Kingdom Living

Five Small Kernels

A number of years ago I learned the story of the true first and second days of thanksgiving in the New World. They were actually not held in consecutive years because there was an extreme food shortage the second harvest year after the Pilgrims had landed at Plymouth. In fact, the Pilgrims nearly died that second year as each person had to be rationed a mere five kernels of corn per day. Things were certainly not how the Pilgrims had expected or planned. The very first day of thanksgiving they had quite a good harvest (thanks to Samoset and Tisquantum). The Pilgrims, along with Massasoit and about 50 braves enjoyed a great feast. This is the story that we all know from grade school. However, the part of the story I didn’t know until just a few years ago is the story of the following two years. 

The year that followed that first Thanksgiving, there was not enough food to go around because more settlers arrived from across the sea but they had brought no provisions like that first group of Pilgrims had. The second harvest year, instead of the abundant harvest they’d planned for, the Pilgrims were forced into grim rationing. When it came time to plant again, the Pilgrims needed a harvest at least twice the size of the first harvest. Not only that, but when it came time for the expected rains, there was a severe drought, the likes of which not even the native americans had ever seen. They once again faced dire circumstances, but they trusted God and prayed and finally came the most gentle rain for 14 days straight, exactly what their crops needed. 

The annual harvest feast almost didn’t happen for a second year in a row. However, The Father graciously provided once again exactly what they needed when they needed it and that harvest yielded more than anyone had expected. Once again they celebrated their abundant harvest with Massasoit and this time about 120 braves who brought with them all the meat for their great feast. The first course of their banquet however was only five kernels of corn on each plate, to serve as a reminder of those hard and scary times The Father had brought them through the season before, and they were thankful.

Each Thanksgiving feast since I learned this story, I have recounted it as my own reminder of the abundance that I have. This year especially though, this story hits me a little bit differently. This year, we have faced a global crisis the likes of which we ourselves have never experienced. This year, my family is spread out across the miles for a myriad of reasons: some are quarantined, some remodeling, some had to change plans at the very last minute, some are heroically working hard to save lives. In my case, I decided to take a thanksgiving meal to a few family members that had no plans for a “typical” Thanksgiving due to a couple of these life events. Perhaps that is what got me thinking about those five corn kernels in a new way. Or it could be this global pandemic that has me pondering anew. Maybe it is because I’ve been able to look back on my last thanksgiving, remembering my own sorrow and need that was so great then and seeing how The Father provided for me and brought me through it. Perhaps it has something to do with watching my own children go through difficult disappointments this year. I know that in spite of the figurative “shortage” in their lives (don’t worry we have plenty of food), that The Father will faithfully get us through this year also, even if we are hanging on by the most meager of “rations”.

Whatever the reasons–maybe all of those reasons–I am thinking back on those five kernels of corn with a new intentionality, and I find myself even more thankful this year. Yes, its been a very difficult year for so many of us. We may find ourselves only able to muster up five very small things for which to give thanks – all the more reason to be grateful. This is not the end, by any means. We are still here and still moving forward. Maybe some of us have found ourselves looking back on what looked like an impossible drought that seemed it would not end in time for us to survive, yet we find we have all that we need and in some cases maybe more than that and we are able to share with someone else. Yes, this has been a challenging year, but what a great time to be thankful for especially the seemingly small things in our lives. 

Maybe all we’re able to do is talk to our friends and family over the phone whereas last year we would see them every day. Let’s be thankful for such a small thing as that ability to talk to loved ones on the phone. Let’s be thankful these loved ones are still here.

Maybe we’re only able to gather with the ones closest in proximity to us. Let’s be thankful for such a small gathering where we are not alone and we have plenty to eat.

Maybe we’re not able to do the traditional things we’ve always done. Let’s be thankful for small traditions that are not gone simply because this year is different. Let’s be thankful for the small beginnings of new traditions born out of unexpected and unwanted circumstances.

