Gratitude Is a Gift for All Seasons

The distance around my elliptical driveway is one tenth of a mile. I know this because I drove around it, watching the odometer—and then did it again just to be sure. This fall I’ve been doing a careful jog-trot around its leaf-strewn gravel, a compromise intended to jump start a flagging metabolism without putting undue wear and tear on aging joints and narrowing spinal interstices. Five times around with the dog makes for a half mile of elevated heart rate, deep breathing, and an uncluttered brain. Of course, the gift of those empty mental parentheses is that I get to decide what I’m thinking about while I’m avoiding loose stones in the path and thanking God for the fiery red Virginia creeper and the rusty orange of fading marigolds. Lately, I’ve been following the example of Jeremiah, the Old Testament prophet who watched the nation of Israel disintegrate before his very eyes.   In Lamentations, he records the morbid details around the sacking of Jerusalem and the devastation of siege warfare:
  • Chapter 1 — The Lord is punishing Jerusalem for her serial idolatry.
  • Chapter 2 — Yes, it is time to lament the sin, the death, and the loss.

Turning a Corner into Gratitude

Then, twenty verses into Chapter 3, Jeremiah turns a corner and makes a choice. He leaves his mental parentheses open just long enough for an act of the will, and, shutting out the evidence for despair that lies all around him, he “calls to mind” a new thought that gives him 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.  ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him.’ The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.”  (Lamentations 3:21-26)
You’re invited to join me today at the writing home of my friend Jeanne Takenaka to ponder along with me the nature of a sinewy faith that summons gratitude when chaos reigns. Every blessing, Michele Morin
If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular content delivered to your inbox. Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page. I link-up with a number of blogging communities on a regular basis. They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week. I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers. Photos by Vanessa von Wieding and Rich Wooten on Unsplash
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Following the Instructions for a Grateful Heart

One morning, deep into the throes of our kitchen renovation, it dawned on me that I had no idea where our toaster was. Having reduced breakfast to the lowest common denominator of toasted bagels with cream cheese, my quest for the toaster was more than idle curiosity, and when it showed up in the furnace room, I was too relieved to bother with self-recrimination or even the why behind its whereabouts.

I’m no Martha Stewart even under the best of circumstances, but renovating our kitchen has stripped away any semblance of gracious living. For now, with the dining room piled from floor to ceiling with boxes of kitchen cabinets waiting to be installed and with electrical wires hanging like spit curls out of every wall, I’m just thankful to put any kind of meal on the dining room table—which, last time I checked, was in the living room.

At this point, I should apologize for making much of what is clearly a first-world problem. My access to reliable electricity and clean, safe running water puts me in company with the privileged 40% of the world who can join me in turning on a faucet to wash a plate or fill a glass. This, along with the fact that I’ve functioned just fine at this address for twenty-five years with our old, unsightly, and insufficient kitchen set-up makes me wonder why we are putting ourselves through this painful process. The word on the street (which, of course, comes to me through Facebook) is that, while the process is wretched, I will be very thankful with the end result when it is done.

The question that nags and will not be ignored is this:

Can I be thankful NOW?

Knowing what I know about the sovereignty of God and the blessing that comes after the patient submission to process, can I practice gratitude in the midst of the mess?

I’m not interested in a bait and switch in which I light a candle, practice a brand of skillful denial of the obvious circumstances, and then declare myself patient or grateful–at least for the moment. According to the Apostle Paul, gratitude is more than a spontaneous response or a pumpkin-spice-feeling. It is a matter of obedience to the will of God.

Author and poet Wendell Berry put words into the mouth of a fictional, elderly widow named Hannah Coulter who, in addition to being a crackerjack farmhand when needed and probably making a great pie crust, also had a clear handle on her biblical theology:

“You mustn’t wish for another life. You mustn’t want to be somebody else. What you must do is this:
‘Rejoice evermore.
Pray without ceasing.
In everything give thanks.’
I am not all the way capable of so much, but those are the right instructions.” (Hannah Coulter, page 113)

Following the Instructions

In this season of gratitude and pumpkin lattes, I will be focusing on those “right instructions,” knowing full well that I, too, am “not all the way capable of so much.” And yet this business of obedience to the Spirit of God is not to be confused with Operation Bootstrap. It is, rather, an operation by which, “the very God of peace will sanctify me wholly” through purposeful rejoicing in what is given and a prayer life that images the inhale and exhale of breathing.

