Gratitude

Worse Things

Psalm 34:18

“The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”

Today I decided it was time to wash the delicate clothes that had been piling up in my closet for months. In particular, I decided it was time to wash Laredo’s tights and leotard, in which she dresses up like a ballerina almost daily. But as I went to transfer the laundry from the washer to the dryer, I noticed that something blue in the load had bled on the pale pink leotard. I said to myself, “Thank God I didn’t put her fancy white Easter dress in this load.”

But then I stopped myself. I realized the fault in my perspective. You see, as Hurricane Harvey and its aftermath continues to cause destruction not two hours from here, I understand that there are worse things that I could have to worry about. There are far worse things that many people are facing at this very moment—even some people I know. And I don’t want to be the kind of person who dwells on silly and inconsequential things, when there are people out there in need of compassion, and prayer, and tangible help.

Please don’t misunderstand me. There are most certainly times in life when those worse things will happen TO YOU. I wouldn’t tell those who have lost everything and even loved ones to tell themselves that there are worse things. At some point, you need to recognize that you’ve just lived through the worst day of your life. When you’ve been evacuated from your home by boat in the middle of the night, and been shuttled around from one shelter to another in search of one that will allow your pets to stay with you… Or when you’ve faced some other tragedy, emergency, betrayal…some of you may know this feeling firsthand. You know what it’s like to feel helpless, hopeless, and lost. Be honest about it—let your family, friends, and community come alongside to help you.

But for those of us who aren’t suffering greatly right now, I would encourage us all to take a posture of gratitude, humility, and compassion. Let’s recognize that those little things that frustrate or disappoint us are exactly that—little things. Let’s remember that there are (unfortunately) worse things than what we are facing. And let’s pray that God will give us HIS heart for the brokenhearted. As is so often said, let’s ask Him to break our hearts for what breaks HIS. And I can just about guarantee that what breaks His heart is not a stained leotard, or even a ruined Easter dress.

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31

Psalm 95:2 (GNT)
“Let us come before him with thanksgiving
and sing joyful songs of praise.”

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You might guess this is a birthday post, but I am NOT 31. That ship set sail a while ago. It’s also not my waist size—that’s another ship that has long since sailed. What it is is the number of pairs of pants that Laredo has in her closet. It’s absurd, really. The only reason I know the number is because one day Laredo said to me (that is, screamed in the middle of a meltdown), “I don’t have ANY pants to wear!” So I counted them. And it dawned on me that she has a problem with discontentment, and a distorted discontentment, at that. It sets in early, doesn’t it?

And it seems to follow us throughout our lives if we’re not careful. Someone will always have more clothes than us, or better clothes, or a bigger house, or a fancier car… And. On. And. On. But what fund is that? What good does it do to constantly compare our lives with someone else’s? None, right?

So what’s the solution? Well, I know it sounds simple and cliché, but I believe the answer is GRATITUDE. When we focus on the good things in our lives, on our blessings, large and small, it really helps to brighten our perspectives. I know because I’ve tried it—and it works! The more you practice gratitude, the more natural it becomes, and the more it becomes your first response. I’m grateful that I get to begin this year from a place of gratitude and contentment, looking forward to whatever God has in store!

 

Yokes and Vineyards

Matthew 20:10-12

“Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’”

Matthew 11:28-30

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

I think we’ve been missing something—we as followers of Christ, I mean. This is evident in our responses when we read the parable of the workers in the vineyard. If you’re anything like me, you get a little indignant when you read that those lazy bums who worked less than an hour received the same wage as those who’d put in a full day’s work. It sets off our injustice alarms immediately.

And even when we take this parable out of the context of manual labor and put it into the context of the kingdom of God (which is the context within which Jesus presented it), we get annoyed and a little bit envious. After all, why should these “deathbed conversions” count for as much as our entire lives of service and sacrifice for the kingdom?

Well, the other day, I realized how backward this is, especially if we consider it in light of Jesus’s words in Matthew 11:28-30. When he says that his yoke is easy and his burden is light and that he will give us rest for our souls, those sound like good things. So what if following Jesus and learning to be more and more like him is a privilege, rather than a burden? If we think of it that way, we all of a sudden have a sense of compassion for those who arrive late to the party, who do not have the same opportunities that we’ve had—to work alongside Jesus, to see him work amazing miracles, to communicate with him through prayer, to develop friendships that we never would have otherwise, to receive the blessing of giving, and on and on.

