Thursday, July 26, 2012

Give Thanks. . .Really?!

1 Thessalonians 5:18  in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

This scripture seems like it's asking a lot of us as frail humans, especially when we're suffering, when we're hurt, when life has dealt us a blow or a series of blows that has left us gasping for air.  So, why give thanks?  Why choose to lift our heads, to fix our eyes on the Father, and to utter even the smallest word of thanks?  Why expend the energy to focus on the positive when we can't even think past the overwhelming feelings we experience in life's hardest, darkest moments?  I've been thinking about the discipline of choosing thanks/choosing joy.  And as I've plodded along this journey toward 1000 for the last few months, I think I've peeled back a little bit of understanding to the simplicity and yet the mystery of this command of this scripture.  It always seemed so impossible to me, almost insensitive.  I always thought it needed an explanation something like "we don't have to give thanks for the circumstance, but give thanks in the circumstance."  I still agree with that, BUT I also believe that I realize that God our great creator knew His creation when He ordained this scripture.  He knew our physiological make up.  He knew how we were wired as emotional, physical, and spiritual beings.  He knew what would happen in our bodies physically and emotionally as we turned our minds away from negativity, hurt, pain, impossibility, hopelessness, . . . to thankfulness, to possibility, to the reminders of who He has been and will continue to be, to the thoughts of those who surround us who are assets in our life, to the good in our life, to the hope in our life now and in the future, to the positive.  He knew that giving thanks would act like an "emotional reset button", like a spiritual and physical energizer of sorts, especially in hard times.  He knew it would be a defense against the flaming darts of the devil.  He knew it would act as a way to refocus us on truth when Satan would love for us to believe lies.  He knew that choosing to give thanks IN everything would be for our good.  It would be for our benefit.  It would
do something powerful in us in overcoming the enemy, in protecting our hearts and minds. 

So again, I choose to give thanks.  I choose to stop and remind myself of ALL I have to be thankful for.  I choose to not only write those words here but to say thanks to those in my life who make it more abundant and free.  I choose to lift my hands to my Father in heaven and say thanks.  I choose to live gratefully to my fellow man and to realize what a blessed person I am, not a deserving person, but a blessed person.

195  I am thankful for life, for each second I have to live.

196  I am thankful for those who are in my life, for those who have been and who aren't now, for those who will be some day. 

197  I am thankful for moments in my life that are divinely orchestrated.  I am thankful for opportunities of impact to speak a kind word, to lend a helpful hand, to just smile and be generous, to listen.  I am thankful that when I think I have my day all planned out God sometimes interrupts it with a divine appointment.

198  I am thankful for a conversation about eternity with my two daughters this week and the opportunity to talk with them about the certainty of their salvation.  I am thankful that we were able to talk about their salvation stories and relive those moments together.  I am thankful for their love for Jesus and their hope in heaven.  I am thankful for their hearts for others to know Him.

199  I am thankful for a day spent with my mom.  It's been a while since it's been just the two of us. I'm thankful for a chance just to talk with her and share life with her.  I'm thankful for her love for me and her friendship.

200  I am thankful for a friend who is miles away but who is so sensitive to the Spirit's leading that she always seems to know just when I need an encouraging text.  I am thankful for friends who speak their heart and will say I love you and I'm thankful for you, friends who aren't afraid of authenticity and true expression.

201  I am thankful for my brother, Callie, and Slade and for the little one on the way.  I am thankful for how Slade tells me he loves me, and for the way he says "Aunt Jenn".  I am thankful for the way my girls love him and how he loves my girls.  I am thankful for how excited he is when he sees us.  I wouldn't want it any other way.

202  I am thankful for the way good things can come out of hard things.  I am thankful that though we can't see the big picture we can cling to the truth of scripture and know that God is always working for our good and His glory. 

203  I am thankful for love.  I am thankful that God gives us the ability to love.  I am thankful for deep love, the kind that sometimes hurts but mostly feels amazing.  I am thankful for love that compels us to give our lives (not always literally) but just our daily living, to live it out for others not inward for ourselves. I am thankful to be loved and to love.  I am thankful for those who love me and those I get to love.

204  I am thankful for people who believe in you no matter what, who see what God sees, who continue to speak truth into your life.  I am thankful for people who help you keep believing and dispelling the lies of Satan.  I am thankful for those who challenge you to keep believing that God's work is not finished yet.

205  I am thankful for the opportunity of ministry.  I am thankful when God opens doors to reach out to others and to pour into their lives, to connect with them relationally, to share life with them. 

