The Conclusion of a Very Long Year – 365 Days to Thank You

For about a month now my youngest has been reminding me that we are close to “kanksgiving”. In case you aren’t fluent in child, that’s Thanksgiving, and yes, the stressful planning of the first Thanksgiving in my own home has begun in earnest. It will not be like other Thanksgiving celebrations that I remember so fondly because, well, 2020. But I am reminded that this is also very close to the conclusion of an exploration that I began last year and shared a little with you. This is the end of my 365 Days to Thank You. This is where I anticipated wrapping it all up in a huge bow and saying “look what I learned about gratitude and saying Thank You.” But, like everything this year, it has not gone as I expected it would. I haven’t learned what I expected, but I have learned more. It has been more difficult to learn as well. But that is really the biggest lesson isn’t it: When you ask God to teach you something, be prepared to do it HIS way, not your own way.

So, you can go back through several of my posts (all under 365 Days To Thank You) and see some of my progress in learning. First I walked you through my journey to lose my preconceptions and my assumptions about thankfulness. It was here that I encouraged us to drop our overuse of the words that do not have the true meaning behind them. Then I moved through several seasons of challenge and adjustments to my thoughts on thankfulness. But again, if we want to go back over it all, the posts are there to mark the progress. I’m going to spend the rest of this post on the wrap up that I have experienced in the last couple of weeks. It’s amazing how God will provide message after message on what you need to learn when you really need to learn it.

Here is one big point that 2020 taught me about thankfulness:

Gratitude – Thank You – is a bigger thing than just the words you use after someone hands you coffee or your mail. It has the power to change you, to shape your world from your heart outward.

I heard this as it worked its way through my mind and I wondered: how do I let gratitude change me? How do I let it be more than Thank You? My answer came, in the insistent fashion that often is God’s style, over about two weeks in the form of two character studies in the Bible.

The first was the story of Esther.

In overview, it looks like a Hallmark movie. Orphaned pretty girl raised by her uncle meets the king, wins a beauty contest and becomes queen and in the process points out horrible corruption and racism in the castle and saves her very own family from evil. Aww. But no. She didn’t really get much of a choice on the “beauty contest”. She spent a year in the king’s palace being poked and prodded and fattened up only to be trotted in front of a king who had already shown himself to be vengeful and hard to predict and THEN she was crowned queen because she physically pleased the king the most. While, yes, it was an honor, but it was also a time of great fear for her. The feelings she has begun to live with are evident when, at a time when she is the most influential woman in the kingdom, she still expresses fear that she will be killed if she approaches the king as her uncle asks her to. Here is where we hear the iconic words: “And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?”(Esther 4:14).

How does this teach me about thankfulness changing the world? Well, Esther showed great courage when she faced that fear of death and put to work one of the most impressive plans to reach the mind of a king in all of history. But where did that courage come from? I would argue that it is true Gratitude. She is using the position God put her in to save the people of God. She was thankful for the blessing to her and her people that didn’t look like a blessing through the eyes of her fear.

The take away for me: True, powerful gratitude comes when we are thankful for the blessing that doesn’t look like a blessing. It comes when we have a heart full of gratitude for a God who is doing something we do not understand and we are thankful in every season, whether that is one of fear, happiness, sadness or joy. Gratitude, truly, is not changed by the situation you find yourself in. It changes the situation you find yourself in.

I read that story a few weeks ago and it bowled me over, but God clearly was not done with me. There is a second story and a final point answers the question of why we can show gratitude to God even when we do not see a blessing. It comes from the story of Joshua.

For those who do not know, Joshua was the successor to Moses. After Moses died, Joshua was the one that God chose to take His people into the Promised Land. But it wasn’t like they were going to take a leisurely stroll into a garden flowing with milk and honey. No, this was going to be a fight, a series of fights actually, and Joshua would be facing it with a group of people who had been wandering, and whining, in the desert for an entire generation. I couldn’t have been easy to gain the courage he would need to lead these people. It couldn’t have been easy to have the faith that was required to face all of these armies. And I’m sure it wasn’t easy to show gratitude to God for what He would do for them in these battles before they even began.

But here again, God’s goodness becomes evident in a really scary time. In this moment, God adjusts Joshua’s perspective.

We start on the precipice of the battle of Jericho, an unusual battle to be sure, but at this point Joshua is looking at the biggest wall (I’m sure literally and figuratively) he had ever seen. Here is where we get this interchange:

Joshua 5:13-15

“Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, ‘Are you for us or for our enemies?’

‘Neither,’ he replied, ‘but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.’ Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence, and asked him, ‘What message does my Lord have for his servant?’

The commander of the Lord’s army replied, ‘Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy.’ And Joshua did so.”

That is worth re-stating: Joshua asked the commander of the Lord’s armies if he was there for them or their enemies and the answer was “Neither”. What!?!? I’m sure that is not what he wanted to hear, heck, that’s not what you want to hear when you pray for your favorite football team or favorite political candidate! But God has a very clear message for Joshua and for us: The question is not if God is on our side, but are we on God’s side.

My final point on this journey of Thank You will be based on this point because, frankly, this blew my mind and changed my perspective on gratitude toward God.

We cannot have true Gratitude toward God, the kind of Gratitude that will change our hearts and our world, until we realize that what He does has nothing to do with being on our side. When we wake up each morning and ask “Am I on God’s side?” instead of “Is God on my side today?” we will begin to be thankful for everything He is doing, even when we do not understand or even see what He is doing.

365 to Thank You has gone through the hardest year that I possibly could have chosen and I have come out of it with this:

Be thankful for the blessing that doesn’t look like a blessing because the question is not whose side God is on but if I have chosen to be on God’s side. His side is holy and I should approach with humility, not a list of demands.

I hope we can all have a beautiful season of Thankfulness and Blessed Humility.

Ronda

The Lesson I Never Wanted to Teach…or Learn

We’ve all heard of the Golden Rule. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Seems so simple! In fact, I think there’s even a Veggie Tales about it, which, as all of us know, means it is a pretty big deal. But what does it mean and why do we do it?

My husband and I have used it as a go to when littles start to push and shove or when they don’t share. It’s one of the basic tools in the parent tool belt. But my littles are getting bigger and some of the lessons I have always taught are being questioned by minds whose world is getting more complicated every day. It is time to re-examine the go-tos and know the whys so that I have an answer when they ask.

The latest test happened just recently when my oldest boy was dealing with his older cousin. Older cousin is reaching into teenagedom and my oldest is just getting into the 3rd grade, so they kind of remind me of a puppy following a big dog. Sometimes the big dog is not so happy to have the puppy around and barks a little. Add to that the fact that teasing looks very much different for teenagers than it does for 3rd graders and my boy was not so sure how to react. I, being uber mom (yeah right), went very quickly to the Golden Rule. But then my boy brought up a point that had me stumped: What do we do when the other person still doesn’t treat us the way we want to be treated?

Huh. Never really considered that.

Then I thought about it. Not once does the Golden Rule guarantee that we will be treated as we want to be treated.

