Kingdom Living

Rediscovered Thanks

 

Being truly thankful every day seems to be one of the biggest challenges. My temptation is to forget the abundance I have. I tend to get comfortable with abundance and I forget to lead a lifestyle of daily gratitude. But this year more than ever I am learning how vital that daily gratitude is, and how it can sometimes be the only thing that helps me to move. 

 

How frequently do we take account of our abundance? This year I wanted to remind myself to be thankful every day so I followed Ann Voskamp’s example and started a gratitude journal. It is conveniently located right by my door on the kitchen bar counter so that I won’t forget to do it. Unfortunately, as I get busy or comfortable, inevitably I do forget about it. I find that sometimes I am so comfortable with what I have, that I don’t see all that I truly have.

 

Even in this month that is a reminder for us to be grateful, if we pause for just a moment, doesn’t it feel like this is perhaps a counterfeit effort we make? If we only give thanks but once a year, at one meal, we are out of practice and studies show that we are living with less peace and happiness. But perhaps you didn’t need a study to tell you that. If we make a list of all the things we want to have or be or do it would likely be a long list and probably would leave us at least a little tired. That list communicates what we don’t have and aren’t being. On the flip side, if we make a list of every small thing we could possibly be thankful for, right down to blades of cut grass, ducks crossing the road, the giggle of a young child, the text from a friend that made us smile, or the music we enjoy, that list has a different effect on us. There is contentment in that list and that gives us a sense of rest. Doesn’t it?

 

My kids and I have somewhat of a “game” that we play: when someone is expressing a lack of thankfulness someone will call out “Tell me three things you’re thankful for!”. It is truly amazing how that little reminder produces a huge shift in our attitude. In an instant we go from stressed to small giggles. 

 

I’ve needed those giggles in my own heart this year. Sometimes there are some really tough things in our lives – things we would never have thought we could or would endure. This season has been harder than I expected. I was trying to voice thankfulness for what I have, but it was counterfeit. It was thankfulness on the surface but had an undercurrent of discontentment. I felt my words feeble in comparison to the weight of disappointment and grief running wild through my mind. My gratitude was weak in chaotic battle with my grief instead of confidently rooted. 

 

I feel The Father reaching out for me, spreading His arms wide, calling me to give thanks from the depths and to come rest in Him… but I’m waiting for the pain to be over, for the depths to stop drowning, for the hustle and bustle and world spinning around me to quiet…

 

The Father knows I won’t make it on my own. Grabbing through the darkness, down to the depths where I’m sinking, I feel His hand take hold of me and I hear His soothing voice speak:

 

Light shines out of darkness. I know these are hard times but my faithfulness and sovereignty is not established by your deeds nor is it shaken because of them. No matter what you do or have done, I AM still here and I AM able to use it for more than you can see right now. I waste nothing – not the good nor the bad. I AM already working and though you cannot see the end from the beginning, you can trust that I care for you too much to leave you here. My desire for you, my dear child, is good, not bad. I AM your good Father and I want to give good things to you. I am not here to take or demand things from you. I know this doesn’t feel good right now little one, trust me, I have not finished my good work in your life yet. Turn your eyes to see me and your ears to hear my voice. You will make it through because I AM here with you. See? I AM carrying you when you can’t lift your foot to take a step. Listen to my voice and not the lies binding your heart in heavy chains. I have long since unlocked those chains and thrown them off. Let me lift you, carry you, until you can walk again on your own, right beside me. I love you dear one, as I have always and always will. You are My precious child and no one and nothing can come against you that I AM not right there with you to win the battle and help you through. So come now, rest in me. Remember Who’s you are. Remember my real, deep, strong grace that is constantly and consistently sufficient.

 

For today, I am steadied again. I can see more clearly again. As gratitude tears roll steaming down, I find the real words of thanks that I had been missing. Thankfulness begins to spill forth with my tears… Thank you Father for these reminders … gradually drops become small streams, and then rivers of grateful joy pouring forth all the things coming to mind: the smells of the season, my favorite seasonal drinks (cider…yumm), kindness of the truest of friends, smiles on my children’s faces, fall leaves and cooler weather, music to soak in, planning new traditions, choruses of people singing, festive lights chasing the darkness away…

Conversations

More Than Stars

image by Dino Reichmuth

Come here and sit with me, Precious One.

I climb up on The Father’s lap, glad to rest there. I am always so comfortable sitting with The Father. I know I am safe in His strong arms. I can feel my body already begin to release the tension that has been building in me. These days have been tense. Difficult. But here on The Father’s lap, I have peace. Turning my face up towards His, I see Him staring into the night sky. 

