In Everything Give Thanks

thSUZ2OHATMany families maintain a Thanksgiving tradition of going around the table laden with turkey and fixin’s and having everyone share what they are thankful for. The responses are usually predictable: “I am thankful for my family, my home, my friends, my job, my good health . . . and of course the food!”

Indeed, we should be thankful for all those things. But this year, I’m challenging myself to go deeper in my gratitude.

There’s a verse that says to “Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus (I Thessalonians 5:16-18, NASB).

In everything? Other versions of  Scripture say “in all circumstances,” (NIV); “no matter what happens” (MSG). This deepens the scope of thankfulness to well beyond “good things” and pleasant situations.

But surely it doesn’t mean we should be thankful for bad things, does it? I don’t believe so. However, it does provide a call to be thankful in the midst of, and in spite of, the difficulties of life.

Here are a few reasons I have found to be thankful in the middle of challenging circumstances:

Trials: Difficult situations are by nature unpleasant, yet they are the “Miracle Grow” that causes our character and faith to blossom. In addition, they cultivate sensitivity to others who are going through similar situations, and equip us to be an encouragement to them. A rough stretch can also supersize our thankfulness when we reach brighter times. After a devastating house fire, I am much more appreciative of the roof over my head.   Following several years of serving in a toxic work environment, I thank God continually for my current place of employment where I am treated with kindness and respect.

Weaknesses and limitations:  My chronic health challenges are a constant reminder of my physical weakness. Yet they also cause me to rely on God daily for strength, which is a faith-building process I would miss if I could operate in my own power. Although my health issues narrow the scope of activities I can pursue, my “limitations” also help define the areas God  wants me to focus on (like writing this blog)!

Denials:  Life is filled with constant reminders of what I don’t have. Scrolling through  Facebook can be tough as my friends gush about their perfect mates, talented children and adorable grandkids. In moments where all I can see are the “good things” I’ve missed, I am thankful that I can trust God to know what’s best for me. I remember that I am set apart for His service (not set aside). When I reflect on what I haven’t experienced, I’m also thankful for what I’ve been spared from. Only God knows the heartache, injury and loss that I’ve been protected from throughout my life.

As the saying goes, “I don’t know what the future holds, but I know who holds the future.”  Though life is certain to contain a combination of joys, blessings, trials, limitations and denials, I am grateful that I can trust God to be with me through whatever lies ahead.  He will supply the things I need and never leave or forsake me.  And when it’s time to enter eternity, where every tear will be wiped away, I can’t wait to thank my Savior in person.

As the aroma of turkey fades from the air, I encourage you to join me in finding reasons to give thanks in every circumstance, not just this holiday weekend, but all year long!

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Chronic Fatigue – Vanishing Spoons (Part 2)

thNVFN4H4ATo understand the full context, I recommend reading Vanishing Spoons (Part 1) first.

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I awoke the next morning feeling like I had been hit by a truck. My head ached and I felt an oozy sickness just asking my brain to process simple tasks. Getting ready for work took Herculean effort. I was clearly experiencing SSD (Serious Spoon Deficit).

Yet off to work I went.   It would not be the first (or the last) time I would press on despite feeling horrible.   Thankfully it was a quiet morning. Although my brain was crying out for reprieve, I urged it to keep performing. I responded to emails, worked on project details, and miraculously drafted coherent correspondence.   I was thankful I had survived the morning, but I knew I had pushed it as far as I could. The proverbial “wall” was fast approaching, and I was on a collision course with it. By noon, my gracious and accommodating supervisor understood that I needed to go home for the day.

That afternoon it all caved in. Continue reading

Chronic Fatigue – Vanishing Spoons (Part 1)

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The analogy made perfect sense to me. My dear friend, who has courageously struggled with several disabilities throughout her life, passed on a story about a young woman who was trying to describe what it’s like to have limited energy.

“Imagine you are given twelve spoons at the beginning of the day,” the story goes.   Each spoon represents energy expenditure . . . physical, mental, and emotional.   For most people, twelve spoons are more than enough to sail through the day, and they can th73STMV1Aalways go to their silverware drawer and get more, if needed. However, in the case of someone with a chronic illness or disability, seemingly small activities can cause a spoon to disappear before a “normal” person has even touched one. Continue reading

Pain in the Greeting Card Aisle

Greeting card aisle

When I was younger I used to love browsing greeting cards. I found it entertaining to read the sweet sentiments and clever humor.   While I still enjoy the quest to find the “perfect” card for someone, I also find that perusing the wide array of cards can trigger twinges of sadness, too.

One of the first times I felt pain in the greeting card aisle was in May 2008. A bright display of Mother’s Day cards was positioned strategically in the grocery store to make sure no one forgot to say “I love you” to mom on her special day. I wouldn’t have forgotten. In fact, I always purchased a second card along with a Mother’s Day card because my mom’s birthday was May 11 (sometimes the two occasions fell on the same day)! The problem was, that year I had no mom to purchase Mother’s Day and birthday cards for. She had gone to heaven five months earlier. The cards ushered in a wave of sadness as a realized I would never purchase another Mother’s Day card again.

Today I made a trip to the Dollar Store, where the wide selection of inexpensive cards wooed me in.   As my eyes swept the different headings, I became painfully aware of how few categories I could buy from.   I jumped from section to section: Grandparent cards – no. Mom cards – no. Sister cards – no. Nephew or Niece cards – no. Husband or romantic connection cards – no.   Son or daughter cards – no. Grandchildren cards – no.   I also noticed the type of cards I had never received: bridal shower, wedding, anniversary, and birth congratulations, to name a few.

