Gratitude to the Rescue

Gratitude to the Rescue

As soon as the calendar turns to November my thoughts turn to Thanksgiving. There’s already  been talk in my life about plans and hosts and friends and food. This year I want you to spend time not only preparing yourself for the big day but also preparing your heart for it. I’ve noticed over the past year or so that I turn more quickly to negativity and cynicism than ever before. These are not words I’d use to describe myself – and I don’t ever want to – but honestly? they just seem to come easier right now; maybe because of all we’ve been through the past 2 years.

In November I don’t want to be told to “count my blessings.” It feels trite and dismissive of real things going on. When someone tells me to do that, it reminds me of when I’d go to Target with four babies, and they’d all begin to melt down in tears or snacks or poops and an older woman would say to me; “treasure every minute with them.” It made me want to scream, negating the very real struggle I had right then and there. 

Gratitude doesn’t have to feel like that. Gratitude is actually a powerful spiritual practice that rescues us. It pulls us out of cynicism, negativity and blindness to God. It gives us a new way to see what’s around us – maybe one that’s more real than how we look at our lives every day. It is not (just) a fleeting emotion we feel when someone helps us out, or something falls into place, or we catch a glimpse of a previously hidden blessing. Gratitude is not just felt emotionally, it’s practiced intentionally: it’s a deliberate reflection that becomes our ongoing disposition. 

And as it does, gratitude heals.

We can deliberately practice gratitude and become healthier spiritually and physically. Not only my personal experience tells me this—the Bible and modern psychology are entirely cohesive: gratitude is so very good for us, both inside and out.

It’s correlated with lower stress levels, less depression, and less neuroses. (And who wouldn’t want to set down a few of those?!) It’s not just neurological health. The Bible claims gratitude as a key to spiritual health as well. Psalm 92:1 says, “It is a good thing to give thanks unto the Lord.” When God showed up in the flesh on earth as a man named Jesus, his life overflowed with gratitude in both good and bad moments, embodying the instruction in 1 Thessalonians 5:18: “In everything give thanks.” In everything! Everything means everything.

Whatever you are facing there is a way to give thanks straight through it. You can empower your own healing in the midst of anything with gratitude. The more I search for God in thanksgiving, the more I find him at work.

Gratitude heals disappointment. Gratitude is a statement of certainty that the work of God will not be thwarted even through pain and loss. I think back to the moment in 2020 where I completely lost it over schools and businesses remaining closed for months on end—the loss of work for my husband, the end of my grad school graduation, the loss of opportunities for my kids they’d worked hard for…. Who didn’t have one of these moments, amiright? I know loss has looked like sickness and death of all kinds for you and probably continued into 2021 in many ways. 

Jesus also knew loss. He lost one of his closest friends. He wept over his death. And then he expressed gratitude—just before raising him from the dead! Gratitude can co-exist with hurt and loss. Gratitude also doesn’t diminish the power of God to resurrect absolutely anything from the dead. We can always thank God for his power to return anything that has been lost.

Gratitude is power over bitterness. Ever tempted to blame God for taking things from you or delaying what you’d like to have? Gratitude pushes off the build-up of bitterness and sees ways that God is providing. Gratitude finds enough with what the world says isn’t enough. Jesus said a prayer of thanks when facing a crowd of many thousands and then offered up to God the small snack he had in his hands. God multiplied that food and fed everyone there! Gratitude looks past our poverty to a God who owns it all.

Gratitude builds resilience. We’ve heard plenty about immunity recently, right? Gratitude is like that: it’s our body’s ability to resist toxins upon future contact. You will be disappointed again; lose again; face death again. Gratitude chooses to see a good God in the middle of bad things. It builds trust in a God that’s bigger and above all—good. “O give thanks unto the Lord; for he is good.” (Psalms 136:1). The next time we confront whatever toxin comes at us, we’re stronger in spirit. Jesus grew in such strength and trust in the goodness of his Father that he actually said “thank-you” just before undergoing the unbelievable suffering of being killed on a cross! The more I continue to develop a disposition of gratitude, the easier I find it to resist mistrust, anger, or negativity that rises up in me. 

Thanksgiving is not just a day with some turkey—it’s an act of warfare against what wants to kill your soul —disappointment, bitterness, and mistrust in God.

I don’t care if you make a pretty list in a journal, grumble it under your breath, or share it at the dinner table: just practice gratitude this year intentionally. Fight for yourself. Go after your own emotional, mental, and spiritual health. Let’s DO some thanksgiving and finish 2021 strong. 

