Posts Tagged ‘encouragement’

Thanksgiving Dissonance: Going Deeper

“How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?” (Psalm 137:4 KJV)

I keep hearing this plaintive cry of the Israelites from the pain-laced Psalm 137. Though I’m not living in exiIe as they were, I am living in a strange land of my own. It is strange for many reasons, some sharable and some not. As I near completion of radiation for breast cancer, I am also struggling with glaucoma issues that cause me to live my life between the radiation clinic and the ophthalmology office—and the couch. And November is always my month of special thanks-giving.

Though my “strange land” often feels quite lonely, I know very well that I am not alone. Many of you reading this are dealing with your own strange lands. I know. I know because I know some of you personally. But I also know because we all live in a fallen world, the backdrop against which we sing our redemption songs.  Strange lands are sometimes visible to others who live alongside us. But sometimes the strangeness lies deep within, where no one else knows. I think often of author Skye Jethani’s observation: “There is a sorrow words cannot express and no embrace can remove. It abides deep within, and is accessible only to the one who carries it.”

And there is this backdrop of the news. Every single day seems to bring more tragedy, hurt, and heartbreak. It comes in many forms—from earthquakes and floods and mass shootings to sexual abuse and domestic terror and all kinds of silent screams and secret suffering.

How shall we sing a song of thanksgiving amidst all this? Slowly, painfully, I’m finding out the answer. It is totally counter-intuitive. But it is true. We can sing a truer, deeper song of thanks when we walk along paths that push us to go deeper. This is not a new truth, and certainly not my personal discovery. Saints and sages have expressed it in many ways for centuries. When much is stripped away, what really matters most becomes clearer. A few verses (out of many) illustrate this great Biblical truth:

“. . . when I sit in darkness, the Lord shall be a light to me.” (Micah 7:8b KJV)

“. . . For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:10b ESV)

“My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion forever.” (Psalm 73:26 NIV)

This is only the tiniest sampling of a Very Big Truth. Here’s what it has looked like in my life lately. When I am at my weakest, I feel His strength all the more powerfully. When He is all I have in the loneliest places, I want to know Him more and more. It turns out the view from the couch—or the radiation or ophthalmology waiting room—is clarifying. 

It’s a deeper Thanksgiving this year. Oh, don’t misunderstand me. The tangible blessings I have to count are endless. With six great kids and eleven precious grandchildren (just for starters!) I have more than enough to focus on in the “seeing the glass half full” department. All of us who live with full bellies and warm homes and accessible medical care have myriad blessings to count.

But here’s what I really want to say: Singing the Lord’s song in a strange land is not always easy. It actually takes quite a bit of practice. But the song is all the more meaningful. And necessary. Beautiful, even. Because, as my grandson Bengt observed many years ago as a 4- or 5-year-old, out of the blue from his car seat in the back of the van: “Dad, I don’t know if you know this. But God is all the light we ever really need.”

Indeed. The Lord gives songs in the night. Day or night in your “land,” sing with me this Thanksgiving.

  

  

  

How Shall We Hold Such Heaviness?

New heaven and a new earth

“Dear World, It will not always be like this.” This Facebook post caught my eye yesterday.  Particularly because it comes from a beautiful young mother of four who is wise beyond her years as she grieves the tragic loss of her Marine pilot husband less than two years ago.

It didn’t just catch my eye. It lingered in my heart as I walked into our Mom to Mom Leaders’ prayer time. The group around the table was smaller than usual. Three leaders were out attending the funeral of the beloved niece who was like a daughter to one of them. Last Thursday we prayed for this 34-year-old as she was just beginning a series of cancer treatments. We prayed for the long road ahead. Two days later we got the news: She was dead. Silence. Then another leader shared her prayer request: A family with six children, one of whom is her grandson’s best friend, is reeling from the tragic unexpected death of their father. The oldest of these children is in 8th grade. The father was well known in the community, and both father and kids active in sports and other community activities. More silence, as we imagine the ripple effects on so many tender young hearts.

We look around the table at each other. We pray fervently for one another, so we know the deep waters many of us are walking through. But this early morning prayer time is generally focused on the young moms who will soon be making their way in. We pray for them, knowing many of them carry heavy loads in addition to the everyday heavy lifting of “just being a mom.”

