I Do Not Take It For Granted

Removed

In April of 2022 the area around Durban, South Africa, received torrential rains.

Highways were flooded and homes were destroyed from landslides and water. At least 430 were reported to have passed away, with many more still missing. Such devastation and ruin. Food parcels were assembled and distributed. Collections for help to rebuild homes were taken up.

In our little complex of flats, we only lost water and power for several days. Otherwise, were just fine. It was interesting to see how frail we are in our great and powerful Western civilization; just take away our water and electricity, and we are in an absolute crisis. We had to carry water to flush the toilets and boil for drinking. It gave us a clearer picture of what it is like in our nearby rural communities to carry water for your daily needs.

Day after day we got the opportunity to learn that having access to water and power is something to be very thankful for indeed. We took it for granted, and when it wasn’t granted, we learned to value it.

The rural African lives far more like Jesus than we do. When Jesus walked on earth, He did not have running water, electricity, air conditioning, automobiles, or wifi. What was normal for him would now be a crisis for us.

All Of A Sudden

Then one morning I awoke to David saying that the power was back on. Hallelujah!! Later, water trickled from the faucet for several hours, but eventually came back in full.

I was so hit with the fact that I must NEVER take these things for granted. I am now so thankful for the absolute magic of looking intently, turning a faucet handle slowly … and there comes clean water!!

I am more thankful after going through the removal of the object. Like the old adage, “love knows not its own depth until the hour of separation.”

I know that my fleshly tendency will be to gravitate towards taking it for granted after a while, but I am fighting that with my whole being. I want to etch deeply in my mind that I must continue to be thankful for the conveniences technology has brought us, while being reminded not to let them make me too soft.

Thank You, Lord, for Reminders

Physical reminders can be quite effective. Going without water and electricity for many days sharply embedded in me a reminder to be thankful for those daily gifts. But I was meditating on a spiritual analogy to this loss of water as well.

Water in the Scripture is a picture of spiritual life itself. The nonbeliever goes about searching for meaning in the myriad dry wells of our cultures. The mirage of the new draws them foolishly to yet another dry well. They are like a desert shrub, like the chaff that the wind drives away (Psalm 1, Jeremiah 17:6).

But when God opens a lost person’s heart to the gospel and he or she receives the Word, they experience the washing of regeneration (Titus 3:5, Ephesians 5:26). Their reborn spirit, indwelled by the Holy Spirit and fed by the Word of God, is referred to as “living water” which will never run dry and will bubble over for the benefit of others (John 4:14, 7:38).

Despite these lovely truths, there are times when I realize that I am spiritually thirsty and dried up. Sometimes it is because I have given out emotionally and spiritually for days without much of a rest. Sometimes it is because I have poured months of counsel into a soul only to experience their betrayal or to see them make woefully bad decisions. Sometimes it is because I have an idol or sin that I am not parting with (Psalm 32:4). Most often it is because I am not washing my mind with the Word to regain God’s perspective. I turn on the faucet and nothing comes out.

But I go down on my knees with tears, and I go to the Word, and I go to the Throne and pour out my heart … and that brokenness dislodges whatever stone was covering the well. The water begins to flow again. “It’s going to be ok. Self, speak truth! Self, give me God-soaked counsel!”

“Well,” I whisper to myself, “through Jesus’ sacrifice in my place, I was forgiven of all my sins (from the cradle to the grave) all at once, I was reconciled with the Creator God and was placed in right standing in His family and Kingdom. I am set to inherit from Him one day. One day soon, Jesus will return for me and my brothers and sisters. This earth is my only hell, and I will live out His mission for my life …” and I end up shouting out with my finger in the air, “because I want to make Him happy, and that’s all that matters!” Guess what? The water is on. He has washed me with His word.

Meditating and saturating my thoughts on all that I have in Christ is fodder for thinking thanks. Recently my husband handed out a paper during a message with the title “Who I Am In Christ.” I have it tucked in my Bible to remind me daily. He has given me so very much in Jesus.

Changed

This temporal removal of having something I needed every day, changed me. It prompted thinking thanks. I want to remain changed. May I not take gifts from the Father for granted.

Water and power are wonderful commodities, but even more importantly, spiritual cleansing and power are essential. I must have that living water and not let the well get blocked. Worse yet, I must never go after the empty wells of my culture.

God offers water full and free flowing to me and to you. It will always be there for us. Torrential rains and flooding will not obstruct it. Receive it with gratitude and cherish it.