Rolling into the month of November, whether your greatest challenge is deciding between pumpkin and apple pie** on the day of the feast–or whether God is choosing this season to grow you through adversity that makes my kitchen renovation look like a walk in the park–let’s return to the words of Paul in the way we turn to our recipe for fool-proof gravy, knowing that even though we are not “all the way capable,” the instructions are good, for they are absolutely true, and they are given to us with love:

 Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (I Thessalonians 5:16-18)

Giving thanks,

Michele Morin

**P.S.  My advice:  Go for a small slice of each.

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The Beauty of Sacrifice and the Joy of Giving

It’s the terminal milestone on the parenting journey:

“I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.” III John 4

Even so, there are a good many ways of measuring its achievement. It’s what we aim for and pray for, but how do we know that are children have made the leap from following their parents’ faith to actually “walking in truth” on their own?

Kristen Welch would argue for two measuring sticks:  Gratitude and Generosity. In her first parenting book, Raising Grateful Kids in an Entitled World: How One Family Learned That Saying No Can Lead to Life’s Biggest Yes she reminds readers that if we want our children to appreciate their blessings and to operate out of gratitude rather than entitlement, we had better be modeling the right heart attitude ourselves. One of the ways we (and our children) demonstrate our gratitude and our biblical understanding of the role our possessions and our bank accounts play in our lives is by holding them with an open hand.

In Raising World Changers in a Changing World: How One Family Discovered the Beauty of Sacrifice and the Joy of Giving, she follows up that initial message with stories from her experience in establishing and operating Mercy House, “a ministry that exists to engage, empower, and disciple women around the globe in Jesus’ name.” As her family has traveled to strategic locations, they have seen poverty and suffering first hand, and they have been changed by it. Even as their efforts make small but measurable changes in the world, they are learning the impact that being a World Changer can make upon an entire family as they share their parents with others, welcome visitors into their homes, and give up their rooms for long-term guests who need a place to stay.

The backstory Welch shares is that “the beauty of sacrifice and the joy of giving” can also wear a family thin like an over-used dish rag. Therefore, it’s important to develop family-care strategies, open communication, and healthy boundaries to provide respite and privacy for a family of World Changers.

We Are Where We Are for a Reason

The Welch’s story began with a question, posed by a young Kenyan teen to Kristen’s daughter Madison:

“Why do you think that I was born here in Kenya and you were born in America?”

She might as well have asked, “Why was I chosen for a life of suffering and you for a life of privilege?” Madison’s answer was perfect:  “Maybe I was born in American and you were born here because I’m supposed to help you.”

The point of Mercy House ministries and Kristen Welch’s writing is to float before North American Christians the consequential truth that we are where we are for a reason. (21) God, the Greatest Giver, has strategically placed His people with our spiritual and material abundance to respond to the needs and the suffering of others.

“In economic terms the global North (United States, Canada, Western Europe, Australia, New Zealand)–with one quarter of the world’s population–controls four-fifths of the income earned anywhere in the world. Inversely, the global South (every other country)–with three quarters of the world’s population–has access to one-fifth of the world’s income.” (51)

Four Ways to Live Generously

The Welch family has learned how to become a bridge. They straddle continents to connect the resources of the haves to the great and glaring needs of the have-nots. The truth is, however, that every believer can be a bridge right in our own homes, communities, and churches:

  1. See the people around you. This requires more than just observing people; it means stopping to notice them.
  2. Spot the needs in others’ lives.
  3. Scatter kindness by donating a meal, offering childcare, or providing needed transportation.
  4. Start over with number one. When we make this a way of life, it changes everything.  (55)

This practical giving is how we love others well, and Welch ends each chapter with a set of tips for practicing generosity. Some are exceedingly mundane such as hosting house guests and asking kids to give up their rooms or paying it forward at the drive up. Others are more philosophical and poke us in the reasons we do what we do such as letting our kids fail as a natural consequence or giving our time away without complaining.

