Celebrate, The Weeping Time is Over

wailing wall“…be not grieved and depressed, for the joy of the Lord is your strength and stronghold.” -Nehemiah 8:10 (AMP).

If you look at the context of the above Scripture and the time period in which it was written, the Jews had just completed a hard process of reconstruction of the wall of Jerusalem that had been torn down for at least 70 years. The whole city, including the beautiful temple constructed by Solomon, had been reduced to ruins by the Nebuchadnezzar in the Babylonian conquest of Judah in 586 BC. The Jews been exiled (or “carried away”) to Babylon, and those who’d been left as stragglers had endured unmentionable atrocities. A huge proportion of those now back within the borders of their homeland hadn’t even been born yet when it had all been destroyed, to remember the grandeur of how things used to be in Jerusalem. Now the wall was back up, and the fact that it went up in a mere 52 days was enough to shake the rumor mill and put the fear of God into their enemies. Jerusalem was back, and it would be restored. And it was known that they had God’s strong arm on their side. So as the people were gathered and the Word of God was being read by Ezra, they just began to weep uncontrollably. Ezra comforted them and told them, “Today is not a day for crying–it’s for rejoicing! Go home and prepare a feast for celebration!”

Sometimes when we have been oppressed for so long, the response we have when the cloud has been lifted is just to weep uncontrollably. It’s like all that time you were having to be strong, putting on a tough act; and once you can relax, the natural reflex is to just begin to cry. I’m like that. I’ll be a rock until a crisis is over then I just turn into a weepy mess.

But for God’s people that day, the reading of the text of the law seemed at first to grieve them–they were reminded of where it all went wrong, the choices they’d made, the God and His blessings they had taken for granted, and the people who were lost along the way.  But then, as they deliberately began prepare for a time of joy, the hope of those Scriptures begin to soak in and they understood that, even with judgment, God’s ultimate plan is for our deliverance. I think that this as the perfect example of putting on the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness…something that involves choice. See, God was never NOT for them–and He was bringing them full circle because He loved them! And He had just enabled them through supernatural means, good leadership, and favor from unexpected sources, to rebuild what seemed impossible. Yeah, He’s all about that restoration. All things new.  True repentance does indeed take us through a feeling of grief over what we didn’t get right, but it also shifts to rejoicing when we allow the Holy Spirit to reveal to us that there’s a chance to move forward.

Reach for the joy of the Lord, at wherever on the timeline of trial you find yourself today. I don’t know if your situation arose from bad choices, or whether you have just been facing one attack of the enemy after another.  Lots of different scenarios can bring us to an emotional pitch-point.  And maybe now that you don’t have to be so strong, you find yourself unable to stop crying. Let it out…and then let it go.  The joy of the Lord is earmarked for you–has your name on it. It’s in reserve for the taking. It will not only empower you, but it is a safe place whose walls hold off the enemy’s attack! Thank the Lord today that He is doing for you what He did for the exiled of His people–He is setting you free, He is sending help from the most unlikely people/sources, He is strengthening you to start all over again, and He is setting you up for safety in His presence.  Why not take a moment, right now, and call those things out specifically in a prayer of thanksgiving?  Thank Him especially for those items on the list that haven’t materialized just yet…they’re on the way.  God wants you. He doesn’t care that you have had years of bad decisions, bad circumstances, bad everything–He wants you to be His “comeback kid” with a testimony that glorifies what He’s done in your life.

Think once more about that 52 days it took to rebuild the wall. It was hard work. Their enemies were interfering. There were grumblings and disagreements among themselves. And it still went up and the gates still got hung and pulled shut and order restored! Right now you are at a potentially pivotal time. What if the answers to your biggest prayers were only 52 days away from coming to pass? Another Old Testament prophet wrote this: “The vision will still happen at the appointed time. It hurries toward its goal. It won’t be a lie. If it’s delayed, wait for it. It will certainly happen. It won’t be late.” (Habakkuk 2:3 NET) Whether your prayer is 52 years, 52 days, or perhaps even 52 minutes from being answered, it will not be too late. God will sustain you and yes, He will even help you to have joy and peace in the place of waiting.

I pray all of you just get saturated today in the joy of the Lord, and that you encapsule yourself in the protection it gives. You can still have that joy even if all hell is breaking loose around you…it’s not governed by your circumstances…it’s existent in SPITE OF them. If you don’t have it, ASK GOD for it! Keep asking until it floods your soul! Now dry your eyes, understand that God’s Word points to a good and expected end for you, and prepare that feast of celebration. Even if you’re just going to have a peanut butter sandwich for lunch, look at it as a celebration meal. The vision hurries to its goal! And you are greatly loved by the God who watches over His Word to perform it!