I do not take it for granted!

Gratitude Rewires

Thinkful for Percimony

My youngest granddaughter Perci is learning to walk. She lurches, wobbles, and falls, but gets back up. It is so precious to see her try to move one foot in front of the other and maintain balance. Not an easy feat!

But after awhile, she will “learn” – she will have actually unwittingly hardwired her brain to move her body toward her goal without thinking through the steps. She will simply lean and start, alternate between legs, maintain her balance, turn left and right, and achieve her little goals!

It takes months of trial and error, but once the neuro-pathways are developed, it will happen automatically. Percimony will know how to walk.🚶‍♀️

Percimony is also developing a much deeper skill for life – problem solving. She had a desired target across the room (the piano). She decided to take stock of her resources to get there, which were not good since she lacked coordination. She could have sat in a puddle of weeping and woes, but she decided to work at it; trying and failing until she felt her skills getting better. In time, she got there.

How Is Your Brain Wired?

The beautiful thing about Percimony’s brain is that it is new. It is getting wired and programmed for the first time, and wow does it learn quickly. For the rest of us, the ability to learn is getting slower and more difficult as time goes by. What is even more difficult is the task of learning something differently from the way you’ve always done it. This is what the Bible calls “renewing,” which requires a bit of “undoing” first.

To “renew your mind” (Romans 12:2, Ephesians 4:23) is to actively examine your thinking in the light of God’s Truth (John 17:17) to assure that you are thinking correctly. It is to identify and root out wrong perceptions of who God is, who Jesus is, who the Spirit is, who your neighbor is, who you are, and how you should relate to these others. Paul wrote that we are to “destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). We may need to identify and painfully pull down idols of the heart like the desires for control, comfort, and affirmation that have woven their way through all our thoughts.

We are then to plug in thinking that pleases God. This takes work, repetition, and time. It may take an accountability partner to help give you a little signal when “you’re doing it again.” You will likely need to memorize verses in areas where you are weak, and meditate on those truths (Psalm 1:2).

Rewiring for Gratitude!

So perhaps you’re grumpy, chronically unthankful, a glass-half-empty, little black raincloud to all who know you. Perhaps you dismiss it as just being a problem-spotter, or being an idealist, or “just stating the obvious.” While improvements are normally helpful, the truth is that God commands us to give thanks in everything (Ephesians 5:20). Even if it needs fixing, we can begin with thinking thanks. It helps wire our brains correctly to first search for and highlight the good, then move on to remedies.

I love it when the secular experts “discover” what God has long said is actually really good for us.

“Studies have shown that performing simple gratitude exercises, like keeping a gratitude diary or writing letters of thanks, can bring a range of benefits.”

Christian Jarrett

One notable study followed over 40 participants seeking treatment for depression and anxiety. Half were asked to write letters expressing gratitude before the first few counseling sessions, while the rest formed a control group who attended “therapy-as usual.” Three months later, both groups were asked to perform a generosity task while being measured by MRI.

According to Jarrett: “The participants who’d completed the gratitude task months earlier not only reported feeling more gratefulness two weeks after the task than members of the control group, but also, months later, showed more gratitude-related brain activity in the scanner. The researchers described these ‘profound’ and ‘long-lasting’ neural effects as ‘particularly noteworthy’..[This suggests] that the more practice you give your brain at feeling and expressing gratitude, the more it adapts to the mindset…a sort of gratitude ‘muscle’ that can be exercised and strengthened.”

NeuroImage Volume 128, March 2016, Pages 1-10

Exercising My Gratitude Muscle

YAY!!!! Percimony took steps into her daddy’s arms. So much celebration followed. Perci even clapped for herself. :). I am exercising my gratitude muscle as I rehearse so many things for which I am thankful to God. He is a good, good Father and is helping me renew my mind to think on what is true, what is good, what is sufficient, and what is trustworthy. I can give thanks to Him for everything because He is the ultimate Authority in all my days and moments, and does all things well.

“Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things.”

Robert Brault

Even in the Cesspool

Not the Cesspool!

It smells so bad! Could a person actually get used to toxic odors and it not bother him anymore? Recently I learned about an imprisoned brother who was given the grace to actually overcome the horrid smells of a cesspool and find reasons to be thankful for it.

Chen Min Lin lived during a time and place in history where it was illegal to talk about his personal conversion and the Bible. This pastor shared his faith … to a fault some would say. He was incarcerated for 18 years for this crime. After many years, he was assigned to the dreaded cesspool duty. He felt that he had been given a death sentence.