That reminded me of my biggest revelation as an adult and the lesson I did not want to teach: You cannot make anyone behave the way you want them to. You can cajole and beg and manipulate and influence, but you cannot make them do anything.

The only person you can make obey the Golden Rule is you.

You want to know the really tough part about that lesson? Even if you follow the Golden Rule, your world will not suddenly be perfect. Kinda feels like a disappointment. So why do it?

There is a faith lesson here. God, your Good Father, has told you what to do, how to be a good person.

Listen, do, wait, get hurt, beg for help, listen, do, wait, get hurt, beg for help, listen, do, wait, teach.

When you do what God asks you to do, even when there is no obvious reward, even when you get hurt doing what is right, what you do will not only make you the person you are supposed to be, it will teach those who are watching you.

Yes, as a Christian, people are watching. Even if you aren’t a parent, people will watch you to see what you do. So, when you treat others as you would have them treat you and they do not treat YOU as you would have them treat you, who watched that happen?

Who was scrolling through Facebook and saw that exchange between you and that person who was a distant friend of a friend who thought your opinion was bunk?

When you sold that thing at a garage sale and the person accidently handed you more cash than you had agreed on, who was watching you?

You’ve been listening to me go on and on about this rule. Let’s head to the source, Jesus, and see what He actually said:

Matthew 7:7-12

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”

Isn’t it so stabilizing to go to the Word of God!

We find here an answer to the dizzying search I began in this post. Why do we do good when there is no guarantee that we will be treated well? We do good because we have a Good Father in Heaven who gives us every good thing that we need in this life.

So be good to others when it makes no sense.

Show them your Good Father.

Teach them what your Father has taught you. They are watching.

Work to become the good person God made you to be.

Have a Golden Week,

Ronda

The Search for Me

I think I’m telling you exactly how old I am, but well, most of you know anyway, so here goes. When I was in high school, one of the popular phrases in youth group was, “When the bell rings, remember who you are and whose you are.” Well, I no longer hear a bell every 88 minutes (block scheduling and all), but I still have a need to remember who I am.

There are multitudinous opportunities to define ourselves by what side we take in the current argument on Social Media or Television News or even in the Church. But if we do that, we are changing our “identity” every few conversations and re-defining ourselves with every new Meme. This will not do. The human mind was not created for such instability. It will lead to depression, confusion and anger. Does that sound at all familiar?

So how do we remember who we are? The answer has always been and will always be in the second part of my high school mantra: I have to remember WHOSE I am.

I am a creation of God. By the Grace of God I am a child of God, an heir to the kingdom of God. My identity, and therefore my action, is based in His Kingdom. When I remember this, I’m a lot less likely to get pulled around by all of the currents of identity available in my world. I’m less likely to think badly of myself or others. I’m less likely to take myself too seriously and less likely to underestimate my worth.

A couple of weeks ago, SouthPoint Church in Bixby, Ok had a speaker who expounded beautifully on this idea. Her name is Valencia Anderson and if you are curious, here is the sermon: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KaCI-pMNMQw&feature=emb_logo

She explains in a very clear way that we are not to find our identity in anything but God and that when we do, problems begin.

Don’t mistake your identity.

When we forget who and whose we are, we are open to letting others define us, or mis-define us. When this happens we find angst and derision and anger and misunderstandings that can lead to lifelong division.

Storytellers over the centuries have found material in mistaken identities. Shakespeare wrote of several characters who pretended to be what they were not to attain a goal and then found that there was more trouble in the mistaken identity than there would have been if they had just told the truth. Hallmark movies (a Holiday addiction, I must admit) are rife with mistaken identity. Generally, this means that the girl who accidentally showed up for a job/appointment/castle gets to spend a while dancing around in someone’s shoes until the boss/man/prince that she really really likes finds out and won’t speak to her for at least a good montage and then all is right when we all admit the truth.

OH, if life were like stories….but it kind of is.

See, if the character had just come out and said who they were to begin with, there would have been no story, no drama. No drama is a bad thing for Hallmark and Shakespeare but an oh so good thing in real life.

Avoid the drama. Have your confession scene early. Stand in front of the mirror and remember who you are. Remember that you are not defined by which side of the argument you fall on. If you’re doing it right, the side of the argument you eventually fall on, if there is any reason to be in the argument to begin with, will be defined by who you are. After you have left the mirror and must face those on the outside who would mis-define you based on what they think or want you to be, remind them who you are.

REMINDER: You are a child of God, bought by the blood of Jesus Christ and offered freedom from sin and death through the Grace of God. All you need to do is accept Him as your Savior and you will be re-defined, properly this time.

Romans 10:9-10 ESV

“because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.”

This means you’ve got back-up.

Have you ever seen a cop drama or western movie where the hero has no one backing him up? When the hero is unsupported, it is hard to believe that he will win. When a storyline includes no back-up it is either incredibly depressing or unbelievable.

My favorite kinds of movies all include that moment near the end when you feel like there is no hope left and the bad guy is talking about how alone the hero is or how there is no point in fighting because no one cares, and boom, best friend or that person you thought was mad and left sweeps in and gives the hero just enough cover or distraction to win the day and get the bad guy. There’s always that “I had your back the whole time, buddy” look somewhere near the end of the action, too. Ah, my favorite!

My favorite moments in my life are when I have to ask for help. Sure, not my favorite at the time. There is generally a lot of hair pulling or cussing or some other completely unflattering behavior before I ask for help. But the reason these moments are my favorite is the jolt I get when I remember that no matter what, I have someone there to help, I have back-up. When the enemy, the devil, comes to take what peace I have, all I have to do is call my “good buddy” God and I have all of the strength and guidance and support that I need to keep my peace. Ok, so “good buddy” may be the understatement of the year as far as God’s place in my life, but you see my point.

All help comes from my Father in heaven. If that means I need a good book or a good song or a good friend or someone to help me hold on when the world is out of whack, it all comes from the Father. That’s a good thing, because He never changes, He provides what we need in a world that constantly changes.

God is always the same. We are defined by Him. This is a steady definition. Remember back an hour ago (see I can admit I’m long winded) when you read paragraph 2 of this blog? I said the human mind was not made for instability. That is because we were made to find our definition, who we are, in God, the most stable being.

Find who you are in God. Do not be mis-defined by the shifting shadows of this world. Find your strong back-up, your strong foundation, here:

James 1:17 NIV

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”

I pray that we all find our peaceful and grateful selves in Christ this week.

Ronda

The Blessing of My Weakness

I’m so tired. I’ve said this more than once during the last couple of months, and while I have been lacking in sleep (nothing new in our house), the words do not mean that I would like to take a long nap and then everything would be better. No, I believe that I have reached the end of myself several times since last January, and I don’t think I’m the only one. I have discovered my weakness, but I’m not sure that this is a bad thing. I think I have discovered something to be thankful for.

I’ve discovered that when my spirit is tired, I have less patience with others. This is bad.

I’ve discovered that when my spirit is tired, I hold tighter to my opinions, wrong or right. This is bad.

I’ve discovered that when my spirit is tired, I look for anything to sustain me for a minute longer. This is bad.