God’s Word > Your Emotions

God’s Word > Your Emotions

Who hasn’t had moments where you had a rush of emotion and sent a text or made a decision from that place? Maybe it turns out okay. And maybe it doesn’t. I wanted to do that the other day when I had an upsetting conversation with someone. I felt completely justified in my feelings and drafted an email in response. But something stopped me. Or rather someONE: I think the Holy Spirit put the brakes on the email I wrote. I should say thanks because I’m guessing it wouldn’t have gone too well. We’ve all seen the damage that angry people can do with an email, amiright??

My emotions were real and important and need dealt with, but not all of them are godly and helpful in responding to a situation. Emotions are more like kids on a car trip: you can’t let them take the wheel but you can’t throw ‘em in the trunk either. Truth be told I’m more of a trunk-thrower, but lately I’ve been feeling some things deeply and learning to submit these emotions to the Word of God BEFORE I move on them. I did that this morning, and as I looked back I thought I’d share exactly what I did with God and the Bible in case it would help you process yours.

I began my morning reading and prayer time feeling kinda distant and angry…not at God – just in general as a result of a situation at-hand. I started by writing out the Lord’s Prayer from my heart to God, which is always where I go if I don’t know how to start praying. Today it reminded me that God is my Father, so I can tell him how I feel. So I did.

    1. I wrote out a prayer with aaaaalllllll the feelings: no holding back. I started with “Father – I am angry…” and then went on from there. I told Him all about the things I felt and then some details about why I felt each way. I said things like “I feel devalued.” “I feel discriminated against”…Some of these feelings I thought I had every right to feel and all the evidence supported my POV. Others were mildly embarrassing, and I wouldn’t try to justify them to you at all. Yet there they were. I didn’t judge my feelings: I just told God what they were as honestly as I could. 

 

    1. Then I made myself a list of all my feeling words. I wanted to kind of get a vibe of all of them together: (You get a super clear picture here don’t you?!)
      • Angry
      • Insulted
      • Jealous
      • Minimized
      • Devalued
      • Alone 
      • Unsupported
      • Discriminated-against
    2. Next I asked the Spirit to bring scripture to mind that I should read in this emotional place.
      This is the tricky part if you don’t regularly read scripture. God can point me different places through the Holy Spirit just because I’m familiar with what’s in there. He has better access to speak to you, prompt you or bring a scripture to mind if you’re building up experience in His Word (That’s why I’m always encouraging people to read their Bible!!!). If this isn’t you I still encourage you to ask in prayer because something may come to mind. But if not, you can also reach out to a friend or a pastor, asking “If you felt like this; (give ‘em your list), what part(s) of the Bible would you read?”

 

    1. I read the scripture. For me, today, it was Philippians 2:1-11. This passage is a favorite of mine, so it is easy for God to use to reach me. I thought of it right away when I asked. As I was reading it I just wanted to stay open to anything the Spirit might say so I; a) wrote out the passage piece by piece just to let it soak in; b) thought about why this would come to mind in my current state and jotted some notes about that. For me, today, it was Philippians 2:1-11. This passage is a favorite of mine, so it is easy for God to use to reach me. I thought of it right away when I asked. As I was reading it I just wanted to stay open to anything the Spirit might say so I; a) wrote out the passage piece by piece just to let it soak in; b) thought about why this would come to mind in my current state and jotted some notes about that.

 

    1. I summarized what the text of scripture said.  For that passage I wrote: “This says if I want to be great then it cannot come from anything selfish: it must come from a desire to serve my Father’s will. The path to significance will always be through lifting others up. What’s good for others should be the basis of my actions and decisions. If I want to be like Jesus then I need to be okay with lower positions than I might think I deserve. When I am like this in my attitudes and actions then I become trustworthy with authority because I am only concerned about God’s reputation and not my own.”

 

  1. Last, I prayed and asked God what actions I should take/not take as a result. 

      For me this was (these are based on the scripture I read):

      1. I will publicly praise ______ (a person’s name) this week somehow. 
      2. I will keep my mouth shut about my complaints because they appear to be rooted in concern for my own reputation. I’ll trust God with that instead. 
      3. I will not send an email to _____’s boss about what’s been taken from me. I will ask God to fight for me and for the chance to enter a productive face to face conversation instead. 
      4. I asked God to return what’s been taken from me only if I am the one who can get the most glory for HIM with it.

    It’s so hard to do this while we live in a culture that encourages emotions to run the show. I still feel what I was feeling. (Though the intensity did lessen just processing them with God). The best advice is not necessarily to ‘follow your heart:’ the Bible actually says we have good reason to suspect our emotions might not be the things that lead us to life:

    “The human heart is the most deceitful of all things,

        and desperately wicked.

