Category Archive: Giving thanks

How do we Handle Stress?

Recently I mentioned starting a “gratitude journal.” It’s been two weeks now, and I looked back today to see some of the items I noted.

I’ve dealt with insomnia for at least a year. I’ve tried different remedies, some of which helped for 3-4 nights and then stopped. During the last two weeks there were only two nights when I was awake ’til the wee hours. Some of my best friends are also dealing with this issue so I’m not sure if it’s age, stress, or what, but I’m so grateful to be sleeping more regularly–a repeated thanks in my journal!

Some of my other entries:

  • A wonderful hubby who loves me unconditionally, cares for our yard and does a great deal to help me around the house
  • A delicious dinner and meaningful outdoor visit with a nephew and niece
  • Phone calls with Arn and Carol, a brother and sister-in-law; and with a niece in New York
  • Dinner with friends at social distancing
  • Encouraging, challenging online sermons
  • Beautiful, sunshiny days
  • Naps!
  • Making edits on the novel I’m writing
  • Several good walks in our neighborhood

And one morning as I drove, I sang (in my scratchy, breathless voice) “I love you Lord and I lift my hands … to worship you, O my soul rejoice.” I turned on a favorite Christian music station and … they were singing the same song, almost at the same point I’d been at when I turned on the radio. That was like a kiss from my Father. He put that song in my heart–and affirmed it through the radio.

I’ve found that focusing on those things for which I’m grateful is helping me deal with the stress of Shelter in Place, of the bad news that abounds in our media, of isolation.

I’m also encouraged by the example of godly men and women. I see pastors finding new ways to serve their churches, through online services, drive-through communions, outdoor and/or drive-in services. Mount Hermon, a Christian conference center near us, has produced four wonderful online concerts through July’s four Saturday evenings.

Museums are offering virtual tours. Grocery store clerks work hard to pack and deliver online orders.

In the midst of this awful pandemic, good is still happening. Too often we (I) focus on the negatives. I get discouraged and disheartened. But God is still good–all the time. No matter what we go through, what challenges we face, He is with us. He loves us as our caring Father. The prayer Jesus used to teach the disciples to pray was addressed to “Our Father.”

Some have not have good fathers. Some have had horrible fathers. I’m reading a memoir now about such a father and it’s heartbreaking. But if we had a good father, as I had, we need only think of Our Father to know He wants to care for us, walk with us through life, and take us to eternal joy in His presence when we pass from this earth.

So let’s be people of thanksgiving, of praise to the God who will never leave nor forsake us.

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 NIV

7 Ways Gratitude Helps Me

I walked into the garden section of a popular hardware store near us and looked for tomato plants. I found them–tiny wisps of leaves. I asked “Aren’t there any bigger than this?” But no, that’s what they had.

Don grew a lovely crop of tomatoes on our deck last summer, so I bought three small plants–a Roma and two cherry tomatoes. None were more than three inches high.

We’ve watched them grow almost daily. It’s been such fun to see them–six inches, nine inches, then a foot tall. Their growth has been phenomenal until now, about six weeks after I purchased those little seedlings, they are a good five feet above the planter–and wide–and we see bunches of green tomatoes developing.

Note the tallest shoot is above Don’s head and he is 6′ tall!

It seems like a miracle that these tiny seedlings have grown noticeably almost every day since I brought them home.

So how do we grow in our walk with God, especially in these turbulent times?

Gratitude is one aspect of our growth. Like many, I have gone through cycles of faith, fear, depression, and angst over the past months.

I’ve been through difficult times before.

I lived in the inner city of Los Angeles for ten years and had dear African American, Hispanic, and Asian friends. But I and the women with whom I lived and ministered were also threatened with dismemberment and death. I recall fearful nights going to sleep praying, “Lord, I don’t know whether I’ll see you face to face in the morning, or will have another day to live, but I am yours.”

1970’s staff photo

I faced anguish when I lost my first husband to death.

I grieved at the losses of a nephew, my father and most recently, my mother.

But God’s view is so much higher than mine. He sees the big picture. He sees what will draw people to Himself. And His love is so great He sacrificed His only Son, Jesus, to become a man, live among us, die a cruel and heartless death at the hands of false accusers, and rise again. And this God, who loves us with unlimited, unconditional, unending love has commanded us to thank Him in every situation.