So why do we always turn our discipleship into a burden? Why is our response one of “Woe is me,” rather than one of gratitude and humility? Why do we minimize the honor that it is to follow and serve Jesus? I for one want to embrace every opportunity that I have to be Christ’s hands and feet in this world. And I hope you do, too. God, help us see the privilege that it is to follow you and to do your kingdom work. And help us welcome as many to that work as we can, no matter when they show up.

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#Blessed

Job 1:21

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart.
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.”

It occurred to me this past week that my next blog entry would be my 100th since launching my blog in May of 2014. And it seemed fitting that I post it on my birthday, so I figured, 37 is as good a time as any for a mid-life reflection. Although I must say, even at the ‘half-way’ point, I feel like I’ve lived quite a full life—full of experiences, emotions, friendships, and memories. Some bad, some good, some both.

As I think back on the past year, it’s been pretty good. I’ve been blessed, but not just in the material and superficial ways that we often use that word to convey. I’ve learned that it isn’t material abundance or a lack of adversity that measures blessing, but rather a nearness to God that can come from joy and pain, and the intermingling of the two. The contentment I feel now stands in stark contrast to my birthday reflections of a few years back, when I’d had a somewhat bittersweet year. My dog (read best friend) of almost seven years had passed away, I’d had a pretty rough pregnancy and delivery with Laredo, and I was regularly plagued by an ongoing chemical imbalance that left me in frequent despair. Worse still, I had no one nearby to enter into that suffering with me—no one to understand or empathize with me, or to offer comfort.

Time and distance, though, have helped me see that—even then—I could have received the blessing of God’s presence. I could have drawn nearer to Him and used my suffering for good. I could have borne witness to a faith that I still clung to, however precariously. I sang the Matt Redman lyrics in church on Sunday:

Blessed Be Your name
When I’m found in the desert place
Though I walk through the wilderness

On the road marked with suffering
Though there’s pain in the offering
Blessed be Your name

And I prayed that they would ring true in my heart, but the struggle continued. I’ve since learned the extraordinary power of gratitude (in the big and little things), and I’ve learned to trust and rest in God’s goodness (no matter the circumstances). And I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the contribution of some great prescription drugs—in some ways, I can truly say that I love science.

I don’t know if this coming year is going to bring more of the relatively smooth sailing that has graced the past twelve months, or if it will resemble the more tumultuous year I had a few back. For all I know, it may hold something entirely new—and scarier than ever. But my prayer is that whatever this year brings, I will embrace it, and continue to affirm that I am still blessed.

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The Archer’s Aim

Psalm 127:3-5

 “Behold, children are a gift of the LORD, the fruit of the womb is a reward.
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one’s youth.
How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them…”

Children are indeed a gift, a blessing, a heritage from the Lord—like arrows in a quiver. But this analogy raises an important point: an arrow’s aim is only as true as the archer’s. Sometimes I’m not sure that I’m getting it right. I don’t always know what footwear is going to be appropriate. I occasionally forget to brush the kids’ teeth in the morning. I don’t always know which battles are worth fighting, and which I should let go. There are a lot of responsibilities and decisions to juggle as a parent—just to keep the kids fed, clothed, rested and safe.

More importantly, we as parents are responsible for aiming our children in the direction of truth, righteousness, and love. Their spiritual development rests largely in our hands. It isn’t something that we can pawn off on others—grandparents, Sunday school teachers, youth leaders, motivational speakers. And in order to point our children in toward the paths they ought to take, we must ourselves be moving in that same direction.

To be sure, none of us have—or will ever have—arrived at the destination of perfect holiness, godliness, or righteousness. The process of sanctification will end only on that day when we see the Father and are made whole in Him and in His presence. And until then, we will stumble and fall and fail. But our aim MUST be true. Our words and actions must reflect hearts tuned into God’s. Our kids need to see Jesus in us.

I pray that God would mold all of us into the kinds of parents, or archers, who will be able to aim our children toward a saving relationship with Jesus and a deep love for God and other people. In the meantime, I take comfort in this: There is a sinless archer, One who never misses His mark, and One who chose my kids (now and future) for me and me for them because He knows that we each need exactly what one another has to offer. And during this season of Thanksgiving, I am thankful for this truth.

