How to REALLY Give Thanks in All Circumstances

give thanks in all circumstances

Before we get hurled into the rush of the Christmas season, there is the quietness of Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving doesn’t get near the airtime that Halloween or Christmas get, even though it’s clearly the meat in this holiday season sandwich.

It’s easy to be shallow in our thanksgiving. To gloss over it with a ,”thanks for getting us here safely, thanks for food and health and family, Amen.” Not that those aren’t important things.

But true life-changing gratitude goes so much deeper. It’s not something you can manufacture for a day or even for a month of counting blessings via Facebook status updates. True thanksgiving is an issue of the heart.

In the book of 1 Thessalonians, the apostle Paul says, “Give thanks in all circumstances for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” I’ve heard it preached as a command, something you have to do in order to be in God’s good graces.

But I don’t see it that way. I think it’s a grace-filled desire.

It is God’s deep desire that we be grateful people.

Why? Because this is His will for us. Gratitude is crucial in the abundant life He has planned for us.

In Corrie Ten Boom’s well-known book, The Hiding Place, Betsy Ten Boom thanks God for an infestation of fleas in their concentration camp barracks. At the time Corrie has a hard time stomaching Betsy’s prayer. Only later do the sisters discover that the fleas are keeping the guards from entering the barracks. With no guards to stop them, the young women are able to lead Bible studies in the barracks without harassment or punishment.

It’s amazing to see faith like that. A faith that so simply trusts and offers thanks for the most dire of circumstances.

If I am not careful, I can use such stories of faith to bash myself on days when I am ungrateful. On days when I mess up. On days when I question my circumstances, doubt their purpose, even doubt God. I can start to condemn my own faith for not being great enough because I don’t always feel like smiling. After all, I know I’m supposed to give thanks in all circumstances.

  • The Apostle Paul did.
  • Betsy Ten Boom did.
  • All the good Christians do.

But I don’t think that’s what the verse means at all. I don’t believe that giving thanks in all circumstances means we are supposed to deny the pain, the sadness, the anger, or the negative things that come our way. It doesn’t mean we’re to ignore our pain while offering up thanksgiving lip service with a painted-on smile and a canned prayer.

Not at all.

True gratitude flows from knowing that there is a God who is bigger than our circumstances.

A God who holds us during the fiercest of storms, who understands our heartache and comforts us through our trials. A God who never leaves us.True gratitude is able to open eyes to all that surrounds us, even the tiniest of fleas, and be amazed that God would care for us at all.

And oh, how God cares for us.

One of my husband’s favorite Bible verses is 1 Peter 5:7, “Cast all your cares on Him for He cares for you.” The best part of that verse can slip right by if you let it. “He cares for you.”

fall leaf

I think so often our prayers are offered to a God who is distant. A God who only cares about important things like safe travel and good health and enough food to eat. A God on a far-off mountain in a far-off land. A Charlton Heston-like God who is strong and powerful, but who is uninterested in the mundane details of the lives of His creations.

And yet. . . . “He cares for you.”

I think God’s purpose in wanting you to give thanks in all circumstances is to remind you that He notices. He sees. He is interested in the details.

We tend to save up our thanks for the big stuff. But God is reminding us that He’s there during all the little stuff, too.

  • He cares about the fleas in the hay.
  • He knows about the splinter in the child’s finger.
  • He understands the heartbreak of a teenage girl over a boy who doesn’t give her the time of day.
  • He cares about the spilled milk, and the flat tire, and the crying baby, and the leaky roof.
  • He sees every tear, and also every smile.
  • He hears every laugh and every cry.
  • He sends the rain and the rainbow alike.

He is a God of details. And He is deeply, passionately interested in all of yours.