        Who really knows how bad it is?

    But I, the Lord, search all hearts

        and examine secret motives.” Jeremiah 17: 9-10

    My emotions are helpful and I have to be honest with myself and God. They were not zapped away with this exercise, and I might need to go back to them with God again. But just the practice of putting them underneath God’s Word is huge: it reminds me there’s a Truth higher than whatever emotions are pulsing through my heart today. 

    Fasting – Ugh, the waiting.

    Fasting – Ugh, the waiting.

    Fasting: never been my favorite spiritual discipline. Simply put – fasting is refraining from eating food for a spiritual purpose: it’s not a physical diet (down with diet culture!). It’s something we are given the privilege of doing as a follower of Jesus in order to grow in intimacy with our Father and to see spiritual breakthrough. As someone who’s trying to not just read the Bible, but actually DO its words, I have to admit that Jesus assumed fasting would be a part of the DO-ing of our faith. For Jesus it was a “duh, of course” you will. In Matthew 6, Jesus laid out three practices that he assumed were occurring in the life of every one of his followers: He said “When you give..When you pray…When you fast.” WHEN you fast. 

    Truth is, I knew I didn’t practice these words with any kind of diligence and deep commitment. So when my mentor texted me on New Year’s Eve with an invitation to join into her annual New Year’s fast, I immediately felt the nudge of the Holy Spirit to say yes. I sat there with champagne in one hand and a cookie in the other and agreed to start the next day with them.  I thought I was going to hate it. Three weeks is a long time. But instead I began 2021 feeling very close to Jesus.

    Also – I still don’t like to fast. 

    I did a variety of types: some days were only liquids. There were a handful of categories I gave up for the entire period (breads, sweets, alcohol – all for spiritual, symbolic purposes that mean something between me & God). Other days I’d fast certain meals to focus on certain prayers. I read a great book on fasting during these weeks to stay encouraged (find the Amazon link on my book reco page!) and we had a group text to share prayers and pick each other up on bad days. Each of us had chosen certain themes or focus areas for our entire 3 weeks of prayer. We often prayed for each other’s issues. (Bonus; fasting as a group builds deeper relationships). 

    I finished feeling sure that God would release blessing of all kinds into my life: 

    Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.”

    Matthew 6:33

    Fasting is seeking the Lord over top the other things we crave for ourselves. It goes on the pile of evidence-that-God-really-does-come-first-in-your-life. Instead of starting the year praying only for what I wanted to happen in 2021 (which certainly isn’t bad!), I started the year actually seeking God first. It felt good. But here’s the thing I have to report back 6 months later;

    I’m still waiting. 

    Almost none of the tangible things I prayed for has come to pass. Is 6 months a long time? Not with eternity in view, but there are days it feels long to me. 

    Fasting is not a way to manipulate God to give you what you want, but it does come with a promise of reward. 

    But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

    James 4:7

    There’s a tension here, and there’s no way to resolve it. Jesus calls us to fast in obedience and then also says we will be rewarded. Fasting in scripture is CLEARLY part of significant breakthrough and direction. We can absolutely enter a fast with an expectant heart, but we cannot dictate the conditions, the timing, the manner or the methods of God’s breakthrough and blessing. We fast in trust. And then we wait. Even as I sit here not yet seeing the things I have asked of God…

    I will obey. 

    I will believe there are and will continue to be all kinds of spiritual realities impacted by this fast in my life. 

    I will remind myself that faith always includes the tension of things I don’t yet see.

    Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.

    Hebrews 11:1-2

    I’ve put off writing this because – truth be told – I wanted to report back with an update that I’d seen all the things I have asked for! Truth is, I’ve seen some movements here and there in a few directions but no major breakthroughs. Truth is, some days I cry because things don’t seem to be going where I thought God was leading. Truth is, I have days I doubt the fast mattered. But I keep going back to something the book I was reading reminded me of:

    God highly prizes – and never, ever forgets- true faithfulness.

    Months – even years- after a fast, God will see me down on my knees in front of my pantry saying to Him “I want you more than I want food. As hungry as I am, I am hungrier for your hand on my life and your mercy, guidance and love. I want YOU more than any of this.” His memory doesn’t fade, and his concept of time is not like mine. God never forgets.

    Fasting is definitely one of the things I’d put in the column of “easier read than done,” but I believe it is worth it. Our Lord is true to his Word. So while today I haven’t seen breakthrough, the reality is that I just haven’t seen it YET. 