And all of us are living in a country that seems to careen from one tragedy to another. The worst mass shooting in US history. With seemingly no explanation of motive. As if there could be an “explanation” that would make it any easier to hear about 59 lives cut short and hundreds wounded. One hurricane after another, with tragic pictures of suffering filling our TV screen and news feeds day after day. Constant turmoil and division in our own country, which is part of a huge world in even more turmoil. We either avoid the news or cringe as we hear it. So much of it is ominous. Threatening.

So. Will we sink under this sadness? Well, honestly—almost. Because, speaking only for myself here, I truly cannot bear this worldwide, nationwide heaviness along with the daily challenges in my own life and family. Not alone, I can’t. Not alone.

But there are words marching through my mind. And a song echoing in my heart. The words are from the Only One who can truly understand and shoulder my sadness. “How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and have sorrow in my heart every day?” (Psalm 13:2) And then I am reminded: “All my longings lie open before you, O Lord; my sighing is not hidden from you.” (Psalm 38:9) So where do I go with my sadness? “Hear my cry, O Lord. Listen to my prayer. From the ends of the earth I call to you, I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I.” (Psalm 61:1-2) And what does this Great Listener remind me of? “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion forever.” (Psalm 73:26)

And then there’s that song. A friend recently sent me the link to this music video by Casting Crowns, and I can’t even tell you how many times I have viewed it: 

The words are seared into my soul: “Oh my soul, you are not alone/ There’s a place that fear has to face the God you know. One more day, He will make a way. Let Him show you how, you can lay this down/ Cause you’re not alone.”  You can lay it down. You can lay it down. You’re not alone.

And . . . let me go back to the opening Facebook post. Under “It will not always be like this,” these words: “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” (Revelation 21:4)

So yes, we are sad. Sometimes, very sad. As a precious little 4-year-old once said to me as I tucked him in bed after his beloved grandparents had gone home from a visit with us, “Even Christian boys can be sad—right, Mommy? “ Oh yes, Bjorn. You are so right.

But we can bring our sadness daily, maybe even hourly, to the One who knows us best and comforts us most. And we can lay it down. And we can look ahead to Hope.  May that Hope become contagious. 

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year?  Really?

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After all these years, it still rings in my ears every September.  An office supply store in our area used to run a commercial featuring a parent waltzing happily through the store buying school supplies and singing ecstatically “It’s the most wonderful time of the year . . . !”  Many a mom, often including me, echoed the sentiment. Of course, for moms sending kids off to daycare or preschool or putting kids on a school bus for the first time felt differently. I remember that, too.

The start of another school year is emotion-laden. Yes, in many cases, there is joy. But just behind that comes another reality: The 3-11 shift. With the start of school comes the return to car pool runs, after-school sports or other activities (depending on kids’ ages and family choices), and always—always—the homework grind. How does one mother manage the needs of all four (or more—or even less) of her kids and still devote to each one what they particularly need? Especially if they range from 2 to 12 (or somewhere on either side). And even more especially if any of them have special needs. All the while, of course, dispensing snacks and preparing (or at least pondering) dinner and preventing tragedy in the lives of young crawlers and climbers or exploration-oriented toddlers. Mission Impossible. The real one.   

And somehow buried in all this sentiment and whirlwind of activities is a deep-down sense of this being like New Year’s. A chance for a fresh start, a clean slate, a new-and-improved way to manage it all. Good motivation to a point. But also, yet another way for moms to feel not only overwhelmed but also inadequate, inferior, never enough. There’s extra need to guard your heart and beware the social media monsters who “have it all together”—or at least present that part of their reality (often inadvertently) and lure you to the sinkholes of comparison and feelings of failure.

A perfect time, I believe, to introduce you to my new favorite parenting book: Parenting: 14 Gospel Principles That Can Radically Change Your Family by Paul David Tripp. If the author’s name sounds familiar, you may remember (or also be reading) my current favorite devotional, New Morning Mercies, also by Paul David Tripp. I have to admit that I approached this book with a tiny bit of skepticism because I feel ever-defensive about anything that presents unrealistic goals or places an unnecessary load of guilt on the backs of already overburdened moms.  No need to worry here. The book has (or at least I hope it also has on other readers) the opposite effect: It is very freeing.