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

I Thessalonians 5:16-18

The late A.W. Tozer, American Christian pastor, author, magazine editor, and spiritual mentor, said “A thankful heart cannot be cynical.” And how easy it is for me to become cynical in this time of racial and political unrest, where I can’t have my faith-friends come alongside me to sit with me and challenge my wrong thinking during those cycles of fear.

Dr. Rick Hanson has studied the happiness factor.

The brain is like Velcro for negative experiences, but Teflon for positive ones.

Dr. Rick Hanson, Neuroscientist

So if, as Hanson attests, it takes five good interactions to make up for one bad one, we need to be people of gratitude, persons who notice and thank God, not only for the blessings He has given but also for the opportunities to grow which are inherent in difficult times.

One way of increasing our “attitude of gratitude” is to keep a gratitude journal. The UC Davis Emmons Lab has studied effects of such journaling extensively and found that those who kept gratitude journals on a weekly basis experienced a host of benefits: (see https://www.dailycal.org/2015/03/06/happiness-keep-gratitude-journal/).

  • They exercised more regularly.
  • They reported fewer physical symptoms.
  • They experienced better sleep quality and duration.
  • They felt a greater sense of connection to others.
  • They were more likely to have made progress toward important personal goals.
  • They had higher levels of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, attentiveness, and energy.
  • They felt better about their lives as a whole.

Perhaps instead of fearing the future, we can ask questions like these.

  • What do You want to teach me?
  • What do I need to change? What attitudes or biases do you want to root out in me?

And then thank Him.

  • Thank Him that He is in control, and that nothing happening in this world is surprising to Him.
  • Thank Him that He loves you completely, fears, joys and all.
  • Thank Him for this opportunity to learn more of what it means to rely on Him day by day, to trust Him for the future.
  • Thank Him that He wantw to teach us what is good and honest and just and pure and lovely, and to change our hearts accordingly. (Philippians 4:8)
  • Thank Him that He is a good, loving Father who has promised never to leave nor forsake us. (Hebrews 13:5)
  • Thank Him for family and friends who love and encourage and challenge and strengthen us.

I want to be like those tomato vines on our patio. I’m going to start a gratitude journal. Want to join me?

Joy and Pain in Tandem

I was part of an extended family who lived together in the ghetto, in men’s and women’s staff homes. We ate together, worshipped together, and ministered together. When one of us, or of those to whom we ministered, was hurting, we all hurt. When we learned of incest, of some of our young teens selling their bodies, of the death of some we loved, we shared the pain.

  • In case you don’t recognize me, I’m the one sitting on the floor, top right photo; and the blonde on the right, lower left photo.

When gang members threw bricks through the women’s staff windows and we received threats of death or mutilation, our staff guys came and sat with us ’til two or three in the morning, until we were calm enough to sleep for a few hours.

When our teen girls taught us white Mennonite girls (who didn’t dance) their moves, I was the proud winner of the dance contest. Yes, there were only three of us in competition, but still …

When a few of us drove down the street and saw a woman in a phone booth, bleeding, we stopped to help.

We laughed and shared retreats, Bible studies, and music together, within our staff and with our teen choir. We prayed and saw God answer prayers for us, and for community members. We led Bible studies, teen and children’s clubs, distributed food and clothing as we became aware of specific needs.

Many teens, and some adults, committed their lives to Christ during the ten years I served there. And while it was a time that eventually resulted in burnout, fatigue, a decimated immune system, and some long-lasting painful effects, there is still so much for which I am thankful.

I’m thankful for …

  • The God whose heart is for reconciliation, so much so that He sent His Son, Jesus, to be sacrificed to provide the way of reconciliation between God and mankind … for me, for the world.
  • Co-workers who ministered together amid fear, joy, and the reward of seeing children, teens and adults reconciled to God through Christ.
  • These dear friends who challenged me, and each other, to look to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.
  • Those who came to faith in Jesus Christ, who now have established Christian homes and are living out their faith in their communities.
  • The opportunity to serve, to rely on God in unfamiliar situations, to watch Him work through my weakness.
  • Deep friendships that were broken for a time, but have been renewed, reconciled, and are meaningful and rich with love.
  • Family and friends who prayed for and supported us in the ministry and its challenges (and after!), and for the wise, godly counselor who helped me heal after leaving this ministry.

So, sometimes joy and pain co-exist. The loss of a dear spouse, when there is joy for the years spent together and that suffering is over, alongside the agony of loss.

The pain of illness along with the joy of growing nearer to Christ.

The loss of a friendship along with thankfulness for God’s presence within the pain. And sometimes, the reconciliation of those friendships.

