Tag Archives: Gratitude

I want Roots AND Wings

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Today is one of those days when I literally ACHE to have my own home.  For years and years we have lived as nomads, changing rental locations every few months or years.  This is just the lifestyle of missionaries.  I joke that moving frequently keeps you clean.  When I look at pretty things in stores I resist the urge to buy by thinking about having to sell it or pack it or move it in a few months.  Yuck, suddenly “pretties” lose their attraction.

I really do love my life.  I am doing exactly what I have always wanted to do.  I am proud of us as a family for thriving in another culture.  I am fulfilled and happy in my life and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.  I have wings to fly and no weights holding me bound to this earth!

But there are days when wings don’t feel like enough.  There are times when I think I would like roots instead of wings.  When I see friends on Facebook posting pictures of their new houses, I feel jealous.  When I see others making pretty Pintrest crafts to adorn their newly remodeled kids’ bedrooms, I feel jealous.  Then I remind myself that Pintrest is a gateway drug to hoarding, and I shut off the Internet.

baby angelI feel like a 2 year old, spiritually speaking.  “I want what I have AND what you have.”  On these petulant days, I have to be deliberate in my thankfulness or I will start feeling sorry for myself.  I pull myself out of my rumination and look around for something to trigger the avalanche of thankfulness that I am sure is hovering over my head in the spirit realm.  I seize upon the parrots swooping noisily over my yard and I am thankful.  I feel the tropical breeze cooling my rental house and I am thankful that it is 75* and not -10*.  I notice the paint peeling off the side of our house and I am thankful, in a perverse way, because I don’t have the responsibility to scrape and paint that wall.  I watch my children run around our yard, and I know that we are blessed by Costa Rican standards to have such a large yard.  I look at the high wall surrounding our house.  It is topped with electrical fencing and razor wire.  I feel safe living here, and that is something else to be thankful for.

Does the bird complain about the weight of wings?  Never.  She blissfully rises into the sky without a thought of what she might be missing down below.  The bird is content with her fragile, little nest because most of the time she is soaring above the clouds instead of puttering around indoors.

I bend my thoughts to the sky.  I pull my mind out of the dirt where it is trying to suck water from the dry ground.  I stretch my soul towards the heavens and rise on the warm thermal drafts of thankfulness.  Up and up, higher and higher I fly.  I have wings, for what do I need roots?  Today I declare in faith, “I am content to fly.”

Photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/courosa/5788131697/”>courosa</a&gt; / <a href=”http://foter.com/Kids/”>Foter.com</a&gt; / <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/”>CC BY-NC-SA</a>

Picky Eaters in the Desert

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picky eaterMy Mother, the stoic, had an expression that she used on us when we were children.  She would say, “Beggars can’t be choosers.”  When we didn’t like the sensible, brown shoes in the hand-me-down bag, she would say that.  When we turned up our noses at leftovers for dinner, she would say that.  Somehow it didn’t make me feel any more grateful.

This week I had the opportunity to do the devotional in our morning assembly at school.  I was assigned the theme, “thankfulness.”  I started by asking the kids to raise their hands if they were picky eaters.  (My own children should have raise their hands.  I forgot to look and see if they did.)  Then I told the story about the Israelites, wandering in the wilderness, who dared to be picky.  If anyone deserved the title “beggars” it was them!

The Israelites had been delivered from slavery in Egypt.  They were set free in a blizzard of miracles from the 10 plagues to the parting of the Red Sea to the presence of God with them day and night as a pillar of cloud or fire.  They should have constantly been walking around with their mouths hanging open in amazement at all that God had done for them.  But no, they repeatedly forgot to be thankful.

So after a few months in the desert, their food ran out.  God did another miracle for them by giving them Manna, food from Heaven, every single day.  At first, they were thrilled.  The Manna tasted like flakes of honey.  It was delicious, healthy, versatile, free and abundant.  But after a while, they started to get bored with Manna.  Let me say that again, they got bored with the Miracle that happened every single day before their very eyes.  They forgot that without this miracle, they were beggars.  And beggars can’t be choosers.

That’s when the complaining began.  Once they started being ungrateful, the Manna no longer tasted sweet.  It tasted bland because their hearts were no longer joyful and full of thanks.  Their attitude affected their appetites.  They no longer hungered for the things of God.  They started looking back and hungering for the food in Egypt.  They forgot that as slaves, they would not have eaten like kings.  But they romanticized the past and complained about their present conditions.

