"The thistle is a prickly flower, aye, but how it is sweetly worn."

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Spiritual Discipline of Thanks

If you know me well enough to be my facebook friend, you know this about me: I count my blessings every day.  They are numbered and listed in my status update every morning.  This has earned me a reputation as having a thankful heart.  But that's only partly true.

In June of 2012, I read 1000 Gifts by Ann Voskamp.  Next to the Bible, I would say that book has done more to change my life than any other.  It felt like she wrote that straight to my heart.  She talks about her struggle to understand God's grace and how He really is good.  She talks about her struggles with fear and anxiety, to the point of involving cutting and panic attacks and medicine.  My heart rejoiced as I read her struggles because I realized I wasn't the only one.  

At the time I read this book, I had had a daily intake of xanax for about 6 months.  In January of 2012, all the pressure and fear that came out of my marriage and divorce and carrying the entire world collided into days of sheer panic and sleeplessness.  I knew exactly how she felt because I was in the midst of that storm myself.  And so, I took every word she said to heart.  I drank in the ways counting gifts changed her life and prayed fervently that it would do the same to mine.  I don't even think I had finished reading the book before I bought a notebook and began to write gifts as I saw them.

1.  My toddler singing chips and salsa songs at breakfast
2.  Surprise opportunity to go to Toddler Art at the DMA
3.  A child's thank you
4.  Jude asking a baby if he was ok.
5.  Covered porches

These pictures are of us at toddler art.

I actually very clearly remember this day.  Jude and I had the best time together at that toddler art class. It was probably one of the first truly happy days I had had in a long time.  Over the last 18 months, I have continued to count my gifts.  Sometimes diligently, sometimes the list has fallen to the wayside.  Although whether or not I wrote them down, I noticed a direct shift in my thinking once I started that list.  Little things I wouldn't have noticed before began to take on significance.  I remember driving back from my sisters and noticing the way sunlight reflected in rainbows off of the speed limit sign and being joyful.  How many gifts and opportunities for thankfulness had I missed in my previous 28 years by not opening my eyes?

Fast forward to now and I'm still counting.  As of this moment, my last gift was #1339- Rising before the sun in my dark, quiet house to read my Bible.  Earlier this school year (August probably) I started posting the new bits of the list each day on facebook.  I have had numerous people tell me that it encourages them to read all that I am thankful for.  I'm thankful for that :)  I hope that it helps other people see the little things they have to be thankful for on a daily basis.  I hope that it reminds them that God is good and His grace is everywhere.

But I will tell you what that list does not mean.  It does not mean I am wonderously happy all the time.  I am not constantly skipping and singing through life.  Compared to 18 months ago- I am enormously more joyful, definitely.  It has changed my attitude in every way possible.  I see God in more and I stop to pray more.  It gets easier and easier every day to find the good.  When I first started this, it was hard.  I remember sitting in my classroom last year literally straining to find something I could be thankful for. I would eventually find something, but it wasn't easy.

I've since learned it isn't supposed to be.  Giving thanks has a reputation for being this magical Christian attitude that just bubbles forth because Christ is in you.  I think that perspective might be a lie.  Giving thanks is a discipline.  Like any exercise regiment, it is extremely difficult at first.  Giving thanks is much like training to run a marathon (not that I have ever done that).  You can only find a few things to be thankful for at first.  Or you are too easily distracted to remember to give thanks.  Some days you want to be anything but thankful.  But you choose to count gifts anyway.  Some days you heart is not really in it.  But you choose to count gifts and pray He change your heart.  

He does.  There has been a huge, huge attitude shift in me since I started counting gifts.  I notice how much more I smile.  I notice how evenly keeled I stay compared to before.  I notice how hurtful things don't control my mind anymore.  I truly do have more joy than I had before.  It's not perfect.  There are lots of days when I am still straining to count the gifts.  But it's nowhere near the strain of first beginning to count.

So to encourage you, it is possible to have a thankful heart.  It is possible to see God's grace in all things and give thanks in all circumstances.  But to do that is a spiritual discipline.  It doesn't come easy.  It requires you pressing through the tough days with thanks when you really want to complain.  It requires you letting go of the things that aren't what you wanted and thanking God because you know He's at work in this somehow.  