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First, a caveat that the author is very clear about. This is not a handy how-to guide to help you solve in practical ways each daily parenting dilemma. Rather, it offers what Tripp calls a “big gospel parenting worldview” that can alter your basic understanding about your role and responsibilities as a mom. For those of you who have been or are in Mom to Mom, I honestly (and prayerfully) hope it feels like a reminder of many of the premises of Mom to Mom teaching.

Tripp is a very good writer. When I sat down to list favorite concepts and quotes, I filled a whole page. There are far too many to include here, but all the more encouragement for you to get this book and read it yourself (and with your husband as well if you are currently married and he will join you). The underlying theme of the book, as it always is with Tripp, is grace. As recipients of God’s grace we are called to be tools of grace in the lives of our children. First, we must clearly understand our own need of grace—not only foundationally for our salvation but also in our daily, hourly, need for “moment by moment grace” (p. 70) to be wise and Godly parents.      

I said the book was freeing. You really need to read it all the way through to understand that. But I know that, for some of you, reading a whole book may sound like yet one more mission impossible. So may I suggest that you start by reading his introduction on our being “ambassador” parents rather than “owner” parents. Then read my three favorite chapters (“Calling,” “Grace,” and “Inability”). By then you may be hooked.  But I hope you will at least be encouraged.

Just a few favorite quotes that I hope will encourage you even in this moment:

“. . . aloneness is a cruel lie that will defeat us every time” (p. 182)

“in every moment you are parenting, you are being parented.” (p. 187)

“God never calls you to a task without giving you what you need to do it. He never sends you without going with you.” (p. 33)

“Good parenting lives at the intersection of a humble admission of your personal powerlessness and a confident rest in the power and grace of God.” (p. 69)

Reminders that are good for any time of year.  Starting right now.

   

Enough

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The word bounces around my brain these days. Echoes through the chambers of my heart. Enough. We use it in all kinds of ways. “Enough is enough,” proclaimed the Prime Minister of Britain after the most recent tragic terrorist attack in that country. “Enough!” we tell our children. “I’ve had enough!” Authors, commentators, and wise observers of life remind us: “We live in a ‘never enough’ culture.”

Wise words from and about mothers float back to me from long-ago gleanings.  One speaker we had at Mom to Mom reminded us: “Whatever you can do today (with and for your children) will be enough.” I remember reading an article written by Ann Graham Lotz years ago about her mother, Ruth Graham, wife of Billy Graham. “I learned from my mother that God is enough. God was enough for her when she had everything else, and when she had nothing else.” Indeed. Enough.

God Himself seems to be very interested in “enough.” When the Israelites were given manna in the wilderness, they were to gather just enough for each day. In a story recorded in 2 Kings 4:1-7, the prophet Elisha learned of the plight of a poverty-stricken widow whose sons were about to be taken into slavery to pay back debts her late husband had owed. After learning that all she had in her house was a tiny bit of oil, Elisha instructed her to gather from her neighbors and friends all the jugs and bowls she could find. And start pouring. God provided oil to fill every container she had. It was enough. Not only for her family, but enough to sell to earn their living. 

Earlier, in 1 Kings 17, when there was a time of drought and a famine in the land, Elisha’s predecessor and mentor, the prophet Elijah, had his own needs provided by a different widow who, along with her son, was on the brink of starvation. When Elijah asked her for food, she was gathering bits of firewood to cook what she thought would be the last meal for her and her son. Then God stepped in. The woman obeyed Elijah’s instructions and scraped together the last flour and oil to make a meal which she thought would be the last, for the prophet and her family. Then, as 1 Kings 17:16 puts it, “. . . the jar of flour was not used up and the jug of oil did not run dry . . .” till the famine was over. Enough.

What does this have to do with us? Plenty. Especially for moms. It’s June now, technically the start of summer. For many of you, summer seems to have already started. Here in New England, we keep hearing rumors that warmth and sun are just around the corner—maybe in the next ten-day forecast after this one. But whatever the weather (especially in cold rain!) summer can loom long and a bit scary. “What will occupy this busy brood during these summer months?  Will I have enough ideas/ creativity / flexibility /stamina/ patience . . . ?” You know the drill. “Will I be enough?”

For this we have God’s firm assurances. “My God will supply all your need . . .” Paul tells us in Philippians 4:19 (KJV).  And Peter chimes in: “His divine power has given everything we need for life and godliness . . .” 2 Peter 1:3a (NIV). Everything we need. God will supply. Enough. Good news. Whatever may lie ahead in your summer, God will be enough. And, through His power and by His grace, you will be enough. Now that’s something to celebrate!

