I acquired a painting recently.
At first, the canvas seemed nothing more than a simple reminder of my grandmother who created it. The plain wood frame, decades old and dust-covered, did nothing to enhance the art or make me want to hang it anywhere prominent.
After wiping the dust away, I removed the brown frame and took the print to a frame shop. I placed a couple different frames around it, but none seemed to do it justice, until I tried a plain black frame.
Suddenly, the creamy lilies popped off the canvas. Deep olives and greens of lily pad leaves flloated on the water, white speckles of painted of sunlight reflecting off their edges. Inky shadows under the water nearly moved with intensity. I felt like I was wading in the sun-dappled creek, the lily stems stroking my bare feet and legs.
In her book One Thousand Gifts, Ann Voskamp relates intense, personal stories of lives lost, the daily physical and financial hardships of keeping a family farm afloat, and the joy and pain of raising six children. Near lost in the intensity and constant swirling stress of her life, Voskamp decides to choose to be thankful in the midst of whatever hardship comes her way, sibling rivalry, threats of foreclosure, even the trauma of losing a child. She dedicated a blog to this practice, which challenged readers to seek out and track gifts, or blessings, they might not notice otherwise in the course of their busy days.
“. . . Every where we look we only see all that isn’t: holes, lack, deficiency . . . I hunger for filling in a world that is starved,” writes Voskamp.
Don’t we all? Especially as winter gray and long struggles toward spring.
In the 1990’s, Oprah made gratefulness a fad, introducing gratefulness journals to the public with the challenge to write down five things you’re grateful for at the end of each day.
There’s even an app for the practice of gratefulness. Called the Gratitude Journal, the i-Phone application provides users with custom fonts, bullets, and image frames, inspirational quotes, photo uploading and other capabilities to inspire and track your gratefulness.
Whatever form or method used, gratefulness has a way of reframing the mundane, even hopelessness, of life.
Gratefulness can be small . . .
. . . like the fact the washing machine worked one more day; your toddler napped for a whole hour; or, you spied the pointed leaf of a crocus pushing up out of your flower bed.
Gratefulness can be big . . .
. . . like when hospital test results come back clear; you reconcile with a rebellious teenager; or, you finally got the job.
Today, I hold my hands up to my face, first finger and thumb in the shape of an “L.”
Life reframed, the white gleam of love reflects off the edges and the sweet smell of blessings rises, fresh and clear, like lily pads floating to the top of a murky pond.
Gratefulness entwines around the prickles on worn and weary hearts, smoothing and pullling us to live fully again.
Before I knew what life could do to a person . . . before I knew what had been done to me . . . I felt peace. I remember it, whole and holy, round and full, like the weight of a newborn infant in a mothers arms.
It was the sort of peace that comes from a youth undented and undaunted by the hammers of hurt.
The sort of peace that lives in a heart that has not yet realized people really are capable of evil . . . of lies . . . of betrayal . . . of stealing innocence, no matter how old we are when someone snuffs the last piece of us out.
Holed out, hollowed and spent, fear fills us first.
Unless we believe God and His promise to pour His Holy Spirit into us.
Unless we believe His promise to never leave us alone.
Only then, by releasing the clutch of our unbelief, can we let fear, unfettered, flee from our hearts.
The other day, I realized the depths of my unbelief as fear and shame overwhelmed me once again. I ran down the path in town, spindly brush, naked trees and silence surrounding me.
And then, unrequested and unrehearsed, the birds appeared.
Bright, red cardinals. Chests bursting and fat with downy, winter feathers.
Then a second.
Then a third.
Three cardinals stained red flew wild across my path. And I remembered God has something important to say when He says it in threes.
I died for you, He said.
I died for you, He said.
I died for you, He said.
So, what do you think? With God on our side like this, how can we lose?
If God didn’t hesitate to put everything on the line for us, embracing our condition and exposing himself to the worst by sending his own Son, is there anything else he wouldn’t gladly and freely do for us?
And who would dare tangle with God by messing with one of God’s chosen? Who would dare even to point a finger? The One who died for us—who was raised to life for us!—is in the presence of God at this very moment sticking up for us.
Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ’s love for us? There is no way! Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing, not even the worst sins listed in Scripture . . . We’re sitting ducks; they pick us off one by one.
None of this fazes us because Jesus loves us. I’m absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us.
Romans 8:31-39 (TMV)