Archive for November, 2010
“Give thanks, with a grateful heart…”
The words of an old chorus woke me up the other day. And then I began to see words about thanks all over my house. A simple sign in my kitchen says, “Give thanks.” In the dining room a Thanksgiving decoration borrows Paul’s words from I Thessalonians 5:18 (KJV): “In everything give thanks…” In everything? Could Paul really have meant that—everything?
Giving thanks comes easily for me right at this moment. These days, my heart is overflowing with thanks. At our house we’re getting ready for a visit from our son Lars, his wife Kelly, and their two wonderful kids Bengt (5) and Hannah (1 ½). We are very excited. Last year Lars was eating his turkey at Camp Leatherneck in Afghanistan. This year he’ll be with us. So this Nana is feeling especially full of thanks this Thanksgiving!
But as this chorus played itself out in my head, my mind went immediately to some of the people I’m praying for especially right now. What does giving thanks look like when you’re sad and lonely after a divorce? When you’re broken-hearted over an adult child’s choices? When your husband is still bed-ridden and brain-challenged in a rehab hospital four months after a terrible accident? When your wife is in hospice and every day takes you to a new country you never wanted to visit? When your mother, who struggles with Alzheimer’s, has broken her hip and is suffering but can’t even understand about the surgery or why she will never walk again? When you had a miscarriage months ago and are now riding the monthly roller coaster of hope and disappointment and wondering what God is doing in all this?
I pondered these questions, and prayed for these friends. Then I walked by some other words hanging on the wall of our family room. They’re the words of Psalm 34 in a paraphrase from Psalms Now! by Leslie F. Brandt. The Psalm begins: “I feel as if I can never cease praising God…” It then goes on to talk about how very present God is in every situation in our lives. Even in —and maybe especially in—the difficult places.
“I turned to him out of my inner conflicts, and He was there to give me strength and courage. I wept in utter frustration over my troubles, and He was near to help and support me . . .”
The words shout to me out of this Psalm because it has deep meaning for our family. Psalm 34 was my Nana’s favorite Psalm; it is inscribed on her tombstone. This paraphrase of Psalm 34 was the one Woody’s parents read together in the hospital nearly every day many years ago when Dad was slowly dying at age 52 over nine long weeks. They found the words to be true even in those days.
[God] is very near to those who suffer and reaches out to help those who are battered down with despair. . . . He meets their emptiness with His abundance and shores up their weakness with His divine power.
Then some other words came to me. Years ago, I remember reading somewhere something Ann Graham Lotz said about her mother, Ruth Graham. The main thing her mother lived out, Ann said, was the truth in her life that God is enough. “I’ve seen God be enough when she had everything else,” Ann said, “and when she had nothing else. “
Some more words from that chorus came back to me:
Give thanks with a grateful heart.
Give thanks to the Holy One.
Give thanks because He’s given Jesus Christ, His Son.
And now, let the weak say ‘I am strong,’ let the poor say ‘I am rich’—
because of what the Lord has done for me.
Weak, strong. Poor, rich. Healthy, sick. Disappointed—or rejoicing. God truly is with us in everything. Maybe that’s what Paul meant when he said, “Give thanks in all circumstances . . .” (I Thessalonians 5:18 NIV) Notice he didn’t say for all circumstances but in all circumstances. Big difference!
As my friend of years ago used to say on his answering machine message when he, as a young man, had just had a stroke and his mentally challenged daughter was struggling with heart issues, “God is good—all the time.” Reason to give thanks—yes? All the time . . .
Recently a friend called my attention to an excellent blog posting called “Doctrine in Diapers” by Amy Julia Becker on Christianity Today’s blog for women called her.meneutics. It’s worth reading! In it Becker shares stories of saying (and singing) grace with her children, praying with them, answering (or attempting to answer) their questions, taking them to church, and reading Bible stories with them. Through it all the whole family—not just the kids—are learning a lot about God. It sounds a great deal like what we talk about at Mom to Mom as the “Deuteronomy 6 lifestyle.”
It brought back a flood of memories for me. And as I relived these memories, I realized something. I am now re-living them in a new and different—and wonderful—way. I am now seeing new versions lived in the lives of my grandchildren.
There was a time when our kids were young when we would sing “God Is Great and God Is Good” (pretty good theology, I’d say—as Becker observed about some of their songs of grace) before eating. I’ll never forget the time our family, along with a young teen “Mother’s Helper” from our neighborhood, was grabbing a quick supper in the food court at the mall. Lars, who was about 2 ½-3 at the time, insisted on singing our grace right there in the middle of the mall. I thought poor Susan was going to go through the floor.