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Running the Race

Hebrews 12:1-2  Therefore let us also, seeing we are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, lay aside every weight, and the sin that does so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God

As I've walked an unfamiliar path on the journey of life the last week, I found myself thinking about this passage.  I've pondered it in my mind; I've talked through it with others; I've thought about each word, the phrases, the characters represented, and its relevance to life as I know it.  I find in it encouragement and motivation.  It leaves me in awe and overwhelmed.  It reminds me that there is more to this life than is obvious to the human eye, to our frail minds, or to any empirical evidence.

 So, here we are on earth.  We're running a race. And, as I've experienced most often, it's rarely a sprint; it's most often a marathon.  We're surrounded by who?  We're surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses.  They're observing us in the race.  They're "all around us"--maybe visible to the human eye maybe not.  We're running toward a goal, toward a prize.  We're instructed to keep our eye on Jesus.  He is the author and the perfecter of our faith story, of our journey.  He's the one who began the story.  He's the one who initiated the story.  He's the one who's been putting pen to paper from the beginning.  He's written every detail of our faith story.  He's still writing our story and He's not finished.  He's the one who will write it to perfection.  All the while He is seated at the right hand of God the father who is on the throne. We just keep running the race and He keeps writing the story.  We run with patience.  We shed the weights that are keeping us back, tying us down, hindering our progress, delaying our growth.  We confess and repent and turn from the sin that is besetting (attacking from all sides, troubling persistently, harassing, hemming in, surrounding).  Why?  Why do we run, why do we lay aside the weight, why do we cast off the sin?  Because of Jesus.  For the joy set before Him, He endured the cross!!!  He despised shame.  He's in heaven at the right hand of God making intercession for us.  He's interceding on our behalf.  He's making sense out of our groans and moans, our agonies and pains, the mumbling and fumbling we do when we're really trying to make sense out of what really doesn't make sense.  He's making sense out of our best efforts gone bad.  He's making sense out of mess-ups and our mishaps.

I've been reminded this week that there's a race to run but not just to run.  There's a race to finish.  I want to finish well.  I'm encouraged as I think about the witnesses that are cheering me on from the "grand stands".  They've received the prize.  They are seeing my struggles and would urge me in my darkest hours, in my moments where I feel like a complete failure, in my times where I wonder what's the point, "don't give up Jennifer.  life's only a vapor.  push through to the end.  on the other side of this struggle there's victory.  every test is worth the testimony."  They would urge me to endure the struggles with perseverance, with patience, and with purpose.   

I've been reminded that I have a choice to make.  There's so much in my life-everyday!!!-that will weigh me down and hinder me if I am not exercising discipline.  If I do not make wise decisions about the boundaries I place on my life, if I don't guard the gate, and if I don't choose to keep running every day, I will find myself out of shape, overweight, and infected with all kinds of things that overtake my ability to finish the race and finish well. 

Finally, I am so thankful for the reminder that JESUS is the one who is writing my story.  He's been writing my story for a long time.  Things that happen along my race ABSOLUTELY will never catch Him by surprise.  SO, when I make foolish decisions and live with regrets, when I wish and wish I could go back to a certain point in my life and relive it differently from that point forward, when I find myself in the middle of an unexpected trauma, NONE of that was or is a surprise to Him.  He's still writing my story and wants me to let my story be for His GLORY!!!  I am thankful that even when I feel like I've messed up or I've missed out, He's still not finished writing my story.  All that is necessary is to lay aside and look to Jesus and keep on running!!!! 

Today, I want to run with perseverance the race that is set before me.  I don't know what the course for the race is.  I'm not sure the distance for this race or where it might take me and my family.  I'm not sure what bumps, curves, or rough terrain we might face.  BUT, I do know that when those things happen that Jesus is the author of that story.  He began it and He'll complete it.  All the while, He's sitting at the right hand of God making intercession on my behalf.  So, I'm committing today and for my tomorrows to run this race with joy!!!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

A Tough Thankful Thursday

Today is one of those thankful Thursdays where it's hard to find the words of thanks.  It's been a week that's been splattered with all kinds of emotions.  In those emotions, I've searched to find my way to what I know is truth.  I've struggled to see my way through the grief, the tears, the overwhelming lump in my chest, the sick feeling in my stomach, the helpless feeling of wanting to do something, wanting to take away the pain for my friends and family but knowing I couldn't.  It's been hard to find my way to the hope on the other side, to the promises that I know are true, the God that I know has never and will never change. 

