The Power of Reflection

Being Hijacked at Gunpoint

When we moved to South Africa to help plant a church in 1995, Johannesburg was a war zone with more than a thousand car hijacking per month at gunpoint.  A year later it was my turn.  My 4-year-old daughter Elly and I were held up in a hijacking attempt in our own driveway on a Friday night.

I can still see clearly the man with the pistol, his two accomplices flanking both sides of the car wanting to steal our vehicle.  It was awful.  I scolded him from inside the locked car and laid on the horn.  No help came.  It was truly a miracle that we were not both shot dead right there in our driveway, but it was not our time to go.  We survived.

But when you experience trauma, the trauma is not over with the experience.  I had to relive it a thousand times, retell the story a thousand times.  This compulsive reflection backward on traumatic incidents opens up a huge key to the discipline of being th(i)nkful.  Your reflection can make the original incident better or worse.

Objective Experience vs. Subjective Experience

I stumbled over an interesting concept recently while reading The Happiness Advantage, by Shawn Achor.  He shares how there are many ways to help promote happiness in our lives.  Oddly enough, happiness does not come from outside stimuli but is built from within our brains depending on how we shape our brain’s neural pathways.  We can create happiness even within difficult circumstances.  His use of the term “post-traumatic growth” especially fascinated me.

fullsizeoutput_11efWhen a person goes through a traumatic experience, that person experiences the happening objectively at first.  But the later subjective re-experiencing of the happening is what I want to focus on.  We relive notable experiences many, many times.  It is in this subjective replay of the original experience where the key lies.  You can choose how you relive an experience.

My Own Battle

As I reeled through my own subjective re-experiencing of the hijacking over and over, one of the keys to healing was to rehearse my gratitude for how God helped me through every part of that test.

  • God had prepared me earlier in the day by rehearsing a lot of verses about fear with a girl I was counseling;
  • Neither Elly nor I were touched, hurt, shot, or killed;
  • They didn’t get our car (that time);
  • We had just filled up the car – they didn’t steal a car with a full tank!
  • We had a short-term missionary’s bags in the back – they didn’t steal a car with a luggage bonus!
  • God caused them fear and confusion when our gate started to close on its timer;
  • Elly and I got in the house and locked up while they were regrouping;
  • Although they jumped the wall and tried to get in, they never did;
  • We were privileged to be attacked by the evil one because God was transforming the lives of people through the gospel;
  • We had a sense that God was right there with us.

God’s grace in helping me to be th(i)nkful as I reflected on the trauma provided me with post traumatic growth.  My faith-walk with the Lord actually grew stronger.

A Challenge

a simple thank you 2As we leave 2018 and move into the brand new year of 2019 in a few days, I would like to challenge you to make a simple “thank you” part of your living.  As you process daily things, as well as work through things of the past, insert a simple “thank you.”  Let God help you to develop eyes to see not only all His blessings, for which you can be grateful, but also to see His designs in the dark places, because He is there too.  And having His hand hold you through a valley of shadows is a cause for deeper gratitude as you get to know His ways, and heart, and character, and purposes more deeply.

At first you may feel awkward and clumsy in how to express this thankfulness, but don’t give up.  Keep on forging that pattern of looking for things to think thanks for.  It will bring a cupboard full of blessings for you.  Just image this time next year reading through a notebook of daily things that you were th(i)nkful for.  I can promise you that you will be edified and encouraged. Life will serve you hard things in 2019, no doubt, but as you move those things through the sieve of giving thanks to God for everything, you will grow.

“May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, A Simple Thank Youwho has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.”  Colossians 1:11-12

10 thoughts on “The Power of Reflection

  1. Watching my wife starve to death was traumatic in a different way. I wanted it to be me, not her. I wanted to do something to relieve her misery, and could not. Each morning I would see that a little more of her had left me. Each night we would sit in the dark, holding hands and listening to music like Dan Forrest’s REQUIEM FOR THE LIVING and wonder when the Lord would take her. Her death landed our family on a bridge between the past and the future. I paced the bridge often, going nearly to one end or the other, but never getting off. After 11 months, God gave me another woman to love. I left the bridge and strode into the future, but my children were still on the bridge. I told them they should not burn the bridge, and that they could go across it occasionally, but that eventually, they, too, would have to leave it. Now, as I think about those final months of Donna’s life (which I very rarely do,) I can do so without emotion. I can’t honestly say I’m thankful for them, but I am very thankful for what God has done in my life since.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, Rob, thank you for transparency. We walked with you from a distance. We cried, too. We struggled to try to make sense of it all. I know that the words I wrote in this post are merely from my view. I have not lost a spouse. How we long for our Lord to come and make all things right.


  2. Want to practice that admonition during 2019 know that God has blessing for me in every trial and hard place. Besides, He is walking with me holding my hand. Thank you, Karen. Learning to give thanks in ALL things!

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  3. Dear Karin

    This post was awesome! I shared it with my family right away—so true about the power of framing our story with thankfulness “in the Lord” (Phil. 4:4).

    I would like to take this idea and develop it into a workshop for the women at our regional conference in Bali in May. I would like to present the idea and come up with a metaphor that will give the ladies something to take with them in their thinking as they begin the journey of reframing the trauma of cross-cultural ministry (yes, recognising that it involves trauma!) with thankfulness. Can you help me think through the process of teaching it in a way that will build a bridge from their present into their future? Debriefing is a big part of current thinking in missions and I believe what you are saying about thankfulness is key to debriefing keeping us trusting in the Lord and preventing bitterness and its ugly fruit.

    In addition to teaching, I would like to give each of them space to begin the journey of reframing their story with thankfulness. I’d love your thoughts on that too.

    Praying for you, dear friend, and all the changes and challenges you are facing in this era of your life. Thankful that you can be with family for a season!

    Love and prayers




  4. Beautifully written, and I have found it to be so true in my own life. Looking for God’s touch in the hard things is so precious. ALWAYS He is there, loving, protecting, guiding, feeding, and giving us shelter from the storms of life. When my eyes are open to His truth I see what could have been…but is not. I see His presence with me in my trial. It is really true that the things we imagine might happen are fraught with fear and a lack of trust. But when we walk with Him, He gives us what we need…. WHEN..we need it…not before when we are full of “what ifs”….but He is there when we need Him. And as He gives us peace we reflect on the past and face the future and new trials and see His care for us. Such an encouraging post. Thankful for your th(i)nkfulness.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. God allowed me to “stumble” across you blog. I loved the sentence “You can CHOOSE how you relive an experience.” Basically, I can choose to find something to be thankful for in any situation!

    My husband is a BIG10 head football coach and as you can imagine his job comes with an enormous amount of criticism and stress. Knowing God placed us in this position and believing HIS protective hand will guide our steps gives us security in a very insecure profession. Big picture wise – I truly believe God’s got us no matter what any scoreboard says. However, I have struggled with how I respond to the day to day JOY killers that come from the college football world!

    My one word for 2019 is JOY. I will find JOY in the journey that God has set before me. Romans 15:13 will be my go to verse to help me daily CHOOSE JOY – May the God of hope fill you with all JOY and peace as you TRUST IN HIM, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Thankfulness and JOY are possible when I learn to TRUST IN HIM at all times!

    Just wanted to thank you for your blog and let you know how encouraging it has been to me!

    Liked by 1 person

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