And so I offer you this Thanksgiving challenge: will you wake up tomorrow morning and notice your first breath? Will you remember that it is God who breathed that life into you and kept your heart beating through the night? Will you notice the color of your own eyes as you look at your newly wakened face, will you savor the taste of your first coffee, will you gaze at the sunbeams dancing across the kitchen floor? And then will you continue to take in all the colors and the scents and the sights of the day? Because He is in them all.

Will you recognize, on this Thanksgiving, that God is right here with you? He is not watching you from a distance. He is with you. He is beside you. He is in the details. And He cares for you as a father cares for a precious, beloved child.

Have a happy and blessed Thanksgiving,

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If you haven’t read it already, I highly recommend Ann Voskamp’s  One Thousand Gifts. It is the best book on gratitude that I’ve ever encountered, a life-changer. Buy it for yourself and get another one for a friend. Give the gift of gratitude this holiday season.

 

In Special Needs Ministry, “We’re Just Volunteers” Is a Copout

special needs kids at church

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a blog post about why church is a burden for special needs parents and it struck quite a nerve.

Most of the replies and comments were from special needs parents who’ve had similar experiences. Some comments were from Sunday School teachers and church staff members who reminded me it’s not always easy to include special needs kids at church. Because church workers are volunteers, they often don’t have the resources, background, or training to know how to deal with disability.

I want you to know that I get that.

I understand what it’s like to be thrust into a world you know nothing about.

I know because that’s what happened when my son was diagnosed. When we were handed the label of Asperger’s, I had to read and research and learn from scratch. I’m still learning. I’ve lived with this boy for 10 years and I’m far from being an expert. That does not, however, excuse me from being the best mother I can be.

When my twins were born, people would tell me, “I don’t know how you do it. I could never handle twins.”

Let me fill you in on a little secret: (NEITHER COULD I.)

I didn’t know what I was doing. I was overwhelmed and overworked and so tired that I seriously believed I might drop dead any moment from sheer exhaustion. My husband and I were outnumbered and clueless and oh so sleep-deprived. Somebody was always crying, and usually it was me.

But putting one of the babies out on the curb for trash pickup was not an option.

So we prayed and did the best we could and muddled through somehow.

Our special needs experience has been similar. It can be overwhelming, and we’ve had to feel our way, learning as we go.  I’m always trying to figure things out, and always feeling like I’m not qualified.

But because I love my son, I keep going.

So when well-meaning church people say to me, “we’re just volunteers,” and throw their hands in their air as an excuse to give up. . . well, it really puts a bee in my bonnet.

I get it. I’ve been a church volunteer for years. I’ve worked with really difficult children. I know the feeling of being outnumbered by an out-of-control classroom of hyper kids. I really do. I feel your pain.

But I don’t think it’s a good enough excuse.

Let’s revisit a scene with Jesus and his disciples, shall we?

These guys have been traveling, Jesus has been teaching and healing, it’s been a long, hard day. There are way too many people in this crowd and the disciples are done. They’ve tried to escape once, but the people followed them and now everybody’s getting hungry. (Sounds like my house at 5:00 in the afternoon!)

By this time it was late in the day, so his disciples came to him. “This is a remote place,” they said, “and it’s already very late.  Send the people away so that they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.”

But he answered, “You give them something to eat.”

They said to him, “That would take more than half a year’s wages! Are we to go and spend that much on bread and give it to them to eat?”

“How many loaves do you have?” he asked. “Go and see.”

When they found out, they said, “Five—and two fish.”

Then Jesus directed them to have all the people sit down in groups on the green grass.  So they sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to his disciples to distribute to the people. He also divided the two fish among them all.  They all ate and were satisfied,  and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces of bread and fish.  The number of the men who had eaten was five thousand. (Mark 6: 35-44)

You see, Jesus specializes in doing the impossible.

These disciples, they didn’t know how to handle a crowd of five thousand. They didn’t have the resources to feed all those hungry people. They weren’t trained in culinary arts, for sure. They were tired and they had worked hard and they had plenty of excuses for just sending the people away. It would have been the logical thing to do.

