Here I Raise My Ebenezer: “Like Sand Through an Hourglass…”

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“Like sands through an hour glass, so are the days of our lives….” The signature words and distinctive tune flowed from the TV. It was one o’clock and I sat comfortable and warm on my aunt’s couch.  With a bright smile, my aunt came over to serve me lunch, a turkey sandwich and a cup of Folgers instant coffee. She sat down beside me like she had done on so many other weekdays.

Over the next hour, we allowed ourselves to be swept up into the drama of Salem and followed the unfolding of the Horton family’s stories. We watched the trials and triumphs of Bo and Hope’s love. We laughed over ridiculous storylines and plots, and debated which characters the writers would bring back from the dead. This was our shared guilty pleasure and this time turned into one of my fondest memories. Memories that had little to do with the soap opera and everything to do with the time we spent.

I didn’t have the years or the perspective to appreciate it then. I knew my aunt was a busy woman- a wife, mom, personal trainer and volunteer- but I didn’t know what it really meant to choose people over to-do lists.

My aunt made it seem like there was nowhere else more important than serving me lunch and spending time with me. She made me a priority. She gave me her full attention and time. How much I wish I could go back and thank her. Thank her for providing me a safe place. Thank her for her hospitality and presence. Thank her for her gentle guidance and inspiration. Thank her for taking time to stop, look, listen and linger.

I can’t go back or even tell her now. My aunt was stolen away from us twelve years ago from complications due to cancer treatments. Even when she was in her hospital bed, weak and in pain, she still managed to smile and made you feel as if you were the only person that she wanted to be with. Her presence offered hospitality. She wanted to hear how you were doing and made sure you knew your situations were just as pressing as what she was going though.

Although I can’t go back, I can move forward. I can be thankful for the time I had with my aunt and put into practice what she modeled. I can be thankful for every day, and what it brings, the good and the disappointing. With intention and sacrifice, I can see each person as an opportunity to encourage and build up, to make them feel valued and special. And make them feel like there is no other place I would rather be than with them in that moment.

Like so many of us, my schedule is busy, expectations are high, the demands and distractions seem unlimited. It’s hard to stop. But time seems to be slipping through my hands more quickly than ever and I’m more of aware of this than ever before. Time and people are precious gifts and to treasure them is wise.

So with these realizations, I’ve been making difficult and intentional choices to stop, look, listen and linger. I’m making space in my schedule by saying no to things and saying yes to people. I’m trying not to be swept up into ridiculous dramas or the fantasies my imagination writes so well. I’m debating over things that need to be let go of, handing them over to God to overcome, and not letting the destructive ones make a reappearance from the dead. I’m always, always, continuing to work at presence with people- with littles and bigs.

It is here I raise my Ebenezer. Thanking the Lord for His help so far. Thanking Him for the strength, energy and grace to get through my days and the reminder that time and people are special gifts. It is here I thank the Lord for the people in my life, like my aunt, who took time for me and modeled what it looks like to stop, look, listen and linger; and what it means to use our precious days wisely before they slip away.

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A Month of Ebenezers

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The cool, salty spray was fresh with hope. Freedom danced in the air and adventure whipped in the wind. The ferry plowed confidently through the rolling waves, moving steadily closer toward to the small island- my new home. Things had happened very quickly in the last few days. It felt like a dream but this was very real.  I looked back at the mainland, straining to see the only life I had ever known. A life of safety and security in family and home; and more recently a life marked with deep regret, painful shame, and shattered dreams. My heart was broken in so many ways. I was lost wanting to be found.

This was the beginning of a season in my life etched by indescribable grace, raw and challenging growth, and sincere gratitude. The slow tempo of the Island offered me a sanctuary for reflection. It was a place where freedom bore new dreams upon windy, high bluffs. Grains of inspiration were discovered on long stretches of sandy beaches. Revelation was abundant and overflowing in every bit of natural beauty.

I spent hours and hours walking. Every step seemed to beat out the pain of the past and moved me forward in a journey of healing. Jesus was undeniably close, patiently waiting for me to acknowledge Him again. And when I did, He met me right where I was- no judgment or condemnation. He quietly listened to my questions, stood by me as I let loose my anger and grief, and didn’t turn away when I bared my shame and surrendered my guilt. He comforted me with love and made me feel like I was the only one who had His attention. From the deepest places of my clouded heart came drops of appreciation that turned into storms of praise.

For the first time in a long time, I was able to hear the Holy Spirit’s quiet voice over the clanging lies, taunts, and distractions that I had given my attention to for so long. The Holy Spirit burned away unwanted things and brightened a flicker back into a flame. He gently guided me through acceptance, helped me turn back to God in repentance, and gave me help, power and protection in the process. I was wanted. I was found. And my response was gratitude and praise! The more I praised, the more I moved forward. The more I moved forward, the more my heart healed. The more I healed, the more I realized who I was and what that meant.

