When my father died in the fall of 2011, a missionary friend sent me the book One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp. The book was a perfect reminder to "give thanks in all circumstances" (1 Thessalonians 5:18) by writing a list of one thousand gifts. I began on Thanksgiving Day a year ago.
Last summer I was the camp missionary and nurse at the Bible camp that my parents managed for more than 40 years. I presented the morning devotions for the family camp with the theme of "Giving Thanks." We sang the Doxology in five different languages English, French, Swahili, Portuguese and Norwegian to give thanks in the many different languages of heaven.
I challenged the campers to fill ten posters numbered 1 to 1,000 by the end of camp. On the final afternoon I noticed two young boys at the final poster with only five or six spaces left. I heard one boy say, "She'll like it if we say we are thankful for African animals: #996 Elephants, #997 Lions, #998 Bears." The other boy said, "Bears don't live in Africa." The first boy responded, "I'm thankful for bears anyway." They continued on to #999 Zebras. And #1,000? Grandma Marge, of course!
Over the past months of list-making, gratitude has become habit forming. Like the author, I've found myself looking at things and events from a new perspective of wonder at all the ways God is present in my life. I've become deeply grateful for both the spiritually profound and the simple things of every day. I'm thankful for supporters who, in these difficult economic times, give more so I can return to ministry in Uganda. I'm thankful that when I pull on the crank of the lawnmower, it actually starts. I'm thankful for a dad who was always the picture of God the Father to me. I'm thankful for soap bubbles and the giggles that follow, and for chocolate chips.
Most of all, I'm thankful for a God who reminds us to remember the big and small things he has done for us. The discipline of listing his gifts has created an abundance of thanks in my heart.
Connie Jarlsberg, NCF Missions specialist, was a missionary nurse and instructor in Africa for 15 years. She will return to Uganda in January, 2013 where she will continue her nursing ministry.