Starting Off With Thanksgiving

It’s funny how, as a North American culture, we don’t get around to celebrating Thanksgiving until the end of the year: November for the United States, and October for our cousins in Canada.  And what’s even funnier is how, after we’ve gone around the table and given thanks for whatever pops into our head and stuffed ourselves senseless on enough food to feed a third world country, we start bidding the current year goodbye and begging the new one to hurry up and come and please be better than the last.

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When I was reviewing 2017 in my own life, I decided to look for great things that happened instead of focusing on crap that came my way, annoying people who wouldn’t leave, or, God have mercy, politics.  And what I found was that, by-in-large, 2017 was AMAZING!

  • I made it through a very difficult year of teaching – what a victory!
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    Completing a teaching credential at the same time as taking over a secondary level choral program and only being there half the time because of grad program demands was crazy-making for not just me, but all the students who needed and deserved my full attention. But we all made it, even if by the skin of our teeth…

    I finished a graduate program.

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    Master’s degree Number Two.
  • I lost 53 pounds (there’s a 2017 resolution checked off!).
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    After a lifetime of struggle, I finally found a program that works!  Feeling great these days!
  • We celebrated TWENTY YEARS of marriage!
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    I can’t think of anyone I’d rather spend life with – life here and now and life there and then! I’m so grateful that God has brought us this far!
  • And we welcomed a new puppy into our home (yes, we are staying positive on that one).
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Boudicca, Destroyer of Worlds and Fartmonster Extraordinaire. Our 5-month old Rottweiler who is, regardless of what she chews or where she poos, a sweet little bundle of blessing…I will keep saying that…

So I decided to approach this year differently – starting with gratitude.  And, after all, that’s why I blog – to keep track of all God’s tender mercies that He just showers on me, day after day, month after month, year after year.

It’s so easy to get bogged down with the daily grind, isn’t it? And that grind sometimes grinds a little harder than we’d like it to.  And, for whatever reason, the negatives stick in our minds and hearts far more easily and for a lot longer than the positives.  But if we can make a habit of being consciously mindful of the wonderful things that cross our paths, it really will make our lives better.

But don’t take my word for it…you’ll listen to Huffington Post, won’t you?

“Negative attitudes are bad for you. And gratitude, it turns out, makes you happier and healthier. If you invest in a way of seeing the world that is mean and frustrated, you’re going to get a world that is, well, more mean and frustrating. But if you can find any authentic reason to give thanks, anything that is going right with the world or your life, and put your attention there, then statistics say you’re going to be better off” (from The Neuroscience of Why Gratitude Makes Us Healthier).

Now, habitual gratitude can be tricky to develop, so I decided to actually use one of those awesome Pinterest projects I perpetually pin; I made my very own Gratitude Jar!  I put some serious effort into this jar – we’re talking paper tearing, Mod Podge (gosh, I LOVE that stuff, and the smell…I know, totally weird…), hand lettering even.  Then I set up a little thanksgiving station in our dining room.  It’s very obvious and we will always be prompted to take a moment, write down what we’re thankful for, and drop it in the jar. I think it turned out rather well!

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Then, when New Year’s Eve rolls around again, we can spend the evening doing more than binging on Netflix and hoping the crazies won’t crash outside our house and wake us up (because we’re now old and we like to sleep in, rather than party in, the new year). We can go through each little moment of gratitude we’ve deposited and reflect on the amazing tender mercies of God as they’ve been bestowed throughout 2018.

And I daresay that, while we’re doing this, our overall outlook will be transformed.  It is, after all, our mental life that determines how we interpret our outer life.  The state of our mind is what primes us to recognize God at work, and also what primes us to miss His hand in our lives.   Paul tells us this in Romans 12:

Be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. (Romans 12:2, KJV)

I am determined to grow my faith in the Savior’s guidance, and am utterly convinced that cultivating an eye for what He’s doing and a heart of gratitude for it will do just that.  And, as I recognize and give Him thanks for the small things, I will find bigger things to marvel in and bless Him for.

Have a simply BEAUTIFUL 2018!

For All These Things, We Give Thee THANKS!

