Monday, November 12, 2012

giving thanks: unanswered prayer

"Sometimes I thank God for unanswered prayers

Remember when you're talkin' to the man upstairs
That just because he may not answer doesn't mean he don't care

Some of God's greatest gifts are unanswered prayers."
Garth Brooks lyrics

Today's gratefulness photo challenge is an unanswered prayer.  While I'm certain there are a few creative ways I could contrive an allegorical photograph, this doodle - combined with the lyrics from Garth - pretty much sum it all up.
I experienced one of the most painful, difficult rejections of my life during those awkward, formative years where I was struggling to bridge the gap between my teenage years and adulthood.  Granted, that struggle lasted a decade longer than it should have, but that's  another blog altogether...
I remember lying face down on my bed that night, sobbing uncontrollably into my pillow.  My mom sitting beside me, futilely trying to offer comfort through words.  It was truth in love, but it wasn't comfort.  And it wasn't what I wanted to hear.  That this was somehow God's plan, that He had someone and something special planned just for me and this wasn't it.
Oh, how I'd desperately wanted it to be, relentlessly prayed that it would be.  For years. 
Looking back, I'd had such a limited view of God  - and with it, such a limited knowledge and trust in His word. 
Sometimes, I am still that nineteen year old heartbroken girl afraid of trusting her God, shaking her fist over unanswered prayers.  Demanding answers in the face of His silence.
And then I'll have a dream that reminds me of that heartbreak, and of His sovereign grace that was with me even in the darkest moments of my life, and of His word that was true for me at nineteen - and at thirty-six...
"For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord,
“plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."
Jeremiah 29:11
Yes, one of God's greatest gifts is unanswered prayers, but even greater still are the gifts of His grace that come afterwards... the gifts that make us look back and say, "Thank you, Lord, for that one, unanswered prayer"...
"In our hearts, we can plan our ways,
but the Lord determines our steps."
(Proverbs 16:9)

catching up on giving thanks: the big, the small .. and more

something big:  my church.
I am so thankful for my "something big", my church.  I never thought I'd attend a mega church.  I grew up mostly unchurched and then, at the age of 15, joined a small local church near my parents' home.  I eventually ended up attending much larger churches through the years, but the thought of attending one of the largest, fastest growing churches in the nation was unsettling to me at first.  I was skeptical about the authenticity of such a large crowd.  And yet, in my everyday life, I kept meeting people who would tell me about this church that I just "had" to visit.  And they all said the exact same thing: "you can just feel the presence of God in that place".  Eventually, I yielded to the curiosity of this repetitive description and attended a service late in the summer of 2009.  And they were right.  It is a local church that believes in its mission as the hope of the world - and its seats are filled with people who simply love God and love people.  I could not begin to do justice with words about what this church has come to mean to me or the millions of other lives that are being touched all around the world through this one local church.  I am humbled to be a part of this church that has, to date, planted 295 churches across America alone.  You can read more about the legacy that I am humbled to be a part of here:
something small:  scripture ring
This is my current "life" verse for this season of my life.  I keep it written on scraps of paper.  One day I wrote it on my wrist and a few days after that, I stumbled on this ring in a store.  A daily reminder for me to remain "joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer" (Romans 12:2).    

an ability and something natural:
I'm thankful for the ability to photograph the natural beauty that I see around me.  To see the glory of God in His creation, whether I'm traveling to a foreign land or out into my own backyard. 
"For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse." - Romans 1:20  

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

giving thanks: a surprise

Surprising Daddy on his birthday...
When I think of the word "surprise", I think about my Parker - that sweet little face you see on the right.  Of course, what you don't see is that right after I snapped this perfect little photo, that little face dissolved into tears, dropped the bag, let the balloon drift off into the sky and proceeded to pitch a fit.... all before we ever rang the doorbell to surprise Daddy.  Chloe proceeded to sing and Parker proceeded to cry...  Surprise. 
Yea, life's like that.  
We had just celebrated Chloe's first birthday when I unexpectedly discovered I was expecting... again.  I'd always wanted at least two children, I'd just never planned to have them within two years...
"I knew you before I formed you in your mother's womb.
Before you were born I set you apart..."
Jeremiah 1:5 
Today, I am so thankful for the "surprise" of a little boy. 
I am so thankful that in times when our lives are not going according to our own plans, we can trust that they are going according to God's plan.  He is sovereign, "working all things together for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose" (Romans 8:28). 
God's timing is always perfect.  His ways are always good and His "surprises" are often our greatest blessings.      