Recently Lars’ son Bengt was sharing his “wish list” for his 5-yr-old birthday. “I really like hymns, Nana,” he said, “so I’d like some CD’s of hymns. My favorites are ‘Holy, Holy, Holy’ and ‘Be Thou My Vision.’” Interesting choices, I thought, for a 5-year-old. Also some great theology being sung into his life at an early age.
Becker also talked of her children’s prayers for others, and I was reminded of how many years (yes, years) Bjorn prayed for the “hostages in Iran to come home” every night before bed. Now I sit around the table with Bjorn and his family and hear Soren, almost 4, praying for a missionary family in almost every prayer: “Please be with the boys in the Middle East.” (Names and country can’t be used.)
Becker also references some very interesting blog posts from a New York Times parenting blog. Some of the conversation generated from those posts, links, and comments reflects the very real angst of parents who, as atheists or agnostics, struggle with how to answer their kids’ questions. Questions like: “Daddy, if I speak to God, will he listen?” Or: “Where do we go when we die?”
Questions kids ask probably deserve another whole posting (or several!) I know my kids as preschoolers asked me much harder questions than my middle school and high school students ever did when I was a teacher. But even as we, as Christian parents, grapple with how to answer tough questions about Bible stories and about God at age-appropriate levels, I am so thankful that we can pass along to our children the things that matter most about God—especially, and above all, His amazing love and care for them.
One of the NYT posts, called “Creating God in Your Parents’ Image” talks about how kids’ images of God are formed not only from things their parents tell them about God, but perhaps even more by how their parents treat them. (As Becker observes from the NYT posts, “Interestingly, children with absent parents don’t assume that God is absent. Rather, they often understand God as their surrogate parent.”)
I’m reminded of something else we talk about frequently at Mom to Mom: “Children remember feelings more than facts.” Which brings back another memory, which I believe I shared in a long-ago blog post (“What Songs Are You Singing to Your Children?”) Once when our whole family was here visiting, Erika slipped down to our lower level with her newborn Gabriella to comfort her seemingly inconsolable crying. As Erika rocked her and sang to her, she heard footsteps tiptoeing down the steps, and there was Bengt, then about 3. He stopped in his tracks and listened with wonder as Erika sang the old Swedish hymn “Children of the Heavenly Father” (the hymn I sang to all our children when I put them to bed).
“That’s my Daddy’s song,” he said in amazement. “My Daddy sings that song to me.”
Who knew? All the ordinary, daily “stuff” we do with our kids (or maybe grandkids)–rocking and singing and loving and struggling with really tough questions—is teaching them more about God than we can ever imagine. And, as Amy Julia Becker reminds us, teaching us, too.
I’d love to hear from some of you. What are your kids learning about God from you? And how?
“Nana home….sad.” These words from my 23-month-old granddaughter pretty much sum it up.
About a week ago Woody and I returned from a wonderful 10 days in Dublin, visiting our daughter Erika and her husband Richie and their daughter Gabriella.
It was an almost magical time. We read books, ran on the green, had tea parties and danced the Hokey-Pokey in the sunroom, explored Ikea’s play areas, discovered pumpkins, rode the train, bounced in leaf piles, and just generally had a fabulous fun time.
But then we came home. Not only did we come home, but I came home sick. Sicker, actually, than I’ve been in a long time. My usual post-Dublin daze turned into a complete blur. It wasn’t until the wonder of antibiotics kicked in that I began to make my way out of the fog. Going directly from “Planet Nana” to Planet Sick” is not much fun at all, let me tell you!
But it made me wonder again and again, “What do Mommies do when they get this sick?” Do mamas get sick days? Hmm. I think we all know the answer to that.
I’m not sure I can actually remember feeling quite so sick when my kids were young. Maybe God’s granted a blissful forgetting. But I kept thinking of all of you mommies out there. I found myself hoping and praying that for any of you who find yourself on “Planet Sick,” there is a Mama nearby (your own or borrowed—maybe your Titus 2 leader if you’re in Mom to Mom) who will step in and lend a hand, make a meal, watch the kids, or do whatever she can to ease your load.
If you are one of those moms whose kids are now on their own, I hope you’ll be alert to the moms around you who could use a hand in times like this.
I learned another little lesson in the midst of last week’s fog. Memories can be powerful medicine when you’re sick. Or when you’re just a sad Nana, wishing you were back in Dublin reading bedtime books with Gabriella. If you ever need a dose of joy—truly abandoned joy—try hanging out with a 23-month-old—or even looking at pictures you brought home with you.
Gratitude helps, too. When I miss my grandkids (which is often!) I am reminded how very grateful I am to have five beautiful, healthy grandchildren. Counting these blessings can turn “sad Nana” into “glad Nana.”
All things considered, though, I’d rather be back in Dublin.