But Jesus told them to feed the people anyway.

And when they simply obeyed Him, He made the impossible a reality.

feed my sheep Image via Pinterest

If you are working as a church volunteer, I understand that it can be a thankless job.  Especially if you’re working with kids, it can seem like you’re not making much difference at all.

But here’s what I know to be true: if you are following God’s call, if you are serving where you really feel God wants you to serve, then HE will give you the resources, the strength, the compassion, the ability you need for the call. God is not in the business of calling people to ministry and then leaving them high and dry. He ALWAYS equips . . . if its what He’s called you to do.

If that’s not your experience, then either one of two things is going on:

1. You aren’t called to that ministry.

Maybe you’re doing it out of obligation.  Maybe it’s because you feel like it’s something you should do. Maybe a church staff member begged you to serve. Doesn’t matter. If it’s not your spiritual gift and not where God has led you, it won’t work. It’s like slapping a band-aid on a puncture wound. The solution: you need to be listening to where God is really leading you to serve and go that direction, even if it disappoints some people.

2. You aren’t trusting God to help you do the impossible.

Yikes. This one’s hard, because I totally do this. If I were one of the disciples, I would have been sending those people away as fast as I could, because I need my space. So I understand. But if God is telling you, “Feed my sheep,” and you keep making excuses because you don’t have the training or the resources, well, go back and read what Jesus said. He said, “Feed them anyway.” And the disciples did.

When you are working with special needs families and you throw your hands in the air and shout “volunteer,” what those families hear is:

  • You’re not wanted here.
  • You’re a problem that’s not worth solving.
  • You aren’t important enough for us to even try.

And folks, if we’re really about spreading and teaching the gospel, that’s just not okay.

One day on a dusty mountainside 2000 years ago, thousands of hungry people were fed. They experienced blessing through a rabbi and his twelve followers. But the disciples were blessed even more. Imagine if they’d never had the opportunity to see Jesus work such a miracle.

If you are a volunteer working with special needs kids, or serving anywhere you feel ill-equipped, then be ready to expect miracles. If you obey and trust God, He will give you what you need. . . and you’ll never be the same.

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Should Is a Bully

should is a bully

For too many years, the bully of “should” beat me down.

I had a list a mile of long of all the things I “should” do in order to be a good student, a good daughter, a good wife, a good mother, a good cook, a good housekeeper, a good citizen and, of course, a good Christian.

I just finished a book called Taming Your Gremlin. It isn’t really a Christian book but it was mentioned by my pastor, and I was intrigued. When I came to the chapter about how to be a “Perfectly Pleasant” person, I wondered why I hadn’t written the book.

There’s this list, this ridiculously long and impossible list, of all the “shoulds” for being a perfectly pleasant person.

I had a list this long and more. It’s scary to see it in print.

The “shoulds” that I piled upon my own shoulders got heavier and heavier until I reached a point where I was unable to keep going.

In her memoir, Leaving Church, Barbara Brown Taylor talks about how she learned to keep Sabbath after she quit full-time pastoral ministry. “I would read for pleasure and I would prepare simple food, but any activity prefaced by ought, should, or must in my mind was automatically disqualified.”

“Should” is a cruel, unfeeling taskmaster. It’s a mean bully that sees no reason to give rest to the weary.

I picture my own “should monster,” — my inner gremlin — as a mash-up of Sue Sylvester (the malicious, cut-throat coach of Glee fame) and Ursula the Sea Witch from The Little Mermaid.

She’s vicious and harsh and she doesn’t back down. She’s an evil voice stealer (like Ursula) and a slavedriver (like Sue). Nothing is ever good enough to please her. She barks out orders of “should,” “must,” and “ought to” all day long. And she doesn’t quit once the sun goes down. Her nastiest tactic by far is to hurl “should have”s at my tired soul like poison darts.

