When Seasons Collide

Dead leaves on bench

It’s the collision of the seasons.

Here I stand on the precipice of my favorite season–autumn. Summer is merging with colder air, the leaves are giving up their green and their death grip on brittle branches. I’ve already broken out the jeans (still paired with flip flops), and I’m reticent to recall shorts.

All this exquisite splendor is the harbinger of time well spent with loved ones and favorite people in front of the fireplace, with a good book, cuddled on the couch, over a good cup of coffee (or a deliciously dark beer!)

And so, my soul is singing with anticipation, but I’m sad too, my heart is a little wounded and my hopes are fragile. It’s strange for me, this mix of opposing feelings. But I suppose it’s good–that tears are mitigated by laughter and disappointment with excitement. 

I’m not sure how much time I’ll get to spend with my husband this fall. Yes, last year about this time he was leaving for Africa, so count my blessings (more on that later) he’s safe here in the states. But, we have suddenly launched into a season of such intense training and planning that I scarcely see him for a half hour a day. And waiting in the wings are a few weeks where they will work straight through the weekends–at least 21 days in a row.

And this sadness, I might have shared earlier, but I wasn’t ready–a couple months ago, I miscarried the baby my husband I never thought we could never have.

We never planned or risked the hope of getting pregnant. So when we learned in late July (with utter shock!) that I was expecting, we were floored. Just as surprising was the joy that overtook us! We couldn’t wait to hold our baby! But that wasn’t God’s plan. Somehow, our little one lived a purposeful life, and filled the purpose of his life in just 11 short weeks.

We survived that.

But now, the pain is refreshed each month. We’ve dared to think we can try now. We’ve dared to step into the realm of miracles only God can do–and to hope. And that’s scary.

So, as you can see, my emotions (fragile as they are), are swirling like the autumn leaves shimmying to the ground. And it’s tempting to complain to God–a lot. It’s easy right now, to form all “prayer requests” around the little phrase, “God please!!”

God, please give us a baby. God please give us more time together. God please give my husband a day off. God please help me to be kind and compassionate and understanding …

You know, I think all that is okay. Today I was scrounging for peace–the peace that God promises in Philippians when we present our requests to God:

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7

And suddenly, it dawned on me. There were prerequisites for that peace. I’ve met one prerequisite by simply praying, the second one is harder–with thanksgiving. 

I can’t have this unbelievable peace as long as my prayers sound like whiny pleas. Of course, I still believe God will answer those prayers, but I’m sabotaging my own peace if I insist on whimpering and repelling His peace with self-imposed anxiety, even as I pray. My attitude, even my emotions, is my responsibility.

So, I changed my prayer:

God, thank you for your marvelous plan of blessing and deepening our marriage in this season. Thank you for balancing the sorrow of this season with nature’s beauty. Thank you for giving us a baby, for making us parents. Thank you for teaching me your own faithfulness through pain. Thank you. Yes, thank you.

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Sampling Gratitude

I just dug into the sample.

I’d first tasted it at my parents’ house. Early one morning, in the same fashion as her own mother, my mom cracked open a devotional and read out loud to my father and me.

I felt so treasured, so uniquely special there, curled in the corner of their couch, no rules, responsibilities or places to be. Just the three of us, parents and their oldest daughter. And for a few brief moments, that’s what I was again–merely daughter.

Age can sometimes be irrelevant. I would have sat with perked ears and my knees tucked just so whether I was four, fourteen or thirty-four as I am now. Listening to the warm, familiar voice of my mother, I was truly thankful.

So, per her suggestion, I downloaded the Kindle sample on my iPad of 1000 Gifts Devotional: Reflections on Finding Everyday Graces.

But I didn’t read it.

1000 things piled high on my plate. Not the least of these was packing and moving. Mixed into my daily mess was finishing one Bible study, starting another, saying indefinite goodbyes, pet therapy, writing obligations, book marketing, cooking, cleaning, bills, wifely duties–you get the picture. My to-do list probably looks a lot like yours. And your to-read, bedside-stack probably looks a lot like mine.

I didn’t read it until…

One bedtime when I was between books and dreading the next one in line. I opened the sample and read the tantalizing first 10 pages, only to find myself salivating for more.

Strangely, I was starving for more conviction, more Holy Spirit shoulder squeezes and humbled squirming. All the same, I pined for more. I bought the book.

