Category Archive: Gratitude

Blessed to Bless Others

As promised last week, I began to keep a gratitude journal. It’s been a wonderful start to most days. Whether it’s gratitude for seeing a good movie (we watched “The Chosen”, first two episodes of Season 3, on the big screen with friends Friday evening), for my husband’s godly response and leadership in a situation, or for rich times together with family and friends, writing what I’m thankful for sets a tone for the day. And I’m grateful for that!

This morning Pastor Tim taught from Psalm 67.

“May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us…” (v. 1)

God’s grace is the root of his favor toward us. When Moses asked to see God, God told him if he saw God’s face, Moses would die. God’s holiness was too overwhelming for man to look on. So as He passed by his servant, God turned His face so Moses would not see it and die. And yet, His face shines on us. He is FOR us!

A OnePoll survey conducted in 2022 found that two of three Americans don’t think they’ll ever see positive change in their lives. And 51% of young Americans feel hopelessness.

So how can we be a blessing in this discouraged and hurting world?

What if those of us who choose gratitude express that in how we greet others, in reaching out to help in whatever ways we can, whether with food, repairs, car rides, or a smile and a kind word?

What if we focus on praising God for His blessings rather than complaining about what we’re missing? My cousin just told me about a PBS show her husband taped of Dr. Daniel Amen, who does brain imaging. (https://www.amenclinics.com/)  She said “A friend of his said she was writing a book on gratitude and would he please image her mind while she thought about all the good things in her life. He did and said all the right places were lit up in her brain.

“Then he suggested they do it again while she meditated on all her hurts etc. All the bad places lit up. Our designer knows how to make us run well!

What we think, our focus, actually changes our brain!

How does that make you feel? I am deeply thankful that He is FOR me, that He forgives and cleanses and has a plan for my life. While that plan may not look the way I anticipated my life would look, it is a plan “for good, and not for evil; to give you hope, and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11).

So when life is painful because of divorce, conflict within the family, chronic or terminal illness, loss, or a stressful job, God is still FOR us. He desires a relationship with every one of us, made possible by the shed blood of Jesus Christ on the Cross, and by His resurrection life. We may also need the help of others to deal with specific issues–physicians, surgeons, therapists, pastors/priests–but those are using their gifts to bless us as well.

Victor Frankl was a highly respected psychiatrist in Vienna when, in 1942, he and his family were sent to the Theresienstadt concentration camp, where his father perished. The remaining Frankls were moved to Auschwitz in 1944, where his mother was exterminated. His wife died in Bergen-Belsen. Degrading brutality surrounded him, and Frankl theorized that those inmates who had some meaning, some purpose in their lives, were more likely to survive than those who did not. Frankl said this:

“The one thing you can’t take away from me is the way I choose to respond to what you do to me. The last of one’s freedoms is to choose one’s attitude in any given circumstance.”

Jim Hill was a new Christian when his mother-in-law became gravely ill. While Jim was driving home from work he asked God why this was happening to her. He then said words just flooded into his head. Arriving at home, he grabbed a piece of cardboard and started writing down the words in his mind. The first person he sang the song to was his mother-in-law.

What a day that will be,
When my Jesus I shall see,
And I look upon His face,
The One who saved me by His grace;
When He takes me by the hand,
And leads me through the Promised Land,
What a day, glorious day that will be.”

Lyrics and music by Jim Hill (https://namethathymn.com/christian-hymns/what-a-day-that-will-be-lyrics.html)

And one day all things will be made right, and those who trust in Christ will live forever, rejoicing and delighting in God’s presence with no more sorrow, sighing, pain, sickness, or death. Only righteousness and peace and love.

That truth gives me great hope.

Can you share any ways God has used you to bless others?

Grateful

PREVENTION magazine calls it Vitamin G. Gratitude actually makes our bodies and minds work better. “Studies have linked living a thankful life to fewer aches and pains, better sleep, and more.”

There can be a significant difference between the “thank you” of a child, prompted by his parent in response to an unexciting gift; and gratitude, which wells up when we receive something unexpected, delightful, unearned. When my husband washes the pots and pans after I’ve made dinner, I thank him. But I am also grateful for his thoughtful partnering with me. So, I can be both grateful and thankful (which is the expression of gratitude), or I can be thankful without being grateful. Gratitude is from the heart.