But here’s the really good news.  This is not a promise just for summer. It is for life.  For life. For the big-picture questions we all face sooner or later.

Some of you may remember a conversation I related in a recent post. That one about God being enough even in the face of disappointment, loss in this life, and uncertainty about the future this side of Heaven. My friend’s question still lingers in my mind. I think of it nearly every day. It is, in many ways, the central question of life. The hope we cling to no matter what: that God will never ever leave us and that a glorious eternity lies ahead. “And that is enough for you, Linda? That is enough?”

Yes. It is enough. Still. Always. When we have everything else and when we have nothing else. When we cry and when we smile and when we shout for joy. It is enough because He is enough. The God Who knows our every longing, Who hears our every sigh (Psalm 38:9). That One. He is enough. For this summer. For this life. For me. For you.

May He bless your summer!

Hello, Summer: An Encouragement Challenge for Every Mom

The title may be a bit misleading.  First, full disclosure: It’s not actually summer yet here in New England. While we have had a few brief outbursts of summer heat, it is currently cool and rainy, with little or no sun in sight for the upcoming week. In fact, here’s how it really is: when I checked my weather app this morning, I was pleasantly surprised to see warmer temps and much more sun than I had heard was predicted. Just one glitch: turn out I was looking at the forecast for Belfast, Northern Ireland, where my daughter lives, not here in Burlington, MA. Those of you who have been to Ireland will get the joke!

Second potential (though intentional) miscue in the title: While I really do want to share this challenge with every mom, it is particularly directed toward Titus 2 moms (that is, older moms who encourage younger moms—see Titus 2:2-4 in the New Testament).  If you are or have been—or might become!—a mentor in Mom to Mom, it’s especially for you. But I deeply believe every mom should take this challenge.

What challenge? The challenge to keep your eyes open this summer for moms in your life who you can encourage in the midst of this wonderful, crazy, exhausting, relentless, joyful adventure called mothering. 

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This is a bittersweet time of year for me. Sad because I will miss Mom to Mom groups over the summer. Sweet because I love hearing from our member moms.   As Mom to Mom groups begin to disband for the summer, many of them give each group a chance to have one person share at the closing brunch what difference Mom to Mom has made in their lives. It’s my favorite day of the year. I love hearing from these moms, and this year I got to share the end-of-year brunch with two different groups—one in Massachusetts, and one in New Hampshire. Each has been using the Mom to Mom curriculum for many years: 25 years in one case, 14 in another.

There are common themes that surface at the year-end brunch every year. One of those most mentioned is always what a huge gift the Titus 2 leaders have been to the moms.  A very small sampling:

“I knew from her first phone call that this woman was going to be a rare treasure. She loved us in so many ways, but especially thought her intentionality in keeping a weekly prayer journal with our group so she could pray for us and help us pray for each other.”

“I heard God’s truth poured through her and saw it woven into how she lived her life.”

“My leaders each year have had different personalities—each amazing in their own way—but this year I have especially seen in my leader the humble, selfless, joyful peace that personifies the verse: ‘In quietness and confidence shall be your strength.’”

Another common theme: The enormous gift of loving childcare:

“This was my first time leaving my baby with anyone, and the childcare workers were amazing, freeing me up to soak in all morning what I so needed to hear.”

A Biblically-grounded curriculum which is, at the same time, welcoming to all, challenging, and encouraging is always key.

“. . . the joy of Scripture poured through me weekly . . .”

“. . . a sort of weekly mindfulness moment: the reminder of heaven.”

“. . . always challenged to grow, always leaving encouraged.”

Why am I telling you all this? Well, for those of you concluding your own Mom to Mom year, I want to encourage you leaders with the huge difference what you have done/are doing can make in many lives. Many moms mention the ripple effect on their husband and kids. And, I might add, future generations.

Moms

Years ago someone shared with me a quote. I cannot remember it exactly, nor can I remember who said it, but it went something like this: “If you can help a mom love her life, you change a life. If you change a mom’s life, you change a family. If you change a family, you begin changing a nation.”

