Gratitude

This time of year we focus our thoughts on GIVING THANKS  more than usual, and that is a good thing even when we intentionally practice a heart of gratitude all year long.

Why is that good?  Because it causes us to pause, and dig deeper in this area of our life.  We open up more of our thought life this next week to remain in this posture of thanksgiving.  So dig deep and find the abundance.

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.  ~1 Thessalonians 5:13

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And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.  ~Colossians 3: 15-17

 

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Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

~Philipians 4:6

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And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. ~Colossians 3:17

 

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For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.  ~Romans 1:21

 

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Denali National Park in autumn, Alaska, USA, North America

Faith is Not Just For Heroes

When we think of great biblical heroes such as Moses (leading a nation out of slavery) or Daniel (prayer warrior, lion’s den survivor!), or even Mary at the moment understanding that she was carrying the Savior of the world, we think, “if I just had their faith!” As if they had been given a superhero pill or wand that gave them great feats of wisdom and internal strength.These people were not super or heroes. They were normal as they come…., snoring, insecurities, worries about their future. Yet they chose to place their trust in something bigger than themselves.Yet, how often do we put these types of extra-faithful people then and now on a pedestal? As if by being faithful they had a red carpet rolled out in front of them to make the path trip-free and full of glory.  But that is not their story. It was precisely their faithfulness that got them into trouble. It is their faithfulness that caused suffering, total loss of control over their lives, nail biting, sweat producing anxiety in moments of fear and unknown.

These heroes, then and now, they make it look so easy. We forget that the floor routine that scored a perfect 10 took years in the making, with a lot of failure and bowing out of the back tuck at the last second.

Why pursue faith?  Because it is where we meet God face to face, and his best is revealed in our lives. When we take the step of faith, trusting that God’s will is better than our own, putting aside our own agendas and emotional pulls toward what we think is good, we find great great joy.  We experience the best in the situation (best relationship, best growth opportunity, best work situation, best healing, best new path). 
Maybe God is asking you to remember a time you were faithful and He came through in all his glory and “best-ness”?We all can do this, this journey of faithfulness. It just takes putting one foot in front of the other, each day, each moment sometimes. And as we step, praying, “God, keep me strong even when I can’t see the future, guide me, let me hear your voice. I know you are there, help me focus on you and not the distractions and worries of the world. Remind me that you love me and have my best interest in mind. I trust you.”Being faithful isn’t easy. It wasn’t then, and it isn’t now. It takes practice, and the joy of seeing God show up, which gives us confidence to have faith again, and again, and again.

Photo: When we think of great biblical heros such as Moses (leading a nation out of slavery) or Daniel (prayer warrior, lion's den survivor!), or even Mary at the moment understanding that she was carrying the Savior of the world, we think, "if I just had their faith!"  As if they had been given a superhero pill or wand that gave them great feats of wisdom and internal strength.</p><br /><br />
<p>The were not super or heros. They were normal as they come...., snoring, insecurities, worries about their future.  Yet they chose to place their trust in something bigger than themselves. </p><br /><br />
<p>We put these types of extra-faithful people then and now on a pedestal.  As if by being faithful they had a red carpet rolled out in front of them to make the path trip free and full of glory.  Yet that is not their story. It was their faithfulness that got them into trouble.  It is their faithfulness that caused suffering, total loss of control over their lives, nail biting, sweat producing anxiety in moments of fear and unknown. </p><br /><br />
<p>These heros, then and now, they make it look so easy.  We forget that the floor routine that scored a perfect 10 took years in the making, with a lot of failure and bowing out of the back tuck at the last second. </p><br /><br />
<p>We all can do this, this journey of faithfulness.  It just takes putting one foot in front of the other, each day, each moment sometimes.  And as we step, praying, "God, keep me strong even when I can't see the future, guide me, let me hear your voice.  I know you are there, help me focus on you and not the distractions and worries of the world. Remind me that you love me and have my best interest in mind.  I trust you." </p><br /><br />
<p>Being faithful isn't easy.  It wasn't then, and it isn't now.  It takes practice, and the joy of seeing God show up, which gives us conficence to have faith again, and again, and again.

