a harvest of gratitude

. . . I don’t mean just the big THANKS. I mean the little thanks — for everyday things. The things that we have to dig into to find a reason for being grateful. It’s a whole lot harder than it appears.

I tend to try to change everything about my life all at once. 

Time to get healthy? I take vitamins, drink the right amount of water, cut caffeine and/or sugar, drink raw apple cider vinegar and green tea, attempt exercise . . . and then, when I feel better, I never know what did it.  Plus, do I have to keep up all these things?. . . and then I fail, because I really can’t keep up with so many habits foreign to my nature.

I like new and different. Routine loses the thrill after about a week.

So my latest kick is self-discipline — because I lack it. (Again, *two thumbs pointing to self* bored with consistency.)

Just general, over all self-discipline. Which may sound like CHANGE ALL THE THINGS! and biting off more than I can chew. But isn’t, really, because I’m starting small.

My usual self would, at this point of decision, print out a schedule, a chart, a list — and organize my life. I love doing that. I get excited about new organizational things. HOWEVER, doing and then sticking with it is an entirely different matter. It’s not that I need to be more organized. It’s that I need to be more disciplined.

So I’ve started small. Or maybe big. 

Because sometimes, I complain . . . okay, often. I often complain. And I am lazy about gratitude.

So, my “big” self-discipline for November is that I am committing to start each day with a grateful thought and post it on Facebook and Twitter . . . like a whole lot of other people. (Hey, some trends are good trends.) I’m no Pollyanna, believe me. I could really use a little less grumbling. And I know an ungrateful attitude is a whole lot of why I often struggle with being content.

And I don’t mean just the big THANKS. I mean the little thanks — for everyday things. The things that we have to dig into to find a reason for being grateful. It’s a whole lot harder than it appears.

I read Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts in January — loved it — and when I read her journal plan, I thought, Writing down three gifts a day? How hard can that be? I made it to 45 gifts. Forty-five! And my last journal entry of three simple gifts was at the end of March. So it’s actually hard. For me, anyway. Because of my apparent allergy to consistency . . . and maybe gratitude.

So I love this from One Thousand Gifts:

Do not disdain the small. The whole of the life — even the hard — is made up of the minute parts, and if I miss the infinitesimals, I miss the whole. These are new language lessons, and I live them out. There is a way to live the big of giving thanks in all things. It is this: to give thanks in this one small thing. The moments will add up.

I, too, had read it often, the oft-quoted verse: “And give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:20). And I, too, would nod and say straight-faced, “I’m thankful for everything.” But in this counting gifts, to one thousand, more, I discover that slapping a sloppy brush of thanksgiving over everything in my life leaves me deeply thankful for very few things in my life. A lifetime of sermons on “thanks in all things” and the shelves sagging with books on these things and I testify: life-changing gratitude does not fasten to a life unless nailed through with one very specific nail at a time.

Little nails and a steady hammer can rebuild a life . . .

So I’m doing it.

I’m going to attempt to share a harvest of gratitude for small things and big things.


Because I need to remind myself that I have so much to be thankful for.

And my bet is, it really does change everything.

Praise for the LORD’S Goodness.
A Psalm, a Song for the Sabbath day.

It is good to give thanks to the LORD And to sing praises to Your name, O Most High ;
To declare Your lovingkindness in the morning And Your faithfulness by night . . .
For You, O LORD, have made me glad by what You have done, I will sing for joy at the works of Your hands. Psalm 92:1-4

* * * * *

What about you? Have you seen simple gratitude change your outlook on life? Want to try #30daysofthanks?

Read more about gratitude from enduring and after

the gift of gratitude

all I ever have to be

but for the grace of God

all I ever have to be

Library of Congress, Dorthea Lange, 1939

I really am deeply grateful for my life. But there are moments, seasons when discouragement gets the upper hand.

Frankly, I’m amazed at how quickly and easily I am discouraged.

I’m more fragile than I would like to think.

I started out the morning feeling sorry for myself. Sorry about myself.

A look in the mirror, a step on the scale, a careless word remembered, the pile of books and laundry and things I should do that fills the chair I love but haven’t sat in for weeks,  failure to meet a registration deadline . . .