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

giving thanks: luxury and need

“It takes more than bread to stay alive. 
It takes a steady stream of words from God’s mouth.”
Matthew 4:4 - The Message

My Instagram post for a luxury yesterday morning was initially the view from my tiny porch.  No matter how often I've moved - and it has been more often than I'd like here lately, I have always been blessed with a view of some sort that reveals beauty to me in some way.

That said, as the morning progressed, I unexpectedly ended up spending the day at home with Parker who was a little under the weather.

The day made me so thankful for the years I had the privilege of being a full time mommy.  I am so thankful that I was there for their first smiles, those first words, those first steps.  . I'm thankful for the years I spent working part time that continued to afford precious time with them - and as they began school, working part-time allowed me the time to finish my degree.

Yesterday ended with me being thankful for all of those things - and thankful that I had a job to return to today.  I'm thankful that I don't have to worry about how I am going to make the rent, the utilities, that student loan payment, or the ends meet ...

In day to day life it is so easy to lose sight of the millions upon millions who do not have the same luxury.

Here in the middle of this gratitude thing, the ordinary becomes extraordinary. Chores transform to privilege, and employment to luxury.

Today, the photo challenge at Middle Places was simply a "need".  This came easy.  In a world where the lines are so often blurred between need and want, I know there is one thing that I could not live without.  And it's His word.  Alive and active. Sharper than any two edged sword.  It is the very thing that breathes life into my weary soul each and every day.  If everything I own and hold dear in this world - both the luxuries and the things I think I need -  were suddenly stripped away, His word would be the one and only thing that I clung to.

Ultimately, His word is our greatest luxury - and our greatest need, too.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

giving thanks: things above

"The heavens declare the glory of God;
    the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they display knowledge."

"There is no speech or language 
where their voice is not heard
Their voice goes out int o all the east,
their words to the ends of the word."

Psalm 19:1-4

My iPhone and Instagram accounts are filled with beauty:  my family, friends, delicious meals, beautiful places and things...  and the sky.  Yes, lots and lots of photographs of the sky. 

It is a hobby habit that my children have naturally ingrained in them now.  From the back seat of my car, they peer out and up, seeking, always seeking something beautiful, proclaiming skies.  They'll ask for my phone so they can capture what they're little eyes are seeing.  And I tell them, what they're eyes are beholding, is the very glory of God - on display for all to see - yet, so many of us miss it.   
"For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God" (Romans 1:20).
Late one afternoon, I received the photo above in a text from my eight year old daughter.  She had taken it from the boat while fishing with Daddy.  It simply said, "Look, Mommy!".  

Look, indeed.  And see that His unfailing love is as vast as the heavens.  Truly, His faithfulness reaches beyond the skies (Psalm 36:5).

In a world that tells us our God is unseen.  Distant.  I beg to differ.  Scripture begs to differ.  The skies themselves beg to differ.

Sometimes, my heart discouraged, it whispers a silent prayer asking for just a glimpse of His glory.  And He answers.  And I like to think it's just for me, this most radiant, golden sunset.  As I move down to the bottom of the hill, it fades from the distance and my heart says, "Thank you."

I turn right and there, a single beacon in the darkness closing in, a rainbow - everlasting symbol of His covenant; His promise.

And my heart is rendered speechless.  Again.

Today, every day, I am thankful for the beauty displayed in His skies.

"Set your heart on things above...
set your mind on things above 
not on earthly things."
Colossians 3:1-2

Saturday, November 3, 2012

giving thanks: a friend

"A friend loves at all times." 
Proverbs 17:17

We have a 30 day photo challenge over at Middle Places during this month of giving thanks with a list of things to find each day to be thankful for.  My daily posts may or may not always flow with that list, but today, it was simply "a friend".  