How could he possibly serve God in the cesspool of this prison, trudging around in a field of filth? But the stink of this field had one distinct advantage (pun intended). He was alone. He would always be alone, and no one would disturb him. And so, it was there in the most awful place that he found communion with his Creator. He would pray, lift up his hands, sing to the Lord, and commune with Him right there in the cesspool as he worked.

It became a treasured place to walk and talk with the Lord, even while cleaning the cesspool. (Click on his name to watch the short video describing his joy of finding joy even in the cesspool.)

How I View My Challenges

How do we view heavy challenges that come our way? I know how quickly I am tempted to complain. Yesterday I was struggling through sitting in a very hot church service. It was a fiery day in the mid-nineties outside and our church was going through load-shedding with no power. So not even the fan would work. I was listening to David teaching a Bible college course for four hours in the afternoon.

As I sweated and tried to fan myself with a paper, I realized how easy it was for me to get irritated with something as little as heat. What about all the Ukrainian believers who are right now freezing to death and starving, going weeks without bathing? My endurance surely was quite lacking. 😦

Oh, how good it is to view our challenges with God’s eyes.

James gives us a great perspective. Hard times build endurance and fully-outfitted maturity:

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

James 1:2-4

New Resolve

So whatever my hard thing is presently, thank you, Lord!

These difficulties have a purpose. They are shaping me. God is using the difficulties to create something beautiful in me … if I will allow Him to do that! In some cases, the hard thing ends up being a growth point, or a growth era, in my life. Though I may hate it now, I will look back and see glory in the cesspool … where my gray prison walls were exchanged for a radiant sun and gentle breezes … where a kaleidoscope of watching eyes were exchanged for the freedom of being alone with God.

“For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God. So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”

2 Corinthians 4:15-18

Help me, Lord God (Simakade in isiZulu), to worship you on the pathways you have chosen for me. You may call me to cesspool duty. You may call me to endure the trauma and unspeakable losses of war. You may call me to a dithering and withering job. You may call me to a disappointing and discouraging marriage. You may call me to something as simple as sweating in a hot African church. But as you choose my path, also choose your largest vial of grace and pour it out on my soul to see Your fingerprints, Your opportunities, Your promises, and Your image being formed in my person.

Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny.

C.S. Lewis

The DNA of Joy is Thankfulness

What is DNA?

Virtually all living things have a programming code within themselves. It is what makes them who or what they are. You have it and I have it. It is, of course, deoxyribonucleic acid … better known as DNA.

DNA: a self-replicating material that is present in nearly all living organisms as the main constituent of chromosomes. It is the carrier of genetic information.

Paul Tripp makes a bold statement when he states that “the DNA of joy is thankfulness.” The genetic makeup of joy is thankfulness.

We need to first come up with a good definition of joy. You can see the word “hap” in happiness, which is a feeling of pleasure based on happenings around us. It is a positive emotion responding to external stimuli. When outside circumstances become difficult, the positive feeling is gone.

Joy, in contrast, is like a hardy plant that grows based on processes taking place on the inside – the replication of billions of DNA. Like a spiritual evergreen that is rooted in the water of life, joy is a slowly growing positive contentment generated by the Spirit of Jesus inside the believer that is not a mere product of my circumstances. Joy generates an inward smile … not flashy spike of outward elation. When outside circumstances become difficult, the inward replication continues and even increases.

But what ideas is the Spirit using to generate this good and positive calmness in my heart and mind? John Piper writes: “Christian joy is a good feeling in the soul produced by the Holy Spirit as he causes us to see the beauty of Christ in the Word and in the world” (John Piper, Desiring God, “How Do You Define Joy?”).

First, the Spirit takes our minds to the Word of God, flipping through its pages to discover the steadfast love of the Lord for His people, His sovereignty over the odds, His ability to bring beauty out of ashes, and glory out of oppression. This builds our confidence in Him for our present struggles.

Second, if we give Him the chance, the Spirit also takes our minds through the world of our lives, our friends, family, and church community to search for His fingerprints, for answers to prayer, for so many things to be thankful for even in our struggles.

If you look at the Word and your world only on the surface, you will struggle to find the beauty of Christ and the splendor of His designs. This is often why over-busy people crash and burn when things go wrong; they don’t have time to search for Spirit-guided insights into the Word and the world. Spirit-led “th(i)nkfulness” requires reflection. The more you think and look for the beauty of Christ, the more DNA of thankfulness you produce … and it takes a lot of DNA to grow this tree of joy.

