TURN to Thankfulness

It takes courage to be thankful. I think I read that somewhere recently.

It’s the week leading up to Thanksgiving here in Canada. I’m noticing we get caught up in the preparations for the holiday. Getting the right turkey. Grass-fed or the one on sale? Pumpkin pie or apple? Or better yet both! House cleaned. Family visiting. Or maybe a cozy dinner for just a few friends. All important things. In the scramble to get ready for Thanksgiving, we tend to forget the thanks part. At least I do. It’s just one more day to conquer, in the long list of fall’s To Do.

If I’m totally honest it’s not just Thanksgiving. It’s easy to forget to be grateful every day, all year. I used to be better at it. I spent two years capturing photos of what I was grateful for. That discipline fell by the wayside as life happened. Discontent settled in it’s place. It was easier to complain than say thank you.

For some of us, right now finds us in a hard place. Sickness, prodigal sons and daughters, busyness, divorce, finances, loss are leaving us feeling worried, heartbroken and anything but grateful.

The challenge is there for us. To be brave in the midst of the trouble, the mess, the grief. To say thank you or I’m grateful for…rather than curse the ground, that hard spot, we stand on.

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I understand your fear.
If we say thanks for that hard spot, does it mean it will go on forever? Does it negate the bad? The evil? Does it mean the bad guy gets away with it? Does it wipe out our true feelings?

I understand your grief.
Saying thanks feels like we’re denying what’s really going on. It feels like we’re pouring icing over a mouldy cake. It’s like denying the hurt.

Giving thanks when it’s the last thing we want to do and the last thing people expect, feels like a big vicious lie. It feels like betrayal to ourselves. It’s feels like it’s the most exhausting thing ever.

It’s not.

I’m not telling you to not acknowledge what’s going on and gloss it over like it’s not happening. No that’s not what I’m saying. What I am saying is in acknowledging the truth of the situation and working it through, don’t let the negatives bury you. Don’t let the enemy drown you in despair. Be brave.

It takes courage to turn to thankfulness when all we want to do is run away and hide, because it makes us vulnerable. It opens up a place in our hearts and souls, that we’ve hidden because it hurts so much. It’s painful to bring it into the light. But in the light, the wounds can be seen. In the light, the healing begins.

Going against what we feel, can be good for us. The heart is deceptive, Scripture tells us. Saying thank you reveals the lies. It ushers in a new perspective. I have found practicing the art of saying thank you can bring great peace. It brings the positive to the forefront.
It’s not the big things either. Don’t you find that when you open your eyes, God brings out little gifts that let us know we are seen by Him, and He loves us?

For others, today may find us blessed. Let’s not forget to say thank you for those great joys. We can get caught up in the celebration and forget.  Jesus healed ten lepers.  Nine got caught up in their celebration, they left without a backward glance. Only one remembered to go back and thank Him.

In TURNING to thankfulness, we brave a whole new world. Like kindness, thankfulness can lead us back to love. Thankfulness shows us the best in a person, or a situation. Instead of critiquing everyone and everything, we see the good. It softens our hearts and opens our attitudes, our minds and our hearts to love.

It might be just a baby step this Thanksgiving holiday, but let’s not forget to say thanks:

to someone for the joy they bring us.
for the sunshine and the fall beauty.
for our health. We take it for granted.
for the tough spot we are in. Maybe we need another perspective.
for those who stick by us, through thick and thin.
for food and shelter that most of us rarely have to worry about.
…..

The list goes one. What or who are you thankful for today?

Give thanks to the Lord for He is good; his love endures forever.  1 Chronicles 16:34

I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus.  Cor 1:4

TURN to that Echo

Lately, God’s been trying to get my attention. He may have been trying for more than a while, but it’s now hard to ignore. Because it’s so obvious and blatant.

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My experience with God has mostly been gentle, subtle nudges. As I write that, I am surprised. Because of late, I may not have described God using those words. Gentle.  Subtle.  That’s not been my opinion of Him in recent months.