Who’da thought I was so ungrateful?

I wonder how long God has been trying to convince me of the utter redemption of gratitude? I wonder how long He’s been waiting for me to realize that my own joy, my own hope, my own happiness and self-awareness and all the jazz we pedal for in this world, was on the tip of my tongue? If I would only open my mouth and express thanks for all that God IS, for all that He HAS done and promises TO DO, I would realize how favored I am!

But even though my nightly reading has been refreshing thankfulness, I tend to forget my lessons by morning. Just a few days ago, I opened my journal and scribbled the words, “Father, there’s so much going on. My mind can’t be still and I don’t know what to say.”

His response?

Abby, you will never be wordless while thanks remains.

And so I started:

Thank you for colors and limits to perfection even in the most exquisite prism. The scope finite here on earth, such that discovery remains. While nothing under the sun is new, so much remains new to me.

As we move Lord, give me fresh, childlike eyes in our new home–an innocence and willingness to bend to different, to embrace it. Fill me with no disdain for the past, but open hands to release it and grasp for an unforeseen, fresh, cusp of waking tomorrow.

I need you to do this within me. For this not me–a creature of variety of change. To forsake routine and safety is no relief to my carnal self.

Philippians 4:6 “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”

Sampling Gratitude

I just dug into the sample.

I’d first tasted it at my parents’ house. Early one morning, in the same fashion as her own mother, my mom cracked open a devotional and read out loud to my father and me.

I felt so treasured, so uniquely special there, curled in the corner of their couch, no rules, responsibilities or places to be. Just the three of us, parents and their oldest daughter. And for a few brief moments, that’s what I was again–merely daughter.

Age can sometimes be irrelevant. I would have sat with perked ears and my knees tucked just so whether I was four, fourteen or thirty-four as I am now. Listening to the warm, familiar voice of my mother, I was truly thankful.

So, per her suggestion, I downloaded the Kindle sample on my iPad of 1000 Gifts Devotional: Reflections on Finding Everyday Graces.

But I didn’t read it.

1000 things piled high on my plate. Not the least of these was packing and moving. Mixed into my daily mess was finishing one Bible study, starting another, saying indefinite goodbyes, pet therapy, writing obligations, book marketing, cooking, cleaning, bills, wifely duties–you get the picture. My to-do list probably looks a lot like yours. And your to-read, bedside-stack probably looks a lot like mine.

I didn’t read it until…

One bedtime when I was between books and dreading the next one in line. I opened the sample and read the tantalizing first 10 pages, only to find myself salivating for more.

Strangely, I was starving for more conviction, more Holy Spirit shoulder squeezes and humbled squirming. All the same, I pined for more. I bought the book.

Who’da thought I was so ungrateful?

I wonder how long God has been trying to convince me of the utter redemption of gratitude? I wonder how long He’s been waiting for me to realize that my own joy, my own hope, my own happiness and self-awareness and all the jazz we pedal for in this world, was on the tip of my tongue? If I would only open my mouth and express thanks for all that God IS, for all that He HAS done and promises TO DO, I would realize how favored I am!

But even though my nightly reading has been refreshing thankfulness, I tend to forget my lessons by morning. Just a few days ago, I opened my journal and scribbled the words, “Father, there’s so much going on. My mind can’t be still and I don’t know what to say.”

His response?

Abby, you will never be wordless while thanks remains. 

And so I started:

Thank you for colors and limits to perfection even in the most exquisite prism. The scope finite here on earth, such that discovery remains. While nothing under the sun is new, so much remains new to me.

As we move Lord, give me fresh, childlike eyes in our new home–an innocence and willingness to bend to different, to embrace it. Fill me with no disdain for the past, but open hands to release it and grasp for an unforeseen, fresh, cusp of waking tomorrow.

I need you to do this within me. For this not me–a creature of variety of change. To forsake routine and safety is no relief to my carnal self.

Philippians 4:6 “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”

Thanks Before Giving

On Wednesday we talked about holidays perspectives. I also told you early this month about my commitment to join the Advent Acts of Kindness. 

I got an early start on this simply because Thanksgiving opened itself wide 0pen to me as we didn’t travel, visit or have company this year. Truthfully, it was one of the most fun Thanksgivings I’ve ever had.

