We used to play in the grave yard down the street from the bar where my dad tried to slake the thirst that is never quenched. Hide and seek was the best in between those tombstones. But I would lie in the cool grass at dusk and study the names etched in the stone…and wonder.
Who was this person? What was her life made of? Was she happy? Did she love?
And I made up stories in my mind about the lives that wrapped around the bones cradled in the earth underneath of me.
I wasn’t afraid. Death was part of our lives. We butchered the chickens for dinner—and once the cows, kittens were born still, beloved dogs were found lifeless on the side of the road, and grandmas died too.
I traced the letters on the gravestone with my finger and I knew that this name once named lips as warm and pink as my own. Even when my years were in the single digits the mystery of that made my breath slow in wonder.
You have made my days a few handbreadths, and my lifetime is as nothing in your sight. Surely everyone stands as a mere breath. (Psalm 39:5)
I wanted to live.
I wanted to escape the poverty of my life and find beauty and love and see the vastness of God for once. I wanted to live where my heart beat the loudest.
Over Easter I took my boys to a cemetery. They call it a memorial garden now. There are sculptures and landscaping and it is much prettier than the graveyard I played in as a girl. We drove through and my boys were quiet.
And I felt fear. What has changed? What has changed, Lord?
…all these mornings. I wake to the discontent of life in my skin. I wake to self-hatred. To the wrestle to get it all done, the relentless anxiety that I am failing. Always, the failing. I yell at children, fester with bitterness, forget doctor appointments, lose library books, live selfishly, skip prayer, complain, go to bed too late, neglect cleaning the toilets. I live tired. Afraid. Anxious. Weary. Years, I feel it in the veins, the pulsing of ruptured hopes. Would I ever be enough, find enough, do enough? But this morning, I wake wildly wanting to live. Physically feeling it in the veins trembling, the hard pant of the lungs, the seeing it in the steady stars, how much I really want to really live. How I don’t want to die. Is that the message of nightmares and dreams? To live either fully alive…or in empty nothingness? (Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts)
When I became a mother, I let fear take root in my heart. I let concerns about this world edge out the wonder. My heart craves for safety, for warm, for comfort...rather than the wild racing joy.
For Ann, it was a dream that she was dying. As a young girl, I felt I was dying too. Is this how it must be? Must my life hold hands with death before I truly see the beauty—right here, right now? As I read her words, I wonder with Ann—why do I spend so much of my living hours struggling to see it?
Ann reads Luke 22:19 and He whispers to her heart. She begins to interrogate the text.
The root word of eucharisteo is charis, meaning “grace.” Jesus took the bread and saw it as grace and gave thanks. He took the bread and knew it to be gift and gave thanks…Eucharisteo, thanksgiving, envelopes the Greek word for grace, charis. But it also holds its derivative, the Greek word chara, meaning “joy.” Joy…That has always been the goal of the fullest life—joy…Was this the clue to the quest of all most important? Deep chara joy is found only at the table of the euCHARisteo—the table of thanksgiving…(Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts)
These are a threefold cord that might hold a life: grace, thanksgiving, joy. Eucharisteo, she says.
In everything give thanks. And the secret to living fully begins to unfold…
This is the second in a series on Ann Voskamp’s book One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right WhereYou Are. Join me this time next week for a reflection on Chapter three.
One Thousand Gifts: Chapter One