It is SUPER early on Thanksgiving morning.  I’ve actually been awake since 3:00 am (thank you, puppy), and have since scrolled through Facebook, sent some work emails and messages (I know, shame on me), and have read through a Litany of Thanksgiving.

In the Episcopal (or Anglican, depending on which continent you live) Church, worship services are dictated by rubrics and pre-written prayers and responses.  I grew up in what was considered a “progressive, spontaneous” denomination, and for the most part, prayers were personally developed and not prescribed.  As a middle-aged gal, although sometimes the structure of the liturgy can be boring, it also provides a centering point, being that the worship service is not about me.  Those pre-written prayers have often forced me to consider things and contemplate God in a way I wouldn’t on my own.

So here it is, the Litany of Thanksgiving…with my own little touches here and there (because progressive and spontaneous, right?):

Let us give thanks to God our Father for all his gifts so
freely bestowed upon us.

Every good and perfect gift comes to us from the Father of lights…have you ever considered just how gracious God has been with you, for all the amazing and sustaining gifts and blessings He’s bestowed?  I’ve been participating in the 30 Days of Gratitude challenge on Facebook, which has so powerfully helped me to acknowledge just how good my Heavenly Father has been to me – from the simple things like a new puppy to a fantastic house in which to live to meaningful work…all comes from His hand.

For the beauty and wonder of your creation, in earth and
sky and sea.
We thank you, Lord.

The last few days in Baker have been amazingly warm and temperate for this time of year…what we thought would be an early onset winter, complete with ice and snow and plows and chains, has turned out to be a lovely fall.  I have so enjoyed not totally bundling up every day, and not freezing all day long.  But even when the days turn frigid and I long for the warmth of spring, I have to remember that God set in motion the seasons, gave us day and night, seeded the earth with all forms of beautiful and often entertaining life (just watch my pets in action!), and called it all good.

For all that is gracious in the lives of men and women,
revealing the image of Christ,
We thank you, Lord.

“I see Jesus in you, I see Jesus in you; in your eyes, and all that you do, I see Jesus in you.”  I have so many dear ones in my life about whom I can sing that…too long to list…how about you?  When was the last time you looked at your spouse/sibling/parent/friend and recognized the light and image of Christ in them?

For our daily food and drink, our homes and families, and
our friends,
We thank you, Lord.

Today I’m not preparing a huge Thanksgiving meal, for which I am utterly grateful; we are blessed to be able to go out and pay someone else to feed us.  As I write this, I’m sitting in a gorgeous old home that I love, knowing that my husband is upstairs (wondering why on earth his wife is not in bed with him – he’s not much for insomnia). I have a list of friends and family to whom I will send a “Happy Thanksgiving” message to in just a few minutes, people that I know I can turn to in times of joy and sorrow, people that surround me with love and prayer and share my laughter and my tears.  But I have to think, too, of those who don’t share that experience – I should never, never, NEVER whine – about anything; I am far too blessed.

For minds to think, and hearts to love, and hands to serve,
We thank you, Lord.

Does it ever strike you funny that God entrusts His work to us?  That He has placed within our minds the capability to plan and create and implement; places us in networks of people who rely on us for not only physical, but emotional and spiritual support; and opens doors of opportunities to be the hands and feet of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the World?  “You’re the only Jesus some will ever see, you’re the only words of life some will ever read” (The Imperials).  What an amazing amount of trust we have been given…

For health and strength to work, and leisure to rest and play,
We thank you, Lord.

I get up every morning, before the the sun, on work days and days off, and start a long list of to-dos.  Some are enjoyable, some are tedious.  Regardless, I rarely have to take a sick day and I am still, even in middle-age, amazingly strong and capable.  It is a wonder, and I am so thankful.

For the brave and courageous, who are patient in suffering
and faithful in adversity,
We thank you, Lord.

At the same time, so many go through their days with difficulty.  I used to work in Child Welfare – talk about patient in suffering.  First responders, social workers, medical personnel, our military…day in and day out of YUCK.  Yet we wouldn’t have a functional society without their dedication.  I think I’m going to go hug my veteran…

 
For all valiant seekers after truth, liberty, and justice,
We thank you, Lord.