I am learning to do battle against discouragement with gratitude . . .

Thank You God that my husband loves You so much. That he works hard to provide for our family. That he fought hard against addiction and defeated it with Your help.

Thank You for four healthy, beautiful children who have blessed our life.

Thank You for a loving extended family. For precious friends.

Thank You for my cottage near the sea, in spite of the tiny living room, mossy roof, musty carpet and sulphery water.

Thank You for the sun burning through the marine layer, reminding me of the hour and that it’s time to go to work. Thank You that I have a job to help supplement during these stressful economic times.

Thank you that we have food to eat, gas in the cars, a roof over our heads and clothes to wear.

Thank you for fresh strawberries, and homemade ice cream . . .

So much to be grateful for.  

But I’m hardly ever — maybe never — grateful for me.

For who I am. For where I am.

I am impatient with my own imperfection.

I want to clean myself up before people see me.

I beat myself up for being socially awkward. For not sharing more of my life with others. For being a self-absorbed parent. For the thirty pounds I’ve put on in the past four years. For not calling. Not inviting. Not going. Not being.

This morning, it’s that.

There are days when the years creep back in.

The days, the months, the years I should have been . . . patient with a child, encouraging to my husband, reaching out to a friend or loved one, inviting people to come over, writing a book, exercising, eating right, keeping up photo albums, paying off debt, saving for a house of our own . . .

I’m pretty sure discouragement is what keeps an addict in addiction.

Shouting down the internal voices that call you out on every mistake . . .

The past weighs heavy.

It’s easier to not try to change at all.

Bend down, O Lord, and hear my prayer; answer me, for I need Your help . . .
Give me happiness, O Lord, for I give myself to You . . .
Teach me Your ways . ..
Grant me purity of heart . . .
. . . for Your love for me is very great . . .
Give Your servant strength . . .
Send me a sign of Your favor . . .
Psalm 86

Today, after I read the Psalms and pray, it’s an old song that lifts my spirits . . .

. . . a song I’ve known since I was a teenager trying to figure out who I was and where I was going.

Like Sue Heck on The Middle, I was the girl who enthusiastically tried everything and failed — cheerleading,volleyball, the hurdles, choir, piano — you name it.

I lost that courage somewhere along the road of life.

At some point along the way I realized I was totally uncoordinated. That I had no sense of rhythm. That my heart felt like it would explode and I would pass out if I had to play the piano in public. That I couldn’t carry the harmony unless my friend Angie was standing next to me . . .

And then I grew up. Got married. Had children. And settled into a habit of comparison: If only I was . . .

Today, I woke up doubting. And it’s taken two hours to pray, read, and write out my feelings. To greet the day with joy.

I will make a new list of gratitudes. Not of what is on the outside, but on the inside. What God is doing in my heart.

I know I’m growing. I can’t give up just because I haven’t arrived.

So the song. The one I’m singing this morning:

All I ever have to be
Is what you’ve made me.
Any more or less would be a step
Out of your plan.
As you daily recreate me,
Help me always keep in mind
That I only have to do
What I can find.
And all I ever have to be
All I have to be
All I ever have to be
Is what you’ve made me.

— Amy Grant

Everyone, no matter how old or how accomplished, battles seasons of discouragement. How about you? 

there is beauty in detail

Jane and I walk the road that leaves our little town and wanders along the shore. Snow-capped mountains to the west shine in the morning sunlight. Sailboats sleep on the glassy bay. We spot a heron, three seals and two coyotes on our walk. We are blessed to live in this place.

I stand in a farm field in the warm afternoon. The fragrance of strawberries rises to entice me. A glistening red catches my eye and I eagerly bend to add another to the heavy bowl.

I wander the beach below my house. At my feet, a thousand sand dollars. I stoop and stare into a tide pool of life: inhabitants blissfully unaware of exposure.

There is beauty in these points of finery. Footnotes of love from the Maker of all things.

On cold, gray Puget Sound days that fill most of the year, we remind ourselves there is a piece of heaven all around us. If only we will wait. We will see this glory.

* * * * *

We moved to Washington in July ten years ago.

The youngest of our four children was just a few weeks old. I spent the weeks before his birth packing our house in California, praying that this was the right thing.