Maybe our plans for this year have been overturned. Let’s be thankful for the small opportunities to make new plans for the future. Let’s be thankful that in spite of our own overturned plans, The Father still has plans for us, the likes of which are greater than our own, full of hope and goodness.

For me, this Thanksgiving looks a bit different than those of years passed, but after my own season of figurative shortage, I am setting five kernels before me and finding I have much to be thankful for:

  • People in my life that I deeply care about and who truly love and support me.
  • The freedom to move about safely and carefully being thoughtful of those around me.
  • Abundant food to share, even with a small few.
  • My overall health and safety along with the health and safety of my loved ones.
  • The Father’s faithful presence, forgiving grace, and love for me.

Even as I write my short list, choosing only five “kernels” I find is an impossible task. There is so much more I am thankful for. 

Dear reader, I know in the depths of my heart and out of my own experience that even if things are impossibly challenging right now, there are at least five very small things you can be grateful for. Those may be the only five things to give thanks for in the next days and weeks and months to come, but they are not insignificant. Hold on to them. Give thanks. The Father desires to give you (and all of His children) good things because He is a good Father. Look to Him and He will sustain you even in these mere five small thanks-givings until the day that you are able to add a sixth, then a seventh, an eighth, and so on until you too have more to be thankful for than these first five small things. And for those that find that you are looking back on a prior year with meager provisions but staring at a feast before you now, stop and give thanks for what The Father did to get you through that tough season. Then give to someone else who finds themselves in need now. You may be one of the five kernels The Father uses to get them through this difficult time.

Kingdom Living

Snuggle Weather

It seems strange to think that this is “snuggle weather” as I sit outside in eighty-degree, sunny weather surrounded by palm trees, but something about this season ushers in a desire to snuggle up with soft blankets, hugs, and hot cocoa (or a pumpkin spice latte perhaps). The days are getting shorter (does anyone else feel like they should be hibernating too?) and the lower humidity coupled with advertising images of fall leaves or snowy white holidays plays with my brain. Any time I walk into a store and smell nutmeg or cinnamon, or catch a whiff of a burning fire on a cool night stroll, I am transported away from the sticky, hot, ocean climate where I live, back to days spent jumping excitedly into mountainous piles of leaves or bundled up enjoying the snow-covered ground or warm and cozy at home falling asleep to the gentle glowing lights wrapped around the tree. 

Today’s thought about snuggling up at home was not inspired by these familiar sights or smells, rather, it was simply the lazily sinking afternoon sun and lower humidity that had me immediately ready to grab a blanket and find the comfiest part of the couch to curl up with a classic movie. Perhaps I am ready for the holiday season to be in full swing (confession: I have already watched 3 Christmas movies with my kids). Maybe it’s because I’m looking for some holiday cheer and some much-needed days off. Or possibly I’m missing some hugs and time with loved ones. Whatever the reasons, I was unexpectedly struck by this “snuggle weather” feeling today. 

As I contemplated where this feeling came from (especially given that I do not live in a cold climate), I recalled a verse I read recently from Deuteronomy 33:12 that mentions resting between the shoulders of The Father. “Between His shoulders” gave me such a great word- picture of what to me sounded like snuggles. Recalling that phrase, I am flooded with imagery of peace, comfort, security, and warmth. I just want to stay in this moment for a bit. 

I feel The Father’s arms wrap around me, snuggling me into His chest. Sitting quietly and still for a little while, we watch the lights rhythmically glow and admire the decorations all singing their “Joy to the World”. Some of my favorite smells waft into the room, and closing my eyes, I breathe them in deep. The Father and I both smile joyfully as we recall memories of this season through the years of my life. My heart is full. I am grateful for these sights, smells, and shared memories of joy sitting here in The Father’s embrace. I eagerly listen as The Father re-tells the story of Christ’s long awaited arrival. My heart celebrates His birth amidst a chaotic and terrifying world–it reminds me of my present waiting for His return. Though the cares of the world all around me are great, in this transported moment, I rest peacefully, wrapped securely “between His shoulders” in His loving arms. I remember The Father’s heart for me is this: comfort, peace, security, love, and joy. While the crazy world around me may bring none of those things, I know The Father does and will just as He always has before.