 

7 Steps To A Healthier Family

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Do you have a healthy family?  Most of us would say yes, in most areas, and if we’re completely honest, we have areas that struggle.  This applies to those of us who are in the midst of youngsters in our home to those who are taking on the grandparent role.  Here are 6 ways I believe we can grow the healthiest possible family (and I am no expert–I just do a lot of reading!)

1. A Healthy Family Affirms and Supports Each Other

This is foremost modeled by mom and dad, as is everything that trickles down to the children.

Ask yourself:  Do my husband and I praise each other’s strengths?

Are we tolerant of each other’s weaknesses?

Do we support each other in doing things that are of interest to our spouse but not to us?

Our kids are watching, and will ultimately treat each other in the way they learned from parent modeling.  However, it’s not just how mom and dad treat each other, but how we treat our children.  Are we affirming? Supporting?  Do we focus on faults to a much larger degree than strengths?  My husband and I have had times in our parenting when we have challenged ourselves to speak only affirming words to our children for a week–SO hard!  It is incredibly easy to pick out all the faults, because children in their awkward, immature, developing selves are full of foibles.

Affirming is what lets our kids know they are valuable.  Be specific, be generous.  It is something I constantly have to remind myself to work at as a mom.

 

2.  A Healthy Family Shares Responsibility In the Home

We all know that chores are important for kids, but there are many times when it’s just easier to do things ourselves isn’t it?  Many times I have had to resist going after my children and “fixing” their bed after it’s been made, but when our children learn to take care of their things, we prepare them for adulthood.  Chores can be tedious, time consuming for mom and dad to monitor, and often create tension in the relationship–especially as teenage years approach.  But hold firm parents!  You are giving your child the gift of taking responsibility for themselves and respecting those around them, a gift that will follow them into adulthood.

3.   A Healthy Family Places Importance on Traditions

Think back on your childhood—what stands out?  The traditions your family celebrated.  Vacations to the same cabin in the woods, holidays with the same pumpkin soup served, or rituals of being read to each night as a child.  We have started an annual tradition of family fall leaf clean up with pizza night.  I am definitely more excited about this than my family!

Traditions give children a sense of stability, familiarity, and something that grounds them to their family name.  Traditions are timeless-they can be passed down from generation to generation.  What a beautiful way to connect the past to the present.

4.  A Healthy Family Is Faith Based

Having a strong spiritual foundation for your family is important for two reasons:

~It connects all members of the family to a common belief system, one which can be referred to throughout the life of your family when making decisions, or instruction for behavior.  It puts everyone on the same page.

~ Community.  Having a strong church community, or community of others around your family who share the same values and beliefs is so healthy for your kids!  They see other adults striving to be strong in their faith, living life together.  For the first 15 years of our life raising children, we did so side by side with four other families who shared our Christian faith.  We all went to different churches, but shared the same common core of faith.  We were at the birth of each other’s children, we weathered the toddler years together, and watched our kids grow into adolescence.  We just attended the high school graduation of the oldest child of this clan. It has been a gift to Jon and I to do parenting in community.

5. A Healthy Family respects the privacy of one another.

This is a great description I found from an author on this topic:
“A delicate balance exists between family members as they work together to satisfy the needs of the family as a whole and to preserve the right of each individual to grow strong on his own identity. Parents ideally hope to produce children who are emotionally strong and independent.  Parental authority has to be absolute with young children. But as the children grow there is room for family discussion, shared decision-making, and a gradual transfer of authority.

The adolescent years are often a time of turmoil and trauma for all: continual conflicts arise over the latest fashion fad, choices of music, or choices of friends. These years are a challenge. Parents who have taught their children a sense of trust, given them security, instilled in them moral principles and a sense of responsibility, have to learn to let go and allow the children to find the right path.  Parents who have a religious faith (and a sense of humor) to rely on will have the equipment to weather the inevitable storms.” (Delores Curran)

6. Pray Together

Many families pray together over the dinner table, and that is a wonderful way to express gratitude for what God has provided.  However, we can take it one step farther by praying together about our lives.  One way to really learn what is going on in your child’s heart is to ask them what their prayer request would be.  Do this together, as a family, so all the members can hear.  It’s amazing how honest and real kids will be in this moment.  What a great opportunity to take those requests and then pray for your children the rest of the week.