I’ve discovered that when my spirit is tired, nothing within myself will help me to carry on. This is good.

I’ve discovered the only thing to do when my spirit is tired is to turn to Jesus and say (or scream) “I don’t know what is happening, I don’t know what to do, and I cannot go one more step without you!” This is the best.

Knowing it is best to lean on Jesus, where do I look to find Jesus?

Charles Stanley recently said on his In Touch Ministries Radio minute (https://www.intouch.org/listen/todays-moment/the-catalog) that if you wanted to find out what was in the Sears warehouse back before you could go to the store, and before the internet, you would look in the Sears catalog. He went on to say that if you want to know what God has to say, you look in His catalog, the Bible.

So I went to God’s catalog to find what He had for me. Want to know what I found?

I found Biblical figure after figure struggling with their own tired spirit.

David spent much of his life seeking God when he was weary or struggling. The Psalms are full of his prayers to the Lord during the harshest times. I’m pretty sure (though the Bible says nothing of it) that he wasn’t hiding from a pandemic, but I kinda get where he was coming from, hiding in a cave from enemies who wanted him dead. Ok, I said kinda! I know that I really have no frame of reference for where David was in his actual life, but I know the man’s spiritual pain. I have often found his words encouraging when I am crying out to the same God for help. He very helpfully recorded the result of his cry here in Psalm 34.

Psalm 34:4-6

“I sought the LORD, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears.

Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame.

This poor man called, and the LORD heard him; he saved him out of all his troubles.”

So much hope is found in those words. I know that our God is one who answers, and delivers (even from my own fear). I look forward to being “radiant” as I look to my God. My face is radiant because my tired spirit has reached the realization that I never really held everything all together in the first place. It was always by the strength of my Great God and the Grace of Jesus Christ that I was able to do anything at all.

This last lesson, that my strength comes from only the Lord, I learned from Nehemiah. This man was given a huge task. He was rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. There is so much symbolism in this rebuilding story, but one thing I would like you to take away (please, if you get the time study all that had to go into the return of Jerusalem in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah), what I want you to remember is here in Nehemiah 6.

Nehemiah 6:9

“They were all trying to frighten us, thinking, ‘Their hands will get too weak for the work, and it will not be completed.’ But I prayed, ‘Now strengthen my hands.’”

It was that simple. There was no debating about where the strength to complete the task was going to come from. There was no considering all of the scary things the people around him were trying to say. He knew that they were trying to frighten him and all of his builders, he might have even felt that fear deep in his bones, but God would keep the fear from weakening their hands. God would ensure that the task would be completed. His tired spirit’s prayer was simple “Now strengthen my hands.”

I pray this week, for me and for you, that God would strengthen our hands to the task He has given us. I pray that He would make our faces radiant as we turn towards Him. I pray that He would awaken and strengthen our tired spirits.

Ronda

Hero Me Not – 365 to Thank You

Where I learn that I am thankful for the reminder that I am only human.

The world has really started to run on hyper speed lately! This is truly amazing when you think that we were supposed to all be huddled in our carb-filled toilet paper nests binge watching Tiger-something on the only streaming service that cares enough to ask if you are still watching or if you have passed out yet again on the couch. I was under the impression that this was pretty close to the standard this year was to have reached until “this all blows over”. Can you hear the eye rolls? No, I’m not getting political or scientific. I have taken all of the precautions that a thinking person should, and I have thought a whole lot. I’m just mentioning all of this because it seems like everything really has sped up and stood still all at the same time. Some of you will say “It’s the Rona” or “Election year”, but I really believe that this is just human nature. We run from thing to thing in the wind of the latest absolute need.

But this isn’t God’s nature. He is still God. No pandemic or election will change that. He is not huddled in our nests or raging on our streets. He is walking with us, waiting patiently for us to listen and do His will. He has already finished all of this. You may have heard the saying “don’t re-invent the wheel”, well, don’t struggle in fear of what your God has said is Finished.

With that in mind, I have been limiting my news feed sessions (some days more effectively than others) to about two per day and I have found one thing pulsing in my spirit while I allow the stories from our world to sink in: I am so glad that no one has ever made a statue of me.

I don’t want to get into the argument of should we or shouldn’t we, I just want to examine the why we already have.

Statues and Memorials are put up to remind us of something or someone from our past, something important to remember. God ordered His people to put up memorials to help them remember all that He had done for them. It isn’t a new practice and we are not facing a novel problem. If you happen to have had a statue of yourself erected in a city center or somewhere equally auspicious, someone thought that something you did in your life was worth it. But, here we are again on human nature, this also means that someone somewhere down the road may think that you do not deserve it because of some other thing you did. We are nowhere near perfect, no matter how heroic we may seem. And humans change with the current and we judge each other harshly. It seems that when we erect a statue, we forget that the person we are creating an image of is, indeed, a person and not a cartoon super hero.

I have a suggestion: let your heros sit on chairs, not thrones or pedestals. My husband has said that Abraham Lincoln is his most and least favorite President. I understand this thinking. You can admire a man for something he did that is good and worthy of praise, and you don’t have to forget all the things that they did that were not good and not worthy of praise.

No, I don’t want a statue made in my image. I know too much about me.

But God knows more. God knows the things that my mind hides from me in an effort to find myself likable on a daily basis. God knows all of my thoughts….ALL of my thoughts. And He loved me enough to save me from my sin. He loved me enough to show me the perfect path that was His plan from the beginning and to discipline me to stay close to Him.

No, I don’t want a statue, or the approval of this world. That is superfluous to what I have already been given.

Seek first His Kingdom! Seek first His Glory!

Everything else is cake; cake that will be eaten, perhaps enjoyed and then thrown into the trash by hands who do not know what it took to make it.

Everything else is statues; venerated one day, forgotten, then remembered again, if only in a faint light of their original intent, and then fallen.

Everything else is a streaming video service; they give you what you thought you wanted until hours later when you have wasted your time and have to yet again answer “yes, I’m still watching” to an uncaring robot who really only asked because it was programmed to (and can sometimes seem a little judgy).

Sort of kidding on that last one, but you see what I’m getting at. What seems desperate and important for us to grasp at here on this Earth is meaningless when we compare it to the freely given Great Gift of our Loving God.

I could go on for another 800 or so words, but God has already told this story over and over so, here you go:

In this portion of 2 Chronicles chapter 7, Solomon has just finished and dedicated the Temple. This was a huge feet passed on to him by his father. It had to be a really high time in his life, a time when he felt there should be statues of him (as wise as he was he was still a man). But God took him by the hand and reminded him of his humanity and the humanity of all of the people. God quietly let him know that there would be mistakes, but that if he/we would listen to God we would be fine. Here it is in the Message translation (I’ve read several and I like what all of them have to say, so please read this section in your favorite translation.):

2 Chronicles 7:12-18

“God appeared to Solomon that very night and said, “I accept your prayer; yes, I have chosen this place as a temple for sacrifice, a house of worship. If I ever shut off the supply of rain from the skies or order the locusts to eat the crops or send a plague on my people, and my people, my God-defined people, respond by humbling themselves, praying, seeking my presence, and turning their backs on their wicked lives, I’ll be there ready for you: I’ll listen from heaven, forgive their sins, and restore their land to health. From now on I’m alert day and night to the prayers offered at this place. Believe me, I’ve chosen and sanctified this Temple that you have built: My Name is stamped on it forever; my eyes are on it and my heart in it always. As for you, if you live in my presence as your father David lived, pure in heart and action, living the life I’ve set out for you, attentively obedient to my guidance and judgements, then I’ll back your kingly rule over Isreal – make it a sure thing on a sure foundation. The same covenant guarantee I gave to David your father I’m giving to you, namely, ‘You can count on always having a descendant on Israel’s throne.’”