Carrying Th(i)nkfulness

Paul David Tripp gives us a poem in his book New Morning Mercies that explains how remembering to be thankful to God and all He has done can bring us inner joy:

I wish I always

carried it with me.

I wished it always

shaped the way

I look at life.

I wish it directed

my desires.

I wish it was

the natural inclination of

my heart.

I wish remembering

your boundless grace

would silence

my grumbling.

I wish my worship of you,

my trust of you,

my rest in you

would drive away

all complaint.

If my heart is ever

going to be freed of

grumbling

and ruled by

gratitude,

I need your grace:

grace to remember,

grace to see,

grace that produces

a heart of humble joy.

Paul David Tripp

How This Might Work Practically

Studying Psalm 107 helps to create joy’s DNA. Five times the writer encourages the reader to thank the Lord for His goodness and His steadfast love and His wondrous works to the children of men. He ends with: “Whoever is wise, let him attend to these things; let them consider the steadfast love of the LORD.”

When we cultivate remembering God’s steadfast love for us, and rehearse all that He has given to us, we begin to wind up that DNA double helix of thankfulness that will produce joy. This is great for husbands and wives, dads and moms, at the end of an event or a weekend to call out, “OK, let’s rehearse the good things God did for us this weekend,” and then do a rapid “thinkful volley” back and forth. The remembering gives a rush of new DNA, building joy in us and inspiring us to trust Him for future days.

Life in the Scorched Earth

But sometimes a field fire just torches your tree. All joy seems lost. I am all too familiar with deep sorrow in these past six months having lost a sister, brother-in-law, dad, nephew and other precious things. How can I remember God’s steadfast love when I sit in ashes?

It is precisely when my circumstances are difficult that I need to remember the steadfast love of the LORD. Though He sent the fire and the tree of joy is gone, there is still the rootstock and the DNA of th(i)nkfulness is still replicating. The God of the fire is also the God of the living water underneath me. My God is still on the throne. He is trustworthy even when He allows hard things. He is with me and comforts me. He cares for me even through tears of sorrow.

With enough DNA, the little sprig of joy will pierce the blackened soil, and joy will begin its journey of growth and fullness reaching toward heaven.

Choosing to remember His steadfast love will genetically produce joy.

Anonymous

Schedule It In

Do You Plan?

Do you use a planner? I tend to write things up on my monthly chalkboard in the kitchen and then keep paper slips as reminders. I do love to draw a big fat line through something that I have accomplished. 🙂

Well, we are way into 2022. The days are marching consistently on whether we give them permission or not. Seconds slip into minutes, minutes conspire to slide passed hours, hours suddenly become yesterdays, days blur into weeks, and weeks disappear into months. How are you doing? Staying on top of things or dragging underneath?

Check this out:

Nicolas Brown has designed his own daily planner, which prioritizes tasks, lists issues to deal with, and includes a section on th(i)nkfulness to begin the day with the right frame of mind.

The caveat, of course, to any effort at planning is that we yield everything to the Divine Editor of our moments and days. Proverbs 16:9 states: “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.”

We do our part in planning our day and seeking to discover the will of the Father, but ultimately the Father may have added some twists and turns that were not at all part of our plan. Then, like a good GPS, we must recalculate and embrace His will. That is at least what we should be doing. Living it out could be another story.

Schedule It In

One thing we know for sure that whatever the Father’s will is for us today, it will include thinking thanks. He commands us to give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God for you. (I Thessalonians 5:18). The Lord wants us to be th(i)nkful in whatever situation we find ourselves in. But beyond the incidental, we can schedule that into our day.

Carving those brain neural pathways of th(i)nkfulness is a matter of obedience, but it is so much more. It helps us process things. It promotes mental health. It edifies us. It wipes the lenses and clarifies our biblical worldview. It encourages us to see God’s fingerprints even in the darkest of human challenges. We can rehearse God’s promises to us even when we are overwhelmed and feeling low. Especially then.

  • We need to keep a “big-God theology.” Our God is BIG!
  • He is sovereign in all the details of my life.
  • He is not surprised at my hardship.
  • He knows that, with His enabling, I can trust Him in this season.
  • He gives me His Word as a ‘How To Process.”
  • This life is a vapor and will soon be over.
  • He is coming back for His Beloved Bride.
  • He is using the present situation to conform me a little closer to the image of Jesus as I yield to Him.
  • My peace does not have to be dependent on my circumstances (2 Thessalonians 3:16).

