Growing in Gratitude

I chose the word growing as my focus for 2019.

Grant this former English and writing teacher/professor a little grace as I throw in a brief grammar lesson. Growing is the present continuous form of the verb grow. “So what?” I hear you asking. Well, this means the action of growing is happening now, and it’s also continuing into the future.

 

I want growth that produces
momentum for greater growth.

 

I don’t want to just grow, I want to bloom in every aspect of my life. But even more importantly, I want my growth that produces momentum for greater growth–especially in the most important dimension of my life, my spiritual life. One important goal for growth for me this year is growing in gratitude.

I struggled in this area for many years. It’s not that I didn’t say “thank you,” and feel grateful for the things I had. I took people for granted. I took God’s presence and blessings in my life for granted. These things showed up in a critical spirit and a victim mentality. I was pretty much blind to these things until people who loved me graciously held me accountable. I talk about this journey more fully in my book The Silent Seduction of Self-Talk: Conforming Deadly Though Patterns to the Word of God.

 

God gives us the ingredients for growing in our spiritual life:
the Word of God,
the Spirit of God,
and the people of God.

 

Gratitude means more than saying “thank you” or acknowledging that we’re blessed. We convey gratitude in actions we choose and the attitudes we convey to others. We express gratitude in our nonverbal language. We show gratitude through joyous generosity that flows from humble awareness of all God’s given us.

Gratitude is the rain
that nourishes the seed of forgiveness.

 

Gratitude is the sun that melts the proud heart and graces the humble with quiet power.

But how does growing in gratitude work on a practical level?

 

I love my husband, and I’m enormously grateful for many things about him. I can tell him I’m grateful for him a dozen times a day. I can write my thoughts in cards. I can display them on the bathroom mirror in red lipstick.

But my words mean nothing if my attitude and actions don’t match. I negate what I say if

  • I ignore him because I’m too engrossed in my own priorities.
  • I use sarcasm and criticism that disrespect him.
  • I do things behind his back that I know he disapproves of.
  • I talk disrespectfully about him when I’m with friends.

True gratitude expresses itself in ways
that can be seen and sensed.

  • Sacrifice
  • Humility
  • Service
  • Respect
  • Looking out for the best interests of the other
  • Forgiveness and reconciliation

For me, this comes down to paying attention to my self-talk. This is where I discover my true motives and priorities. As I examine my self-talk, I discover that my self-interests often crowd out gratitude and love for others. You can find more information about self-talk in my book The Silent Seduction of Self-Talk: Conforming Deadly Thought Patterns to the Word of God.

Gratitude grows as I grasp God’s love for me and compels my heart to conform to His.

Ask God to magnify your appreciation for all He’s done for you. Ponder the blessings of your life–large and small. Then ask Him to increase your heart of sacrifice, humility, service, respect, forgiveness, and reconciliation.

Gratitude is a lifestyle and a mindset.

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul,
‘therefore I will hope in him.’”

Lamentation 3:22-2

 

What about you? How do you show gratitude in your life? How do you want to grow spiritually this year?

 

 

How to Seek God’s Face

 

vineandbranches

I want to know God better.

Not know about Him. But to know what makes Him smile like I know what makes my husband smile. Or know what breaks God’s heart the way I know what breaks my friend’s heart. I want to know God in an intimate relationship, like a friend who enjoys spending time with me even if I’m doing “nothing.” When I struggled to feel God’s presence, the problem isn’t because God is elusive.

God created us because He wants a relationship with us.

He wants us to talk, hang out together, laugh, and enjoy a relationship that’s real, fulfilling, and love-driven.

The Bible is filled with passages that speak about seeking God (Deut. 4:29; 1 Kings 22:5;  2 Chron. 30:18-20; Ps. 14:2; Ps. 63:1; Ps. 78:34; Acts 17:27-28; Romans 3:10-11; Heb. 11:6). These verses and others reassure us that God is omnipresent (always near everthing and everyone). He also always stands by His children and works out circumstances for their good.

But when we neglect God, violate His Word, trust ourselves or others before Him, His face or His presence becomes obscured. Not because God moves away from us, but because our discernment becomes weak and clouded by pride, lies, false motives, and sin.

Photo Credit: Wanda Sanchez

Photo Credit: Wanda Sanchez

 

So how can I return to a place of intimacy with God? What does it mean to seek God’s face, to truly know Him?

When I first met my husband Dan, I wasn’t sure how I felt about him. He was nine years older than me, drove a yellow Gremlin (some of you don’t even know what that is), and seemed shy and uncertain. But I knew Dan was special. By our second date, he’d won my heart. The Gremlin and his shyness had become part of his charm. Twelve months later I married the most amazing, loving, faithful, loyal man I had/have ever met.