There is a story in the Bible about a battle in which the Lord helped the Israelites to win. In the place where their enemy had been routed, the prophet Samuel set up a “stone of help,” an Ebenezer, saying “Thus far the Lord has helped us.” (1 Samuel 7:12) The “stone of help” would be a reminder of God’s promise, power and protection, always serving as a prompt to praise.

Sometimes through the battles, discouragement, and troubled times it can be hard to be grateful, yet I believe, it’s during these times that our practice of praise and gratitude brings about the richest, most genuine, most powerful praise. Powerful praise that God turns into hope, freedom, and renewal.

Gratitude doesn’t need to be perfect- it’s a process. It doesn’t have to be elegant words- messy emotions from a sincere heart work too. With each step of the journey, wherever God may take you- to windswept islands or a third-floor apartment in an inner city- set up your “stones of help” and use them as a prompts of praise. For the more we praise, the more we realize what we have and the more we have we realize what that truly means.

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Although, every day, in every season, in all circumstances, is a time to be thankful, November is a special month of reflecting on what it means to thankful. I like to take this month to think about how I can better cultivate a heart of gratitude, not only in my life but in our family’s life as well. This month, I am looking back at the Ebenezers I’ve set up in my life. I’m using them as prompts of praise, to tell my story of where the Lord’s help and protection have covered me and where His power is taking me next. Join me!

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Gratitude, Even in Hard Situations

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How many times a day do you give thanks for the blessing of sight?

Fanny Crosby was six week’s old when she was left blind from a doctor’s treatment to cure an eye infection. Nonetheless, Fanny grew up active and happy surrounded by strong women of faith as she learned how to navigate the world differently than most. At eight year’s old, she composed the poem above and although the poem may not use the grandest of word choices, the wisdom is greater than most people will ever acquire in their lives. To be content and thankful in your circumstances.

Fanny Crosby went on to write more than 8,000 hymns. That’s enough hymns to fill fifteen complete hymnals stacked one on top of the other, enough to cause her publishers to resorts to ascribing to her multiple pen names to make her output more believable.¹

BUT the thing that impresses me the most, beyond her amazing writing abilities, is her attitude and her THANKFULNESS. She was thankful for the blessing of blindness.

“I could not have written ten thousands of hymns if I had been hindered by the distractions of seeing all the interesting and beautiful objects that would have been presented to my notice.” “It seemed intended by the blessed providence of God that I should be blind all my life, and I thank Him for the dispensation.” A situation that others may see as a curse, Fanny saw it as a blessing!

I wonder about us. What circumstances do we find ourselves in? Maybe we are dealing with situations we may not have asked for or never in a million years wanted?

I wonder what would happen if we could find blessings in what seem to be curses. Contentment in unhappy places. I am not saying we have to love everything that comes our way or we have to be happy every moment in dealing with these things. Grieve, yell, cry, and then breathe. Repeat. When you are ready, try to start to look at things a differently and maybe you will find something, even if it is one little thing to start with, to be grateful for.

Some of the hardest, most difficult circumstances, situations that seemed unfair and definitely most unwanted, have been the situations I have grown from the most and eventually been the ones I have been most thankful for. So, today, I would encourage you to try to look at things with a new view and come up with at least one thing you are thankful for in your current circumstances. I am praying for you! 

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

¹ Demoss, Nancy Leigh. Choosing Gratitude: Your Journey to Joy. Moody Press, 2011.


An Invitation to Explore Gratitude

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grat·i·tude  ˈ(ɡradəˌt(y)o͞od/)

noun- the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.

I wonder how many times a day we say “thank you.” Someone hands us something, we say, “thank you.” Someone does something we’ve asked, we say “thank you.” Someone holds the door open for us, we say “thank you.” In many ways, saying “thank you” has become an automated response. Words that have been modeled and encouraged, and engrained in us by our parents and teachers. These two little, socially acceptable words seem to roll off our tongue without much thought to the weight they carry.

In English, “thank you” derives from “think,” it originally meant, “I will remember what you did for me” but in other languages (the Portuguese obrigado is a good example) the standard term follows the form of the English “much obliged” — it actually means “I am in your debt.” ¹  This brings to mind a formality and sincerity that my daily flippant use of the phrase is lacking.

Maybe, we should start thinking of our “thank yous” in a more meaningful way. Yes, please do continue using polite “thank yous” in public social exchanges but in our private, heart spaces, maybe we should start to explore the deeper meaning of thankfulness and why practicing gratitude is so important.