Stopping to think about it, I may have been hasty. I projected my feelings onto God instead of trusting who He is.  Who I know He is.  Anne Graham Lotz in her book, Wounded By God’s People, warns about not being fooled by thinking people’s behaviour is an indicator of God’s.  It’s not.  Neither should we trust our feelings.  If we are irritated, angry or hurt, we sometimes let our feelings colour how we view Him. How He deals with us. She’s right.   I know I do that. So I’m a little surprised that I wrote that; gentle and kind.  But it is truth. He has been that and so much more even though I’ve been anything but. Stubborn and hostile would be better adjectives to describe myself.  Thankfully God doesn’t stoop to our petty levels.

Even now, it’s not a head bashing he’s given me to get my attention. It’s still a gentle nudge with a little force behind it. Sounds like an oxymoron but it’s not. If you’ve had  personal interaction with God and been a little strong-willed at all, I’m guessing you know what I’m referring to.

The other thing that’s different this time is it’s relentless. That echo.

Margaret Feinberg calls it The Sacred Echo and she wrote a wonderful book about it. The Sacred Echo is when the same message keeps coming back to you. It may be through a song, a book, scripture or even a meme. (It happens, yes even through FB.) Ir can be anything.

The message stays the same even though the messenger may change. Or the message and the messenger can all stay the same.  It’s unique to you.  Because that’s how He made us.

These “Sacred Echoes” are all around us if we choose to listen to them. To open our eyes to them. That is what Feinberg shows us through her book.

For me, personally, it is one of the primary ways God communicates with me. I think because I’m stubborn and strong-willed the echo works for me, because it takes me a couple of times to see it and then it may take a few more echoes to actually get me moving. Or believing. Or stopping. Or TURNING.

TURNING towards those echoes is always the best way to go. You know that too. Although we don’t always do it. Or want to do it. But when we do, it always leads to blessing, fulfilment and contentment. When I write and say those words, I’m not talking about an easy life or material gain. Sometimes that’s a bonus if God desires it for us.

Instead, it’s an inner peace. A knowledge that we are in the exact spot where He wants us. It might be a hard spot but we aren’t alone.  That our relationship is good. A feeling of delight that we are in His Will. Of being unshakable in an eternal sense.

TURNING towards that echo, opens the door to all kinds of spiritual blessings, victories and journeys that honestly, I don’t think we are capable of understanding in this earthly realm. It would blow our minds.

So today, if you hear something and then hear it again, maybe you should stop and TURN towards it and listen. It may be a message to go. It may be a directive to do. It may be an I LOVE YOU, YOU AREN’T ALONE hug. Whatever it is, it’s important enough, that He is willing to keep sending it until you TURN.

TURN to Winsomeness

When did the world get so mean?

I mean I know it’s nasty but at the same time, it’s been in my face lately. Probably you’ve noticed it too. The Olympics were a prime example. It’s supposed to be a competition for athletes. “Faster, Higher, Stronger” is the motto. It’s a good ideal for an athlete to aspire to. Good sportsmanship is part of it too. Or should be.

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In Rio, we saw some awesome feats of athleticism as well as some great displays of integrity and good sportsmanship. You have your favourites. I don’t need to list any for you. But then… there was some behaviour that wasn’t so winsome.

A majority of bad behaviour came from spectators who watched from miles away. I thought the point of having people watch your event was so that they could cheer you on? To give you the inspiration to eek out that last burst of energy and give it a hundred and ten percent. However, the opinion of the spectator became “the sport” so to speak. Many tweeted hurtful accusations and made nasty comments to the athletes competing. When did this become acceptable behaviour?

As I reflect on the Games, it appears that the bad behaviour is a reflection of what has happened all summer. Hate. It seems to make all the good pale in comparison. But we can’t let it. In this age of hate, now more than ever, we need to TURN to winsomeness and TURN AWAY from hateful bullying.

I already wrote about kindness earlier this summer and you can read that here. Kindness is key but there’s another component, I believe, to making a positive difference in this world.

In his book Esther, Charles Swindoll writes about Esther’s winsome personality. How that kind of attitude helped her regardless of her surroundings.  “A person who is winsome draws you to him or her.  We are intrigued by that person’s charming and gracious spirit.”  (Esther, p. 49-50)  He makes a great point.