I know not all of you are mentor moms—or even involved in a Mom to Mom group.  But I also know that every one of you reading this knows a mom in your life—or perhaps many moms—who will need some encouragement over the summer.  Keep your eyes open. Look for them. See how you can come alongside and listen to them—really listen! Laugh with them—or cry with them—or maybe both. And look for ways you can point them Godward. Be as transparent as you can about your own struggles as well as your joys. Maybe, just maybe, you can change a life. Or a family. Or more.    

  

New Every Morning. Even in January.

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So it’s January. In fact, we’re already halfway through January, and I feel I’m just coming out of my post-Christmas stupor, blinking my eyes against the sometimes harsh light of the new year. I hate having Christmas over. I’ve always had a problem with saying goodbye to Christmas for another year. My family will tell you how I used to spend New Year’s Day curled up in a fetal position on the couch while Woody took down the Christmas decorations and hauled out the dry bunch of needles that had been our tree.

But there’s also, once I get past my goodbyes to Christmas, something good about January. A sort of cleansing. The house looks pretty good after all without all the clutter of Christmas. And there’s something hopeful about turning the calendar page on to not only a new month, but a whole new year. Who knows what possibilities lie ahead?

There’s a reason why the month is called January. It traces back to the legendary Roman god Janus, who had two heads, one looking back and one facing forward. He was the god of doorways, gates, and bridges, symbolizing beginnings and ends. Reflection and remembering the past. Hoping and praying into the unknown future.

But you moms of young children are not, I am quite sure, spending hours in reflection. You probably feel jolted into January. Back into school routines and (for us in the North) early morning jackets and boots and lunch boxes. And homework. Yes. Homework.

The month doesn’t slow down. Suddenly all the realities of the world we live in can hit hard. New diagnoses. New challenges at work or school. Back to the grind . . . it can be jolting. Suddenly (or so it seems to me since I’m not the one to whom it is happening) I’m hearing of sad goodbyes two of my friends are saying to their beloved fathers. Two precious ones I pray for are either awaiting or receiving stem cell transplants. My only remaining aunt, dearly loved, is facing unexpected surgery. And one very brave very godly young mom I know is commemorating, along with her four precious children, the sudden death of their husband and daddy in a Marine helicopter crash one year ago in mid-January. There can be a lot of tears in January. And a lot of Hope.

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All this is why I am delighted to have a great book to recommend to you. It’s a daily devotional by Paul David Tripp called New Morning Mercies. Wait. Don’t stop reading because the last thing you need is a new devotional to stack with all the other unread volumes—or someone putting you on a guilt trip because you never get to any devotional time at all with young kids needing you every waking moment (even those intended for sleep)! Before you give up, let me tell you what I love about this devotional.

First, it grew out of daily tweets that the author sent out, and every day’s reading begins with a tweet-length thought that will fire up your day even if that’s all you get to. Also, it is saturated beginning to end with grace. And if there is anything we moms need, it is grace. That’s because it is full of Biblical truth (thus infused with grace). This truth is passed through the filter of the author’s experience (seminary training as well as training and experience as both a counselor and a pastor) in such a way that it hits us right where we need it. Yes, it is convicting as well as comforting (remember it is Scripture-saturated). Nearly every day it feels as if it were written just for me. Maybe you, too.

I want to leave you with just one favorite quote. But it is very hard to choose because nearly every page I’ve read is totally marked up with “favorites.” And by the way, a note for you Type A Firstborn Perfectionists (How do I know you so well?!): Do not hesitate because you didn’t start with January 1. I first got this book in September and started reading from there. It works perfectly well wherever you start.

From January 10: “The DNA of joy is thankfulness . . . [but] If my heart is ever going to be freed of grumbling and ruled by gratitude, I need your grace: grace to remember, grace to see, grace that produces a heart of humble joy.”

Grace to remember what God has done in the past. (In his Introduction, Tripp reminds us that “remembering is spiritual warfare; even for this we need grace.”) Grace to see His work in what is before your very eyes. Right now. Right here. Even in January.

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
    his mercies never come to an end;
 they are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:22–23 ESV)

  

Disheveled December?

Sad looking Christmas tree

“Well, I’m looking at our Christmas tree, which already looks disheveled, and I’m thinking that’s how I feel.”  This text came to me last week from an overworked, overwhelmed mother of 4 young kids whose 15-month-old had HFMD (hand, foot, and mouth disease—ugh!) and whose pastor-husband is extra-busy all month and who has absolutely no family or support system living nearby. It happened to be from my daughter Erika. But, with a few slight changes in detail, I’m thinking it could have come from many of you.