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This may mean slowing down a bit and recognizing some things. It means acknowledging, with great sincerity, the “whos” and “whats” in our life that make us better people. It means remembering the people who we may have taken for granted or haven’t taken the time to tell them how much they mean to us. It may mean forgiveness and grace. It may mean thinking differently about the difficult situations in our life. The ones that seem to have no end, and may mean acknowledging that even through those situations we are learning, growing, and God can use them for good things. It may mean the realization of a lack of something, something more to grasp, but what that something is, you are not quite sure. All of this is good exploration and great discoveries can come from it.

Gratitude is more than a choice.  It’s is a discipline. A discipline that needs to be developed and practiced through every situation. Exploring and cultivating gratitude brings about a grateful heart. A grateful heart produces joy and joy can carry us through life and all life has to bring.

Gratitude does not necessarily come easy though. Exploring and cultivating gratitude requires dedication. It can be difficult work that requires effort and the ability to think beyond ourselves and our current circumstances. (Ever notice how much easier it is to be thankful when things are going good.). But the results of your work, and the joy it will brings, far outweighs the difficulty of the practice.

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I am dedicating the rest of November to explore, discuss, and write about gratitude here on my blog and on my Facebook page.  I would love for you to join me in your own exploration of gratitude.

Here’s some questions to get you started:

1.) When you think of “thank yous” and gratitude, what do you think about? Proper etiquette, emotions, attitudes, a choice?

2.) What does gratitude look like in your own life?

3.) Does thankfulness boil down to polite manners and ethically-correct responses, or is it something that you work on and through to bring joy and strength?

4.) How can you practice true gratitude in your daily life?

 

Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks for everything; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

 

And One more thing, it’s not too late to join November’s Gratitude Letter Challenge. You can find more here: Letters of Gratitude- A Challenge for the Month of November

 

 


Gratitude Letter Challenge- Daily Letter Prompts

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I’m proposing a time time to slow down. A time to reevaluate our priorities, reevaluate our time spent, and the words we are giving and receiving. I’m proposing taking at least ten minutes each day in November to be intentionally grateful for the people and situations in our lives and then encouraging others with our words.  I’m proposing a new challenge. An every day letter writing challenge with some new prompts and new suggestions that might possibly stretch us out of our comfort zones. See more here.

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Download Gratitude Letter Challenge Prompts here.


Letters of Gratitude- A Challenge for the Month of November

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Last November, I completed a Twenty-One Day Gratitude Letter Challenge  Twenty-one letters. Twenty-one different people. Twenty-one different sentiments of appreciation and thanksgiving. Some people I knew very closely, others were strangers. But to each person, I sent my gratitude. I thanked them for being uniquely them, for making a difference in my life, for doing their best for our community, and making the world a better place.

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Words are powerful little things and we often forget how much potential they hold. We get so busy running around, conquering the next thing, shouting short commands over our shoulders. We opt for the fastest modes of communication in the forms of emails and texts. We use shorthand, acronyms, and pictures to express our thoughts and emotions. All the while we are left weary, sometimes lonely, and desiring connection and relationships. I get it. I’ve been there. I’m often there. I’m preaching to me.

For some of us, it’s a season. For others, it’s a lifestyle. For all of us, it’s a choice.

I’m proposing a time time to slow down. A time to reevaluate our priorities, reevaluate our time, and the words we are giving and receiving. I’m proposing taking at least ten minutes each day in November to be intentionally grateful for the people and situations in our lives and then encouraging others with our words.  I’m proposing a new challenge. An every day letter writing challenge with some new prompts and new suggestions that might possibly stretch us out of our comfort zones.

“We must find time to stop and thank the people who make a difference in our lives.” – John F. Kennedy

I’m going “old school,” “snail mail,” and if you have a horse and rider to deliver letters that’s even better (Just kidding….maybe I’ve been watching too much Poldark?) You will need paper, something to write with, envelopes, and stamps. Each day, try to find ten minutes to write. It does not have to be an uninterrupted time period. It could be a minute here and a minute there. You can write at a desk, the kitchen table, in the carpool lane, or in the bathroom. It does not have to be a letter filled with long, elaborate, flowing words and rhymed prose (although. so totally awesome if it did) but it does need to be genuine and sincere and point out one or two things you appreciate, admire, and like in the person. Seal up the letter, write the address, and drop it in the mail. And smile! You just made a difference in someone’s life.

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You can find the writing prompts here. They are just a suggestion. Please write to whoever is on your heart. Be creative. Use your church directory, address books, MOPS group directory, pull names out of a hat.

