Saturday, February 21, 2015

Attitude of Gratitude

Isn't February a dreary month? Or is it just me? For a short month, it seems to stretch out forever! Happy holidays long gone, Spring nowhere in sight - it can really wear on a person after awhile...

This year, I decided to be proactive. In the hopes of brightening up this dismal month a bit, I issued a gratitude challenge: #28DaysOfThanks, inviting others to join me in deliberately giving thanks for something every day in February. And so every evening for the past three weeks, I've sat at my computer and considered my day, my life. To my surprise, it didn't come all that easily. It was a bit of a challenge to pick out the few bright spots in my days for which I felt I could genuinely give thanks. There have been quite a few hard things that have come across my path this month, and it's been difficult at times to sift through them and find the silver linings. But they were always there, and after I'd completed my short list, there was always a little glow in my heart that wasn't there before.

That's all well and good - it's been an excellent discipline; but it just occurred to me that maybe something is slightly askew in my thinking about gratitude. I mean, should I really only be thankful for the good, the positive, the excellent, the pleasant, the lovely, the beautiful, the fun? A little verse tucked away in first Thessalonians provides a very clear answer: "Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." (5:18) I'd forgotten - again! It's amazing how little it takes to distract me from the truth. 

Financial hardship, relationship issues, real estate worries, parenting dilemmas, job hassles, health concerns, even weather woes - in all these things and more, I am instructed to give thanks. Maybe it's being a little nit-picky, but the word "in" is really significant to me here. I don't think God's necessarily asking me to give thanks for these things, but to rejoice always because He's in it with me - ALWAYS! I can intentionally train myself to focus on God and His presence and power in the midst of my trials and anxieties and sufferings and sorrows. God promises me that this will make a difference:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, 
by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, 
present your requests to God. 
And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding,
will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
(Philippians 4:6,7)

These verses have been among my favourites for a long time, but it's only been very recently that I found the real power that resides in this passage. It's a beautiful trade-off any way you look at it: I give God my worries, He gives me His peace. But a little question always niggled in the back of my mind - why do I have to go first? I present my requests, then He gives the peace? That's not how God generally operates, from what I've seen. He takes the initiative, He makes the first move, He provides the faith and the motivation and the strength and the courage, and I respond...So, although I have always drawn comfort from these verses, they confused me a little, too. 

Along comes a simple devotional a few months ago that points out the tiniest of details, and opens my eyes to the real game-changer.  I had never paid too much attention to the four little words that directly precede the aforementioned passage: "The Lord is near." The Lord is near! See how it changes the whole tone of the passage: 

The Lord is near.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, 
by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, 
present your requests to God. 
And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding,
will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
(Philippians 4:5b-7)

That's what makes all the difference! That's how I can "not be anxious about anything" - God is right here with me, just waiting to hear my prayer and bear my burden and replace my worry and fear and doubt with His peace. Like I said above, He's right there, in the trials with me, protecting and comforting and guiding and empowering me to give thanks, to rejoice, to worship, to leave it all in His completely capable hands and appropriate His incomprehensible peace and rest.

So, thank you, Father - thank you for all of it, and for being right here with me in it, always. Amen. 

Monday, February 9, 2015

Hard Things

#ICanDoHardThings  This hashtag first appeared on my radar sometime last year - a friend of mine had determined to run every day for a month, and this was the handle she attached to her efforts. I've seen it in other places, too - referring to everything from Bible memorization to healthy eating to weight lifting to de-cluttering and more.

It intrigued me. It stirred up something in my soul. Curious, I thought at the time, since I had spent most of my life avoiding hard things. And not just passively, hoping nothing hard would come my way. No, I actively steered clear of anything that smacked of hard work or challenge; anything that might require the least bit of perseverance or self-discipline or will power or effort or discomfort...In the spirit of the lazy perfectionist I was, I only spent my time on that which came easily, naturally. Any momentary lapse of sanity that involved trying something new and difficult was almost immediately followed by a plethora of excuses and justifications, inevitably leading to the abandonment of said hard thing. Since this was so often accompanied by guilt and shame and self-condemnation, the lapses became fewer and fewer and farther and farther between. 

Then, a few years ago now, I began this real joy journey and started facing up to these fears and failings. I started trying things that came a little less easily. And I fell - a lot. 

But falling down was never in question, was it? We all fall - often, regularly, frequently, even. I used to be just terrible at getting back on my horse. I'd wallow around in the mud of self-contempt for days, weeks, months even; shaming myself for falling, telling myself all sorts of awful lies and half-truths - and more often than not continuing in the very habits and behaviours and thought patterns that got me there in the first place! And when I was finally able to escape that trap and set my feet back on solid ground, I often found myself right back at square one, or worse...