I hope we’re all valiant seekers after truth, liberty, and justice.  Today, take a few moments to think about how you can promote these things in your own little corner of the world.  And thank your spiritual leader(s) the next time you see him/her/them.  It’s sometimes quite exhausting to search the Scriptures and exhort the flock of Christ to better things…
For the communion of saints, in all times and places,
We thank you, Lord.

The communion of saints – living and dead.  I am surrounded by saints on earth and know that those who have gone before continue to surround me with prayer and encouragement, encircling me with a cloud of witness that strengthens me to run my earthly race.

 
Above all, we give you thanks for the great mercies and
promises given to us in Christ Jesus our Lord;

My husband – God bless him! – often gets on my for not giving him time to answer the question I just asked before asking another one, or completing the task I requested before hounding him about it (I really am quite the nag when left unchecked). Just the other day I was reading in Lamentations, written by Jeremiah, “the weeping prophet.”  In the middle of all that doom and gloom, I came across this:  “It is good that a man (or woman, or child, or anyone) should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord” (Lamentations 3:26).  That really convicted me – I am so unwilling to “hope and quietly wait” for Jesus to fulfill His promises – I want everything RIGHT. NOW.  So I made my own little covenant, in that moment:

Lamentations

(If you don’t keep a Scripture and devotional journal…try visiting The Holy Mess for some great ideas and even a free kit!  It’s not what I use, but Sara has some great tools for making your studies exciting and personally relevant!)

To him be praise and glory, with you, O Father, and the
Holy Spirit, now and for ever. Amen.

AMEN!  Happy Thanksgiving!

Alone…or not? In the Wilderness

I’ve been thinking a lot about the wilderness lately.  I live in a wilderness, first of all; Eastern Oregon, other than some fairly nicely developed, habitable areas, is little more than a sagebrush-laden wasteland (Virtue Flats, anyone?) It’s through this wilderness that those hardy pioneers traveled while blazing what we now know, and somewhat revere, as the “Oregon Trail”.

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Virtue Flats in Baker County, Oregon. What scenery…

I can imagine the excitement and joy those pioneers felt as they  egan their trek. Oh, the happy, joyful songs of anticipation they sang while leaving the East…but those songs soon turned into silence as feet got tired, food ran low, people got sick, and little rock mounds marked those who weren’t going to make it to their promised land, the West. No, eventually, the excitement of the journey became just a stalwart putting one foot in front of another, day in, day out, hoping against hope that “the West” would present itself soon.  I wonder if I’ll ever feel clean…or rested…or full…or hopeful…again.

But those weren’t the first pioneers.  The first pioneers I know of were the Israelites.  Miraculously delivered from Egypt in a blaze of drama and excitement and heart-stopping, neck-breaking motion (go read Exodus or, second best, watch The Ten Commandments), they saw, first-hand, the mighty power of God working on their behalf.  They would follow Him anywhere!  They would walk with Him through the wilderness to the Promised Land…

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The Sinai wilderness.  Image source: https://claudemariottini.files.wordpress.com/2014/09/sinai-wilderness.jpg

…they didn’t even make it 2 weeks before they grew disheartened (now, read Exodus; this part isn’t in the movie). Little did they know they would be sojourning in this loveliness for forty years.  The Promised Land, I’m sure, became little more than a fairy tale for their children to hang onto as they trudged, day after day, one foot in front of the other, wondering if they’d really heard what they thought they’d heard, seen what they thought they had seen, believed what they thought they believed.  I wonder if I’ll ever feel at home again…

It’s been cold this winter in Baker County…bitterly cold; the kind of cold that settles into your bones and doesn’t leave, no matter how many blankets you pile on top of yourself.  It’s the kind of cold that makes you want to stay in bed long past the alarm clock and crawl back into bed at 7:oo pm.  I think I rather wish I could sleep away the winter and wake up when the six feet of snow outside my house has yielded to some happy little tulips.  These snowy, grey, cold days just keep going though…and sometimes I wonder if I will ever feel warm again.

