Tag Archives: thankfulness

Celebrate The End

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This week we finished our almost-3-year process to get our permanent residency visas here in CR… which must be renewed in a year and a half.  Yes, that’s right.  You thought you knew the meaning of the word “permanent” but you didn’t.  It really means permanently standing in lines to pay more money.  However, we did it!  I can’t believe that it’s finally over.  I think that has been a prayer request on nearly every newsletter that we have sent out in the last few years.  Now we can celebrate.

steakWe did a combination Mothers’ Day (in America) and Visa celebration last Sunday.  After church we went to the next city over and enjoyed a very rare treat:  Outback Steakhouse.  We have a few American restaurants here, but they are so freaking expensive that they are for “Birthdays only” in our household.  It had been over a year since we had gone to Outback, so we were giddy with anticipation.

I particularly like the Blooming Onion (don’t tell me that it has a million calories.  I already know and I don’t care.).  When we lived in Mexico we went to visit friends in the center of the country.  They had an Outback there too.  I was looking forward to the Blooming Onion for weeks before our visit.  My mouth watered as I ordered it.  Twenty minutes later the server came back out and said, “Sorry, we don’t have any onions right now.”  I just about beat him up.

My point is, it is good and right to stop and celebrate when you accomplish something huge like this.  Celebrating is practically ordered by God in the Old Testament.  Have you read how many feasts and holidays the Jews had in the Law?  I don’t know how they got any work done.  God wants us to celebrate our victories and to remember them with anniversaries and festivals year after year.  Celebration is good for the soul.  It reminds us that God is good and life is not always bad.  It keeps us from feeling like a victim all the time.  And it helps pull us away from our future goals and plans long enough to focus on the past successes and present joys.  God orders us to celebrate!

We have so much to celebrate in our lives.  This weekend, take some time and make a list of all the things that you can celebrate.  Think of successes.  Think of victories.  Think of hard things that you survived.  Think of benchmarks and landmarks and goal posts and mile stones that you have achieved.  Take time to celebrate your Wins with Thankfulness to God.  It’s good for your soul.

Photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/anotherpintplease/3258810983/”>Another Pint Please…</a> / <a href=”http://foter.com”>Foter.com</a&gt; / <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/”>CC BY-NC-SA</a>

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>

When God shows you his back

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“Trust is the bridge from yesterday to tomorrow, built with planks of thanks…”

But…

“What of all the memories where Christ seems absent?  When the bridge shakes and heaves… when we look back and see God’s back.

Wasn’t that too his way with Moses?  ‘When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by.  Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back.’  (Exodus 33:22-23)

Is that it?  When it gets dark, it’s only because God has tucked me in a cleft of the rock and covered me, protected, with His hand?  In the pitch, I feel like I’m falling, sense the bridge giving way, God long absent.  In the dark, the bridge and my world shakes, crackling dreams.  But maybe this is true reality:  It is in the dark that God is passing by.  The bridge and our lives shake not because God has abandoned, but the exact opposite:  God is passing by.  God is in the tremors.  Dark is the holiest ground, the glory passing by.  In the blackest, God is closest, at work, forging His perfect and right will.  Though it is black and we can’t see and our world seems to be free-falling and we feel utterly alone, Christ is most present to us, I-beam supporting in earthquake.  The He will remove His hand.  Then we will look. Then we will look back and see His back.”

Once again Ann Voskamp blew my mind!  “One Thousand Gifts”.  Can I say anything more?  This is so simple and yet so profound.  This is going to take a while to process and apply.

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.

Don’t You Get It?

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Every year in my English class I make my students do an assignment with the verb “To Get”.  Rather than me explaining the thousands of uses of the verb, I make them research it on their own and report back to the class what they find.  (Look it up in the dictionary sometime and you’ll be shocked at all the ways we use the verb Get.)  One of my favorite uses is the phrase, “I don’t get it.”

Have you ever found yourself wandering aimlessly through life and thought, “Is this all there is?  Am I missing something here?”  I want to be sure that I “get it”.  I want to get it RIGHT and I want to get it ALL.  I want to squeeze every last drop out of life.  I want the Good Life- every ounce of it.

I have no doubt that someday I’ll be in heaven (so I know I got that part right).  But I don’t want God to say to me, “You didn’t get it.  You had all those years on Earth and you didn’t get it.  I was always with you.  I surrounded you with immeasurable beauty every single day.  I was calling to you every day.  I was trying to get your attention.  I wanted you to see me and admire my beauty.  I wanted to fill you up with my beauty, which would have made you so happy.  But you were too busy.  You were too focused on the pointless details.  You were too frustrated to look up.  I wanted to give you the Good Life, but your hands were already full.  I was trying to show you, but you didn’t get it.”

How many sunsets have I missed?  How many loving gazes have passed unnoticed?  How many times have I been looking down when I should have been looking up?  How many days have I spent scratching around in the dirt when I should have been soaring through the clouds?  How many times have I felt sheer joy rise up inside of me, threatening to swell and burst my heart, but I’ve pushed it back down again because I’m a grown up now?  Children never do that.

