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The Ups and Downs of Thanksgiving

Heart picture for grief

Thanksgiving Day signals the beginning of the frenzy of the holiday season.  For some,  it is a reminder of the wonderful birth of our risen Savior, Jesus Christ.  And for others, it is the beginning of the shopping season (and discounts) leading up to Christmas.   For many, it is both! It is during this time, I am reminded of the many things I have to be thankful for.  There are the obvious things like my family and my health.  As I age though, these things are taking on new meanings and shapes but I am still thankful.  Most days, just to be able to wake up and embrace the newness of the day is something I cherish.

The Value of My Alabaster Box

I actually started writing this blog before Thanksgiving but the emotion of the week took over. This year, I have to admit, I am struggling.  I wasn’t struggling to be thankful, no, God has blessed and kept me.   For some reason this year I am reminded of that delicate balance of how blessings can also have that distinction of being fulfilling and painstaking at the same time.   See, for me (and many others) the Thanksgiving season is a stark reminder of those things that have passed on in life.  It is a reminder of the now empty chair that used to be occupied by a loved one.

Tough Times…At Times

This is now the third Thanksgiving where all of the family’s parents (mine and my in-laws) are absent.  Though we have grown accustomed to this new existence it is still a void that we busily ignore while cooking and hustling through the festivities.  The week of Thanksgiving is especially hard for me because it is also the week my mother’s health took a turn for the worse and she never recovered.  My mother loved the fellowship of Thanksgiving; the grocery shopping, the cooking, the crowded kitchen, she loved it!  It was her lack of wanting to participate in the planning three years ago that signaled something was very wrong.  She went into hospice care right after that holiday and went on to Glory shortly afterward.

I recognize this holiday season can be tough for so many of us.  Though gratitude is at the core of our hearts, some of our memories have a tinge of pain connected due to loss, grief, and change.  I think about the song by CeCe Winans where she sings about people not knowing the pain behind the oil in her alabaster box.  I cry when I hear that song because I truly can empathize.

Hope Still Lies Ahead

It is also during these times when I also realize there is nothing in this world that God is not aware of or understands.  It is during these times I cry out to Him because I trust He knows what is in my heart.  When I feel the void of my mothers presence, like when I am looking for her oyster dressing recipe, He says “I know My child, I hear your tears.”  It is during this time He also reminds me that she is fine with Him and it is alright to feel sad because He knows the love we had for each other.  God knew what He was doing when He allowed her to have me and the feelings of grief when she passed away.  He knows about the bond of mother and daughter.  He knows about the grief and the emptiness we feel when family, friends, and sometimes even things, are no longer with us.  God created everything and He understands.  We are not alone.

Turn to God’s Word

It is during times like this I believe we have to turn to His voice in the Bible to get the strength to get through.  If the holiday season is a bit tough for you – the following are points to remember to help you along:

  • Rejoice in all things, pray continually and be forever grateful.   (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)
  • For everything, there is a season so trouble doesn’t last forever. (Ecclesiastes 3:1)
  • God promised He will give us the strength to get through the things we face. God didn’t say life would be easy but He did say He would never leave us.  (Isaiah 41:10, 1 Peter 5:10)
  • God can take the most heartwrenching situations and use them for good. (Romans 8:28)
  • God says our sacrifice of Thanksgiving is what He desires and when we call on Him, He is the one who will deliver us. (Psalm 50:13-15)

My friends, for those memories, your grief, that unwanted life change and that need that seems to be continually unfilled – God says to bring it all to Him.  He understands and can carry you through.  Give it to Him, with Thanksgiving.

#LivingTheRedeemedLife

Love Your Neighbor, Love Yourself

It Starts With Love

Love Your Neighbor.  It is the simple direction Jesus left with us when questioned about which commandment was the greatest (Mark 12:28-31).  He answered,  “Love your neighbor”.  Your neighbor could be living on either side of your home or working in the office next door.  Your neighbor could also be occupying the bedroom next to yours in the same house.  The Bible didn’t say ‘change your neighbor’ or ‘judge your neighbor’, it just said to love your neighbor.  During the divided times we appear to be living in across this world it makes me wonder – why is it so hard to love our neighbor?  To make it personal, why is it so hard for me to love my neighbor?  I think it all boils down to the other simple concept laid out in this scripture…if you are going to love your neighbor you must also love yourself.