Robert Emmons, PhD, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis, and author of The Little Book of Gratitude said “Gratitude is affirming the goodness in one’s life and recognizing that its source lies outside the self.” In a study he found that keeping a gratitude journal for only five minutes a day can increase your happiness by at least 10%. Emmons says, “The sense of well-being that washes over us in our gratitude tells our bodies all is well…Feelings of gratitude trigger the parasympathetic, or calming, branch of the nervous system.”

A research study completed after the 9/11 attack reflected that gratitude played a key role in building resilience among the survivors.

Practicing gratitude makes us more optimistic and giving. It reduces materialism and improves our relationships (can you imagine the difference between argumentative spouses and those who affirm their gratitude for each other?). It increases our social support by attracting more people to us. Gratitude improves work performance and satisfaction, and improves our mental and physical health. That’s quite a list!

Psychologist Martin Seligman asked 411 people to write a letter of gratitude to a person from their life who deserved it–and to deliver the letter personally. Those who followed through felt increased happiness and self-satisfaction, effects which lasted for a whole month. Think of it–a letter a month with quite an ROI!

Tim Wood, our pastor, challenged us yesterday to “Magnify our blessings and not our problems!” What a great way to develop an ‘attitude of gratitude’.

Israel’s King David was a man who expressed gratitude, along with his troubles (and they were many!). When the Israelites tried to bring the Ark of God back to Jerusalem, they did not follow God’s explicit directions on how to carry it. As a consequence, one man died. Fearing the power of the Ark, David refused to take it to Jerusalem but rather left it at the home of a man named Obed-Edom. During the three months it remained there, Obed-Edom’s family was greatly blessed by God (II Samuel 6:9-12).

When David heard about the blessings Obed-Edom experienced, he decided to bring the Ark to Jerusalem after all. He had learned how God wanted it transported, and his men brought the Ark to the capital city with great rejoicing. David brought together singers, dancers, trumpeters, lyres and harps and tambourines and cymbals to accompany the Ark. And David danced before God.

I can make a long list of what I’m grateful for.

  • A loving husband
  • A loving and supportive family
  • Grandchildren, nieces and nephews, and greats, and the fun of watching them grow
  • Our sweet Paigey
  • The beauty of the incredible fall colors we see in the trees around us, and in the soft leafy carpets of those red, yellow, orange and gold leaves that have fallen to the ground
  • A sunset walk around the pond in our community
  • A sunshiny day with billowing clouds in a cerulean sky
  • Decaf, sugar-free vanilla lattes
  • Friends and neighbors we care about
  • Our church family
  • A nation where we can still worship God freely
  • Prayer support
  • Chocolate
  • Our home
  • Some of the difficulties I’ve experienced in life, because God brought me through them to a new place.

But my deepest gratitude wells up inside me when I think of God’s mercy,extended to me. Merriam-Webster defines mercy as

  • a. compassion or forbearance (see FORBEARANCE sense 1) shown especially to an offender or to one subject to one’s power
    • also lenient or compassionate treatment
    • begged for mercy
  • bimprisonment rather than death imposed as penalty for first-degree murder

I am a sinner, in a relationship with the God of the universe only by God’s mercy and grace (“unmerited favor”), through the death and resurrection of His Son.

David wanted to build a magnificent Temple to God. God told him he was not to build it because he was a warrior and had shed blood; but his son, Solomon, would build the Temple. Under God’s direction, David made very detailed plans for the Temple–its porticos, beams, altar, size, courtyard, the Holy of Holies.  He stored supplies for the building project–gold, silver, bronze, iron and wood, as well as onyx for the settings, turquoise, stones of various colors, and all kinds of fine stone and marble, in large quantities. Then David told his people that “in my devotion to the temple of my God I now give my personal treasures of gold and silver for the temple of my God, over and above everything I have provided for this holy temple:  three thousand talents of gold (gold of Ophir) and seven thousand talents of refined silver, for the overlaying of the walls of the buildings, for the gold work and the silver work, and for all the work to be done by the craftsmen.” (I Chronicles 29:3-5)

Then he invited the people to join him in giving to the Temple treasury, and they gave “freely and wholeheartedly” from their own supplies.

