Monthly Archives: November 2013

A Different Thanksgiving

The church sign says “For blue skies and fall colors, we give thanks.” Yes, that’s true – I am blessed to live in a place where a full array of seasons shows up most beautifully in our trees. Here, I understand why Tar Heel fans boast that God made the sky Carolina blue. But as I drive by the sign, I look up and notice that the skies are gray. And the trees are past peak color, and their withered leaves blanket the ground.

My thoughts are cynical and my heart is heavy, so I murmur “So what now?”  I don’t feel like giving thanks for clouds and dead leaves.

This year, more than any other, I must choose thanksgiving.

As I walk around the store, I grimace while “Holly Jolly Christmas” is playing in the background. I’m not festive; I’m floundering – not able to think straight. Oh, I remember – reality hits me like a tidal wave – I’m looking for waterproof mascara and a black dress fit for a somber occasion.

From out of the blue, the thought occurs to me that I must surely not be the only person in this store who has a broken heart. Unexpectedly — and unnaturally — in the midst of my sadness, I have patience for the cashier and the person in front of me who writes a check. And I realize that while my heart is heavy, it’s not hardened. The Holy Spirit helps me to choose a response that’s naturally inconsistent with my feelings and my circumstances. That’s how the Spirit works sometimes.

And so, I will choose to see. There are many, many things for which I can give thanks. Many of them wouldn’t be of my own choosing right now but they are gifts nonetheless.

I’ve been thinking of how to prepare my daughter for a different Christmas this year. The thought of a different Christmas simultaneously saddens and relieves me. The holidays are complicated, yes? It’s probably true that the average person, no matter his or her circumstances, will experience some sort of holiday let-down.

I’m choosing to get ahead of the holiday let-down by laying down my expectations. I yearn for a Christmas that is filled with comfort instead of chaos. This year I’m not concerned about impressing others with my decorating, baking, and shopping skills; I need Someone to impress His name into my soul.

Immanuel – God With Us (Matthew 1:23).

Wonderful Counselor. Mighty God. Everlasting Father. Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6).

This laying-down is possible, I think, in the midst of these feelings and these circumstances. It’s not natural; it’s supernatural, and I need the help of the One who came in a manger of all lowly places to demonstrate that His strength is perfected in weakness.

But here I am, even now, considering Christmas when it’s not yet Thanksgiving. I can’t tell you where Scripture commands us to observe Christ’s birthday but I could find numerous commands to give thanks (and, in all circumstances – 1 Thessalonians 5:18).

Giving thanks is the best way to choose comfort over chaos. Giving thanks puts our hearts at rest with the things we have. God sent His Son into the world to be all that I will ever need. I will choose contentment. And comfort. And Christmas as it is truly meant to be.

Thanksgiving this year will be different. Dear Lord, let that begin in my heart.

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“Gratitude is an offering precious in the sight of God, and it is one that the poorest of us can make and be not poorer but richer for having made it.” ~ A. W. Tozer

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“The deeper we grow in the Spirit of Jesus Christ, the poorer we become – the more we realize that everything in life is a gift. The tenor of our lives becomes one of humble and joyful thanksgiving. Awareness of our poverty and ineptitude causes us to rejoice in the gift of being called out of darkness into wondrous light and translated into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son.” ~ Brennan Manning – The Ragamuffin Gospel

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“In the poor man who knocks at my door, in my ailing mother, in the young man who seeks my advice, the Lord Himself is present: therefore let us wash His feet. Let us give thanks and walk into Advent knowing that time is manufactured for eternity, the breath of humanity for the glory of God, our love of neighbor for the sake of the eternal Godhead Itself.” ~ C.S. Lewis – The Collected Letters Volume II

(https://www.cslewis.com/blog/reflecting-on-thanksgiving/)

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“Thanksgiving or complaining — these words express two contrastive attitudes of the souls of God’s children in regard to His dealings with them; and they are more powerful than we are inclined to believe in furthering or frustrating His purposes of comfort and peace toward us.  The soul that gives thanks can find comfort in everything; the soul that complains can find comfort in nothing.” ~ Hannah Whitall Smith, God of All Comfort

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“Thanking Me for adversity requires a deep level of trust: in My goodness, My mercy, My love. People who are leaning on their own understanding cannot achieve this depth of trust. So, handling difficulties courageously involves relinquishing your demand to understand.” ~  Sarah Young, Jesus Lives

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“In Psalm 33:21 we read, “Our heart shall rejoice in Him, because we have trusted in His holy name.” Trust is the ground for our thanksgiving. I talked a little bit yesterday about thanking God for the bad things that happen, as Habakkuk did. Even when there was no cattle in the stall, no figs on the tree, he said, “Yet will I rejoice in God my Savior.”