Curing Chronic Unhappiness–One Day at a Time

despair-257x300Lord, deliver us from the #stronghold of chronic discontentment and #unhappiness.

Many of us are in an emotional limbo–counting on some future circumstance to unlock happiness in our lives. If only I could win the lottery, I would be happy. When I get old enough to leave home, I’ll be happy. If I could just lose weight or get a hair transplant, retire, find love, have a baby, travel, move out of this town, get a better job, get healed.

If only. Hope deferred and many sick hearts. So we rationalize that it’s ok to be unhappy now since we could possibly be happy later. But oh, that nagging question: if I ever get what I say will make me happy...will it? Or when I get there, will I find that I’m still discontent with my life? At what point do I cross the line from having a cryogenically-frozen hope into a place of being irredeemably miserable? What if I’m unable to even BE happy?

Boy, I just struck a nerve! Because unlike the diet and exercise and estate planning we rationalize that we’ll do “tomorrow,” this hits home on a deeper level. For sanity’s sake, there must be some point when we stop living out of our spiritual suitcases and emotional moving crates and say, “You know, I choose to be happy today. Right now in the middle of all this chaos and the things so desperately wrong and incomplete, I’m going to break out that bottle of bubbly I’ve been reserving and celebrate.” Bottle of bubbly? Yes, the dusty,”bubbly” happiness with the vintage label on it that we bought somewhere long ago, thinking we might store it away for a more deserving occasion.

Today might feel like a hollow occasion for celebration. There might actually appear to be no good reason to smile or be thankful. What if I break the seal on that happiness only to find out it’s not all that I’d hoped for?  Why shatter the fantasy?  Or, what if I wind up just wasting happiness on the place I’m in, and I never take steps to go after the things I feel I must have in order to feel complete? Isn’t it better to keep happiness in its display case and maintain the illusion that I can have a perfect circumstance eventually?

No.

Choose to be happy NOW. Now, at the worst possible time, while nothing’s going the way you it to.  While frustration is suffocating you and your circumstances make you feel claustrophobic, trapped. Choose happiness now, not because IT has an expiration date, but because YOU do. And whether you are someone whose face flashes neon discontentment, or one of the untold millions who bury their unhappiness deep behind a facade of pretending they’re fine…fine…I’m FINE…I pray that your cover is now blown and that you are forced to deal with the elephant in the room. Before you reach the end of life and find that, all along, there was enough happiness allotted to spread out over a lifetime if you’d only chosen it.

Pray with me: Father, this may be one of the most important prayers I pray, next to my salvation! I need You to help me with this issue, this spiritual virus of discontentment. It’s been with me for so long now, it’s become part of me and I don’t know how to detach from it. Save me! Not just my soul, my spirit, but please save my emotional well-being. Fix what’s broken in me that’s forgotten how to just be happy. Forgive me for allowing my surroundings to choke out my thankfulness.

Jesus came to give me abundant life, not an existence on autopilot. This chronic lack of happiness is a cancer and I need Your Word to surgically cut it out of me. Please, wash me clean! Your Word says Your mercies are new every morning. It’s been a long night. Day is breaking and I reach to You for that new mercy. I’ll need it today. Teach me to think on the good and pleasant things. Help me to meditate on Your promises. Forgive my backslidings.

David prayed to You to create in him a clean heart, to renew a right spirit, and he asked for Your Spirit and mercy not to be separated from him…and then he asked You to restore the joy of Your salvation. Lord, I ask for no less. Fill me with Your Spirit, and with Your joy. Give me unspeakable, glorious joy that trumps even the “happiness card.”  Your joy will get me through days when I don’t particularly feel happy. In reality, I may be in these circumstances for a while longer…your joy will undergird my choice to be happy even though things aren’t ideal just yet.

I trade up now. I’m swapping this feeling of heaviness for a garment of praise. I’ve been wearing black for far too long now. Please, hand me the loudest, most colorful, least circumstance-appropriate jacket on the rack! Until it comes natural, I will keep confessing happiness and wait for circumstances to line up with my confession.

I say this (whether or not I “feel” it):

Today is a good day. It’s Your gift to me, God. I will find the good in it. I will find the reasons to laugh and give thanks even if I have to write them down! I will stop putting my life on hold. Today, while it appears I’m still in debt, still sick, still lonely, still unfulfilled in my station of life, or still in some circumstance I’d rather not be in, I choose to be happy. While changing a flat or being stuck in traffic or in a smelly doctor’s office or the unemployment line, I choose to be happy. Though someone is betraying me, I choose to be happy. Though someone discriminates against or disrespects or mocks me, I choose to be happy. Though the devil tells me that my life will always be this bad (he lies), I choose to be happy. I will stop putting on fake happiness that people sometimes put on to make everyone think life is perfect–I choose to REALLY be happy.