The next few verses are what happens if the God-defined people don’t stay close to God. It is instructive to read and I advise it; in fact, I advise reading as much of the Bible as you can whenever you can.

What I really want to get out of all of this and what I would pray that you get, is this:

Don’t put the approval of man or the good in this life over the Salvation and life with God offered through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

Have a good week,

Ronda

Fear and My Thankful Heart: 365 Days to Thank You – I’ve stopped counting weeks ;)

It has been a very, very long time since you have heard from me. I’m sorry. I’ve found myself fighting a very old enemy and, honestly, I haven’t been fairing well.

You see, I was panicking before it was popular. Seriously though, I’ve had panic attacks. I’ve had irrational fear. I’ve had social anxiety. I’ve had fear of change, fear of the unknown, fear of failure, fear of success (yes it’s a thing), and fear of fear. I’ve never had stage-fright though (this is the point where everyone who has known me for a long time is giggling at their computer screens). The point is I’ve been battling with the wrong kind of fear for a very long time. It has slowed me down and kept me from many things, but in this time when the whole world is wrapped up in the wrong kind of fear….it took my voice.

The wrong kind of fear wrapped me up and… Took. My. Voice!

I couldn’t think of one thing that would be useful for any of you. I couldn’t think of one thing that I felt I could say. I couldn’t see for all of the panic around me. Instead I found myself, like so many others, on a binge diet of network news and an IV drip of Facebook.

This would not do.

So, it is time to examine both kinds of fear, the wrong and the right. I need to see why fear is a part of me and what has gone wrong. I say that because I believe that God gave us our emotions and our minds and I know for a fact that fear is a very basic part of our psychophysiology (been waiting years to use that word in a sentence, but I digress). Well, if God made me and fear is a basic response in me, what is going wrong that it now has such disastrous effects?

Follow me here for a bit as I ask you to use your imagination.

This is how I see it: Fear, as I know it, is like a giant, elaborately wrapped present. Think, overwhelmingly attractive, first gift to be picked and stolen in a White Elephant gift party, wrapping. When we see the wrapping we want to hold it and look at it forever, but that’s not how a present works, is it.

The first step when you receive a present is to take off that amazing wrapping. The temptation here for generations of grown women is to keep it “for later”. The problem for generations of toddlers is the idea that the pretty wrapping is the gift. Both of these groups draw a perfect picture of what I was doing with the “wrapping”  (the panic attacks and the fear of change, etc.) on my fear present. I was keeping it. I was admiring it. But, attractive as it may be to sit in the dark with the voices of doom, that is not what you are to do with the “wrapping” is it? You throw that stuff away. You don’t need it taking up room in some overstuffed closet in your mind. Throw it away. This wrapping was not what the gifter wanted you to have. This is the wrong kind of fear and it will steal everything good away from you.

The second step is opening the box. The box is utilitarian; serving its original purpose. This is the original response in my body. This is the response that keeps me away from that rattling sound in a field. This is the response that keeps me from eating without washing my hands. The response that makes me question the motives of a stranger before following them blindly. The box is good. The box has a purpose. But the box is not the gift. If we stop here we will be deeply disappointed or at least bored and we will never receive the gift. This type of fear reveals nothing. It keeps you living, not alive.

The third step is the gift. Beautiful and precious, this is what the gifter, in this case God, wanted us to have when He gave us the present. This is what is referred to in the Bible as the “fear of the Lord”. This is what reminds us that God is Holy, God is Pure, God is Almighty and we are not. This is what keeps us humble in the almighty presence of God. This is the fear that leads to wisdom. This is the fear that I am truly thankful for.

If you are still unsure of the difference between the fear I have labeled “wrapping” and the fear of God here is a quick indication:

The fear the world gives you (and wraps the true gift in) will paralyze you and close you down. You will not see anything outside of the fear.

The fear of God gives you hope and freedom. You know that you are not the most powerful being. You can rest in the knowledge that He doesn’t have to rest and plan in the knowledge that His plan is perfect and even if your plan does not work out, He has it all in hand.

Yes, my gift analogy isn’t perfect. but I believe that it might help you as it helped me.

One last thing to remember: God didn’t wrap the gift, I did. My human mind grabbed what the world was offering and wrapped up the precious gift of fear with all the fancy, unnecessary, wrapping.  Again, throw that stuff away! Do not keep it. It will just clutter up your heart and distract from the gift:

God is almighty.

The only one worthy of awestruck fear is God.

No one and nothing else is as big or as powerful.

This present time that scares us so much is not as big and as powerful as our God.

Keep this in mind as you remember that this awesome, powerful God is also the one who says He loves you. He is the one who made the ultimate sacrifice so that your impurity could be made pure and you could be with Him.

God Bless and Keep you,

Ronda

Thankful in the Routine: 365 Days to Thank You Week 11, 12 and 13

This post has been the hardest to write. Not because I don’t have anything to say on the subject. God knows that I am an expert in the mundane routines of life. It has been difficult because it keeps changing shape. Once I think I’ve got a hold of what needs to be written, it changes. But that, I suppose is the irony in the mundane: It is routine only until it is replaced by another routine.

But that is philosophy for another day. I’m here to talk about being thankful for the mundane. Those moments that are neither valley nor mountain peak. It seems to be harder to remember thankfulness here. We are just taking the next step or grabbing the next handhold. How do you say thank you for that? Let’s bring it down to reality and out of metaphor: How do you say thank you for the 798th load of laundry?

It is a hard topic to pin down, until it is disrupted. When our routine is disrupted by excitement or illness or fear or loss, it is easier to look back and be thankful for the day when all we had to think about was the next thing on our list. I know I have been there. When I sit in fear of the next huge thing happening in the world, I find myself wishing for the routine. I want to only be worried about the dishes.

But then, it all falls back into a routine again and I forget to be thankful for the dishes.

Be thankful for the routine.

Be thankful for the mundane.

Be thankful for the walk.

Not just when you are faced with no longer being in the routine or the mundane or the walk, but right now, while you live it.

