The Ordinary Becomes Extraordinary

This is the second in a weekly blog series leading up to Thanksgiving. Join the conversation at #3WeeksofThanks.

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We live near a natural area that comes alive with brilliant colour in the fall. Early summer’s green grasses give way to a brown, dry landscape throughout the drier months of July and August. As the weeks go by, it becomes entirely monochromatic and unremarkable, until about mid-September.

And then fall comes blazing in.

A few groves of taller trees shine in a yellow hue, but it’s the low-lying brush and grasses that are centre stage. In the nooks and crannies during these weeks of the year, the weeds and small shrubs showcase a marbling of orange, red and purple on the hillside, singing out a beautiful melody to the One who made them.

A few streets away, the tall elms are sending their golden leaves swirling to the ground in the fall afternoon winds. Clouds that threaten a few cold rain showers move across the sky full of sunlight, much paler now than a month ago, but it still holds warmth, bringing a welcome break from the brisk breeze. I truly cannot get enough! Every year I am astounded by its beauty.

The Thanksgiving Tree is up on the wall now, and our handprint leaves remind us of the tangible blessings we have in front of us. One of the other practices I am attempting throughout this season is a daily gratitude journal. Most nights before bed, I think about the ten things I am most thankful for that day and write them on a list.

An altar of sorts.

Several times throughout the Old Testament, at significant moments, God instructs His people to build a raised structure as a place of sacrifice, to mark what He had done at that particular location, for Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, Gideon, Samuel, Saul, David, Elijah and others. Altars were meant for worship, communion with God, and to recall the covenant He made with His people. To turn their hearts towards Him and remember His amazing promises again.

We too need those moments of remembering because in them, a reorienting occurs. As we spend time considering who God is, what He has done in the past, how He has kept His promises through all the generations before us through Jesus Christ’s work on the cross and His resurrection bringing victory over death, and even what He is doing now in our lives through the Holy Spirit, we are changed. Our stone hearts become flesh again, and we turn from our self-centred focus on getting our own way to surrendering to the way of the One who will always do what He says He will do.

Because of Christ’s once-and-for-all sacrifice, the methods of worship have changed, but the heart behind it is the same. We may no longer offer blood sacrifices on a stone altar for the forgiveness of our sins, but when we come to Christ and confess our sins, we receive that forgiveness and brand new life. We walk forward in the truth that we are filled with the Holy Spirit and are being transformed by His power.

These ordinary places of communion with God – these modern-day altars – call us to remember Whom we worship. The glorious colours of fall on the hillside. The daily list of ten things I’m thankful for today. The moments that seem so ordinary – these are the places we turn our hearts toward God and remember who He is and what He has done. We remember Who we were created for.

And we find our hearts full of thanksgiving.

fall-flowers 3wt

When You’re Not Feeling Thankful

This is the first in a weekly blog series leading up to Thanksgiving. Join the conversation at #3WeeksofThanks.

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Today is the first day of #3WeeksofThanks.

Full disclosure: I’m not feeling particularly thankful.

We’ve been short on sleep and long on conflict at our house this week, and that makes for a tired family. Just as I predicted, Thanksgiving isn’t really at the top of our minds. It’s still four weekends away, but here we are, intentionally entering into a season of being reminded of God’s faithfulness in the smallest, most frustrating and even most sorrow-laden areas of our lives.

It occurred to me yesterday that I am a work in progress, and I am so glad God is not done with me yet. The older I get, the more I come to the realization that He loves me enough not to leave me in my selfishness and pride. He’s pulling out the sandpaper and smoothing those rough edges for His glory. Though it is uncomfortable and downright painful at times, in the end I know He is working in me for my good, because He loves me.

As I’m looking at the theme of thanksgiving and the faithfulness of God throughout His Word, I’m struck by just how many times the Israelites forget who God is and turn away from Him to worship something else.

Then the call comes to remember. Again and again, the people are reminded of what God has done in the past, and who they really belong to. Psalm 77:11 (NIV) says, “I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.”

He loves them enough not to leave them in their sin. And He draws them back to Himself, although the cost is high.

Often I find that when I’m not feeling thankful, it’s not because I am not thankful — it’s because I have forgotten who God is and what He has done in the past, not only for me and our family, but for humans throughout history. Looking through His Word at the events of the Old Testament, leading into the life of Jesus, His death and resurrection, then the pouring out of the Holy Spirit and the progress of the early church, I am reminded that the same God who set those events in motion is the same God who meets me where I am in this moment of the day when I need Him most.

He draws me back to Himself, and I can say with the Psalmist: “I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.” Only then does it seem possible to live out the words of Colossians 3:15 (NIV) in even the intense and difficult moments of today:

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.

fall-flowers 3wt

The Sun is Back

At last, the sun is peeking through the clouds.

For the past few days we’ve had cold, rainy weather, reminding us of the changing season. We pulled out rain boots, winter jackets and toques so the kids would be warm enough at recess, and the memory of strong summer sunshine began to fade. Until today. The skies have begun to clear and the promise of a warm late summer day seems possible, if not probable. The beauty of the brilliant light is streaming in the large front window, illuminating the crowd of little people toys lined up on the coffee table.

Doesn’t take much to forget, does it?

That’s the thing about the daily grind of life. It tends to cloud our view and we exist under its pall, moving from one moment to the next, getting the to-do list done and just trying to get through the busy day before us.

About seven years ago, I grew tired at how I was always surprised by the sudden arrival of Thanksgiving. When it breezes in on the second weekend of October, it really feels like the worst possible time! The school year is in full swing, we’re neck-deep in navigating our new schedule and cold and flu season is making its grand entrance.

Suddenly, it was time to pause and be thankful over a meal with family and friends. It was a welcome break from the crazy, but I began to wonder: can there be more to this than sweet potato casserole and slices of perfect turkey?

I wanted to create something hands-on for our family to engage in before Turkey Sunday to help us connect the concept of thanksgiving to our real lives. Burlap and twine went up on the wall in the living room and I carefully cut out some paper leaves. Sitting at the table with my young children, we thought of things we were thankful for. As we wrote them on the leaves, we thanked the Lord for each one, and then carefully hung the leaves on our Thanksgiving Tree.

I’ve kept all those old leaves, and every year they go on the tree. We always make more by tracing our handprints on red, yellow, orange and brown construction paper, filling them in with things we are thankful for now, in this season of our life together.

Our tree is full – along with our hearts.

It has become the sunshine that peeks through the clouds of our routine, reminding us that we have a great God who is faithful in all things and everything we have and are is because of Him.

It’s easy to forget what we really have right in front of us, and even more than that, the One who sustains us with His grace and love. My hope is that as we enter into the Thanksgiving season, we’ll move beyond a pre-meal prayer of “God is great, God is good, let us thank Him for this food” into a heart full of gratitude for who He is!

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If you’re looking for a way to make Thanksgiving more than turkey and stuffing this year, join me for a short weekly blog series called Three Weeks of Thanks (#3WeeksofThanks) on Thursdays, starting September 19th.

sunrise in september

A stunning sunrise today: the morning sun always breaks through the clouds.