Living Out The Plan

So how do I hit the “Play” button?

Nick uses a paper that he prints off and places it into a disc binder for easy assimilation. You may have a different daily planner. I use a th(i)nkful journal in which I record things at night before I go to bed. I have been doing a th(i)nkful journal for many years now, and it has developed a way of thinking in my brain such that, throughout the day, I am on the hunt for things that will make it into the journal that evening. It pushes me to look for things for which I can give thanks to God. That mental action has become part of my daily plan.

Sometimes I just want to rehearse Scripture in my th(i)nkful journal – so thankful for the living Word of God that can change our perspective and help us get our eyes on things above and not on things on earth (Colossians 3:2).

Just a heads up that it might be helpful to have an accountability partner as you develop this brain neural pathway. Having someone touch base with you and ask how you are doing in that department can be the nudge to keep you carving. 🙂

Here’s my accountability partner.

“The way we spend our time defines who we are.”

Jonathan Estrin

Everything…in All Things

Very, Very Close

Jerry Bridges is one of my favorite authors. His classic, Trusting God, devotes the last chapter to ‘Giving Thanks Always.’ I just re-read that this morning as I am going through this book with a young lady that I am mentoring. Here, at the very end of his exhorting us to trust God even when life hurts, he emphasizes the importance of thinking thanks.

“The basis for giving thanks in the difficult circumstances is all we have been learning about God in this book: His sovereignty, wisdom, and love, as they are brought to bear upon all the unexpected and sudden shifts and turns in our lives. In short, it is the firm belief that God is at work in all things – all our circumstances – for our good.”

Jerry Bridges

The words “in everything” from I Thessalonians 5:18 and “in all circumstances” in Romans 8:28 are very, very close in the Greek and even in English. It is precisely because I can trust that God is working all circumstances together for my good – chiseling, sanding, poking, heating, smoothing and varnishing me – to make me like Jesus, that I can give thanks in everything.

Thanksgiving, the Opposite of Pride

When you give thanks, you are admitting that you received something. You needed something, and then you received it … and so you acknowledge the help, you throw the credit to another person. You are confessing that you are not self-sufficient. You have been dependent. You are a debtor.

While many nonbelievers feel and express their thankfulness, the world’s value system struggles with thankfulness, instead emphasizing what we lack, or mythically claiming that our own inner resources brought us success. Thankfulness toward God is especially set at naught because He is not truly a part of their worldview; they are trying to suppress any recollection of Him.

“Although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.”

Romans 1:21

For those of us who have trusted in Christ alone for our salvation, we are different. Our worldview says that God is close, that He knows and cares, that He sovereignly ordains and orchestrates all our circumstances for our good and His glory. If the trial was no longer developing our good and His glory, it would immediately end. We should feel inwardly compelled to give thanks! Part of the sanctification process started at salvation is to renovate our fleshly tendency of ingratitude into a spirit of gratitude as a fruit of the Spirit working in us.

We humble ourselves before God and cast our anxieties on Him because he cares for us (I Peter 5:6-7). We accept the adversities with His help and give thanks even for “thorns” – the pains, the delays, the heartaches, the frustrations – that come our way. As Thomas Brooks wrote years ago, we should be “mute Christians under the smarting rod,” except for giving the thanks we give for the design in the disaster.

God is Good at Being God

The foundation for how we can think thanks in all circumstances is that we trust a sovereign God. He can handle our trust. He is good at being God. 🙂 Oh, that I would be quick to get to this point.

Always look for the fingerprints. They are all over the place. He is the Master Artist and is taking all the pieces of my life and putting it together for his glory. I can praise Him even when I don’t see the full picture yet. It will be so good.

“The way to cast our anxieties on the Lord is through humbling ourselves under His sovereignty and then trusting Him in His wisdom and love.”

Jerry Bridges

Thinkful in Sorrow

All So Fast

My family has had a lot of sorrow these past two months. In September my sister Sonja and her husband JP both died of Covid within two days of each other. It was such a surprise. Sonja had been caring for my aging dad, now almost 88-years-old. When he picked up Covid, she had him rushed to the hospital. But then she got sick, and then her husband. We had only a few days before JP and then Sonja had passed into eternity.

My aged father made it through Covid double-pneumonia strangely enough, but has since deteriorated significantly and is now on hospice and hoping to see His Savior soon.

