Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Power of Gratitude

Thankful on Thursdays

“Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.” 

I'll give you the author of that quote shortly, but I want you to let the words sink in first.  Perhaps we should re-read that together :  cultivate the habit ... of being grateful ... give thanks [when?] ... continually ... include [what?] ... all things ... in your gratitude.

Every day when I raise my hands to God in the morning, here's the posture  in which I want Him to find my heart: ready.     Ready to receive whatever good He places in my hands; ready to give Him my life as an offering; ready to say "thank-You" for whatever He gives through His glorious riches in Christ (Phil 4:19).  Because the Father of Lights only gives good, only filters through what He defines as good, only permits what will be beneficial for my good, though my definition of good may have originally seemed different.  I open my hands again today and allow it to be redefined.  I'm ready to allow Him to redefine me, even.

And gratitude is cultivated in the bringing back down of my hands, holding His gift to my chest in this moment, and saying ... thank You.  For things such as these:

- a snowy morning, and beautifully white flakes.  Reminder of the purity He exchanged for my filth.  That purchase still floors me.

- a working furnace

- J's silliness with baby L : "whoa, her cheeks are squishy!" and "aah, she just slammed my eye out!"

- Your glory-strength in me to endure the unendurable [Col. 1:11-12 (Msg)]

- an extra day with my niece, L ... giving her roly-poly thighs a "slippy" bath, and the glorious feeling of a baby falling asleep in my arms as I rock.  Lord, forgive me for not being grateful for these things when my own were small.  I beg You - teach me to treasure the mundane as Your goodness too.

- a morning to linger in the Word, and for my tattered Bible while my kindle is "missing"

- reminder to speak out Your Love in the morning and Your Faithfulness every night [Psalm 92:1-2]

- a picturesque moon, shining especially bright tonight, and a pretty star so close in the sky

- re-learning grammar so I can strengthen my writing

- the pain of the cycle, and the knowledge of your faithful healing ... again

"And cultivate thankfulness. Let the Word of Christ—the Message—have the run of the house. Give it plenty of room in your lives. Instruct and direct one another using good common sense. And sing, sing your hearts out to God! Let every detail in your lives—words, actions, whatever—be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way." -Colossians 3: 15b-17 (Msg)

Sounds eerily familiar to the quote at the top, doesn't it?  So, how surprised was I to learn that it came from the founder of Transcendentalism himself, Ralph Waldo Emerson?  Really? ... Well, forgive me, Mister Founder, but before you walk away from your faith to worship the gods of self and creation, perhaps you'd like to examine whom you are thanking and gratifying.  

And how much of our society has remained transcendentalized? [Oh my - first I'm talking to dead guys, and now I'm making up words!] ... Part of our thinking has come from the idea that we can make ourselves, control our lives with positive thinking and education, and rise above others by isolating ourselves from them.  Honestly, at 19 years old when I gave my heart to Christ in full, He had to deliver me from every single one of those idols. Oh thank You, Jesus. *shew*

I'm exceedingly thankful He did.  So I hope you enjoyed that truth from one of the greatest writers and poets in American history, however hypocritical it is to his movement and ideals.  We'll extend grace to him too, because, after all - we're all ragamuffins, aren't we?

Sweet Jesus, I'm so thankful again today.  You bless me with good, and I want every bit of it.  Even the gifts that don't appear as such at first.  I embrace them to my heart too.  Today I trust You again and believe that whatever comes is in Your great plan to mold my heart and conform my life to Yours.  Isn't that what I've sung for years?  "Take my heart, and form it.  Take my life and conform it.  Take my will and transform it.  To Yours ..."  May every moment I'm here on earth be one in which I thank You.  Because it's virtually all I have that You want.  Open hands. 

Saturday, November 24, 2012

what is trust?

My dad used to take me fishing.  We'd drive up to Eleven-Mile Canyon near Lake George, Colorado and spend a weekend camping, hiking, and catching as many rainbow trout as we could fit on the long chain that hung into the stream to keep those dead scale-wearers cold until we could cook them over the open flame of our fire.  I recall one particular trip that was almost more than either one of us could manage.