There is a book I was given recently that really has shaped my perspective on all of this. It is written by an author who had the choice, and as the world says, the right, to fall into bitterness and anger and to feel slighted by the world; but she didn’t. This woman, Elisabth Elliot, has so much to speak into our lives about suffering and loss and about joy and gain. But then, in the middle of all of that she hits me with this quote:

“When I get up in the morning I do try to make it a practice to do some of my praying first thing in the morning. It’s a good thing to talk to God before you start talking to anybody else. I try to begin my prayers with thanksgiving. There’s always a long list of things for which to be thankful. One of them is I can get up in the morning, that I can be in a comfortable place, looking out over a very beautiful view. I thank God for the sleep of a night, for health and strength and for work to do.” –Elisabeth Elliot ‘Suffering is Never for Nothing’ (2019 B&H)

Some of you know who Elisabeth Elliot is, some of you do not (I guarantee it is worth looking her up), but suffice it to say, she knows what loss is, she knows what joy is, she knows what it is to walk with the Lord and live life thankfully. In this brief sentence she brilliantly states what I have been trying to say here. Live in thankfulness, even when every day is very much the same.

Do you remember a movie called “Groundhog Day” with Bill Murray? Probably a movie you should watch on ‘Family View’ filtering if you plan to watch with the kiddos. The jist of the movie is this: a weather man gets stuck in a small town reliving the same Groundhog Day over and over until he gets it “right” but no one is there to tell him what “right” is so he has to stumble about on his own finding out every aspect of that particular day. By the time he gets to move on to February 3rd, he has begun to appreciate all of the things that he took so for granted before the time loop started. 

Sometimes I feel stuck in the same day as well. I know I’m not really stuck in the same day, but you get my feeling. In order for me to get out of my rut and feel like I’m moving somewhere I have to find a way to be thankful for each tiny aspect of each day.

It is more difficult to keep up thankfulness when we are moving through the routine, and because it is more difficult it is more important to make it an intentional thing.

What every day routines are you thankful for today?

Ronda

Thankful FOR the Bad Times: 365 Days to Thank You Week 10

I am blessed with some very strong, wise people in my life. The first is my mother, who is more insightful and kind and wise than she will ever tell you and who has dealt with more pain than you would imagine just meeting her in passing. Then there is my father, who is strong and good (though he will never admit it) and has led me to search out our Heavenly Father with every facet of my intelligence and spirit. I believe it is they who led me to find my wonderful husband. He will never admit to his kindness or his goodness. He sees the worst in himself and often misses the absolutely amazing things he does every day. His capacity for love and his ability to protect and care for us as his family are things he cannot see, but I adore. He was one of the first to let me know how our past difficulties are not to be regretted, but appreciated for how they shaped the person we are now. This is one of the reasons I fell in love with him. In our life together we have found ourselves in San Antonio and I am now surrounded in ministry by a group of strong women who have been through tough, sad or unimaginably painful stories and made it to the other side.

But these stories are not mine to tell. I just want you to keep this list in mind and begin to think of some of your own people as I go on to my next points. I promise we will come back.

Being thankful in bad times is something that is hard but, if I am intentional about it, I have found it possible. Being thankful FOR the bad times is an entirely different challenge. I’ve not mastered it, but I’ve made some mistakes that you might benefit from.

The first mistake is assuming that I have to find a good reason to be thankful for the yuck. I bend myself into all sorts of emotional shapes trying to explain to myself that this temporary annoyance, or in some cases, earth shattering event is good for me in some way and I should say thank you for that result. That is wrong. You see what I did there? I’m not thankful for the yuck, but for the result I can see it possibly bringing. This left me in a conundrum when I was faced with difficulties that did not have an immediately visible “good” outcome. I was lost and couldn’t see my way out and therefore, I lost my Thankfulness. I’m a talker, or a writer, and so it was easy for me to spin wild tales of possible “good”, but I have come to believe that this is not what God wants. There is a freedom in just saying Thank you for the yuck without trying to justify why I am saying thank you. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to say thank you for it. It hurts. But, I say thank you, I’ll get to the why in a minute, and I am relieved of the duty of having to find the good.  I just trust that the good is there, even if I never see it.

Second mistake: I assume that I cannot be simultaneously thankful for the yuck I’m going through and really mad about the yuck. We’re complicated beings. God gave us ALL the emotions. Feel the yuck, acknowledge the yuck, share the yuck with God in your daily prayer time. Chances are He understands that the yuck is bad. Chances are He wouldn’t want you to go through the yuck if you didn’t have to, or choose to. He’s ok with your being mad at the yuck, whatever your yuck is. Just remember to thank Him. Yes, I know it sounds totally counter-intuitive, but it frees you from sinking in a spiral of complaint that makes the yuck that much stronger. When you feel both thankfulness and pain simultaneously, you are so much more truthful, to yourself and others, about your feelings and you have the life vest of thankfulness to keep your head from going under.

My third mistake is one that can cause damage to all kinds of good things: Comparison Shopping. I am very good at comparison shopping, so much so that I rarely make a decision (just a joke, but seriously, I have a problem). But this is a different kind of comparison shopping. This occurs when we see someone else’s yuck and think, “Well, theirs is so much worse than mine. I shouldn’t even consider mine a problem.” Or “Well, theirs is so much better than mine. If only all I had to worry about were their problems.” You see the damage this can do? One side sees us discounting our pain instead of acknowledging it. Yes, it may not be “as yuck” as someone else’s yuck, but it is still ours and we still feel it, even if we won’t acknowledge it. The other side sees us jealous and sarcastic and, eventually, bitter and catty. When we acknowledge the yuck that hurts us and stop wishing for someone else’s, we can say Thank you and begin to heal.

Here is why I believe we have to say Thank you. We don’t have to like it to be thankful for it, see previous paragraphs, but I’ve come to believe that Thankfulness, sometimes without understanding why, is the path to healing. Healing may not look like we had hoped, but the Thankfulness we have exercised along the path will help us to see the healing for what it is.

Now we can get back to that list of illustrious people I started with. These are the people that have helped me to see my mistakes in my attitude toward my yuck. They have shown me what thankfulness FOR the bad times looks like. God has truly blessed me with these examples and guides. I don’t have it all right yet. I’m still not always able to say “Thank you” for the bad times. To be honest, I’m still fighting tooth and nail to not say thank you. But I want to heal. I want to go through my yuck without sinking in it. I want to be able to help someone else with their yuck without using an empty platitude.

So that’s where I am. Maybe you have a group of people you can think of who exemplify this form of thankfulness for you. Spend some time this week thinking about them. Look for what they can teach you. God doesn’t send us through the yuck alone.

Ronda

Thankful In the Bad Days: 365 Days to Thank You Week 8 and Week 9

January was hard y’all! That’s the only way I can put it.

This post has been particularly hard to write. I’ve had several days that were just, for lack of better words, bad. I’m sure you’ve all had moments when nothing seems to work out and you feel that anger and resentment toward whatever is causing your problems begin to build. These days are the days when I feel least Thankful. Frustration, anger, sadness, confusion all seem to be blocks to that sort of spirit. What God is showing me in this season, though, is that these times are the times in which I need to be Thankful. Like I said, I’ve been struggling to write this and that is because even though God is telling me to be Thankful in the hard times, I don’t know how to tell you how that will work. But as my pastor at Mission City Church in San Antonio has said, what I preach to you is what God is teaching me. I have learned several benefits of being Thankful in these bad days and hard times.

The first result is a complete perspective change.