Another practical feature at the end of each chapter is a set of questions to stimulate World Changing conversations around a dining room table or in the mini-van on the way to band practice. The questions come pre-test-driven as Kristen provided her own children’s answers to queries including:

What do you value most?
How can parents encourage kids to grow?
Why do you think some people have enough food and some people don’t?

The role of a parent who wants to raise World Changers can feel very risky. We want our kids to be happy, comfortable, and safe. However, if we shield them from reality and protect them from life, we train them to live small and to take shortcuts. The providence of God is equal to anything our children encounter as they serve God, and John Piper uses Scriptural stories to back up this line of reasoning:

“Life is not a straight line leading from one blessing to the next and then finally to heaven. Life is a winding and troubled road. Switchback after switchback. And the point of biblical stories like Joseph and Job and Esther and Ruth is to help us feel in our bones (not just know in our heads) that God is for us in all these strange turns. God is not just showing up after the trouble and cleaning it up. He is plotting the course and managing the troubles with far-reaching purposes for our good and for the glory of Jesus Christ.” (140)

Raising World Changers in a Changing World is not merely a book for privileged Americans about giving back. It’s a book for the rich and the poor, the haves and the have-nots about “giving it all.” (163) If we agree with the premise that God has placed us where we are for a reason, the blessings God heaps upon us are not merely to change our own lifestyle. God may be calling you and your family to change a life. He may be calling you to change the world.


Many thanks to Baker Books for providing this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with complete honesty.

I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. If you should decide to purchase Raising World Changers in a Changing World: How One Family Discovered the Beauty of Sacrifice and the Joy of Giving or Raising Grateful Kids in an Entitled World: How One Family Learned That Saying No Can Lead to Life’s Biggest Yes, simply click on the title (or the image) here or within the text, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

Blessings to you and your World-Changing Family!

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Following the Trail Back to Hope

Sometimes it’s the very thing that makes you wild, the thing that feels as if it may be your undoing, which ultimately saves your life. For me right now, the pebble in my shoe is a 15-foot speed boat parked parallel to the north side of our house. The college-aged son is a project magnet who resurrects dead motors for fun and profit, so this is just the latest in a parade of snow mobiles, outboard motors, go- carts, and things that go vroom which have come to heighten the hillbilly panache of this country hill in Maine.

On the other hand, when I recall that his tinkering has made him eminently employable, and when I consider all the lesser things an almost-19-year-old could be doing with his free time . . .

And so, annoyance finds its grumpy way back to gratitude, and I follow its trail to the other transitions–much grittier and more sensitive–that need to happen around the fault lines in my following life:

  • The dizzying yo-yo of the number on the scale holds me in awareness of this truth: It is only by grace that we ride the bucking bronco of temptation to its mastery;
  • An overwhelmed middle-age brain keeps me depending upon God for strength in my weakness and for the next sentence whenever I teach or write;
  • My slow-to-hear-quick-to-speak way of finishing peoples’ sentences and igniting small, unnecessary brush fires reminds me every day to put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience just as I put on my shoes or my makeup.

Meaningful change often follows on the squeaking hinges of regret and repentance.

The Transition to Hope

In the waning weeks of Israel’s existence as a nation, Jeremiah tutors my soul in this spiritual discipline of transitioning from annoyance to hope. The record shows that he had invested 23 years of his life faithfully delivering an unpopular message of God’s impending judgment to a people who much preferred happy talk from lesser prophets with dubious motives. His reward for services rendered was a sentence of house arrest in the palace of disgruntled King Zedekiah.

Transition into Hope, G.K. ChestertonAs Babylonian armies camped around Jerusalem and hammered together their siege ramps outside the city walls, Jeremiah purchased a field in an act of unreasonable hope. Of course, according to G.K. Chesterton, “It is only when everything is hopeless that hope begins to be a strength at all.”  Pushing against hopelessness, Jeremiah handed over his seventeen shekels because, in his mind, God’s promise of restoration and return to the land was as real as the shining silver in his hand.

