“Watching your little sister get crushed and killed under a wheel when you’re only only four-years-old? That’s a moment that’s going to take decades to process.”

My therapist says it steady, his eyes searching mine, reading my face.

And I turn away, as if not looking into his eyes but out the window, I can turn back all this startling wave of drowning ache.

“This world is a broken-heart factory, and it’s full of His glory, and it’s only holding both of those, that you let go and find joy.”

“I’m kinda worried about you, Annie,” a friend comes looking for me after that therapy session. “You… okay?”

“Yes, of course, I am… and no, I’m not… and yes, I am. You know… ” I smile weakly, bravely, through everything brimming.

Every single one of us is walking through some kind of deep heartbreak, and real life strain, and if you look into people’s eyes, and ask the right tender question, there it is: a fracture of pain right up the side of their one life. Bruised relationships, and draining bank accounts, and weary dreams, and sheer mountains ahead of us, and who isn’t a bit tired of the fight called life?

This world is a broken-heart factory, and it’s full of His glory, and it’s only holding both of those, that you let go and find joy.

I return to the story again this week, this story that keeps coming to find each of us aching a bit with our unspoken broken, that story of one man, King Jehoshaphat, who is up against it, and worn down with exhaustion, and facing all kinds of overwhelm, and he just howls it to the heavens for every single one of us:

“We don’t know what to do, but our eyes are on you.” (2 Chronicles 20:10)

And then, in the face of the impossible, he just takes the next step:

“Early in the morning…Jehoshaphat stood and said, “Listen to me… Have faith in the Lord your God and you will be upheld.”… Jehoshaphat appointed men to sing to the Lord and to praise him for the splendor of his holiness as they went out at the head of the army, saying:

“Give thanks to the Lord, for his love endures forever.”

As they began to sing and praise, the Lord set ambushes against the men of Ammon and Moab.. and they were defeated.”

Don’t know what to do?

The next right step is always to walk forward with thanks, eyes on God.

“Doxology is always the first line of defense against the dark.”

Doxology is always the first line of defense against the dark.

We may be up against it and not know what to do but:

Our eyes are on God because He is where we see good.

You can’t afford to take your eyes off God if you’re looking for help.

You’ve got to keep your eyes on where God is, if you want to see where your help is.

If you don’t know what to do, the relief is, you don’t have to. You just have to do only one thing: Keep your eyes on God.

Because:

“When your eyes are on God, your heart bursts into a flame of thanks … and thanks burns back the dark.”

When your eyes are on God, your heart bursts into a flame of thanks … and thanks burns back the dark.

When your eyes are on God, your eyes see gifts.

If eyes are on God — how can a heart not fill with thanks?

Gratitude is an overflow of keeping eyes on Him. When your eyes keep seeing gifts of grace, you’re given the courage to keep going.

Do we know how much our eyes, our attention, is fixed on Him — by how much gratefulness is in our hearts?

When you pay attention to even just one thing to give thanks for, you put one step in front of the other, to walk into more joy.

I can’t stop thinking of meeting 90-year-old Norma for her birthday, Norma who keeps a binder out at her house, a binder titled the “Goodness of God” with years of memories of God‘s faithfulness.

Some of the things we write down as God’s goodness, may seem like hard things, deep trials, like a stroke, but in the midst, we have written down all the amazing things we have seen God do, as we trust in the work of His hand,” Norma’s daughter tells me. “It is a legacy to our family and gives God the glory He deserves.”

And I nod, seeing that the kind of brave, defiant joy that’s written all over 90-year-old Norma’s face, glorifies God in undeniable ways.

“I’ve just got to tell you: Giving thanks keeps giving me a new lease on life,” is what 90-year-old Norma, with this megawatt smile, says as she squeezes my hand for all she’s worth.

“The way to keep your heart soft in a hard world, is to keep giving thanks through the hard things.”

I give way to grinning like a fool, because, even in the midst of all the things, it’s all true:

Giving thanks is always worth it, because the fight for joy is always worth it, and God is always worthy of it.

The only way to not grow old and bitter is to have habits that protect all the hard, from making your heart hard.

And the way to keep your heart soft in a hard world, is to keep giving thanks through the hard things.