We were leaving my dear family. The close friends with whom we had gone to college and walked together through the first ten years of marriage and parenting. A school and a church (our employers) that loved us. A pediatrician, so important to a young mom of four, who made me laugh and who assured me on what seemed to be a weekly basis that the sicker they are when they’re babies, the healthier they’ll be as children.

I packed in tears. But I also hoped.

The first serious mention of seminary had been on my 32nd birthday. But it was to be a year before we would move. A year we thought the world might end. Terrorist attacks, painful revelations, a surprise baby and awful sickness.

I had been as enthusiastic as Dave. I convinced myself that in the right place, our marriage and his health would be better. We researched schools. I made plans and budgets. We could easily pay off current debts in a year. We could do this.

But headaches and money problems had persisted. And anger crept back in.

After one particularly heated fight (during which I’d thrown an iron pot across the kitchen and dented the wall behind Dave’s head) I wrote in my journal: “Dave is not a fool. There was a reason deeper than just folly with money . . . at last he broke and said he had been running from what he knew God was calling him to do for 10 years . . . we cried and prayed and I knew right away that something had changed. . . he will be a different person from now on, I know.”

Seminary was supposed to be the answer. Dave had simply been running from God’s call. Like Jonah. That’s why the boat of our life was tossed and sinking.

(Years later, I read about how addicts in their downward spiral attempt to end their addiction by “geographical escapes.” But I knew nothing of that then.)

* * * * *

We arrived here in July of 2002. Jobless. Homeless. Optimistic.

Gracious cousins and friends took us in. Dave, me, and the kids who were 7, 4, 2 and a newborn. Six of us. Family and friends sent money to help us stay afloat.

Then came a terrifying car accident with all our little ones on board. Totaled our van. And a new back injury gave Dave an entree into any doctor’s office for pills.

I had picked up the habit for busy seasons of reading through the book of Psalms in a month, five Psalms a day 1, 31, 61, 91, 121 on the first day, etc.

Promises fill my journals:

By awesome deeds Thou dost answer us in righteousness, O God of our salvation. Psalm 65:5

Blessed is the Lord who daily bears our burden. Psalm 68:19

For every beast of the forest is mine. The cattle on a thousand hills. Psalm 50:10

But weeks of homelessness and unemployment turned to months.

The enthusiastic journal entries came to an abrupt end. Despair crept into the pages once again.

* * * * *

I am deep in discouraged thought. As he settles beside me on the back porch in the evening sun, there is a tone of comfort in my teenage son’s deep voice. He puts his arm around me and it takes me back a decade . . .

Three small kids and an unhappy baby, homeless, homeschooling the oldest, jobless, living only off the generosity of friends and family. Exhausted. Hopeless.

I took the kids for a drive in our new-to-us van and turned on the cd I’d picked up at a yard sale.

God will make a way Where there seems to be no way
He works in ways we cannot see, He will make a way for me
He will be my guide, Hold me closely to His side
With love and strength for each new day
He will make a way, He will make a way.
By a roadway in the wilderness You lead me
Rivers in the desert will I see
Heaven and earth will fade, But His word will still remain
And He will do something new today.

A deep little voice from the back seat interrupts my thoughts. He notices my tears.

“We’re in a wilderness, aren’t we Mommy?”

Yes, baby. We are.

He sings. What does he know of wilderness? He is four.

Out of the mouths of babes.

You have taught children and infants to tell of Your strength. Psalm 8:1&2

* * * * *

I think I’m going through a phase.

It’s possible that it’s just taking time for the cold and gray to unfetter me and allow me to enjoy the sun.

But I’m inclined to think it’s my age. And the number of and ages of our children. There is much about having teenagers that resembles the toddler years, I am sorry to say.

Constant activity. Difficulty making time for my friends. Peacemaking. Falling into bed exhausted at the end of the day. Unknowns that must be released to God. Soon I will be launching them into the world.

And then there are these words. I don’t have the time.  Work. Responsibilities. Self-consciousness. But they press on me . . .

The Psalms are once again my daily food.

* * * * *

Morning sun warms the new chair I placed next to my bed (another blessed yard sale find). I stop what I am hurrying about and sit down. Reveling in light, pleased by the unexpected.