When the siege ramps of despair are already leaning against the walls of my heart, that trail back to hope seems like more of a journey than I can manage. And of course, it is–apart from God. Likewise, reading on, I see Jeremiah, by a power that was not his own, transitioning into a glorious paean of praise:

“Ah, Lord God! Behold, You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and outstretched arm. There is nothing too hard for You.” (Jeremiah 32:17 NKJV)

Seeing this, the “Ah” of Jeremiah becomes an “Aha!” on my lips as I discover, as if for the first time, that there is nothing—no transition, no messy in-between—too complicated for God. He stands ready to help when I lean into the impossible or find grace to forgive the unforgivable. His Great Power is put on display in surprising ways as His outstretched arm effects the miracle of another day’s transition into hope.


 

Thank you for joining me today on the path toward hope,

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I link-up with a number of blogging communities on a regular basis. They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week. I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

Thanksgiving Prayer

For those of us in the United States, this is a day of thanksgiving. However, gratitude is not circumscribed by geographic boundaries. Nor do we need a calendar’s permission to leave room for gratitude, so . . .

LORD, we thank you!
We confess that our hearts are often full of ourselves, for we mistake self-importance for self-worth and make much of every burden, so today we thank you for all the good that you have piled into our lives by your grace.

Thank you for the successes and the victories that embolden us to risk more.
Thank you for the setbacks and disappointments that send us in new directions.

Thank you for the people we enjoy who bless us and enrich our days.
Thank you for the folks who require a concerted effort and Outside Help in order to love them as we should.

Thank you for the steady stream of blessing that comes to us through your love: healing, forgiveness, redemption, mercy, renewal, welcome, peace.  May we “enter Your gates with thanksgiving and Your courts with praise” no matter what the season of the year.

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Thanksgiving Celebration and Lament

Nearly thirty years ago, I married into a family that celebrated Thanksgiving Day with All-American fervor, featuring a day-long gathering and a loaded table. As the new bride, I was eager to prove that I had what it took to be the holiday hostess. Having done my research, I had planned all the best sides, multiple-choice pie selections, and a huge bird to fill the oven — but I had not planned for my mother-in-law’s life-threatening illness.

We rejoiced when she was released from the hospital on the Wednesday before the Big Day and decided to take the party to her place. As we rose early to prepare the feast, she was delighted to be present for all the kitchen activity, savoring the aroma of fresh rolls and roasted turkey from her recliner. We set the table with her best china, rolled out the amazing feast, and gathered for the celebration.

It sounds perfect, doesn’t it?

But read on . . .

CaptureI’m sharing the whole story over at (in)courage today, and the truth is, I have spent the years since that first fiasco of a feast slowly learning that whenever we gather on this planet, it is for an imperfect celebration in which our only hope for joy is to look squarely at the empty seat, at the strained relationships, at the flawed execution of all our Pinterest-worthy plans.

And then to give thanks.

I’m giving thanks for you today! May your season of Thanksgiving be filled with joy and an abiding gratitude for all that God has given — and for the Giver Himself as He presides over your celebration.

To finish reading this post, click here and join me today at (in)courage!

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November Musings — 2016

4988 — Warm zucchini bread smelling like a cinnamon candle

4989 — Church supper to celebrate our new pastor and our family connection

4990 — Clanging of wind chime in the chill autumn breeze

On the Monday before Thanksgiving Day, I recorded gift number 5,000 in my gratitude journal — confirmed evidence of God’s goodness to me every single day of the past year.  November always seems to mark a collision of holidays, but it’s especially true this year since I spent quite a few hours of the past month working on a new Advent banner (just like ours, of course!) for my oldest son’s family.  I can’t begin to describe how thankful I am that he wants to lead his family in remembering the Greatest Gift Who entered this world in an ordinary moment, in the fullness of time.  We’ll be doing the same thing at our house in December, just as we have for the past twenty plus years . . . such good memories and such promise for the future.

On the Nightstand

I can’t get enough Christmas poetry this time of year, and Luci Shaw’s Accompanied by Angels is a faithful friend.  Poems of the incarnation, these have been collected from Luci’s other books AND from her annual tradition of sending a Christmas poem to family and friends. (What a great idea!)

And even though I’ve finished reading Ann Voskamp’s new book, I keep going back to The Broken Way because of the breaking and the giving away, the timely exhortation to “live given.”