I’ve listened to her far too long.

inner gremlin

For years I tried to be proactive in battling my inner gremlin. I worked diligently to “renew my mind” by replacing all the negative thoughts with positive ones, and by memorizing lots of scripture.

Those strategies were good. It’s important to know the truth — God’s truth — when it comes to knowing what to believe.

But it still didn’t stop the nagging voice inside, that voice always letting me know what I “should” be doing.

The Gremlin book revealed to me a revolutionary approach, one I hadn’t even considered. I’m not supposed to go all-out attack on my gremlin. I don’t need to engage her in hand-to-hand combat. I’ve been warned not to grapple with her.

I just need to notice that she’s there.

The meddling voice that reminds me of all the “shoulds” is just that. . . a meddling voice. And I have a choice to ignore it. I can hear all the “shoulds” and still choose to do what I want to do in that moment. I don’t have to feel guilty about all the things my Gremlin tells me I “should” be doing.

Guilt is just another form of “should.”

Guilt isn’t something that God ever wanted us carrying around like a heavy sack of potatoes. If he wanted us weighed down with guilt, He never would have sent Jesus to lift the load.

I’m not designed to live a life driven by “shoulds.”  I’m made to live free and true. So are you.

When’s the last time you thought about all the things you should be doing? Or maybe about the things you should NOT be doing.

I think it’s high time “should” got eliminated from our vocabularies.

  • Do something because you want to.
  • Do something because it’s the right thing to do.
  • Do something because you feel led or called to do it.
  • Do something because you enjoy it.

Be yourself and live your life and be willing to risk making mistakes.

But don’t live with the constant guilt trip of “should.” Learn to recognize that voice for what it is — your gremlin, the little devil on your shoulder, the voice of Satan himself — doesn’t matter what you call it. It’s a voice that wants to trip you up.

Don’t let it win.

Don’t let “should” get the better of you.

 

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Healing from Church Wounds

healing from church wounds

My Daddy passed his strong work ethic down to me.  We are busy people, Daddy and I, always efficient and hard-working.  We’ve both been known to go in to work while running a fever or nursing a cold.  Of course, the underlying current in both of us is a pride that says, “If you want something done right, do it yourself.” It drives our loved ones crazy.

I’ve never let discomfort, illness, tiredness, or even pregnancy slow me down if I could help it.  (Although in 10th grade I once skipped driver’s ed because of a bad hair day.)

God pretty much has to knock me flat on my back (or give me a really bad hair day) if he wants me to quit.

I once said my motto was “never sit down.”  And I really meant it. 

Seems so sophomoric to me now as a middle-aged woman.

One time, my Daddy came over to build a wooden arbor above our patio.  He was in his no-nonsense, hard-working mode, sweating up a storm and barking commands as he worked.  At one point, he haphazardly laid his drill on top of the ladder. A few minutes later, I bumped into the ladder by mistake. The drill fell onto my leg at just the right angle to stab me in the shin with the drill bit. When we picked up the drill, the bit was broken off which made me think it must be buried in my leg somewhere! It hurt like crazy.  I couldn’t walk.  I hobbled into the house and treated the wound to stop the bleeding.  There was no drill bit embedded in my leg, thank goodness, but the pain was deep and excruciating. I struggled not to cry.

But as soon as I slapped a bandaid on the wound,  Daddy was back at it and expecting me to get back to work.  I pushed through and obeyed his orders. I acted strong.  I’m not afraid of pain.

My leg was sore for weeks.  Someone told me later that puncture wounds are, by nature, intensely painful.  It didn’t look that bad.  I’ve had superficial scrapes that appeared much worse.  But the pain went deep, down to the bone.

Healing from Church Wounds

That’s what church once did to me. Church left me with a puncture wound.

I thought it was superficial.  A scrape that would scab over and heal quickly.  But it wasn’t and it didn’t.

My church wound was a low hemorrhage, a bruise bone-deep that is still taking its sweet time to get well.  It may not look like much on the surface, but the spot is still tender.

