We sat in the sunroom off the master bedroom while Joyce encouraged her mother to eat and I read a week’s worth of Marilyn’s emails aloud. Ninety-one year old Nanny frequently closed her eyes and shook her head, sweetly refusing the spoonfuls of soup and sips of water her daughter offered, but Joyce patiently persevered – gently coaxing her mother to eat as I read.
“My lap dogs Lady and Champ are a great comfort,” Marilyn wrote. “They follow me from room to room and give me lots of loving attention.” Joyce and I delighted in the lovely word pictures our dear friend painted of her home and garden and family and dogs – and we longed to be with her.
Our friendship began nearly twenty years ago – when the three of us lived and worshipped and served in the same community and church. Eventually, my family changed churches and Marilyn and her family moved away, but the ties that bound our hearts together in the love of Christ and for each other tightened and our relationships have only become stronger.
“Lately I have been preparing for being bald again.” Marilyn’s email continued. “I love bright colors! So my ‘new style’ will be soft hats with bright scarves. The brighter the better.” Joyce and I grieved over this new battle with an old cancer Marilyn had bravely fought and overcome thirteen years earlier, but we loved hearing about her ‘new style’ and the thought of her beautiful face and smile framed by those bright and colorful scarves.
Hoping to encourage Marilyn in her bright-color attitude, I asked if I could send her One Thousand Gifts. I’d started my own gratitude journal early in December, when chronic illness flared and my world was reduced to the few square feet I could manage at home. I wanted Marilyn to experience the same joy and sweetness I’d tasted – when with a heart overflowing with gratitude (Colossians 2:6-7) I could be thankful for the abundance of all that is beautiful and good and evidence of God’s love and mercy and grace – right where I was in a difficult and painful season.
I didn’t need to send Marilyn the book. She’d read One Thousand Gifts – she just wasn’t at all sure how to begin.
Sudoku is what I do in my free minutes. Marilyn explained, thinking she needed to be more descriptive and use more adjectives if she kept a gratitude journal. You love words. I love numbers and patterns. We all think differently. Help.
I thought for a moment. Let’s do this together. I offered.
A gratitude journal for all three of us to share – to mail back and forth and rejoice together in the ways we see God’s love and presence in each other’s lives and the gratitude we individually express at the abundance of His grace.
We chose a thin, inexpensive 5 X 7-inch journal that fits perfectly in a 6 X 9-inch bubble mailer. The journal is nice, but plain, so we embellished a few pages with crafty flower stickers to make it a little prettier. Knowing that this season of chemotherapy can be hard on Marilyn, we’re tucking a pre-stamped bubble mailer in the envelope when we send the journal to her. When she’s ready to return the journal to us, she can slide it into the pre-stamped mailer and put it in her mailbox.
There are no rules for writing in our circle-of-friends gratitude journal. Our individual lists are a reflection of our unique gifts, personalities, and perspectives. Marilyn is right – we all think differently – but it is because of those differences that we begin to wake up together to the blessings. Marilyn’s love for numbers and patterns inspires me to be grateful for the created order and symmetry, and I pray that my love for words and a poetic perspective help her to see and be grateful for the gift of story. Together we are inspired to live this one life well.
I wonder how many others I know – in my neighborhood or church, right where I live – are like my friend Marilyn and just need help getting started. The elderly or homebound? The lonely or hurting or rejected? Who, if I counted gifts with them, would know that there’s no wrong way to do this.
Because we don’t have to do this alone.
Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken. ~ Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 ESV (emphasis mine)
My friends and I chose to gather our gratitude together in a paper journal. Ann Voskamp’s virtual journal is another way I’m counting grace gifts in community. Might you join her there? And bring a friend with you?Leave a Comment