 19th century China and Japan?" or "How should we best discuss the geological and cultural impacts of silver mining in Central and South America?" You know, stuff like that.


Clearly, I don't know my son or his friends very well. Here's a small sampling of what I overheard:

"Wow, Jonah. You already most of the (15 page) packet done? Wow. We haven't even started yet...." (Jonah sighed. He was hoping they'd be able to help HIM with a few answers.)
"Jonah, your binder is really cool. You're so organized." 

And that, folks, is about all they said about AP World. Here's what came next:

1. Jonah showed them all the neat birthday presents and gadgets he has acquired since they visited last, complete with full explanations and demonstrations of how each works.
2. Jared popped in and out of the conversation, just enough to be annoying.
3. They had a lengthy Nerf Gun battle.
4. I'm pretty sure I heard someone say: "Jared, just stand still. Right there. We promise this won't hurt" at least once.
5. I heard a lot of that snickering sound teenage boys make when they have just done something a) painful, b) embarrassing, c) disgusting, or d) all of the above.
6. They ogled an Army Surplus catalog.
7. They tied fishing line to one of Lauren's old baby dolls to make a marionette named Cody (who is currently watching Star Wars VI with Jared while Jonah's at a movie with Clint).


So...next time Jonah asks to invite a few friends over to STUDY, I think I'll make sure those teenage boys spend at least twenty minutes doing what they're supposed to be doing before the inevitable mayhem begins.
Hmm...yeah. Maybe I'm a little too optimistic.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

What I'm working on

Today we have another snow day, and I'm hoping it's our last! To keep winter at bay, I'm embroidering this bird, which will decorate the front flap of a new messenger bag soon.