Wow! So much… so fast. Death is so normal, so common – millions die every day. But death is not good, and death is not right, and death was not in God’s original design. It takes your loved ones out of view and out of reach, made worse when it does so suddenly, or does so years or decades before their expected departure. It is a witness that this whole earth is broken and in need of fixing.

Thinkful for Future Fixes

Death is no stranger in the Bible – the word is mentioned more than 500 times. Fortunately, Death lost its keys, its teeth, its power and its sting at the cross (Rev. 1:18, Heb. 2:14-15, 2 Tim. 1:10). Those who live and believe in Jesus will never die; their earthsuits will shut down and go to sleep, but the core of who they really are, their soul-spirit, will rise undiminished in freedom and elation to the side of the One who chose them and called them into His Kingdom and family.

For those who walk with Jesus, the fear of death is gone. But one day, Death, as the last enemy, will be vanquished forever (1 Cor. 15:26, Rev. 20:14, 21:4). Amazing. Death will be gone.

Thinkful For Current Joys

We were thankful that the Lord sustained dad so that some of us traveling in for Sonja and JP’s funerals were able to visit with him; he was not snatched away from us. We were also thankful that the Lord chose to heal dad of Covid.

When dad moved into hospice, he was assigned a chaplain. We were so thankful that, in God’s providential kindness, the chaplain had been a missionary, just like my dad. They connected right away about getting the gospel to the lost who have never heard. Now on a regular basis this dear man visits, reads scripture to him, and they pray together. My brothers were able to organize a CD player with a hymns CD that is playing in dad’s room. The old hymns of grace are ministering to his spirit as he rests.

Thinkful for Past Memories

As our hearts ache and we struggle to accept the fact that these dear ones are suddenly gone, we also recount a lot of sweet memories. Just this past July, the Lord allowed me to visit with dad and Sonja three times. One of those times, Sonja shared with me that she had acquired some scripture cards online and was giving them out to people at the bank or the shop, especially if they looked sad. I loved seeing her desire to share the Lord and give hope to people through His Word. Little did we know that she had only a few weeks left.

I think of childhood memories growing up in Norway and how we loved to sled down the hill to where we lived in Brumunddal. Sonja was so daring. She didn’t seem to fear anything. I admired her courage. In the frigid winter months, we would cozy up, and our mom would read library books to us in the evening as we sat with our knitting. When she would come to the end of a chapter, we would always say, “Just one more chapter.” 🙂

A pleasure is full grown only when it is remembered.

C. S Lewis

Processing Sorrow

We live beside the Indian Ocean where the beach is broken up by rock outcroppings against which the waves crash. Grief is like a wave of the sea. It billows so strongly and then subsides, then billows again.

What has been an anchor for my soul in times of deep sorrow over the years is latching onto a special verse from God’s Word. This time I chose Psalm 71:3a “Be to me a rock of refuge, to which I may continually come.” When the waves come, I hold onto the rock, but amazingly the Rock holds onto me as well. With the rock, the waves are not so frightening, and I will not be swept away.

Thinkful List:

  • JP and Sonja went to heaven so closely. They would have struggled so to be left alone without the other. God was merciful and took them together.
  • Dad has had a wonderful life serving the Lord, and now when he is finishing up, he can look forward to his reward and not be afraid to meet his Creator.
  • Chaplain Todd Johnson is being like a balm in Gilead and ministering to my dad. This is such a special kindness to me being so far away here in Africa. Very thankful to God for this.
  • My brothers provided the CD player and dad’s favorite hymn CD to be played in his room.
  • My brothers have visited with my dad, told him they loved him, and he replied that he loved them too.
  • Psalm 71:3a is a comfort to my soul.
  • So many people are praying for us, and it pours grace over us.
  • When you come face to face with death, it helps you to live differently, more purposefully. It is a good thing to clarify your focus, priorities, and goals in life.

May you also find grace to think thanks in your own sorrow!

The Encouragement Board

Shifting Your Focus

“Not again!” she said as her daughter spilled milk all over the kitchen floor. She had barely finished cleaning up the first mess. It seemed like lately all she was seeing were the negative things in her children. She knew that this was not the best way to go through a day, but she was tired, and she was missing her husband since he had to be away working long hours as a Covid nurse. Something had to change!

Let me introduce you to a creative momma who came up with a marvelous idea. Instead of focusing on all the negative things that the kids were doing throughout the day, she chose to look for things that were an encouragement, and she wrote them down on an “encouragement board.”