It was during a time when I was struggling with my sons’, um, strong personalities (ahem) that I learned this one. We were locked in combat over whether or not to take the shuttle in the church parking lot to our car less than 500 feet away when I was bit. Yes bit. My son has never bit anyone, but apparently we were both at the peak of frustration and words had failed him. At this moment I had two choices: I could visualize his future 20/20 interview in which he blamed me for “his turn to the dark side” on the Crime network, or I could find something in this situation for which I could be thankful. One path led to tears (almost walked that path all day) and the second path led to a good learning time with my boys and much less screaming and crying. The situation still, forgive me please for putting it this way, sucked, but I was much more equipped to handle it and much more apt to turn to God with my frustrations instead of taking them out on my boys and my patient husband.

The second result is the relief from carrying heavy grudges and resentments.

When I’m going through hard times, I often feel very heavy. I am not sure how else to describe it, but I feel like I’ve been carrying a huge weight all day and I’m just exhausted. Recently, my husband has had to work a lot in Dallas and that has left the work at home to me. I know that he is working really hard and I am so proud of him and how smart he is that I could pop, but I won’t lie, it is hard to be at home alone with two boys and two dogs. I began to feel like I couldn’t carry any more, then I began to write this post and it reminded me to pick up my Thanksgiving and put down my resentments. I praised God for having this all in hand even when I did not. I didn’t completely believe the words when I began them, but God has a way of echoing the words you need and I began to hear them over and over. On the radio was a song that said that God has got this, everything I was reading in my Bible Studies reiterated that God has got it all in His hands. Finally, I felt stronger because I was not holding on to the resentments anymore. My hands were busy Thanking God for all that He had in hand. When I’m tempted to pick up the grudges and the resentments again, I have to repeat “Thank you God” and I am only able to focus on His provision.

The third result has been to really irk Satan.

I think that sounds so simple, but simple is truth in this case. I’ve had many opportunities to dwell in Genesis lately. There is so much more there than you would ever have thought going through the stories in Sunday School. In the very beginning, Satan tried to bring us down. He had plans to destroy us (God’s creation) at every turn. Adam and Eve fell, Cain killed Able, Noah got drunk, Ham made fun of his father, The Tower of Babel was built, Abram and Sarai tried to bring about the promise on their own, Isaac’s family was all drama all of the time…You see where we’re going with this. But through it all, after every story is repeated: but God had a plan. You can bet that the success of God’s plan despite the complicated and convoluted plans of Satan was irksome to Satan, to say the least. Satan is our enemy. He does not want what it best for us. So, it is a good then when you can irk your enemy. Praise God, thank Him for all that He is doing and going to do and irk the enemy. Remember Joseph’s perspective at the end of Genesis after what had to be one heck of a bad time:

“You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” Genesis 50:20

Really, it is more than irksome to Satan. It totally disarms him when we are looking to be Thankful to God for what we know He can do.

Let’s disarm this bad time and be Thankful in it. Let’s be stronger, carrying fewer cares and looking wholly to God.

Ronda

My Precious: 365 Days to Thank You Week 6 and Week 7

*A nasty virus (human not computer) has caused this post to be a two-for-one kind of thing. This topic is worth it though 🙂 *

So much has happened since we entered this year with a cry of “Happy New Year!” and for some of us a cry of “I’m going to sleep now!”(at 12:01). I’ll spare you the details of my last few days, I’m sure we have all been faced with challenges and temptations to let our Thankfulness slide away. But through all that has been happening one idea has been jumping around in my head like a puppy in a travel crate: Precious. What is precious to us? What makes it precious? What does this mean for the way that I feel and express Thankfulness? And finally, what is precious to God?

First what is precious? We probably all immediately think of a least one thing, often home and family or time with God. But is it an objective measure? I don’t think so. I’ll tell you why:

My sons spent time playing outside at my parents house this Christmas break and while they were there, discovered the new foundation of sand and rocks my dad had laid for his new shed. This was a momentous discovery for them. And why? Because of rocks. They love rocks. They spent hours sorting them and found the most beautiful and precious sparkly ones they could and put them proudly on the arm of my mother’s Adirondack chair. Now, there is nothing inherently valuable about these rocks as far as I am aware (I’m not a geologist, I just mom here). So, what makes my boys so amazingly grateful for these sparkly rocks? They are precious to my boys, the boys made them worth something by wanting them and loving them.

I guess I’ve answered my first two questions all in one. First, the things we want and love are the things we find precious and it is that very wanting and loving that makes them precious (kind of circular, but I think if we stop for a minute it will begin to make sense). So, why am I taking a scalpel to this word? What does it have to do with being Thankful?

I love my family (as I hope is evident in this blog) and I thank God for them with a greater fervency than I thank God for the weather or a great parking space. I’m sure if you take a minute you can think of one thing that you find precious and thank God for with the same fervency. Our wanting and loving (making precious) has made us Thankful in a deeper way than if we just go down the list of what we should thank God for and spin off a little prayer.

Let’s look to the Psalmist for an example of what happens when you thank God for what you find precious.

Look at Psalm 139. David spends the first 16 verses of this beautiful and enthusiastic psalm talking about how much God knows and how there is nothing beyond His knowledge and then here is verse 17:

“How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them!” Psalm 139:17

David placed the thoughts and actions of God in his list of things that are precious. He examined them and thought about them and was amazed by them. His amazement fed into an effusiveness that resulted in the Psalm that so many of us love to read. He was so thankful, because he made God’s thoughts his precious thing.

So, perhaps we should try something now. Let’s put God’s thoughts and actions into the precious category in our own heart. Let’s examine them with the same amazement and rapture that my boys afforded those shiny rocks. Wait a minute…we have something here.

Shiny rocks, that is all that some of the things we find precious in our lives amount to when all is taken into account. But God is more than our shiny rocks. Let us treat Him and His thoughts with all of the amazement and rapture we have been devoting to other things. I promise this tiny move will change your Thankfulness patterns.

But there is more to this word precious that I haven’t addressed:

God Finds You Precious.

You are not worthy of this placement by anything that you have done. You are precious because God loves you.

If you read through Luke Chapter 15, you will find three stories told by Jesus in an attempt to help us understand how God feels about bringing us close to Him again. First he tells us about a shepherd looking for a lost sheep, leaving the others just to find the one. Then he tells us about a woman who lost a coin and did what I think we have all done in our houses: turned on the bright lights and swept under all of the furniture to find it. Finally, he tells the story of the son who rejected his father and ran away only to begin to regret and run home to a welcoming father. All of these stories end in the shepherd, the woman or the father rejoicing over the return of the precious one.

I will end with this then:

You are precious to God and your life matters to Him, so much that He gave his Son to be a sacrifice so that you could be near Him. Be thankful. Your God is amazing. Make Him precious in your life. Be thankful.

Ronda

Let Us Not Forget: 365 Days to Thank You Week 5

I have to admit, I have lost track of time this week. It seems like the days between Christmas and New Year’s Eve just melded together. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like we were just sitting on the couch eating Christmas treats (although that did happen). There has been so much going on, so many great experiences to remember. But I have lost track and have not done half of what I wanted to do. I think we can all relate.