I will stop saying “if only.” I will go into this day fully expecting and behaving as if everything in it is the best I’ve ever had. As I thank You, my gas station burrito becomes a feast. My mid-lot parking space is so much better than the one all the way out on the far end. And as I trust You, I receive Your peace to let go of hurts, to forgive, to release. I stop punishing myself for not measuring up and I will be happy now, though far from who I want to be. I can be happy later too; but until I get there, I will be happy while I work toward a better set of circumstances. I will be happy even though I’m needing more sleep and more money; though my knee is hurting or my kids all have the stomach flu or my neighbor’s dog won’t stop tearing open my garbage. I’m still alive; it’s not to late to make the best of what I’ve got, and be happy while I do it. It doesn’t mean I’m “settling” for less; I’m settling for MORE because I’m going to be happy now AND later, too!

Happiness (or, “hope-iness,” this first cousin of hope) is one of Your new mercies, Lord! I don’t need enough to last me a lifetime all in one day; I just need enough to last me for today. Like daily bread. There’s more tomorrow but I don’t have to wait till tomorrow for today’s portion. Those things I long for, You already know about. I put them in Your hands…but for right now, I’m no longer waiting till I get them to be happy. In Jesus’ name, today changes everything about how I view my life and my future. Thank You for helping me get it right. If I slip, hold me to this decision to be happy! Never again let me settle for hope deferred, Lord.

Cast Down, But Not Destroyed

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This is Dana and me, pictured just doing what we’d loved ever since 2001.  We logged thousands of miles on motorcycle rides and long road trips. Who knew that one seemingly uneventful night in October 2010, just miles from our home, it would all take such a frightening tumble?

 

 

In commemoration of God sparing our life on a cold October night, I’m expanding a little devotional I wrote in April 2011.  Most of what’s in here is taken from the piece, “Trust and You Won’t Be Crushed.”

It was just at the edge of dusk, 6 years ago this evening, when I woke up to find that I was lying flat on my back on the cold pavement. I remembered seeing the dog run out in front of our motorcycle; and I remembered us bracing and hitting it, then it was like being tumbled in a dark clothes dryer. There hadn’t even been time to be scared, much less avoid the impact. How long had I been unconscious? Someone had already stood up our motorcycle, and a couple of men were looking through the tour pack for some ID. I could see out the corner of my eye that Dana was lying about 10 feet away from me, but I couldn’t hear him speak and I couldn’t see if he was moving. People standing over us were saying things that indicated to me that we were both bad off.

At first I couldn’t even talk, and it was so hard to breathe—I suppose from having had the wind knocked out of me. My helmet was shattered. Later I would find that I had a basal skull fracture as well as a fractured bone in my neck. I vaguely remember a woman holding my helmet and talking about how messed up it was. Someone commented that my head was bleeding. I wanted to get to Dana but I couldn’t raise up; and they were trying to keep me still so they could put me on a backboard. My arm was twisted over my head and I thought it was dislocated, but was told later that the shoulder was broken in two places. In the midst of the confusion and the excruciating pain, reality began to set in about what had just happened.  The loud noise of onlookers and emergency workers was making me more and more uncomfortable as I struggled to get someone to tell me whether my husband was ok.  A couple knelt on the ground and asked if they could pray with me; and as they prayed, the Holy Spirit rose up inside me and I began to pray loudly in Him.  It sounded like an authoritative voice not my own was declaring boundaries around the two of us!  As the noise of urgency began to subside in His presence, I could hear, quite clearly, the Lord whisper just one word to me…“COVENANT.” And in that moment, I knew exactly what He meant. I began to cry and say, “Thank you, God, for rebuking the devourer for our sakes!” A peace I can’t even begin to describe rested on me, one that would get me through the longest night of my life.

I’m told for a little while at the first hospital, Dana was conscious, and he was giving them fits; wanting to come and get me and take me home.  We were airlifted, one at a time, from Williamson Memorial to St. Mary’s.  I begged the paramedics to elevate my head.  I felt like I would absolutely smother to death flat on my back, and would feel that way for the remainder of the night.  No one would move me though, for fear of a spinal cord injury.  I was more afraid of suffocating than I was of being badly hurt.  Once at St. Mary’s, my stepson Coby held my hand and coached me to breathe in sync with him while they repositioned my broken shoulder.  The only relief I had from the discomfort was to occasionally lose consciousness.  Then, as I lay on a gurney in the hallway, waiting to go into a CT scan, a doctor came up and with no expression whatsoever, told me, “Your husband is unconscious and has a serious brain injury. His brain has begun to swell. We’ll do what we can.” With that, she turned and left. I had to make up my mind right then and there…am I going to trust God or am I going to collapse under a weight of fear? I chose to trust God, and that’s exactly what I called out to her back as she was walking away.

