counting

Songbirds are not as common in Colorado as they are in northern Minnesota. I miss them. Each time I hear one, I listen. I want to write it down, remember it. The songbird trills warm me gently like audible sunshine.

Last year I created the habit of cultivating gratitude. Each morning as often as I could I wrote down something I was thankful for. Anything, even simple things. A healthy meal. A quietly playing boy. Baby smiles, husband flirting, slow dancing, clean laundry, sunny days, snow on the mountains.

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I’ve gotten a bit out of the habit lately. This year I wanted to practice trying new things in courage, but I haven’t stuck to the gratitude as much, at least not to writing it down. But each time I hear birdsong, I still stop to listen.

My friend Mariah once gave me a tiny book Santa Claus on the cover. There was twine strung through a hole in one corner – it was meant to be a Christmas ornament. Instead I started writing down what I was grateful for; 1, 2, 3, … I skipped every other number to leave space for her. Then late in the winter I gave the book back.

“Here – it’s a gratitude journal for you!” She smiled and started writing; 2, 4, 6, … A few months later she gave it back.

“I originally gave it to you – I want you to have it!” she said gleefully. I read through her moments of gratitude and remembered my own. I kept writing. Later I gave her a small journal I had picked up in India. “I got us another,” I said eagerly, “Let’s keep writing!”

Journals have been going back and forth for almost four years now. We hunt down the sweetest, prettiest small notebooks and journals we can find for each other. One came to me at my bridal shower, a yellow leather book with loose-leaf pages on tiny five-ring binder. Another came with a baby package she sent us; this one a tiny journal with an adventuring compass on the front.

I get to see her in four days. I have a tiny notebook that didn’t quite have space for 600 numbers, half-full and waiting to memorialize her happiest moments. Time and again when I’ve forgotten this habit of counting, counting, that I learned first from Ann Voskamp, I suddenly remember Mariah and our shared tradition. It brings me back to rootedness. I plant myself in gratitude, listening eagerly to the few songbirds we do have, counting their trilled whistles slowly and happily.

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