Like Jesus Does

“All the crazy in my dreams,
Both my broken wings,
Every single piece of everything I am,
Yeah, she knows the man I ain’t,
She forgives me when I can’t,
The Devil, man, no, he don’t stand a chance,
‘Cause she loves me like Jesus does.”
(Eric Church)

There’s a country song that came out awhile back and has been popular ever since, called, “Like Jesus Does.”  I remember a time last summer when I was playing this song, and I took the kids out onto the deck at their grandma and grandpa’s house. They took turns dancing with me and would throw their heads back and laugh, full of joy. At that moment, feeling showered with undeserved blessings, the words of the song and the deeper meaning of the lyrics hit me in a way they hadn’t before.

This is how Jesus loves me. He knows my every dream and my every failure. He knows every sorrow and every sin. And even though the Devil would love to use every bit of my past (and my continued struggles) against me, he doesn’t stand a chance, because Jesus loves me like He does.

No doubt, you’ve heard the saying that “there’s nothing you can do to make God love you any more than He does. And there’s nothing you can do to make Him love you any less.” And truer words have hardly been spoken. God is love. He is grace. He is mercy. He is forgiveness.

What could we possibly do to deserve this? Nothing. All we can do is love Him in return, and love others “like Jesus does.”

And what better time to reflect on these simple truths and powerful convictions than in the weeks leading up to Easter, when God—through His son Jesus—declared this unfailing love for us, once and for all.

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Journey

I originally wrote this week’s entry back in February…yes, it’s another that I wrote before launching this blog. But I felt like it was appropriate for this time of year, with Christmas and New Year’s resolutions.

Jeremiah 29:11

“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord,
‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”

For probably 15 years, I’ve been holding onto an empty picture frame. It quotes Jeremiah 29:11. I guess I’ve been waiting to fill it because I was waiting for that promised “future” to arrive. Never mind that, over that time period, I’ve earned two advanced degrees, met and married the man of my dreams, and welcomed two beautiful children into the world. I’m not sure what future I’ve been waiting for. I suppose the future just doesn’t feel complete yet. But it occurred to me recently that the “plans” God has for me unfold along the way to the future He’s promised. They’re snapshots, moments in time—and they are all designed to prosper and not to harm, and to someday transpire into the ultimate future and hope. And the part of the plan I am experiencing now is not the part of the plan that I will be experiencing five years, or even five months, from now. But that’s the beauty of picture frames—you can change out the photos!

So today, I climbed up into our dusty attic, dug around through my box of picture frames, and pulled that frame out. It now holds a photo of our family enjoying our Christmas vacation in snowy Michigan.

 

Winter Family Photo-Journey

 

As God’s plans for us change, so will the photo. Perhaps the background and scenery will change; or perhaps our family will grow. We pray, just as Jabez (1 Chronicles 4:10) did, that God would expand our territory, in whatever way He chooses. But we also pray that God would make us content in our current circumstances, knowing that His plans are being fulfilled in His time. And, of all the ironies, I realized that—in the largest print on the frame—it actually reads, “JOURNEY.” How did it take me 15 years to figure out what was there in front of me from the beginning?

For Granted

Luke 12:19-21 

“And I will say to my soul,
‘Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come;
take your ease, eat, drink and be merry.’”
But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your soul is required of you;
and now who will own what you have prepared?”
So is the man who stores up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.

 

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On Tuesday afternoon, it was 65 degrees and sunny here in central Texas—a perfect day for a walk. We took one of our regular routes and passed a car that is often parked outside of a house that we walk by. It reminded me of a similar walk past that same car that we took shortly after returning home from our summer visit to Minnesota.

“I want the top down on that convertible,” Tijge had declared. His comment made me think of how I can probably count on one finger the number of times I’ve seen a convertible with the top down in Texas. Not so in Minnesota. Even over a short visit, I would need many more hands than I have to count the number of convertibles with their tops down. Shoot, if it hits 50 degrees and it isn’t raining, you can pretty safely wager that my dad will have the top down.

So why is this? I mean, in Texas, we have arguably much better weather for a good bit of the year than they do up north. Sure, the summer sun gets a little too hot and a little too strong. But what about the fall, winter, and spring? In essence, it seems like people here take for granted the nearly ever-present option to put the top down. So they don’t need to do it today. They can put it off indefinitely, really. In Minnesota, they know that, in just a few short weeks, the top will go up and stay up for the next nine months. So they don’t take it for granted.