You see when I started this journey of thankfulness to 1000 it all began because of a book I had read entitled One Thousand Gifts:  A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are (emphasis added mine).  You see "the right where you are part" is sometimes the hard part.  The living fully and giving thanks is easier on some days, during some seasons, but frankly, there are seasons, days, years when it's just downright HARD!!!!  It doesn't come easy; it doesn't make sense; it's hard to live at all much less FULLY!!!!  The author of the book (Ann Voskamp) proposes, and I agree because it is in line with scripture, that we live most fully when we give thanks, when we choose joy, when we find hope even in the midst of the most difficult, the messiest, the most uncomfortable.  BUT, when I'm staring that stuff in the face, it's often another story.  I have to really step back, breathe deep, and look UP!!!  I have to cry out to God and choose to say I don't understand God but I do choose to believe that you are God and you are good!!!  I don't understand God but I believe that you are faithful and that you can not be otherwise.  I don't understand what you're doing God but I know that you have a plan.  I don't understand God but I know that you are with us always, that you will never leave us or forsake us.  I don't understand God but I know that heaven is real and this is just a temporary home and one day in your presence is better than a thousand days elsewhere.  I don't understand God but I know that you are our Great Comforter!!!  I don't understand God but I know that you have sent us a great counselor who will continue to teach me ALL that I NEED to know!!!  (there are some things I just won't NEED to know).  I don't understand God but I am so thankful that you are God and that you are big enough for any question that I need to ask, that you aren't insulted that I ask why or how can this happen or what now and that even in my asking I'm exercising faith in the fact that you are the ANSWER!!!! 

So in the midst of this week, I'm going to choose to give thanks, not because it's easy or because it's the natural thing to do, but to honor my God and to honor the life of two great men who died too early whose smiles remind me that life really is to be lived FULLY and GRATEFULLY!!!!!

#184  I'm thankful for family and friends who gather to support, to grieve, to walk through unchartered waters, to CELEBRATE how one's life has touched the lives of so many others.

#185  I am thankful for the reminder that life is a gift.  It's fragile, frail, it's only given one breath at a time.  It should be cherished.  It should be lived fully and given away, not hoarded.  It should be used to touch each person who comes across our path.  I've seen this week just how much one's life can touch someone else's.

#186  I am thankful for God's sustaining grace.  I am thankful for grace that's just what we need in every situation.  God's grace is always what we need in every situation.  There's never, ever going to be a situation we can't get through because for people of faith, for kids of the king, he will ALWAYS have sustaining grace.  He'll have grace for the moment, for putting one foot in front of the other, moment by moment, day by day.

#187  I am thankful for salvation, sanctification, eternal hope in heaven.

#188  I am thankful that good-bye is not good-bye; it's really just see you soon, see you later!

#189  I am thankful that God's plans are perfect even when we can't see how.  That His grace and mercy is BIG ENOUGH for all of us.  I am thankful that whatever situation I can think up and say "what if  . . ."  I can just plug in "then God!"  and know it covers it!!!

#190  I am thankful for my cousin Andrea.  I am thankful that I know her testimony.  I am thankful that I have seen how God has worked in her past and I can rest assured that she is a woman of great faith, incredible courage, and unwavering resolve.  I am thankful that I know she will trust God even on the darkest days to carry her through what lies ahead.

#191  I am thankful for Bradley's life.  I am thankful for his smile and how even now as I think about it I smile (it was contagious).  I am thankful for his wit and humor.  I am thankful for how he would start laughing over something and not be able to stop.  I am thankful for a trip to Disney with him and Andrea and Anzleigh and the great fun we had!!!  I am thankful for his love for his family and how that just showed through in everything he did.  I am thankful for how he was always ready to go out to eat or on a trip.  I am thankful for his testimony in Christ and knowing He's with Jesus.

#192  I am thankful that NOTHING absolutely NOTHING catches my God by surprise.  It may floor me.  It may leave me dumbfounded.  It may shock me and leave me numb for days, but God is never caught off guard!

#193 I am thankful that even in my darkest days, God is the light!!!

#194  I am thankful for LOVE.  I am thankful for the love of a mom and a dad to their child, a brother and a sister, a brother for his brother, a wife for her husband, a child for their father, a father for his child, friends for each other, a community for a neighbor.  We are able to love because God first loved us.  I am thankful for LOVE. 

