Tuesday, July 8, 2014

“Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever.” ~ 1 Chronicles 16:34

There are times when being grateful comes naturally to me. When it is easy to think of the many ways I have been blessed - with friends, family, a home, a good job, plenty of food to eat, warm clothes to wear, and so many other things. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed with blessings and wonder why. There are so many people in the world with much less, and why have I been blessed with so much? It can almost feel like an embarrassment of riches and I don't even know how to react or feel and I sometimes feel guilty.

Other times, usually when I'm feeling afraid or worried, I forget to be thankful. I forget all the many ways that God has blessed my life. I feel alone and forgotten. I feel invisible and that life is unfair. My worries take over my life and blind me to the truth. The truth that I am very blessed. The truth that God is in control and while I definitely do not understand His ways, all that I have to do is have faith and rest in Him.

“I wonder what memories of yours will persist as you go on in life. My hunch is that the most important will have to do with feelings of loving and being loved – family, friends, teachers, shopkeepers – whoever’s been close to you. As you continue to grow, you’ll find many ways of expressing your love and you’ll discover more and more ways in which others express their love for you.”
~ Mister Rogers

I have many memories that have persisted throughout my life. I have parents who instilled a sense of gratitude in me - to always be thankful and to always see the ways that God moves in our lives. I am thankful to have such wonderful parents who raised me with such amazing love. Not only love for me and my sister, but love for each other which gave me a lifelong example of a Godly marriage. Love for family and friends - to make the effort to stay involved even when they move away, the importance of maintaining relationships, and the ways that distance and time don't have to change your love and connection. Love for God - the importance of having a real relationship with Jesus, of reading the Bible every day, of building relationships with other believers and sharing life together. They trust God with every aspect of their lives and it is obvious to all who meet them and it makes them incredibly lovable and encouraging. I am so thankful for the amazing blessing that they are in my life.

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”
~ James 1:17

Because of who my parents are, and the multitude of friends and family that they've made part of our lives - I have been blessed with so many wonderful people who have invested in my life and have helped to make me who I am. Growing up, any people that were in our lives on a regular basis we called either Aunt and Uncle or Grandpa and Grandma. Partly this was due to our not growing up near our actual relatives, and partly it was more respectful than to call them by their first names, but the close friendship made it odd to call them Mr. and Mrs. Several of these people have been a regular part of my life for my entire life. Auntie Terrianne and Uncle Jerry - my mom's best friend since junior high and I was born on her birthday which we celebrate together every year. Uncle Warren and Aunt Anna - my dad's best friend and while they have not always lived close to us, they have always been a part of our lives. Both of these families have been an important presence in my life always. I know they love and support me, they see me as family, they pray for me and they are always there for me. There are so many others I could name. I am truly blessed to be surrounded by family and friends and I am so thankful.

"The great temptation is to use our many obvious failures and disappointments in our lives to convince ourselves that we are really not worth being loved. Because what do we have to show for ourselves? But for a person of faith the opposite is true. The many failures may open that place in us where we have nothing to brag about but everything to be loved for. It is becoming a child again, a child who is loved simply for being, simply for smiling, simply for reaching out. This is the gift of spiritual maturity: to receive love as a pure, free gift."
~ Henri Nouwen

I think that sometimes I feel guilty not because I don't feel worthy of love, but because I feel too loved. I feel like that sounds egotistical or selfish or some word like that. But I often feel so guilty that I have so many people in my life who have shown so much love to me and I know that for so many people they feel lucky to have only one person to love them. And some truly feel like no one loves them. And so I wonder...why am I so blessed? What makes me so special as to have such an overwhelming amount of love? I am grateful and oh so very thankful, but it doesn't make sense. This is the kind of thing that makes me wish I could understand God more. And I think this feeling of too much love is what makes me want to show so much love to the people that God places in my life. I feel so overwhelmed with love that I want to pour it into the lives of others. Maybe that's why God has allowed me to be so blessed....I actually never thought about it that way. Hmmm...I'll have to ponder that for awhile.

“Some of us find it easier to give than to receive. But when we show courtesy by receiving what others offer us, we are giving them the opportunity to know the joy of loving.”
~ Gary Chapman 
“The receiving in life to me is one of the greatest gifts that we give another person. And it’s very hard. Because when you give, you’re in much greater control. But when you receive something – you’re vulnerable.”
~ Mister Rogers

It's hard to be the recipient. On one hand, you think it's easier - you're getting a gift from someone and who doesn't like gifts? But it's hard, because it does make you vulnerable. When I hurt my back, I could barely walk and I hurt so badly that I just wanted to sleep and cry. I wanted to be able to do all the things that I usually could do - but I couldn't. I was dependent - I needed help to get up and to sit down. I needed help getting food and water and medicine. I needed so many things and I felt very vulnerable - what if no one wanted to help me? What if they got annoyed at me for needing things? What if I never got better and always needed someone?

