Th(i)nkful – Producing Grace

A Gratitude Journal

Nick and Julia 1This is a picture of our son, Nicolas, and his beautiful Julia.   They gave me a special present this year for my birthday –  a Daily Gratitude Journal! In this journal there are only blank pages divided by a line in the middle and a space on which to put the date. You could use really any kind of notebook to do the same thing. The idea behind it is to get into a pattern of writing down your th(i)nkful list. At the end of the day you take a moment to reflect on what you were thankful   for that day.

IMG_2253I started doing that after getting this book from Nick and Julia. Some entries are not so full. Some entries can barely fit all that I want to record. But the beautiful thing that I find happening to me is that, as I go through my days, I make mental notes of the things I need to remember to record that evening. This goes for easy days, as well has hard days.

In the Valley of Shadows

Recently, I have been hit with a lot of opportunities for wisdom. So many people I know personally have been ushered into a valley of shadows – getting better acquainted with cancer. I see in my own behavior that, although I know what the truth is and know my responsibility to act in accordance with it, I still can be overwhelmed with sadness and heaviness in my heart. I chide myself for not being stronger. The truth is, when I cannot understand God’s ways, I must hold on to His character. I must simply “hold on to Jesus.” Let me illustrate.

Song of the Orphans

A few years back, David and I had the privilege of interacting with some precious people in Shongwe Mission, South Africa.  This neighborhood was filled with orphan-led households.  In other words, both parents were gone and there were children caring for each other.  One home with 6 children was led by a 12-year-old named Lalif. I remember being struck with such admiration and yet sadness and hopelessness.

IHold on to Jesus learned a gem that afternoon. Our group sang songs for them and in return they wanted to sing for us. They did a much better job. 🙂 One of the songs they sang was “Hold on to Jesus, Hold on, Hold on, Hold on.” I thought to myself that wow, that doctrine was so shallow.  They should have been taught deeper truths.  However, the gem I discovered was that the most important thing to do when going through horrendous difficulties and challenges is to “Hold on to Jesus.”

“Trust in Him at all times, you people, pour out your heart before Him: God is a refuge for us. Selah” (Psalm 62:8).

I just can’t give way to the temptation to begin to doubt the Lord’s goodness and purposes.  Trust.  He is writing a bigger story that I could even imagine.  He asks me to be filled with the Spirit in Eph. 5:18. A description of what that filling looks like comes in verses 19-20.  I am to speak to myself in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.  I am to sing and make melody in my heart to the Lord.  I am to give thanks always for all things to God in the name of Jesus Christ.

“I will recount the steadfast love of the Lord” Isaiah 63:7

When faced with difficulties, these are the things I can recount:

  1. God is God and I am not
  2. This life is a vapor and we are headed to a much better place if we have trusted in Jesus alone for our salvation
  3. God’s promises hold fast
  4. The Lord will never leave, nor forsake
  5. Somehow good will come out of pain and suffering
  6. My job is to respond to hardship with thinking thanks; like for example,  just yesterday a music therapist came into the hospital room of my loved one and played her guitar and sang “Amazing Grace”
  7. God is trustworthy; He can deftly handle all my trust
  8. God will not test me above what I am able and will answer my cry to be Spirit-filled right in the trial
  9. God hears our cries for healing and will do what is best; teaching a myriad of lessons along the way
  10. I can be edified by singing; some good selections are Chris Anderson’s song, “I Run to Christ,” or Getty’s, “Still, My Soul Be Still, or Matthew Decker’s “Fullness of Joy” (Psalm 16)
  11. I can look for God’s fingerprints of grace and kindness along the way; they are there

When I choose to be th(i)nkful – a determined choice to download grace/strength from the Lord to think thanks about every circumstance that comes my way and express that thanks orally or in a written form – grace starts to spring up in my heart. It may just be a little trickle at first, but as my thoughts begin to meditate on all the Lord has done and is doing, it bubbles more and more.  Being thinkful produces grace.


Emotions – Not The Bad Guys

IMG_2089I am so glad that God made us with emotions. When He created us in His image, that image included emotions. The Scriptures tell us that God laughs, grieves, has compassion, sings, and has righteous anger. We can often get confused by our emotions.  They feel strong, like they are controlling us, but actually they are fueled by another source – the mind. Emotions are a window into what we’ve been thinking about.

It is interesting to note that we can’t really have the emotion of anger unless we first think thoughts that trigger anger. Emotions are flames that burn in different colors depending on the fuel we’re burning. If we chose to think thoughts of thankfulness, it produces the emotion of gratitude; even tears can come at times. Emotion is only reflecting the thoughts that we are thinking.

Elanor Roosevelt

Would it not be amazing to control our emotions by controlling our thoughts? In Romans 12:2, Paul pushes us to be transformed by the “renewing of our minds.” When a person exercises the ability to think thoughts that are true, healthy, and godly, the outcome of that exercise will be reflected in that person’s emotions. Much happens in our thoughts that eventually work its way out in our emotions and in our actions.

