Archive for the ‘ thankfulness ’ Category

Hardship

As a result of recent events in our lives, my husband now needs a ride to and from work each day, which is about an hour from where we live (and an hour from where I work).   This means a 2 hour drive, both morning and evening, 5 days a week.  Suddenly, I feel as though life has given me an extra 20-hour a week job, unpaid.

Like most people, I immediately wanted to grumble and complain and vent to my friends.  I wanted validation and sympathy.  I wanted to wallow in self-pity.  Fortunately, I have a few great friends who listened and gave me the sympathy I was looking for and helped to encourage me.  A little validation goes a long way.

Those friends must be praying for me, because within just a couple of days, I really don’t feel a lot of self-pity anymore.  Maybe a little.  As I was driving to work this morning, I spent time thinking about all of the blessings in what seems like hardship.  First and foremost, I know that God is working all things for good in my life, that He supplies all my needs, and that this is a blessing meant for my sanctification and to draw me closer to Him.  I trust in God for His goodness, knowing He is completely sovereign, so I trust His plan for me, even when it doesn’t seem pleasant on the surface.  I can admit the struggle and difficulty but also know that good will come of it.

I am thankful for the opportunity to serve my husband.  I believe it will draw us closer together.  I am thankful for a reliable car that gets good gas mileage, and for God’s protection over me during all the driving I have done over the past year in general.  I enjoy listening to the Bible while driving, and I like listening to sermons, as they take my mind off the stress of traffic, and now I will have more time to do those things.  I hope that my husband and I can listen to sermons together as encouragement in the morning.

I offer my time in the car to God as a sacrifice.  I offer my life as a sacrifice to Him.  My agenda never mattered to begin with; He has always been the author of my life.  My plans are laughable.  What I think is the best use of my time is but dust.  His plan for my time and for my life brings life.

As I have experienced God’s provision and the way He works things out, the way He answers prayers, I realize that number one, I am not in control anyway, and number two, He will supply all my needs and He will work all things together for my good.

I was reading a devotional this morning about being overwhelmed not so much by the sheer amount of things we have on our “to do” lists, but more so being overwhelmed by the anxiety and worry about those items.  This observation resonated with me.  Each day is an opportunity to serve and minister to those around me (first and foremost, my husband).  I can focus on today or this hour and feel it is a manageable chunk.  If I think too much about the next week, the next month, the next year, I get overwhelmed, thinking there is no way I can do this or that.

God’s mercies are new each day, and He gives us what we need for today.  I would love if He could just put a few million dollars in my bank account (literally and metaphorically), but then I would not need to rely on Him daily for my needs.  I would start to rely on myself and forget that I need Him.  The consequences would be disastrous, or meaningless and wasteful at best.

The reason for my faith, the reason behind my joy and peace in the midst of hardship is. . . through hardship and trials.  In God’s mercy, He has allowed trials and difficulty in my life.  As God has walked me through trials and hardship, I have grown closer to Him.  As I have experienced His love for me, His mercy, His goodness, His provision, and His patience with me during the trials in my life, I have grown as a person.  I have experienced more of the fruit of the Spirit growing in me (love, joy, peace, patience, etc.).

I do not know what God has in store for me, but I will seek Him, trusting that His plan is wonderful.

Psalm 105:4

Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always.

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Thankful in 2012

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Reflecting on 2011, I have so much to be thankful for:
 –       I am most thankful for God, and the gift of grace I receive because God sent Jesus Christ to live the life I should have lived and died the death I deserved to die so that I might have new life.

–       I am also hugely thankful for my new wonderful husband, who I married in 2011.  At times it still seems surreal that I am actually married.  I feel so accepted and loved by him, far more than I deserve. 

–       I am thankful for my renewed relationship with my mom, the part she played in my wedding planning and ceremony this past year, and the quality time we spend together on Sunday evenings.

–       I am thankful for my friends who I seem to need now more than ever, who are like family to me, and who made me feel so special and loved at my showers and my wedding this past year.

–        I am thankful that I got a sister this year, as my brother also got married in 2011!  I have never had a sister before.

–       I am thankful for my job and coworkers, my stable employment, work I enjoy, and coworkers who are edifying and nourishing to my spirit.