Now humanly speaking, it makes no sense to rejoice when things are going badly. But Christians are not always “humanly speaking,” are they? We’re speaking divinely. We are using the words of God on which to found our faith. We stand on a rock that never moves. The world passes away, the grass withers and the flower fades, but the Word of our God shall stand forever. So trust is the ground for our thanksgiving, no matter what happens.” ~ Elisabeth Elliot – Trusting is the Ground For Thanksgiving

(http://www.backtothebible.org/gateway-to-joy/trusting-is-the-ground-for-thanksgiving.html)

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“We won’t stop confessing He is good and we won’t stop thanking Him for grace and we won’t stop holding out our hands — and taking His hand. We won’t stop believing that “God is good” is not some trite quip for the good days but a radical defiant cry for the terrible days.

That “God is good” is not a stale one-liner when all’s  happy but a saving lifeline when all’s hard…. Thanksgiving in all things accepts the deep mystery of God through everything.” ~ Ann Voskamp, When the Holidays Just Seem Hard

(http://www.aholyexperience.com/2012/11/when-thanksgiving-the-holidays-just-seem-hard/)

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“I find this truth about the power of thanksgiving over and over in Scripture. What was the prayer Daniel prayed right before being thrown in the lion’s den and witnessing God miraculously shutting the lion’s mouths? Thanksgiving.

After three days in the belly of a fish, what was the cry of Jonah’s heart right before he was finally delivered onto dry land? Thanksgiving.

How are we instructed to pray in Philippians 4:6 when we feel anxious? With thanksgiving. And what is the outcome of each of these situations where thanksgiving is proclaimed? Peace.

Powerful, unexplainable, uncontainable peace.

“And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7 NIV).” ~ Lysa TerKeurst – The Treasure of Thrown-Away Food

(http://proverbs31.org/devotions/devo/)

A Line of Gold Thread (dads and daughters)

The greatest political storm flutters only a fringe of humanity, but an ordinary man and an ordinary woman and their ordinary children will literally alter the destiny of nations.” –GK Chesterton

My daughter and I have a very important event in common this week – we’ll celebrate the birthdays of our daddies. I love that my husband’s and my father’s birthdays are just a couple of days apart. It’s a special time of honoring the two most beloved men in my life. And as I write, it’s Veteran’s Day. Facebook is dotted with tributes and recent or black & white photos of loved ones in uniform. We want to say ‘thank you.’

It’s right to say ‘thank you.’ These are our heroes. These are the ones who deserve our appreciation in word and deed not only on Veteran’s Day or Memorial Day or July 4th.  But on Election Day as well (even in a non-presidential year.) And every day.

These are the kind of people who shrug off the applause and say, “I was just doing my job.”

Exactly.

We live in a world where it’s increasingly uncommon to find a man or woman who does the job. Someone who works day in and day out, when no one is watching, with integrity, humility, and perseverance. Someone who makes menial tasks meaningful. Doing the menial tasks requires character and commitment. Doing the job means that a family will have shelter, food, and clothing. And a country’s freedoms will be protected. How do we thank you enough?

Military veterans, I’m sure, have experienced ordinary and extraordinary moments in their service. I’ve not served in this way, but I imagine that whether in times of peace or times of war, the job requires intensity and courage along with preparation, training, and waiting.

Perhaps your job, military or otherwise, seems quite ordinary at the moment. But character and commitment are extraordinary qualities.  These characteristics are refined in the times of preparation, training, waiting, and doing the job whatever it entails.

The definition of “veteran” is “a person who is long experienced or practiced in an activity or capacity.” My father is a veteran of the Air Force. And an almost 62 year marriage. And 50-some years of parenthood. And a long-standing family business. And more years than I’ve been alive in the same church.

Daddy is a veteran of dance recitals. Graduations. Family vacations. Car maintenance. Home repair. He’s long experienced and practiced in the art of writing checks and picking up the tab. And calling his children, even the sons, “honey” and “sugar.”

Obviously my husband hasn’t had as many years to be “long-practiced” or “long-experienced.” But he is the same kind of man. That is saying so much of him that it brings tears to my eyes. I am blessed.

There’s something like a line of gold thread running through a man’s words when he talks to his daughter, and gradually over the years it gets to be long enough for you to pick up in your hands and weave into a cloth that feels like love itself.” – Author and professor John Gregory Brown

My daughter and I will forever carry the warmth of this cloth in our hearts.

