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