They complained that they wanted meat.  So God got angry and decided to teach them a lesson.  He told Moses, “I’m going to give them so much meat that it will make them sick.  They will eat meat until it comes out their noses!”  God send a huge flock of quail into the camp.  They were thrilled at first!  But they quickly over stuffed themselves. Then they got sick and threw up.  The meat came out their noses just like God said it would.

I don’t know if this has ever happened to you, but once I got food poisoning from McDonalds.  I threw up for two days straight.  I haven’t eaten a chicken sandwich since!  That was enough to cure me of any McDonalds cravings for a long, long time.  The same thing happened to the Israelites.  They didn’t want meat after that.  And we heard no more grumbling about Manna for the next 40 years.  They finally accepted the fact that you can’t be a picky eater in the desert.  Better to be thankful than to pass a drumstick out your nostril.

I have my own little tribe of Israelites at home.  All of my children have been picky eaters (though the teenager has pretty much out grown that phase).  My youngest one just surprised me recently.  She went from an all noodles and cereal diet to suddenly agreeing to taste a bite of chicken.  The bribe was, she would eat a piece of chicken if I let her cut it with a knife.  So with my protecting hands over her little paws, we cut the chicken together and she held up her end of the bargain.  Then she declared, “I like it!”  I about died!  Five years of refusing to eat chicken and suddenly she likes it.  I felt like God looking down on his own picky eaters and breathing a sigh of relief.  Finally they are eating and not complaining.

Photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/carbonnyc/6144729060/”>CarbonNYC</a&gt; / <a href=”http://foter.com/Food/”>Foter.com</a&gt; / <a href=”http://www.eduteka.pl/doc/cc-by”>CC BY</a>

Complaining is a SIN?? You’ve got to be kidding.

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“Magnify the Lord with Thankfulness.” (Ps. 69:30)

What does it mean to Magnify something?  Think about those old machines called “overhead projectors”  (I’m sorry if you just had a flash back from high school algebra class).  An overhead makes things LOOK bigger than they really are.  I could put my hand on the overhead and the shadow would look HUGE on the wall behind me.  Is my hand really that big?  No.  But this machine makes it look bigger by magnifying it.

The Bible says we are to MAGNIFY the Lord.  Can we really make God bigger?  No, neither can we put God on the overhead and make his shadow bigger.  But what we can do is to make our VIEW of him bigger.  Sometimes we have very little ideas about God.  We think that he can’t help us or he can’t hear us or he can’t heal us.  But the Bible says that God holds the whole UNIVERSE in his hands.  That means he can do whatever he wants to do.  We need to have a bigger view of God.  We need to “zoom in” on God and let him fill our view finder.

How do we expand our view of God?  Through Thanksgiving.  Well, that sounds kind of weird.  Why would giving thanks make God look bigger?  Let’s think about the opposite of Thanksgiving.  The opposite of Thanksgiving is complaining.  Have you ever complained about anything before?  Raise your hand, be honest.  If you have a Facebook account you have probably complained about something before- it seems that half of Facebook is people complaining about something… the other half is pictures of bacon.  Just kidding.  So we all agree that we have complained before.

Did you know that complaining is a SIN?!?  Well it IS!  The Bible says that we are to do all things without complaining.  That means when we complain, we are disobeying God.  Now, can you think of any stories in the Bible where someone complained?  I can.  The Children of Israel complained for 40 years while wandering around in the desert.  “There’s sand in my shoes.  It’s hot out here.  I have to go to the bathroom.  Are we there yet?”  God did AMAZING miracles right in front of their eyes EVERY SINGLE DAY and they barely saw them.  They were too busy focusing on their complaints to notice.

God parted the Red Sea right in front of them, gave them water from a rock, lead them with a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, healed them from snake bites and saved them from their enemies, but all they could think about was the “comforts” of their slavery back in Egypt.  They complained that they missed the Egyptian food.  They complained that it was hot and dry and sandy in the desert.  They complained that they wanted a god that they could see like the Egyptian idols.  And this really made God angry.

They were so focused on what made them UNHAPPY that they couldn’t see their blessings.   Whatever you focus on gets magnified.  Whatever you magnify, fills you.  God cannot fill you if you are already full of yourself and your own complaints.  Focusing on the little blessings in your life and thinking of each one as a gift from God will make your life feel full of gifts.  With you hands full of gifts from God, you will feel loved by him and you won’t be able to stop praising him with your thankful heart.