There have been a few moments this week that have made me stop in the midst of the craziness: A moment holding my son who will soon start school and thinking of how much I will miss our at-home time; or a moment with friends wishing that the clock would just stop so that I could sit here and laugh and talk forever; a moment shopping for makeup with my mom, both of us acting like it was an everyday occurrence but both of us knowing it was a special time. These moments are the things I find myself saying Thank You for today. My soul is glorifying my Lord for these simple gifts.

But what happens when I go back to my daily routine? Will I stop and be thankful? Will I remember what being thankful feels like? Will I remember to let my soul glorify Him?

I believe that the way to make this happen in my life is to live in anticipation of what God has ready for me; to live in the hope of the next thing I can Thank Him for.

I have an example of what this anticipatory living looks like and it just happens to be located in the Bible after the verses I know we all read in church last week:

“And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.” Luke 2:36-38

Two verses. That’s all. And most people very rarely speak about her. But I promise you, not one word in the Bible is there by accident. So what made Anna rate two verses in the most Holy book of all time? She was in the right place and she did not depart from it. She was waiting for what God was bringing, and she gave thanks and spread the word when she saw the promise fulfilled by the presence of the baby Jesus.

For just two verses, they are kind of jam packed with back story. We know that she was married for seven years and we can assume she had been a widow for quite some time as we know she was eighty-four. We have a connection to others we have heard about (the tribe of Asher) and a family she belongs to through her father’s name (Phanuel). Luke did not leave her as a nameless person who also happened to be in the temple. Luke told us the story of a woman whose heart was waiting to say Thank You to a God she knew and a God who promised He would provide a deliverer. Her life became one big Thank You to God as she faithfully waited for that Savior. I can imagine the light coming off of her as she saw the fulfillment of the promise she had spent most, if not all, of her life waiting for. I imagine they could not stop her from talking about it all the rest of her days.

So, are we living in anticipation of God’s hand in the world or are we going to forget to wait for Him and miss the moment to Thank Him?

Let us not forget: Our God has promised, Our God is Good, and our very lives should be a Thank You for the things He has done and is going to do. Let the light of your thankfulness shine. Don’t ever stop telling everyone about what He has done. This is how our soul says Thank You to Him.

Have a Thankful New Year!

Ronda

A Mary Christmas Example: 365 Days to Thank You Week 4

Ah, the Holidays! I love them and I also find them exceedingly uncomfortable (think 13 hour road trip, four dogs and five kid cousins). But I know that I am not alone in that feeling here at the end of the year; we’re all in the same festively decorated, joyful, sinking ship filled with sugar cookies and candy canes.

But here we can learn a little more about Thankfulness. How to stop in the middle of our imploding plans and Thank God.

We learned the first week about what can happen to the meaning of a word or phrase when it is over used or miss-used. We evaluated our use of the words for Thankfulness and then last week we evaluated examples of Thankfulness around us. This week I would like to explore an example of Thankfulness from the Bible.

I don’t know about everyone, but I have a couple of really good plans for my life, well, I thought they were good. Apparently there are bigger things than me going on in the world because my plans rarely go exactly as I expected. But this is minor compared to the person we are looking at today.

Mary was a young woman with a plan. The Bible doesn’t say if it was her plan to marry Joseph or her parent’s plan or the cultural plan, but it was obviously THE PLAN. But God had a bigger plan. One that started in the garden when he said to the serpent:

“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” Genesis 3:15

A little back story for those of you who may not be as familiar: Mary was a young, unmarried woman, probably an early teen considering the culture she grew up in. She was engaged to a young carpenter and well on her way to being a good Jewish housewife. She had a knowledge of Scripture (what we know as the Old Testament) and she knew that her God had promised a Savior to deliver His people from the consequences of their sin.

And back story on the people: we messed up, a lot, literally from the beginning of our existence, and God put a plan into place to pay our consequences, which were, well, death.

So back to what we can learn about Thanksgiving.

Mary was going about her chores for a normal day when an Angel appeared. We say that so often that it has lost some of it’s impact. So take a minute to see it. Her home is filled with a light she has never seen before with her eyes. A voice that shakes her whole body says:

“Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” Luke 1:28

He proceeded to tell her that everything that she and her people had been looking forward to was beginning here and now. It was beginning in her womb.

Her next actions are understandable. She went to her cousin’s house. Just so happens (not really because God has everything planned) that her cousin is pregnant with the prophet that will prepare the way for the Savior. It is what her cousin says that seems to drive home the power of what has happened to her:

“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” Luke1:42

and Mary begins to sing a song of praise.

This song is alternatively called “Mary’s Song” and “The Magnificat” and has inspired other prayers and songs for ages. We have, as we are apt to do, twisted and misunderstood the meaning, using it for our own agendas, but the meaning is still the same and very powerful.

Magnificat sounds like a high church word, and it is, but it simply means to magnify. She was scared and excited and unsure of how this was going to change her own plans, but she magnified the Lord. That is what I want you to learn about Thankfulness.

Your plans may change. You may be in a place that you did not want to be in. You may be in a situation that seems very scary. But Praise God. Magnify God. This is when you will feel what it means to be Thankful. In this type of Thankfulness we are Thankful without seeing the reward. We are Thankful in Faith.

I’ve been all over the internet trying to see what impact Mary’s Song has had on the world today and why it continues to speak to people and I have found many and varied responses. So when I thought of sharing it with you today as an example of true Thankfulness, I wasn’t sure how I could do it without distorting the meaning even more. So I’ve decided to give you the background and context in which I want you to read it and now I am going to put it in print on this page. I want you to read it, reflect on it. Then I want you to write your own song of Thankfulness about any situation in your life that you truly did not or do not understand.

 "And Mary said,
'My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked on the humble
estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all
generations will call me
blessed;
for he who is mighty has done
great things for me,
and holy is his name.
And his mercy is for those who
fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the
thoughts of their hearts;
he has brought down the mighty
from their thrones
and exalted those of humble
estate;
he has filled the hungry with
good things,
and the rich he has sent away
empty.
He has helped his servant Isreal,
in remembrance of his mercy,
as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his offspring
forever.'"
Luke 1: 46-55 

Mary was following the example of others in Scripture when she wrote this (see Hannah’s prayer in 1 Samuel 2:1-10) and that is a good place to start for us as well. We will follow her example in crafting our own prayers, songs, of Thankfulness to our Lord.

Merry Christmas,

Ronda

What do I need to change about the way I say Thank you: 365 Days to Thank You Week 3

Dear Readers (and you are dear to me),

It is nice to know that some of you have chosen to join me on this experiment, endeavor, whatchamacallit, all in the effort to better understand Gratitude and how and why we say Thank You.

I admit the last two weeks have seemed a bit crazy-pants, but there is purpose in the madness.

For those of you playing along, you may have realized that last week was not really about keeping a tally of how many times you said “Thank You” or “I appreciate it”, although that was literally what I asked you to do.

No, last week was about mindfulness. I called it taking your temperature. What keeping a tally forces us to do is pay attention to when and how we say Thank You.