The scripture says in verses 30-31:

30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’[b] 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[c] There is no commandment greater than these.”

Love Me Too?

Interestingly, when I read this verse I have this visual of a triangle with God, me and my neighbor at each point.  This triad is one that is continually cycling.  God loves me, then I love my neighbor, then my neighbor loves (or learns of) God.  Then God loves my neighbor, then they love me and then I love God.  It is a continuous process that blesses all and gives God the Glory. It seems though, the hardest part of this verse is the ‘loving yourself’ part.  I truly believe it is hard to love our neighbor genuinely because we must first learn to genuinely love ourselves.  See, we have an intimate view of our flaws, fears, and shortcomings.  We know what is in or secrets closet.  We know what we have been through.  With all that we know, who could love us? Without conditions too?

Receive God’s Love

Thankfully, God loves us beyond what we see.  He always sees our potential and purpose.  God wants you to know you were created with perfection in mind (Song of Solomon 4:7).  You were fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14).  Sometimes it is easier to serve and love our neighbors because it makes us feel better about ourselves.  In other words, our kindness provides a justification to love ourselves which isn’t quite how I believe God wants us to perceive our existence.  Our love for our neighbor is an extension of our love for ourselves and our love for ourselves is an extension of God’s love for us.  Also, it shows our understanding of the beautiful creation we are because God made us.  God loves us, flaws and all.  Looking back at that triangle again, it the perfect foundation to demonstrate the righteousness of God with each point interacting with each other – respectfully, lovingly and with compassion.

How do we get to ‘loving’  ourselves?  Love God with all your heart and soul.  Let God love you back.  Receive His unconditional love.  God doesn’t love us because of ourselves, God loves us in spite of ourselves with no boundaries.

That is how we love our neighbors.  Can you imagine what this world would be like if we operated this way?  It leaves me breathless to think of what that state would look like.  So, until then, I’m going to start where God has me – in my home, my neighborhood, my workplace and my church.

And, by the way, also start with loving you!  Start where God has you – but first look up and thank God for creating beauty and perfection in you – then, pass it on.

This is the foundation of Living the Redeemed Life.  God has already prepared the path for your purpose in this world with his redeeming love.  Walk in it, love and don’t look back!

#LivingTheRedeemedLife

Some Days, I Need a Strong Tower

jr-korpa-702605-unsplash

Going In For Cover

Some days, I need a Strong Tower. Actually, most days I need one. You know, the one mentioned so frequently throughout the Bible promising cover and protection from the most personal and oppressive forces? If you have ever said the phrase “This is one of those days”, then you can understand what this means.

Where Can I Hide?

The interesting thing about exclaiming I need a strong tower is that many times I am crying out to God to give me a place to hide – a quiet sanctuary where I can block out the distractions of this world. Though it is a great thought, unfortunately, it is not always feasible; like when I am driving in traffic or working with a team on a project. The thought of going poof into the air to my ‘strong tower’ place might also scare those around me – kind of like the rapture though they weren’t caught up with me. Still, it is a fun thought…but I digress.

God’s Covering

In the Bible, a strong tower is described much like a fortress. It is a fortified place that not only provides safety for those inside but also keeps the undesirable things outside. It is a pure place. A safe place. We sometimes look at our homes as ‘strong towers’ because they are our ‘safe places’. But even they can be penetrated by unexpected events and emotions – anyone that has lived with a growing teenager can relate. When God is your strong tower it goes much deeper. God can be your safe place – even in the middle of a crowd. I know that may not make sense but think about Psalms 23:5 which says “God prepares a place for us in the presence of our enemies”. It reminds us that He is always aware of what we face. If God prepares the place for you it is already anointed with His protection. His cover is over you always, even when those desiring your downfall are right before you.