If I remember correctly I think Swindoll even put the definition of winsome in his book.   I’m going to follow his lead because it’s not a word we hear much anymore.

I think we need it back in our vocabulary. We need to TURN to winsomeness.

The dictionary describes Winsome (adjective) as:
attractive or appealing in appearance or character: a winsome smile.

A person who is winsome in character is charismatic. They draw people in because most people are attracted to people who are good. Esther was kind. She wasn’t haughty even though she was beautiful. She listened to those in authority. She was smart. Winsomeness is well, it’s a winner. (Sorry couldn’t resist!)

If we TURNED to being winsome, what would our worlds look like? Our workplaces? Our homes? I know I could use a dose of it myself. My family would really appreciate it some days!

Being winsome is opposite of bullying. Stopping bullying, which is really just hate and fear wrapped up together, is only going to stop if we TURN AWAY from it. I mean us. The adults.

As a parent, I was disappointed by some of the comments I read on social media and I didn’t read much! I’m really glad my kids are not yet allowed to be on Twitter and Facebook. Kids can be mean. I see it in my own kids. I see it in their friends and on the playground. They are children after all. They need to be taught how to be kind. Winsome.

But it wasn’t the kids doing the cyber bullying. Most of these comments were made by adults.

There is something so terribly wrong with that fact. Why are we so surprised by cyber bullying with our tweens and teens? We’ve taught our children how to be mean. We do it as we write ugly comments on social media. We won’t go have a face to face conversation with that person but we’ll hide behind a computer screen. Or talk behind our hands. We don’t keep our comments to ourselves. Some things are better left unsaid. My world would be a better place if I stayed silent even half the time!

We tell our kids to be kind to each other but then we go and snipe at our spouses. We don’t practice self-control. I don’t think TURNING AWAY from this behaviour is optional. I know we’d like it to be. I definitely would like an optional button some days! It’s always easier to be hurtful than it is to be winsome.

Winsome is not perfection. A winsome parent can make mistakes. Apologies can go a long ways to building love, respect and winsomeness in our families, our workplaces and in our neighbourhoods.

If as parents, grandparents, adults we TURNED to winsomeness and TURNED AWAY from bullying and hate, modelled that for our kids, would the world be a different place?  It might be worth a minute to think about that.  Imagine it.  Dream about it.

We can only control our own behaviour. It might not be the whole answer but I think it’s a good place to start. What’s it going to hurt?

“When I read God’s Word, I don’t find that many stories about great crusades and city-wide revivals and mass meetings where God’s attention rested on an entire country or a whole community.  More often, I find individual men and women who made a difference, who set the pace or cut a wide swath or stood in the gap and changed their times.  From Genesis to Revelation, we see God’s hand on the lives of individuals who thought and said and did what was right – regardless- and as a result, history was made.”   Esther by Charles Swindoll, p. 77

 

TURN: To Being Intentional

It’s been a while.  Vacation brings a new chaos and a new normal which isn’t always conducive to writing.  I think my brain took a vacation too but today I felt like writing.  I hope you enjoy.  You’ll also notice that we’ve been changing things up here.  We are still under construction so to speak and I am excited for new things.  Hope you are having a great summer and this little blurb speaks to you today.  Jen

Summer vacation. For the past eight years, we’ve gone north to a cottage. Our haven.
It’s quiet this morning. Mark and the boys have left for various activities. I’ve stayed behind.

I finished washing up the breakfast dishes and sat down with a second cup of java, out on the screened-in porch. A small SUV drives slowly past our driveway. He’s looking at something. I wonder if I know them. He stops just around the corner. I watch him get out and walk up the drive of our neighbour. I see him through the trees. What’s he doing?
He stops. His movement is deliberate. He’s got a camera and he’s photographing something. The way he’s moving, the camera, make me think there is a deer. I can’t see it. Deer come by the cottage quite regularly. I continue to observe the scene. He moves in closer. Slowly.

