Some thoughts on gratitude and service

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A Thankful Heart from Joy for the Journey

Some thoughts on gratitude

It was the fall of 2012, a couple months after the crash. For the past month or so, I had been reading a daily devotional that I had found on my mom’s bookshelf.  I had given it to her for her last birthday and I had been reading it faithfully since finding it. The passages had become a source of comfort for me and I looked forward to the brief moments of solace from my intense pain and grief that reading those words every morning brought to me. The devotions seemed to fit everything that was going on in my life at the moment, just like they had for my mom when she had started reading it.

Then, just like life can suddenly go from beautiful to broken in the blink of an eye, the devotions on those pages did the same. In an instant, I was frustrated and angry at the words I was reading. Why, you ask? Well, I can sum it up in one word. Gratitude.

The devotional had themes and that week’s theme was gratitude. Because, really, how dare a devotional that is meant to be healing and uplifting, share a message of gratitude? Right? Didn’t they know that grieving people would be reading this book? What do people smack dab in the grips of intense pain need to know about gratitude? I’d be lying if I said a few choice words didn’t fly out of my mouth.

Day in, day out. The message of gratitude seemed to drag on F-O-R-E-V-E-R. I argued with the devotional every morning. “Surely, this wasn’t meant for grievers” was the core of the one-sided argument I had become engaged in. “Really,” I would think. “Easy to be grateful when things are good. Surely, you can’t expect me (or any others that are hurting) to be grateful after experiencing profound loss.” And on and on it went inside my head. Finally, after a few days of the reading about gratitude, I had had enough.  I read the day’s passage and in a fit of desperation, I looked to the heavens (from my bathroom mind you) and screamed (yes, out loud)–“FINE! I FUCKING GET IT! I’LL BE GRATEFUL!” (Yeah, God has gotten to witness some stellar moments from me over the years. Gratefully, he is patient, kind, loving, and forgiving.) Another gut-wrenching moment of surrender had befallen me (one of many in my life) and I vowed–half-heartedly, of course–to give practicing gratitude a try. Long story short. . . it worked. Even in my deepest moments of hopelessness and despair, I began to find moments of comfort and peace when I viewed the world through a lens of gratitude and not my own pain. Go figure. Maybe God was on to something here.

Some thoughts on service

Some time later the devotional moved to a theme of service. Yeah, cue the first part of this story here. “Really,” I thought. “You want me to serve others when I’m grieving. Surely, you can’t be serious. I can barely take care of myself at the moment and you want me to help somebody else?” Again, on and on it went. Although slightly less dramatic this time around, I experienced another moment of surrender in my bathroom and vowed (yes, half-heartedly again) to find some way to serve others. I wasn’t capable of much, but I dug deep and did what I could–I said a prayer for somebody other than myself, sent words of encouragement to somebody in need, or donated money to causes I supported. Again (surprise, surprise). . . it worked. Viewing the world through a lens of service had given me small moments of reprieve from my grief, just like practicing gratitude had. Through each new moment of comfort and peace that I experienced, I began to gain some hope that healing would be possible. I remember thinking how good God was at this stuff.

A few more thoughts

I’d like to say that it was my grief-fogged brain that kept me from listening to those first few messages in that devotional,  but I don’t think that would be entirely truthful. Besides my own stubbornness in not always listening, I came to learn that much of the traditional literature out there surrounding loss and healing doesn’t always talk about gratitude and/or service as part of the arsenal of tools that we have at our disposal as we begin to move forward. After all, it seems paradoxical to practice gratitude and serve others when we are suffering from incredible pain ourselves. Or does it?

Since those darkest of days in the beginning of my grief journey, I have learned more about the power of gratitude and service than I ever thought imaginable. And. . . I’m still learning. I’d like to tell you that my grief journey is done but I really feel like in some ways it’s just beginning. The numbness of the first year slowly faded and life got very real for me in year two. VERY REAL. I still find myself feeling like I am going backwards some days even though I know in my heart that I am always slowly inching forward. It’s in those real times, those painful times, those times when I feel like I am heading down the rabbit hole of despair that I focus even more on being grateful,  for everything. I have found that as time has gone on, gratitude and service have become innate functions of my very being. I have been so transformed on the inside from these practices that I can’t imagine not viewing life through the beautiful lenses that I have been given–even on the worst of days.

Start simply and grow

If you are reading this and you are in the early stages of healing, it’s very important to note that you might not want to hop right in and tackle things new things right now. Those first few weeks after a loss are so extremely difficult. Just getting out of bed (or not) is hard enough, let alone trying to add anything else to your plate. In time, though, you will want more. You will want more than simply surviving, you will want to thrive. That’s when gratitude and service will eventually come in. Start simply where you are at and grow from there.

