Learning To Give Thanks When It’s Easy And When It’s Not

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Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever! Psalm 106:1

Sometimes it’s easy to say those words. Sometimes it’s easy to be thankful. Life is good. Everyone is healthy. There is enough money in the bank account to pay the bills

But sometimes it isn’t so easy to be grateful.

For us, the year 2015 was one of those times when my husband, John, was diagnosed with lymphoma. Although the doctors kept trying to reassure us with phrases like, “If you have to have cancer, lymphoma is the best kind to get,” we weren’t too sure. Life seemed very fragile and uncertain.

Life with cancer was hard enough to deal with, but it was made even more difficult by the fact that our children do not live close enough to lend support on that tough road. My daughter and her family live in China. My son and his wife live in the next state. It wasn’t like either of them could drop by for dinner and a hug. They couldn’t sit with my husband at his chemotherapy appointment.

Some days it was difficult to live with a grateful attitude.

How could I thank God for cancer? How could I be grateful that my family wasn’t near enough to physically support us?

That’s when I have to remember the truth of 1 Thessalonians 5:18

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

I highlighted that little word in because that is the key to giving thanks when it is not easy.

learning to give thanks

But we can still be thankful in the midst of painful circumstances. While my husband battled lymphoma, I was grateful for God’s Word that continued to comfort me. I thanked God for friends who supported us and for the medical personnel who were doing everything they could to make my husband well again.

When you’re in a season where it isn’t easy to be grateful, thank God for the eternal things that will never change: His love and His Word. Find little things to be thankful for: the smile of a friend, the beauty of the fall leaves.

Thankfully ten months after my husband’s diagnosis and three months after chemotherapy, his cancer went into remission and he is doing much better.

Once more it’s easy to be thankful.

 

I’m thankful for friends, for a comfortable home, and for work I love.

I’m thankful for the little things like radiant sunrises, warm sweaters, and Carrot Cake Coffee.

Most of all, I’m thankful for God’s goodness. I’m grateful for His steadfast love. Because even if I didn’t have any of the other things I listed above, I know I would always have those. The psalmist reminds me, “His steadfast love endures forever.”

I pray that God will cultivate gratitude in my heart–gratitude that is not dependent on my circumstances. That I will be able to thank Him for His eternal blessings no matter how life on earth is shaping up.

Next step: Make a list of the earthly blessings you are thankful for this year. Then make another list–a list of the spiritual blessings you have that cannot be taken away. I’ll get you started: God’s love, Christ’s redemptive work on the cross, the Holy Spirit’s abiding presence. If you like, write some of your blessings in the comments below!

 

7 Habits That Promote Soul Rest: Gratitude

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A few years ago I was part of women’s Bible study group in another church. As part of the study book we were doing, we were all encouraged to keep a gratitude journal. Every day for a week we were instructed to write down at least three things we were thankful for.

One of the women in the group was skeptical on how this exercise was going to help. She was going through a difficult time in life. Financial problems. Work problems. Family problems. How was writing down three things on a piece of paper going to help her?

But the next week she came back with a smile. She reported, “I can’t believe how much the gratitude journal changed my perspective on life. I didn’t think it would make any difference. But simply finding three small things to thank God for every day transformed my attitude.”

The habit of gratitude is, without a doubt, a practice that inspires soul rest.

7 HABITS #2So much of the turmoil and unrest I experience come from discontent, envy, and comparison. When I look at the fabulous career of a friend, I feel a twinge of jealousy. When I work hard, but success seems just out of reach, I complain. When friends talk about spending time with their families while my daughter lives halfway around the world in China, my happiness melts away.

But when I deliberately choose gratitude, my perspective is transformed. It’s my natural inclination to stay in the cellar of discontent and grumble. (I’ve even been known to throw a pity party down there). Often, I can’t even take the first step of gratitude on my own. I need the Holy Spirit to give me the strength to say, “Thank You.” Each thank you becomes a step on a staircase out of the cellar of discouragement and despair.

So how can we develop a habit of gratitude? Here are a few ways:

Start a gratitude journal. Buy a pretty journal or grab an empty spiral notebook. Every day write down three things that made you smile, that you’ve taken for granted, or that gave a moment of joy. Like my Bible study group, try the gratitude experiment for a week and see what a difference it can make.

Use a commonplace cue. I recently turned my frustration with stop lights into a cue for gratitude. Every time I’m forced to stop at a red light I use the time to thank God for the many blessings He gives. What everyday occurrence could you use as a signal to give thanks? Walking through your front door? Pouring a cup of coffee?

Make the decision to be grateful. When you find yourself in the cellar of discontent–don’t stay there! Immediately make the decision to get out through the stairway of gratitude. When my friend talks about her fabulous career, I can thank God for the writing work He has given me. When I hear about families spending holidays together, I can be grateful that my family is close at heart if not in miles.

Psalm 100:4 says:

Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name!

Thanksgiving leads us into God’s presence. And in His presence, we find soul rest.

Thanksgiving leads us into God's presence. And in His presence, we find soul rest. Click To Tweet

Next step: Choose one of the gratitude habits to implement this week. Perhaps use sticky notes in strategic places to remind you to write in a gratitude journal, use commonplace cues, or to make the decision to be grateful.