Afterward, David called an assembly of the people and praised God publicly, saying

But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand. We are foreigners and strangers in your sight, as were all our ancestors. Our days on earth are like a shadow, without hope...I know, my God, that you test the heart and are pleased with integrity. All these things I have given willingly and with honest intent. And now I have seen with joy how willingly your people who are here have given to you. Lord, the God of our fathers Abraham, Isaac and Israel, keep these desires and thoughts in the hearts of your people forever, and keep their hearts loyal to you.” (I Chronicles 29:14-15,17-18)

His gratitude overwhelmed him from inside out, because he recognized that the mercy, grace and blessing of God were worth far more than the gold and silver and precious stones he had. God’s mercy had covered him, protected him, blessed and led him through years of running from King Saul, who was threatened by David and tried multiple times to kill him. God had kept his Word that David would be King.

So how does this apply to me?

  1. I’ll start a gratitude journal.
  2. I’ll meditate on gratitude to God and to others I love.
  3. I’ll make it a point to express my gratitude, both to God and those who impact my life, letting them know how grateful I am for their presence in my life.

So, this Thanksgiving week, want to join me in one or all of these?

 

 

Connections

Had a couple interesting interactions this week and always enjoy small connections with others.

While at the pharmacy to pick up a prescription, I asked for my free Covid test kits (covered by Medicare). Because the pharmacist wasn’t there, I wasn’t able to get those that day, which meant a return trip.

man doing a sample test in the laboratory
Photo by Edward Jenner on Pexels.com

At the cashier to my right, an older Indian gentleman asked for something (I didn’t hear whether it was the same as I had asked or something else). The young man explained to him, as he had to me, that he couldn’t release that without the pharmacist’s sign-off, and she was out to lunch. The man would have to come back.

“But I’m in front of you now.”

I got such a chuckle out of his straightforward response–not a typical American way of phrasing his thought, but the man’s point was very clear. I leaned over and said “I can’t get mine either. I have to come back too.”

The gentleman looked at me and said, “OK, I’ll come back.”

selective focus photo of a woman touching yellow bananas
Photo by Los Muertos Crew on Pexels.com

Then I stopped at Lucky’s to pick up bananas. I had only a few items, but hadn’t thought to use a cart or basket. So I stood in line for the self service checkout with my purchases in my arms. One of the boxed items fell to the floor. An African American gentleman quickly picked it up and returned it to me.

“Thank you so much.” I smiled at him. “I would have dropped everything if I’d tried to pick that up.”

“You’re welcome. It happens to all of us.”

And when at dinner with my brother, sister-in-law, their daughter, her husband and their son, three-year old Titus looked me in the eye.

“Why are your eyes red?”

I had to think. “I guess because I’m tired.”

Titus’ clear eyes at age two

Then I looked at his child eyes – no red lines, no reddened inner corners – except for the iris and pupil themselves, his eyes are pure white!

Maybe I haven’t been around enough three-year-olds recently, but I was amazed at Titus’ attention to detail.

Why is it that these tiny interactions stay with us? I think it’s a combination of kindness, and simple human connection. After having worn masks for two years, we’re looking each other in the eye again. Yippee!

Then I drive and get so busy talking or ruminating about something that my dear husband will say “Uh, I think you need to get over for the next exit.” What would I do without him by my side!

Somehow these connections energize me. We’re created by God to be in community. Pastor Jeremiah Johnston said isolation is the worst punishment for a human being. These last two weekends Don and I have “attended” church online. The sermons have been wonderfully challenging, the music uplifting, and I’m grateful for technology that allows us to be a part of the services from a distance. But there is nothing like being present in person, connecting with others of like mind and spirit, worshipping God together.

Evergreen Church, San Jose, on July 4, 2022

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

Hebrews 10:24-25

We need each other. Those in our family, our faith community, our neighbors, and those we meet in kindness in everyday life. These last two years have been very difficult emotionally. Suicide rates were up, especially among teenagers. Depression has increased. I encourage you to be in groups in whatever ways you feel comfortable – perhaps sitting outdoors for a church service; meeting friends for a meal outside; or finding another way to be with others, especially those you love and who love you. Let us follow the instruction in Hebrews to encourage one another, to be together again, to reject isolation and welcome community!

