I was stuck.

In the most giving season of my life—raising teenage children, caring for my mother with Alzheimer’s in my home—I was stuck.

Wedged in a pit of self.

Patience wore like a thin wall.

Anger ignited like a wildfire.

Sleep eluded like a shadow.

My teenage children labeled it “The Dark Ages.”

The problem is that my darkness grasped the hem of those closest to me, unknowingly pulling them into its fold, tainting my interactions with my husband, children, and sadly, my dear elderly mother.

The lifeline out of this pit was my women’s study group, who began to study 1000 Gifts by Ann Voskamp.

I had heard about the phenomena, the listing of 1000 gifts, from others, but was unsure what it was all about.

The moment our group opened the study together, my twisted soul unraveled. This was the practice my heart was searching for in the darkness: the practice of daily looking for the small things in the “ugly beautiful” to give thanks …

the sweet smile of my mother as I woke her in the mornings

the soft touch of her hand as she grasped me to rise

the slow pace of our walk around the block, arm in arm,

that allowed us to see sunlight through the oak leaves,

or acorns scattered on the sidewalk,

or hear the cardinal’s song from the crepe myrtle on the porch.

Slowly, as I began listing into a small journal No. 1, No. 2, No. 3 … the gifts each day unfolding with my mother, or with my children, who played a sonata on the piano for her, or a game of Chinese checkers to keep her entertained … accounting for each gift lifted the heaviness of burdens hard to carry …

getting my mother bathed and dressed each day

getting her in and out of the car for doctor appointments or adult day care

repeating the same conversations over and over

especially the statement: “I want to go home.”

That comment always threw me off guard.

We had transformed our home for her, built a room for her and adapted our lifestyle as a family of six to accommodate her growing needs.

I didn’t understand at first that the comment “I want to go home” for an Alzheimer’s patient is a quest for security and safety in a realm that is collapsing.

Frustrated at all we had done for her, I would angrily ask, “Mom you live with me now. Do you want to go back to your house in Tacoma?”

Her grey head would shake side to side. She would lift her eyes up to heaven, point one slender bony finger upward.

“No, home. To heaven,” she would say.

As her consciousness of reality diminished, her desire for heaven grew stronger. It was as if as the magnet of life here on earth lost its pull, her gravitation toward the eternal magnified.

She, along with my listing of the gifts daily,

pulled me out of the pit

gave me a new song to sing as the psalmist declares in Psalm 40.

A firm place to stand.

My mother cannot stand anymore. She is completely bedridden. But I stand now on a different footing.

The practice of listing gifts pulled me out of the self-pity that arose as a long-term caregiver, giving me new eyes to see and new strength to stand … 

a greater intimacy with the God who sustains me in quiet moments of seeing,

in quiet moments of hearing his voice in soft whispers.

That is all that is left of my mother’s voice now–her whisper.

Her words are few but her heart is as big as ever.

She still sees me, knows my name.

I am thankful to be seen.

I am thankful to be known.

I am thankful through this journey, I see.

I am thankful through this journey, I know.

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