You may remember our first Watermelon week. We learned that if you use a word over and over it can begin to lose its meaning. I don’t know about you, but while taking my Thank you temperature last week, I found myself using the words FIVE times at one drive-thru spot. I guarantee that the fast food service industry has not improved so immensely that it was necessary to slather on the gratitude as I seemed to. But that is when I realize it: I am not always grateful when I say “Thank You”.

That kind of hit me in the pit of my stomach.

If I’m not grateful, why do I say thank you? Is it simply to meet cultural norms? Is it because I feel the need to make my mamma proud? (I really do hope you are proud, though, Mom.)

I think there are a lot of reasons, but here is one I’ve been thinking about for a while: We long for the miracle that is Gratitude.

Think about this for a minute. Gratitude is a tiny miracle that we get to participate in every day. For one small space of time we are not thinking only about ourselves. In true gratitude we are endeavoring to shine a light on the efforts or accomplishments of someone else. But we are selfish in our nature as humans so how does this happen? It is and can only be a grace given to us from our Father in Heaven.

The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary defines Thanksgiving as this:

“A duty of which gratitude is the grace. This obligation of godliness is acknowledged by the universal sentiment of mankind; but as a Christian grace it has some blessed peculiarities. It is gratitude for all the benefits of divine Providence, especially for the general and personal gifts of redemption.”

Basically what all of those fancy words mean (mine and those wiser than me) is that when we are truly grateful and show true gratitude it is not about us, it is from and to God. The only reason we are able to feel gratitude is because of His Grace.

So, here is our assignment for this week:

Keep a tally (or be mindful) of when others say “Thank you” or “I appreciate it” to you.

Sometimes you will see the miracle of the existence of gratitude (and I bet when you recognize it- your breath will be taken away) and sometimes it will just be the words our mothers said we should say. I want you to begin to collect examples of each and hide them in your heart. Begin to decide what needs to change in your own understanding of Gratitude and what that will look like in comparison and contrast to the rest of the world.

We decide which one it will be. Do we let God guide our Thank you’s into beautiful meaningful miracles, or do we try to make it all about us and let them become nothing but words.

Love to you all,

Ronda

Watermelon Complex and Thank You again and again and again: 365 Days to Thank You Week 2

Happy Watermelon Everybody!

I hope you had fun this week with the “watermelon” assignment. I meant it to be a fun introduction, but I promise, I did have a point.

Here are some of my observances of the week:

  • To begin with, I often used the word in its proper context and it evoked an image of a reddish, pinkish, black and green melon.
  • Over a couple of days I began to use it out of context, just to use it more.
  • Repetition began to turn it into just a series of sounds, no longer evoking a particular image.
  • By the end of the week, I was using this series of sounds to stand in for other words.
  • There was also a lot of laughter and the word took on a meaning I did not expect as it began to connect me to the people around me.

I think you might have had some similar experiences and I hope you share them with me.

I have a slight confession to make: I kind of already knew what might happen. There have been a load of people studying this linguistic phenomenon for literally decades. If you would like to follow the rabbit trail about it, here is an interesting article on that history: https://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=2833

The short version (meaning the one that doesn’t take you on a rabbit trail and down a rabbit hole into the wandering rabbit warren that will leave you wondering why you spell the word and “a-n-d”) is that one version of this phenomenon is called Semantic Satiation.

Semantic Satiation is “when a word loses its meaning (temporarily) because of constant repetition, visually or verbally” (https://psych2go.net/semantic-satiation-repeated-words-turn-gibberish/  accessed 12-7-2019).

So, why did I take you on this little vacation to utterly destroy the original meaning of the word watermelon? What does this have to do with Thankfulness or Gratitude?

The study of this phenomenon has focused on the loss of meaning after the repetition of a word several times a second for several minutes (you are welcome to try it…I’ll wait), but I believe that it happens in a much more subtle way when we repeat a word or phrase over and over as a cultural expectation.

“Thank you” or “I appreciate it” has become our cultural “watermelon”.

We have warm fuzzy feelings attached to it and it connects us to others sometimes, but those feelings are vague and the connections fleeting. We have perverted the meaning of the words by over-use and misuse. It’s time to take “Thank you” back.

Over the next two weeks we are going to slowly take our temperature, so to speak, on the “Thank you” front. This week will be personal.

Here is our assignment:

Use your notebook to keep a tally of the number of times you say “Thank you” or “I appreciate it” during each day. It doesn’t have to be exact, just try to keep a count. At the end of the week write one sentence to yourself about what you think you mean most of the time when you say “Thank you”. Remember when you write it that you are not trying to impress anyone with a perfect definition or intention. Like I said before, you are taking a temperature. You are looking seriously at where you are in your own use of gratitude and the words associated with it not where you want to be or where you think I want you to be.

I hope you will join me in this. (Remember perfectionists, no one is grading this assignment)

Ronda

Thanksgiving, Black Friday and, Thank You Very Much

Hey all! Hope you had a great Thanksgiving celebration, or as I call it, the celebration of the first day of Christmas sock season. (My mom’s the Christmas pro, she has a Christmas Sock pre-season).

And I hope none of you got stuck in a crazy crowd of doorbusters on Friday. But if you did, I hope you are recovering, or, if you enjoy that kind of thing, I hope you are happy.

I’ve been hinting lately about a huge project that I would like to begin with you all. It’s very exciting and I hope you can learn along with me, but if you can’t, I will share what I learn through the experience.

I’m going to call it 365 Days to Thank You. It won’t be literally 365 days, but we will start on December 1, 2019 and end on December 1, 2020. My hope is that we will enter next year’s Thankful season with a true, undiluted definition of thankfulness and that we begin to see the Grace of Gratitude.

I will not ask much. Each week I will have a little assignment in my blog. The next week I will discuss my experience of that assignment and have a brand new one to build on the one before. There will be a few supplies that you will need:

  • A notebook. This can be a leftover of a kids school supplies from last year that you kept because you spent money on it and you kid only used two pages and then lost it (this is based on a true story). Or this could be a clearance item from your local school supply store, or an old three ring binder or, well, really anything you can keep your notes in for this experience. Write “Thank You” on the front as a reminder of what we’re looking for here.
  • A pen or pencil. Your favorite or whatever writing instrument is rolling around in the bottom of your purse or car or that junky junk drawer that we never admit the existence of to our Pinterest personality.
  • Bible. Praise God these are easy to find in the USA.
  • Dictionary. Book or internet, most of them are the same, just don’t use Wiki anything.

Our first few weeks will be discovering what “Thank you” has become in ourselves and in our world. The first few assignments will seem a little strange, I have to admit. But if you will trust me and take this ride along with me, you will learn so much.

So, that being said, Week One. Here it is: Watermelon. Seriously, that’s it.

Over the next week, whenever the opportunity arises, use the word Watermelon. In conversations, in text or email but almost always out of context (that is with understanding friends of course). The first day I want you to write down how you feel about Watermelon and on the last day I want you to see if the word you have used over and over has the same meaning to you.

I know it’s weird, but Watermelon on.

Love you all,

Ronda