We recently did this as a family and I wrote down our children’s requests on three individual  index cards. When we all had shared and prayed collectively, I turned over their cards and asked that they pick a card from the pile.  They each picked a sibling’s card, and will pray for that sibling during the next week.  My hope is that it grows compassion, grace, and connection with each other.

6. A Healthy Family Makes Time for Each Other.

Whew, I had no idea how challenging this one would become as my kids grew up.  Now that they all are in 7th grade through high school, their schedules make it very difficult to find quality time.  Here are some of the things we do to protect this time:

A Traditional Night Out

My husband takes our son to the local sports bar across the street on Monday nights when we have a house full of women here for bible study.  They watch sports, have some chips and a soda, and do a dad-led devotional.

Speaking Their Language

Once in a while, Ill try to speak my girl’s love language–nails.  We will go get a pedicure followed by dinner out.  Or, do a little shopping if it’s the season.  This sometimes, however, gets stressful as we navigate negotiations on clothes, prices, and them not wanting to divulge their whole life over pizza to a very curious mom.  So the next idea is one of my favorite.

A Short -Get-Away

One of the best things I have done with my daughters is take them on a “girls” trip.  This past spring we booked a short and cheap cruise (inside room, basic accommodations), and we had a blast.  In fact, we started after our first day of writing down all of our inside jokes because we had laughed so much.  I can’t tell you how deeply satisfying it felt to spend some great quality time together, experiencing new parts of the world (the wide open ocean!), and listening to foreign taxi cab drivers give us a passionate lesson on transportation around Miami.

The Dinner Table

Since my husband travels for work, and my oldest has an evening job, along with youth group events, etc,  we don’t have many nights that the five of us are all together. So when we do, it is a bit sacred for me.  We prepare the meal together, eat together, and clean together.  Then we’ll settle in for a favorite family TV show or once a week a family devotional if we can pull it off.

Quality time is tough.  We have to squeeze it in when we can, and in a way that works for our family.  It might look different for yours, which is the beauty of our individuality.  I have learned not to force it, but to find creative ways to work it into your natural family schedule.

 

Here’s to HEALTHY, HAPPY families!

xoxo,

Amy

 

 

He Knows My Name

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I stood alone at church, three seats in from the aisle, melding my voice with the others around me as we sang the verses on the screen.  My husband was traveling, my children at their own service, and while I wished for familiar company next to me, I expectantly settled in for the service.

The worship leader announced communion, and people started to file out of the aisles and to the front of the church where members of our congregation waited to serve us the bread and the wine.  Although this time, as the line parted and I approached the cup and the plate, instead of it being Laura from two isles back serving the elements, it was our pastor Steve holding them out to me. He spoke,  “Amy, this is the bread which represents the body of Christ broken for you….”  I was startled.  My pastor just spoke my name, so easy off his tongue, yet as I walked away I was caught off guard.   Not that my pastor knows my name, for I know he does.  Our sons played soccer together and many Saturday we stood on the sidelines cheering the team on together.  My husband traveled on a mission trip with Steve this summer, with many discussions of family and faith.  Steve and his family have been to our home.  But, in that moment where things seemed so formal, so holy, the act of communion, knowing and speaking my name while serving me the brokenness of my soul and redemption of eternal life, it seemed….surprising.

I slowly took my seat, asking myself why that seemed odd, for isn’t this how my holy, redemptive God speaks to me?  Does He not address me by name?  Not only by name, but by hairs on my head, intentions of my heart, thoughts, actions, breaths as I sleep?  I pondered.  If there is surprise in the moment my pastor speaks my name, am I even more surprised when God, the creator of all things, the earth, the stars, the moss on a tree, the colored feather on a bird’s wing, addresses me?

