Thanksgiving Dissonance: Going Deeper

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.

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Gutsy Gratitude

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.

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Thanksgiving Light

Thanksgiving Light

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.

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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?  

Pilgrims2

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!