God, help me to notice. These details remind me of Your love.

This morning, words from Psalm 71 are a message of encouragement:

My life is an example to many, because you have been my strength and protection. That is why I can never stop praising You; I declare Your glory all day long. vs. 7-8

“I will tell everyone about your righteousness. All day long I will proclaim your saving power, though I am not skilled with words.” vs. 15

“You have allowed me to suffer much hardship, but you will restore me to life again and lift me up from the depths of the earth.” vs. 20

It is a Psalm of telling. Even if it takes a thousand words.

* * * * *

God speaks in the details.

It is the way He spoke His encouragement to the patriarchs and prophets. In the water and wind, in the storm, the stars, the grains of sand. And to His disciples. Consider the lilies of the field. Are you not of more value than they? And it is the way He speaks to us now.

Images and words He writes on my heart. The still small, but deep, voice. A ray of sunshine, a lifting of my eyes to the mountains, a sweet fragrance, a child’s voice, a song, a verse.

Stop. Notice.

He is whispering His love.

Redemption is real

I was in prison and you came to visit me.

“His life is a testament to how redemption, so often debased and abused in a 24/7 news cycle obsessed with celebrity and scandal, can be astonishingly powerful and real.” — Rich Lowry on Charles W. Colson

I was writing an article recently for work and had to read some sections of Chuck Colson’s book, “Born Again.”

Some of it is just too painful, hits too close to home in some ways. Granted, the nation wasn’t watching when Dave lost his ministry because of his prescription drug abuse and all the destructive side-effects.

Because of his Watergate crimes, Chuck Colson went to prison. He served just enough time to see the hopelessness of condemned men and the failure of a system that sent them back to the streets to re-offend. He used his notoriety to found Prison Fellowship sharing his testimony of transformation to give hope to millions.

Granted, it would be hard to hide from your past if your sins, crimes, shame were as famous as Watergate. It would follow you your whole life, just as it did Chuck Colson. Just look at the headlines and the articles detailing his crimes from nearly 40 years ago.

The thing that inspires me about Chuck Colson is that he repented, acknowledged his shame and let God turn it into a platform to speak to criminals and kings. It takes a great deal of humility to have your flaws chronicled for all time and still face the world.

How have you failed? What has God healed you from? And why do you hide it?

People don’t want to hear how great we are or how perfect we’ve become. There’s no real hope for perfection in this life. So give it up! What are you going to let God do with your shame?

People want to know that no matter how badly they’ve failed and no matter how much they’ve scoffed at and rejected the God who loves them, that He still stands there with open arms ready to embrace them and forgive.

It may be in a prison yard speaking to 600 convicts or it might be a small recovery group in your church. All around us men and women are living in their past or present bondage to shame.

Let God use your story. They need to know redemption is real.

 “If Mr. Colson can repent of his sins, there just has to be hope for everybody.” 

Boston Globe in 1973

Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance:

Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.  

But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners,

Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example

for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.

Saint Paul, I Timothy 1:14-15

But for the grace of God

The dangers of apparent self-sufficiency explain why Our Lord regards the vices of the feckless and dissipated so much more leniently than the vices that lead to worldly success. Prostitutes are in no danger of finding their present life so satisfactory that they cannot turn to God: the proud, the avaricious, the self-righteous, are in that danger.

— C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

* * * * *

I spent a week of October in Southern California doing interviews with men and women who are working through this process of recovery. Twenty-five of them.

I sat across the table from them each day at the rescue mission, as one by one they told me their stories. Nearly all of them had had a struggle with addiction that had ravaged their lives:

* a former gang member with intimidating tattoo covered arms who can’t have his name printed or photo taken because of his violent past;

* a beautiful young woman, resembling an average college girl but who had been in and out of prison since she was 12, committing crimes just so she could go back to where she felt safe;

* an unemployed, homeless family — mother and father both recovering addicts — whose only alternative to living at the mission was to live with relatives who were heroin addicts.

At night, when the interviews were done,  I drove an hour or two to spend time with my sister and her family, a brother and his family, and my parents. And I realized again how blessed I am.