I pray that all people may continue to count their gifts far past Thanksgiving.  Not only does it change your life, it's really commanded in scripture.  The high road is never the easy road.  But I promise it is so worth it.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

On My Heart

Motherhood has been on my heart a lot here lately.  I think it's because of this {extremely} convicting study I've been doing on 1 Peter via this book.  I'm not even sure why of all things it has convicted me in this area as motherhood is not the point of the book.  I think mainly it's just how I can come home from work exhausted- and that looks anything but gentle sometimes.

In my diligence to be a Light on my campus as well as the best teacher I can be to my students, I sometimes feel like I'm burning my candle at both ends.  I can end up forgetting to keep the most important things the most important.  More than anything else, that smile is my mission.  How often do I really train him and teach him who Christ is?  Sure he sees my example- he knows I go into my office and read my Bible.  But do I really teach Jude who Christ is, sadly not often.

I desperately want to change this.  I want to be the kind of mom who raises godly men (and maybe women someday).  Last week, my pastor talked about the judgement of the saints- when Christians will have to answer for how we used the talents and gifts He's given us for His kingdom.  I do think I faithfully use those things in my workplace, but I am sadly lacking in my home.  As a Christian mother, I think my main calling is raising godly children.  My home is supposed to be a place where the Holy Spirit dwells in everything.  During the summer, it is so much easier for me to sing hymns and read the Bible with Jude.  During the school year, those things are the first to fall to wayside.

What should a Christian working mother's home look like?

This is the question I'm asking myself currently.  I won't even begin to act like I have an idea.  I am praying that God grow me into that place and show me what it should look like.

I've also been *painfully, painfully* aware of how quick these seasons fade.  Jude's interests are becoming more and more 'big boy ish' every day.  Less and less toddlerish.  He's already 4 years old, and I cry inside every night I realize there are so many moments I just can't get back.  Right now, he's still very attached to 'momma'.  But time is running out on me.  The time of nurturing and teaching him is now.  His brain is active and aware and able to make connections.  He respects me and believes me.  If I don't teach him truth now, I'm going to lose the opportunity to ever teach him.  It's sobering and scary, and honestly breaks my heart.  I miss my little baby.

And so this Christmas, we are starting some new traditions, particularly with Advent.  I want Emmanuel, God with us to be part of our daily conversation.  I don't know how you convey the intimacy of the incarnation to a 4 year old, but I want to try.  I want to light the advent wreath every night.  We are going to read devotionals after dinner.  I want to prepare my heart to receive Him, but I also want to teach Jude how to receive Him.  The significance of this holiday is so easily lost amidst the hustle and bustle of black Friday deals and lists, lists, and more lists.  Yet none of those matter in the midst of eternity.  This holiday is about focusing on things unseen that one day, when you least expect it- in a way you never would have expected, the unseen becomes God with us.  What we hoped for becomes tangible.  The deepest longings of our heart are filled in Him.

Motherhood.  The greatest calling.  Even in the incarnation, you have the greatest calling of raising Christ Himself.  And it all centers on having palms open, receiving whatever gifts He bestows on you with thankfulness and humility.  But also dedication and endurance.  A willingness to follow His lead when it seems dangerous (being attacked by Herod) or doesn't make any sense (Joseph marrying a girl who appears tainted).

Oh how I pray that Jude will understand the significance of this season....

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Pushing back the hindrances

Lately.  Lately I am realizing that this year has a calling much higher than I originally anticipated.  I'm seeing that God had far bigger purposes for my life right now.  Actually, I thought I was going to take the year off from learning any spiritual lessons.  Ha.  Haha.  God is far too faithful to let me just maintain my status quo.  I should have known that.

It's amazing to me how God works.  I've had a very 'flavorful' life in regards to lessons learned.  You would think I would have seen a lot, learned a lot, and be shocked by little.  Nope- not true at all.  I'm continually surprised and stunned by the new heights He calls me too.  I can't believe how 'unstretched' I currently am for this new place.  I guess more than surprising, though, is how humbling it is.

