Thanksliving

Last year on each day of November, I tried to post something I’m grateful for. Didn’t want to mess with that this year. Basically, I’m grateful every day.

This jar sits on the windowsill by my desk. It’s getting filled with little slips of paper that have expressions of gratitude for, oh, just a lot of little and big stuff with which God blesses me. I take them out every once in a while and read them to remind myself of how faithful He’s been. When it gets full, I toss them.

This week I put in a piece of paper expressing gratitude for a thoughtful friend who invited me to join her family for Thanksgiving dinner. “What are you doing Thursday? Got any plans?” Well, no, as a matter of fact, I didn’t except maybe to go to a local spot that is serving a traditional meal for free. Figured I’d see lots of people there that I know.

When you’re single and your family lives far away, the holidays can be hard. I’ve spent many of them alone. Not complaining, but I surely am grateful for people who recognize a small need and respond.

I suppose this jar reminds me that we can practice thanksliving all year long.

Be a blessing to someone today.

 

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Foodie, Zucchini and Grace

Playing Hostess

Several years ago, when I was a member of our church’s choir, I invited four of my fellow choir members over for dinner. The main dish was Chicken Breasts Diane; I tried my hand at twice-baked potatoes for the first time; the vegetable was steamed zucchini; and the dessert was a sugar-free, fat-free cream-pie-thing I whipped up.

Everything was going well when my friends began to show up. I’d coordinated the cooking so that the food would be ready to set on the table hot from the oven and stove. The last thing I did was to steam the zucchini so it would still be hot when I placed it on the table with everything else.

You know how steamed veggies seem to get cold fast, right? I didn’t want them to be cold.

Backstory

Rewind to a couple years earlier. I’d been in a near-fatal automobile accident and came out of it with numerous injuries. One of those injuries was a fractured sphenoid sinus. (Say THAT three times fast.) The sinus was supposedly healed, but one residual effect was that I couldn’t smell odors unless I was right on top of them.

It’s caused problems more often than I like to admit.

Dinner, continued

As the zucchini steamed away, so did the water in the bottom of the pan. Carol, who had been watching things progress, said, “Paula, your pan is on fire.”

Yep, it sure was.

The pan had boiled dry and, well, it was time to turn the burner off. “Oh, wow,” I said. (Or something like that.) I took the pan off the stove, put the zucchini in a bowl and set it on the table with the rest of the meal. We sat down, said grace, and began to eat.

Everyone took a little of everything, I guess, including the steamed zucchini. Dinner conversation was a little stilted after a few minutes until I took a bite of my green veggie.

smelly-zucchini-lady“This stuff is burnt!” I said. “Why are you guys eating it?” I scraped it to the side of my plate. I apologized to my friends and, you know what? They were so kind to me. I was so embarrassed. My smeller didn’t catch the scent of burnt zucchini and no one said a word.

Now that’s love in action.

“Foodie Fail”

They sat there eating that scorched zucchini and extended grace to me. Every time I think of this episode in my life––and believe me, with a nose that doesn’t work like it should, there have been many such episodes––I laugh.

In fact, I’ve been laughing out loud the whole time I’ve been writing this blog post.

But I also feel extremely grateful.

We’ve all had our cooking failures. I have some that have nothing to do with not being able to smell.

Since it’s the day after Thanksgiving, I thank Amy, Carol, Brooke and Carol for the gift of grace. You know, of course, grace is unmerited favor. I surely didn’t deserve what they offered, and friends who love like that are worth keeping.

Next time, though, I’m going to nuke the zucchini.

Not Just For a Day, But Always

In the U.S. we take a day to recognize our gratitude for what we have. We call that day ‘Thanksgiving.’ Traditions have been established based on what we believe happened when settlers from Europe first came to the continent. happy-thanksgiving-always-gratefulWe didn’t even have a name for where we were yet. The land belonged to the natives. But we worked with them and showed gratitude for making it through a difficult time.

I don’t know the whole ‘thanksgiving’ story associated with our history. I’m sure my old school lessons had some focus on it. What I do know is every day there is something to be grateful for. Even when I feel frustrated and alone, I know what I see in front of me isn’t the whole story.

My vision is limited.