As we head into November you will see an explosion of all things gratitude–challenges, journal writing, Facebook memes etc. If you aren’t practicing gratitude regularly, now may be the perfect time to start. If you are already mindfully practicing gratitude (or trying to), think about how you can move your gratitude practice into one of service. If you are already practicing both, I challenge you to kick it up a notch or ten. The most important thing to remember is to do what you are capable of. Some days, it still takes all I can muster to get through the day. Other days, it would take kryptonite to bring me down. Remember, even on our best days, we can’t do everything all of the time. Learn your limits, use your gifts, and serve accordingly. . .  all the while giving thanks. Then, be prepared for your life to change. God is really good at this stuff.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Jesus Stops

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I read this little passage tonight.

It’s about doing something. It’s about making choices. It’s about radical faith.

And, it’s beautiful.

Healing begins when we do something. Healing begins when we reach out. Healing starts when we take a step.

God’s help is near and always available, but it is only given to those who seek it. Nothing results from apathy. . .

God honors radical, risk-taking faith.

When arks are built, lives are saved. When soldiers march, Jerichos tumble. When staffs are raised, seas still open. When a lunch is shared, thousands are fed. And when a garment is touched–whether by the hand of an anemic woman in Galilee or by the prayers of a beggar in Bangladesh–Jesus stops. He stops and responds. ~Max Lucado

So much meaning, in so few words. . .

Healing begins when we reach out, when we take that first step, when we leap with a radical, breath-taking, beautiful faith.

Help is always available–we just need to learn to ask for it.

Because when we do. . .

Jesus stops.

He stops. He hears our prayers. He’s got our backs. His outstretched arms are there to catch us when we find the courage to finally take that leap.

So what’s stopping you. . .

From doing something? From choosing to heal? From living a life full of radical and reckless faith?

Jesus stops. . .

So we can keep moving forward. 

Choose healing. Choose faith. Choose to leap. Just, choose something.

What’s stopping you?

Being strong is so overrated

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Not exactly trees in a storm, but the skies were grey that day. 🙂

“As I started to picture the trees through the storm, the answer began to dawn on me. The trees in the storm don’t try to stand up straight and tall and erect. They allow themselves to bend and be blown with the wind. They understand the power of letting go. Those trees and those branches that stand up strong and straight are the ones that break.” ~J.B. Hill

For all of you reading this that are desperately trying to fight your way through a difficult situation by “being strong,” please, STOP IT NOW.  By saying this I don’t mean that you should give up the battle, I mean that you should give it up to God. Let it go. Let it go to Him. It is only through surrender that we find our true strength. Trust me on this one, I’ve learned the hard way too many times.

There have been some desperate and terrible periods in my life when I mistakenly thought being strong was my only choice. You know the sayings, “You never know how strong you are until being strong is your only option,” or “You were given this life because you were strong enough to live it.” Although there was a time where I would have been all “hell yes!” to those sayings, I now call bullshit. The only place being strong has ever gotten me was down hard, to my knees, crying out in desperation to God to fix my broken life. Being strong is never the only option we have and we are never strong enough alone to make it through all the difficulties that life will throw at us. Being strong is so overrated.

My biggest lesson in surrender came about five years ago. Life had been difficult for a long time, on many levels. I had been the poster-child for what “being strong” was supposed to look like and I just couldn’t do it anymore. It was pretty obvious that my way wasn’t working and life could not continue the way I was trying to make it be. Something had to change. I had to give it up, which I eventually did–in a screaming, crying, desperate fit.

I was driving to work one morning when the tears began to uncontrollably flow. It was through these blinding tears that I looked to the heavens and screamed out loud (yes, literally) for Him to fix the brokenness that had become my life. I swear He was waiting for that moment because as soon as I let it go, a feeling of calm enveloped me. I knew immediately that things would work out–maybe not the way I thought they should–(obviously not working for me anyways) but that things would be okay. I also knew in an instant that I had been foolish in thinking I could just “be strong” and things would work out. Being strong for so long had blinded me to accepting the truth of my situation and kept me from reaching out to others that could help in my times of need. Being strong kept me from realizing that the things we often think are most important in this life, really are not. Being strong had kept me from pursuing an authentic and courageous life. Being strong kept me from taking care of myself and had kept me from turning to God when I needed Him most. Being strong had gotten me absolutely nowhere. Besides, I was SO tired of “being strong.”