Celebration and Supplication

As we celebrate America’s freedom today, I pray we will put aside our differences and thank God for this country.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Thomas Jefferson

Yesterday we enjoyed a wonderful outdoor church service, with bunting strung along the tent and church. We thanked God for the freedoms we experience in this country. And we were reminded to look to Jesus, the “author and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2, Berean Study Bible) for our confidence and hope.

Christina’s dance of praise

Christina shared her testimony of God’s faithfulness. Two years ago she was declared cancer free after having Stage 2 breast cancer. “I am so thankful. And that is why I dance.” We saw her gratitude in the beautiful routine she performed to the worship song, “From the rising sun to the setting same, I will praise your name. Great is your faithfulness to me.”

After church, we enjoyed hot dogs and tacos, snow cones, games for the children, a bounce house, and face painting. Most of us stayed for at least two hours before going home. Don and I enjoyed visiting with different friends and watching the fellowship around us. We were family, delighting in hanging out together. And yes, I got some face paint!

When I was in turmoil over the hostility present in our country, one of our pastors reminded me, “I have never relied on the government for my security. Governments change, leaders change. My faith is in Jesus Christ.”

So, as we celebrate the freedoms we enjoy as a nation, as we pray for change in the areas where it is badly needed, let us also remember that Jesus Christ, our hope, is over and above all.

man holding bible
Photo by Sharefaith on Pexels.com

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery…You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.

Galatians 5:1, 13

Restore

Even in the midst of a new variant, Omicron, on the Covid pandemic, our lives during Christmas and New Year’s felt full. While our get-togethers were with smaller family groups, we enjoyed the times we could be together.

This week? I find myself a bit lethargic, tired, unmotivated. Do you? Seems that now that life is quieter again I’m kind of worn out. We’re tired of masking, of conflict within families and friendships, of isolation.

I think that’s normal after the holidays; perhaps more so with the continuing pandemic. Friday afternoon Don and I took a wonderful 3.5 hour nap (very unusual!), then slept a full night. After church and Starbucks this morning, we took a walk with Paigey in her stroller. She seemed very content in the beautiful sunshine and fresh air, while we got some steps in. It was a renewing time for us.

So how do we respond to a bit of a letdown after a busy and uplifting time?

Following are a few things I find restorative:

Music can soothe the soul
  • Naps are helpful but, then, I’m retired. Not everyone has room in their life for naps. I didn’t either when I worked full-time.
  • Walks in the fresh air are renewing.
  • We enjoy our Sunday ritual of church and Starbucks, hearing the Word taught, then hanging out together.
  • Reading–the scriptures or a good book.
  • Listening to a challenging podcast.
  • Listening to, or playing, music. This afternoon we listened to a number of the old hymns we grew up with and felt encouraged. I used to play piano well, but am seriously out of practice. Nevertheless, those times when I sit on the bench of my mother’s piano and play, my soul feels restored.
  • Focus on a specific scripture, like Psalm 23. Close your eyes. What does it mean to you that the Lord is your Shepherd? That he leads you beside quiet waters and refreshes your soul? I used to have a favorite mental picture of a certain valley on the drive from San Jose to Fresno. The grass was lush, trees scattered about, and a lovely, bubbling stream wended its way through the valley. I can picture myself walking with Jesus in that valley, being refreshed in His company.
  • In the same chapter, think of what it means that He walks through the valley of the shadow of death with us? I experienced that with the loss of my first husband. No, He didn’t remove the pain; but He gave purpose and presence during the loss.
  • Last, find someone who needs help, and give it! I’ve found there’s not much sweeter than meeting someone who is lonely, or hungry, whom I can help, sometimes in little ways by giving a packet of non-perishables, sometimes by listening, bringing groceries or a meal, sometimes by praying for the person(s). Giving renews the spirit.
  • Exercise thankfulness. Like a muscle, it grows with use and changes our perspective.
  • Focus on his love–for you.

This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

I John 4:9-11

Did I mention naps? I took a short one before finishing this. Sweet! And I’m challenging myself with this post. These are the things I need to do to renew, to step out of my lethargy and move ahead with those tasks God has given me to do.

What do you do to renew yourself?

Blessings!