First, on the way up, the road had been washed away by a storm, and we got the truck and camper stuck in a ditch.  I'll spare you the expletives my young ears heard that day, but somehow, he managed to prop it up with the anchors so the wheels could grip something and find the road again.  Next, another unexpected rain came and we made the fish wait another day for the florescent pink salmon eggs while we played cards in the camper.  Finally, Sunday was warm and sunny, so we set out for the river with high hopes for a huge catch.  We might have caught one before having to turn in early so he could get me back to my mom's on time and not get in trouble.  I remember the walk back to the truck with startling clarity.

Though the path was slick and branches covered every trace of the way back, I followed him, hurrying my little steps to match his long strides.  My fishing rod kept getting tangled in the trees, so he carried it for me, along with the tackle box, our meager catch, and a little lunch in his one large hand; my little fingers wrapped tightly around two fingers of his other. And I would have followed him to the moon.

This is trust.  Had he earned it? In part.  As dysfunctional as my addict-of-a-father was, my eyes only seemed to see his protection of and adoration for me. So wherever he went, I yearned to follow.  Whatever he said, I just believed.  He could have told me the sky was green and the grass was purple.  Whatever he gave, I took and treasured.  Looking back, I realize that in some portion my trust was misguided, but if nothing else, I learned this from John Douglas Mills: what it feels like to have a child-like faith.

When I miss him, I've learned to direct my love to Jehovah, and to trust in Him with that same kind of faith.  Pure. Innocent. Undeterred. Lacking all skepticism.  This is trust. 

"Turn your ear and hear the words of the wise;
    focus your mind on my knowledge.
18     It will be pleasant if you keep the words in you,
    if you have them ready on your lips.
19 So that your trust will be in the Lord,
    I’m teaching you today—yes, you." -Proverb 22:17-19 (CEB)

Trust equals surrender.  Peace though it doesn't appear right or good. Open-handed living, and releasing control as we crucify all grasping and striving postures of our hearts.  It is resting in the knowing - He will have His will if I don't get in the way and if I cooperate in obedient passion to serve Christ.  This is trust.

Coming to know God's instructions and wisdom in genuine consumption of the Bread leads to trusting Him.  And trusting Him leads to a fulfilling life. 

"The payoff for meekness and Fear-of-God  [Trusting Him]
    is plenty and honor and a satisfying life."

          -Proverb 22:4 (Msg)

King David in 2 Samuel knew a thing or two about trust. And then he learned one more.  Took a census when he knew better.  And took a rebuke straight across the jaw for it from his high commander.  We ask ourselves what was so wrong about counting the people when the entire book of Numbers is about just that?  How faithful the Word is to give us clues like this:

"But when it was all done, David was overwhelmed with guilt because he had counted the people, replacing trust with statistics." - 2 Samuel 24:10 (Msg.)

My guilt could be added on the same scale.  I trust numbers more than God sometimes too.  Numbers in the bank account, on my pay stub, in the pews (or missing from them), at the voting booths, and on my reading list.  Lord, forgive me too.  I want to choose trust in You alone.

"Our ancestors put their trust in you;
    they trusted you, and you saved them.
They called to you and escaped from danger;
    they trusted you and were not disappointed.

Future generations will serve him;
    they will speak of the Lord to the coming generation.
31 People not yet born will be told:
    'The Lord saved his people.' " -Psalm 22: 4-5, 30-31 (GNT)

The Lord God, Adonai is His name - He alone is faithful.  For all of our ancestors past, and for all generations to come.  The one who has been trusted since the beginning of humanity is the same one who will be trusted in eternity.  This, this God of all Ages - yes, this is the one I can hold onto.  Grasp His hand in my small one and never let go.  Follow with reckless abandon - yes, even to the moon.  Whatever He tells me I can take as truth, know as sure as the dawn, and even more so.  Whatever He gives me and calls good I can take to my heart and keep it as if it were a treasured gift, even when to me it seems like it might not be good at all.  

Lord, forgive me for trusting statistics instead of trusting You. For trusting numbers or the law or others' opinions over trusting You.  Only You are trustworthy, only You are faithful.  When all else is fickle, You, Oh God are Constant.  I really do love that about You.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

catching my breath ...

After over a week of not blogging, I've missed the rest that comes in nesting here.  Tonight as I catch my breath after fighting some bugs, I have so much to share! 

First, I missed "Thankful on Thursdays," so here are a few of the blessings I've been able to jot down even in the whirlwind of crazier-than-normal:

- a pleasant parent-teacher conference with Miss W, and her kind comment that she would take a thousand Josiahs.  So would I.

