Posts Tagged ‘Thanksgiving’

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.

  

  

  

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)

  

Thanksgiving Light

Darkness

In the last few weeks, the world feels suddenly darker than it was even a month ago.  Truth is, it’s been this dark all along.  But when jumbo jets blow up and suicide bombers shatter marketplaces and the “City of Light” erupts in the dark night of terrorism, we can’t ignore the darkness and go merrily on our way raking leaves and planning holiday menus and making Christmas lists. You have to notice the darkness.

Darkness is cold.  And scary.  It can bring out either the best or the worst in us.  The intensity of it in our world often slams into us from behind.  It surprises us.

But it doesn’t surprise God.  Long before our current terror-crazed world, Jesus observed that “men love darkness rather than light because their deeds are evil.” (John 3:19)  Jesus knew all about our dark world. That is, in fact, why He entered it with His darkness-shattering Light.

Maybe all this is the reason that I’ve been thinking so much about light lately.  November light.  The shaft of light across the pond in back in the early morning hours.  The brilliant sunshine pouring in our windows even on a cold November day.  The rosy light across the pond as the day is ending, the darkening shadows punctuated with brilliant splashes of color here and there.

All reminders of what I am most thankful for as this Thanksgiving 2015 approaches. I’ve always thought of November as my remembering month, as I’ve written in previous posts.  Of course, remembering leads to ever-growing “thankful lists” in my heart.  This year the list seems longer than ever.  But at the top—right there at the top—is Light.   Jesus.  The Light of the world.

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Light that penetrates even the darkest darkness. Light that floods my soul with hope even as dear friends slip away from here into eternity. Light that promises His presence every step of the way on a foggy path. Light that can dispel even the fear of darkness. I need a lot of help with that, Jesus—dispelling the fear. Overcoming the fear. But you did promise . . .

So, I’m celebrating the Light especially this Thanksgiving. I’m not only thanking Him for bringing Light into our dark world, I’m also asking Him to show me—show us Christians—what it means to reflect His light in times like these. 

Lots to be thankful for! Lots of food for thought this Thanksgiving. And a great way to prepare our hearts for Advent. It’s just around the corner.

Remembering Month

November is my remembering month.  I just realized that this morning.  I’ve always thought of November as my giving-thanks month.  How has it taken me so many years to realize how the two—remembering and giving thanks—are related?  

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Remembering is everywhere this month.  Today I got out our Thanksgiving decorations.  When I unpack my favorites, the two pilgrims my mother-in-law always had on the Thanksgiving table when we visited,  my mind—and heart—are always flooded with memories.  

Woody and I are teaching a Sunday School class on Deuteronomy.  Here we find Moses’ final address to his (God’s!) people—one last chance to impress on them what really matters most. “Take to heart all the words I have solemnly declared to you . . . they are not just idle words . . . they are your life!” (Deuteronomy 32:46-47) 

And what are some of those words? “Remember,” Moses tells the people 16 times.  “Do not forget,” 6 more times.  Hm.  I guess he knew that, like us, his people were fast forgetters.  We need to be reminded to remember!

And what are we to remember?  Many things. But here’s a start:  

  • Remember where you came from.  “Remember that you were slaves in Egypt.”  Five times (at least) Moses reminds the people of their past.
  • Remember how you got where you are.  Over and over Moses reminds the people of how God led them out of Egypt with a mighty hand, with signs and wonders and divine drama, to bring them to the land He chose for them.
  • Remember where you’re going.  They’re headed for a place God Himself chose and will provide for them.
  • Remember Who goes with you.  “Be strong and courageous.  Do not be afraid or terrified . . . for the Lord your God goes with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6)

So what does all this have to do with us?  Everything!  What a difference it would make in cultivating a grateful heart if we remembered 

  • where we were “before God/without God,”
  • Who it is who found us and redeemed us and gave us Life,
  • where it is we are ultimately headed, and
  • Who goes with us every step of the way.

Common denominator?  GOD.  God in our past.  God in our present.  God in our future. 

Recently we were singing with two of our grandsons as we put them to bed.  We sang the requested hymn: “Amazing Grace.”   When we finished,  Nils, who had selected this song, looked up at Woody and asked:  “Farfar?” (our grandchildren’s name for Woody, which means “father’s father” in Swedish) “Who was lost?”  After a brief discussion about John Newton and his life and conversion with this 4-year-old and his 7-year-old brother, Nils thought for a while and then said, “Oh, I get it.  ‘Lost’ means he was bad and then Jesus found him.”  

Lost.  And found!  Something to remember.  Reason indeed for gratitude.  For the Israelites—and for us.   

GiveThanks

What Do Your Kids Hear Mommy Say This Thanksgiving?

