Two and a half years ago, I sat on our couch beside my friend Chrissy as we shared what God was teaching us in a Google Hangout with my dearest friend Tori. It was cold and winter and all three of us felt like we had lost perspective on what mattered. We wanted to change that. So once a week, we gathered just like that, two in Charlotte and one in Boone connected through technology to share life together. We decided to read Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts in an act of sheer desperation to understand how to shift our perspective, how to focus more on the good than all the bad that threatened to consume us.
This book has since become one of my favorites because of the lessons it taught me and the memories it gives of Tori. We learned about eucharisteo, how thanksgiving proceeds miracles, and how seeking to see God in the littlest of moments will help us to see Him everywhere. As Ann Voskamp says: “Gratitude for the seemingly insignificant—a seed—this plants the giant miracle.”
So we decided to document our gratitude, as Ann describes in her book, in a group text with one another every day. It was the most incredible experiment. Receiving texts of gratitude through my day helped me to remember to find the miracles and the gratitude and the loveliness even when it wasn’t the best of days. I found myself happier and lighter and free.
We weren’t perfect– there were days that were just plain bad, days when we forgot to share, and days we fell into old patterns. But it began a pattern that I haven’t been able to shake.
A little over a year after we studied Ann’s book together, we received Tori’s diagnosis. It was hard and overwhelming and terrifying. But we came together again to celebrate our gratitude. We texted each other daily, seeking again for joy, for miracles to help us through the darkest of days. Here are some of the things we shared:
Tori: This isn’t my battle. It’s God’s. So when I feel like I can’t do it, that’s okay. Also, warm and cozy blankets.
Jess: Friendship that knows no borders, distance, or limits. The lifetime kind. Hugs from students. Starbucks runs.
Chrissy: Tori making interns cry. Hilarious. Amazing weather. Applesauce.
In the midst of our greatest trial, we celebrated. We praised Jesus. We cried– a lot. And we did our best to keep our eyes on Heaven. Several months later, Tori got to see Heaven for herself. And we sat on my couch, numb and uncertain of what to do.
But then I remembered Tori: her gratitude in the midst of her greatest pain, her joy in the small moments. So in my pain and loss, there was only one thing I could think to do: give thanks.
Chrissy and I continued our Gratitude Girls texts and I truly believe that’s what kept me going forward in the days and weeks following Tori’s death. It’s what gave me peace and what slowly helped to heal my heart. As Ann taught us in her book, “As long as thanks is possible, then joy is always possible.”
A year ago this weekend, Tori came and spent the weekend with me and Zach and Chrissy while she was in remission and out of her hospital room. We played cards and cried through good movies and ate our favorite foods. It was the last time I saw my beautiful friend in person.
I’ve grappled with a lot of anger and uncertainty and guilt over the past nine months, but I’ve done my best to spend even more time giving thanks, cataloging gratitude as I go so that I never take a moment or memory for granted. I don’t want to forget and I don’t want to ever look back and realized I didn’t treasure an experience.
Lately, I’ve taken my gratitude beyond a text message and I’ve started to post on Twitter, typically toward the end of the day as a brief way of looking back on my day. I’m no photographer and didn’t want to fall into a long-winded trap, so it became the home of #dailygratitude posts. It’s by no means original or unique, but that was never the goal. It’s about seeing beauty in the mundane so I don’t miss it in search for the spectacular. I once again find myself in a place of contentment and peace and gratitude that I can’t quite describe. I’m not seeking accolades or attention; instead I simply hope to inspire others to take stock of their own simple moments and give thanks.
I encourage you to try it too. Start small. What are three things you’re grateful for today? Can you think of more? Think on: Something specific you’ve experienced or witnessed. Something you’ve tasted or tried or touched. Someone you’ve met. Somewhere you’ve been or somewhere you’re going. Don’t save your gratitude for special occasions– make it meaningful today.