Brave and I went up to The Medical Center to visit with patients on Thanksgiving afternoon. Honestly, the staff had made a concerted effort to discharge as many patients as possible before the special day. But when we got to the 7th floor, one of our favorite ladies was still patiently enduring the drip, drip, drip of an 80-hour chemo treatment.

Funny, I don’t even know her name, but it was the third time we’d seen her. Somehow, the formality of introductions never comes up, so quickly do we always launch into light hearted conversation. This time, she knew we were coming, because I’d promised her on Tuesday afternoon. Her father was sitting with her. As soon as we breached the doorway, she burst with happy tidings.

“Guess what, Brave,” she announced. “Papa brought you treats!”

Sure enough, the gentleman stretched, shook my hand and handed his daughter a plastic baggie full of dog biscuits. We stood and talked to them for nearly half an hour.

Brave and I enjoyed our visit so much and I dearly hope we brightened their holiday afternoon. But I was stymied by the joy and peace that emanated from that dreary hospital room even before we arrived. Obviously, this precious woman did not require much to experience gratitude.

Oh Father, let me know the impenetrable gratitude of a rescued heart. Let me overflow with thanksgiving despite all circumstances. Father, this Advent season, let my thankfulness begin with awe and appreciation for my Savior. 

When we left the hospital, Brave and I broke one of our holiday “codes”. We did go shopping – just briefly. While he waited in the car, I darted into Walgreens and stuffed a red gift bag with candy, granola bars, cookies, hand lotion and peppermint gum. On the drive home we stopped at our favorite Starbucks and delivered the goodies to the most energetic and kind baristas we know.

When I was growing up, they told me, “It’s better to give than to receive”. Perhaps Thanksgiving is the perfect evidence of that. Watching gratitude blossom in a sick, tired or stranger’s face is the most exquisite feeling I have ever had.

How to Know if God Likes You

lt used to be enough that God loves you. You remember those days, right after you internalized, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whosoever believes in might not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16

And it felt so good, so freeing. All of a sudden, you felt humility and self-worth bleeding together, overlapping. But it didn’t take long. A few sermons, a few calls to start serving, to do your part, to use your gifts, to fulfill your “calling”; a few failures, a few skipped Bible studies, angry outbursts or nasty thoughts and suddenly you aren’t so sure God likes you.

Sure, sure, He loves you. He promised to never leave you and you know all the verses about His lovingkindness that endures forever, but yeah, not so sure He’s really all that proud of you. His love is obligatory, kind of like a parent’s. But He’s not calling you His friend. You’re pretty nervous to imply that you and God are all that close. So you cringe a bit when it’s your turn to pray out loud. You pick up dime-a-dozen devos instead of the real Word of God. God loves you, He has to, right?

You’re not the first Christian to feel this way. That’s why most of us spout off, “We are saved by grace through faith and not by works”, but then try ever so hard to do just the right things. The pulpit preaches that Jesus paid the price and we cannot earn salvation, but then, once we’re saved we discover the checklist of all the things we ought to do to insure our salvation. Sound familiar?

But if it’s true that God’s gift of salvation is free, then how is it possible that the maintenance of the same is so expensive? And if security does not come at a cost, then how can we convince our hearts to rest in the truth that God not only loved us enough to save us, but that He likes us enough to stay present with us in all our failures, to endure our screw ups, to fellowship with us in our weaknesses, to invest His Holy Spirit in us, to speak to us, to comfort us, to assure us of our salvation?

The secret is much simpler than you might fear. It is gratitude. In the KJV, Hebrews 12:28 says, “Wherefore we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear:”.

In the English Standard Version, it reads, “Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe,”.

The word translated as “grateful” in the second version is the same as is translated “grace” in the the King James. A succinct definition of the Greek word is this: The spiritual condition of one governed by the power of divine grace, the merciful influence of kindness by which God, exerting His holy influence upon our souls, turns them to Christ.*

In both translations, it is easy to see that the kingdom has already been received, therefore the readers (you and I) are assumed to have accepted Christ as our personal Savior. The next step is to worship the King of this kingdom with gratitude.

When we gather around the thanksgiving table each November, it’s common to pass our plates with the query, “What are you thankful for?”. This is the same principle we must apply to our worship: What do we worship for? What are we grateful for?

