Tag: Gratitude

When It’s Hard to Give Thanks at Thanksgiving

 

The first rays of morning sunlight stretch through the frosted windowpane, and I open my laptop to more bad news. There are faces of grieving families and quotes about the way strangers rose up to lend helping hands, but I find my heart hardening.  I don’t want to read the stories about the kindness of strangers or the way they prayed for the dying man as his wife held him in her arms.  I’m angered by the brokenness of the world today, and I just want it all to stop.

This is my knee-jerk reaction to the latest news of tragedy in our nation. I know my heart should be soft and broken and thankful for the kindness of strangers, but I’m so overwhelmed by the frustrating fact that bad news has become our reality.

Ten years ago, I remember quoting Scripture and telling a friend that all the wars, bombings, and natural disasters are simply the signs that the end is near. I remember telling her that I was doing alright with it all, because it meant the Lord was coming soon.  And now, a decade and dozens of tragedies later, I so deeply want it all to end.

Today’s post is for anyone who is struggling to give thanks this Thanksgiving. It’s for those who are grieved from afar by the tragedies in our nation, and it’s for the families who are directly walking through their own personal tragedies.  I don’t pretend to know how it feels to be in any shoes but my own; and so, I offer these words for myself, if for no one else.

Become Someone Else’s Reason to Give Thanks

There’s a promise that he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed. When it’s hard to find a reason to be thankful, break the chains of discouragement by becoming someone else’s reason to give thanks.  In her book, A Case for Kindness, Lisa Barrickman offers hundreds of suggestions.  Here are a few of my favorites: Visit Colorasmile.org and invite the kids to color a picture for a soldier overseas; put an encouraging note in a sports bag; let someone else pick the movie; show up with coffee; carry an extra umbrella for a stranger on a rainy day; compliment a stranger.

Find One Thing That’s Good

The kids and I found ourselves caught in a torrential downpour a half-mile from the house this summer. Sitting in the double stroller with the puppy, a downpour began, and it literally could not have rained harder.  I took to running as fast as possible while water pounded us in white sheets that tore in from the north.  Caleb screamed in terror, and Bekah yelled something I couldn’t quite understand in the pounding rain.  When we finally found shelter in the garage, I realized Bekah was cheering in sheer joy.  “That was awesome!” she yelled.  “I’ll never forget it in my whole life!”

Some situations are far more dire than getting caught in a summer rain shower, but Bekah’s attitude was an important reminder to me that day: In every hard situation, there’s something that’s good. It’s exactly what the bystanders interviewed on the news are doing when they comment on the kindness of strangers amidst crisis moments.

Find a Place to Plug in

A sense of isolation makes a dark season seem even darker. It’s often most difficult to reach out to others when we’re going through hard times, but this is exactly when we most need the support of caring community.  When it’s hard to give thanks for anything at all, it’s probably time to pick up the phone and text a friend, get in the car and drive to visit a relative, or jump online and look for a group that might offer support within the community.

Bring Your Burdens to the One Who Can Handle Them

Because I know that God is already aware of my burdens, I sometimes neglect praying about my needs, my pain, and my desires. God calls us to ask, seek, and knock.  He wants us to bring our burdens to him and unload.  He can handle the heaviest burden.

Not long ago, we were in a sort of a financial season of fasting in an attempt to stay within our budget. If it wasn’t an absolute necessity, we weren’t buying it.  Sadly, this financial fast fell at around the time when everyone else in the neighborhood was decorating their doorsteps with colorful mums and plump pumpkins.  Deeming these decorations luxuries, I committed to abstain from spending even a few dollars.

It was after Bekah begged me to find some pumpkins for the front stoop that I decided I should simply bring this desire before the Lord in prayer. Praying for pumpkins felt too small when families across the world have gone days without food, but I prayed for free pumpkins anyway.