Dave and I have nurturing, loving families who didn’t let go — and didn’t drag us down. Loving family, who follow God, whose presence in our lives is an encouragement, who never locked their doors on us, who gave — more than we could ever begin to repay — when we were most desperate.

That is the humbling difference between me and all the people I interviewed.  No matter how different I may think I am from the woman who escaped an abusive relationship — and slept in her car with her toddler for eight months and got arrested for drunk driving and child endangerment and went straight to the Mission after being freed from house arrest — I am not.

Sometimes we give ourselves too much credit. We say we would never be like that because we’re smarter. Or because we’re hard workers. Or . . . and we discount the fact that God set us in families. We didn’t choose them. It was none of our doing.

Because in spite of the differences in our upbringings, in our families of origin, we speak the same language, these recovering addicts and me: But for the grace of God . . .

Each one of these recovering addicts told me a story of how God got a hold of them. Each one, tearfully expressing a deep gratitude for the grace I have known of all my life. Each one, rescued by this grace of God from a life of deathEach one, knowing exactly where they would be, but for the grace of God . . .

There is a danger in being raised in a good, loving Christian home. And there is a danger in having all of our needs met and never knowing hunger. There is even a danger in always making the right choices.

Because when we haven’t felt the vast chasm that separates us from God, we tend to take the bridge for granted.

Pain hurts

Russell Lee, 1939

March 28

Whenever I get discouraged I look at real estate on the internet. Sometimes, it perks me up to dream.

I’ve been doing this since 2001 when we began planning our move from Southern California to Tacoma, Washington.

But it quickly became an escape. A few minutes of dreaming that easily turns into hours.

It’s the house of possibilities that always intrigues me — the worn out old house on a big lot (I used to dream of farming, but my garden failures have made me see reason on that). Broken windows and weed covered garden beds catch my eye.  I dream that my life would be so much better if I lived there. And I would be a better person.

This week, I haven’t just been looking. I’ve found the gem of all gems: a little 1920’s Craftsman on a half acre lot. I’ve driven by. I’ve walked around the property and dreamed. And now I’m researching renovation costs . . . and I am fairly certain my extreme renovation skills and knowledge are not up to par.

Yeah. It’s been a rough week.

* * * * *

Today is my Grandparents’ 69th wedding anniversary. Grandpa arrived home from a week in the hospital yesterday and now he has hospice care. Sixty-nine years of marriage.

Grandpa, Grandma, and mom

Some people don’t know their grandparents very well. Or didn’t get to. I have been blessed to have all of my grandparents, and even a great grandparent, well into adulthood. I can’t imagine what my life would have been without them.

I’ve learned so much from my grandparents. I could write a book.

We lived with my grandparents a few times going to and from the other side of the world. And in college, when my parents were still a world away, Grandpa and Grandma Dow’s home was my home.

My Grandpa is 90 now. And I can hear his voice from years ago in my head. His wonderful, hearty chuckle. The silly voice reserved for talking to Grandma when he wanted something. And his serious voice that made you feel like you should take notes.

I recall knowing more about insurance, real estate and investments than anyone in my class. I probably knew the words “location, location, location” before I could subtract.

I remember I thought my Grandparents were millionaires because my Grandpa was into stock. I told people I was related to Dow Chemical and that my Grandpa owned the Dow Jones Industrial Average. Hmm.

By the time I was finished with the 6thgrade, I knew every song from the 1950’s. Every song worth knowing, that is. They had one of those multi-record collections of greatest hits. And Grandpa and Grandma loved to listen to them.

As he’s gotten older, and great-grandchildren have taken our places at their dining room table and the lectures on money and career have been replaced by stories of the days gone by. Of a swim to Catalina Island with his brother. Of his father the professional baseball player (at our last visit, my boys read every one of the newspaper clippings he had, reliving games from eighty years ago). Of the Great Depression. Of the South Pacific. Of what he would do if he won the lottery. And of what a wonderful woman he was married to. Our visits were just never long enough.

* * * *

I’ve been browsing the internet looking for that house of possibilities that will fill the void I’m feeling tonight. But it doesn’t. And really it never has. It just numbs the hurt for a while.

It’s a bad habit. A thing I turn to instead of God to make me feel better and go back to often enough for a fix that it becomes an obsession.

