"Some days I pick up a camera and it's a hammer ... the Farmer finds me with my hammer in hand, leaning over a plate of cheese grated and sitting in sunlight ... It is quite possible that the God-glory of a ring of shredded cheese may be lost on him ... Ridiculously happy over slips of cheese. That I am, and it's wild, and, oh, I am the one who laughs. Me! Changed! Surprised by joy!"
I roll my eyes, shut this absurd book, and go to sleep. Who finds such joy in shredded cheddar?
Ann Voskamp does. I started reading her book, One Thousand Gifts, in 2014, following the resolution of the most difficult time in our marriage. The premise of the book is that, by naming the thousands of everyday gifts around us, we become more thankful and joyful people.
It's a good idea, really. But the plate of cheese scene was too much for me. I am not a flowery or dramatic person when it comes to words. I have this mostly-unbroken rule, though: If I start a book I will finish it.
So I did. I muscled my way through the remainder of One Thousand Gifts. Although Voskamp's writing style frequently irritated me, I arrived at the last chapter of the book and got out of it what I believe she intended.
What if I started naming my everyday gifts? How would this change me? Would it change me? Would I find myself gushing over a plate of cheese by the end?
On October 11, 2014, I began naming my gifts and recording each one in my journal. I didn't list something every day, but the first 304 were easy.
14. Legs that give me the freedom to run
34. Date nights
50. Amazon Prime
79. Health insurance
180. Birds singing
210. When a favorite song comes on the radio
297. Pretty handwriting
Then I got lazy. For whatever reason, I quit journaling as much as I once did, and the One Thousand Gifts Project was temporarily abandoned.
Just before New Year's Day 2017, my husband and I, along with other members of our community group, chose a word that we wanted to define us in 2017.
Mine was JOY. The many mundane aspects of life had become monotonous to me, and I desired for something to be different. On January 1, 2017, I picked up my pen again and resumed my "gifts list" at number 305, resolving to actually make it to 1,000 this time.
On September 16, 2017, an ordinary Saturday morning, I accomplished my goal.
When I restarted The Joy Project in January, I knew that I would need to list an average of almost two gifts per day in order to finish before the end of the year. Simple enough, I thought. Some days, the gifts flowed out of my pen with little thought.
365. When I can let my plans go and be okay
379. Walmart grocery pick-up
382. When Piper talks out loud to the TV
394. Conflict resolution
448. Speaking English
Other days, I felt as though I had already named every gift I've ever received.
These were the moments that changed me.
Instead of listing the gifts that were obvious (#450: Our dog), I had to start noticing. I had to find joy in not only the ordinary, but also in the disruption of my plans and in the hardest days when giving thanks was anything but natural.
Why is my kid asking SO. MANY. QUESTIONS?
486. Piper's curiosity
Spring allergies. All the sneezing and itchy eyes.
544. Those beautiful white trees that stink, making me think that God has a sense of humor
Yet another kid birthday party this weekend.
556. People liking our kids enough to invite them to parties
Sister's eczema is horrendous today.
613. C's eczema giving us permission to not bathe her every night
If someone else touches me today, I might scream.
664. Having little hands that love to hold mine
I didn't get to do that thing I wanted to do this morning.
753. How motherhood has taught me to be more flexible
These are ways in which I view the world now.
The Joy Project is no longer about writing down hundreds of gifts but about turning everything into an opportunity for praise and gratitude.
Admittedly, I never sobbed over a pile of cheese, but I began noticing the tiniest details (844: The way that eggs cook, changing from clear to yellow) and finding the good in everything from daily tasks to the most potentially upsetting situations.
Even after nearly ten consistent months of choosing joy, naming gifts still feels unnatural and sometimes awkward. My tendency is toward anger, frustration, and annoyance. But because of The Joy Project, I am more quickly abandoning those attitudes and adding to my gifts list instead.
Now that I've reaching one thousand, I think I'll keep going. Joy can be found everywhere, if we choose to open our eyes to it. Who knows, maybe I'll make it to a million one day.
Photos by Kate Bernard