Pick a star,” He says to me as if it were like selecting fruit from the produce section of the grocery store. “Any star,” He reiterates. 

I stare wide at the sky, looking for a star to catch my eye. I finally find one and point, wondering with so many stars, how The  Father will know which star I’m looking at. Without hesitation, He smiles and tells me that I picked a beautiful star and tells me it’s name. Like a proud Creator, He begins to tell me what is unique to that exact star I picked from the trillions in the sky! I am amazed at His greatness.

Then turning towards me, He smiles and asks if I know how many stars there are in the sky. This feels like a familiar conversation, like maybe Abraham had a similar conversation with The Father…

 

“I have no idea how many stars there are. I know I can’t count them all. It was hard just picking one.” 

The Father nods knowingly and asks another question, “Do you know that I know the name of every single star that I’ve ever created?

“Yes, Abba, I do know that. I know that you know the names of all the stars that are young, those that have died, and every star in every galaxy. Your greatness is amazing and overwhelming to me, too vast for me to comprehend!” 

Still smiling at wide-eyed me, The Father draws me closer to Himself and begins to tenderly tell me the reason for all this set-up: 

 

Do you know that you are even more valuable to me than all those multitudes of stars? I knew your name before you were born. I counted out the days for you before anyone ever thought about you. I see you and know you better than anyone ever has or ever will. I knew who you would be as I knit you together in your mother’s womb. I have seen every moment of your life. Even these tiring and difficult days, I have seen. I know all of it, but none of it is able to break My promises to you. I still have a wonderful plan for you. I still have victory for you, Precious One. Even in these hard and painful days, I see you and know you and what’s more, I know the great things still in store for you. 

You are amazed that I know the multitudes of stars, but do you not know that you are more precious and important to Me than all the stars in the sky? You know My greatness is even more than the stars can convey, know also that I Am able to always keep My promises to you. You are My child and nothing in all of creation can shake My love for you. Nothing can have victory over you because I am the One who fights for you. I will give the victory to you and bring you out of these hard days and those yet to come.

 

I snuggle up closer to Him and rest my head on His chest. Good tears gently run down my face. Peace floods my soul. The Father puts His strong arm around me as if to make His Words stick to me.

I know He is for me.

I know He is able to do anything.

I know He is great enough, strong enough, and all-of-enough for me.

I know that His love for me will never end and that is enough for any difficult day I face.

Kingdom Living

No Fear

I have struggled with fear or worry on some level for a long time. Unfortunately it has been an influencing force in me far too often. In fact, I have for much of my life thought that around this time of year, fear seems to take the mountain and rule unchecked (any fellow “fraidy-cats” like me?) The other day my daughter asked out of the blue if more kidnappings take place on Halloween. I had to think for a minute about why she could possibly be asking that question and then I realized: this is fear creeping into her mind. So we talked about it – two people prone to fear over faith.

I asked both of my kids to think about what amazing, seemingly impossible things had God done for them. We listed out several things from successes with school, to health and the provision of free things that we didn’t expect to get (a lesson on grace for another time).

We also thought about numerous examples in the Bible of amazing things that God did in impossible or terrifying circumstances: Sarah got pregnant at an impossible age, the Red Sea was parted so Israel could escape Egypt, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednigo survived the fiery furnace, Daniel came face-to-face with hungry lions and didn’t have a scratch, Noah’s family survived a world-wide flood, David faced a real giant and won…so many examples of the strength and protection of God!

 

I wonder if Jesus was thinking about these demonstrations of God’s might throughout Israel’s history when he was defying fear and napping in the middle of a hair-raising storm? Mark 4:37-40 recounts the story of Jesus sleeping in a boat about to be capsized. The disciples were terrified. Their imaginations were most likely running wild with tales of sea monsters that could swallow them whole! They thought they had every reason to be afraid. Yet, here was Jesus completely unafraid, in fact, he wasn’t even awake! Jesus surely knew all the same stories – how is it he could sleep so soundly? What the disciples apparently forgot was the fuel of their faith. Jesus knew who held them: the Almighty Creator, the Father, The Great ‘I Am’. Jesus knew the One who had defied physics (because He created physics) and parted the Red Sea. He knew the One who prevented three men from being burned alive. He knew the One who told the giant fish to spit Jonah out on shore. With a God this mighty who loved them, what horrifying thing could possibly happen to them that would render Him unable to take care of them?  Jesus knew that even in death He still could trust God and place his hope firmly in His Father’s love and sovereignty.