The older I get, the less sure I am that there are harmless distractions. When I allow myself to brine in discontentment (which is the inevitable result of looking at things I don’t have/can’t have time after time), I always end up depressed.

But I stopped tonight. Because running to real estate doesn’t make me NOT think about my Grandpa. So I decided to feel instead of escape. To write out my feelings. And now I have a headache.

Besides, if he were looking with me, I’d like to think he’d point out the enormous power lines, the state of the homes around it, and the real cost of renovating such a house. I imagine his words of wisdom. And I stop dreaming.

* * * * *

March 29

I am grieving today, along with my family. For ourselves. And for my Grandma. Grandpa made it through their 69th  wedding anniversary and left this morning for heaven.

This loss creates a deeper longing in me. Not a desire to escape through unsatisfying pastimes or addictions, but for the sufferings of the world to have an end. To desire pain-free heaven more than any house on earth.

I’ve been reading C. S. Lewis this week. The Problem of Pain. He was a very smart man. Too smart for me a lot of the time. But I ran across this quote I’ve seen often:

“Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world .”

Too many times, I would rather muffle the megaphone than listen to what He’s saying to me. It hurts to feel pain. I’d rather numb it. And I was really happy to read that old Clive felt the same way:

. . . All arguments in justification of suffering provoke bitter resentment against the author. You would like to know how I behave when I am experiencing pain, not writing books about it. . . I will tell you; I am a great coward. . . when I think of pain — of anxiety that gnaws like fire and loneliness that spreads out like a desert, and the heartbreaking routine of monotonous misery, or again of dull aches that blacken our whole landscape or sudden nauseating pains that knock a man’s heart out at one blow, of pains that seem already intolerable and then are suddenly increased. . . if I knew any way of escape I would crawl through sewers to find it. But what is the good of telling you about my feelings? You know them already: they are the same as yours. I am not arguing that pain is not painful. Pain hurts. That is what the word means. I am only trying to show that the old Christian doctrine of being made ‘perfect through suffering’ (Hebrews 2:10) is not incredible [unbelievable]. To prove it palatable is beyond my design. ”

C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

Yes, by God’s grace, Jesus tasted death for everyone. God, for whom and through whom everything was made, chose to bring many children into glory. And it was only right that he should make Jesus, through his suffering, a perfect leader, fit to bring them into their salvation.

Hebrews 2:9 & 10

But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. Therefore comfort one another with these words.

I Thessalonians 4:13-14,18

The gift of gratitude

I know Thanksgiving is supposed to be our holiday of gratitude. But for me, Christmas is much more so.

I think perhaps it’s because I don’t struggle to farm and harvest the food for the feast like our ancestors did. The Thanksgiving meal is just a family get together these days. The celebration of gratitude for the harvest isn’t quite as tangible as it once was.

But Christmas has that feeling for me. Because all of the best Christmases of my life have been seasoned with gratitude . . .

When my parents were living in San Francisco forty years ago, they were far from their families in Colorado for Christmas. I don’t remember those days — I was just a baby. But they didn’t have much — my dad was going to seminary and working full time to feed and shelter his young family.  All they could afford for a Christmas meal was frozen pizza — the kind you can get at the grocery store today for ninety-nine cents.

Somewhere over the years, Christmas Eve pizza became a tradition for the Barrick family. Homemade, take out, gourmet — a remembrance of when my parents had nothing. My brothers, my sister and I have carried on that tradition and our children know why. The pizza means something to us. And it means far more to me than a turkey. Because we do it to remember that God took care of my parents and their babies with a simple meal, and He never let us starve.

* * * * *

On Christmas Eve, after devouring our calzones — this year’s variation on the pizza theme — Dave and I and our children sat around the twinkle-lighted living room remembering our own Christmases past.

There is one in particular that we remember with deep emotion. And I wish all of you who were a part of this story could have been in our house that night to see how powerfully your generosity impacts our children still.

Four years ago, in mid-November, Dave had lost his job which also meant we had to leave the home which had been provided at the camp. It exhausts me now to think of how quickly we had to pack while searching for jobs and a new place to live. Just six weeks from the time he was asked to resign to the day we had to be out. And Christmas was a week before move out.