Not an hour later, my mom called to tell me that they had grown pumpkins in the garden and had pumpkins waiting for us at the house. An hour later.  I’d been wishing for a pumpkin for weeks.  There just aren’t coincidences.

~~~

If you’re reading today with a heavy heart, my prayer is that you’ll lift your face to the One who made you and find hope for the journey. He promises to go with us, even in the darkest valleys – even when we have no sense of his presence.  When I can find little else for which to give thanks, I give thanks for this: for He Himself has said, “I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Please follow and like us:

How to Boldly Step into the Next Season

 

It’s an overcast evening with light air hanging over the black-eyed susans that blanket the fields behind the house. The Conservancy planted them when they bought the land, and despite the fact that they tore down the old white barn, we’re blessed by the wildflowers.

Among our favorite parts of summer is dinner on the deck. I like it because the spilled honey and tiny pieces of shredded cheddar don’t end up plastered to the dining room floor for weeks on end.  The kids like it because the last bite of the meal is permissibly tossed off the deck to our three hungry chickens.  We all like it because the open sky and chattering red-winged blackbirds fill us with a deep sense that we are free.

I’ve spent most of the day cleaning the house, dealing with a frustrating computer issue, and searching the basement boxes for size 3T sweatpants, and I’m a bit frazzled by the time the food is on the table. After Caleb’s garbled prayer to give thanks for chicken nuggets, buns, and spoons (he thanks God for spoons twice), we eat with few words.  The company of family and the space to enjoy silence is a gift.

I feel myself unwinding from the frustrating parts of the day when it happens. Our sweet little girl winds up with a banana peel in her right fist.  I know she’s aiming for the weeds behind me, and I know exactly what’s about to happen before I have time to swallow my bread and speak a word.

She throws the peel as hard as her six-year-old arm can throw, and the peel smacks me in the center of my face.

Silent stares watch my face for a reaction, and in a split-second, I make a choice that will set the tone for the rest of the evening. I choose to unleash hysterical laughter.   We all laugh until our eyes water, and I consider throwing something in return, but I know where it could lead and resist.  The moment is priceless, and I’m thankful I chose laughter.

When the dishes are washed and the kids are busy making bubbles in the yard, I reflect on the banana peel. Something about the moment felt like I’d just encountered the heart of the Father, and I can’t put my finger on it.

For years, I’ve claimed Philippians 3:8 as my life verse: More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ.

Thinking of the verse, I unlock the truth wrapped in the shriveled banana peel: I come to know Christ more deeply when I let go of my agenda, my rights, and my expectations of how circumstances should unfold. I come to know him more when I can laugh at the ridiculous and let go of what doesn’t really matter.

I recently read Emily P. Freeman’s post on 10 things she learned this summer.  Her words, combined with the banana peel incident, have prompted me to consider what we’ve learned around these parts this summer.  Her words remind me that sometimes the best way to close the chapter on one season and step into another is to reflect on the lessons learned.  This is my list:

1. Whenever possible, choose laughter over angry words.

“She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come” (Proverbs 31:25).  And this is the kind of woman I want to be – not the kind who takes herself too seriously.

2. When the pace of my life feels out of control, I have the choice to deliberately step out of the raging current and recalibrate.

We spent quite a few weekends in the hills of northern Pennsylvania this summer. For most of my life, our family’s hunting camp has been a place of solace for us.  Darrell and I have often discussed our longings to move permanently to a cabin in the woods somewhere.  It was while reading Shauna Niequist’s book Present over Perfect that I was struck with the truth behind our longings.  Shauna writes about similar feelings as her family regularly seeks reprieve at a cottage on a lake:

It’s at the lake that I realize how far I’ve come, or how far I have yet to travel. Both, maybe.  It’s at the lake that my priorities reshuffle, aligning more closely with my true nature.

I’ve wondered from time to time if we should move here, permanently, to this small Michigan town. But it seems to me that we’d bring our bustling and hustling here, and pretty soon we’d need a new place to escape in order to recalibrate.  Part of the magic of the lake is that it isn’t home – it’s away, and away allows us to see the rhythms and dimensions of our lives more clearly.

Shauna’s words remind me that I have the choice daily to decide if my life will be frantic and frenzied or serene and steady.  My pace is about a mindset, not a place.

3. My life is richer when I’m increasingly aware of the small miracles in my midst.

I was struck by this quote in a blog post called “Chasing Smallness” by Shauna Shanks this summer:

These past few years God has been re-ordering my life. Rather than bigger is better attitude, He has asked me to stop all the chaos, hand him over my crumpled-up mess I’d made, and start again. Smaller this time.

These words remind me that bigger, faster, and more glamorous are not always best.

4. Hard doesn’t mean wrong.

I’m inspired by the words of Tsh Oxenreider. Tsh and her husband embarked on a 9-month journey around the world with their three young children.  Before leaving on the trip, she wrote a note to her future self – the self that would be doubting the decision at the beginning of the trip.  The note read:

You’re in China, which is hard. But you can do hard things.  You won’t be here long.  This month is the foundation for the year.  Lean in to the struggles: give thanks for the easy times.  Hard doesn’t mean wrong.  You’re on the right path.

Her words remind me that difficult doesn’t always mean wrong.

5. Confidence and vulnerability can coexist.

