When I Remember

This is the third in a weekly series called “Three Weeks of Thanks”. Join the conversation at #3WeeksofThanks.

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The “Thanksgiving Tree” is finally up. It’s just a piece of burlap on the wall, with twine and clothespins that hold cut-outs of leaves and the kids’ hand and footprints. On each one is written what they’re thankful for this year. We put up the “leaves” of years past so we remember how God has been faithful to our family. As time goes on, this inexpensive piece of rough burlap will fill up with the softness of our gratitude toward the One who holds everything together.

It’s a tradition that I’ve really come to love. As we trace our hands and cut out the shapes, think of our list of things to be thankful for and write the words on orange and brown and red construction paper, we’re discovering a way for us to connect what’s going on around us with a heart of gratitude.

This is the sixth year that I’ve chosen to be intentional with my thoughts leading up to Thanksgiving. In the past, I’ve had more of a quick, day-of, “God is great, God is good, let us thank Him for this food” kind of approach, but I’ve come to learn that this season deserves so much more.

I’ve also come to learn that by the middle of September, my plate is nearly overflowing and I’m not sure I even have room to engage that kind of “more”. Can I really adjust my well-organized plans and leave space to quiet my heart before the big weekend is here?

Can I actually make time to discover what true thanks looks like?

It is not easy to pause when life is moving so quickly that I am out of breath before my feet even hit the floor in the morning. It’s not easy to stop when stopping means I have to actually think about the difficult things I’m facing, whether individually or even as a community or world. It’s not easy to sit down and lean into the Lord when I have more “productive” things to do, like plan a menu and craft my best sweet potato casserole ever.

And yet, I long so much for the “more” that I find when I just. slow. down. When I can make the connection between what I am doing and why I am even able to do it in the first place – when I discover the deep love of Jesus and astounding grace of God and the beautiful fellowship of the Holy Spirit, Thanksgiving becomes more than just turkey and to-do’s.

We crossed a bridge over the river in our city a couple of days ago and I couldn’t take my eyes off of the scene that stretched out before me. The cool turquoise water contrasted with the brilliant greens, rich golds, burnt oranges and fiery reds of the trees and bushes that lined riverbank. My heart sang at such a magnificent sight! In a moment we had passed it, but the image remained in my mind.

The One who brings that kind of beauty to life in an ordinary riverbank is the very same One who brings my heart to life when I remember that everything I am and everything I have is because of Him. I was made to worship!

God, help us this Thanksgiving to truly make space in our hearts and lives for Your presence. To breathe in Your breath of life and discover that we really can give thanks to You no matter what we’re facing, because this is Your will for us in Jesus. You know that with a truly thankful heart, we will begin to see what is most important in this life – being wholly devoted to You.

1 Thessalonians 5:18 —

“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

leaves in fall

My favourite backyard bush in fall

Why I’m Praying All Day Today

This is the second in a weekly series called “Three Weeks of Thanks”. Join the conversation at #3WeeksofThanks.

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It’s amazing to me that the moment I decide to make a point to live in the knowledge of constant rejoicing in what Christ has done, I realize how desperately I need to commit to the following verse: “Pray continually” (1 Thessalonians 5:17).

Last week we received some difficult news that drove me to my knees in tears. I cannot express how much I didn’t feel like rejoicing; it was quite the opposite, actually. I couldn’t see beyond the circumstances I found myself in and I asked the Lord why this was happening. My mind clicked and whirred, thinking of all the ways we may have been able to avoid this if we had known then what we know now.

Over the past ten years or so, the Lord has graciously been reworking my heart and rooting out some of the things I’ve believed that simply aren’t true. One of those is the false impression that if I just do the right things, the right things will happen for me.

I mulled over the hard road ahead. “But we’re good people!” I found myself thinking. “We shouldn’t be dealing with this!”

And in the very next moment, it struck me: maybe all really is grace.

All the good things, all the tough things, all the things we can’t control and all the things we have some power over – it’s ALL His grace.

I am not all-knowing. I am not all-wise. My understanding has limits.

But I put my faith in the One whose “understanding no one can fathom”, the One who really does know what’s behind and ahead, the One who is good and just and full of compassion and deep love. The question then becomes not “why is it like this?” but “to whom will I compare Him? Or who is His equal?”

And I bow to the One who is worthy of my worship and my full trust. I am learning day by day and moment by moment that it requires a heart of constant prayer.

Lord, help me see You today!

Isaiah 40:21-31 (NIV)

“Do you not know?
    Have you not heard?
Has it not been told you from the beginning?
    Have you not understood since the earth was founded?

He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth,
    and its people are like grasshoppers.
He stretches out the heavens like a canopy,
    and spreads them out like a tent to live in.

He brings princes to naught
    and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing.

No sooner are they planted,
    no sooner are they sown,
    no sooner do they take root in the ground,
than he blows on them and they wither,
    and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff.

‘To whom will you compare me?
    Or who is my equal?’ says the Holy One.

Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens:
    Who created all these?
He who brings out the starry host one by one
    and calls forth each of them by name.
Because of his great power and mighty strength,
    not one of them is missing.

Why do you complain, Jacob?
    Why do you say, Israel,
‘My way is hidden from the Lord;
    my cause is disregarded by my God’?

Do you not know?
    Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
    the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
    and his understanding no one can fathom.

He gives strength to the weary
    and increases the power of the weak.

Even youths grow tired and weary,
    and young men stumble and fall;

but those who hope in the Lord
    will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
    they will run and not grow weary,
    they will walk and not be faint.”

stars caleb woods

Image: Caleb Woods

The Choice to Rejoice

This is the first in a weekly series called “Three Weeks of Thanks”. Join the conversation at #3WeeksofThanks.

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Last night I was wracked with anxiety over nothing in particular and everything all at once.

The pressure of the first two weeks of September were mounting and my release valve was stuck. It had been too long since I stopped to take a deep breath of the Word. I had short quick moments of encouragement from the Bible, but I needed more.

I needed to really sit in the quiet of the late evening and let it wash over me.

When I was a kid Scripture memory was a great way to win cool prizes so I went all in with it. I realize now that it was one of the best gifts my Sunday School and camp experiences have ever given me, because all these years later, the very same verses will pop into my mind exactly when I need them the most.

Everyone else was asleep. I was awake, reading two words that are difficult for me right now:  “Rejoice always” (1 Thessalonians 5:16).

A friend just received some tough news about her daughter.

Another friend lost her dad a few weeks ago.

The world feels scary and unpredictable. Farmers struggle through difficult seasons of bad weather and poor crops, wildfires rage, hurricanes bring catastrophic flooding, good people face unemployment in a tough economy and we’re never short of bad news from around the world.

How can we possibly “rejoice always” when this is the reality we live in?

I know I can’t just muster it up by the power of positive thinking, no matter how hard I try.

There has to be more.

I certainly don’t have the answers to the why and how of the darkest valleys we face. But as a person who puts my faith in Jesus, I am called to rejoice always not because of my circumstances but in spite of them. I rejoice in what Jesus has done when he died on the cross and rose again from the grave. His death conquered sin and his resurrection overcame the grave. Because of Jesus, we have an eternal hope that can never perish, spoil or fade (1 Peter 1:3).

“Rejoice always” isn’t a chore we grit our teeth through when the going gets tough.

It’s not a pep talk when the world is falling apart around us.

It’s a choice we make to trust that God’s word is true and unfailing – and the Word made Flesh, Jesus, makes a difference in our lives right now. He is the reason we choose to rejoice always.

Amen. This week I’m going all in with that.

1 Peter 1:3-9 (NIV) —

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”

September sky

One September morning this sunrise was outside my window.