Suddenly I hear a car. This guy’s deer time is over, I think. However it’s just the opposite. Deer time for me has just begun. The deer come out into the open where I can now see them. A mama and her fawn. All gangly legs and soft caramel. They don’t run. Just wander closer to the edge of the property. The guy is still. I am too. 
More cars pass by. The deer stops at the road. Once it’s clear, the two run across. It was an awesome encounter. That guy had a beautiful meeting with the two deer. Because I stopped too, I was drawn into an encounter I had already missed once.

I’m pretty sure those deer were in the backyard and I didn’t see them. Just like all the cars racing by missed them. The kitchen sink overlooks the backyard. I stood there for five minutes at least. And never looked out the window. I was focused on dishes. What I had to do next. Random thoughts. I missed the wonder of the deer family.

But the guy driving the SUV not only SAW them, he chose to spend some time with them. He was intentional about his encounter with deer.

What did it cost him? The inconvenience of pulling to the side of the road, picking up his camera and getting out. He walked up the drive of someone else’s cottage. Thankfully no one was home. He stood, watched, and enjoyed a part of nature that he probably doesn’t see every day.

I think about the cars passing by, oblivious. That’s us so often isn’t it? We miss so much.

To be intentional requires slowing down. Stopping whatever we are doing. Spending that outrageously expensive commodity, time. Our kids call for the millionth time in about a minute. Do we stop and be intentional with them? The meal has been fixed with care and love. Do we stop and chew? Smell and savour each bite? When people are intentional with me, I know it. It’s a gift they are giving me. Do I give it back to those around me? Not often enough.

What do we get if we TURN to being intentional?

Beauty. The graceful movement of the deer was breathtakingly beautiful. A natural ballet. The interaction between the mama and the fawn, heartwarming. She made sure that her baby was on her way safely and then followed. Love done right, is gorgeous.

Peace. Other than the cars, the scene unfolded in quiet and awe. It was a moment plucked out of the day that will stay with me. And I only caught half of it. But I’m so glad I did.

It was a beautiful nudge that I haven’t been intentional lately. I haven’t wanted to be. I didn’t want to stop and think. Filling my time with stuff is a good way to numb the senses and keep God at a distance. Keep a lot of things at an arm’s length.

Turning to intentionality means focusing; on the moment. The thought. The people. It is active. The guy had to stop his vehicle. Get out and watch.

By being intentional, turning towards that one thing calling you out, you can have an encounter. With someone. Something. Maybe God.

Because having a random meeting with a deer and a guy who knew enough to slow down, wasn’t just an encounter with them. It was a meeting up with God. Pausing long enough to have eyes to see, ears to hear and a heart open to the gift it’s being offered.

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TURN: To Kindness

It’s 4pm on a Friday afternoon. We are two weeks into summer vacation. I’m already thinking this is going to be a looong summer.

The world is angry. The weather is angry. People close to me seem angry. I’m a bit cranky myself. The heat and haze seem to be swallowing everything up in it’s steam. Tempers are short. People, plants and animals are wilting. The world has gone crazy. I just want to turn it all off. Pretend it’s not happening. But the reality is, the angry, hating, throbbing crowds are real. They aren’t going anywhere just because I don’t want to deal with it.  Shutting off social media, isn’t going to make them disappear.

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Recently I watched the new Cinderella movie. Yes I’m going with a fairy tale in my blog about the real, hurting world. Stay with me. One key line. The advice a dying mother gave her daughter. The secret of life: Have courage. Be kind.

Have courage. Be kind. The secret to life. I think there’s something to that. To be kind, it takes a whole lot of courage. Because it means giving of yourself. Usually your rights. Your right to have the last word. Or the first. Your right to be right. Your right to lay into someone who deserves to be told off. Your right to self-righteousness. Your right to get what you want. Your right to get what you think you deserve. Your right to justice and fairness. Your right …fill in the blank.

Being kind to someone means forfeiting your rights. Usually. When it’s easy to be kind to a friend or neighbour it doesn’t cost you anything. Being kind when the person doesn’t deserve it, takes it to a whole other plain. It’s where the courage comes in. That’s when kindness really counts and can make the all the difference in the whole world.

Think of a time when someone was kind to you and you didn’t really deserve it. How’d it make you feel? It probably changed the whole trajectory of your day, your mood. It’s that powerful.