I wanted a relationship with Dan. When he wasn’t with me, I waited for his calls. When he was with me, I hung on his every word. I talked about him to family and friends. I pined (longed) for him when he wasn’t with me. My heart was set on Dan–I wanted to spend every minute with him and get to know everything about him. My whole world was about him.

Seeking God begins with falling in love. 

I accepted Jesus as God’s Son who gave His life for my sins when I was eleven years old. But I fell in love many years later when I was a mother and understood for the first time what it would mean to hand over my innocent child to evil people, knowing he would be torturned and put to death–for the vicious, evil, perverted acts THEY had committed.

God’s love and Jesus’ sacrifice overwhelmed my heart so profoundly that I have never been the same again. Profound love grew into gratitude. My job is to cultivate and grow those seeds.

I seek God by choosing a grateful heart.

I have MS. I can’t say I’m grateful for MS. I’d like to be healed, believe in God’s healing power, and have prayed to be healed. But I don’t demand to be healed. God determines my destiny.

I am grateful for many things MS has given me: a greater awareness of God’s presence, a heightened sensitivity for the suffering of others, opportunities to speak into the lives of the hurting, new friendships, new writing opportunities, just to name a few blessings.

Gratitude is a choice, not an emotion. It’s my goal to make it a lifestyle and the compelling force behind my love for others. God has blessed me with too much. Jesus gave too much for me not to be motivated by gratitude every day of my life.

I seek God by choosing my focus.

Everything around us speaks of the love, mercy, beauty, glory and power of God–the laughter of children, the brokenness of the world, the beauty of creation, the delight of the arts, the mysteries of science, the patterns of history. I can see God in the grain of the wood in the desk in front of me or smell the aroma of His beauty in the scents He created for our pleasure. Everything beautiful emanates from Him, the Source of Beauty, and speaks of His essence.

I find God in my work, whatever it may be, when I do it to His glory and as a love offering for Him and for the good of the city (community) where He has placed me.

I seek God by spending time reading His love letter to me and talking to Him.

My husband’s first letter to me is framed and hung in my office. If our house burns, this is one of the objects I will grab as I run from the house. Our words to one another are precious.

The Bible is God’s love letter to us. 

It’s God basically saying, “Look, these are the lengths I’ve gone to for you. This is alll I’ve given for you. I created a perfect world for you. You messed it up. You wrecked the world, but most of all you destroyed your opportunity to have a relationship with me. I sacrificed my one and only Son to fix the problems you created. I let you kill Him so you could live. I loved you that much.”

We can’t really know God unless we spend time reading the Bible and take time to pray. It’s that simple.

Whether I write or pull weeds or cook or grocery shop today, God is waiting to be with us, We can see Him all around us if we’re looking.we can talk to Him. He will talk back, using the Spirit of God, the people of God, the Word of God, and even His created world.

Seek God today. He promises to be found.

 

 

Four Reasons Why I Don’t Blame God

Dishwasher

Yesterday my dishswasher died.

I wasn’t surprised. As near as I can figure, my ancient Whirlpool was about the same age as Betty White but without the classic good looks. Because we’re frugal (another word for usually broke) my husband Dan and I never buy new appliances until they gasp, writhe, and spill their guts all over some part of our house.

Dan made a valiant attempt to fix our Whirlpool when it stopped whirling and the water only pooled in a murky blue sludge at the bottom of the machine. He ended up with a cut finger that bled through double bandages for three days while I worried that he’d need some new form of tetanus shot.

Long story short, no, his bloody attempt to fix the dishwasher was less than a success.

So we’ve been washing dishes in our household. Dishwashing is a tricky task to try to manage while holding cane and attempting to ignore the cramping in your legs and back.

I’ll admit I was a discouraged when I realized one more thing in our house was broken (not counting my body).

But the feeling passed. I don’t blame God for the demise of my dishwasher, and I haven’t blamed him for my health problems, relationship problems, financial problems, or even the abuse people I love and I have experienced in our past.

Why?

1. God created a perfect world for us, and we messed it up.

God created a perfect world and free access to Himself. Adam and Eve were given freedom of choice and chose sin. They chose to put themselves above God’s interests and best for them, and humanity has followed in their footsteps every day since. We are sinners by birth, choice, and generational curse.

We are responsible for the hurt, abuse, evil, and lack of stewardship of God’s creation that messed up the world.  