- lemon-scented hand lotion in the women's bathroom, and the comfort to my dry, cracked hands

- Your strength when I'm frustrated and weak

- open doors for K, and her perseverance to do Your will, wherever that may take her

- for all of the times Ruth was called "My Daughter," and that You have always addressed me this way when You speak to my heart

- for perfect vision, and forgiveness for the times I've taken it for granted after my Lasik

- for this song and singing it all day every day this week 

- seeing Kim Walker-Smith live in Hershey, and for the way she leads people into Your presence with her amazing voice.  As J said, "shocking that such a big voice could come from someone so tiny!"  

- scrambled eggs and toast.  I get to feed my kids this morning.  So many moms don't.  Thank You.  Please help them, Lord our Provider.

- for friends who pray for me right away when I don't feel well

- the sunlight on my face through the window, and the way Your presence shines into my heart that way

Second, I missed out on giving you a writing prompt on Friday.  Well, Saturdays are just as good for writing as Fridays are, so here you have it:  

Change the ending of your favorite story, movie, or historical event.  For example, what would have happened if Uzzah hadn't put his hand out to catch the falling Ark when the oxen stumbled?  Use your imagination and write your own conclusion to the plot of your choosing.

And last, how about some Bread for the birds? For some context, this passage comes after Absalom had been restored to his father, David, and, for some unstated reason, decided to rebel against his dad with attempts to take over the kingdom.  His crafty plan caught my breath when I read it:

Then Absalom would say, “Oh that I were judge in the land! Then every man with a dispute or cause might come to me, and I would give him justice.”  And whenever a man came near to pay homage to him, he would put out his hand and take hold of him and kiss him.  Thus Absalom did to all of Israel who came to the king for judgment. So Absalom stole the hearts of the men of Israel. -2 Sam 15:4-6 (ESV)

Because isn't that the way the enemy works?  I love how Liz Curtis Higgs taught at the conference in Hershey that the adversary of our souls doesn't even deserve a name, like the un-named self-serving redeemer (little r) in Ruth.  In light of that teaching, I've been refusing to even name him.

Absalom's behavior reminded me so much of the ways no-name can try to trick me by planting seeds like, "If I were God, I'd do things differently.  I'd give people happiness. Comfort. Whatever they ask for, right away.  Yeah, that's what I'd do if I were God.  I guess too bad I'm not ..." he sneers as he slinks away, leaving me with these arms so heavy with doubt.  

And not only the detestable no-name, but I even think that way sometimes.  "Why, if I were the Lord, I would never allow people to face such trials!  I'd stop those murderers in their tracks.  I'd make sure my people had justice ..."

But who's to say David wasn't giving his subjects justice?  Of course he was.  He was David.  Hero of all heroes, lover and worship-er of the Lord, David.  There's no reason for us to doubt his leadership. ... Not until Absalom planted the doubt, that is.  And he stole their hearts.

Like David and even more-so, God is the faithful Judge, who gives justice like only the Ancient of Days can.  He is good and gives good and defines good.  Who's to say they could do a better job of being God?  Not I.  And so I want to stop thinking that way.  Like I could do it better.  Like I know answers He doesn't.  Like what I'm petitioning Him for He isn't already working on.  As if. 

I want to stop questioning God.  Stop second-guessing His hand.  Stop the madness of this pretense that I could do a better job.  That's actually pretty disrespectful and rebellious to say, although I know people do so in jest most of the time.  I'm just saying for me, I don't want to give away any territory of my heart that could be claimed by doubt.   Stolen by rebellion.

Lord, trusting You means especially surrendering to Your plan in the trials.  Even if the healing doesn't come.  Even if we don't get our way.  Thank You for teaching me this through Your Word.  Help me not to be like Absalom or give in to the lies of my un-named enemy.  What I want ... what I really want, more than anything ... it's just You.  More of You. More awareness of Your presence.  More open-handed, surrendered living according to Your grace and gifts and goodness.  Only You are God, so good, so faithful, so loving, so just.  And me?  I am so ... so very ... not. Lord - no one is allowed to steal my heart from You.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Fridays are for Writing ...

… so let’s get to it!                  