Through Thanksgiving, we zoom in and focus on God and he begins to fill our vision until He is all we see.  We make our view of him bigger by giving him thanks and not focusing on our complaints.  We magnify God in our own vision by giving thanks to him for the millions of blessings he’s given to us.  In that way, God gets bigger in our sight and instead of our mouths filling with complaints, our conversations overflow with gratitude.  The people around us will notice our gratitude and will expand THEIR view of God as well.

The Encyclopedia of Pain

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When I was a little girl, my grandparents had a set of Encyclopedias… you know, books with articles in alphabetical order summarizing all human knowledge… OK, it’s like the internet, but in paper form.  No, I’m not lying.

The pages that I liked the most were of the inside of the human body.  There were 5 or 6 clear acetone pages (like overhead projector sheets… oh, never mind.) that showed the layers of what is inside us.  One page showed all the bones.  The next page showed all the blood vessels; the next all the muscles then organs then skin.  You get the idea.  You could peel back each page to reveal a deeper layer of the body or look at them all together to see the whole body.  I was fascinated by that.

OK, put that story on pause.  I’ll get back to the encyclopedia in a minute.  

Right now in my life, I’m reading a book that you’ve probably heard me talk about called “One Thousand Gifts”  by Ann Voskemp.  I’m reading it slowly to digest each concept and, seriously, it’s changing my life!  The main theme of the book is giving thanks to God.

She writes:

“Trust is the bridge from yesterday to tomorrow, built with planks of thanks.  Remembering frames up gratitude.  Gratitude lays out the planks of trust… This is the crux of Christianity: to remember and give things, eucharisteo… remembering with thanks is what causes us to trust- to really believe…

I was totally grooving with her on all these points.  Then with her next thought, I stopped dead in my tracks.

But what do you do when…

“When your memories have an old man groping of your crotch, hot, foul breath on your face, and your skin crawls?  Give thanks?

“And an ultrasound screen stretches still and you’re sent home to wait for the uterine muscles to contract out the dead dreams?

“Or the woman you lay down with, shared the naked and unashamed, she beds another man, hands you back the wedding albums, and says she never knew love for you, what then?

“Remember and give thanks?  For what?  What if remembering doesn’t kindle gratitude?  What if remembering just leaves third-degree burns?

“The words sear… I wait… Spirit comes and He whispers a name.

“Christ.”

When your memories are only painful, how do you look back and find gratitude?

This is the time to superimpose Christ over your pain.  Like the acetone overlays of the body in parts, when we only see our own pain, we only see part of the whole.  But when we overlay the Cross of Christ over our partial perspective, we see the whole.  We look at our pain THROUGH Christ and then, only then, do we see meaning… not in our suffering, but in his.

He was there in your pain.  As he hung on that cross, he felt the pain of all the sin done to you, of all the pain ever caused.  He was there holding you in your pain, with hands wounded.  He pressed your weeping head against his spear-pierced heart and held you in his arms.  With a back split open with lashes, bleeding and raw, he bent over you and picked you up.  You were not alone.  You were not a singular layer.  You were meant to be covered over with the suffering of Jesus.  Only then can you see the whole picture.  Your own suffering is meaningless without the suffering of Jesus.

Just looking at the body parts in sections can look gory and gross… all raw muscles walking around or all blood vessels uncontained and exposed… horrific.  But place the skin over the layers and suddenly you see the whole.  You see beauty.  You see intelligent design and plan.  You see what is recognizable.

Overlay Jesus on your pain and suddenly you see the whole.  You see beauty instead of gross.  You see plan instead of chaos.  You see a familiar face on a strange and surreal memory.

Only then can you remember and let those memories lead you to thanksgiving instead of anger, shame, and hatred.  When you overlay Christ on top of your pain you transform a savage death into the source of life.  Your worst memory becomes your greatest victory.  Your pain seen through the cross will lead you to thankfulness for the cross of Christ.

When you look at Jesus, you defeat the one who tried to defeat you.  You humiliate the one who humiliated you.  Instead of handing your enemy a triumph, you rub his face in his ultimate defeat.  And Jesus turns your mourning into dancing.  He takes your ashes and turns them into something beautiful.  He takes your pain and shows you how it can help others, how it has a greater purpose.

We only understand our suffering by looking at the whole, looking at our past through the filter of the Cross.