So when something breaks, don’t blame God. When someone hurts you, don’t blame God. He gives us the freedom to cooperate with His divine, perfect plans or not.

2. I can’t expect justice or fairness in this world. 

Scripture is clear that since Satan’s instigation of evil on earth, he is the “god” or “ruler” of this earth:  “Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out” (John 14:30). His limited power is because of God’s permission, and for now Bad often wins over good. But Satan was defeated by Jesus’ victory on the cross. The final victory over sin and evil belongs to Him.

For this reason, I don’t have to fight for my rights here on earth. I don’t have to worry about getting what I think I deserve. Jesus has already won those things for me. I’ll even have the opportunity to crush Satan’s neck beneath our feet one day (Romans 16:20).

3. I must be committed to perspective.

This means, above all, a biblical perspective–aligning my attitude and desires with Scripture. Sure, I want a new dishwasher, and I’d really like one now. I can even conjure up lots of reasons why I deserve one (so-and-so has one, I’ve had a tough year, I have a stinky chronic illness, and media tells me I won’t be happy until I have what I want).

But really people, that’s a load of horse pucky. The truth is, Dan and I live on a budget, what others have has nothing to do with what I need, and I need to be a good steward of my resources.

Needs and desires are two different things. 

My son-in-law spent years as an abandoned child raising himself in a Jamaican jungle. Soon after authorities found him when he was eight, he was struck by a truck and taken to a public hospital where he was left without an advocate in despicable conditions. Yet he grew up to earn multiple degrees and become a caring husband and father.

When asked to go out for an to a movie in the U.S. that will cost $40, not counting gas and dinner, he looks at the expenditure differently than Americans. He recognizes that the cost of a single movie represents many meals to friends and relatives back in Jamaica. Or the price of school uniforms and shoes for children hoping to go to school.

My son-in-law has a different perspective on needs and desires, and his values shape his choices.

4, Our values as Christians must shape our choices. 

  • Gratitude that compels giving
  • Sacrifice that compels service.
  • Love that compels mercy.
  • Grace that compels beauty of spirit.

So today I’ll head to the sink to wash the dishes. I’ll look out the window at the beautiful field behind my house. I’ll listen to a little worship music or maybe pray for some of you. Dishwasher or no dishwasher, it will be a good day.

What about you? What advice can you share with us about not blaming God?

 

Gratitude in Suffering

ShellySickFace

For more than fifteen years, I’ve experienced dizziness, nausea, pain, headaches, weakness, along with dozens of other symptoms. I’ve seen well over fifty doctors in hospitals all over the country. I’ve developed multiple lesions in my brain stem that have rendered me unable to walk, sit up, or stand. This past December I had brain surgery.

Even the doctors at Mayo Clinic declared me to be a neurological puzzle.

This week I received a diagnosis. The emotion was overwhelming.

I couldn’t have made it through these years of frustration without the support of many people.

People who never wavered or stepped away from my side for a moment. People who never questioned the reality of my symptoms. People who didn’t shame me for slowing down and stepping back.

People who sat beside me, wept with me, held my hand, cleaned up my vomit, brought meals, helped with our bills, prayed with us, asked the right questions at the right times and were sensitive enough to know when silence was a gift.

Friends who did not judge, but allowed me and continue to allow me to work through sorrow, grief, confusion, pain, and suffering as a lifetime journey with illness.

  • Thank you to Dan, who supported me every moment and never wavered. You are the most amazing husband in the world.
  • Thank you to my children and their spouses, who loved and supported me unflinchingly.
  • Thank you to my dear friend Wanda, who has helped with household chores, cooking, and sat beside me in the pain.
  • Thank you to those who have sacrificed, given, prayed, cooked, and done so much to support me. Thank you, Blythefield family. I don’t have words to express my gratitude for my church.

This journey has been hard. I have cried many tears, and I’m sure there will be more ahead. At times I have felt abandoned, angry, and confused. Even Jesus cried out to God in His suffering. Faith doesn’t require emotionless stoicism.

God’s goodness still overwhelms me.

My mind will never be able to comprehend His goodness and love. Love so great that He allowed all of humanity–including me–to heap our sins upon His Son. Love so intimate that He is with me snd never leaves my side in my suffering.

I pray I never forget to be grateful, that I never cease to see the Love that envelopes my life, even in sickness, suffering, and pain. And that I never stop pointing people to God’s goodness and greatness.

But gratitude does not come automatically–especially when everything inside us screams out, “Why me?”