Can you think of a time when you felt both pain and joy in a situation? When you experienced reconciliation? How did that encourage your heart?

“All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

“But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’ Therefore, I will most gladly boast all the more about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may reside in me. So I take pleasure in weaknesses, insults, catastrophes, persecutions, and in pressures, because of Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

II Corinthians 5:18-21; II Corinthians 12:9-10

Thanks Giving

My third-grade kids were seated around a table in the school gym. I asked questions about keeping promises. Several related incidents in which someone had kept a promise.

Then Erica spoke up. “I promised to be Tracy’s best friend forever, but now she’s not my friend any more.” Erica had confronted Tracy about some behavior and Tracy told her she’s no longer her friend. Matthew, who can be disruptive at times and has a very short attention span, turned to her. “I’m sorry that happened to you.”

I was amazed and thankful for his sensitivity and kindness.

I found a poem on the back cover of a book about my heritage: Jacob’s Journey, edited by Barbara and Timothy Dyck. The poem’s author is not named so I assume it is unknown. But it touched me as we think of all who have gone before and prepared the way for the lives, freedoms, and the hope with which we live. I am copying it here.

“Lord, we keep forgetting all those who lived before us,

We keep forgetting those who lived and worked in our communities.

We keep forgetting those who prayed and sang hymns in our churches before we were born.

We keep forgetting what our parents have done for us.

We commit the sin, Lord, of assuming that everything begins with us.

We drink from wells we did not find,

We eat food from farmland we did not develop.

We enjoy freedoms which we have not earned.

We worship in churches which we did not build.

We live in communities we did not establish.

This day, make us grateful for our heritage. Amen.”

SONY DSC

So, as we enter a week when we focus on giving thanks, I am grateful for third graders who have a tender heart toward others, for the children with whom I have the privilege of sharing God’s love and mine.

I am grateful for my forbears, who fought for freedom, who left a country where they could not worship as they chose to establish roots in a place where they could, and I can, worship the God of our fathers.

I am grateful for my husband and family, whose love has challenged, encouraged and sustained me through the years.

I am thankful for you, my readers, who respond and give feedback to my ramblings.

I am eternally grateful for the love of Jesus Christ, which gives me hope, forgiveness, salvation, peace, love, joy … and who will continue his good work in me until he returns or takes me Home.

” …being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

Philippians 1:6 NIV

For what are you most thankful?

Unexpected Interruptions (they’re always unexpected aren’t they!)

I walked out of my meeting, stepped into my car, and turned the key. The engine sputtered and died.

After trying to start the care several times without success, I called Triple A for a tow. I was pleased that one of their first questions was “Are you and your car in a safe place?” (We were.)

My mechanic determined the car had a fuel pump failure, then went above and beyond to ask the dealer if this defect might be covered under warranty. After haircuts and lunch with stepson Brad and his wife Cathy, I once again called Triple A.

Don and I waited about two hours at our mechanic’s until the truck arrived to tow the car to the dealership. Charlie told me if it turned out to be a defective fuel pump it would cost me nothing to repair. If it was not that, it could run me about $3000. Ouch! My car has been wonderful, reliable, well maintained. This was not something I had planned for, nor could I afford it.

So Don and I had already lost two days to wait time/ tow trucks/ car trouble. But we were thrilled when the dealer called to tell us the repair would be fully covered. Thank you, Lord!

They did find two other repairs that needed to be done and we authorized those–but at a significantly lower cost than the possible $3000 had the fuel pump repair not been covered.

Today was a full day. Don and I had an appointment, then breakfasted at Le Boulangerie. After that I took a sputum sample into a lab in Los Gatos (I give these monthly to check on a non-contagious lung infection that is very difficult to eradicate and which I’ve had for several years already).

The car dealer called and told us the car was ready for pickup, so Paige and I returned home, I picked Don up and we headed to pick up the car. Although they had projected keeping the car for five days (over the holida), waiting for delivery of the needed parts, the parts arrived Saturday morning and the repairs were complete!

I have my car again, hopefully good for many miles to come. And I’m thankful for my auto mechanic who goes beyond “We’ll fix it for $___” to research ways to help customers save money and get effective corrections made.

Thanks Bill, Fiona, and Charlie! And thank you Lord for caring for my smallest needs, ensuring this didn’t happen the day before we leave on vacation, or across the hill, or at night …

Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.

I Peter 5:7 NLT

May we recognize in those difficult moments the grace of God that sustains, provides, and cares for us.