Developing a Heart that Sings When Thanksgiving is Hard

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Reflecting on the time spent celebrating the holiday we call Thanksgiving fills my heart to overflowing. There’s nothing sweeter than hearing the laughter and playful spirit of four children, ages 21 months to eight years old. There’s nothing dearer to a mother’s heart than having her children and their families gathered around the table for a meal where love and unity is evident. What totally amazes me is that even though I get to see three of these grandchildren at least once a week, I still couldn’t wait for their grand entrance to Mimi’s house on Thanksgiving Day, 2016. These children bring contagious joy.

That day thanks came easy. However, there are many days that giving thanks is not easy. Many who celebrated Thanksgiving were not able to utter words of gratefulness because their hearts were breaking due to painful, difficult circumstances. I don’t have to look far to see those who are in desperate places in their own health or the health of family members, in marriages, in struggles with children, in the lack of basic necessities of life. There are emotional needs that can cause intense pain: depression, fear, anxiety, uncertainty. I know at any time one or many of those things can knock unexpectedly at my door. I know because I’ve been there before. I know because we live in a broken and fallen world where we never know what tomorrow brings.

Can we ever prepare for the unexpected knocks of hardship and difficulty – even the tragic ones? I doubt totally. I believe, however, there are things we can all store up that will help us be more prepared when life takes a hard turn.

We begin with what we know about God: His goodness, His love, His redemption through Jesus Christ, His faithfulness, His provision (little or plenty). The best and perfect tool we have to know Him is the written word. It tells of His works. It tells of His character which is what we must hold onto when we are knocked down.

As I think of the power of the Word I can’t help but think of the movie we watched a few weeks ago: “The Insanity of God.” It tells the stories of many who live in places in the world where people are persecuted for their faith. Many do not have access to a Bible. Those who do know their lives may be in danger simply because of this. One man in Russia, before the fall of communism, owned a Bible, read it for himself, then read it to his children, then others gathered to hear these precious words until the house church reached 150.

News of the house church reached local officials. He was imprisoned 17 years with 1500 hardened criminals for His faith. He was 1000 miles from his family. Dimitri, however, had established habits early on in his life that would carry him through days of horrendous suffering. The Word became embedded in Him because He spent time reading it over and over. He read it out loud to others. He preached it to others. The reading of it put a song in his heart. It made him strong. It gave him a supernatural courage. It built spiritual muscle. The two habits he had learned from a believing father and a believing grandfather, carried him and sustained him. The habits were a steadfast reading and breathing in of the Word of God and singing to Him.

Those two habits didn’t stop during those 17 years of horrible imprisonment. Whenever Dimitri found any type of writing material – a scrap of paper, something with which to write – he would write down scriptures he remembered. Then, he would stick that paper high up on one of the four tall concrete pillars in his cell, which were always moist. Guards would see them, read them, tear them to pieces, and then beat him. The other habit he’d learned from his disciplers (father, grandfather) was singing to Jesus every morning. Upon wakening, he’d look to the east, raise his hands in worship and sing out to God. He did this singing every morning like clock work. The prisoners laughed and did everything in their power to drown out his singing.

The guards came up with a plan to break him. They paraded a woman prisoner, dressed like his wife past his cell. Of course, he believed it was his wife. They told him she was his wife. He heard her cries for three long days. Finally, he said, “This is too much. I can’t stand it. You win. I’ll sign whatever document you bring.” But, the next morning when the document was brought before him to sign, where he would be renouncing his faith and give in, he boldly said he would not do it. God let him know during the night that his wife and children were safe at home. Two weeks later, after writing and posting another scripture, the guards beat him, and promised he would be facing death in just moments. When being drug out, all prisoners lifted their hands toward the east and began singing the songs to God that they’d heard him sing all those years. Dimitri was released.

Even when times are hard and life is dark and gray, we can stand strong, we can kneel strong, we can be on our face strong, we can sing strong, we can give a strong word of thanks because of the love that God sings over us everyday in spite of our circumstances. Let us do whatever it takes to be steadfast in the daily taking in of the Word of God. There is a reward: It develops a heart that sings.

 

 

 

 

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Wonder – Taking the Step from Ordinary to Extraordinary

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A couple of weeks ago we had workers in our backyard putting in a patio. It just so happened that I kept our four year old granddaughter the day the construction began. The workers were where Lyla could watch from our bay window. I had no idea she would be so captivated by the work in progress. First she came running and told me she’d waved at one of the workers and that he waved back. She was delighted. Her eyes were glued to their every move. Finally, she asked if she could go outside and watch from the deck. She said they were now “mowing the dirt”. That’s how she described the leveling process. She said it was the second step. I’m not sure how she understood all of that, but it was evident she was taking it all in and she was enchanted with the work they were doing. Living in wonder seems to be natural for children.

