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.

 

 

 

 

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 Plan for Thriving

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I’ve just finished my annual continuing education course for my Life Coaching certification through Coach Approach Ministry. This course consisted of taking a look at what’s called Positive Psychology. I was kind of leery when I saw the subject matter but I found the material we covered to be extremely beneficial for me personally as well as the people I coach. The reason I was a little uneasy about this was because my first thought was, “Oh, no. Not positive thinking.” And, it definitely was not. Positive Psychology is founded on the belief that people want to lead meaningful and fulfilling lives and have the ability to cultivate what is best within themselves. Lasting transformation can take place because of action taking in areas that truly do make a difference in improving one’s well-being. Positive Psychology has been well researched and is backed up through multiple scientific studies. I’m intrigued and encouraged with what the studies have revealed.

We examined the book “Flourish” by Martin Seligman. Dr. Seligman has five elements he teaches that will help us live lives that flourish. They are elements that can improve one’s well-being. These elements are:

  • Positive Emotion
  • Engaging
  • Meaning
  • Positive Relationships
  • Accomplishment

When he teaches Positive Psychology one of the first things he requires of his students is to get a journal that is used for recording three blessings each day. At the end of the day they are to write down three things that went well and the reason it went well. He has seen depression lift when this exercise takes root in people. He does say it is important to stay with it for many months in order for it to really get embedded and make a lasting difference. I love this! It is SO Biblical! All through the Bible there are scriptures that exhort us to give thanks. Having a heart of thanksgiving is truly transformational.

Seligman says engagement is when one is deploying one’s highest strengths and talents to meet the world in what he calls “flow”. He even has a free on-line Signature Strengths Assessment that can be found at www.authentichappiness.org to help us know where our strengths lie so we can practice using these strengths as much as possible.

His third element is meaning. All of us want meaning and purpose in our lives. The way to flourish with meaning is realizing we are a part of something bigger than ourselves. Some of the “bigger than self” places he mentions are religion, political parties, family. That list could go on and on. For me, the two most “bigger than life” places are my relationship with God and my relationship with my family.

This connects perfectly to positive relationships. Christopher Peterson is one of Positive Psychology’s founders and he says, “Positive Psychology is about ‘other people’.” I so agree! Very little that we do in life that brings satisfaction and joy is done alone. Dr. Seligman says that other people are the best antidote to the downs of life and the single most reliable up. He suggests that we frequently practice doing an unexpected kindness for someone. This can totally alter our mood for the better! Jesus called this “servanthood”. It’s to be the norm of the Christian’s life.

The last element is accomplishment. This involves using efforts and skills to achieve a specific goal. I can’t help but think how much better I feel about a day when I look back over it and know I’ve accomplished at least a few things. They may not be huge, change the world things, but I’ve found that just reaching a few small goals can certainly add to my own personal well-being.

Our Creator God designed us to flourish! One of my favorite verses in the Bible is, “I have come so that you may have life and have life more abundantly.” God gifted us with the ability of choice. Each day is a gift and we can choose to put into action the things that will help us thrive, not stagnate. I can live in a place of more abundant living. It will make a positive personal difference. It will make a difference to others. A rippling effect for the positive cannot help but happen.

Are You Really This Old?

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Well, they didn’t exactly say it this way, but it’s what they meant. It was the question my daddy and sister both asked within the last few weeks as February 7 is quickly approaching. Yes! They’re as surprised as me. I am that old. I received their questions with grace. No, I’m not going into depression that two digits are changing. However, I must admit it jars me and has made me a little blue.

I know I need to have the right attitude about this celebratory event and not forget it, as I would like. I can’t help but remember Sundays at our church when we lived in Caracas, Venezuela. The tradition each Sunday was to ask who had just celebrated birthdays the previous week. Those special people would then walk up to the front to be recognized. They were given the opportunity to say a few words. I will never forget the words spoken by Hermana Maria, who always seemed to be smiling although her life had been filled with tragedy. With a radiant smile on her face she said, “I just want to thank God for allowing me to complete another year of life.” Children learned through these testimonies that God is the giver of life and that life is a gift.

This week I am reminded that I don’t need to be whining about turning two new digits. I am to say, “Thank you Lord for allowing me to complete another year of life. It is a gift.” Just thinking these words bring a smile to my face and put joy in my heart as I remember the multitude of amazing blessings I received this past year. In spite of a year with difficulties, tears, and sorrow there have been countless pockets of joy that found their way into my life because of Jesus, the giver of life, the giver of all things good. He is the author and finisher of my faith who brings light because He is the perfect Light. May we daily walk close to Him always remembering, This is the day the Lord has made. Let us be glad and thankful in it.

Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff

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The walls in our bedroom were freshly painted and the color was perfect. Now it was time for the really fun part: painting the baseboards and crown molding. I really hadn’t put a lot of thought in to the type of sheen of the paint we’d be using for the trim. I just took the old can of paint we’d used many years before and told the man I wanted the same color and type of paint from that can. I realized we were using different brands of paint, but didn’t really think that would matter. So, he mixed it up. We began painting. My husband graciously did the crown molding and I did the baseboards. After it dried I realized it was really shiny and I wasn’t too happy about it having such a glossy look on the crown molding.

I found myself feeling very guilty about my discontent and dissatisfaction and felt I was being way too picky. I knew I needed to pray about it, asking God to forgive me for my ungrateful attitude and to help me change it. I thought I’d also verbalize a prayer of thanksgiving which was truly an act of my will. My prayer was: “Thank you God, for that shiny trim.” Then my husband came in and said, “What do you think of the paint job?” Desiring to be honest in our communication, I said, “The trim is a little too shiny for my liking, but it is okay.” He blessed me by replying, “Go buy some more paint. I think it’s too shiny, too.” I was elated! I believe my husband’s understanding and willingness to re-paint what he’d already done was somehow connected to the choice I’d earlier made to be grateful and choose to find contentment in the semi-gloss that really wasn’t too “semi”. I’m also very grateful for a husband whose desire was to please me even if it cost him extra time, energy, and money. And, he did it all with joy!

All situations may not always work out quite as positively as this did, but this was an opportunity to practice being thankful for something I wasn’t happy about. I pray that this kind of thankfulness would become easier for me. I need to grow in realizing that what brought discontent was something of temporal value, not eternal.