For more than two years, I was one of the walking wounded at church, constantly fighting back tears and screams and big ugly sobs. I held myself together and forced a smile, even though I was shattered inside. I blamed myself, shamed myself, chided myself to get my act together. But the facade I created was just a bandaid and it couldn’t contain the injury.

I read a post a while back about the five stages of church grief.  I can relate.  Now that I’m involved in another church congregation, I think I’m finally working my way into stage five, acceptance. But it’s been a long, crooked road.

The scars will always exist, even after the wound is completely healed. Scars to remind me where I’ve come from. Scars to change me for the better. Scars to remind me Who my Healer is.

61cce1aac144bf998f3d83528fc7846c Image via Pinterest

Have you ever been wounded by those you counted dear? Family, friends, or a church that felt like home? Those hurts can cut deepest.

I know how you feel. You aren’t alone, even though it may feel like it. There is a Healer who wants to mend your broken heart, to bind up your wounds and hold you close until you can walk again. He is Jesus and He’s as close as the mention of His name.

Cry to Him and let Him begin to heal your deepest wounds.

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For further reading, see “When Church Hurts” by Shawna at Not the Former Things

 

When You Wonder If Life Is Worth It

wonder if life is worth it

Ever feel like throwing in the towel? Like giving up on life?

Ever feel like there’s no point trying anymore because of your failures or your brokenness?

Ever feel like you’re at the bottom of a pit and there’s no way out, at least not that you can see? No light at the end of the tunnel?

My daughter’s choir sang a text during their concert this evening that made me think of you.

Yes, you.

  • You who doesn’t see any reason to go on.
  • You who are going through the motions, but always wondering if there’s more to life than this.
  • You who don’t think you can stand another second of the mundane, boring routine. The day in and day out. The rut that seems to have you trapped in its clutches.

Is life really even worth it?

Life Has Loveliness to Sell

In the middle of wondering if there is any meaning to it all, ponder the words to the poem, “Barter,” by Sara Teasdale:

Life has loveliness to sell,
      All beautiful and splendid things,
Blue waves whitened on a cliff,
      Soaring fire that sways and sings,
And children’s faces looking up
Holding wonder like a cup.

 

Life has loveliness to sell,
      Music like a curve of gold,
Scent of pine trees in the rain,
      Eyes that love you, arms that hold,
And for your spirit’s still delight,
Holy thoughts that star the night.

 

Spend all you have for loveliness,
      Buy it and never count the cost;
For one white singing hour of peace
      Count many a year of strife well lost,
And for a breath of ecstasy
Give all you have been, or could be.

–Sara Teasdale

When You Wonder If Life Is Worth It

Life does indeed have loveliness to sell. Sometimes it costs everything. But the point of the poem is this: it’s worth the barter.

I know a God-incarnate-man who gave everything. He bartered it all. Traded power and perfection for a rugged cross and a crown of thorns. Swapped the purest peace for the burden of shame and guilt. Surrendered a throne to become a foot-washing servant.

Why?

For the beauty of children’s faces? For the conversations and quiet moments spent with loved ones? For the celebration of special days and routine days alike? For the gratitude in a healed woman’s eyes? For the infinite grains of sand and the white-capped waves of the sea and the sound of crashing thunder? For the faith and the trust and the love of passionate followers?

Why did He make such a barter? Why did Jesus spend all He had and never count the cost?

I’ll tell you why.

He did it for you. Because you’re worth it. Really and truly.

storybookbible

Photo from The Jesus Storybook Bible

Yours is the life that has loveliness to sell and Jesus splurged on you. He didn’t think twice about paying the cost. Because when it came to you, the loveliness was more than worth it. 

There is beauty all around and about and in you. Yes. IN.

  • I don’t know how to make you see it.
  • I don’t know the right words to convince you.
  • I can’t force you to believe.