#195  I am thankful for my best friends.  I am thankful that they know me and love me anyway.  I am thankful that they celebrate life with me.  I am thankful that I get to celebrate life with them.  I am thankful that we enjoy good times with each other and help each other through the tough stuff.  I am thankful that we can tell each other the truth.  I am thankful that we laugh and cry together.  I am thankful that our kids love each other.  I am thankful that we know a lot about each other and don't judge and criticize each other.  I am thankful that we get to share the journey of life. 

#194  I am thankful for music.  I am thankful for the way it lifts my spirit and helps me find truth and joy. 

I leave you today with a song that was on my heart when I awoke this morning.  It gives me hope in these days. 

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Wow! God is Amazing!!!!

Wow!  God IS amazing!!  That is such a simple but profound statement.  That's been the theme of our VBS this week.  We've spent our week marveling at just how awesome, how amazing, how powerful, how mighty our God is!!!  It's always refreshing to me to see this again and again through the eyes of a child.  It's no wonder Christ said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these." (Matt 19:14).  They really do take God at His Word.  They really do GET the simplicity of it all.  They really do SEE just HOW BIG God is.  They really do understand how approachable He is.  They desire Him.  They long to worship Him without reservation, with reckless abandon.  They look like they're actually enjoying worship and would do it for longer than say 10 minutes.  They see Him in His creation.  They can grasp that He really is right here with us, "like in this car, or in this room, or . . ."  I can't imagine a better way that I could have spent the last 7 days of my life.  I am thankful for so much, so let me list just a few.

#173  I am thankful for a van load of children that rode with me each night to VBS.  I am thankful for Derek and Clint who make that trek each night with me over to pick up our new friends.  I am thankful for each story I heard about their lives and for each mom and dad, aunt and uncle, grandma and grandpa who entrusted us with their precious little ones.  I am thankful to know 10 new friends who rode with me and for the 40-50 other little lives that rode with Mr. Ken and Mr. Lee, Mr. Garry and Mr. Roger, and Mr. John, Mr. Keith, and Mr. Andrew.  It was a blessing that I can't even really begin to put into words.  I am thankful for the reminder that the harvest is plentiful.  I am thankful that this is just the beginning of a relationship with some wonderful families.  I can't wait until I see them again. 

#174  I am thankful for the reminder that the word was made flesh and dwelt among us.  He came and walked where we walked, He came to live and breathe among us.  I am thankful for the reminder that this really is the most effective way to do ministry--to develop personal, intimate relationships with those you hope to reach.

#175  I am thankful for my husband who will serve in ANY WAY he's needed.  I am thankful that HE LOVES kids, especially little ones who need a father figure, who need to see a man who loves God and loves kids.  I am thankful for other men like that.  It blesses my heart to see men serving in VBS because so many kids really do need to see a spiritual role model. 

#176  I am thankful for so many of my best friends who are serious about their service to their King.  God has blessed me with some great friends who aren't just girls to shop with or to have dinner with or to talk about my favorite book or TV show with, but girls who will challenge me in my walk with Christ, who will serve with me and encourage me to give my best to my Savior, who sweat for the kingdom and teach our children to serve God with ALL they have.

#177  I am thankful for a clean house.  I've struggled for weeks now trying to find my way through our "construction zone" at home.  It's really gone against my type A personality, my obsessive compulsiveness.  BUT, thanks to my hubby, following our very busy VBS week, we found some time Saturday to clean at least the important parts of our house.  Construction is still underway.  We need floors worked on in the girls' rooms and the bathroom painted, and a window replaced, BUT, I'm feeling thankful that I see less dust and some clean counter tops, and a few pictures hung, and mopped and vacuumed floors.

#178  I am thankful for the assurance of heaven.  I am thankful that we do not have to fear death.  We can know that life here is ours to enjoy because of the freedom we have in Christ and He desires for us to know joy, love, peace, . . .  BUT we also can live knowing that HEAVEN is as real and it's BETTER!!!

#179  I am thankful for the exciting news just one phone call can bring!!! :)

#180  I am thankful for the anticipation of a friend's visit.

#181  I am thankful for clean water to drink on a hot day.  Did you know that 1.1 billion people in the world do not have access to safe drinking water, roughly one-sixth of the world's population?  2.2 million people in developing countries, most of them children, die every year from diseases associated with lack of access to safe drinking water, inadequate sanitation and poor hygiene.

#182  I am thankful for air conditioning.  WHEW!!  It's been hot, but we've been able to stay cool. 