Feeling disheveled? Done in by December? Ricocheting between the joys of the season and a dull aching exhaustion that doesn’t want to admit this but wishes it were already over? You are not alone. I am sure of that. I have heard it from many moms (and dads!). And I see it on weary faces everywhere I go. December is a killer.

And I think it is all the harder for those of us who really love Christmas. I know, because I am one of these. Every year I looked forward with delight to December. The fun. The parties. Choosing just the right gift for each precious one I love. Celebrating Advent. Getting (and sending? Well. Maybe.) cards from long-lost friends. The music. Oh, how I love the music! I even love the baking. Let me correct that: I loved the thought of baking. Until I actually did it. You know, the never-ending cut out Christmas cookies you do with your kids? The kind that spread frosting all over your family and dust the entire kitchen with a fine layer of flour and colored sugar? We did it every year. Some mamas never learn . . .

It all felt great in anticipation. And then I turned the calendar. Yikes! It was already full before I started adding Christmas. That’s when it hit me. There really ought to be a moratorium during December on normal things—you know, everyday life for moms. No annual physicals or dental check-ups or school conferences or PTA meetings or… Come to think of it, why do we have to keep doing laundry and dishes and meals during December? But there is no moratorium. Even though my kids occasionally ate Christmas cookies for dinner, basically normal life just kept on. Even though I wanted to do all those other fun things.

December. Truly my favorite time of the year. And also the most exhausting. And maybe the most dangerous. Dangerous because we can so easily miss the moments in front of us because we are drowning in to-do lists and distracted by disillusionment. We had pictured it so differently. The tree was so magical just a few days—or weeks—ago. And the planning so careful. We wanted to not miss Christmas this year. But sick kids and broken appliances and extra work schedules and complicated family. Those weren’t in our pictures.

And so it is that once again, an Ann Voskamp quote comes to mind:

“In the thin air of Advent, you may not even know how to say it out loud: ‘I thought it would be easier.’ And your God comes near: ‘I will provide the way.’ You may not even know who to tell: ‘I thought it would be different.’ And your God draws close: ‘I will provide grace for the gaps.’ You may not even know how to find words for it: ‘I thought I would be . . . more.’ And your God reaches out: ‘I will provide Me.’ (The Greatest Gift, p. 60)

There it is. The Gift. The Grace. GOD. What we truly celebrate in December. He came. He comes. He provided—and provides—grace for the gaps. We know that in our heads. But here is my December prayer for every one of you: May you know this in your hearts. No matter how disheveled you feel. No matter how disappointed you are. No matter what you didn’t get done on your endless lists.  Nothing keeps Him from coming. It’s just that He came so quietly that not many noticed. Except what Brennan Manning has called the “shipwrecked at the stable.” I want to be one of those. You too?

What Song Shall We Sing This Thanksgiving?

“O sing unto the Lord a new song . . .”  In our family, we’re singing a new song this Thanksgiving. Woody and I have just welcomed into the world our 11th grandchild, Bjorn and Abby their third son. Now we are nineteen!  I’d like to introduce Lars Wheeler Anderson and his very grateful little family:

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God gives great gifts, and we are overflowing with gratitude.  It’s easy to sing a song of Thanksgiving just now.

But thanksgiving doesn’t always come so easily.  Especially if we see the giving of thanks as dependent on particular circumstances in our lives. The interesting thing is that God calls us to more: “In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus.”  (1 Thessalonians 5:18 NKJV) In everything . . .  How in the world do we do that? How in this world do we do that?

At this time in America when our country is election-weary and future-wary and fractured down the middle in so many places, how do we do that? It’s hard for Thanksgiving songs to be heard amidst the chaos. It is, after all, an American holiday. And yes, more than a few people are finding their thanks-giving voices more than a little bit strained.

But the question becomes much more personal for so many people I know and love—and pray for every day. How do we give thanks amidst deep personal loss, terribly sick children, scary financial stresses . . . you know the list goes on and on.  But still, we are called to give thanks.

Maybe sometimes it’s easier to sing it. I always think of Martin Luther’s friend’s advice to Luther amidst struggles with depression: “Let’s sing the Psalms, Martin.  Let’s sing the Psalms.” 