When a child is bursting with happiness she sings and dances with abandon, she squeals with giddiness, she claps her hands happily.  Her eyes shine with joy and her smile stretches from ear to ear.  Then what happens?  She runs into her Daddy’s arms and hugs him tight around the neck… she is thankful.  She “Gets It”.   She gets that the Good Life is a life full of thankfulness.

Thankfulness both causes and results from Joy.  It’s a beautiful chicken-and-the-egg cycle.  Noticing beauty makes me happy.  Happiness makes me thankful.  Expressing thankfulness makes me even happier- Joyful even.  And with that Joy I find even more beauty in the world, which makes me overflow with thankfulness.  I worship.  I wrap my arms around my Father’s neck and squeeze- extracting every last drop of Joy from life.  I get it.

Magnify the Good with Thankfulness

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“Something always comes to fill the empty places.  And when I give thanks for the seemingly microscopic, I make a place for God to grow within me.  This, this, makes me full, and I ‘magnify him with thanksgiving’ (Psalm 69:30 KJV), and God enters the world.  What will a life magnify?  The world’s stress cracks, the grubbiness of a day, all that is wholly wrong and terribly busted? or God?  Never is God’s omnipotence and omniscience diminutive.  God is not in need of magnifying by us so small, but the reverse.  It’s our lives that are little and we have falsely inflated self, and in thanks we decrease and the world returns right.  I say thanks and I swell with Him, and I swell the world and he stirs me, joy all afoot.”  ~One Thousand Gifts, p. 59, by Ann Voskamp

Whatever you focus on gets magnified.  Whatever you magnify, fills you.  God can not fill you if you’re already full of yourself.  Focusing on the little things and thinking of each one as a gift from God makes your life feel full of gifts.  With your 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.

“…this magnifying of the Lord is an occupation to be taken up by all Christians, do not let us think little of it.  To magnify the Lord seems to me the grandest thing we mortals do, for it is the occupation of heaven… We cannot make him really greater, but we can reflect his greatness.  We can make him appear greater.  We can make others have greater thoughts of him, and that’s we do when we are praising him… When God is praised, we have come to the ultimatum.  This is the thing for which all other things are designed.  We are to be saved for this end, for the praise of his glorious grace… Have you been during this day murmuring and complaining and grumbling?  End that, and begin praising… Let us cease from all criticism of what he does, and say, ‘My soul does not grumble.  My soul does not complain; I have taken up a better business than that.  My soul doth magnify the Lord.‘”  ~Sermon by Charles Spurgeon, Jan. 8, 1880.  Text from Luke 1:46 The Magnificat of Mary My soul doth magnify the Lord.

I Double Dog Dare You!

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Could you make a list of 1000 things to be thankful for?

After my water bottle leaked in my bag one day and totally saturated a book I was carrying around, a friend of mine gave me a new book called One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp (here’s her blog).  I don’t normally read much Christian writing, but this had a pretty cover and I usually judge a book by its cover… and so do you, I’m sure.  I was pleasantly surprised at what an amazing writer this woman is.  She really has beautiful talent!

I’m reading it slowly to savor every sentence.  This is the best book I’ve read since Annie Dillard’s American Childhood back in college.  It’s beautiful, lyrical, poetic and deep.  I cried on the second page!  How is that possible?!

Anyhow, the book is about finding things to be thankful for and unlocking the secrets of the Abundant Life that God has planned for us and promised to us.  It’s really an amazing book and I don’t want to spoil it for anyone… but I encourage you to read this book and to start making a list of the Gifts in your life, things you are thankful for.  Coconut Lime Sugar Cookies are going on my list for sure.  I think I just heard the angels singing!  🙂

I know that hanging clothes on the line is a nostalgic experience, but here in Costa Rica where things never dry I am thankful for my washer and drier EVERY SINGLE DAY. Most Costa Rican’s don’t have both a washer and a drier.

How to avoid being robbed- part 2

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Maybe some of you can relate to this.  When God is working on something in my life, it kind of becomes a theme with me.  (I’m waiting for the theme about quiet and stillness, but that seems incompatible with this phase of Motherhood.  Someday I’d like to be alone with my thoughts… or at least alone in the bathroom.)  For the last 7 or 8 months, God has been teaching me about Thankfulness.  I’ve been putting it into practice and noticing the changes it has made in me and my circumstances.

It all started last year sometime when I noticed a complaining and whiny tone in my voice.  I have a very low tolerance for people who complain and whine.  I can stand it for less than 5 minutes before I just have to walk away.  My excuse usually involves a pressing appointment with a dentist for a root canal, but don’t be fooled… I’m running away from the wet blanket personality.  It’s actually a form of mercy, because if I stood there listening any longer, I might slap someone in the face.  So when I heard this tone in my own voice, I was disgusted with myself.