I woke up with this one at about 4:30 this morning.  Hope it inspires you too. *grin*

Choose a historical figure from the Bible and “fictionalize” him or her.  In other words, fill in between the lines of who that person was.  Try not to change anything in the text, but describe him or her as if you were writing a chapter in the novel of his or her life.  What did he look like, how did he dress, what kind of things did he notice, and where did he (or she) like to go?  Get creative for at least 15 minutes, and please share it here, if you like.

Happy writing!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

when a habit becomes more

Last year I began counting things I was thankful to God for, and I can say it changed me.  What started as a habit and something I was doing carefully, deliberately, almost meticulously because I needed to ... became such a joy, such a thrill.  Today, as every day I count more and more ... and more.  I'm happy to share some of them you on Thankful on Thursdays here at the nest.  Join me?

-for new understanding today about Uzzah, and releasing my control to You once again.  I cannot save You.  Spill Your presence over me if You will - my hands are open.

- Jennifer - a kind voice and words on the other end of the line at the Dr.'s office

- hot apple cider and the warmth on my hands and lips and belly

-T and A - willing to take my sick son for a few hours while I work

- for my husband and the blessing of his faithful kindness - so much like You

- the scent of warm candles

- courage to face these issues again today.  You make me brave and I'm thankful

- the way You heal my children's scrapes and bruises, and that You let me be a part of that comfort

- for substitutes so I can go to the conference today and tomorrow

- for new wrinkles - evidence of laughter and smiles and joy and wisdom - ALL gifts from You, Father

- for a generous hostess tonight, and a new friend too

- for your grace, again

- for another beat of my heart, another breath in my lungs, another sunrise, another day.  I GET TO do this

Thank You Lord.  I can never say it enough.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Review of The Circle Maker

If you've ever wondered about prayer - what to pray and how to pray it, I've got just the book for you.  You won't find rote prayers or boring prayers in this book, but you will find amazingly answered prayers by an amazing God.  Mark Batterson hits another home run in The Circle Maker, and I hope you'll enjoy it too.

In this "Christian Living Nonfiction" (I suppose that's the name the book store assigned to the genre, please stop yawning - it's not that bad) Batterson maps out the story of Honi, a first-century BC Hebrew who drew a circle in the sand and refused to leave it until the Lord answered his prayer for rain.  Not only rain, but a specific kind of rain.  The author goes on to explain why this worked for Honi, and how it can be powerful for us more than two thousand years later.  How, when we draw faith circles in our messy life-sand, we might as well expect good rain from a good God too.

If you've never read a Batterson book before, you're in for a treat.  This well-read (I believe his goal is 100 books a year, or something over-the-top like that) pastor of a multi-site church in Washington DC has also written top-sellers such as In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day, Wild Goose Chase, Primal, and Soulprint, among others.  His writing is conversationally intelligent, and simplistically deep.  [Alright, so I use a couple oxymora - read him and tell me I'm wrong.]

Here are a few of my favorite quotes from this profound book about prayer:
The greatest risk is failing to circle the promises of God because we forfeit the miracles God wants to perform.
If you respond to His promptings, "this is crazy" will turn into "this is awesome."  When you live in obedience, you position yourself for a blessing.
To the [I]nfinite, all finites are equal
"The emerging picture from such studies is that ten thousand hours of practice is required to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world-class expert - in anything." [Neurologist Daniel Levitin] ... Is prayer any different? It is a habit to be cultivated. It is a discipline to be developed. It is a skill to be practiced. And while I don't want to reduce praying hard to time logged, if you want to achieve mastery, it might take ten thousand hours. This I know for sure: the bigger the dream the harder you will have to pray.
I learned that we don't have to be afraid of the enemy's attacks. They are counterproductive when we counteract them with prayer.  The more opposition we experience, the harder we have to pray, and the harder we have to pray, the more miracles God does.
 That one-liner in the middle is only one of about a hundred one-line quotables Batterson has.  It's his talent and they'll get you thinking while you're reading, and then they'll get you repeating them to yourself as you're reading your Bible and going about your life experiences.  "Yup - that's like Pastor Mark says ..."

In The Circle Maker  he explores three crucial circles a devoted pray-er draws: Dream Big, Pray Hard, and Think Long.  He details his own lessons about prayer, learned via personal trials, experiences, and victories, as well as those shared in the testimonies of others - both previous saints and present-day warriors.  Numerous quotes from a plethora of famous and not-so-famous round out the author's perspective to form a lovely apple of prayer, ready for the partaking.

