In the book, One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp, I am on gift number 548. I started writing down God’s gifts last fall. I have asked myself repeatedly why I haven’t reached 1000. I admit that over the last year I have had a tendency to complain instead of offering praise to the Lord for His many gifts.
I did not fully understand the meaning of bittersweet until we lost our boy. He suffered for the last year of his life and I felt relief (for him) mixed with profound heartache (for me) when he passed away. Christian spent the last year of his life tilted back in his wheelchair to relieve his chronic pain. He was able to read books on his iPhone because it was so lightweight and he played video games for limited amounts of time every day. He lost the ability to play video games the night before he passed away. He drove into the kitchen, held up his hands and said “Mom, my hands are not working.” He didn’t want to be resuscitated or to live with a breathing tube and he hated hospitals. Christian told me weeks before his passing that he wanted to die at home, in his own bed with his bird, Kiwi, in the room.
The pain we endured during the weeks and months that followed was unimaginable. How was it possible that I experienced joy when I looked at the sky as it turned red and orange at sunset? Why did everything look so much more beautiful after I lost my son? It was like a layer was peeled away from my soul and everything that looked beautiful before now brought tears to my eyes.
Being thankful makes the pain more bearable – the pain of losing a loved one, of the violence in the world, the constant stream of negativity in the media – the pain of living in a broken world. God gives us little presents each and every day and if we open our hearts and our eyes we will find them: the chitter of a chickadee, the glint of sunlight on a soapy plate, steam rising from a hot cup of tea or an unexpected call from a loved one.
I have so much to be thankful for and I am making more of an effort to focus on blessings instead of burdens. The Lord has given me strength to put one foot in front of the other on days when the loss feels fresh, He has blessed me with a loving husband and son, with an accessible home for Drew, a wonderful job, and a long awaited trip to California this past summer (thanks to my sister who came up from Wyoming to care for Drew). God continues to bless us with His love, grace and healing. He blesses me with the guidance and strength contained in His Word each and every morning. As we thank the Lord for His goodness we become lights in a dark world and we give hope to those who are suffering.
On the evening before Christian passed away he told me that all he wanted was to be able to look at things without being in pain. He wanted to watch his finch, Kiwi, hop around or relax in his cage. He wanted to gaze at birds at the feeder, beautiful sunsets, and stars in the night sky. Little did I know these were some of the last words he would say to me.
Tomorrow marks three years since Christian left this world to be with the Lord. Many think that with time it gets easier, but in some ways that is not so. It adds on another year since I have heard his voice and seen his sweet face. The ache in my heart feels stronger at moments and I remember things I would rather forget.
A few days ago I came across Psalm 27:4 “One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek, inquire for, and require: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold and gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to meditate, consider, and inquire in His temple.” Even though I have read and meditated on this verse before, it moved me to tears. I remembered what Christian said and I wondered if he knew he was going to die.
This scripture, among others, moved me to make more of an effort to gaze at the beauty of God’s creation and capture it in photographs. I find beauty in seeing the dark outline of tree branches against an autumn sunset, a patch of light on the tract books at work, a house finch resting on the shepherd’s hook, flowers on my table, squirrels playing around a tree at the park and Canadian geese lying down in the grass. In honor of my son I encourage you to take a photo of something beautiful and post it on social media. Noticing God’s abundant blessings and sharing them encourages others to focus on the goodness of God and also spreads more joy.
“The Lord said to Abram after Lot had left him, Lift up now your eyes and look from the place where you are.” -Genesis 13:14
Lot and Abram had to separate because the land was not big enough to sustain all of their herds, helpers and goods. Abram gave Lot the first choice on whether to choose the better land in the Jordan Valley or the less desirable land of Canaan. Lot chose the Jordan Valley.
This story has great meaning in my life today. It is far too easy to become discouraged because my sons were born with a life threatening disease without a cure. God doesn’t want us to focus on everything we have lost. He wants us to lift up our eyes and trust that He will lead us into a bright future filled with possibilities and joy. It is impossible to notice His blessings and miracles when our eyes are focused on the ground or when our hearts and minds are stuck in the past. God wants us to lift up our eyes and focus on everything we have, not on what we do not have. When we keep our eyes fixed on Him, we will see that He has plans to bless us.
Only when we lift up our eyes can we see the blueness of the sky, the way the white clouds effortlessly float past the window, the bird on the branch, or the flower on the windowsill. When we thank the Lord for a new day the minute we open our eyes each morning, we invite His blessings into our daily lives.
Looking up can bring us out of a state of depression and discouragement, and even help us to feel confident. Today, I encourage you to believe that no matter how difficult your circumstances may be, God wants to bless you and prosper you.