For just a little while, they wheeled me into a holding room with Dana. He was lying there, eyes closed, not moving.  I reached my fingers through the bars on our gurneys, gripped his hand, and prayed for him. Looking back now, I wonder whether the doctors might have thought he was going to die, and they were giving me a chance to say goodbye. But I spoke to him this Scripture which came to my remembrance, before they wheeled us in two different directions, “(You) shall live and not die, to declare the works of the Lord.” (Psalm 118:17) 

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Dana, lying near death and comatose for 17 days after our accident. Swollen almost beyond recognition, he had multiple brain bleeds, and fractures throughout his body, and had developed the deadly condition called Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome. This picture was a couple of weeks into the ordeal…I couldn’t bring myself to photograph him at first, and wouldn’t again for at least another month.

That was a long first night in the hospital.  Eventually, by the wee hours of dawn, I felt like I could breathe again, but I would have to watch for the next several weeks as a machine did the breathing for Dana.  Angels on assignment kept vigil over him, as did family and friends around the clock for the first nearly three weeks.  I was too sick and injured to sit up with him for the first week or so, even though I stayed nearby and spent as much time as I could in his room.

There are those times when we have to choose to believe, or be crushed under the weight of despair. And there are times when we can’t just think it or hope it…we have to hear ourselves say it—I CHOOSE TO BELIEVE.  I learned to say it out loud, and often, beginning that first night.  I stood on the Word and quoted Scripture as I stood in the gap, and prayed day and night over my husband.  When anxious or despairing thoughts tried to do war internally in my soul, I smiled on the outside in front of others; and I would privately share my sorrows and fears with Jesus.  I bet some folks thought I’d knocked my brains out on that pavement, when I’d counter the negative news with what God’s Word says… but I really didn’t care.  This was a battle for my husband’s very life.  The Holy Spirit cautioned me to set a watch on my lips.  Had I allowed myself to give voice to fear or unbelief, my actions would have followed.  Sometimes I actually wanted to let my vulnerability show, to cry on someone’s shoulder, but the Lord made me brave in the face of a lonely secret:  my words were declaring what I didn’t always feel in the natural!  Faith does it even when we are scared, friends.  And God proved faithful.  When pneumonia and infections came, He kept Dana from succumbing.  When acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) threatened to cause his lungs, one of which had already been collapsed, to just deteriorate and stop working altogether, God was there.  When Dana lay so long with his eyes partially open that the whites turned into what looked like pink sponges, God spared his sight.  Through blood clots, through huge wounds that were left undiscovered and untreated on the back of his head because of the position he had to lie in, through an unbelievably high fever that could have cooked his already-damaged brain, God kept him.  And when they had to bring the crash cart as he came out from surgery for being trached, God did not let him die.  When I had to sign consent for them to give him a special paralytic drug that totally disabled his functions so that his body would stop fighting the respirator, God gave me peace that He would keep Dana alive.  So many miracles that came, so much blessed assurance just in the nick of time.  I still marvel over how the Lord preserved my husband through the next six weeks without a bite to eat or even a sip of water in his parched throat and mouth.  He was tube-fed and intravenously hydrated all that time.

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Dana had to go 43 days with nothing by mouth. In this picture, he had not yet gained the ability to swallow and had to be fed through a tube in his stomach. We still had about 5 weeks to go before we could leave the hospital, and then another 5 months before we could move back into our own house.

When Dana regained consciousness in the second hospital, he couldn’t speak, but because he made eye contact with us and seemed to understand us when we talked to him, we assumed he was ok; however, when at last they capped his trach and he was able to speak,  it became apparent that the head injury was affecting his personality and his cognizance significantly.  He was hallucinating, saying things out of character, behaving not like himself.  I didn’t recognize the man inside the man; and I thank the Holy Spirit for holding onto me and numbing the pain of uncertainty of how long Dana would be this stranger.  His behavior begin to grow worse just as we moved him to the rehab hospital, and the brain injury made him very combative and angry and hard to handle.  Because he only slept for very short periods of time, so did I.  He acted at times like he despised me, but would go into an anxiety mode if I even left to step into the restroom.  He couldn’t even walk yet without a walker and a person or two at his elbows; but one night managed to get out of bed and wobble around on that walker, swearing he was going to find the exit and go home…in 6 inches of snow.  I had to lie to him (forgive me, Lord!) and tell him they bolted the exits from the outside after visiting hours were over…it was the only way to settle him down and make him go back to his bed!  At one point, the hallucinations were so bad, he even thought he was married to two different women at the same time–me and me.  He told me, “She’s good to me, but YOU are the one I love.”  Folks, this wasn’t a cake walk.  At times it has been downright scary and it took every ounce of faith I could muster.  If God hadn’t held us in His hand, we couldn’t have made it.  I only share these very private memories with you because I want you to understand what God’s brought us from, and how He kept bad situations from spiraling completely out of control. I knew from the start that there were ways this situation could’ve been infinitely worse…yet the Lord was merciful.