I’d like to say that I immediately learned the the lessons that my big surrender brought. It took me a while longer to figure it all it out, but thankfully I did. I can’t imagine living through the last 15 months without leaning on God every single moment, of every single day. I can’t imagine where I would be if I had tried to “be strong.”

True strength comes only when we have the courage to give it up to God continually, not just when we are forced to our knees in broken surrender. And even though I still occasionally try to do it my way, it usually doesn’t last long. Strength comes when I am simply being patient, listening for the whispers, and learning to accept that life is the way it is. My strength comes from learning to bend in the storm.  My strength comes from my surrender. 

God always knows. . .

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As I was waiting to fall asleep on Halloween night, a sense of holy-crap-what-just-happened-in-my-life-over-the-last-ten-months washed tidal-waved over me. Thank goodness that wave was immediately followed by a tremendous sense of calm (or I quite possibly could have had a severe meltdown.) It was if I could almost hear God whispering ever-so-gently, “It’s okay, you can breathe now. . .”

2013 has been a whirlwind of amazing things happening in my life. SO MUCH GOOD has happened in the first 10 months of this year that I often struggle to wrap my head around everything I have seen and experienced. Propelling everything to a total mind-blow stage for me is the fact that I have been witness to so much good arising from the worst of life’s circumstances. Because of that, life has become an everyday battle to stay the balance between joy and heartache. It’s a paradox that I have become accustomed to; one that I never could have imagined or even thought possible. It’s also one that I know won’t last forever. I thank God everyday for the good because I can’t imagine the pain without it.

So far November has been filled with friends, fellowship, worship, spurts of creativity, and even some time to rest. Quite frankly, I am exhausted on many levels but in a way that I am okay with. I know that life is slowly moving forward with a healing grace that soothes my soul. Despite the ever-present heartache, I am slowly beginning to feel like I can breathe again. Throughout it all, I have learned that without fail God always knows what we need before we do, we just need learn to listen. Without fail, He has our hand, even when we are hanging by a thread.

Today’s blessings. . .

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Picture from http://www.picturesdepot.com/quotes/23672/patience+yoda.html.

Today, God blessed me with MORE PATIENCE THAN I EVER, EVER THOUGHT POSSIBLE.

He also provided me with a witness to prove it.

But wait, it gets better. . .

AMAZING homemade pie (with my equally amazing work partner and witness to my patience),

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Raspberry Cream Pie with Pecan Crust and Real Whip Cream

new running shoes (to run off the stress of the day and the homemade pie), AND. . .

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Check out the Clymb for incredible sales on anything and everything outdoorsy. I got these beauties for CHEAP!

a lovely beverage to re-hydrate with after my run later (because somebody once told me that beer is 99% water.)

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Had one of these delish beverages yet? You should. 🙂

Thank you God (and also my work partner) for being awesome.

I am feeling extremely blessed and the day isn’t even over with yet.

What were you blessed with today?

 

All things Africa: Part two, the foreward

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A roadside stand in Uganda.

Driving down the long stretch of road from the airport to our first destination in Jinja, Uganda I suddenly felt my soul stir. The sites, sounds, and smells of Africa were new to me--the roadside shops, the dusty air, the ever-present aroma of fires, the roosters perpetually crowing— yet, eerily, I already knew them. A part of my soul had longed for this place as far back as I could remember and now that part of me was finally home. . .

In June 2013 I was blessed beyond belief to have had the opportunity to travel to Africa on a mission trip with a group of AMAZING people that I believe only God’s loving handiwork could have brought together.  For two solid weeks we laughed, we cried, and we experienced the joys and heartaches of the beautiful Ugandan people together. I know that some of the friendships made during our time together will last a lifetime. It seems that many of us were forever changed from the moment we stepped off the plane onto the deep red soil of Africa.

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Ugandan children with their jerrycans, . .

A tremendous thank you to Andy and Susie Stewart, the founders of True Impact Ministries, for graciously sharing your love of Uganda and its incredible people with us. Thank you for following your hearts to do God’s work and THANK YOU for accepting the call to establish The Michelle and Julia Hoffman Memorial Children’s Home. You both lead by example with grace and love (and facts too, right Andy?).

Thank you also to all of my family and friends for your endless love and steadfast support. With God’s grace, you made this journey possible. Every dollar, donation, and prayer made a true impact into the lives of more people than we will ever know.

Over the next few months I will be writing about my experiences on this God-sent journey across the sea. I don’t know yet how this story will unfold. I have pages and pages of handwritten journal notes to look over, thousands of photos to sift through, and so many precious memories to recall–some that long to be shared, others that will be tucked away in my heart forever. Stay tuned for more. . .