The difference between “love” and “like” is gratitude. The concept of love has the potential to remain nebulous, but when that love is expressed in terms of gratitude it takes on a gritty tangibleness. Thankfulness requires knowing someone, recognizing their contribution. Thanksgiving requires that we internalize God’s love and recognize Him as good.

The next time you are fearful that you’ve let God down and imagine Him standing over you saying, “I will always love you, but I’m so disappointed, I don’t like you very much right now,” pause to thank Him. Thank Him for the factual evidence of His love. In this thankfulness it will become apparent that He does indeed like you. His affection for you overflows the boundaries of unconditional love into the confidence that He treasures you, has secured you and that you have no need to impress Him.

* Lexicon and dictionary notes taken from Blueletterbible.org

Just a brief study of gratitude

Oh come, let us sing to the Lord;
let us fmake a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!
2 Let us hcome into his presence with thanksgiving;
let us fmake a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!
3 For the Lord is ia great God,
and a great King above all gods.
4 In his hand are the depths of the earth;
the heights of the mountains are his also.
5 The sea is his, for he made it,
and his hands formed the dry land.
6 Oh come, let us worship and bow down;
let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!
7 For he is our God,
and we are the people of his pasture,
and the sheep of his hand.
Today, if you hear his voice,
8 do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah,
as on the day at Massah in the wilderness,
9 when your fathers put me to the test
and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work.
10 For forty years I loathed that generation
and said, “They are a people who go astray in their heart,
and they have not known my ways.”
11 Therefore I swore in my wrath,
“They shall not enter my rest.” Ps. 95

This passage begs to overflow in worship. Verses 1 and 2 command thanksgiving and when I get to verse 7, I find resonance with the greatest thankfulness in my own heart.

I am not my own! Not my own designer, creator or keeper. 

After 15 years of anorexia, I know that I cannot manage that. I fail and I am miserable with every arrogant effort. The greatest peace, for which I am thankful, is resting in the arms of my Creator-sustainor.

Let me worship and bow down before my Maker and God. Father, keep my heart soft always and direct it to your purposes and glory. (1 Chron. 29:18)

A Me-So-Happy-List

I learn so much every time I read She Loves Magazine. Yesterday, the author recalled All Saints’ Day and challenged me to consider the women who were the saints in my own life. Particularly, those who have passed and left a lingering legacy for the cause of Christ permanently inked on my life. Then, today, Tina asked us to write a “Me So Happy List.” A list to be applied as a direct antiseptic to festering wounds of loneliness, brutal days, sadness, sore knees, ceiling-bound prayers, loveless relationships, finding out you’re doing life all wrong.

Ever felt that way?

I think I can tie these two challenges together. Perhaps I’ll begin my happiness list with warm recollections of those who have loved me into the shape I am now.

Vanessa: I met her in church months after I got married and moved to North Carolina. That same season, my new husband deployed to Iraq for a year. At first sight, Vanessa was as vivacious, peppy and assertive as anyone I’ve ever known. Only in bits and pieces did I discover that she had just tipped over the brink of remission from melanoma. Months before I met her, she had nearly died from chemo. By the time I came along, she was trying alternative treatments successfully, her hair had grown back and she was charging full steam ahead.

I had never attempted door-to-door evangelism before, and I doubt I’ll summon the courage to do it again. But I did it with Vanessa. It seemed as if living in a thin place incensed her to talk about Jesus.

But then I watched her die.

Cancer is unpredictable. It came back so viscously that it seemed from one day to the next it sank into her bones, bound her to a bed and stole her voice. I watched her 10 year old son as she traveled far and wide searching for a miracle. None came.

But Vanessa never panicked. Her bulldog way of staring down each new day, daring the sun not to rise, buoyed the hearts of those around her until she was gone. But even the shattering pain, a wholeness filled each room of her house. That’s the way she remains to me – whole, full, complete, content, satisfied, too much, too big to contain. How does one manage that in diminishing death?

I am thankful for her.

I am thankful for a dog named, Brave. His furry body wedged between my knees at 2 a.m.  – challenging to me to sleep another wink.

That my husband loves, loves, loves his job and thrives in all its challenges.

My family loves me, and I can miss them when we’re miles apart. That longing fuels the warmth of reunion.

That God is not silent.

That I can write and that yesterday’s journal informs my heart more now than it did then.

For the difference between acquaintances and life-long friends.

For funny people who don’t know they’re funny, dressed in a blue Santa hat sitting at the table next to me.