Things lead to things and I found myself doing some Bible studies on Complaining.  That’s when I stumbled upon Thanksgiving as an antidote to feeling sorry for myself.  During the month of November, every single day I posted something on my Facebook status that I was thankful for.  It wasn’t hard to think of things, actually it was harder to narrow it down to one thing a day!  I found that the more full of Thanks I was, the less likely I was to find things to be cranky and whiny about.  By then, Thankfulness had taken on a life of its own and had become a habit.

Thankfulness breeds Joy.  That’s what I’ve discovered.  By nature, I am a Murphy’s Law- Glass Half Empty sort of person.  I call it Realistic, not Pessimistic.  So I’m still not going around like a Pollyanna always looking for sunshine in the gloom.  What has changed is my appreciation of both sunshine and gloom.  I can be Thankful for both.  I can thank God for sending both good things and hard things my way.  My Joy is unshakeable because it is no longer dependent upon my circumstances.  I can see the loving hand of God reaching out to me even in the darkness and I am thankful that He’s there.

God wants you to live a life full of Joy.  In the good times AND the bad times, you can have Joy.  Satan wants to steal your Joy, to make you feel guilty and sorry for yourself.  Nothing will kill your Joy faster than complaining.  And nothing will safeguard your Joy like Thankfulness.

If you feel like you’re being robbed of your Joy, I challenge you to be deliberate about practicing Thankfulness.  It’s an easy habit to acquire once you get started.  You’ll see results faster than you imagined.  Start a list of things to be thankful for, soon your Joy will be evident to everyone who knows you.

In addition, here’s another article called “15 Powerful things that Happy People Do Differently” Notice #12.

God’s Pet Peeve

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We’ve all heard that God sees all sin as equal.  Well that’s not exactly true.  Yes it’s all bad, but he calls some sins an abomination and there were only 10 Commandments- not every sin is mentioned in that list.  And there are some things that we accept as normal, part of our every day lives, but God doesn’t like them.

Does God have a pet peeve?  I think so.  Wanna know what I think it is?  Complaining.

Without throwing a bunch of scriptures at you, let me give you a few examples.  The Children of Israel wandered in the wilderness for 40 years… and complained the whole stinking time.  Some of it was stuff that we would consider every-day, “normal” complaining.  The weather was hot.  There was sand in everything.  They were living in tents.  They ate the same foods every day with no variety.  The scenery was getting boring.  There was no water.  They were just complaining about the nitty gritty hardships of living and traveling in the desert.  Most of us would think of these as “normal”.  We would have posted these complaints on our facebook status and never considered them to be a sin, but we see that they angered God so much that he sent fire from Heaven to consume some of them!  Clearly even this kind of “normal” complaining makes God seriously angry.  He got sick of those guys!

We don’t think complaining is such a big deal because we are surrounded by it all the time.  Unless it’s directed at us, we hardly notice it.  But God is not indifferent to our complaining.  He takes it really seriously.  In Phil. 2:14 we are commanded “Do all things without complaining and contention.” And 1 Cor. 10:10 commands us not to “grumble as some of them (The Israelites) did, and were destroyed by the destroyer.”

When we complain, there is a deeper root of sin that is present.  Complaining is like the runners that spread the sin around.  Think about it this way.  We believe that God is sovereign.  We know that the Lord always has good reasons for sending hardships our way.  When we become discontent with how God is managing things, we show that we do not trust God.  We show that we don’t believe that He is in control or, even worse, we don’t believe that he is a Good God.  In our pride, we think that we know what is best for us, we can conceive of a better way of doing things, and we degrade God into a pitiful, weakling who doesn’t care about us as much as we care about ourselves.  “God knows that complaining is an expression of our pride, and not only pride in general, but more specifically, arrogance against God Himself.”  ALL OF THAT IS CALLED BLASPHEMY.  And that is why complaining is a sin- because it has its roots in blasphemy.

In the Old Testament, God sent fire to consume the complaining Israelites.  Under the New Covenant of Grace, God doesn’t burn us up with fire but He sends dryness into our souls.  Our spirits become a dry and barren, scorched land.  Ever tried to use a dry sponge to soak up a spill.  A dry sponge just pushes the mess along, only  a damped sponge can soak up the liquid.  Our spirits can get dry and unable to soak up God’s goodness, his Word, or his blessings.  We just don’t take it in.  Our complaining has dried out our spirit.

So how do you stop complaining?

First, Speak God’s words.  Start memorizing scriptures that confirm God’s goodness to you.  Repeat these good words rather than spewing your spirit sucking complaints.  Second, Be thankful in ALL circumstances.  Good and bad, God has sent these circumstances to you for a reason.  Thank God for everything.  Third, Do something good for someone less fortunate than you.  When you see the circumstances of homeless people or poor people or people living in a third world country you will realize all that you have.  You really are blessed!  Counting your blessings is the quickest way to saturate your spirit with the goodness that God shows to you every day.  Soak it up!!  The goodness is everywhere, every day.  Quench your thirsty soul with thankfulness.