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Learning to stand—and walk—again. It was at times a very hard process.

The Word and our prayer partners kept me together as I stayed for nearly three months either right there with him or close by.  I only left Huntington to come home a few times to catch up my work, to get clean clothes, pay bills, etc., then right back to the hospital.  Until he was able to be moved to the rehab hospital in December, I’d stayed at a hospitality house. I’d come come home on a Thursday afternoon, work for 24 straight hours on the parts of my job that couldn’t be handled remotely on my laptop; and then Dana’s dad would drive me back (I was in a neck brace and a sling, so I couldn’t drive for quite some time).  At the rehab hospital, I was finally able to move into his room with him.  I just set myself an office up in the corner and kept working! And, friends and family kept driving the nearly two-hour drive to Huntington to those three hospitals. We had a steady stream of visitors.  I’ll never be able to thank them for being there for us…that they even cared this much for us moves me to tears.

On January 21, 2011, Dana was finally released from the hospital.   Even now, he remembers nothing about his hospital stays except for vague little bits the last couple of days or so.  Leaving the hospital was another chapter, and another time when trusting God was critical to survival.  I still was concerned about his healing brain and whether I’d be able to do anything with him if he had another “episode” like the night he tried to leave the hospital!  We weren’t able to go directly home.  We would spend the next four months in his dad’s den–him in a hospital bed and me on a couch beside him, because Dana was still in a wheelchair and walker and couldn’t climb the steps to our house.  He also still had to have his liquids thickened and his solids very soft, to keep from choking on his food from his damaged trachea.  God bless Joe and Thelma for persevering right there with us.  We couldn’t have made it through this without them.  Near the end of May, seven long months after our ordeal, we got to sleep in our own bed again for the first time.

Dana spent 82 days in 3 hospitals, and couldn’t even swallow an ice chip for the first 43 days. He lay in the ICU trauma ward for 17 days comatose, and running an insanely high fever for several days. He had multiple fractures, multiple brain bleeds, and a series of serious complications; but when Satan tried to take him out, God drew the line and said, “No.”

Though it’s been at times a physically and emotionally exhausting 6 years for both Dana and me, we have not lost our joy and we have not lost our love for life and one another. God has been so good to us.  We have adjusted to a “new normal,” and part of it is to lighten up a little and find humor in what would otherwise be frustrating or difficult or just…different.  The head injury left Dana’s personality and behaviors a tad changed from before, but mostly in very good ways.  I think of it as “Dana’s personality—on steroids.”  😉   Dana has a childlike, literal faith that God can and will do exactly what He says.  I’ve watched the Lord transform a lukewarm/backslidden man who’d completely stopped serving God before our wreck into a mighty man of God who prays for hours each day, witnesses to others continually, and encourages folks to believe and speak the Word. (I will draw an exception here however, and I would be remiss in leaving this out:  when he had stopped professing faith and attending church before our wreck, he was still diligent to tithe and give.  He would repeatedly tell me on payday:  “Whatever you do, don’t forget to pay tithe and give offerings on my check.  I may not be living right but I won’t rob God!”  Could it be that, in the time where our lives hung in the balance, God honored a man’s tenacity in this small thing????). What God has done and continues to do in Dana’s life, inside and out, is quite miraculous.  We still confess and believe for the areas of restoration that are yet to manifest.  We believe that what still needs to become whole will be whole again– as our friend Cathy had confessed over us repeatedly, “nothing broken, nothing missing, nothing lost.”  We have surely come from a mighty long way.

And God proved to me that He doesn’t leave;  He didn’t leave me and He won’t abandon you, either!  Even on those days when you feel frightened, alone, ashamed of your personal struggles, numb to all emotion or crying uncontrollably, He’s there.  He watches over His Word to perform it.  Our job is to take that Word and keep speaking it over our lives even when there’s no evidence whatsoever yet that it’s doing a bit of good.  We are to speak it even when our hearts are hollow and the words seem to fall to the ground.  The answer will come if you and I will pray and not faint; or if we fall, we keep getting back up as often as it takes.  There were days when I was so overwhelmed that I wished I’d died that night on the pavement, but God restored joy to my life and a stronger faith in His faithfulness!  God helped Dana and me to emerge from a catastrophic situation to become more resolute in our faith, more devoted to one another, and hopefully better people for having persevered during this detour on our journey.