So what song shall we sing this Thanksgiving? I offer you my favorite. A favorite because it is so very real. It reflects the good times of life as well as the bad and the sad. But I love it mostly because it reminds us of the true basis of our gratitude. And above all, the One we should thank every day of our lives. It’s an old Swedish hymn, one we sang at the Fall funerals of both of Woody’s parents. One that sings in my heart often.

See the words below.  If you’d like to hear it, here’s a link.

1. Thanks to God for my Redeemer,

Thanks for all Thou dost provide.

Thanks for times now but a mem’ry,

Thanks for Jesus by my side.

Thanks for pleasant, balmy springtime,

Thanks for dark and dreary fall.

Thanks for tears by now forgotten,

Thanks for peace within my soul.

2. Thanks for prayers that Thou hast answered,

Thanks for what Thou dost deny

Thanks for storms that I have weathered,

Thanks for all Thou dost supply.

Thanks for pain, and thanks for pleasure,

Thanks for comfort in despair.

Thanks for grace that none can measure,

Thanks for love beyond compare.

3. Thanks for roses by the wayside,

Thanks for thorns their stems contain.

Thanks for home and thanks for fireside,

Thanks for hope, that sweet refrain.

Thanks for joy and thanks for sorrow,

Thanks for heav’nly peace with Thee.

Thanks for hope in the tomorrow,

Thanks through all eternity.

So there you have it: 24 reasons to give thanks.  In the good times and the bad. In a word: Our Eternal God . . . with His Everlasting arms underneath. Always. Forever.

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I’d like to leave you with a picture. It’s a picture that embodies much of my heart this Thanksgiving. It includes so much that I am thanking God for at this time of year. The pilgrims on the table were Woody’s mom’s. They joined our every Thanksgiving celebrated with her. The chairs in the background were my mom’s. I sat in them and admired them each time I visited with her in her little Florida condo; and when she moved to hospice, they were still there . . ., and now here. I love the view out our window. And how I cherish the family God has so graciously given us! Us . . . the ones who once wondered whether we would ever have children!

A thanksgiving challenge for you: Take a picture of things for which you are thankful. Make a list. Sing a song. Maybe sing a new song . . .

Happy Thanksgiving!    

Gutsy Gratitude

“I feel as if I can never cease praising God. Come and rejoice with me over His goodness.” The words keep echoing in my mind. Really, in my heart. They’re the introduction to a paraphrase of Psalm 34 that is, in a sense, our family Psalm. More on that to come.

“Really? Praising God? Now? In the midst of this mess? As I sit by this hospital bed? After I’ve just buried my husband? When I am so desperately concerned about my child’s special needs? While it seems I’m always waiting for a doctor to call back about the next diagnosis/surgery/meds? When my marriage is struggling so? Rejoice? Really?” These are the other words that echo in my head—and heart. They’re not necessarily spoken words. But I see them on strained faces and hear them in worried voices and watch them in weary walks. When I am at Mom to Mom. When I visit with my neighbors. When I answer the phone. I hear them.

It’s these voices, actually, that make me love Psalm 34. I originally loved it as my Nana’s favorite Psalm. It is inscribed on her tombstone. Then I came to love it at deeper levels at the time when my father-in-law was dying by inches over a nine-week period at the age of 52. During those long weeks, my mother-in-law drove into that Chicago hospital every day and sat by his bed. They read this paraphrase of Psalm 34 together nearly every day. I often mention Psalm 34 in my teaching and writing. I often pray this Psalm in dark hours of the night. But in this chapter of my life—and in this month of giving thanks—it means more than ever. For me, it defines gutsy gratitude:

Paraphrase of Psalm 34 (from Psalms Now—Leslie F. Brandt)

I feel at times as if I could never cease praising God.

Come and rejoice with me over His goodness!

I reached for 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.

What He has done for me he can do for you.

Turn to Him; He will not turn away from you.

His loving presence encompasses those who yield to Him.

He is with them even in the midst of their troubles and conflicts.

He meets their emptiness with His abundance and shores up their weakness with His divine power.

Listen to me; I know whereof I speak.

I have learned through experience that this is the way to happiness.

God is ever alert to the cries of His children; He feels and bears with them their pains and problems.