Happy Reading, and Faithful Praying!

Friday, November 2, 2012

a prompt just right

Fridays are for writing, so let's get to it!

Instead of looking at a blank page or screen (way too intimidating), copy and paste the prompt and begin with the first things that come into your mind.  Freewriting is unedited and unpolished ... and isn't the beauty of it?  So if the first thing that comes into your mind is

This is scary I don't know how to write about this but I'm brave enough to try and who knows maybe something will come of it if I just give it a shot so here I go hurricanes are scary and destructive and I hate them this week...

then write all of that and keep going.  Oh how I love the delete button and the red pencil.  They are beloved friends, aren't they?

So freewrite for several minutes (at least 15) about the following:

The hurricane blew in the ___________ with the wind, and then ...

Feel free to share it here or email it to me!

Happy writing, everyone.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

As we begin the traditional month for being thankful...

... I hope I'll have many of you join me for Thankful on Thursdays.

When we're thankful for His gifts, and acknowledge them as such - oh what praise to Him! 

"Enter his gates with thanks;
    enter his courtyards with praise!
    Thank him! Bless his name!" - Psalm 100:4 (CEB)

When we say, "I'm thankful for ..." there's an understood to whom we're giving thanks.  We're not implying that we're glad for the possessions we've accumulated on our own.  Oh, no no ... when we as followers of Christ and children of God claim thankfulness, we are proclaiming that we see this gift as undeserved favor and grace from the Giver and we are demonstrating our love and appreciation for His love in return.  

If I ever tell anyone, "I'm thankful for you," what I'm saying in truth is, "I acknowledge that God didn't have to put you in my life to bless me, but He did, and because He loved me in that way, I'm declaring my joy over the gift of you to you and most of all, to Him." [Yes, there are too many prepositional phrases in that sentence, read it again and forgive me.]

Thankfulness is always about God.  Turkeys and feasting are great.  Cornucopias and decorations are lovely.  But Thanksgiving has a source and a direction.  Blessings of all shapes and sizes, seen and unseen, are sourced, all of them, from the Father of Lights, the Giver of all good things (James 1:17).  And the direction of our thanks is always back at Him.

Eucharisteo - thankful to God for Grace.  Let's begin:

- J: my pajama friend on a Saturday morning

- spooky, silly stories from fifth-graders, and their attempts to write their classmates into laughter

- Chai-tea this morning when the coffee's all gone

- K's pretty smile after I wished her Happy Birthday and she got out of the car

- Your righteous garment, provided for me, imputed for me to wear at the Wedding feast, and the security of knowing You won't throw me into outer darkness (Matthew 22:12-13)

- hearing KS's testimony three times this weekend, and crying my way through all three, these tears of joy for her victory in You to overcome

- sustained joy even in all of this cold rain - a true miracle of strength (Nehemiah 8:10)

- tears of joy running down my face, praising You for the miracle of CK and Grace, and pictures of them on fb together in China

- a funny video-chat with my little niece, L, and how we laughed to see her crawl for the first time, all the way out of the room

- a panel of professionals, able and brave through the storm, coming to my writing group to share their wisdom and pour it into the thirsty sponges of amateurs 

- sitting fireside at Panera, typing and thanking, so cozy

- Here by Kari Jobe, and the comfort washed over my heart with a song:
          "Breathe in, Breathe out
            You will, you will find Him 

-Pumpkin bagels, pumpkin lattes, pumpkin bars, pumpkin candles, and pumpkin everything this time of year

- generous donations for prisoners - the forgotten, now remembered

- a baby's happy voice, babbling like a brook over and around the stacks at the library, breaking the silence with the most amazing sound I can imagine

Oh my God - Your gifts are so extravagant! Jesus, thank You every day for new ones, overflowing to more than I can hold.  And today I offer You back the only thing I have for You: thanks.  You deserve to be recognized and praised for Your generosity, Father.  Your goodness is more than I can describe.  May these words honor You, and inspire others to give You thanksgiving too.  Not only in three weeks or this month, but every month, every day, every moment.  This alone is true joy.

I invite you to add your eucharisteo too!  He is worthy of public praise.