 

How to Craft a 2015 Ta-Dah List

FORGET NOT

At the end of each year one of my writer friends shares a Ta-Dah list–a list of writing goals she has accomplished. It’s a way of sharing both the big milestones and little steps of success that have happened during the previous 365 days.

I like this idea. For two reasons.

First, if you know you are going to share a “Ta-Dah” list at the end of the year, you will probably work a little harder to accomplish your goals during the year.

Secondly, it helps you focus on the positive. As a Type-A person, I too often look at what didn’t work and what I still need to do. Making a Ta-Dah list helps me realize that some pretty amazing things happened during the year.

TaDahListFor instance, here is a bit of my 2015 Ta-Dah list:

  • I read 34 books (9,092 pages in all!) (The website Goodreads lets you enter the books you have read and counts up the pages for you.)
  • I finally cleaned out my basement and organized my closets.
  • I launched a new book in June–Soul Spa: 40 Days of Spiritual Renewal (a Bible study of spiritual habits that help us connect to God so He can heal our harried souls).
  • I met hundreds of amazing women when I spoke at nine different events.
  • I launched on online course on living a more focused life. (Find out more about it here.)

What would you write on your Ta-Dah list? I encourage you to write one–it’s fun to remember all the little successes of the year.

But, an even more important list would be God’s Ta-Dah list–things God accomplished in your life in 2015.

King David reminded his soul to write this list:

Bless the Lord, O my soul,
    and forget not all his benefits,
who forgives all your iniquity,
    who heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit,
    who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
who satisfies you with good
    so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

Psalm 103:2-5

As I read David’s version of God’s Ta-Dah list, I thought of all the things I would add. Here a few entries I would include on the list:

What God Has Accomplished For Me In 2015:

  • God blessed my husband, John, with healing–after 6 months of chemotherapy, his lymphoma is in remission.
  • God blessed our marriage–making it even stronger during the months of sickness.
  • God helped me learn to live more focused on Him–instead of my problems, my ambitions, my worries.
  • God gave the precious blessing of having all my kids and their families home for Christmas–since my daughter and her family live in China this had not happened in five years.
  • God blessed me with friends who support and encourage me.

Looking at this list I am filled with gratitude! God is continually working in my heart and life, but I often forget or simply take His blessings for granted.

What did God accomplish in your life in 2015? Take time to “forget not all his benefits” (Psalm 103:2). The Father loves you, redeems you, forgives you, and heals you.

Next step: Write a Ta-Dah list of your own. What did you accomplish this year? Even more importantly, what did God do for you in 2015?

3 Ways to Thank Your Pastor: Clergy Appreciation Month

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October is Clergy Appreciation Month.

Being married to a pastor, I know that they put in long hours. They spend a lot of time preparing sermons, planning services, and visiting the sick. They are committed to the Word of God and care deeply about the members of their congregation.

So how can we show our appreciation?

Here are three ideas:

  • Send a card to your pastor. Most of us are more likely to voice a complaint than to verbalize a thank you. Take the time to send a card to thank your pastor for his service to the church. Include a note of personal gratitude for a sermon that challenged or comforted you, for his visit to you or sick family member, for a character strength that you particularly appreciate.
  • Pray for your pastor. Commit to praying for your pastor every day this month. Pray for strength in the journey, protection from temptation, wisdom in leading the flock. You could call your pastor and tell him you are praying for him. Ask him if he has any pressing needs you could include in your prayer time.
  • Live out your faith. I asked my pastor husband how he would like to be appreciated. He said the best thing that any member of his congregation could do would be to truly live out their faith in God. To not just say, “Great sermon, pastor,” but to put the message into practice. To make his day, you could send your pastor a message on how you applied the sermon to your life this week. How did it change your life? What action did it motivate you to take?

By the way, this year marks the thirtieth anniversary of my husband’s ordination as a pastor! Here is a picture of us from that ordination day thirty years ago!

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 Question: How have you thanked your pastor?

What I’m Thankful For

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Thanksgiving is coming on Thursday and there are many things for which I am grateful.

I’m thankful for my amazing husband, who has put up with me all of these years.

I’m thankful for children who love the Lord and still speak to me after 15 years of homeschooling.

I’m thankful for grandchildren who are healthy and happy.

I’m thankful for friends who love me even through my crazy times.

I’m thankful for Skype so that I can keep in touch with all of these wonderful people even when we are far apart!

But there is one thing that I am most thankful for this season–God’s love.

I’ve experienced His love in the beauty of a flower.

I’ve felt it in the quietness of a sunset.

I’ve heard it in the roar of the ocean.

I’ve known God’s grace and forgiveness all my life.

But I have to admit that I sometimes take this love for granted. I don’t always express my gratitude for one thing that is truly transforming my soul.

Lately, Psalm 63:3 has been one of the verses I am trying to hide in my heart:

“Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you.”

God’s love is better than all of the other blessings combined. And because of that I will glorify God. I will thank Him for this amazing life-changing gift.

Question: What are you thankful for this season?