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One of my favorite “Fowl Language Comics”.  Visit their page at: https://www.instagram.com/fowllanguagecomics

But it’s not just the cold that has gotten me feeling like that lately; it’s the silence. There have been times in my life when God has bent over backwards to show me His love, to make sure I hear His voice, to make His plan so plain that there’s no mistaking Him!  Those times are exciting and full of sparkling wonder. I wake up in the morning with songs of praise bursting out of my mouth, bounce through the day, and then go to bed with prayers and tears of gratitude overflowing.  It’s beautiful.  I love those times.

But these are not those times.  This time is the silent time.  The grey time.  The time when I simply have to trudge through the daily monotony of living without angels and visions and mind-blowing revelation. It’s at these times that I have to just keep putting one foot in front of another, trusting that God is God and His Word will stand.  He will keep His promises, regardless if I “feel” it from one day to the next.

But He does punctuate the silence…today’s tender mercy was a Scripture that popped out of nowhere onto my computer screen:

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Right when I need it the most, He whispers. No great light show, no booming voice from heaven, no divine GPS or Google map to reassure me that, although the wilderness seems unending, I am going in the right direction.

Just a nudge. Just a whisper. Just enough Presence for me to know that I am not alone.

And the trudge is lightened, just a bit.

What a tender mercy!

Shiny!

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Today is the day, the first day of 2017 CE.  Common Era.  I love how they tried to eliminate the whole BC-Before Christ and AD – Anno Domini (in the year of our Lord), but really, what makes the Common Era, common?  The division is still delineated by none other than the history changing presence of Jesus Christ on the earth. The world can try to erase His existence and ongoing influence…they can try all they want…

Moving on, today is the first of January in the year of our Lord Two Thousand Seventeen.  And I absolutely welcome it.  I’m not just wishing happy new year in a trite, habitual manner; no, I absolutely welcome 2017, red carpet rolled out and eyes bright with anticipation at what this year will bring.

Some people might say, “Yeah, I’m glad it’s here, too; couldn’t wait to say sayonara to 2016!”  That’s really not my case. I am thrilled with the prospects of 2017 because of what the Lord brought to me during 2016. My heart is so filled with gratitude and thrilled to watch His hand at work in my life and in the lives of others – it was a truly fantastic year!

What was so fantastic? Well…

…My spiritual life – my understanding of God as my Heavenly Father and my ongoing relationship with Him through Jesus Christ – has become stronger. After years of wandering in a spiritual netherland, not really knowing what I believed or why or if I did at all, 2015 and then 2016 became an ongoing adventure in hearing God’s voice and learning to obey.  I’ve experienced obedience as the way to my truest freedom and, although I’ve a long way to go in the trust department, I’ve learned far more readily trust my Father, even when I don’t understand what’s happening at the moment.

…My professional life has been growing in leaps and bounds. Again, starting in 2015, I experienced what can only be described as a miraculous, midlife career change, transitioning from social work to music education.  There have been some major challenges along the way – re-entering grad school and, after only one year, a sudden, very unexpected transfer from primary to secondary music – but each of these challenges is forcing me to more fully rely on God (F.R.O.G.) day by day and is helping shape me into someone that looks a bit more like His Son.

…My personal life: when I see where God has brought me over the last two years (yes, one more time, going back to 2015) in my family relationships and friendships, I stand utterly amazed.  There were times when I didn’t think our marriage would survive…we celebrated 19 years in August! We bought our first (and last, I think) house together two months ago! I can look at my husband today and truly confess that I love him more than any other human on this planet…and that’s only because God has so beautifully healed my once utterly broken heart and psyche.  And in so doing, He has surrounded me with a web of precious brothers and sisters in Christ that pray with me, laugh with me, and mourn with me.  And as they have borne my stretcher, dropping me into the direct presence of that Great Physician, I have found myself able to bear some of their burdens, as well.

2016 was a year of beauty, healing, and growth. Regardless of the difficulties along the way, I can only say, “Thank you, Father, for a great year…that and better will do!”

Happy New Year, and a hearty welcome to 2017!