If she came across something that was nice, she would jot it down ~ maybe the children played quietly for half an hour mid-morning, or perhaps one child said ‘thank you’ without being prompted, or she observed a kind gesture. These were the things that Lori would record.

Then after dinner, she would gather the kids around and read the compilation from the Encouragement Board out loud for all to hear. The kids smiled, giggled and added comments. What a nice way to end the day before bed! The children would head to bed thinking of the blessings that had made their way to mom’s Encouragement Board. And of course, a seed thought was planted in their minds of what they would do the next day that might make it to the board.

We could say that “adversity is the mother of invention.” Below is this precious family.

“When you’re thankful for what you have….the list of things to be thankful for seems to grow.”

Melanie Beckler

Focus is a Choice

When you are going through particularly difficult days, what do you meditate on? It is the slack, lazy and simple mind that goes with the flow; it chooses not to choose; it selects the “slave to external stimuli” mode.

A wise mind embraces the conscious discipline of choosing what to think on. With introspection, it considers options; it rejects lies and worthless, dead-end, dry-well ideas and, guided toward a God-perspective by the Word and the Spirit, selects things more positive and edifying. Thankfulness is at the core of this mindset.

I love how Paul in Romans 12:1-2 challenges us to be transformed in our thinking. The Greek word means metamorphosis, like when Jesus went from His normal appearance into a transformed, radiant appearance. This is no small thing in our lives. It takes mental choice to change thought paths and embrace God’s admonition to give thanks in all situations.

It is easy to be physically lazy; it is easy to be mentally lazy. But in the long run, it can kill you. Following impulses, emotions and the values of the world is just so natural, but God has called us to lives of supernatural thinking, speaking and behaving. How about starting your own “Encouragement Board?”

Practice What You Preach

Crisis

It was late Friday afternoon outside Detroit, Michigan. We were in stop-n-go traffic on I-275 around the city.

David’s peripheral vision saw something in the rear-view mirror approaching fast, and he yelled “Hold on!” All of a sudden we felt a hard hit from behind. Our little Honda CRV was slammed from behind. They launched us up into the truck in front of us and made that truck run into the truck ahead of it.

Confused, but safe in tight seatbelts, we were ok. We did all the things that needed to be done, and in the end, our little brown companion, nicknamed “Coffee,” was deemed totaled.

Opportunity

So here was a great opportunity for us to practice what we preach. We loved that little Honda. She was paid off. David had diligently serviced and repaired her to last for 350,000 miles. She served us well for eight years and was waiting for us whenever we returned to the States. But she belonged to the Lord though, and when He saw fit that her job was over, that had to be ok.

Why Is It So Hard?

When something happens that is not what we had expected, there comes an opportunity to readjust our expectations. We profess that we have left everything in His hands, and that we belong to Him. But when loss actually happens, it still is hard. Why?

It feels like it was not right. It feels like He must have not noticed or protected. We know from scripture that is a lie. He controls and is aware of all things. He even knows the number of hairs on my head (Matt. 10:30).

Adjusting my expectations to what is evidently His different sovereign design is part of “renewing” my mind, and doing so enables me to discern His good and acceptable and perfect will for me (Rom. 12:2).

Plugging In Th(i)nkful

As the moments passed there on I-275, and we got a clearer picture of what God had for us on that Friday afternoon, we had the chance to put th(i)nkfulness into practice. Right emotions would follow right thinking.

We made phone calls to friends nearby and were overwhelmed with how God provided for us. We could see His fingerprints, and so David and I began to list what was good and what would have been much worse but didn’t happen:

  • I was able to communicate with Ann Magee and she and her husband (a pastor near Detroit) were so kind to drive a good distance to pick us up
  • The accident happened near someone we knew and not six hours away from any contacts, like where we had been the evening before
  • We walked away from an accident that could have demanded our lives or have left us handicapped in various ways
  • We weren’t at fault and didn’t have to feel badly
  • Though it made some funny noises, we were able to drive our car out of the way and up to the next exit to a safe place
  • People all over began praying for us; we felt God’s supernatural peace as we rested all things with Him and were thankful (Phil.4:6-7)
  • We did not have grandchildren in the back where they could have been hurt
  • Stephen Magee, a Physical Therapist Doctor, gave us good advice on how to work through whiplash
  • We were able to see how quickly life can change unexpectedly; the reality of every day being a gift was etched more deeply into our mind.
  • Don and Ann were so gracious to let us borrow one of their cars to complete our long trip reporting to churches and supporters
  • God allowed this accident to happen at the end of our State-side time so we were able to finish our trip up with no further need for a car before heading back to SA

Have The Renew Plan Ready

When opportunities arise that were not expected, we have to have our ‘renewing our mind’ plan ready to put into action. God’s Word is the agent of renewing correctly. We are allowed to pour out our hearts to the Lord (Psalm 62:8) and yet He asks that we are thankful in every circumstance (I Thessalonians 5:18).