He is very near to those who suffer

And reaches out to help those who are battered down with despair.

Even the children of God must experience affliction,

But they have a loving God who will keep them and watch over them.

The godless suffer in loneliness and without hope;

The servant of God finds meaning and purpose even in the midst of his suffering and conflict.

I reached . . . He gave. I wept . . . He was near to help and support. His loving presence wraps around us. He meets [my] emptiness with His abundance and shores up [my] weakness with His divine power. He is ever alert . . . He is very near . . . He reaches out to help.” These are the reasons—at least a few of them—that we can say the opening lines with integrity. These are the foundation of gutsy gratitude. These are the reasons we can say thank you even when it takes extraordinary courage to hang on to His truth amidst our current realities. Even in the midst of . . .  Even “if He does not . . .” (see Daniel 3:18) Even after . . .

These were the words of the ancient Psalmist (probably David, in a time of great trouble). This was the testimony of my grandmother. These were the words that sustained my husband Woody’s parents through a long dark passage. These are the words I live by. This is the truth about our great God. These truths are the reason the Apostle Paul could command us to give thanks in everything. (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

Wherever you are in your life, whatever your journey in this November 2016, whatever courage it may take to praise God, even though _______, I do hope these good words from our God will invade your soul and ignite within you a gutsy gratitude. A joyful outpouring of thanks that only He can give. For this I pray—for you, for me, for all of us. Because, as Ann Voskamp says “Our worlds reel unless we rejoice. A song of thanks steadies everything.” (The Greatest Gift, p. 190)

  

Groans and Grace

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There’s a lot of groaning in my world lately. Not whining. Not self-pity. Not, to use the Irish word that says it perfectly, whinging (it’s pronounced “win-jing,” and according to my daughter, my Irish grandkids do it a lot. I think I do, too). Groaning. There’s a difference. Whining, self-pity, whinging—they’re all full of words. Groans are wordless. They’re the deep-down ache of ongoing, private pain.

Ask the people who know. A woman struggling to start over and find new life after seven years of a nasty divorce settlement. A mother who has just learned that the cancer has returned to her precious little daughter’s body, after several years of thinking it was gone. The many moms with special needs kids who get up every day and courageously face not only the ongoing daily challenges but also the battle of advocacy for getting their kids what they need. A wife bravely determined to mend a hurting marriage amidst multiple losses. Moms grappling with the deep invisible wounds of mental illness—in themselves or in their families. Caregivers wrestling with unspeakably difficult treatment decisions. A “sandwich generation” friend whose roles as wife, nana, daughter, and daughter-in-law keep her care-giving in all directions. Life at a dizzying pace.

These are all stories I’ve heard this week. All people I pray for—and groan with. And there are many more. “. . . sorrows like sea billows roll . . .” (from the precious old hymn, It Is Well With My Soul)

But I’ve also seen a lot of grace this week. Not just groans. Grace. Love. Stubborn love. Perseverance. And courage. Lots of courage. I’m reminded of the little sign Woody gave me years ago: “Courage does not always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, ‘I will try again tomorrow.’”

So where does this courage come from? I think it comes from groans and grace. I find it so encouraging that according to the Bible, we are not the only ones who groan. In writing about our fallen world and our desperate need for redemption, the Apostle Paul writes, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pain of childbirth right up to the present time. . . . In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us in groans that words cannot express.” (Romans 8:22, 26)  Ahh, so we are not the only ones who groan.

In another of his books, Paul writes about where the strength comes from in the face of trials that just aren’t going away: “My grace is sufficient for you,” the Lord told Paul after not removing from Paul something he was struggling with, “for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9) So that’s where the grace comes from. I see so much grace in the women I mentioned earlier. And power. Power to keep moving. To keep persevering. To keep “trying again tomorrow.” 

The secret? They—and we—know that they are not alone in their groaning, in their feeling, on some days, “I just can’t get up and do this all over again.” It’s in their very weakness that God displays His power. And His grace.

Max Lucado nailed it when he said “God answers the mess of life with one word: grace.” (Grace: More than We Deserve, Greater Than We Imagine)  And, as Ann Voskamp has observed, “You can always breathe when you know all is grace.” (The Greatest Gift, p. 40)

Groanings and grace. They do go together after all. God hears us—and joins with us—in our groanings. And He promises us His grace. Grace sufficient. One day at a time.

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