–       I am thankful that God has increased and deepened my faith in Him and my trust in His plan for my life over the past year.  Through struggle and hardship, I have realized more of the depth of my dependence on Him to sustain me.  I am thankful that He has a plan for me, because my plan for me would have turned out disastrously.

–       I am thankful for My rich times with God while riding in the car over the past 3 months in particular: being able to listen to the Bible and sermons and pray and listen to worship music – a surprising blessing that has enriched my personal worship times.  I am spending a great deal more time in the car over the past few months than I was previously. 

–       I am thankful, too, for the struggles I encountered in 2011, which have exposed some of my sin and increased my dependence on God.  I am thankful for the hardships that help unite my husband and I, and working through conflict with him: apologizing, repenting, and growing in relationship with each other and with God.

My goals for 2012:
–       Finish listening to (or reading) the entire Old Testament.  I am currently on the book of Joshua.

–       Pray that God will strengthen my weak areas, specifically my impatience and inflexibility.  Seek to surrender to His will for my life daily.

–       Learn better ways of responding to conflict or stressful situations.

–       Learn how to better love and serve my husband.

–       Continue healthy eating and regular exercise, maintain my weight and body fat percentage, strength, and general health.

Grumbling Versus Thankfulness

During a staff meeting the other day, one of our pastors related a story of how as a youngster, he was complaining to his stepmom about his dad one day.  Later, his stepmom privately rebuked him by explaining all the wonderful things his father had been doing that his son had not been aware of.  Our pastor then realized that we do not always see the big picture, both in looking at human relationships and what God is doing in our lives.  He went on to say how often we do this in our lives; we grumble about the things that are “wrong” while missing all the great stuff that may be going on behind the scenes.  We often get tunnel vision, focusing on the negatives, while failing to step back and appreciate the big picture.

 This is one of the ways our sinful nature blinds us.  Our sinfulness, our humanness, causes us to zoom in on the challenges and struggles and disappointments in life. But the truth is, no matter what our circumstances, God is working all things together for good (Romans 8:28: “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them”), and with the exception of perhaps a few extreme cases, most of us can find a lot of blessings in our lives if we make an intentional effort to look for them.

 As I thought through what our pastor said, I sensed that this tunnel vision is what probably happens in a lot of marriages, and over time, probably leads to the high number of dissatisfied spouses that seem to exist.  Smith does a billion wonderful things for me, and he is a man of strong character.  Yet at times when I feel disappointed with something in our relationship (usually because I have made an unfair expectation in my mind that I have not communicated to him), it is as if my mind gets overly fixated on that negative thing.  I start to feel insecurity creeping in.  I have to remind myself to take a step back and see the big picture, to see that Smith is well-intentioned, loving, kind, and he truly wants me to be happy.  And even more, the “negative” issue is truly a positive in God’s perspective; He is often challenging me to learn to communicate more openly or to understand myself better, which builds up my relationship with Smith.

 I started a journal shortly after we got married in which I list a few things that Smith does for me each day that make me feel loved and that I appreciate about him.  I hope that this will help remind me of all the great things about our relationship in more challenging times, which are sure to come.

 A different pastor on staff once told me something that changed my prayer life.  He said not to worry too much about figuring out what God has in mind, but to focus more on being thankful.  Returning my focus to thankfulness again and again has deepened my relationship with God tremendously.  It is a discipline in some ways, as it does not come naturally.  Our sinful minds naturally want to think, “If only x would happen, then I would be happier.”  But true joy comes from being thankful for both the blessings and the struggles, and I have worked to train my mind to turn to thankfulness when I feel frustration, anxiety, or disappointment.  I believe this is part of what God intended in Philippians (4:6-7) when He tells us, “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.  Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.”

 Today I am thankful that I have all I need.  I am thankful for the things that God is revealing to me about myself so that I can grow.  I am thankful for the Amazon gift card someone gave me several months ago and the two books I received today using that gift card!  (“What did you expect? Redeeming the Realities of Marriage,” and “What’s it like to be married to me? And Other Dangerous Questions”)  Do you sense a theme?

Where have you been?

A very insightful INTJ friend of mine wrote me an email over the weekend and observed, “I noticed you haven’t been blogging much lately. Can I take this as a sign that things are going well for you? I hope so.”