This same phenomenon helps to explain why people who live further from their families often spend more time with them than those who live nearby. It explains why, when we think to send a note of encouragement, we put it off until later. It explains why, when it occurs to us to do something nice for someone in need, we pawn it off on someone else. We figure, Hey, I can always do it some other time. But according to Luke 12, this isn’t the case. I’ll bet that Luke understood the parable of the rich fool better than most. As a physician, he must have often seen injuries and illnesses take lives quite unexpectedly. So we are never guaranteed tomorrow. Period.

In the traditional sense, to take something for granted means to use, accept, or treat it in a careless or indifferent manner. But what if we think about that phrase from another perspective? “Granted” can also mean bestowed, conferred, given, or granted as a privilege or a right. What if we started seeing those things that God has granted us for today as a priceless and treasured gift, or as a sacred trust to manage and care for? When I look at the phrase this way, there are a few things I want to start taking for granted. How about you?

Kids and Thanks

1 Thessalonians 5:18
“In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

Kids are funny. If you’ve been following my posts for very long, you already know that. But at the same time as they make you laugh, kids also make you think. It’s crazy to reflect on the profound nature of some of the things that kids say and do, even unwittingly.

The way they pray is a great example. We have some friends whose kids pray with an overarching theme of thanksgiving. “Thank you for Mommy and Daddy,” sure—but it doesn’t stop there. They continue with things like, “Thank you for allergies,” and so on. They don’t understand the difference between a praise and a petition. And it kind of makes sense, when you think about the way we teach them to pray.

Up until recently, Tijge had only learned enough about prayer to burst out, “God is great!” and to close with a “Yea!” and a round of applause. Lately, though, he’s started to pray, “God is great, God is good, thank you for our food, Amen.” Then just yesterday, I overheard him while playing in the tub, “God is great, God is good, thank you for bath time, Amen.”

I remember reciting that same prayer at mealtimes whenever we used to visit my grandmother as a kid. But somewhere along the line, I stopped doing it. I guess it was because I outgrew the need for such a “simple” prayer. But looking back at it now, and hearing Tijge say those words, I’ve realized that this seemingly simple prayer is actually quite profound. What I mean is, if we opened every prayer with the acknowledgement that God is great and God is good, could we then follow those words with a statement of gratitude, knowing that a good and great and loving God will ultimately do and allow only what is best for us?

Doesn’t the Bible say to give thanks in ALL circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18)? And to trust that God is in control of those circumstances? Might it change our outlook and our perspective if we, too, expressed gratitude in the midst of trials and challenges, as well as joys? Might that cause us to look beyond ourselves and our present circumstances, to see what God is doing on a larger scale? I think so.

So, we might think that our kids are really confused, when in fact they are wise beyond their years. Maybe, just maybe, they have it all figured out. Maybe we ought to let them teach us a thing or two about prayer.

God is great, God is good, let us thank Him. Period.

Staying When You Want to Stay

Psalm 85:12
“The LORD will indeed give what is good, and our land will yield its harvest.”


Romans 8:17
“Now if we are children, then we are heirs–heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.”

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Over the last couple of weeks, our pastor at church has preached sermons on the following two titles: 1) Going when you want to stay; and 2) Staying when you want to go. After this week’s message, I began to think to myself, What about staying when you want to stay? Doesn’t that feel wrong, somehow—as though it’s too easy? Maybe even a little bit selfish?

During the service, the worship team played a song by All Sons & Daughters called “All the Poor and Powerless.” I had never heard the song before, but a couple of lines struck me: “All the hearts who are content, and all who feel unworthy….” I think the song was originally intended to refer to two groups of people here. But it spoke to me as a both/and, rather than an either/or, kind of thing. In so many ways, I do feel content where I am—in the physical space and the spiritual community where I find myself. And that makes me feel unworthy. I certainly don’t deserve such blessings.

But then what is grace, after all, but unmerited favor and undeserved blessing? And even as we ask ourselves why God would give us so much, He is looking at us and seeing his son’s righteousness and his faithfulness. And He consequently showers us with his reward. May we then join in praising him for those many blessings, saying “Blessed be your name, in the land that is plentiful, where streams of abundance flow, blessed be your name!”

#RootedInWaco