Thursday, October 24, 2013

Falling into Thankfulness

Fall is in full swing right now. We had our first snow early this week. Leaves everywhere are turning different shades of red, orange, yellow and brown. The wind whips them up high in the and they spin around and around. The crisp cold air is refreshing to breathe. Where before drops of dew danced on blades of grass every morning they now are sprinkled with tiny crystals of frost. A warm cup of tea or a freshly poured coffee mug melts the coldness out of my fingers each day. It is beautiful, I am thankful for fall.

I sip and I think, usually skipping breakfast until my brain is awake again. Kids run around, sometimes my coffee gets cold because we are busy. There is no time to slowly enjoy my little moment of happiness. Too many spills to wipe up, lost mittens or hats to find, or little arguments to settle. Sigh. Mornings are not exactly easy here. Six little feet run up and down the stairs and around our little home and I only have two. It is exhausting. Sometimes it is overwhelming. The busyness swallows me up like rushing water in a river. Maybe that is what drowning feels like?

And yet I can still breathe. My lungs still work. Somehow we get through it. A couple of tears hidden maybe here or there, but we make it. Sometimes there is yelling or tantrums. Slightly scarred or rattled, but off we go. To school, to work, to the store. To wherever life demands we go. Hi-ho.

It is enough to make me laugh with insanity sometimes. They say laughter is the best medicine. When you drop a glass bowl and shards go everywhere. All because in your rush you were clumsy. You laugh when your kids leave sticky paint foot prints on the couch, the doormat, and the front door. All because you had this great idea to let them paint but didn't specify right outside the front door. When you lose your keys and you were supposed to leave 5 minutes ago. You laugh. A big belly laugh. All of these happened yesterday. I am not making this up.

 It makes it hard to be thankful when busyness fills our lives.

A wise woman (one with more experience and years under her belt than I have) once told me that I shouldn't assume after kids things get less busy. Oh how I was disappointed, I hoped one day I wouldn't be busy. She explained to me that with children gone there are jobs to be done, relatives to visit, friends to help, retirement to focus on, and places to see. Life never slowed down. Life is always busy.

She was right. No matter what I do life will happen. Things break. Messes happen. Things are lost. It will make you forget what is important. Ever since then I have made it a priority to not let being busy change me, to be my excuse. I'm not going to let "busyness" take over my life and keep me from seeing the good around me, from being the good around me.

Something I decided many years ago was to always find the positive. I'm a generally optimistic person by nature. I have found that if I can find one good thing every day I am happier. Finding one happy moment or thing in my day fills me with so much gratitude that it changes my perspective. It is like power food for the soul, it keeps fueling me to keep going. It changes my relationships, my attitude and fills me up.

Being thankful or having gratitude for all the good things in our life could quite possibly be a key to living a happier and purpose driven life. "Psychological research suggests that happiness is more related to being grateful for what we already have," writes William F. Doverspike, Ph.D of the Georgia Psychological Association.  There are even studies that show gratitude is good for your health. Over 26 studies and counting, show how being thankful can really impact our lives.

Finding these little blessings and being thankful for them draw us closer to God. When Jesus broke bread with his disciples at the Last Supper he gave thanks to God. In his final hours before death he chose to thank God.

Luke 22:19
19 And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”

When we appreciate the good things around us we are choosing to see the good of God's creation. Bad things happen, messy life happens, suffering happens. However, there are also good things that fill this world with joy. Big or small, they matter. Sometimes being thankful even shows us how to love each other. When we know what matters, what we would be thankful for, we are better able to serve others around us.

Today as I was nearly 3/4 of the way through writing this post, the family across the street from us lost their dog. Their little girl plays with our boys all the time. She is adorable, wild and fun just like any little girl in first grade. She was really hurt today and couldn't stop crying. I watched my kids and the other neighbor kids try to make her feel better. They already know how to be a blessing, how to give her something to be thankful for, how to just be there for their friend. We played board games, watched youtube videos, and baked cookies together. We even shared stories of what we felt like when we lost a pet and picked the last flowers of the year to put on their dog's grave. She told me her mom who died of cancer is with her dog now. I think she felt a little better after that. I couldn't help but give her a hug.

Every day I make a list of what I'm thankful for. Daily. Sometimes more than once in a day even. I don't have have to write it down, I just mentally note what I have been blessed with. No matter what I am feeling, no matter how bad my day is, no matter who let me down or made me angry or sad. I'm thankful for this I tell myself.

Today, I'm thankful for cold coffee. Thankful for those six little feet. The ones that kicked my tummy before they were born and grew up to kick soccer balls around the yard and sometimes in the house. Thankful for those hands that make messes but always want my hugs. Thankful for the gift of motherhood. For friendship, for neighbors. Thankful that we have a home that we can fill up with memories. Thankful for my husband that works really hard to make not just our needs possible but our dreams possible too. Thankful for supportive friends, teachers and mentors in my life that have been a blessing to me and shaped me into the person, the story, that I am now. Thankful for a God that has blessed me with more than enough.

What are you thankful for today? Find a blessing in your life and be thankful for it.

Want to read more about gratitude?

Gratitude: A Key to Happiness by William F. Doverspike, Ph.D.

The Science of Gratitude: More Benefits Than Expected; 26 Studies and Counting by Amit Amin

The Neuroscience of Why Gratitude Makes Us Healthier by Ocean Robbins

Tuesday, October 15, 2013


Every once in a while life throws you something that you were not expecting.