The three other people who read my blog may have also noticed that I have not been as prolific in my blogging output of late as in previous months.

Indeed, things in my life are going extremely well. I have a sense of joy and peace in my life that is greater than anything I have ever felt. My relationship with God is the best it has ever been. He is working in my life in amazing ways, and He has blessed me beyond measure.

I suppose that the main reason for my absence is that I wanted to keep my recent joys, struggles, and experiences close and share them only with my closest friends for the time being. I strive to be authentic on my blog (as in life), and I felt unable to discuss trivial matters, yet I was not ready to share recent events with the world (well, the four people who read my blog).

My biggest struggle of late has been that an ex-boyfriend of mine has been harassing me, and I have had to take legal action. I praise God for this struggle, because it has helped me to grow and heal tremendously. The harassment has been going on for nearly a year (longer than we dated in the first place).  

I had previously felt a great deal of guilt and shame, feeling like it was my fault, allowing my boundaries to be violated (though not consciously aware that this was happening). Actually, one of my friends (an ENTJ) said, “It probably was your fault.” But even that was so freeing to hear! His point was that it does not matter why, we are all sinful, but that God’s grace covers our sin, and in His sovereignty, He will use all things for good.

In taking legal action, I feel empowered, and I am able recognize and respond to the boundary violations because I am getting healthier and starting to feel some healthy anger. (I rarely feel anger.) I have also had to ask for help and support and prayer from others, which in itself is freeing, as I have a very difficult time asking for help in general. Through this struggle, I have had an enormous sense of peace and assurance that God is in control, that He is working, and I feel so much healing taking place, and thus, my struggle has been such a blessing.

The greatest experience in my life lately is that I have met my soulmate, who I call Smith*. God has a great sense of irony. On my first date with Smith, we discussed love, and I exclaimed on our date, “What is love anyway?” In a short period of time, God has shown me what love is in ways I never could have imagined or expected. Smith is the most amazing and fascinating man I have ever met. Everything about my relationship with him is different than anything I have ever experienced.

We are so similar; he is virtually a male version of me. If you have followed my blog, or if you know me personally, you may be aware that I am a unique individual.  I have always felt a gap between myself and others in relationships and friendships, like I have never really fit in anywhere, and I truly did not believe I would ever find someone so like-minded, someone with whom I *belong*. Yet God decided in His infinite graciousness and wisdom to bless me with this man who I respect and appreciate beyond anything I could have anticipated. He loves God, he has a wonderful and kind heart, he is brilliant, and he feels the same way about me that I feel about him.

It is difficult to briefly summarize how God has used this relationship for good; there is so much I would love to write. I will say for now that one of the most significant aspects of my relationship with Smith is my ability to completely be myself. He is so safe for me. I understand myself better because Smith and I are so much alike that being with him is like looking in a mirror (he is an INTJ, too, but there is so much more connectedness than can be accounted for solely by personality theory!). He gets me in ways no one else ever has. One benefit to being able to just be myself is that I feel like I am freer in my other friendships, so that I am able to be a better friend to others because my own insecurities are minimized.

I wake up every morning thanking God for what He is doing in my life. I hope to share more with you soon. Thank you for sticking with me, faithful reader.

*Names have been changed.

Single Again

I’m single again.

And surprisingly, it feels pretty damn good.

The deep longing of my heart is to one day be married. I feel that God designed me for and intends for me to be married. And there are many aspects of dating and relationships that I enjoy. Yet, I have a strong sense that I am exactly where I need to be right now.

I was reading “Let Me Be a Woman,” by Elisabeth Elliot last night, and she wrote in the book, “Let not our longing slay the appetite of our living.” I get frustrated with people who exhort, “Be content in your singleness.” God put a desire on my heart to be married, and I see clear evidence of Him preparing me for a marriage relationship. God wants us to long for what he intends for us and not be merely “content.” But He also wants us to live today. This is the place I am in right now. I long for marriage, but singleness is God’s path for me today, and I will live to the fullest in that.