God has a plan for the days when that ‘abundant life’ seems a little too much. Despite my sometimes grumpy attitude, gratitude in an acknowledement of God prevails.

24/7 Thanksgiving

The Secrets in the Box

Scraps of paper with scribbling on them populated a lidded box which was a gift from a friend. Periodically, I would add another scrap of paper to the collection. Occasionally, I took the scraps out to read them. I should have been scribbling more often and reading even more often.

My scribblings were praises to God for answering prayer, for meeting a need just in time when I hadn’t even prayed for it, and for giving me the strength to get through a difficult time. I called it my God Box.

Last week, after submitting another scrap to the box, I realized it should be full and even overflowing. I was paying attention to God’s faithfulness, but not recording it as a visual reminder. That may not matter to some people, but since I’m someone who journals and likes a written record of what matters to me, it mattered to me.

A Solution in a Jar

I begin most days–or end the evening–by creating a list of things to do. Years ago I began the practice of writing in colored marker at the top of the list “Be Grateful.” The practice of constant praise also matters to me, but I’m weak and often selfish so I need a reminder.flower-wreath-thanks

Another way of reminder, which is solving the problem of too few scraps of paper, was to place the scribblings in a place where I was more apt to notice them. Now, on the windowsill near my desk sits a canning jar full of papers folded up with my scribblings on them. I can’t help but see that container. The open blinds let the sun in and the sun shines through the glass. I see the folded slips of colored paper and, voila, my gratitude and God’s faithfulness are in clear view.

Since placing the jar in the window, gratitude doesn’t seem to be so secret. For sure, no one else needs to know, but like I said, I’m weak. I need all the help I can get.

From the Little to the Large

Gratitude for what God gives and what he does in my life has slowly become a way of life. As I drive around town, I often say, “Thank you, Lord,” just for the joy of seeing wild turkeys or a deer standing in a patch of grass. Little things can make me smile and I thank God for the pleasure of seeing critters in the city. (You should have heard my squeal of delight the day I left church and saw a red-tailed hawk swoop over the parking lot grasping prey in its talons.)

I’m also convinced he’s at work behind the scene and aware of my needs. How else to explain the woman at the thrift store drop-off station asking me if I need a twin mattress? I’m not sure what the look on my face said when she asked me. I was simply watching her wrestle it to the door. But, yeah, I was long overdue for a new mattress. I answered in the affirmative and she and her son loaded a name brand mattress––one-year-old and in pristine condition––into the back of my van. Then a couple guys from my church wrangled it into my apartment and took the old one to the dumpster. I would never have been able to afford that mattress, nor do the lifting myself.

That was a big thing. I know I shouldn’t be amazed at this. But I suppose keeping a sense of wonder at God’s works reminds me that, yes, I’m weak. I can’t do it all myself and he’s taking care of me.

Any Time is a Good Time

The jar sits on the windowsill for me to see every day. God’s goodness and blessings stand for me to see daily as well. I just need to keep my eyes open. When I can’t see something tangible, all I need to do is remember his mercy, new every morning. I pray to not take for granted that every good and perfect gift comes from him. Not only the things I can touch and see but the abundant life that faith allows me to know exists even when I may not “feel” like I have it.

I strive for a practice of constant praise. To “Be Grateful” 24/7, and not just because it’s on my To Do List. After all, Thanksgiving time is coming here.

 

The Best Christmas Gift

Is it too early to talk about Christmas gifts? I think not. This coming Sunday is the first Sunday in Advent. Those who celebrate the Christian calendar mark Advent with a variety of activities.  Advent gives us a chance to recognize the coming of the Savior and the gift that He is to the whole world.advent-candles-5

Today in my small group we talked about forgiveness. The subject always brings to the forefront various emotional responses.

Comments by my friends indicated that, like many other people, they sometimes have a difficult time forgiving. Some have a difficult time accepting forgiveness; especially the complete forgiveness of God.

During our last fifteen minutes we answered some questions from the book we’re studying. The final question asked us to compare one of the best Christmas gifts we’ve ever received with the grace we receive from God.

From our discussion and from what I’ve learned from scripture, here are some ways our traditional gift giving differs from God’s gift of grace.

One Size Fits All
When we receive a Christmas gift from a family member or friend, that gift was chosen specifically for us. On the other hand, God’s grace is for anyone, no matter who they are. The grace God extends to teachers, mechanics, CEOs, presidents, those in prison, people with disabilities, entrepreneurs, geniuses and baristas is one size fits all. God is no respecter of persons. The same grace that saves a blogger will save a movie producer. No kidding.

Shelf Life
Traditional Christmas gifts all have a shelf life. Even the most carefully constructed technology or the most expensive jewelry eventually shows wear. Rust and moths destroy. But the grace of God is never ending. His mercy is new every morning. God’s gift of grace will always be the same and will always be there when we need it. It never wears out.

Price Tags
That bubble bath, the golf clubs, your new iPad, her Barbie doll and the TV set as big as your living room wall come with a price tag you know is set in dollars, pounds or euros. However, God’s grace is immeasurable. The price tag attached to His grace is the life of His only Son. Who can put a price on a life? Who can put a price on the Son of God?

The Incomparable Gift
Anyone can bestow a gift we feel, see and experience with our senses. Only God can offer the perfect gift of His grace. Fur coat? Expensive cologne? Surround sound stereo system? No comparison at all to what God gave us in Jesus.

The Holidays All Come Together
As of this writing, tomorrow we’ll celebrate Thanksgiving in this country where I live. Then Sunday is the first day of Advent. Christmas, the day we celebrate Jesus’ birth, comes soon afterward. Gratitude, expectation and anticipation, and worshiping the Messiah’s birth make this time of year special for those of us who believe in Jesus and what he did for us at the Cross.

It’s not too early to talk about and think of Christmas gifts. Especially if the gifts we’re excited about are God’s acceptance of us, His love for us, and His grace toward us.

Happy holidays.
And come, Lord Jesus.

Gratitude Breeds Contentment

Oy! My body aches. I had surgery six days ago and have two incisions in my back. Swelling in my feet and legs has stretched the skin so badly I can’t wiggle my toes without pain. Because of the pain associated with the incisions, sometimes I tense up. Then my shoulder and back muscles ache.

Not only that, but when I sit in my chair, I must take a deep breath and slowly lean back until I’m in the right position. Then, because I’m now monitoring my blood pressure every day, I must take some deep belly breaths and relax before I push the button on the cuff. It all hurts.

But–

The surgery I had has proven already to be a success. I know the incisions will eventually heal and won’t hurt anymore. I have medicine now to relieve the swelling in my lower limbs. I’m beginning to relax more when I move to avoid aggravating the site of the staples and stitches.

I can breathe. I’m able to cook for myself. I can climb the few stairs to get mail from the mailbox. I don’t need help getting dressed or bathing.

I’m grateful for those things that I might often take for granted.

During November I’ve been posting each day on Facebook and Twitter something for which I’m thankful. It would be easy to say I’m grateful for that parking space I got close to the grocery store yesterday. I could say I’m glad I have a good book to curl up with. The list of simple things like that could go on and on. I am grateful for those things.

However, I’m trying to post things I’m grateful for that are true promises of God or things which I know come from the truth of scripture. In fact, I’ve been including scripture in each post or tweet.

This time of year, people are thinking about Thanksgiving (yes, Christmas already too) and they’ll be more apt to look at a gratitude list. My practice is to include thankfulness in every day. At the top of my daily To Do list the words “Be Grateful” appear in a thick blue line written with a Sharpie.

Every good and perfect gift comes from God. (James 1:17) My breath, my healing, the ability to dress and cook for myself are only because God provides. I also know the pain and inconvenience I’ve experienced are allowed by him.

Knowing this, I’ve learned to be more content over the years. Of course, I don’t like pain and inconvenience. But nothing that happens to me is a surprise to him. He uses it to perfect me. How could I not be grateful, knowing this?

My prayer for you is a Thanksgiving Day spent in a way that you see all the goodness in your life. Praise God for it. Then look at the trials and inconveniences and praise God for those too. You know why. (James 1:2-4) Because through them you’ll realize you’re growing. One hopes to also be more content each day.

Be grateful for a good meal, friends and family if you celebrate with them, a warm home to live in and, most of all, for every promise God has made to you.