Having a plan ready with truth-anchors could prove very helpful indeed.

  • I Corinthians 10:13 promises that God has checked my test. He is faithful, and with me, and will give me a way of escape as I call out to Him. My circumstances may not change, but the way I see them can.
  • Romans 8:28 promises that God is using all things to conform me to His Son. The happenings of my day are not random. He is using them to make me like Jesus as I respond like Christ would.
  • Hebrew 13:5b-6 promises that the Lord is with me and will not forsake. He is my Helper.
  • Philippians 4:13 promises that I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
  • I am loved by my Creator even if He allows pain in my life (Psalm 119:71).
Don and Ann Magee ~ blessings flowed through them upon us

God is God and I am not.

He is completely trustworthy and does things well. I may not agree with or understand His ways, but I can trust His character and wait on Him to give me direction for each step forward.

May you be able to discern that good and acceptable and perfect (GAP) will of God in whatever twists and turns He has for you!

Picture That

Wait One Second!

“Can you just hold this for one minute?” She was getting her phone ready to snap a quick picture. “There, that’s good,” she called out.

My friend had started this habit of discovering one blessing she was thankful for each day and snapping a quick picture of it with her phone. What a fabulous idea! She would have to back up all these photos eventually, but there was still room for a lot of photos.

This is my beautiful friend. I met her at a university where we were part of a conference. She has been on my daily prayer list for a few years now. God allowed her to go through some very deep waters of sorrow.

God is trustworthy, but He certainly does not promise that our paths will be free of sorrow and pain. In fact, His Son had plenty of sorrow and pain during His earthly journey, and He instructed each of us to pick up our cross and follow Him (Luke 9:23-24). Expect the difficulties.

She and I were able to meet for just a few precious moments and catch up. Her eyes were glittering with new life. She was drawing deeply on grace from our precious Lord Jesus who promises to give that life-giving water.

She shared a new habit that she was developing in her life. I was impressed, so I asked for permission to share it and she gladly gave it. Here it is: Every day she seeks out one thing to take a picture of that is her blessing for that day. I LOVE it!

Picture The Blessing

Now, think about what you would take a picture of today if you were to do that. Would it be the water that you have available? Would it be the air conditioning if it is super hot … or a heater if you are cold? Would it be a picture of a book you are reading … or an instrument you love to play or listen to? Food? So many options.

My friend had found hope and joy in life by concentrating on being th(i)nkful. She was intentionally looking for things that were blessings in her life. Hearing her describe her newfound habit was so inspiring to me.

In this blog, I have recommended speaking out or writing down what you are thinkful for. This adds a third practice – take a picture of it. So, now I want to look for things and capture my thanks to the Lord digitally.

Recall Mercies

Jeremiah reminds us in Lamentations 3:21 that when we call to mind the steadfast love of the LORD and His mercies, we have hope.

“But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope. The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.”

Lamentations 3:21-23

My friend had lost both a husband and a mother in the not too distant past. One was to an excruciating long road of cancer. I know that many of you have also gone through, or are going through, similar difficult roads. The Lord knows in great detail what you are experiencing. He feels with us more that we can imagine. Our human perspective is to want immediate relief. If He loves me, why did He let this happen? Why does He let it continue? I know that is what it feels like, but God is God and I am not. He sees things bigger and farther than I do. He wants me to trust Him even when it hurts like crazy.

Because of these truths I can thank Him for my circumstances:

  • God does not lie.
  • He promises that He knows what He is doing.
  • I can trust Him.
  • This life is a vapor, but the Lord and His Word will last forever
  • He has promised to never leave me nor forsake me
  • He has counted all the hairs on my head
  • He has loved me with an everlasting love
  • His Son is coming back pretty soon

When we begin to recount all of what the Lord has done, hope seeps in and begins to fill our empty, achy souls. It will eventually come right. He has promised. Keep your eyes on Him and cry out to Him to help you start to see all the gifts, the sweet things, the blessings, and the encouragements around you.

What will you take a picture of today?