That is what His strong cover means – He is our fortress and refuge in the middle of the storm (Psalm 46). What a promise and what a blessing God offers to those that seek Him.

So, the next time ‘one of those days’ or even one of those moments creep up on you, seek the cover of a loving and safe place. Seek God. He’s got plenty of room to cover you and no one – I mean no one – can break through His walls. You are safe with Him.

#LivingTheRedeemedLife

Fallen? Don’t Stay There

Person falling

Fallen? Don’t Stay There

Beloved – We all will have times in our life when we will fall or fail or just plain mess up.  There will be times when we just don’t meet THE standard where we will do all things correctly.  Sometimes, it is the result of the decisions and choices we make and sometimes it is the result of our reaction to things that have been done to us.  Sometimes it is naivete or ignorance of what is happening around us and other times deliberate actions on our part.  Whatever way ‘the stumble’ comes your way, my message to you is – Don’t Stay There!  Get up, get moving and seek the face of a merciful Lord that loves you beyond the marks life can leave on you when you sin.

You Linger Long…

Daniel 9:9 says:

“The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him”

God knew we were going to have times where sin was going to trip us up.  God knew sin would also try to keep us entangled in guilt and shame in ways that will impact our ability to move forward and thrive in His grace and mercy.

My mother used to have a saying when I was growing up that stated, “You linger long, you linger wrong”.   It was her way of saying – if you stay anywhere that just doesn’t feel right longer than you should it will become your reality but in a negative way.  Interestingly she used to say this to me and my brother during our dating years to remind us that a bad relationship was a bad relationship and it is ok to get out of it.  Lingering in the aftermath of sin in guilt, shame, unworthiness, regret, and fear is not a safe place to stay for long.

Yes, God gives us a conscience, so we should feel some regret when we do something we shouldn’t but – Don’t Stay There.  There is life after the fall.  Life to do better and be better.  Life to be more sensitive to not do it again.  Somehow, I think that was what my mother was trying to say me after the break-up – there is life after that bad relationship, but you have to break-up first to be free to live.

Life Awaits You

That is the promise of John 10:10 which says:

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

That is why Jesus Christ came to this world to die for our sins – to give us life.  Not just life after our falls but, and this is the good part, life when we are in a ‘free fall’.  Because if you really look at life, we are in a continuous fall every day because sin is so prevalent around us.

Jesus gives us life where ever we are in life.  His number one goal is for you to have the best in life but not according to the world’s standards.  Jesus wants life according to the biblical standards that let you live freely.  No guilt, shame, hate or fear.  A life filled with a peace that only He can give (Philippians 4:7).  Accept Jesus into your life.  Take His Hand and give all of yourself to a God that loves you and understands this thing called life.  With Jesus, you won’t want to stay in that other place any longer.

With God, It’s Personal

 

It Starts With The Simple Things

I was taking my regular walk today, during the heat of summer, admiring the bluest of skies and all the creatures moving around me.  I was lamenting the fact that I was now in July and have not done half of what I planned for the summer now that my daughter was out of school – and then it hit me.  With God, His care is personal.

I saw this tree (the one depicted in the picture).  Something about it reminded me of God’s personal attention to everything He creates.  This tree stood alone with branches fully formed.  It had the beautiful backdrop of the blue skies behind it.  There were other trees around it that were taken care of too, also on their own account, but this one stood out to me.  And that was when God reminded me of the scripture in Matthew 6:25-34 –

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can anyone of you by worrying add a single hour to your life[e]?

28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you – you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

So, Relax…

God takes care of His creation.  With Him, it is personal.  He knows what you need.  He knows what you are going through.  God tells us to trust Him and Him alone.  He’s got you.

That tree didn’t have to worry about having enough water or if it’s leaves were enough to provide shade for the family where it was planted.  It just grew and thrived in the season it was in.

We all could benefit from thriving in the season we are in as well.  It may not be perfect to us but where God has us allows Him to use us – right where we are.  Your blessing will come.  Your promise will come.  Don’t worry about it…just thrive.

God knows you personally and that blessing you have been praying about, seek God first and it will come, right on time.

#LivingTheRedeemedLife