Let it be known that emotions can be affected by physical conditions such as adrenal dysfunction or even something as common as illness, pain, or fatigue. Most arguments happen in the evening. Why? We are tired, weary, frazzled from events of the day; the mind is weak and often focuses on the wrong fuel – ideas and values that serve self.  The ultimate test of godliness is when we are tested by people or circumstances in moments when we are already worn out. Will we have the strength to choose the right thoughts?!

Being th(i)nkful is using your will to push your mind to search for and ponder the right thoughts. As we choose to think thanks, our troubled thoughts are wrestled back to what is good, and ultimately Who is the giver of good things. To the extent we push our minds on this journey, our emotions will tag along.

“My emotions are the fruit, not the root of my thoughts”

Nicolas Ellen, ACBC

Handling Emotions Biblically , Nicolas Ellen ACBC  


What Brew Are You?



What happens when you are put in hot water?

Chai tea was first introduced to me by my friend Joan Seger. For some reason, I really loved it. Not sure if the cardamom spice reminded me of the Swedish pastries from my youth, but I do know that whether I am in New Zealand or Zululand, my first choice of a hot beverage is chai tea latte.

When boiling water is poured on tea leaves, something happens to that water. The tea brews. The essence of the tea overtakes the water and claims it. The color and taste of the water is altered. Some teas are weak and some very strong, depending on the time you allow the tea to brew.

I wonder what kind of tea my life would make?  When I am in the roil of boiling circumstances, do I create toxins or tea?  Do I create poisonous fumes or a pleasant aroma?  I love the word picture in Colossians 2:6-7:

“Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as your were taught, abounding (overflowing)  in thanksgiving.”

Paul is describing a person who is rooted and grounded well in the Lord. That person overflows with thanksgiving. It oozes out of him. Brews out of him.

The habitual pattern of choosing to think thanks in every situation that comes your way will change you.  It does something to you. The habit starts to work for you.  Certainly, it takes a lot of willpower and grace to formulate that pattern in your brain, but after doing it over and over again, the thinkful thoughts come easier.

Choosing to think thanks in every situation will also change the atmosphere around you. Boiling water may come in many shapes and forms.  It forces what it comes in contact with to be exposed.  I can promise you that boiling water will eventually come upon you, and when it does, the brew you make will depend on what you are thinking.

 th(i)nkful:  a determined choice to download grace/strength from the Lord to think thanks about every circumstance that comes my way and express that thanks orally or in a written form.


P.S. THIS “BLISS BALL” RECIPE (thankfully) has no sugar and is good for you.  I wanted to pass it along to you in case you needed a little encouragement with your cup of tea. 🙂

RECIPE: No-Food-Processor “Bliss Balls” Continue reading

Th(i)nkful Looking Back


“Pilgrim’s Rest” is a common house with an uncommon use: it gives missionaries a place to rest as they prepare to leave Atlanta for foreign fields, and it is the initial landing spot for missionaries as they reenter America for the first time in several years. Although it blends in with homes in the subdivision, this house sleeps 16 people!

David and I work with a mission north of Atlanta called Biblical Ministries Worldwide (BMW), which designed and built Pilgrim’s Rest.  Our missionaries can stay there for free.  Imagine the languages and stories it has heard!  Imagine the intense thoughts and emotions of those who have only tried to sleep there as they’re on the cliff of cultural transition!  There are many scenes in those rooms that only the Lord knows about.

On Thursday a number of us did a deep cleaning of the upstairs in preparation for our Candidate School starting next week.  As I was cleaning the front bedroom (the window with black shutters in the picture), vacuuming behind the bed and dusting the blinds, my mind went back 8 years to when David and I slept in that room.

It was a difficult time for me.  Our daughter Stephanie had just married, and David and I were leaving shortly for Africa without any of our kids. Two were married and two were working in the States for the summer to save for college bills. I realize now that my challenges were not that difficult. Many have gone through much worse scenarios than what I was facing. Nevertheless, I felt like I was going through a crisis. I remember sitting on the floor in that room and crying so hard that my whole body was shaking, telling David that I didn’t think I could go on.

You have been uniquely crafted for a reason and purpose. Hang on through the surgery of the soul and call out to God for comfort and peace.

When you face trying times, it is good to have a list of truths tucked away in your Bible to meditate on.  I challenge you to formulate such a list.  Just to get you started, here are some ideas:  God is God, and I am not.  I have been uniquely crafted for a reason and a purpose. I must hang on to God’s trustworthy and loving character as He does surgery on my soul to remove things that would hinder my effectiveness.  God does not waste pain.  He is developing something in me.  His Son went through pain for a greater good.  He is trustworthy.  He can be fully leaned on, although it hurts.

The Lord did not leave me on that floor shaking and crying, He comforted me and poured courage into me to get up and move on.  I found enough grace to take the next step. He was and is faithful to provide enough strength to fulfill His will for me.

The beds at Pilgrim’s Rest have been slept in thousands of times each year. Most fascinating is when there is an interchange of missionaries from different continents that can connect and converse over a meal only to leave the next day and never see each other again.

It felt good, and in a way sacred, to work hard in cleaning that room.  It is a special place for uniquely called people in a crucial time of transition.  May the next person who sleeps in that bed be comforted that God is sovereign in all He does.  And that He remembers. This life is a vapor and soon we will be with Him.