And pray! Pray for the people you are writing to and pray over the envelopes before you drop them in the mailbox. I believe these letters have the power to strengthen and change relationships. Just imagine if 100 people take this challenge for thirty days, that’s 3,000 people who could have their day brightened and possible make a difference in how they look at their purpose and potential! My three kids are doing it with me. So together, that’s 120 people just from our household!!!

So, will you consider joining me in spreading some kindness and gratitude? I would love to hear from you if you do. And if you want to really take the challenge up a notch, hand deliver your letter and spend some time with that person. Oh, just think about that!!

 


Circles of People, Circles of Prayer

 

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It was Thursday night. It had been a long, good week but I was tired. On top of our usual routine busyness, there had been a MOPS meeting to prepare for and a Sisterhood message to finish. I had just finished making dinner and I was craving some moments to myself. To my kids delight, I let them eat their dinner on trays in front of the TV. The sound of Miles from Tomorrowland and quiet kids gave me some peaceful moments to take a deep breath and strategize my next steps. I could only manage to think one step ahead and doing the dishes seemed like the next logical thing to do.

I stood at the kitchen sink and sighed over the mountain of dishes. The dishes were not going to get done by staring and sighing so I began to scrub and circle the dishes clean. The warm, soapy water became a salve to my weariness. And as I scrubbed, I became overwhelmed. So overwhelmed, I began to weep. This was a different “overwhelmed” than I have become accustomed to. Not the overwhelmed by busyness or by my to-do list or by expectations, but overwhelmed with deep gratitude for my life and the people in it.

Right there in my kitchen, in the quietness of my heart, memories came back to me so clearly I felt as if they were present time. One by one they came. I could smell things, feel things, and see details of things I had forgotten. I was with people who have long gone to be with Jesus.

I was a little girl standing in the church kitchen, looking up into the faces of a circle of kind, older women. The women were smiling, chatting over their work of cleaning up the communion cups. They welcomed me in their space and allowed me to eat the leftover communion crackers. I felt accepted and safe.

I was a little girl sitting in an oversized metal folding chair among a circle of other folding chairs placed around the small living room of my childhood home. Each chair was filled by a Godly man or woman. Some held hymnals and others large, beautifully tabbed Bibles in their laps. Their songs of praise beautiful. Their prayers powerful. I felt accepted and safe. 

I was a preteen kneeling on the rug in my parent’s friends living room, not quite happy that all my other friends were out at the movies and I was at a Bible study. Regardless of my inside-ungrateful-attitudes-struggles, I was still still in the circle and I listened to God’s word be discussed and life struggles shared. I felt accepted and safe.  

I was reminded of the countless times my parents had us hold hands around the kitchen table. This happened with whoever was joining us for dinner, when we needed the Lords’s guidance, or when we were praying for someone who needed prayer. I felt accepted and safe.

Circles of people, circles of prayers. Accepted and safe. 

These were the people my parents chose to surround me with. Faithful, Jesus-loving, people who seeked God with all their heart. These were people who let me sit at their feet, invited me into their discussions, welcomed me to participate, let me ask my questions, and loved me through my attitudes and seasons of growing up.

They were not perfect people. They struggled with life. They went through trials. Some of them lost their way. But these are the people who God used to shape my life. These are the people whose stories and testimonies shaped how I saw God and Jesus. These are the people who have prayed circles in and around my life.  Prayers I am just starting to see answers to. These are the people who I wept to God in gratitude and thanksgiving over.

Somehow, the dishes seemed to get done quicker than I thought. I lingered in the memories as long as I could. I didn’t want to leave. But the call of “Mommmm!!!!” brought me to my next task. I wiped the tears from my eyes and heading into the living room to fulfill some random request. The feeling of overwhelming gratitude remained.

I want my children to have what I had. I want to leave a legacy like my parents have left for me. I want my children to grow up in circles of Godly men and women. To be able to sit at Jesus-loving people’s feet, invited into conversations about faith, feel safe enough to ask questions, sing songs of praises and embrace their part and purpose of the Kingdom of God. I want my children in circles of imperfect people who know they need Jesus, where powerful prayers are prayed, where life struggles are prayed through, where testimonies of God’s faithfulness are declared.

Circle of people, circles of prayers. Where they feel accepted and safe. 

As I write this, I am overwhelmed and weep again. This time for the people currently in our life. Our faithful parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters. Our Godly friends. Our intergenerational church family whom I love so much. People who have graciously given us room to grow in our faith and have come alongside us, encouraging us in our parenting and leadership, and loving us unconditionally. People who have welcomed our kids at their tables, fed them, watched over them, given them smiles and a hugs, invited them into prayer circles and to join them in singing songs of praise. Imperfect, Godly men and women, who know they need Jesus, who pray circles around them and encourage them with their words.

Circle of people, circles of prayers. Accepted and safe.