A Cosmic Wager: A Dare Thrown Across the Galaxies

 And that’s the cosmic wager. A dare thrown across the galaxies, between two ethereal spirit beings. Like dice in a cup, the stakes are set, and humanity tumbles into the bowl. With swift inhales, the invisible spirit world leans in for a better angle.

Before this, the parameters were set. Striding into God’s throne room, the devil laughed off God’s invitation to see his human friend, Job.

“He just loves you, God, because his life is good. Take it all away, though, and he’d curse you to your face” was the wager.

And poor Job. He gets to be a token human to answer this cosmic wager. Will Job only thank God for the good things, the easy things? Or will he still trust God’s heart when all of life falls apart?

I was wrong before, by accident. Well, incomplete, maybe…

In an earlier post about “How Do I Thank God For That?” we wrestled with the hard things, you and I. We accurately explained I Thessalonians 5:18 which says “IN everything give thanks” but I forgot about a verse in Ephesians…
His teeth glint red from the light of the tiny black palm recorder shoved against his mouth. Thumbing the record button, my son growls and chirps phrase after phrase into the plastic device, then grins at the playback feature. Garbled and staticky, his words ring out each time. There’s a sense of satisfaction in that for him, this five year old, to have his story spoken aloud. He giggles and whispers more.
I finished a new book today, a slim blue memoir fresh off the shelves from a Minnesota author. I was curious to read her work. Addie Zierman writes vulnerably of a teen journey of faith, of aching loneliness and depression, and of disappointments in the church community. I respected her candor and wished that we had had the chance to meet then, in those twists and turns she wrote of. The youth pastor’s wife heart in me tore for the adolescent version of her and wanted to take her out for coffee. I took note too of how to compassionately reach out to teens and young people in similar circumstances. Zierman writes at the end of her book, “So I began to write about all of it…and, in the writing, I found structure… I saw connections I hadn’t seen before…”
Two years ago I started scrawling out thankfulness lists in a gratitude journal, counting gifts from God– both the easy good gifts, and the hard gifts, in which I remember that God is big enough to use even this, and that his heart can be trusted. My list soon spiraled inconsistently into any writing surface: my journals, here on this blog, and in the Gratitude Notebook itself.

Last week, I pulled out Ann Voskamp’s book One Thousand Gifts again, reading it anew, wanting to learn and relearn the habits of finding joy in the everyday life, of seeing even more intimately God’s heart and love for the people he made. Ann dares us “to live fully right where you are” and to know that joy is always possible.

I’ve lost that daily practice of naming gifts and lost my original Gratitude Notebook, so today I grabbed pen and paper, and started a new list. In her arguments for retraining the mind in this way to stop, see, and name the gift, Voskamp compiles quotes from:

– the apostle Paul where he twice says, “I have learned how to be content…  I have learned the secret of living in every situation…” (Philippians 4:11-12).

-Erasmus who said, “A habit is overcome by habit” and

-Writer Annie Dillard who wrote, “Seeing is, of course, very much a matter of verbalization. Unless I call my attention to what passes before my eyes, I simply won’t see it. It is … ‘not merely unnoticed, but…unseen’… I have to say the words, describe what I’m seeing…If I want to notice the lesser cataclysms of valley life, I have to maintain in my head a running description of the present” (Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts, 127, quoting Dillard).
Words are powerful. They shape our perceptions, our memories, our identities. I choose how to see and frame my day, my family, my life, by how I stop, notice, and summarize my feelings, and by my response to the things around me.

Like five year old Daniel who is emboldened and authenticated by hearing his words repeated back to himself; like Zierman who found greater structure and connections in her life from the perspective of seeing it written out; and from my renewed challenge to see all of life as a gift from God, I’m writing it line by line.

Because what I missed last time? What I forgot, was this cosmic wager and this command in Ephesians: “Always give thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:20). FOR everything, not just IN everything. This is new territory to me, a truth I forget all the time, and work to re-learn.

Today is my chance to get ready for this cosmic wager, to train my mind to see, to note, to respond in trust. So I scrawl out thanks across the pages, thanking God for:
-sun splashing across my children’s faces as they study
-hot coffee in my favorite mug
-a stable job
-9th grade science experiments at the stove with Morgan
-orchid buds swelling pregnant with life
-cars that run
– a warm house in Minnesota November

May writing out these words, these gifts, give me new perspective and train my heart to see His.

(Linking with Imperfect Prose.)

Revised: I’ve wrestled with this blog post throughout the night and throughout today again. My blithe easy gifts above seem incomplete and naive without addressing the hard gifts too. Hard things in our lives, and in our family’s and friend’s lives, like cancer, young deaths, hard marriage seasons, addictions, relationship issues, and more. And through them, I have become convinced of my God’s loving hand, even while not understanding everything he allows to happen. And for that, I am stepping tremulously into thanking Him in everything, and learning to trust Him in trying to thank Him for everything. But, please extend grace, friends, as I still learn this? Maybe we can together walk this journey.

Photo credit: Creative Commons; Christmasstockimages.com 

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  1. Floyd on November 15, 2013 at 2:02 pm

    May all of our hearts be trained to see His as we walk through this world… including the valleys. I"m with you, writing it out changes the detail in which we see it and live it. It is His gift for those who seek it.

  2. Jennifer Dougan on November 16, 2013 at 1:43 am

    Hi Floyd,

    It's so true, isn't it? Writing things out clarifies and cements.

    Thanks for stopping in,

  3. Anonymous on November 19, 2013 at 4:00 pm

    Well, I'm glad you revised… I have grown lazy with my own gift journal. I forget to write in it. or I'll binge list. (which I don't like doing). It's become a guilt driven thing, which I'm not pleased with… And I find myself trying to appease that by looking for the beautiful bits and moments to search for my Eucharisto in and thank God for… but I'd forgotten, along the way, about the hard gifts.

  4. Jennifer Dougan on November 19, 2013 at 8:34 pm


    Revisions are necessary when a blogpost hunts you down all day, huh? Thanks for wrestling with me, and for counting gifts alongside.

    I am bringing that notebook out everyday now again, trying to retrain my mind…


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