We also live in a culture that values not needing anyone and taking care of ourselves. But we are created for community and a shared burden is a lighter burden. It takes guts to ask for help when we need it and to be open and vulnerable. But, as my mom always says, if we don't ask for help and we don't allow ourselves to receive - we are stealing someone's opportunity to give. We are robbing them of the joy and privilege of helping. We all enjoy the feeling of being of assistance to someone, so it can sometimes help in those moments of wanting to do it by myself to remember that we should instead give someone the opportunity to be a blessing.

I love this song. Hymns are such a great way to think about God and it's sad that we don't have the opportunity to sing or hear hymns very often anymore. The first and the last stanza are my favorites -

When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.

So, amid the conflict whether great or small,
Do not be disheartened, God is over all;
Count your many blessings, angels will attend,
Help and comfort give you to your journey’s end.
~ Johnson Oatman, Jr.

Gratitude is about God. He alone provides the many blessing in our lives. He alone is our Savior, our Father, our Provider - so many things. Everything in our lives - both good and bad - is part of His plan and while we may never understand what He does or why, we can place our hope and faith and trust in Him and we will have the abundant life.

“But be sure to fear the Lord and serve Him faithfully with all your heart;
consider what great things He has done for you.”
~ 1 Samuel 12:24

“But You, O God, are both tender and kind, not easily angered,
immense in love, and you never, never quit.”
~ Psalm 86:15

I know there are many things I take for granted that God has provided. I try to remember and sometimes I do. I love to talk to God when I'm driving in my car to and from work. I often thank Him for a beautiful clouds, or His creativeness in making so many variations of green or trees in every color of the rainbow - He didn't have to do that and yet how amazing it is that He did! Maybe it's the artist in me, but I am often awestruck by nature - the multitude of colors, the variety of floral and animal life, the beauty and power of the ocean, stunning sunrises and sunsets, so many beautiful and wonderful and creative things. I think what I often forget to thank Him for are things like His mercy and grace, His immense love, His law and His Word. 

This past year and the journey I've been on have helped me gain an appreciation and gratitude for the amazingness of God's Word. Although I had read much of it in the past, I had never felt such a desire to devour His Word and never before had it felt so clear and fresh and quite literally amazing. I am so thankful for the opportunity to experience the Bible in this way and while I may not want to experience the hurt again, I am so grateful for the gift of reading His story of love and redemption.  

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.”
~ Melody Beattie

When I take the time to count my blessings, I feel truly blessed. I can see the many ways that God has brought special people into my life and the ways that their love and encouragement have impacted me. I can also see the people that God has brought into my life for a purpose - not to say that they were evil or terrible, but the lessons I learned through those people impacted my life in different and important ways as well. Both kinds of people are important and a vital part of who I am and why. I have to be willing to thank God for the experiences I've had as a result of every person that He has brought into my life.

“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
~ 1 Thessalonians 5:18

It is always easier to see clearly once we're through a situation and I think that's part of the beauty of gratitude. Looking back allows us to see the ways that God has moved in our lives and to be able to thank Him for the good and bad things that happen to us because we can see the way they affected our lives. Sometimes though, we can't understand God and we don't understand why He allows certain things to happen to us. Those are the times we have to trust, and thank Him anyway. Not because we understand, but because we choose to have faith that He is in control and that even though we don't understand, He does and everything He does is for our good - even when (maybe especially when) it doesn't feel like it. Not that this is easy...trust me, I struggle with it all the time.

This prayer is from one of the devotions I read called Girlfriends in God (www.crosswalk.com) and was from the 11/9/12 post:

“Father, I come to You today with a heart of praise for the way You meet every need in my life and for how You constantly rescue me from the darkness. I want Your heart, Lord. I want to be Your hands and feet to the people You place in my path. Give me Your eyes to see their need and the courage to do something about it. Please guard my heart against pride and selfishness. I want to please and honor You alone. In Jesus’ name, amen.”

And I'll add this:

"Dear heavenly Father, thank You for the many ways You have blessed my life. Thank You for the wonderful people You have placed in my life and the overwhelming love I have always felt surrounded by. You know I sometimes feel guilty because of this love, and I pray that You help me to see with Your eyes the ways I can try to pour some of this love into the lives of those people You have placed in my life. Please help others to feel Your immense love for them, to feel the love of people that You place in their lives to help them feel Your presence. Help me to remember to thank You for the many blessings You've given me, and also help me to thank You for the things that I don't understand and the things that are hard. I know that You are in control, but I pray that You help me to remember this in those times when it isn't easy. Help my first thoughts to be for Your glory and praise, and not my despair and worry. Please bless those who are reading this blog, allow Your truth and Your words to reach people and let them know how much You love them. Help me not to be prideful in a selfish way, but also help me to feel okay with the kind of pride that comes from doing Your will. You know I struggle with a desire to hide from attention and I'm trying to find the balance in being confident but not cocky or arrogant. Thank You for loving me in my weaknesses. I love you. Amen.

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