I have the blessings of many friendships in my life and I am so grateful for each of them.  As I've grown in the Lord, I've come to see these connections not as random coincidences or happenstance, but rather His divine provision.  His word tells us that He cares about even the smallest details of our lives.  He collects every tear in a bottle (Psalm 56:8); knows the number of hairs on our heads (Luke 12:7); and He knows our every hurt (Psalm 34:18).   

Friendship is a gift - and that friend in your life, the one you instantly think of when you hear the word "friend"; the one you want to call or text the instant something hilarious happens so that you can share the laughter, or when something horrible happens so that you can share in the tears... that friend is a gift, too.

Though the Lord has graciously sent many to walk alongside me through this life, Stephanie is the one with whom I have likely shared the most heartache and heartbreak, tears and fears, and heaving laughter.  Our friendship has spanned the course of nearly twenty-five years.  Looking back, I can now clearly see His hand - and His threads - weaving through it all.  Truly, through thick and thin - the best and worst of this life.  Together, we have traveled through the darkness and through His grace, into His marvelous light of redemption.

She has seen the best of me and the absolute worst of me and true to His word, loved at all times.

“Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: 
"What! You too? I thought I was the only one.” 

Friday, November 2, 2012

giving thanks: rhema

“The words [rhema] that I speak unto you,
they are spirit, and they are life.”
John 6:63
Today, I am thankful for His word - and life through His word. 

In scripture, there are two words commonly used for "the word":  logos, which is the written word and rhema, which is the word revealed
Rhema:  those moments when the Word seemingly penetrates beyond your eyes, straight into your heart.  It is those moments, when His Spirit illuminates a verse to speak directly to your life situation, your circumstance - the word comes alive. 

"For the word of God is living and active" (Hebrews 4:12).
I want it every. single. day.

And here's the thing:  He wants it for us every single day.  It was how we were intended to live and how He intends to speak to us.    
It is our daily bread - and stream of living water.  Without it, we stay hungry - and parched, attempting to quench or souls with the things of this world. 

Then we taste and see that the Lord is good (Psalm 34:8).  We experience rhema, and we learn that He really is enough - more than enough.  And for that, we give thanks.    
"Whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst.
Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water
welling up to eternal life." 
John 4:14
"As the deer pants for streams of water, so I long for you, O God." 
Psalm 42:1

last ditch effort

"last ditch effort to bloom"
"Our days on earth are like grass; like wildflowers, we bloom and die
The wind blows, and we are gone — But the love of the Lord remains forever..."
Psalm 103:15

My mom posted the photograph above on her Facebook earlier this week. She had no way of knowing how deeply it would resonate - or that I had just read the accompanying scripture earlier that morning.

And with just one glimpse, the words begin weaving and flowing. Finally...

to continue reading, please click here original post at middleplaces:

Thursday, November 1, 2012

give thanks: laughter

"Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good..."
Psalm 107:1

Oh, how I want to "enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise" Psalm 100:4.  As we move into this month, this season, of thanksgiving, I've decided to take a moment each day for the next thirty days and write about one thing I'm thankful for. 

The bigs.  The smalls.  The everythings in between. 
As Ann Voskamp writes, “Every moment I live, I live bowed to something. And if I don't see God, I'll bow down before something else.
Through the lens of His word, He has given us divine opportunity to see Him in all things.  "For through Him, God created everything in the heavenly realms and on earth. He made the things we can see and the things we can't see... Everything was created through Him and for Him.  He is before all things, and in him all things hold together" Colossians 1:16-17.
All things.
This is more that about just finding beauty in the ordinary, more than about finding something to be thankful daily - it's about seeing our Heavenly Father - and His heart for us. 

Ann Voskamp's book, One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are is a revelation for us; a proverbial unveiling of the joy that awaits when we simply choose to see.  The same joy in 1 Peter: "and you rejoice with a glorious, inexpressible joy" 1 Peter 1:8.

Today, day one of the thirty, I am simply thankful for His gift of laughter - and this family, this super silly family, that ensures laughter is plentiful in my life.

Yes, this laughter thing, it is the one part of Proverbs 31 that I've gotten down: 

"...she can laugh at the days to come."

Proverbs 31:25