And not just that, but He looks me in the eye and calls me “Amy” while handing me the bread of life, and the cup of salvation.

We would be surprised, wouldn’t we?  To hear our name audibly spoken by Jesus.  But we shouldn’t be.  I shouldn’t be.  The relationship I have with God is real, it should not cause any reaction inside but easy, worn-in familiarity, much like when my husband or children call out to me.  But even deeper, since in this relationship there are no secrets, no hidden parts of me from Him.  There is total acceptance, unconditional, eternal love.  I should shift my body, angle my head to his voice, with a easy and expectant heart, much like I would with a friend who has walked the long road of life with me.

There are a two distinct times in my life where God has audibly spoken to me…and in those moments I have felt deeply connected to Him, and his understanding and response to me in the midst of my circumstances left me without a shadow of a doubt that he knows Amy.  This experience at church reminded me that in all those thousands of other moments where His voice is still present in my life, although not audible, we are familiar friends who know each other’s names.  It is deeply connected feeling to have, lest I not need to be reminded again.

Isaiah 43:1-28 

But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I give Egypt as your ransom, Cush and Seba in exchange for you. Because you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you, I give men in return for you, peoples in exchange for your life. Fear not, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you.

I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.

To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.

 A Psalm of David. O Lord, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.

 

Nashville Wedding –Words for the Bride and Groom

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This past weekend our family had the honor of attending the wedding of my older cousin Fred and his beautiful bride Susan.  Their love story is one of a kind, the way love stories are supposed to go in-our-stories-with-happy-endings-minds..  A few months before the wedding Susan asked if I would say something during the ceremony.  Here is what I spoke from my heart:

Today we are celebrating two amazing people standing before us giving their gift of love and commitment to each other.  This is probably not the first gift Fred and Susan have given each other, nor will it be the last.

Several years ago my husband gave me a one of a kind present. For years I had been gently suggesting that he groom the prominent unibrow that he sported. He, being the manly man he is, flatly refused any grooming. Then one Christmas he handed me a jewelry box. I opened it up to find a small clear baggie inside filled with his eyebrow hair. I looked at him and sure enough, his forehead was plucked clean into two distinct eyebrows. I laughed and laughed, and to this day love the fact that Jonathan gave me such a sacrificial gift out of love. By the way, he gave me permission to share this story. I’ll introduce you to him later and you can try not to stare at his forehead.

In marriage, there are other gifts we give each other. They are not the kind we wrap up nicely and hand to our spouse, but intangible representations of our love. One of these that I believe to be important to marriage is the gift of laying down our expectations of each other. Expectations are a normal part of being in a relationship with someone, but often unmet expectations become the source of discouragement in a marriage. We tend to set ourselves up to be let down when we expect our spouse to rise to an invisible bar we have set for them, we expect our spouse to be perfect, or we expect our spouse to meet all of our needs. In our subconscious agenda of expectations, we forget we both are the whole human package—flaws, greatness and all!

Here is a quote from Gary Thomas, the author of several great books on marriage:

“No spouse comes in a perfect package. No spouse can do it all. Your job as a partner in marriage is to fight to stay sensitive to your each other’s strengths.”

There is power and hope in focusing on strengths. When we realize we are two messy people who can’t do it right all of the time, we find peace within. To come alongside us in this journey we have a loving God who can bear all of our burdens, meet all of our expectations, satisfy all of our needs…our deep needs that often we expect from our spouse, like acceptance, understanding, compassion, provision, security, and unconditional love. The Bible says in James 1:17:

17 Every good gift and every perfect present comes from heaven; it comes down from God, the Creator of the heavenly lights, who does not change or cause darkness by turning.

That turning, that is a human condition. God does not turn, shift or change. He is a constant, steady loving presence who gives us the ultimate model of a healthy relationship.

So let’s give the gift of releasing our spouse of unrealistic expectations. Let’s walk in grace and celebrate the blessing of marriage. Fred and Susan, my guess is that you both are already very good at giving this gift to each other, and may the rest of us follow in your example.

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