We all face reminders of what we’ve lost or of what we’ve never had. Sometimes those twinges of grief or sadness hit us at unexpected moments. While it’s probably not advisable to start bawling uncontrollably in the card aisle, I think it’s healthy to give ourselves permission to acknowledge the pain caused by a loss or an unfulfilled dream.   Let’s admit it; it hurts. To bury our feelings and pretend we are “just fine” is as artificial as some of the cheesy greeting cards on the shelf.

In addition to admitting the pain to ourselves, it’s often helpful to share how we’re feeling with others. The first place we can go is to our Heavenly Father. God is immediately accessible and we can whisper a prayer anywhere, anytime and be assured he is listening.   He is an ever-present help in times of struggle, and encourages us to cast our cares upon him.

We can also seek out earthly friends. Recently I was carrying (and trying to hide) my deep frustration about an ongoing struggle. In a moment of vulnerability I shared how I was feeling with a trusted person in my life. While my friend couldn’t “fix” the situation, the simple act of verbalizing how I felt lifted my spirits. In return, I need to be that safe place for my friends when they need to share their areas of pain.

The reality is, very few people have a reason to buy cards from every section of the Hallmark store. Each of our lives unfolds differently, and everyone skips certain sections of the card racks. In addition, most of us end up receiving cards we wish we didn’t have to, like those that arrive when we are ill or have lost a loved one.  In truth, the greeting card aisle can be a reminder of painful things. But, it can also be an indicator of life’s blessings.

My scrapbooks and file boxes are overflowing with cards from precious people over the years . . .birthday cards, holiday cards, graduation cards, congratulations cards, encouragement cards, thank you cards, sympathy cards, and “just-because” cards. They remind me that my life has been rich in experiences and in relationships with amazing friends and family.  And I have sent oodles of cards in return, celebrating their joys and expressing my support during their losses.

The next time I go card shopping, I won’t be afraid to admit it if a sneak attack of pain comes along with the task. If it does, I know that God and my friends are available to get me through it. I’ll also strive to be thankful for the opportunity in front of me. As I hunt for the ideal card, I will think of the intended receiver – and be grateful for that person’s presence in my life.  And I’ll remember that the simple act of hand-picking a card, writing a personal note, and sending it may be just the encouragement my friend needs to deal with the greeting card aisles in his or her life.

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“Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you . . .” Psalm 55:22 (NIV)

“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:18 (NIV)

“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up . . .” I Thessalonians 5:11 (NIV)

“Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:2 (NASB)

 

 

 

Trusting God in the Dark

 

ultrasound machine

It felt like the walls were closing in. A dim, recessed bulb cast a faint ray of light from the ceiling. The only other illumination was the eerie glow from the high-tech machine just used to perform a test on me. I was alone, lying on a paper-covered exam table. A white towel covered the suspect part of my body and a medical gown barely covered the rest.

The unsmiling technician had routinely performed the test without emotion, lending neither comfort nor revelation. “I’m going to get the doctor to discuss the findings,” was all she said as she closed the door behind her.

I knew the specialist could walk in and announce that I had a deadly disease. I had waited weeks for this test after an earlier exam revealed something suspicious. Only in my thirties, fear clutched at my throat as I tried to brace myself for what could be the worst news of my life. I instinctively began praying: “God—where are you? Please help me not to be afraid. Please help me feel your peace.” Fear’s grip didn’t loosen, and I felt utterly alone. I prayed with more determination. “God, you say that you will never leave or forsake us. Please take away this fear!” Still, the calming sense of peace I cried out for refused to permeate the sterile environment.

The doctor arrived, and though he delivered good news, joy escaped me. I was exhausted from feeling as if I had borne the stress alone. And I was hurt and confused because God had not responded the way I thought he should. For several days afterward my faith was shaken. But gradually I began to see that the rattling was for my own good. My concept of God was being jostled right out of its tiny box.

After being a Christian for many years, I thought I knew God. I thought I could predict how he would respond to my cries for help. My experience in the exam room reminded me that God is much bigger than my understanding. While I rest secure in His goodness, faithfulness, and grace, His ways will always be higher than mine. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord” (Isaiah 55:8). He is all-knowing and all-powerful, and does what he deems best, even if at the moment it might not feel comfortable or “safe.”

C.S. Lewis captured this aspect of God in hisAslan portrayal of Aslan, the character who represents Christ in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. Mr. Beaver describes Aslan to the four children: “Aslan is a lion – the Lion, the great Lion.” “Ooh!” said Susan, “I’d thought he was a man. Is he – quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.” “That you will, dearie, and no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver; “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.” “Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy. “Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

As I grappled with the dual concepts of God’s goodness and his untamable nature, some of the peace I craved in that dark room showed up. I learned that I cannot approach God with a vending machine mentality (insert prayer, immediately receive the answer to my specifications). I now realize that even though God didn’t instantaneously take away my fear when I asked Him to, it didn’t mean he wasn’t there. Psalm 34:15 confirms that “The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are attentive to their cry.” He was there even when I couldn’t “feel” him.  He was there even when he didn’t act the way I thought he should. He heard my cry for help—but in his wisdom he allowed me to experience a situation that stretched my faith.   I learned the important lesson that I can never control God—only trust him.

In his book, “Knowing God,” J.I. Packer states, “We may be frankly bewildered at things that happen to us, but God knows exactly what he is doing and what he is after. Always, and in everything he is wise. We shall see that hereafter even where we never saw it here. Meanwhile, we ought not to hesitate to trust his wisdom even when he leaves us in the dark.”

Like he did with me, in that exam room. It was right where I needed to be.