A little girl was helping her mother as she bustled around in a frenzy getting ready to serve dinner to a large group of guests.  When they finally sat down to eat, the mother asked the little girl to say grace.

“But I don’t know what to say,” the child protested.

“Oh, honey, just say what you hear Mommy say.”

“OK. Mommy: Dear God, why on earth did I invite all these people to dinner?”

Sounds like me—or you, perhaps?—in that moment of total exhaustion when we drop into our seats after preparing a big meal.  And all the more so if you’ve cooked Thanksgiving dinner!

At this super-busy time of year, it’s all too easy for November to pass us by on the way to December.  Even our kids pick up on the November-December craziness (read my recent guest post at “Pass the Bread, Mom”).  Yet November offers us an opportunity we don’t want to miss: to cultivate gratitude—in ourselves and in our kids.

Thankful hearts do not come naturally in this “all about me” culture.  An “attitude of gratitude” needs to be both taught—and caught.  Of course that’s true all year round,  but making November your “thankful month” is a great way to start.

How often do your kids hear you express thanks throughout the day?  In one of our kids’ homes, they set a timer on their phones several times a day.  When the timer goes off, everyone stops a moment to name one thing they’re thankful for.

Two of our grandkids have a “thankful tree,” (described in my guest post at “Pass the Bread”).   Last weekend when Woody and I were with them, we got to add some of our own leaves.  And I noticed that just walking by the tree throughout the day became a constant reminder to me: Give thanks, Linda!

What am I most thankful for this Thanksgiving?  First: Our Great God, Who in His mercy, love, and grace has given us all the reason in the world to give thanks.  What did G.K. Chesterton say?   “The worst moment for an atheist is when he feels a profound sense of gratitude and has no one to thank.”

And second: The gift of watching parents cultivate in their kids (especially when they’re our grandkids!) a thankful heart.

Happy Giving-of-Thanks to all of you!

Outrageous Praise


“Out of the mouths of babes…you have perfected praise.” (Matthew 21:16 NKJV)

Don’t you love seeing exuberant outbursts of praise and thanks from children?  Having just returned from a visit with two of our grandchildren, I have fresh memories of Hannah’s chubby little hands raised in praise as she sang the doxology with gusto before a meal.  At two and a half years, Hannah embraces life with uncomplicated enthusiasm.  Why not praise God the same way?

Older brother Bengt is often a bit more thoughtful.  He’s beginning to be more aware of Who we praise, and what kind of God He is.  We got a glimpse into his 6-year-old mind  when we heard this observation, seemingly out of the blue, from the car seat in the back of the van: “I don’t know if you know this, Dad.  But God is all the light we ever really need.”

Thanks and praise seem to come easier in childhood, when life is less complicated.  But what about the kind of praise called for this Thanksgiving from all of us grown-ups?  Yes, all of us.  Not just those for whom life seems to be flowing along smoothly (Let me know who you are out there!)  Or those rejoicing in recent breakthrough answers to prayer.  Also those still waiting for answers, struggling with the answers you seem to be getting, or wondering where God is in all this.  How many months can a family go without jobs?  How much life is left after a lung cancer diagnosis?  Will the husband’s depression ever lift, the wayward child ever come home, the special needs child ever get what he needs?  How long will the business hold out in this economy?  I’m sure you can quickly fill in your own blanks.  It’s a tough world we live in.

That’s where outrageous praise comes in.  It’s the real deal, I’m convinced.  Not just the “things are going just great in my world for now, God.  Thank you—and please may it last” kind of praise.  But the no-matter-what kind of praise.

It’s the praise I wake up in the night thinking about lately.  It’s the praise that comes only from a clear understanding of Whom we praise and why.  It’s the praise born of the daily conviction of the Presence of God in every circumstance of our lives.  Every day.  Every hour.  Every minute.  It’s the praise of the Psalmist in Psalm 34.

I’ve shared from a favorite paraphrase of this Psalm before.  It’s the one Woody’s parents read together almost daily in Dad Anderson’s last week of life before he died at age 52.  It’s the one that hangs on the wall in our family room and in the walls of my heart.  It’s the best example of outrageous praise I know:

I feel at times as if I can never cease praising God.  Come and rejoice with me over His goodness.

I reached 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.  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 from 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 pain and problems.  He is very near to those who suffer and reaches down to help those who are battered down with despair.

Even the children of God must experience affliction.

But they have a loving God to 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.

(from Psalms Now! by Leslie F. Brandt)

I hope you’ll join me in outrageous praise—Happy Thanksgiving 2011!

Words of Thanks

“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.

Give thanks.

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 . . .

Happy Thanksgiving!

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