On the Blog

I have been overwhelmed this month by encouraging comments from friends who have read A Legacy of Striving, my reflections on our Sister, Eve.  As usual, I am grateful for the hospitality of the SheLoves community where I was able to share the truth that Eve’s story drives home:

Only God is equipped to be God,
and when I trust Him for the unknown quantities that furrow my brow,
when I say the words, “Your will be done,”
I join hands with Eve in remembering
And in waiting for the plan of God to be fulfilled,
For He will stop at nothing to restore and to reconcile.

Do we need any further evidence of this than the story of Christmas?

The most viewed post in November came out of our collective frustration and angst surrounding the election here in the United States.  As I was bracing myself for the difficult task of going behind the curtain, it occurred to me that my choice of words, attitudes, and responses on the day after the election was over would be even more important than the choices I made in the voting booth.  In the aftermath of the political hurricane, maybe this Prayer for November 9th is still relevant?  Certainly, the Scripture that inspired it will carry us a long way into grace:

“Let Your mercy, O Lord, be upon us,
Just as we hope in You,”  (Psalm 33:22).

Just for Joy

Is it just my imagination, or is there more music in the world the closer we get to Christmas?  Since September, our family has been practicing to sing in the Living Christmas Tree, so the carols and the beauty of the Word made flesh have been singing their way through these autumn days.  (Yep, that’s me on the right in the next-to-the-top row!)

And thanks to my friend, Susan Shipe, here’s a first for Living Our Days!  We held a drawing for the giveaway of her lovely book, 31 Days in the Gospel of John, to one reader on Thanksgiving Day.  My adorable grandson reached his tiny hand into a blaze orange hunting hat (we are pretty high tech here on this country hill!) and selected . . .  drum roll, please:

Ariel Tohme

Congratulations, Ariel!

I hope many of you will visit Ariel’s writing home, His Grace Goes Deeper, for a blessing in words.

Thank you, Susan, for stirring things up around here, but even more for compiling your reflections on the life of Jesus just in time for Advent, a reminder to 21st-century readers of the Gospels that Jesus is not a two-dimensional Savior, trapped on the page or in the past.  He is alive and active in our day, and a commitment to read about him for 31 days is only the beginning.  God has given us an eternity of days to savor the beauty of Jesus, to turn the Truth over in our minds, and to let it sink deep into our prone-to-wander hearts.

An Announcement for January

Most of us have a favorite C.S. Lewis book, whether it’s the incisive practical theology of Mere Christianity or the glorious story-telling found in The Chronicles of Narnia.  It turns out that C.S. Lewis’s favorite of all his books was Till We Have Faces.  One Lewis scholar calls it his “most subtle treatment of the relation between good and evil.”  It’s a novel, based on the mythical tale of Cupid and Psyche, and in it, Lewis explores themes such as the selfishness of human love, the limits of reason, the corrupting effects of self-will, and in Lewis’s own words, “the havoc a vocation or even a faith works on human life.”   I’m planning to lead a discussion group about the book starting in January, and am hoping that many of you will join me, so here’s a quick overview of the plan:

  1.  The pace will be leisurely at three chapters per week (about 30-ish pages), which will take us into the beginning of March.
  2. I will be posting weekly starting January 5 (Thursdays) with introductory material and a detailed reading schedule.  My hope is that the comments section here at Living Our Days will become a comfy living room where we can discuss our thoughts on the book.  If you blog, PLEASE plan to include a link to your post about the week’s reading so that we can all benefit from one another’s impressions with more detail than is possible in the comments.  If you don’t blog, no worries.  Just share your thoughts in connection with the weekly reading here, and be sure to visit and respond to others.

More details to follow!  Please weigh in below with your thoughts on the discussion group.  Have you read Till We Have Faces?

Thank you once again, friends, for another month of encouragement through our conversations about books and about Truth.  As we begin our celebration of the mercy, the forgiveness, the promise, and the welcome that flow from the birth of our Savior, may our hearts rejoice together in this spectacular evidence of God’s “never stopping, never giving up, unbreaking, always and forever love.”* 

//

Photo credit for Living Christmas Tree:  Beth Birmingham at Village Soup

* Quote from Sally Lloyd-Jones’ amazing words in The Jesus Bible Storybook.

Be sure to hop on over to Leigh Kramer’s place to check out what she and others have been into and up to during the month of November!  I’m also sharing this post at Emily P. Freeman’s Let’s Share What We Learned Fall 2016.

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the box at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.