I thought I knew so much, had so much figured out.  Truth is, I have so much to learn, so much to understand.  So much pride has been uncovered.  And with that comes a multitude of other things.  I didn't realize this closet existed.  It was too far back in the recesses of my soul I guess.  God's cleaning it out.  It's messy.

But it's beautiful.  I know He is able to do immeasurably more in me than I expect.  (Eph 3:20)  I know that He's faithful to complete the work He started in me.  (Phil 1:6)  He's doing a lot of work in me.  It hurts.  I'm feeling emotions I really haven't felt- probably in 15 years.  {and of course this emotion would have been clouded by teenage absurdity back then- so in many ways this emotion is straight up new to me}  I haven't the slightest idea how God is going to use this in me personally, other than making me more like Christ.  Really, though, being Christlike is all I want.

I do have hope, though, that my current suffering will have eternal good for the world around me.  I see how I am being separated out.  I see the contrast it creates around me.  I see the incompatibility of myself with the world.  While that is really hard, and not something I've experienced, I believe with all my heart that it is a divinely ordained purpose.  I have hope and groan in anticipation of the day the ground is done shaking and new levels of glory are revealed.  I am praying for that.  I hope you pray for it too as you read this.

But more than anything, I am praying I run in a way that is worthy.  It is so scary to attempt to run a race that everyone is watching, and watching to see how you run and whether or not you will fall.  Of course, the reality is that I will fall.  Plenty of times.  As evidenced by my prideful sins, I have a long way to go to be really Christlike.  I am so thankful for His grace which covers each of those mistakes.

As I set new paces in the various areas of my life, I pray I may "forget what is behind (especially how I've failed or am hurt) and strain on toward what is ahead (being more like Christ- showing who He is), I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus" - Philippians 3:13-14.  I feel like I'm daily beating myself into submission with the Word.  It's just not easy.  But praise Jesus that "my light and momentary troubles are achieving an eternal glory for me".  Here's to looking heavenward- pushing back all the things that want to cloud my vision from seeing His face- and being the Light in a very dark world.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

On the blind and how they can't see

I'm in a new and sometimes confusing place in life.  I have so many blessings- far more than I can count or express gratitude for.  God's love is just so clear and His hand so blatant sometimes its hard to not just stand in awe of who He is and what He's done.  At the same time, there are moments of real darkness where what He's asking of me is really, really hard.  I have no idea how to handle it, except keep looking up.  Keep seeking His face.

I'm thankful for His promises- and more than that I'm thankful that all of those promises in the Psalms and Isaiah that I love to memorize are YES in Christ.  I am thankful that because of Christ I don't have to be afraid of the big army of spiritual forces.  I'm thankful the rising waters won't wash over me because Christ will uphold me.  Sometimes those promises are all I've got.

I'm thankful for the body of believers.  Christ's presence in the believers who I see everyday fills me and flames His light in me.  Their encouragement spurs me on in this race I'm realizing I've been placed- a race I never quite saw myself running.  God is so faithful to provide exactly what we need when we need it.  The way these Christians support me and build me up strengthens me in a way that has helped me continue to press toward the prize, to keep my eyes fixed on Christ, to know He is perfecting my faith through this race which gives me so much hope.  But also there is JOY because I know that this race isn't ultimately about me.  It's about the hope of His Glory.  It's about the prayers that the world around me- my little slice of the world I'm salt and light to- may change.  Right now most of those in my world walk around with veiled faces.  They neither fully see God nor do they fully reflect Him.  But my prayer and my hope is that as I walk through life with them with my face unveiled, they will see God's light.  I pray their blinders will come off.  I pray they will see the beauty of God that is everywhere, in every single person.  I press on towards the goal of those around me beginning to reflect His glory too.

It's not the race I thought I would be running this year.  Yet, I know that is so like God.  He calls us out of the familiar into the unfamiliar, to a place that looks nothing like we expected, to a place that is exactly where He needs us.

Soli Deo Gloria