But then, especially lately, but probably always, there's this:

"Hard things just keep calling you because 
you're meant to answer to higher and better things." 
~ Ann Voskamp  

I'm finding myself in completely uncharted territory here, people - I actually want to do the hard things! I really do! And I'm doing them! And surprise, surprise - the hard things are turning out to be the "higher and better things"! What joy and satisfaction I'm finding in taking small, hard steps towards my goals and dreams. 

The only drawback is, besides the difficulty and complexity of the hard things themselves, is that when I fall, I'm falling from a greater height than before (not something I'm used to, believe me), therefore falling harder, with a much louder BAM! However, in spite of this, I'm finding it increasingly easier to get back up again, to get back on track and heading in the right direction. These verses from Philippians are helping with my focus: 
"But one thing I do: 
Forgetting what is behind 
and straining toward what is ahead,  
I press on toward the goal to win the prize 
for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus."

And this one, paraphrased slightly:

"I can do hard things through Christ who gives me strength."

What hard things are you up to these days? Let's journey together, "forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead"!  We CAN do hard things through Christ who gives us strength!

Monday, January 26, 2015

A Post Full of Things I Don't Want You to Know, But I've Just Gotta Share Because God Said So

I'm feeling pretty beat-up today. And just guess who's doing the pummeling? (love that word) That's right, no one but me. 

Confession #1: I am a Messy. With a capital M.  As I go about my work today, I'm ashamed to note that my house is dusty, dirty and disorganized. Once in awhile I'll make an effort to whip it into shape, but it always falls back into chaos eventually. This is a life-long issue I've made very little progress on over the years. It was (more-or-less) fine when I was younger and single - I could be as messy as I wanted to be when I lived alone. (And I was - I have a regrettably high tolerance level for dirt and disarray.) But add a family into the mix, and there are issues. Expectations. This has provided me with a steady income of shame.

And then there's yesterday. I led worship for the first time by myself from the piano. I don't know what I was thinking. What appeared a courageous and obedient leap of faith in the moment only seems vain and presumptuous today. In hindsight, I'm so ashamed to think that I made both God and myself look foolish. And no amount of positive feedback to the contrary (of which there was a good amount) is convincing me today. 

To be perfectly honest, I feel like I'm failing at this new life I'm trying to make for myself: our financial situation is still strained, I"m still months away from producing anything of any value, and I'm horribly afraid. I hate feeling like this! But the truth is, in each of these situations, I've done the best I could with what I've got. I need to keep doing that, and let go of the guilt and shame. I guess God wants to deal with shame in me on a whole new level. (Man, I thought we were done with that one! See A Very Happy Anniversary for the back story...) Even in my present state of mind, I'm quite sure that this is not what God has in mind for me. Fear and doubt and guilt and shame are not from Him. 

I had a crazy thought the other day. Someone named Lisa Bevere wrote: "I dare you to stop being afraid of your strengths!" I read it twice before it sunk in, and it made me wonder if I'm as afraid of succeeding as I am of failing. This in-between place in which I find myself is relatively safe - starting the ministry, writing the book, recording the CD, etc... It implies progress without much accountability or expectation. I could probably hang out here in limbo indefinitely, and be perfectly ok with that. 

But what I did yesterday - that was NOT safe! That was terrifying! That was putting my money where my mouth is, that was do or die; allowing for the possibility of judgement, expectations, criticism, even rejection and ridicule...I mean, how often do I do things that terrify me? How often do I take risks? Hardly ever. I hardly ever do things that really challenge me, that really put my faith to the test. That really try my skills and determination and courage and limits. Generally, I'm a chicken, a coward. 

The last really scary thing I did was agreeing to, and going through with, seeing a counselor in an attempt to save our flailing marriage. That was a risk that definitely paid off! But that was months ago. Before that, the only brave/crazy thing I can remember is quitting a job I didn't love to pursue this calling to ministry. But I don't know if a few courageous decisions can make up for a lifetime of apathy and roads not taken. 

Maybe this ties into my whole anti-surprise stance? I prefer the safe, the predictable, the comfortable, the known. I guess most people would admit to that. But why? Why am I so afraid? To take risks? To take chances? Even to have people disagree and disapprove? Why? What am I so afraid of?

Well, I don't know. If you're looking for answers, you've come to the wrong place today :) But at least I know where I am. I guess that's where I start. Instead of living here in limbo-land, I'll keep taking little risky steps into the (great?) unknown. 

And I can do that. I know who God is, I know who He says I am - and I know I can trust Him. I can be fearless and peaceful and joyful and brave. I can be willing to put myself out there, knowing that He'll catch me if (when?) I fall. This is the truth. And the truth can set me free.