I failed at this the other day. It’s been on my mind too this kindness thing. You think I would have leapt at the chance. I didn’t. I chose me, my rights over kindness.

We came out of swimming lessons and there was a van parked right beside my car. When I say right beside, I mean right beside! I couldn’t open my door. I could just squeeze in between the two vehicles. I’m surprised she didn’t hit me. There was a little family in that van. The mom came walking across the parking lot. I had the option to be nice or not. I said “You parked kinda close. I can’t even get my door open.’ in a very snotty voice. She apologized and went to move the van. I crawled in the passenger side of our car and ignored her. We drove out of the parking spot and away. I had the right to be annoyed and I took it. I didn’t yield to her. I didn’t give up my rights.

What did I gain? Nothing. I had a fleeting moment of satisfaction. That was so brief I barely felt it. Instead of showing my boys how to be kind, I modelled how to be justly annoyed. How to take your rights and run. Not a proud mothering moment.

It could have been so much more. I could have TURNED to kindness and shown them a whole other way to live. How to treat others with respect even if they are in the wrong. That everyone is valuable and worth our kindness. That it takes courage, a different kind of courage than the world talks about, to be kind. I didn’t.

I TURNED instead to me. My rights. My justice. It was wrong. Maybe not in this world but in the kingdom I should be worried about, it was wrong.

Being kind doesn’t take a whole lot. It’s not like love. It can be hard to Love everyday. Love gets messed up. People mess up love. Somedays we can’t manage it. But kindness is different. It takes a shift in perspective for sure. It’s not as easy as it looks or the world would be very different. I would have been different to that van driver. But it’s manageable  if we just get past ourselves. Our rights.

I believe kindness is almost as powerful as love. Kindness draws us in, even the most wary of us. It’s a TURNING towards love. A first step. If we can’t always do love, we can be kind. If everyone was just a little more kind to each other and to ourselves, I think the world could be different. My encounter with the van mom could have been different. Which would have made my day better. It’s a lesson I’m not going to easily forget.

Cinderella’s mom had a good thought. Have courage. Be kind. It just might be the secret to life. You know, the abundant kind.

TURN: To Myself This Summer

Summer’s coming. Ominous words for those of us who quake at the thought of summer vacation.

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I’m not one of those parents who love summer. Neither are my kids. We thrive on routine. We thrive on learning and discovery. We are better when we set goals. Last year my oldest son, decided to build a new Lego creation of his own design, each week of the summer. It was something he came up with all by himself because the boy just needs to have project going at all times. I thanked God all summer for that one mercy. It kept him busy and engaged for hours on end.

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His Batmobile that he designed and created.  

This year is going to be a little different. The boys are older and childhood things are passing away faster than I could ever have imagined. The usual tricks are not going to work. I’m freaking out. Just a little.

So while I’m freaking out I’m also counting my blessings.  I’m thankful for overnight camp! Hallelujah! I’m thankful for volunteer opportunities and swimming lessons. These things are going to help keep the “I’m bored” and “Can I _____(do something Mom and Dad have already said no to)” at bay. At least a little.

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One thing I am realizing is that it’s not just about keeping the kids busy this summer. Meeting their needs. It’s what summer has become about for many parents. Summer is all about the kids. Not always a bad thing but let’s remember moderation is good. It’s okay for them to have down time and bored time. To figure things out for themselves. To entertain themselves or just sit quietly for a bit.

But making them the centre of it all, is faulty thinking. As they boys grow, I’m not needed or wanted as much. I still need to be around but it’s not hands on parenting anymore. It’s more like, feet on the ground and mouth firmly shut kind of parenting. (Not really succeeding at the moment at that but as I pointed out to my teenager yesterday, it’s new for all of us! Parent’s included!) Observation and some stealth so they don’t know you are watching. Waiting for the invitation to enter their world. For the right moment to respond.

As all mothers know, multi-tasking is part of the job. So while doing all the above, I need to get back to my own life. TURN to me.  That sounds selfish but it’s really not. For two reasons. One is that eventually the boys will be grown up and living their own lives. What will I do then if they are my entire life?