I have a friend who is involved with Celebrate Recovery, a Christian-based addictions recovery program that is similar to Alcoholics Anonymous. She reminded me yesterday to take life one day at a time. And she is right. I get overwhelmed at times thinking about the future. At times, I feel overwhelmed by the prospect of meeting, dating, and marrying my future husband. But God dispenses His grace one day at a time. He gives me exactly what I need for today. And thankfully, this enables me to rely on Him every single day. So today, I trust that I am where I need to be. Single.

The past few weeks, I had been feeling increasingly unsettled with the guy I was dating. I hate to admit it, but I knew he was not right for me, yet I was reluctant to cut it off because I liked his personality. And I did not really want to be alone. I have a great support network of friends, but I enjoy the particular feeling of companionship in a dating relationship. I like having someone to talk to before going to bed. I like knowing someone is thinking about me during the day.

I have been feeling insecure, as well, the past few weeks, much more so than is usual for me. Like anyone, I have some insecurity, but for the most part I am pretty confident and well-adjusted. Now that the relationship is over, suddenly, my confidence is back. When I opened up to my ex about how I was feeling (while we were still dating), he told me that my insecurities were coming from inside me, he denied any part in it, and his words led me to doubt myself. Now that I am out of the relationship, I see that it wasn’t that anything is wrong with me, he just wasn’t right for me. And perhaps, as well, I was reacting to his emotional unavailability.

In my Bible study group today, we discussed Philippians 1 and the importance of fellowship. One of the benefits of having true friends who love us (more specifically in the context of the passage, Christian friends), is that they desire to see us grow and be happier and healthier. If our true friends give us criticism or negative feedback, we can trust that they are saying it out of love because they truly want the best for us.

One of my weaknesses is that in dating relationships, when the guy gives me negative feedback, I want to believe that he is saying it in a loving way because he truly desires that I be a more Godly and better person. However, I think in reality, a lot of times guys say things to me out of their own insecurities and weaknesses. Perhaps they are projecting some of their own insecurities, but whatever the reason, the negative feedback is not said out of a sincere heart. Unfortunately, I have a hard time discerning when this is the case, and I take their comments seriously, which in the case of this most recent relationship, made me question myself and feel some insecurity.

As my pastor David* said, “Don’t date guys in the gym. They are screwed up.”

No, that’s not the quote I meant, although he said that, as well. He also said, “Don’t fall in love with the icing, which consists of personality and physical attraction. We need the cake, the substance, to fill us up. The icing is delicious, but when we eat only the icing, we will end up with a headache.”

If I am really honest with myself, my most recent ex was icing. And I ended up with a headache.

Now that the sugar crash has cleared, I am looking forward to working on myself and becoming more emotionally and spiritually healthy. I am also excited to have the opportunity to look for a man of substance, a man whose heart belongs to God.

One of the best books I have read is “Emotionally Healthy Spirituality,” by Peter Scazzero. He avers that spiritual and emotional maturity co-occur. (Side note: My recent ex-boyfriend was not at all spiritually mature, hence, he cannot truly be emotionally mature, either. It is not my intent to be critical of him, as he has many great qualities. But I admit that I conveniently overlooked the spiritual issue because I was attracted to him, and I wanted to date him because he was tasty icing. However, I probably should have known better.) In Scazzero’s book, he has one of the most informative charts I have seen that lists the characteristics of an emotionally healthy person. You can view this chart here. Jesus functioned at 100. He was both perfectly confident and perfectly humble.

For now, I will work on my relationship with God first and foremost. I am also seeing a counselor who can help me grow emotionally and psychologically. Beyond that, it is my aim (with God’s help) to put my trust in God when it comes to relationships. I desire to follow His will for me and not to date someone just because he pursues me or seems attractive. I want to look for the substance, the heart, the cake. I wish to fully and intentionally rely on God to provide what I need, particularly in the arena of dating relationships.

While I do wish to be in a relationship that is headed towards marriage, I am not going to go out and specifically seek to date. Rather, I wish to follow God’s direction. For now, at least, I am discarding my old List of qualities and characteristics to look for in mate, and I am going with my friend Emily’s* list, which I have written about previously.

1. He loves God more than he loves me.
2. He supports my ministry by encouraging me and praying for me.
3. He truly understands God’s grace, and is thus able to love the Lord and be forgiving.
4. He fights for me and for our relationship.

