How Counting Changed My Life

During a very dark time in my life, I was given Ann Voskamp‘s book, One Thousand Gifts.  I read the first chapter and put it on my shelf. 

I couldn’t handle where she was going.  I couldn’t deal with the images in that first chapter where she shares the pain of her life because I couldn’t see past the pain in my own life.  No, thanks! 

Years later, I pulled that book back off of the dusty shelf. I trudged past chapter 1 and discovered I loved the connections she drew between thanksgiving, grace and joy.  I was hooked! It marked the beginning of a long journey of gratitude:  a year of noticing goodness in the everyday. 

Those early mornings after my middle-schooler got on the bus before my others needed to be awake brought new life to me.  In the 30 minutes of quiet dark in January, cuddled in a blanket with my coffee and the book, I opened my heart back up to Jesus and what it means to take an active part in having joy.  Like Ann suggests in the book, I started a list.  A list of 1,000 things I was thankful for.  One thousand gifts in my life. 

Little moments: 

  • holding warm coffee 
  • hot oatmeal on a cold morning 
  • sand between my toes in the summer 
  • open windows to feel the fresh air   

Some big things:  

  • good first day of chemo for my sister-in-law fighting breast cancer  
  • car accident that a new driver witnessed to bring greater caution 


  • homework completed 
  • tickles 
  • bubbles 
  • bike rides  

I found my outlook changing over the course of the year.  I began looking for moments all day knowing that I would have to write something that evening.  I discovered how easy it was to find the good in bad situations.  I found myself being so annoyed with negative people! 

I realized my heart was rejoicing at small things! 

By noticing goodness every single day, I recognized I was doing a better job of living in the present than I ever have.  Cherishing moments – almost as if I could slow time down. Ann points out, “as long as thanks is possible, then joy is always possible!” 

It was kind of fun that my #1,000th gift was on Thanksgiving Day!  I didn’t plan it, but it was a gift in itself.   

It’s Biblical after all…over and over in the Old Testament, when God did something, the Israelites set up rocks.  Seems silly, another pile of rocks, but their children knew that pile meant something and so as kids asked, “What are those rocks for?” Israelite Mamas and Dads would tell of the awesome things God did…and the faith of the children grew.  They knew that if he did it before he can do it again.  They were counting the moments.  

Months after this gratitude walk, I had a situation where I was steaming-red-angry and I remembered that in Chapter 7, Ann talks about anger: anger and thanksgiving can’t co-exist.    

I pulled out a sheet of paper and started writing:  

  • Searching for the ugly-beautiful 
  • Connections across the anger 
  • Perspective 
  • Prayers of my friends 
  • Self-reflection
  • Scripture for giving life 
  • Journey shared 

It was a step back and I realized that I had wasted an entire week of my life CHOOSING anger rather than CHOOSING gratitude.  The conflict was still there, but honestly, I grew to a point where I knew I had to evaluate how I could forgive rather than nurse my anger at every turn.  I focused on digging the darkness out of my heart rather than dwelling on what I had no control over.  It’s a long, hard process.  No lie.  But the next week, I made a list of things to be thankful for about the people I was still pretty peeved at.

Hardest list ever. I have to choose.  Daily. 

Just as Jesus took the bread and gave thanks, I’m learning to hold my circumstances in my hand and give thanks that he will not waste it.  That he will use it to make me new.  

“By expressing gratitude, I’m drinking in joy.” 

Still counting, 

Heather Smith 


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