But I will shout it from this cyber mountaintop as long as I have air in my lungs and strength in my fingertips.

You are loved.

The God who made the stars loves you. And that makes you so very lovely. 

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The One Surefire Way to Not Screw Up Your Kids

 

only way to not screw up your kids

I was a great mom before I had kids.

When I found out I was pregnant, I was bound and determined to be the best mom ever. My kids would be perfect — smart, beautiful, obedient, and always well-behaved because, well, they would have the perfect mom.

And so I prepared. I read all the books and did all the research. But I didn’t even get out of infancy stage before discovering how many discrepancies there were between child rearing methods.

At one point Eric threatened to set fire to all the parenting books. I couldn’t decide whether to pick my baby up every time he cried or let him cry it out. Whether to swear off pacifiers and bottles or use them. Whether to nurse on demand or put my baby on a schedule.

And I didn’t even have a baby yet!

When my firstborn was just a few months old,  I already felt like a failure.

I wasn’t the mom I thought I’d be. Things weren’t like the breezy romantic dream that I’d imagined motherhood to be. By the time my child was two, I was sure I’d already screwed him up for life.

Add three more kids to the mix and my dreams of perfect parenting died a little more each day.

I was still reading, researching, trying new methods and learning all I could about how to be the best parent I could be. But every day I messed up. Still do.

I yell. I say things I don’t mean. I get angry. I forget important things and fail to keep promises. I get tired and don’t follow through. I make empty threats.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m still doing lots of good things. I’ve even finally reached a point (well past 40) where I actually believe I’m a good mother.

But I’m also pretty sure that at some point in their lives, my kids are gonna need some therapy so they can work through all my parenting mistakes.

oops

Most days I feel like I’m screwing up my kids.

I think the majority of good parents probably feel the same way. At least I hope I’m not the only one.

How to Not Screw Up Your Kids

A couple of weeks ago we were watching Parenthood (my favorite TV drama), and the character Julia — who is separated from her husband, Joel —  was talking to her Dad (Zeek Braverman, played by Craig T. Nelson) about raising kids.

The scene went like this:

Zeek: So, how are you doing, kid?

Julia: Oh, just doing what I do. Ruining my kids’ lives.

Zeek: Parents screw their kids up, that’s just the way it is, honey. It’s been that way since time began I think. It doesn’t matter. . . married, divorced, whatever. You’re gonna screw ‘em up. It’s the nature of it, you know. So don’t think you’re so special. Honey, the only way not to screw ‘em up is not to have ‘em. What a shame that would be.”

Truer words were never spoken.

Nobody’s perfect, which means there won’t ever be any perfect parents, or perfect kids. All of us need therapy. We all have issues. It’s the nature of things here in this broken world.

But to not live, to not experience all that life has to offer, to not squeeze every drop out of the days we’re given, well, that would be a shame.

Life’s gonna be messy and dysfunctional and hard to manage. I’m going to make mistakes — as a parent and as a person — no matter how hard I try to do things right.

So will you.

But the fear of screwing things up doesn’t need to keep us waiting on the sidelines. There’s no good in being a wallflower in this dance we call life. The whole point is to get out there and dance, do whatever it is you’re meant to do, and know going into it that you’re gonna make a mess.

If you’re raising kids, I can guarantee that at some point you’re gonna screw them up. . . at least a little.

Just make sure that you’re also loving them, teaching them, enjoying them, experiencing real life with them.

As the tagline of this blog says, “Life’s a song that’s meant to be sung.” That’s the whole reason I started writing. I want to spread the message that you need to be living your life – the way God intended when He made you. With joy and gusto and passion — and yes, even making mistakes along the way.

The only way to not mess up is to never live.

And in the words of Zeek Braverman, “What a shame that would be.”

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If you’d like to see the entire episode of Parenthood, you can check it out here. The scene between Julia and Zeek takes place about 12 minutes from the end. It is true TV greatness.