And two. I will go insane before that happens if I don’t take care of my needs and myself. I know this to be true because I’ve lived it already and was reminded of it again lately.

Two Wednesday evenings this past month, I went to a writer’s workshop through the public library. I hadn’t done anything like that for too long. I forgot how much I like to learn new things. I forgot how much I enjoyed the freedom of an evening to do something for myself. How much I like sitting anonymously listening to someone speak. It was refreshing. It was rejuvenating. I felt like myself. I need to do it more. And more, as seasons change in our lives. How about you? What’s something that’s been knocking on your heart, asking to be free once again?

We think we don’t have the time. But ask yourself, what things are you making time for that you don’t really want to or need to? That PVR’d TV show? Social media? Chores that can sit another day? (I never have a problem with this one.)

I understand when kids are really little, no, you don’t have time but eventually you will. Or you will need to find some. Because if you don’t, you will go crazy. Or you’ll be a slave to your children. Frankly it doesn’t end well for you or your children if let them become your master. You’re worshipping something fleeting and false. They become self-absorbed and entitled because you taught them that they are the centre of the universe. So do yourself and them a favour, and show them that they aren’t the world.

The other thing, and we all know it to be true, is in TURNING to your own needs, you’ll be a better parent. A better partner.  A better person.  If I have done something I like, and had time alone, then I am much more likely to behave like an adult. If I’ve shoved my needs off to the side, guess what? I’m more likely to be snappy, rude and irritated. It’s called an adult tantrum. It happens for the same reasons that kids have tantrums.  You didn’t listen to their needs.

So this summer, on my to do list, are going to be a few things for me. It will be hard to TURN to them amongst the teenage angst, the chaos, the noise, the humidity. But I am going to try, so I can thrive this summer and maybe against the odds, make it a good one, full of memories we all will cherish in the years to come.

TURN Things Around

Family is where your story begins. The sign was on the mantle at the cottage I stayed at a couple of weeks ago.

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I have a similar saying posted in my kitchen area. Instead of family, it says Home is where your story begins.

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Either way, the meaning is the same. Our homes, our families, that’s where it all begins. The potential that exists in a family or home at the very start is staggering. No pressure there for young married or young parents, right?

I think we all feel that pressure. I hear it all the time from moms. I said it enough as a young mom myself. “I’m afraid I’m going to wreck my kids.” It’s got to be up there in the top five things we fear most as parents.

The thing is we don’t need to be afraid. We aren’t going to be perfect with our kids or our spouses. Ever. We’ll do some things right and others, we are going to mess up. Because of grace, there still is hope. We are given second chances. It’s not second best either.

Sometimes we think that, right? That a second try is second best? It’s not. Sometimes it’s better.

Thankfully that potential is always there. Waiting to be tapped. Even if it gets messed up. As Brene Brown says, “It often takes just a single brave person to change the trajectory of a family or of any system, for that matter.” (from her book, Rising Strong. Yes do read it!!!)

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Do we want to be that single brave person? Even if our own stories were horrific, or disappointing?  We can still be the one to say, “Enough.”  Write a new ending.  For ourselves.  For our children.  TURN things around.

A TURN ABOUT can change everything and every outcome. I have lived it. I have been witness to it. I’m sure we all have at some point.

Even in the beginning, after Adam and Eve sinned and it looked like things couldn’t get more messed up, God TURNED things around for us. Did He have to? No, he could have just started all over again. He had that ability. But He chose to redeem rather than start over.

He still does today. For us. Redeem rather than start over. He takes those things that we think are irreversible and He TURNS them AROUND. He TURNS them UPSIDE DOWN. Or RIGHT SIDE UP. You might be the person He’s going to do it through.  It may take a journey to get there but it’s worth it. The journey brings about the change needed and the end result is a story to be told. Stories beginning one way and ending in a way we never imagined or hoped for.

Adam and Eve were the first family. They were also the first messed up family. But that was not their ending. It doesn’t have to be ours either.

I posted that saying to remind myself that I wanted to change how my boys’ stories were going to play out. That I had a say in how their stories would unfold. That the potential is always there, waiting to be let loose. That grace does bring second chances. That love and courage can TURN our stories around.