My time at the She Speaks conference in July prompted me to question many things about calling, life, and authenticity. Greatest among the lessons from this weekend was the realization that it’s possible to walk into a crowded room of gifted women and be honest about the difficulty of the journey.  This kind of vulnerability might be the bravest and most confident way to live.  My confidence doesn’t come from my own gifting.  It comes from the One who created me.

6. There’s only room for a miracle when I am unable to produce the outcome on my own.

I’m currently reading Unashamed by Christine Caine.  Christine reminds us that we are unable to measure up in our carnal, human selves.  It is the power of Christ in us that is sufficient in our weakness.

7. I’m not defined by the outcomes I am able to produce in my life.

I could list twenty more lessons from the summer. For the sake of illustrating this final point, I’m stopping short.  I’m stopping short as a reminder that none of us are defined by the outcomes we produce in our lives.  Coming up short doesn’t classify a person as lacking, and every failure is an opportunity to grow.

As summer fades to autumn in the subtle shift from light to darkness, warmth to chill, and green to crimson, we will keep growing deeper roots around here.  We will keep laughing at the ridiculous and smiling at the future.  This is how we step boldly into the next season.

References:

Niequist, S. (2016). Present over Perfect: Leaving Behind Frantic for a Simpler, More Soulful Way of Living, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

http://www.shaunashanks.com/blog/2015/9/7/chasing-smallness

Tsh Oxenreider (2017). At Home in the World: Reflections of Belonging while Wandering the Globe, Nashville, Tennessee: Harper Collins.

To read similar blogs from like-minded writers, join the link-up here.

 

 

 

Please follow and like us:

There Are No Small Moments

 

I’m on my knees, camera lens inches from a dwarf ginseng, its tiny snowflake head bobbing in the breeze, when I realize we’re not alone. “Beautiful day, isn’t it?” the khaki-clad elderly gentleman greets, and I’m drawn from my small moment with the ginseng.

“Sure is,” I say, somewhat embarrassed by the black dirt on my knees and elbows.

“Did you see the trout lilies?” he asks, and I notice the camera strapped over his neck. I’m less embarrassed.

We talk for a long while about trillium and bluebells, and he finally meanders off along the path. Returning to my photo shoot with the ginseng, I remember the way I once looked at thirty-somethings with cameras and wildflower books.  At twenty-two, I kept track of miles logged and elevations reached, not dwarf flora, like violets and ginseng.  At twenty-two, I mostly lived for big moments – summit moments, and the thought of bending low for small moments seemed nothing short of condescending.

We walk farther down the trail, kids running ahead in search of toads and moths, and I consider these changing seasons. When did small moments begin to take on such an authentic kind of glory?  It must have been before I dug the wildflower books out of the dusty boxes in the attic of the garage.

I remember when I started taking pictures of tiny mushrooms and sphagnum moss. I believe that was the moment.  The moment I pulled out the camera and committed to capture the miracles I miss every day, when I brush past in all my hurry, with my large-moment focus and my desire to prove something.

What if we could all live like we have nothing to prove? What if we never again needed to prove our worth through demonstrating our intelligence, beauty, humor, and talent?  What if these things were simply gifts with which we blessed others, and we were fully content to live in the midst of our quiet moments in utter contentment?

Have I really learned the secret of being content in any and every situation?

What if there really are no small moments – just quiet moments . . . And what if the quiet moments are worth every bit as much as the loud moments performed before the multitudes?

I think long on it, while the kids build castles along the sandy creek, and I’m sure of it: These quiet moments of walking with children in the woods, baking cornbread, stirring scrambled eggs with a rubber spatula, folding tiny T-shirts, and wiping down dusty furniture are the moments that will make up the bulk of our lives. There may be loud moments, platform moments, and moments that are broadcast before the world, but these big moments won’t make up the majority of our lives.

So what are we doing with our quiet moments? Because the quiet moments are the ones that seem small, but they’re really the ones that comprise the essence of our lives.

Sitting along the water, I commit to live with more gratitude. I commit to recognize the gifts that surround me and magnify God through naming them: dwarf ginseng, blue phlox, garlic mustard, and wild geranium; sandcastles at the creek, lunch on a hilltop, holding hands along the road; the mounds of dirty laundry that remind me of the gift of my family, the meat simmering in the crock-pot, the green crayon on the living room wall.  I won’t write these things off or roll my eyes.  I’ll embrace them and give thanks.

I commit to speak life. I commit to ask direct questions and bite my tongue when I’m in a bad mood.  I remember to tell the kids that I love them just because they’re mine, that their mistakes will never define them, and that they make my world a better place.

I commit to live intentionally.  We role play the whole way home from the creek, and Bekah thinks of responses to every playground dilemma I can conjure up.  We read Bible stories before Caleb naps, and I pray specific prayers over each of them before he sleeps.  We turn off the TV and dive into imaginary play on the carpet with our assortment of mini characters.  I make some calls and send some cards.

When the sun sinks low that evening, Bekah and I put together a pocket guide of wildflowers from our sanctuary at the Wolf Creek Narrows Natural Area. We find Latin names and study the history of each plant.  It all feels a bit small, but when she looks at me with dancing blue eyes, filled wild with life and passion, I know for sure that none of this day was small at all.

To check out our pamphlet, just click the link below. You’ll be asked to give your email address, and it will come to your inbox.  This is actually a terrific resource for anyone up for an outdoor adventure this month!

Western Pennsylvanian Spring Wildflower Guide

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Please follow and like us: