Wednesday, November 23, 2011

More Than Turkey!

Thanksgiving -for me it conjures up images of school projects about pilgrims, Indians, a big feast, & the Mayflower.Then my mind rolls on over to today's Thanksgiving of eating too much from a wonderfully rich and amazing meal, surrounded by relatives that I don't see often enough with the blaring noise of football in the background.

Not bad images - I'm sure lots of people would love to have memories of Thanksgiving that don't involve family fights, heavy drinking, shouting matches, or other sad or lonely recollections. I'm blessed... no doubt about it.

But much of Thanksgiving's essence has been forgotten. Thanksgiving was begun as a 3-day party to say thanks to friends who helped the Pilgrims make it through the trial of learning how to survive in a new environment. It was a time to make and strengthen friendships. It was also a time of being Thankful to God, their Creator, Savior, and Provider. It was time to worship as they believed they should, in their own ways!  They celebrated their bountiful harvest by sharing with each other.  They also celebrated the fact that so many of them had survived the trip across the ocean with all its hardships and diseases. It was a time to remember those who had been lost. Winter just about wiped them out...but spring had come just in time and God provided a teacher named Squanto to show them the ropes of surviving in this new wilderness. (These pilgrim city slickers needed all the help they could get!) So they celebrated their new life in this amazing land!

So, in keeping the tradition of Thanksgiving alive, be sure this Thanksgiving you take time out to say Thanks:
To God who has provided every good and perfect gift- both your eternal life and a life full of blessings here and now
To family (biological or chosen) who have supported you through life's tough times and loved you in spite of your faults
To friends, without whom life would be a lonely adventure
And for life itself, with its lessons & tests. Remember those who have influenced you by passing their life lessons on to you. Remember those who you have loved and lost, and honor their memory by loving those God sends your way. And don't neglect to forgive those who have harmed you or hurt you in some way, just as God has forgiven YOU.  Let Thanksgiving be a new beginning in your life!

While every day should be a day of Thanksgiving,  remember at least on this one special day to say Thanks - even if you have to do it at halftime between second and third helpings of your favorite indulgences!!


Monday, November 21, 2011

A New Look at Thankfulness

Although the florist was just a few blocks away, I had to will myself to trudge down the street. It had not been a good year; in fact it had been a while since it had really been a good year. It seemed that everything that could go wrong had! And now it was time to prepare for Thanksgiving. “Thankful for what?” I thought as I continued to make my way toward the florist.

Fall used to be my favorite time of the year - until it became the season when both of my parents passed away. A recent move had taken me away from the friends and family I have known and loved all my life. Financial hardship, pressure at work, and bouts of extreme loneliness made me feel as though my world was collapsing around me. To make matters worse, no one would be able to be here this year to spend the holidays with us. It certainly wouldn’t be much fun to do all the seasonal preparations knowing that there wouldn’t be family or close friends to share the season with. Prospects for a happy holiday seemed as distant as the California beaches I grew up near!

As I reached the florist, I opened the door to find a smiling woman behind the counter. “A regular Pollyanna” I thought. “I’m glad Someone is able to be happy!” 

“Good morning“, the clerk said. “What can I do for you this beautiful morning?”

“I need a Thanksgiving arrangement,” I said. “It doesn’t need to be very large because it’s just the 2 of us this year.”

Just at that moment, a harried mom with three toddlers crashed through the door. “Good morning, Sally” the mom said. “Just running in to pick up my order!”  “Be right back,” Sally said. She disappeared into the back room and reappeared with a box of roses - the strange thing was that the roses had no blossoms.  Sally smiled as she handed the box to the mom. “Special as always” the mom said as she handed Sally the money for her “arrangement”. “Have a great Thanksgiving and I’ll see you before Christmas!” And with that, she and her kids headed out the door.

“Uh, what kind of arrangement was that? She paid for roses with no blooms? What kind of florist is this?”

“Well,” Sally said. “It’s actually…” but before she could finish her sentence, a nicely dressed man walked in. “Just here to pick up the wife’s order” he said with a grin. “Ok, Ken. Be right back!” Sally reemerged again with another florist box - and the same blossomless roses inside! “Thanks, Sally. Happy Thanksgiving! Oh, and ma’am, I highly recommend the Special!” He grinned, turned, and headed out the door.

“You call that the Thanksgiving special?” I stammered. “A bouquet with no blooms? Now I’ve heard everything!”

“Well, you see, a few years ago I was feeling exactly as you are today. My parents had both passed away, my children lived too far away to travel home for the holidays, & we were in financial trouble, unable to go to them. I was as lonely and miserable as I’ve ever been. The holidays loomed ahead like a thick, black cloud. I was anything but thankful! Then God showed me something that I’ll never forget. I was trimming up some roses when He spoke into my heart. He said, “Sally, you’ve always thanked me for the good things I’ve given you but I want you to learn to also thank Me for the thorns. “

“I realized that what He was saying was that while His good gifts are easily seen and appreciated, we often learn much more from the things He allows us to experience that seem hard and harsh. I’ve learned to trust Him and to look for His lessons in everything that comes my way, not just the obvious blessings. Don’t misunderstand me. The hard things are still hard - loneliness, illness, grief, financial struggle; these things are still Thorns, but I’ve learned to give thanks for them just the same. I know that God is in control, that He has my best interest always in His mind, and that He will see me through. It’s not that the thorns have disappeared, it’s just that my attitude towards them has changed. I don’t fear them anymore, and have learned to thank God that He trusts me enough to know that I will let Him help me through whatever comes!”

“Hmm! I think I understand now,” I said. “Since we are supposed to be thankful in every circumstance, and for all things, the thorns remind us that even though painful things happen, we wouldn’t appreciate our blessings as much if life was always just full of Roses!”

“I think you understand perfectly,” Sally said. “It takes both sunshine and rain to make rainbows. And without thorns, roses are too vulnerable to bloom.”

“You have sure given me something new to think about this year,” I said. “I will take one of your Thanksgiving specials…and Happy Thanksgiving, Sally!”

As I walked home, I thought about what Sally had said and silently prayed:
Dear Lord, I have so often thanked You for all of the wonderful blessings You have given me, but I have never thanked You for my thorns. I know that You are always with me and that You shield my life from everything that would truly harm me. You love me enough to let me learn life lessons of trust and courage, and through those things I learn to appreciate Your care & faithfulness. Thank You for the things that are hard and painful. Help me remember, Lord, that You experienced many thorns during your walk on earth, and you endured them all for me, including the crown of thorns You wore on the cross. My thorns are nothing compared to what you have suffered. So I am going to learn to be thankful in spite of my circumstances. Thank you for Sally and her willingness to share this lesson with me. I love you, Lord, and I Thank you, even for my thorns…Amen!

**So... As you go through the Thanksgiving season, remember to thank God for your thorns, for the lessons you have learned or will learn from them, and the experiences with God you will someday be able to share with others. Perhaps you can share some of them around your Thanksgiving table or over coffee with a friend in the coming days. Whenever and however God leads, just remember to thank Him. He is always faithful, always there with you, and always loves you with the purest and most precious love possible.
(Deut.7:9; Jer.31:3; I Thess. 5:18, Ro. 8:28, 38-39)

Happy Thanksgiving! I love you! Jan
***This story was revised and adapted from a story circulating on the internet that was written by George Matheson (I think). Perhaps its message will turn into a tradition in your home! I know it has changed how I view Thanksgiving! God Bless you!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A little reminder...

The 1st Christmas Card of 2011
 Twas 2 months before Christmas, Halloween had just passed,
when all thoughts turned to holidays coming up fast!
The PC Police had taken away
all mention of Christmas - a "religious" holiday.
The children were told by their schools not to sing
about Shepherds and Mangers and Angels and Kings.
It might be offensive, the teachers would say,
& it's now called Winter Break anyway!
It's not  about Christ, or what He came to bring.
(That old fashioned notion is outdated and boring!)
So get busy and write down your long list of "needs"
from the latest high tech toys to designer jeans! 
Black Friday is coming, we must check the deals
& buy all those gifts and pretend they are "steals".
The shoppers will come with their cash, checks and credit,
Pushing & shoving just to get the "right" present.
The Carols we loved and waited to hear
have all been replaced with Santa, Frosty, & reindeer!
The store clerks are frenzied, the crowds rude and rushed,
& the lines are unending, though we complain and fuss!
But Something is changing, there's something quite odd!
Is the only "offender" the true Living God?
While speaking of Christmas remains a "taboo",
other religions' holidays are unanimously approved!
Retailers promote Ramadan and Kwanzaa -  
could it be that the goal's an "anti-Christian" agenda?
If there's protest it's touted as crass bigotry -
  The "enlightened" push Toleration & Di-ver-si-ty!
In both House & Senate, there arose a great clatter
To eliminate Jesus, in all public matters.
The true Gift of Christmas was exchanged and discarded
The "reason for the season" lost before it got started.
Nativity scenes must remain packed away,
replaced by a Santa, reindeer & a sleigh.
"Church & state" must keep separate, they say
so the courts all mandate that it must be this way...
And we spoke not a word, as they trampled our rights.
We gave in much too quickly, too "Christian" to fight.
So we enjoy 'Winter Break', and the "season of cheer"
but remember the true meaning of this time of year .
Don't give in to pressure. It's still OK
to say MERRY CHRISTMAS, not Happy Holidays !
It is Christ's birthday after all
and though your efforts may seem quite small
this little witness, this change of phrase,  
will be to God as a shout of praise!! 
 "Merry Christmas, friends, & Happy Birthday, Jesus!!"

Friday, November 11, 2011

Not our father's war...

It was another beautiful Sunday in Hawaii, and yet within just a few hours, devastation and chaos would set events in motion that would change thousands of lives forever...Young men, most in their late teens or early twenties, didn't hesitate or plot an escape but proudly and without coaxing signed up to serve - the lines to enlist were long and silent. Within a few short months, many would be dead or missing; many others would be physically or emotionally disabled. Thousands of families would be torn apart by grief and all who had loved ones serving were gripped by the fear of possible loss. The innocence of high school & college days quickly vanished into days filled with responsibilities too weighty for those who were expected to carry them. And yet, there was no whining or protesting. Sacrifice was accepted as the appropriate payment for the continued gift of the freedoms America had come to know. They served without hope of attaining individual glory, but believing that America's way of life was worthy of their lives if it was needed.  Not one came home unchanged.  Those fortunate enough to return physically unscathed still carried the images and memories of war. Though women were often protected from the details, all who served had a brotherhood and bond with all others. Sometimes, there were funny stories that could be exchanged but there was always a seriousness underlying it that was never taken lightly.  It was not just a day of infamy, but a half-decade.  And as we look back, the victory that we as Americans eventually obtained was not always certain.  Without the hand of God, the determination of men, and the fierce belief in the rightness of the cause, all could have been lost. No one who served or lived through those days takes our freedoms for granted. Men, women, & children all paid different prices, but paid dearly.

And now here we are...devastation and chaos reign in America again but of a different type. We have a crisis of economic failure which has been combined with global fears of terrorism and a vacuum in leadership.  Wars on many fronts are being waged - between banks and their customers, between companies and their employees, between citizens and their government. Instead of these things bringing us into a unified fighting machine, we devour each other in greed & fear. Our country is split into factions: the haves and have-nots, the right & the left, the "tolerant" and the bigots, the young and the old. Pride has been replaced with skepticism and patriotism looks back to "the good old days". Families are splintered, children lack parenting, authority of all types is ridiculed, and Biblical values are considered old-fashioned.

We are certainly headed toward the cliff of complacency. America needs to wake up and retrace its steps back to God. His plan for us, as a country and as individuals, is the only one that will bring us the results we are desperately seeking. We need to regroup from our losses, revisit our successes, and rekindle the pride in America and love for each other and for God that will give us something worth living, and if necessary, dying for. We need to honor those who have sacrificed and served by living our best life - not one of compromise and complaining. We need to look outward rather than continuing to focus on ourselves. Only then will we discover that giving is the prerequisite to receiving and that knowing God through a study of His Word is the only path to peace of mind, heart, and spirit. As we do this, we will also find that our only hope for victory in this hour is surrender - surrender of both our gifts and our failings to our Creator who can use them for His glory & designed plan, surrender of our hearts to the One who loved us enough to die for us, and surrender of our lives to the One who can orchestrate each day to fit perfectly into the pattern of His will.  Only then can we hope for God's continued blessing of America!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

And though he was poor, yet he was rich!

He was desperately poor - ripped shirt, worn and frayed pants, trash-worthy shoes, no socks. He had a totally unkempt appearance, with a straggly beard, stringy hair, and smelling of a desperately needed bath. His shopping cart held various "treasures" that were precariously stacked or tied. A threadbare sock tied at his waist would hold the proceeds from today's scrounging for cans and bottles. What he would do with his profits and where he would go would be of little concern to anyone. He was just one of many who crossed paths daily at this center but whose stories remained untold. And yet there was something about his eyes - a kindness that was visible behind the smudges.

This particular day was miserably hot and humid. Everyone was rushing to finish the laborsome task of recycling bottle after bottle.  The machine was not cooperating as it struggled to keep up with the demands placed upon it. The attendant, a man too old for this type of work, hustled from one machine to another, trying to coax them into continuing their task. As he labored and struggled, sweat ran down his face, his back, and his arms. Customers, impatient to be finished, spoke to him in clipped demeaning tones and angrily responded to any small delay. It was a miserable experience for everyone involved.

The homeless man didn't seem upset at all as he pushed bottle after bottle into the recycler. When he had completed his task, he took his receipt and walked into the store. A few minutes later, he emerged with a large orange Gatorade in one hand and his dirty sock in the other. He handed the bottle to the recycling attendant and started to walk away. The attendant began searching his pockets for the cash to give him but the homeless man just turned and smiled. "It's on me today, man" he said as he walked off, pushing his cart and humming to himself.

I could barely choke back the tears.  How many times had I come here to recycle and had never thought to show such kindness to another? This was the Bible in action.  I thought of several passages at once...the widow giving her last cent in service to the Lord, the many exhortations we have to show our love by our actions, the passages about showing favoritism to those who "look right". But the one that struck me the most is in Matthew 25.  Jesus divided His "followers" into sheep and goats by whether or not they fed Him, gave Him a drink, visited Him, clothed Him, welcomed Him and cared for Him when He was sick! It was actions, not words, that made the difference.

The old song says "They will know we are Christians by our love" - works of thoughtfulness and kindness, deeds of selflessness and generosity. Those things shine a light brighter than any testimonies we could share or sermons we could preach. And thanks to that homeless man, that lesson has again be revived in my heart - and now hopefully I've rekindled it in yours too!

*adapted from a story in "Answering the Invitation", a blog by Katchen Weaver (My precious daughter in law)

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Twin Spirits & Soul Mates

Baby Anthony was fussy and restless. Nothing we did at that moment seemed to soothe him until we laid him on my daughter's lap next to his twin sister.  Instantly, he calmed and visibly relaxed. It was amazing to watch. They weren't facing each other and didn't even seem to see each other, but the change was dramatic and instant. My daughter looked at me and smiled - "It's a twins thing, I guess" she said.

Though not in the physical sense, I have a spiritual "twin" like that. If you have a true friend, a soul mate, you know exactly what I mean. No matter what upsets we are facing, what tragedies loom, even what irritations surface to throw us off, true friends calm and comfort us just with their presence. Words are unnecessary, especially in the darkest of times, because they just "know", and that knowing brings a sense of peace which needs no explanation. They know that we know, but they give us our needed space during the immediate crash. Soul mates don't spout judgments or trivialize our pain with platitudes. They don't abandon us because of their own lack of words, either. Instead, they lift us up, encourage us, & strengthen us just by being there.

The other priceless gift they offer is that they let us spew our fear-filled, negative, sometimes irrational thoughts without interjecting, correcting, or one-upping us with their own stories. They listen with their hearts! When appropriate, they may give us new perspectives, remind us of familiar truths, or help us see the bigger picture when we're focused on our molehill but they wait until the initial emotional crisis has calmed. Their patient silence is truly golden!

 Because we can rest in the security of that kind of love, we know that even if the problems don't go away, someone is there that truly "has our back" through it all. Someone knows, someone cares, and someone shows it with their faithfulness and love.

I am blessed to have soul-mates who have proven themselves through time and circumstance. But I also have a relationship with the ultimate soul-mate - my God. He knows me intimately, not only my thoughts but every circumstance of my past, present and future. He wrote them all down before I was born and orders them for my good! As wonderful as my earthly soul mates are, there are few times when they can actually change my circumstances...but God can do just that!  He has the power, the authority, and the desire to orchestrate my life to be what He wants me to be! He also cares - He gave the ultimate gift of His Son's life in order to save me, so what would He hold back?  And He is faithful in love. He will never leave me, even when I push Him away, because His love is stronger that my pain.

I hope you have soul-mates: both physical ones that you have found true, and the ultimate One who has loved you before you were ever aware of Him - your Creator!  If you know Him, be sure you keep that relationship strong. If you don't know Him yet, He's right there waiting for you to reach out and find Him. You won't regret it!