Kingdom Living

Cornerstone of Hope

Hope.

Hope seems to be unattainable at times. When the road of difficulty rises to meet me, where is hope? When things don’t go as I’d planned, where is hope? When the world writhes in pain around me, where is hope? When I’ve made a mess of things, where is hope?

Hope is here. Hope chases me down, turns me around, and lifts the blindfold showing me that Hope has been here all along. 

Once I’ve seen and experienced Hope, why is it so easy to wonder again how to find it? I was reminded today that it’s when I start trying to do things without Jesus, I am blinded to the work He has done for me. When I “trust the sweetest [most fragile] frame”, when I do something in order to add to Christ’s work of salvation (which is the ultimate thing to hope for), I am really hoping in me. I am hoping that what I do is good enough to complete what Jesus already did. There’s just one problem: that inevitably produces anxiety instead of hope because I begin to question if it really is enough. I need to remember that I don’t need to search for or manufacture hope; Hope has already found me – and that Hope is what I need.

There is a beautiful hymn that I recalled while thinking about this hope: “My Hope is Built on Nothing Less” by Edward Mote.  

My hope is built on nothing less

Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness

I dare not trust the sweetest frame

But wholly trust in Jesus’ name

 

Perhaps you can relate? What is something you have hoped for or have been hoping for? A better job, a family of your own, a better place to live, a better life? Maybe there are times when it doesn’t seem to matter what you do, that thing you’re hoping for always seems out of reach. Or maybe you thought you had it once and then the unexpected happened and everything crumbled. Or maybe you’re arguing right now, insisting that you did build your hope on Jesus but now here you are, feeling hopeless. What gives?

I suggest that you do as I had to do: take the time to truthfully examine whether or not you fully and completely gave all of that to Christ? Ask yourself (and be honest) whether you even once expected that by doing the “right” things, you’d have what you hoped for?  If you even once thought that, then there was some point that you didn’t “wholly trust in Jesus’ name”, just like me. 

Hold on! Don’t walk away just yet. You need to know that you are not without Hope! There is absolutely still Hope to be seen and experienced by you just as there is for me. The even better news is that all our doing (or not doing) doesn’t change the fact that Christ is still our Hope. He works every day, in a thousand ways on our behalf, though we may not notice.

When darkness seems to hide His face

I rest on His unchanging grace

In every high and stormy gale

My anchor holds within the veil

 

2 Corinthians 4:8-18 encourages us that even as we feel stressed and pressured, Christ who is called our Cornerstone (1 Peter 2:4-6, Psalm 118:19-24) never lets us be crushed or destroyed. We may face a challenge that threatens our vision of the Hope we have, but truly when we anchor ourselves in Jesus, He does not disappoint. In fact, when we are feeling our weakest, that is the best for us because it is then that we step aside and are able to let Him strengthen us. When we are chasing hope constructed by our own hands, we are too busy to see the Hope that has already walked into our lives: Jesus is our Hope! What’s great about this Hope that is ours is that it is not hope for temporary things that will change, age, or become obsolete. This Hope is eternal and is for a purpose that will long outlast today’s bad choices and tomorrow’s trial. 

Hillsong worship writers put it this way:

Christ alone, Cornerstone

Weak made strong in the Savior’s love

Through the storm

He is Lord

Lord of all

 

Jesus, your Hope and mine, has done the work of coming to us when we were unable to find lasting hope of any kind. He is able to strengthen you for what has been, and what’s to come. When you recognize and accept Jesus as your eternal Hope, the Father will use Jesus to build a life for you that isn’t threatened by the storms swirling around you. Rather, the life the Father builds for you will stand strong all the way into eternity with Him. 

Do you feel like you “missed” Hope or that you can’t find it? Stop right there and give it to Jesus. “Rest on His unchanging grace” – it is for you. He is Lord of all. You need not search any longer or try any harder – He is all the Hope you need.

 

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…