Thank you, Daddy. Thank you, John. Thank you, Poppy.

You are loved with gratitude that overflows, not just for what you do or what you’ve
done, but for who you are and who we are because of you. Our stories are forever woven with the gold thread of your loving legacy.

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You Belong – A letter to my daughter

Dear C,

Have you ever noticed how people talk as if they’re a part of their favorite sports team? Like just last week, when Daddy talked about the World Series, he said things like “We’ve got to win tonight!” or “We can’t let them take this game from us.” Obviously Daddy is not a team member of the Boston Red Sox, Carolina Panthers, or the Demon Deacons. And Daddy’s certainly not alone in this – just look around at cars these days. Lots of them display some sort of tag, magnet, sticker, or flag for their favorite team(s). Also, we choose clothes to announce our allegiances. Some fans even wear t-shirts to proclaim themselves “Property of (Team).”

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People like to affiliate – or connect – themselves with other people around a common goal. For sports fans, the goal is winning at the highest possible level. So Boston fans, especially right now, take pride in being a part of “Red Sox Nation.”

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People like belonging. Even when a team is good at losing, their fans will unite in common disappointment or armchair quarterbacking. And – ugh, it’s not Christ-like – but fans will also rally around the demise of the archrival. Your mom and dad are so guilty (and Duke is still puke).

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Whether we’re for or we’re against, we’re wired for togetherness. People call this “camaraderie” – which means solidarity or fellowship. We enjoy being a part of something bigger than ourselves.

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Honey, you belong. And you’re at an age when you need to take that truth to the bank (I know you don’t have a bank account; it’s a figure of speech!) Belonging influences everything about you – from the big things like what you think, the friends you choose, the words you speak, and how you treat others to things that may not seem as big (but are really, really important) like how you dress and how you care for your body.

So, first of all, remember always that you belong to God. He uniquely created you for His purposes (Philippians 1:6, Jeremiah 29:11; Psalm 139:14-16). You are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” He knows why you love reading and why writing comes more easily to you than math. God is delighted in the big heart that He gave to you.

And God not only created you, He loves you unconditionally and adopted you into His forever family(Ephesians 1: 4). Because Jesus lives in your heart, there is never, ever anything that will separate you from your Heavenly Father’s love and commitment to you (Romans 8: 38 – 39). Remember when you were trying SO hard to move up to the next level in swimming? Every time you finished a lap, you raised your head out of the water and immediately looked for the deck manager – the one who makes the decisions. I could see the frustration on your face when she wasn’t watching you. Honey, God’s not like that. You are never out of His sight. In fact, He says that you are precious in His eyes (Isaiah 43:4) and He keeps up with every little thing about you (Matthew 10: 29 – 31), even swimming!

You know, though, there are going to be times when, like me and Daddy and everyone else, you’ll fall short. God loves you as you are and not as you ought to be. You don’t need to be perfect. Because of Jesus, you are forgiven. (Romans 3:23-24). All He asks is that you receive His gift by faith. Because you’ve done that, you bear His seal of ownership and you are “Property of the King” (Ephesians 1:11-14).

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And you belong in our family. There are special things about “us” – our silly habits, meaningful traditions, and Saturday morning games in our pajamas. These things build camaraderie in a family. You know how lots of cars have, in addition to the team stickers, those stick figure families in the windows? That’s another display of belonging.

Our family isn’t perfect; we make mistakes and learn humbling lessons about grace and forgiveness. As you grow older, Daddy and I are increasingly aware that you don’t belong to us in a possessive kind of way. But you belong to us in a secure kind of way, meaning that we hope to give you the grace, confidence, and freedom to become the young woman that God has created you to be. Knowing the difference is not always going to come easily for us. God has entrusted you to us, and we entrust you daily to Him.

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And you belong in the church. I don’t mean you belong at a church building. More importantly you’re a member of the Body of Christ. It’s way better than Red Sox Nation. It’s an everlasting KINGDOM! I don’t know if you are an eye or a foot or an arm in this Body. But Scripture promises that you have an important role for an eternal reason (1 Corinthians 12). May you grow into great joy by using the gifts that God has given you.

“The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet,” said a wise theologian named Frederick Buechner. My prayer, sweetheart, is that God will lead you into this place.

I believe that will happen when you know who you are and Whose you are. One day you’ll understand that deep gladness comes from a place of belonging – not to a club or a set of friends or a team. It’s more than camaraderie – it’s communion. Your relationship with Him is not restricted by your appearance, popularity, performance, or grade-point average. The presence of Christ is a safe, secure place to rest in His forever love and acceptance. It’s where you belong.

I love you,
Mommy