It could be something wonderful. Finding out you are expecting after years of trying. Watching your child graduate from college or get married. A new neighbor that becomes your best friend. All feels well with the world when such unexpected joy fills our lives.

However, sometimes our lives are full of other (not so happy) occasions. These are the painful moments that shock us deep into our bone. The loss of a child or a loved one unexpectedly. Losing your job in a layoff and wondering how you will care for your family. Watching your home be destroyed by a flood or fire. It hurts. You don't get it. It makes you angry.

Life is full of twists and turns. Good and bad --both all part of a journey. You never really know where you will end up. Sometimes it starts to feel like a ride you would rather not be on. Hurt and pain start to make us feel like the ride is broken. If we are all honest we have probably thought to ourselves, hey who is in charge here?

It becomes really hard to trust that God has a plan. I admit sometimes I don't trust it. I praise him on Sunday but by Monday I am already doubting. I'm not the first one either. Countless people before me have struggled to grasp and to understand. Faithful yet flawed, each with their own story. The Bible is full of people just like me. It goes all the way back to Adam and Eve. You know how it goes. God created the world. It was GOOD. But Adam & Eve still wanted more and they ate the apple. At it's core, the reason was they didn't trust God. They wanted more.

Humanity is kind of like that. I am like that. Yes you heard me. I am a Christian that admits I sometimes doubt God. I admit I would do some things different. I have myself have been hurt and I also have watched countless relatives, friends, and strangers struggle through terrible hardships. I have seen marriages break apart in divorce and families shattered to pieces. I have seen women bury their children in tiny little graves. I have watched friends battle illness and barely hang onto the lives they once had. I have watched countries go to war (sometimes with themselves) over greed or senseless pride.

Can you blame me? For wanting to end THAT.

I am reminded of the song Imagine by John Lennon. A world in bliss. People without religion or war induced suffering and where all people live together in harmony because they are the same. It seems a dream, so simple and yet so impossibly perfect.

I once had someone ask me WHY is there all of this suffering? Why divorce? Why pain? Why all the bad stuff. Talk about a loaded question. We sat atop a mountain, several of us after a sunset and wondered why our world is full of suffering.

You know what I said? I said sometimes life just SUCKS. That was my answer. Some people will tell you it is God's will, that this was supposed to happen. Some people will even say everything happens for a reason. Maybe they are right but you know what I am not about to go looking for that reason. It is out of my ability to understand.

Here is what I do know. God loved us and he thinks we are good. He loved us so much that he manifested that love in Jesus who lived and walked among us and died on the cross. Even after we rejected this love, we were still forgiven.

Stop and think about that. Jesus, God's son, died for us even though we doubted it all. We didn't trust. We didn't understand. Or maybe we even think we understand it so well we should write the book of rules too. Jesus was able to look past all of that. He looked past our flaws. He saw something good in us obviously or he wouldn't have died for us. He saw our souls as invaluable. Worth saving.

In the book One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp she writes about how our soul is like a bucket with little holes that leak and yearn to be filled. She writes,
"That that which tears open our souls, those holes that splatter our sight, may actually become the thin, open places to see through the mess of this place to the heart-aching beauty beyond. To Him. To the God whom we endlessly crave...But how? How do we choose to allow the holes to become seeing-through-to-God places? To more-God places?"

There are terrible unexplainable things in this world. There is a lot of hurt. I will never understand it. The more I try to have all the answers the less I actually understand. I am not in control. I don't get to write my own story. That is a hard thing to accept.

I think Jesus and God know that about us. We each have our own struggle to face. Each a journey that is different and unique. A battle in our heart and soul that happens every day. God doesn't want for us to hurt and to suffer. God created the world to be good and for us to be in communion together with one another--with Him.

It is for this reason that Jesus calls on us to be good neighbors to each other. To love one another. The Golden rule to love thy neighbor as one would love thyself.

Matthew 7:12 (NIV) Says,
12 So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.

I'm not a scholar. I'm won't even say I get it all "right." I can't quote scripture perfectly and I am not a theology expert. But I do know that we are meant to lift one another up and love each other. Without love this world just feels so empty, and our souls like buckets start to empty and dry up.

Jesus loved us so much he died for us. It is God's love affair with our soul. A real love story. Despite not trusting, God still loves us. God is so forgiving and his love is so unconditional and pure that he constantly seeks to fill up our souls with grace. He offers this grace to all of us.

I'm not the first person to struggle to understand, to fully accept God and his plan. Me, I admit I would do things different. I think not enough Christians admit this. I'm not God though. I'm just me. Like most people my story is not yet finished.

I am like a book unwritten. Each day is a blank page and a new chapter awaits me. Dwelling on what happened in my past does not change anything and worrying about how my story ends doesn't help me focus on what is happening right now. The story of my life is beautiful, yet raw and full of of ink stains and imperfections. I will never understand or comprehend what my life is until it is finished.

That is my flaw--our flaw as humans-- the heart of why trusting God is not easy. To be well with God and fill our soul with his grace despite all the bad. It is not an easy thing.

Today I pray not to understand. I pray for trust. I pray to be content and to listen even in bad times. I seek to praise you God through all the good and the bad. There is suffering in this world but I know that you my God love all people. I pray to overcome suffering and to try and see things with wisdom and grace that only You can offer me. I pray I can love my neighbors. I pray that I will seek not to hurt others around me but instead offer love. God, your love affair is for all people no matter what their journey has been. Your love is for all of us--including me.