 

As I think back to this conversation with my kids about this “scary” time of year in light of what Jesus has taught me, it doesn’t seem so scary any more. What is there really to fear? There are certainly some ugly images that can fill our minds with frightful thoughts perhaps much like those the disciples had in that storm. But all of those frightful thoughts are just a noisy storm stirred up in the absence of love. Love does not create or perpetuate fear. In fact, perfect love drives fear away. That is why Jesus could rest and defy fear – He was secure in the knowledge of God’s perfect love for them. This is real faith. That same love is ours as well.

We don’t need to hide in fear or run away from a world that seems to emphasize fear at this time of year. We know the same Almighty God that gave Jesus the power to make the terrifying storm instantly still to silence! The love the Father has for us is the same love. The confidence He gave Jesus to sleep in the midst of disaster and the power to instantly still the storm is ours as well. We can confidently walk through crowds of “scary” faces and neighborhoods of haunted houses defying fear just like Jesus and instead carrying peace, the light of Christ, and the love of God to everyone we meet. We have no reason to fear because the Father, who’s hand we hold, loves us perfectly and completely. Out of His perfect love comes all that we need in order to stand firm, unafraid, as lights in the darkness.

Conversations

Are You My Neighbor?

Sitting here in mud and filth, bloodied and bruised. All these people walking by. Do they see me? Do they see me broken and blood-stained? Does anyone see the pain and mess I’m in?

 

I see a doctor headed my direction; maybe he will see me and stop to help. … As he passes me by he lifts his phone up to his ear and moves to the other side of the street. …

 

A familiar face from the church in town is headed my direction. She is always doing good things for people: feeding the homeless, going on missions trips to foreign countries, attending prayer groups and Bible studies. She is well known for helping people. Surely she will see me and at least help me get up out of this mud!

“Are you ok? You really shouldn’t sit in such a muddy mess.” she says. 

I wonder why she is asking. Do I look like I might be ok? Before I can answer, she starts praying for me as if she figured out what I needed help with. 

“Amen.” she finishes praying and gives one last heartfelt comment while she walks away “I’ll be praying for you!” 

 

How can all these people just keep passing me by without helping? 

Maybe they see but don’t understand?

Perhaps they think it’s none of their business?

I suppose it’s possible they are afraid.

Maybe they don’t know what to do or say.

 

Wait. I know this person coming my direction. I see him every day. We aren’t close friends, but maybe he will recognize me. Almost as if embarrassed to know me, he cautiously approaches, looking around to check if anyone notices him coming toward me.

“What did you do to get yourself in this situation?” he says with a look of disapproval. “You probably could have avoided this. Maybe you should get yourself up out of that mud and cleaned up.”

Unbelievable. Even he seems to be heartless and blind to my helpless situation. 

 

Tears overflow and roll heavy down my face. I was trying to hold things together and be strong, but this almost hurts more than these bruises and gaping wounds. I try to get up. I don’t want to sit here anymore. I’m determined to get out of this mess on my own, but as I try to lift myself to my feet, my legs give way and I fall hard, back into the sloshing muck. My hands are too muddy now to even wipe the mud and tears from my eyes. I’m overwhelmed and wonder if its even worth it to try getting up any more. 

Looking around for something to lean up against and keep my head out of the muddy water, I think I see someone approaching. There is something different about him. He doesn’t act like all the others like I have a contagious disease. He carries himself confidently as he approaches me. He walks right up to me and kneels beside me in the mud! He lifts my good arm over his shoulder to start helping me up and says to me

 

“I’m here to help you. The Father sent me. He knew that you were in trouble and needed help so He asked me to come. I’m sorry this happened and that you are hurting. I’ll get you patched up and in a safe, comfortable place to sleep with good food. I will help you get back on your feet.”

Fresh tears, now of relief, flood my eyes.

I am so overwhelmed at this kindness. I thought surely no one would even help me get to my feet, but here this man is getting dirty to help me and what’s more, offering to pay for a night at a hotel!

“The Father knows about all His children. He sees every moment. His heart broke when He saw what happened to you. He wept for you as each person He sent to help you did nothing. He was in tears when I left to come find you. He told me that He had to send me because I know first-hand what you’re going through. So I came straight away.”

He lifts me almost effortlessly up out of the mud. Blood and filth are now soaking into his clothes and shoes. I hold on with my better arm as he carries me to the closest hotel. This kind and caring person checks me over for broken bones finding only a dislocated shoulder, sprained wrist, and some serious cuts and bruises. He tends to my less serious injuries and calls a doctor to come take care of the others. Generously, he pays for room and board until I’m restored to health. 

I am overwhelmed with gratitude and amazed how The Father sent such a kind and compassionate person to help me. He was familiar with my suffering. He was an image of The Father to me. He was my reminder that The Father knew my condition and as always, was still here, still taking care of me. I didn’t see The Father face-to-face this time, but I saw His reflection and recognized His love for me in the one He sent.