#183  I am thankful for God's truth that defines who we are regardless of the circumstances that life may deal us.  I was reminded of this just a few days ago through the life of an 8 year old boy.  I pray that God will help me share this with so many who need to know that Satan is lying to them about who they are and what they can become.  God's truth is revealed in the person of Jesus Christ.  His truth has come to set us free!!!  I am thankful that He has a plan that is not bound by our lineage, by our location, or by our "luck".  He will rewrite our story.  He will give us a hope and a future.  I am thankful that He always speaks truth to me when Satan is whispering lies over my life.  I pray that I will choose to believe.


Thursday, July 5, 2012

In the Middle of Messy

In the middle of the messy, it's often hard to find the words or the will to stop and say thanks.  But, this simple discipline of giving thanks is teaching me that when I will stop and look up, acknowledge the many good gifts that flow from His hand, and choose to give thanks even in the tough stuff, joy rushes in on the worst of days.  It's in giving thanks that the hard stuff seems a little easier, a lot more bearable, and somehow not quite so big.  Lately, our life has seemed a whole lot messy.  I've been reminded that life is certainly not perfect.  It's rarely neatly packaged; it only stays tidy and organized for a while, and it is in the chaos, the rough stuff, the wanderings and the cries for help that I find my God faithful again and again.  He is kind and loving, patient and long suffering.  He is not easily scared off and He will stay with me through the grime and the dirt, the messes and the whining.  He will even take my temper tantrums in stride and remind me that while I'm going on and on with my insistence on having my way; He really does have it all under control and He is working for my good. 

Oh, thanks be to God!!!  Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning!  (Lamentations 3:22-23)

156.  I am thankful for the reflections of the moon on the lake late in the evening.  What a sight!!!  Reminds me that the God who hung that moon in place, who spoke the Earth into existence, who keeps it all in motion. . .  loves me, knows me by name, and loves me as His own.

157.  I am thankful for that moment when a total stranger approaches me in the store complimenting me for the manners and behavior of my daughters.  WOW!!!  How that humbled my heart.  Reminds me that at all times people are watching our interactions, seeing how we treat one another, seeing how we use our words and our actions.  Thankful that she was respectful of her elders and treated the gentleman with kindness and respect.  Thankful for the awesome privilege of being their mommy!!!

158.  I am thankful for a Saturday morning of creating pottery on the back porch, all four of us.  We attempted to use a pottery wheel.  What a teachable moment about God being the potter and us being the clay. 

159.  I am thankful for a Word from God that you know is just for you.  I am thankful for that moment this week on a video during our Nehemiah study.  I was discouraged and God used the words of a young lady sharing her testimony to let me know to not be discouraged, to keep pushing ahead, to keep my hand to the task.

160.  I am thankful for a great check-up at the doctor for Carrington when she went for her ten-year old check up.  Thankful for her health, for her well-being, for her growth, for her life.

161.  I am thankful when I hear my girls talk about heaven and how they don't want to miss it and they don't want anyone else to miss it either.

162.  I am thankful for a Sunday night spent going door to door inviting children to VBS.  Can't wait to pick those kids up on the bus!

163.  I am thankful for my husband who puts up with me even when I'm frustrated with dust and dust and more dust and floors that need to be replaced from a flooded bathroom and walls that need to be painted and keeps on letting me work through my exasperation.  He loves me!!!!

164.  I am thankful for lunch a McDonald's--not because I like McDonald's but because it was the chance to be with people I love.  I am so very thankful for my friends and my girls and their friends.  Friendship is a gift!!!

165.  I am thankful for every opportunity I get to hear my sweet girls sing.  Their voice is a treasure to me. 

166.  I am thankful for Melinda.  I am thankful for her spirit of service and passion and commitment.  I am thankful that she wants to see children and their families know the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ. 

167.  I am thankful for Garry D. and his commitment to the outreach ministry at GBC. 

168.  I am thankful for Mr. Shirley and Ms. Jackie and their commitment to feed the least of these.

169.  I am thankful for VBS and the opportunity to share the Gospel with boys and girls and moms and dads. 

170.  I am thankful for Courtney and how she's worked so hard to see VBS be all that God would desire for it to be at GBC.

171.  I am thankful that God always brings me back to what matters most regardless of how the enemy tries to get me distracted by fears, lies, frustrations, busyness, . . .  I am thankful that He loves me and seeks intimacy with me through His Word, through prayer, through Worship, through my fellowship with others.  I am thankful that when I seek Him I find Him and that He is evident all around me!!!!

172.  I am thankful  that "I may be hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed." (2 Corinthians 4:8-9) because "greater is He that within me than He that is within the world (1 John 4:4).