When I meet a woman who tells me that she dared herself to write one thousand gifts by Christmas, I can see it written all over her face:

Give thanks and you give yourself the gift of joy.

Give thanks and you give yourself the gift of joy.

Which is also to say: Counting gifts is the way you can count on more happiness.

Research has discovered that those “who felt grateful showed a marked reduction in the level of cortisol, the stress hormone. They had better cardiac functioning and were more resilient to emotional setbacks and negative experiences” (McCraty & Childre, 2004).

The more gifts you count, less cortisol you have.

The more gifts you count, the more resilient you are.

The more you navigate life with gratefulness, the better you can navigate life’s negative experiences.

And: Giving thanks is the way we reverse age.

And, wildly: Giving thanks gives us a new brain.

“When we express gratitude… our brain releases dopamine and serotonin, the two crucial neurotransmitters responsible for our emotions…. By consciously practicing gratitude everyday, we can help these neural pathways to strengthen.” Research concludes: “People who express gratitude have been shown to have a higher volume of grey matter in their right inferior temporal gyrus. Grey matter in the brain serves many functions, but is primarily responsible for processing information.”

Our brain on thanks, is what turns all the lights on in our dark.

“The more of life’s little gifts you count, the more you can handle all of life’s big things.”

The more of life’s little gifts you count, the more you can handle all of life’s big things.

Whatever is coming and keeps coming hard at you, the reality always is:

You can handle stress better, if you always keep gratitude in one hand.

So in the midst of everything, and hard and tender things, I keep taking pen in hand, and counting gifts, giving thanks, keeping eyes on the Giver who is good and showers all us weary and worn with grace.

And as I look for gifts every day to give thanks for, to write in my gratitude journal, I realize it all over again, I feel it all over again:

Gratitude is a daily eye-opener — that opens our hearts up to joy.

Because, if we’re honest:

Most of our days are spent chasing what we don’t yet have.

And you can count on this daily habit of counting gifts to actually change the direction of all of your days.

Giving thanks changes the direction of our days, to appreciate all that we already have.

Gratitude changes the direction of our days from trying to gain more, and getting more things done, to gaining more joy, and enjoying what God has already done.

“When your eyes rest on the goodness of God, your heart burns with thankfulness to God — and that blaze of thanks lights the way through.”

If you want to change your trajectory, choose doxology.

Doxology changes trajectory.

On a mid-November morning, I jot down another string of gifts in my gratitude journal, and life crushes, and broken parts of us can take decades to process, and in the midst of tender, everyday grief of every day being in a broken world, the next right step is always gratitude.

And I’m exhausted but I exhale:

You don’t have to know what to do, you just have let your eyes rest on God.

When your eyes rest on the goodness of God, your heart burns with thankfulness to God — and that blaze of thanks lights the way through.

Eyes on God, brain on thanks.

And you can feel it, how a heart can burn like all the praising trees across the fields, how even a cracked heart can blaze with thanks.

And even a long dark can light with joy.


Have you signed up yet for the
1000 Gifts Thanksgiving Challenge?

It’s not too late to join! It’s never too late to pick up a pen and begin counting gifts, begin noticing all the ways He loves.

When you join, you’ll receive a bundle of FREE resources to help you along the way:

✍️ Journaling pages to record your gifts in one place

✍️ Weekly devotions to your inbox to help encourage and cheer you on during the challenge

✍️ Bonus: A special calendar to help you commit to praying for a specific person that you’re grateful for each day of the challenge. Just write a different name down for each day and cover them in prayers of gratitude and blessing!

If you want to join this joy-giving challenge, you can sign up at: https://www.thomasnelson.com/p/otgchallenge/

What does the Christ-life really look like when your days are gritty, long — and sometimes even dark? How is God even here?

My story of just that: One Thousand Gifts and the 60 DAY DEVOTIONAL with 1000 numbered lines to count your #1000gifts: One Thousand Gifts Devotional: Reflecting on Finding Everyday Graces.

Are you ready to begin—or begin again—a life-changing habit of daily gratitude? Want to reset, refresh, reboot your life and literally rewire your brain? Be one of the more than one MILLION people who have stepped into the life-change of this experience.