The organization Dave had worked for docked his final paychecks to recoup money he owed them. They even took the three weeks of vacation/comp time he hadn’t had time to use (a painful irony) and charged us rent for the month of grace I’d pleaded for when they told us to be out of our house by December 1st. (I know they were within their rights to do so and indeed could have been far less gracious, but at the time, it felt cold and callous to me.)

We were in debt.  No savings to bail us out. And we fell through every crack in the unemployment/social services system for one reason or another (painful memories for a later post). Everything — literally everything — we received during that time was a gift from someone else. We had absolutely nothing.

We were utterly dependent on God and the generosity of others.

Many of our friends and family and even the staff of our kids’ schools helped us with food and paying our regular bills and our church helped us with the rent. Still, we were deeply depressed and discouraged by our circumstances. Dave was in withdrawals and I was barely hanging on by a thread.

Desperate for hope, we started writing on a poster board in our living room every blessing we received. It was a daily reminder to me during those gloomy winter weeks that God still really did care about us.

I forget now where Dave’s parents were that Christmas. Perhaps Brazil to visit Dave’s sister. I think we were supposed to have gone to California to spend the holiday with my extended family, but our current crisis prevented that. At any rate, somehow, we ended up being far away from family for Christmas that year, scraping together some sort of celebration in our sad, packed-up house at the cold, empty camp.

I think I bought one gift for each child that Christmas. Our lovely tree — the nicest we’d ever had and which Dave’s parents had gotten for us — was going to be rather lonely.

The children remember details of that night better than I do. They reminded me this Christmas Eve of things I’d forgotten. We’d gone out someplace, they said, I think maybe Christmas Eve service at our church . . . and when we came home, there were black garbage bags on our darkened front porch.

“Mom, you were so mad,” they said. “You thought someone had put their trash on our porch!” They laughed about my irritation and muttering. And that I would think someone would do something so mean to us on Christmas Eve.

“But when you got close to the pile of bags, you started crying and we didn’t know why” . . . and that’s when we all lost it. Tears — remembering the sight.

The bags were heavy — filled with presents. Some from friends, some from strangers.

The children’s theater group we’d been a part of for a few years had already been so generous to us. Many monetary gifts and gifts of food had come from them already. But now it seemed that they had also bought us presents. There were several gifts from the Director and her family and others. And one of the girls from the theater, Lauren who was a 6th grader at the time, had even gotten her class at school to buy Christmas presents for each of the kids. There were dozens of gifts! So much generosity — it was overwhelming.

Christmas morning was absolutely delightful. So many surprises. So many sweet gifts. The list fills fifty lines of my journal. It was a Christmas my children will never forget. And remembering it, all of us together this Christmas Eve, was a gift in itself.

* * * * *

I know that it is more blessed to give than to receive. And I feel it when I watch the delight in the faces of my kids when they open presents. But there’s something about receiving a gift you never, ever could have obtained for yourself — and would never have received had not God intervened. I believe it produces real gratitude.

I see this gift of gratitude in my children who so freely spent their own money to buy gifts for each other this Christmas. Who say things like, Why does Great-Grandma send us money for Christmas? We should be sending HER money! They are contented and pleased with their three Christmas gifts from their parents because they remember so very clearly what it was like to be poor and we could give them nothing.

* * * * *

Sometimes I forget. To my shame. I get caught up in wishing things were other than what they are. Like wishing I had nicer furniture and perusing Craigslist for the-couch-that-will-bring-me-joy. Or dreaming of not having to work, but having the perfect house, the perfect car. And then I get crabby and discontent with my life. It’s so easy to slip into discouragement if I compare my life with others.

The thing that pulls me out of that pit of self-centeredness is the gift that God has given to me many times over. A gift I would never understand if I had not known what it was like to be totally inadequate.  I have to be reminded of what was and what could have been.

I have to remember the past. I have to remember how God has provided. And I have to see the blessings in my life today and be thankful for each one. Gratitude is a great healer.

Katie, Calvin, George and Henry. Christmas 2007.

Please, Lord, teach us to laugh again; but, God, don’t ever let us forget that we cried. — Bill Wilson, Co-Founder of Alcoholics Anonymous