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10/28/2014 – Standing in the approximate area where our bike went down four years earlier. A sobering feeling of gratitude washed over me as we looked around this spot where God spared our lives! Even now when I drive through that area, sometimes emotion wells up inside me as I ponder the goodness and mercy of God.

I’m telling you, friends, you need Jesus. You need Him, your marriage needs Him, your family needs Him to carry you through times like this.  It’s not a matter of if you’ll ever have to go through hard seasons, but when..and when you do, faith in God can preserve your very sanity.  Covenant relationship with God doesn’t mean you’ll never face difficulty. It can, however, mean the difference between you surviving or being mowed down by the enemy.  It will keep you when you go through depression, through loss, through grave uncertainty, through the outright unfair happenings of life in this fallen world; and on the other side of your storm, God will pull out a mysterious parcel and hand back to you.  You will find that you didn’t lose your joy and innocence after all; He’d wrapped it securely in the Holy Spirit’s comfort and kept it from being annihilated by the tribulation of life.

Sooner or later, we all have to face the most difficult time of our lives. Are you prepared? God can keep you from falling apart. I can say that because, six years later, Dana and I are still held together by the duct tape of God’s wonderful, saving grace. Even these fractured pieces form something beautiful…like a prism of glass that scatters light in every direction, testifying that truly, love never fails.

“But the LORD God keeps me from being disgraced. So I refuse to give up, because I know God will never let me down.”  Isaiah 50:7 CEV

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Thanksgiving–Making it a Holiday When We Truly ARE Thankful

Thanksgiving-DinnerBetter a bite of dry bread [eaten] in peace than a family feast filled with strife. Better to have a dish of vegetables where there is love than juicy steaks where there is hate. (Proverbs 15:17, 17:1). Holidays are challenging times! Unlike getting together to “watch the big game,” we sit opposite from one another at the table and are forced to have real conversations. For some, Thanksgiving‬ is a hallowed tradition‬ fueled by happy childhood memories. For others, it becomes a source of stress and a dread of having to be around difficult family members.

I would challenge you this week–if your traditions have become too painful, stressful, expensive, or cause arguments and hard feelings among your family–make some modifications that are conducive to PEACE‬! I knew a family once who hated cranberry sauce, but always opened a can and set it on the table because of tradition. Silly, huh? Well, how many times do we do that same thing but in other ways? Make some new traditions if you must…just make them good, easy, and worthwhile.

Make Thanksgiving a good memory for your family, rather than a dreaded event. Simplify your meal plans if that’s what it takes. You don’t have to serve a 250-item buffet to have a good dinner. Don’t create more stress by spending your whole month’s grocery budget on one meal. If you create an atmosphere of love and fun (and true gratitude) a dish of mac and cheese is as good as turkey and all the trimmings! And a meal eaten at a restaurant is not a crime, if that makes it special for your family–especially for the one who’s otherwise have to do all that cooking. I’ve even wondered before how fun it might be to just have sandwich fixings and just make an event of assembling a big submarine sandwich together…or a taco bar, or making pizzas together. No rule says it has to be about the turkey! Find what makes YOUR family feel thankful…and involved. Get creative about ways to get them around the table with you, rather than scattered into their rooms with their plates and an iPad. To do that, you may have to focus on family more than the food, and that’s really shifting your priorities in a positive way. What does it for your bunch? Singing and music around the piano? Board games? Old photo albums passed back and forth…reminiscent movies on the television…even decorating the Christmas tree together. There is some activity that will be fun that sets a spark of excitement for the years to follow.

Consider splitting the weekend to allow families a chance to linger longer. It’s called Thanksgiving weekend…and yet, we place a mandate on our kids to have to hurriedly eat and run at about 3 or 4 different houses, all on Thursday, to keep from causing hurt feelings. And someone will invariably get pouty…because no one actually shows up hungry when there’s a meal to have to eat every 90 minutes! (Remember the Andy Griffith Show spaghetti episode?) A lot of food gets wasted because families, unlike cows, don’t have two stomachs.  Let’s not place unreasonable expectations on our families.  It’s really not fair to them, or to us, when we use this holiday to force loyalty to our side of the family. It’s not always possible, but when the holiday can be coordinated to allow a fair amount of time that doesn’t put a damper on things, you be the in-law that makes it easy. I so appreciate my mother-in-law, Thelma Crum, for the way she always did this when she was able to cook.  She would do Thanksgiving with our family either on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday afternoon after church, so that her daughters-in-law could spend time with our own parents.  I’ll always be grateful for her wisdom in that.  People appreciate not having to play the “you love the other side of the family more than you do us” game. Word: a little advance planning can make this time a lot more memorable for all the right reasons. Don’t serve your kids a platter of prove-you-love-me-best…when divorce, marriage, grandkids, and other scenarios change the landscape of your traditions, adjust and you’ll preserve the want-to in your family. I can’t stress this enough–this week is your chance to shine to others as a beacon of being considerate of others’ feelings. If you insist on being the “favorite,” try being the most accommodating and easiest to please. That’ll earn you brownie points like no guilt trip ever could!