     

    Go On… Risk it.

    Go On… Risk it.

    Today I went on a hike and had a sweet and incredible experience with my girls and the Lord. It was so fitting because I’ve been reading the book of James for the past week which kept reminding me that our faith must have clear evidences in our real lives…. or it isn’t real faith. That usually comes down to a risk of some sort. Like it did for me today. 

    “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

    “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?  If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!

    Matthew 7:7-10

    I went on a hike with my girls on some paths I’ve walked many times. I shared a story with them about how a couple years ago I was on the very same path and the woods looked very brown and bare – just like it looked right now. I explained how I’d heard God whisper to me “I’m still here in all my fullness. Just look.” I began to pluck tiny plants or flowers I saw in a few nice colors, and soon I began to wonder whether God could give me the whole rainbow of colors before I left the trail??

    I hesitated to believe that the thought was from Him: the woods at first glance truly were brown and lifeless nearly everywhere I looked. But He was impressing on me to believe: to keep picking up each color in the faith that He could deliver all of them on my short walk. I wanted to believe that He was here – in all his fullness- even when it looked barren around me, but am I nuts? Really, God? Where in the world are orange and purple going to come from?

    Well, in a short time I’d collected every color except blue. I couldn’t imagine how He’d deliver blue. Blue! But again I felt Him urging me to risk believing it was Him. To risk being disappointed if it wasn’t. To risk looking around expectantly as if He was really going to do it somehow. I actually said out loud “Ok. I believe you. You’re going to give them all to me. I’m going to find the blue somehow.” I came to the end of the trail a little bummed I still didn’t have blue. I stopped at the end of trail, ready to turn back to the car, and I glanced down. 

    There they were: a tiny cluster of blue belles at my feet! I burst out laughing and got tears in my eyes. He had delivered the whole rainbow! God was there; in all his fullness — even when it didn’t seem like it at first glance. 

     So today… I told my girls that story and (of course – duh!) they wanted to do the same. Should have seen that one coming. And again I felt my hesitation. I felt protective of my girls young faith. I wanted to protect them from any kind of disappointment in God. I began to think “well, I don’t want them to feel let down by God. What if it doesn’t happen? I don’t want to challenge God or anything. Maybe we shouldn’t.” But I went ahead sensing again this was a risk I should and could and needed to take on God. I know it doesn’t seem like a big risk, but it was. It was a lot for me to think He’d do it again. Why would I think He’d care about this? Why would he?! But I think in the end, He just wants us to risk the real belief…that He’s there, listening, cares…and He’ll use anything to enter that exchange with us.  

    So I agreed with them; “Ok let’s look!” And soon enough – you guessed it – we had everything except blue. 

    We got to the end of the same trail and turned back just as I had a couple years ago. We were disappointed. No blue in sight. And my daughter Zoe said to me “Mom we think it’s over, but I wonder if God thinks it is.” I told her that was a great thought to always hold onto about God: When we are done, He’s usually not. 

    We neared the parking lot. I was having a silent conversation with God telling him how much I wanted my girls to have easy, daily, childlike faith in little things like this. I wanted them to go on walks with Him the same way I liked to do. I wanted them to ask and think He was right there, listening. And truth be told, I was bummed too. I’d wanted him to show Him presence and voice and sweetness to me, too, in this beautiful little way. 

     No sooner had my doubts been (silently) voiced to God but my daughter, Hope, yelled “Guys! Look!” I turned around just as she opened her cupped hands to show us a beautiful BLUE butterfly!

    Given the time of year, it must have been the only one in the entire woods. She reached up and caught it out of thin air.

    Tears sprang to my eyes, and we all realized at once what had happened! God sent us our blue! He just did it in a way we didn’t expect. Different than last time. And just as incredible, just as beautiful.

    When, oh when, will I stop being the one to the words of James this week were directed….

    But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 

    James 1:6 

     When we read words like this we are prone to underestimate our own doubts and unfaithfulness. We are prone to read “ask and you shall receive. Seek and you will find” thinking that we do that all the time. But the truth is most of us don’t. We don’t risk the disappointment. We don’t risk the hope. We don’t risk the impact on our kids. We don’t risk actually putting our faith to work even on a Sunday walk in the woods. 

    I’m glad I decided to risk it. I’m glad God is so patient with me. Real faith sure is easier to read about than do.

     

    What Makes a Great Party

    What Makes a Great Party

    Some parties are just better than others. This article gives 5 elements you should consider when you have your next celebration. Doing any of them will mean your party leaves a real impact.