Watching her, I realized she was in total amazement and wonder of what these skilled workers were accomplishing. This was a picture of what natural child like wonder really looks like. She looked from different angles; she found a comfortable place and position to do her gazing. She smiled at them first. Then she moved closer as she went outside. She even struck up a conversation with them. She was in a place of total awareness.

I can’t help but think how often I miss out on experiencing the joy of today because I am not living in a place of wonder, which is really a place of joyful expectancy. As adults we are bombarded with bad news. We are bombarded with too much to worry over. We are bombarded with things that can feed our selfish indulgences. It’s like we open up our mouths and let things that breed negativity flow into every part of our soul. It takes over until there is no room left for joyful wonder.

As I watched Lyla that morning I realized living in wonder really can become a part of our daily living. The wonders of God are all around us! David tells us this in Psalm 40 verse 5: “Many, O Lord my God, are the wonders you have done….were I to speak and tell of them, they would be too many to declare!” It’s really not all that hard to start practicing living in that place. I even became aware I’m already doing many things that foster having many daily “wonder moments”. What are those things?

  • Writing down at least three things I’m grateful for each day. I actually do this in the morning which means I write down things from the previous day. I started this habit in 2001 after I read “One Thousand Gifts” by Ann Voskamp. All I know is I’m on number 5,232. I don’t know what number I’d be on if I did it everyday since I started. There are days I miss. I’m too lazy to do the math right now.
  • Taking every opportunity possible to enjoy the beauty of a sunrise or a sunset. We have the widest and biggest screen that’s available to mankind at our fingertips and it’s free! Take the opportunity to let “Heaven and nature sing!”
  • Getting outside and enjoying the freshness of a morning through taking deep and slow breaths.
  • Connecting with others and listening to their special God stories. Those always fill me with wonder.
  • Being still for at least 5 minutes a day doing nothing but thinking about the love of God and His other qualities and actions that I admire the most about Him. His love is personable and intimate. The words of an old hymn by Frederick Lehman describe this Love so well: It’s rich, it’s pure, it’s measureless, it’s strong, it endures forever. Thinking about this love always puts me in a place of reverent wonder!

 

There are many other ways to embrace the joy of wonder. These are some simple ways I’ve found that help me find extraordinary beauty in an ordinary day. I’d love to hear from you! What are ways you practice living in wonder?

A Mirroring that Never Fails

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David Boudia and Steele Johnson are synchronized divers. Watching them perform at the Rio Olympics was fascinating. I can’t imagine the time and discipline it takes to master the moves that ensure that they are completely in sync with each other.   These divers mirror each other. It takes years of hard work to develop physically and mentally to be able to compete and win. The physical skill and mental toughness required is incredible.

The journey of Steele Johnson and David Boudia began a decade ago. Boudia, at age 17 would pick up Johnson (10) and they’d head to practice. Boudia became Johnson’s mentor. They spent endless hours together developing the skills it would take to become two of the world’s best divers. They worked hard. They worked in unity. They focused completely on the task at hand: Do it right, do it together, do it better.

Johnson watched, listened, and learned from his respected mentor. He did what he was told to do. It paid off. Steele Johnson says of David Boudia, “I’ve learned so much inside and outside of the pool from this guy—about diving, about faith, about being a man—that I wouldn’t be where I am without this guy teaching me along the way.”

Some of us are blessed to have a mentor in our life who helps us in our journey. They are ahead of us in some areas that we still need to develop. We can learn much from them. Others may not have that person in human form. But, as believers in Christ, we all have the Word of God in our hands that is available at all times. His Word acts as a mirror. It reflects back to us how we are to look, act, and live.

We are to spend our lives gazing at the right thing. That right thing is Jesus. We gaze at Him as we read about how He lived. He teaches us how to live. He teaches us how to flourish. When there is pain, struggle and brokenness, Jesus puts us back together.

Boudia and Johnson know about pain and hardship. They know what it’s like to be unsure about the trajectory of your life when, at the moment, your dreams seemed crushed. Seven years ago Johnson had a diving accident that could have taken his life. In 2009 Boudia was in such a pit of despression he contemplated suicide. They both turned their eyes to the One who was able to reach down and restore them in their greatest time of need.

It is worth taking the time to look at Jesus’ life as revealed to us through the Scripture. Making it our life long goal to reflect Him in the power of the Holy Spirit to a watching, waiting, wounded world is a huge part of discipleship.

What will we reflect?

  • An eagerness and availability to minister to others
  • A Christ-like compassion for those who suffer
  • A Christ-like humility
  • A steadiness of purpose
  • A disciplined life
  • A serenity of spirit

We won’t ever get it done perfectly, but what joys there are in the journey of being in the right race. It’s anything but boring. Ask Boudia and Johnson.

What race are you running? Are you reflecting Jesus? What is one thing you can do this week to reflect him more to your family? A neighbor? A classmate? Or a stranger?