If this weekend or Thanksgiving Day is not the very best time, consider scheduling your feast on a non-holiday weekend; even or combining Christmas and Thanksgiving together isn’t even out of the question if it takes the stress and the pressure off everyone involved. When Dana and I wrecked five years ago, we had a combined Thanksgiving/Christmas in early February, an event that was truly marked by the gratitude each of these holidays embodies. If you have a loved one going off to war or fighting a terminal illness, plan the holiday to include him or her and do it sooner rather than later. Look at it this way, you are not anticipating the worst, you are extending your season of thankfulness even longer by spreading out the celebration to capture the most good memories you can.

Create an agreement not to argue! If there are hot-button topics that invariably cause bickering, agree in advance to have those discussions at a later time or not at all. Politics, your son’s eyebrow piercing, and the finer points of church doctrine are probably not good dinner topics. You already know what sets the powder keg off in your house, so man-up or woman-up and choose not to go there. Don’t use the Thanksgiving dinner table as a place to hone your sarcastic one-liners on your family. You don’t look more intelligent than the others when you have a snippy answer…you just look like a jerk! Don’t make them waste their holiday spending it with a jerk! Be nice just this once. It isn’t impossible. Pull your claws in for the sake of your family.  If you see a conversation getting a little too toasty, change the subject–or borrow that “par-lay” phrase from Captain Jack Sparrow and call a truce!  You’ve got all year to resolve the world’s crises…don’t try to do it today.  Enjoy some laughter.  (And may I also suggest–refrain from serving alcohol, those of you who normally do on this day.  Religious preferences aside, any libation, drug, or substance that causes ANY family member to get violent, moody, temperamental is NOT worth it.  Also, if you  have some who are recovering substance abusers, don’t wave the bottle in front of them and risk a setback.  Make an agreement that no one shows up intoxicated or leaves that way, if for no other reason, the safety and emotional well-being of the children of the household.  Please, don’t make this holiday a memory of the parents or older sister getting boozed up and making a scene. )

Finally, please don’t be wasteful. If Thanksgiving means every year you wind up with more leftovers than you can cram into your refrigerator, much of it later raked into the trash can, then it’s time to think outside the box…or in this case, outside the icebox.  Don’t cook more than you can eat in a couple days and share.  It’s so irresponsible to do so, especially if you’re doing it just to make an impressive display on the table.  You already know someone who won’t get enough to eat this week. If inviting that person to your table isn’t safe, practical, or possible, take or send some food to him or her.  Double blessing: send some food anonymously!  By keeping it low-key, you let God get the glory and you get the joy of being His covert agent of goodwill. Either way, just make sure no one goes hungry on your watch this week, even if all you are able to share is a peanut butter sandwich.  This is also a great way to teach your children about the “giving” part of Thanksgiving.  Kids love to give things…to allow them to help assemble take-out baggies of sandwiches or leftover pie is sowing some precious values into their young hearts.

I pray all of you will have a truly peaceful, blessed, uncomplicated Thanksgiving holiday this week. May God’s presence be felt in every home, and may you have more than enough. Love, light, and life!

Thankfulness–Breaker of Hope Deferred

Proverbs 13:12 Bread.jpgtells us that postponed hope sickens the heart. How many people are suffering in their health–or even already gone to the grave–because of a state of hopelessness?

I want each of you to ponder this and begin to confess, “I choose to be happy NOW. Not later, when the right job, the right mate, the weight loss, the respect and the education and the money come. My contingency for happiness isn’t bound up in a lottery ticket mentality, where happiness might get to happen later IF per next-to-nothing chance, I get everything I hope for.”

One of Satan’s cruelest schemes is that of deferred hope, because it’s always in the future with no acquisition date stamped on it. In that setting, only fantasy occupies the mind–for anyone else’s life MUST be more interesting than one’s own, right?

Don’t let the evil one convince you that the ideal life is the one you aren’t in! He will keep you running from one relationship to another, one high to another, one futile pursuit and then another and another. You’ll live inside a fictitious story where you spend all your days, as Ecclesiastes says, chasing “vanities.” Even when you ARE running over with favor and blessing, you won’t see it because you’ll be still focused on what you don’t have yet. Without meaning to be–and without seeing it–you’ll become miserably self-centered, trapped inside the devil’s funhouse where every reflection of your life is distorted and perverted. Not good enough.