Today, I am very thankful for friends who are praying for me and encouraging me. I am thankful for the amazing people that surround me daily. I am thankful for the healing that God has brought into my life. I am thankful that my happiness, joy, peace, and hope comes always and only from Jesus Christ. I thankful that I feel confident in my identity in Christ.

*Names have been changed.

Sadness

Over the last few days, I have been struck with sudden lightning storms of sadness, of sorrow, unexpectedly and more frequently than usual. At those times, my emotions are close to the surface and I feel like crying. Yet, my life is going amazingly well right now. I feel a sense of joy, peace, and contentment in my heart and spirit that has been very elusive throughout my life, particularly until I became a Christian several years ago.

My spiritual walk is progressing well. I feel very close to God, and my time spent praying and reading the Bible has been rich. I have been gaining a lot of insight and wisdom through people, books, and meditation, which has led to a deeper understanding of God’s love and His faithfulness.

Physically, I have been blessed with health and fortitude. My workouts have been rewarding, and I am getting stronger. I have managed to avoid getting the cold or flu thus far this winter. I am eating healthy, and I feel energetic and happy with my body (at least, as much as is possible for a woman).

I am growing psychologically, and I feel emotionally healthy. I have been self-confident and goal-oriented. And I am, as always, striving for personal growth and increased maturity.
Relationally, I have been so blessed. My friendships are deepening, and my relationship with my mom is happy.

I am so thankful that God has placed so many blessings in my life. And while I do not wish to feel a sense of entitlement to these blessings, I do want to appreciate and enjoy the sweet spot in which God has me.

So why, when I feel happier and more content that I have felt in a long time, do I feel emotional and sensitive? In part, I think it is because on a subconscious level, I don’t really believe that I deserve to be happy or that I deserve good things in my life. I have struggled with depression for most of my life, and particularly before I became a Christian, so just feeling normal was rare. And now that I feel such joy, I do not know how to sit with it and just be.

Additionally, most strong emotions that I have experienced in my life have been sad and lonely ones. So now, when I feel strong positive emotion, my heart does not know how to respond to it. At times lately, I feel overwhelmed with thankfulness and joyfulness, to the point where my eyes well up with tears.

1 Peter 1:7-9

These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

Thankfulness

When I stop to think about it, I find it astounding that the Word of God, everything we need to know, is written in a book that is so easily accessible (at least in the United States) and so compact. Of the Bibles I own, my favorite copy fits easily in my purse. Yet despite its diminutive size, it teaches me something new every time I open it. God’s Word brings me comfort and peace, security and wisdom.

In recent months, I’ve been thinking a lot about God’s grace, particularly with regards to my thoughts and behaviors – my performance. Intellectually, I know that nothing I do or don’t do can make God love me any more. And nothing I do can make Him love me any less. Yet I am human, and a perfectionist, and at times I feel discouraged that I am not doing enough, or I am not doing the right things. At times I worry that I am not living the life that God wants me to live. I feel like I fall so short of what He wants for me.

At these times, I have found that I am most encouraged by meditating not on what I think God wants me to do for Him, but what God has done for me. In an eternal sense, He has given me new life and salvation, the promise of restoration and everlasting life with Him. In a temporal sense, He has filled the sense of emptiness I felt for much of my life. He has given me faith, hope, love, ministry, friends, and He has built my character.

Today, on Thanksgiving Day, I am thankful for His promises to me. What follows are a few of my favorite verses and the blessings I have as a daughter of Christ.

1. I am thankful for the grace of God, His forgiveness, and my adoption as His daughter.

Ephesians 1:4-8 – For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.

2. I am thankful that God delights in me, that He loves me.

Zephaniah 3:17 – The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.

3. I am thankful for hope.

Romans 5: 1-5 – Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.

4. I am thankful that God wants us to have the desires of our hearts.

Psalm 37:4 – Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart.

5. I am thankful that I do not need to worry or be anxious, because God is in control.

Philippians 4:6 – Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

6. I am thankful for the fruit of the Holy Spirit.

Galatians 5:22-23a – But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

7. I am thankful that God sent his only son to live the life I should have lived, to die the death I deserve to die, so that I have eternal life.

John 3:16 – For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.