  • So I choose my focus.I must stay grounded in the Word of God by choice, not because my emotions lead me there or my body wants to get up earlier in the morning for my devotional time. This choice requires discipline and commitment.
  • I choose my attitude. I check my self-talk and stinkin’ thinking, then repent. I’ve chosen a lifestyle of repentance that is followed by walking in grace. The two are linked in a daily cycle.
  • I choose my words. I’m called to look like Jesus to those around me–the phlebotomist who is trying for the sixth time to place an IV in my painful arm or the telemarketer who woke me up. I also choose the self-talk I allow because my thoughts are the control center of my mind and heart.

 

What about you? How do you find gratitude in suffering? 

Why It’s Christmas Every Day

Photo Credit: GodPixPic.com

Photo Credit: GodPixPic.com

A few years ago a cousin of ours sent us a Christmas card with the following message: “Life sucks, but God is good.”

I have to admit, was shocked. What kind of Christmas message was that? As Christians, weren’t we supposed to be spreading “Joy to the world”?

Fast forward a few years to 2014 and let me tell you why I appreciate that card today (although I’ve never really liked that word “sucked.”)

Our world is broken, and saying it out loud doesn’t mean God isn’t good–it’s an admission that we need him more than ever.

This past year, my family and friends have struggled with cancer, chronic illness, loss of loved ones, memories of their murdered children, struggles with addiction, parenting their seldom-seen children’s children, abandonment, betrayal, job loss, and other painful issues. In the next weeks my husband will undergo two several painful and life-altering medical procedures. My best friend has fought through the past six months of her life on oxygen.

We face two unchanging truths every day of our lives: life hurts and the only thing we can count on is God’s goodness and love for us.

There will be no Christmas tree this year at our house. No family gathering. No family dinner. No gifts. But I can choose my attitude and my focus.I can still choose the truth.

  • God is immeasurably, unchangeably good, and his love for me never wavers.
  • I’m blessed to live in a nation where my life is not in immediate peril because I worship the God I love.
  • I live with abundance in comparison with others in the world–no matter what my circumstances may be.
  • I am blessed with loving family and friends.
  • Life hurts, and God chose not only to be with me in my hurt by sending his Son, but to offer him as the solution to the mess we made of things–the mess I make of things.

Life stinks–even at Christmas. For many people more at Christmas than any other time of the year. That’s why I must always remember that Christmas is a sinless baby–a perfect child–slaughtered in my place so I could live free and forgiven.

Glory to God in the highest–how can I not fall to my knees in gratitude every day of my life?

 

Caregiving Tips for Your Best Holiday Season

caregiving holidayFor years, Dan and I never had guests in our home. His father lived with us, and one element of his mental illness was severe social anxiety. Interacting with strangers was sheer torture for Norman, so out of love for him, Dan and I socialized outside our home.

When my mother came to live with us, her Alzheimer’s influenced us to make other decisions. At one point my mother was prone to eating small, unattended objects. So for several years we didn’t have a conventional Christmas tree in our home, out of concern for what Mom might do with the ornaments if we left her unattended.

Holidays can be stressful for caregivers in ways other people often find challenging to relate to. But here are a few tips for caregivers to help make this your best holiday season ever.

  • Don’t expect everyone else to understand the caregiving world. Unless it’s your job to keep Mom from chowing on loose change or to help Dad through his anxiety attacks when the mailman steps onto the porch, you probably won’t understand other stresses of the holiday season. Don’t expect non-caregivers to relate to your holiday frustrations. Give them the gift of grace.
  • Find another caregiver or caregiving group to listen and support you. The holidays can be emotionally challenging and physically demanding. Find someone who understands, and give yourself the gift of emotional support.
  • Go ahead and ask. The next time someone asks what they can do for you, be ready. Ask for something simple and rejuvenating: a massage, a night out at the movies with your spouse or a family member, a spa visit, a longed-for book, a few meals for the freezer. Keep a list ready and hand it off to a friend who can ask for you.
  • Don’t take things personally. The holidays can be stressful, and family time together can be challenging. Remember that your family members are struggling with their own grief, trauma, and disappointments. Offer the blessings of peace and the commitment to love them as you would want to be loved.
  • Make a plan. This holiday may not look like past holidays. Find ways to create special memories, and remember that your priority is to maintain and build healthy relationships. Look for ways to create bridges of healing while maintaining your health and your loved one’s health.
  • Remember to be grateful. Above all, be thankful for the things you’ve been given. Think about this question: What is the single-most important thing you are grateful for about members of your family? Close friends? Consider offering the gift of gratitude to those people this holiday season through a card of thanks or in a face-to-face conversation. Your words could be the most valued gifts you ever give here on earth.