How on earth does one stop deferring hope? It is, after all, a choice! You break the cycle first by taking on the spirit of thanksgiving. As hypocritical as that might sound, you call the devil’s bluff even before you SEE your own life as a great place to be. You zero in on even the trivial, tiny things if necessary; and praise God for those instead of lamenting things which aren’t so wonderful at present. Believe me when I tell you, God knows your heart! He isn’t going to be insulted when you do this. He knows the difference between sarcasm and a true attempt to return to a spirit of thanksgiving. If your foot is hurting, thank Him that your ear isn’t.

Jesus lived in a human body too. It would’ve been much easier to live out His days as a normal, nondescript fellow with the biblical equivalent of the American Dream. The wife, kids, the dog, the picket fence. He also knew that the key to not becoming disillusioned with the burdens He bore was to remain in the place of thanksgiving. His prayers began with, “Father, I thank You that_____.”

From what many historians believe, Mary probably long outlived Joseph. As the oldest, the responsibility to support her and to raise younger siblings would have fallen to Jesus. He could’ve wrestled with “hope deferred” as He labored away, day in and day out, to put food on the table instead of being out there fulfilling His destiny. The human side of Him may have wondered, “Am I ever going to get beyond just helping my folks and on to REAL ministry?” But you know, the side of Him which connected to His Father knew that what He was doing in those preparatory days WAS real ministry! He learned compassion and selflessness while helping wipe noses and pack water. Time He spent poring over the law and the prophets, in prayer and meditation, and in the place of solitude, and in the place of serving His family well, were all investments for what would become a 3 1/2 year blitz of ministry that culminated in Him saying, “It is finished!” at the cross–not, “This is unfair, my life has been disappointing, it is UNFINISHED. I want to reinvent myself and be like the characters on my favorite TV show!”

There have been many times when, going through hard seasons, I dreamed of hopping on a plane with a new name and identity, and just starting all over again. There’ve been times when I felt like the biggest waste of potential EVER. I’ve known for some time now that when I catch myself drifting away to that place, my thankfulness is leaking out. I immediately try to switch gears and reassess. Have I listened to the world telling me all I’m not, or am I instead peering at my reflection in the Word to see me conforming to the image of Jesus?

When we say that our current state is not our IDEA of where we want to be, then we are in the place of hope deferred…and yes, it’s just an idea. Shake yourself with this hard but vital truth!  If you get every part of your “idea” of what it takes to make you happy, you still won’t be happy unless you are already choosing to have a heart of gratitude in any state.   Our mission statement may be more than “half a bubble off plumb” when placed against our actual MISSION. It’s time to take our minds off the “if only I were richer, thinner, younger, older, more educated, beautiful/handsome, then my life would be better” merry-go-round, and make today about what we actually have in our hands. Do as Jesus did concerning feeding the multitude. Ask, “what do I have in my hands?” and then hold it up, give thanks for it, bless it, and put it to use. You’re no more cheated for that allotment of resources you have than Jesus was, when He held up and gave thanks for five dinner rolls and a couple of sardines, right in front of the astonished people He was about to bless with the feast of a lifetime!

Remember–remain thankful even when it feels silly to be thankful for your little bit. It doesn’t matter what YOU have, it’s what HE has…but He will require you to present to Him what you have first. Trade your hope deferred for faith infused! He will bless you more for thankfully using what you have–your ordinary, ho-hum life in your average or below-average body, less-than-perfect teeth, short resume’, incomplete education, not-so-dream job, biological click-ticking self–than if you were to get to swap lives with any other person on earth. Bless and utilize what you have; because in so doing, you short-circuit the endless-loop of the accuser who says you have too little to ever be effective (or happy)! Stop comparing yourself to that other person who already has what you wish you did–you may think you really want IT, but mostly what you’re wanting is to shut off feeling as if you’re a disappointment. Stop it. That other person isn’t having things as perfect as you think…especially if he or she is still motivated by that same need for approval that you’re wrestling.

God will take your offering of what you have, pour the oil of anointing on it, set it ablaze with favor you couldn’t have possibly worked diligently enough to earn, and leave you speechless at what He has done with your tiny part! So, does a spirit of thankfulness REALLY do all that? Is it really the breaker of hope deferred? Yes! On the day you grasp this–take your eyes off yourself and place them upon God–you will poise yourself for the miraculous! Refocus every single day if you have to, because this is one of the most powerful tools of spiritual warfare you will ever pull out of your bag. Get this right and watch your life begin to change in a major way…and those things you don’t see changing will start mattering to you a whole lot less in light of what IS.