Have you listed your goals for this year? Ways you want to improve? For many of us, this past year was tough. Challenges. Trials. Pain. Grief. And some of you are struggling right now. I always told my children when hard or frustrating things happened that trials build character. One of my daughters, who has had a particularly rough couple of years, asked, “Don’t I have enough character yet?” I know how she feels. For years, I struggled to try harder, live better, do more. My efforts mostly took me down a lot of dead ends. I’ve found the key to really living is not in how hard I work, but in who I am walking with. What I trust. How I am willing to open my heart.
I can’t explain the hard stuff, but I think God wants far more for us than we seek. Our eyes looking way higher than our glances take us.
There is so much more life available with God than we ever reach out for. How do we go from trying hard to trusting much and receiving more?
My path changed when I began to listen to — really hear — the voice telling me I am loved.
Then I learned what we tirelessly teach our little ones – to say thank you. Giving thanks for what I have, seeing the blessing, however tiny, puts a new lens on my day.
And the gratitude heart leads me to trust. My hard edges melt when I find the thanksgiving places.
Then I can relax into hands far stronger than mine, and more loving than any earthly hands could ever be.
Researchers say we cannot relax when we’re alone with our thoughts. When I first read the article by Michelle F Cortez from Bloomberg News, I thought the University of Virginia in Charlottesville researchers must be studying “typical” twenty-first century people who have not developed their spiritual life. Reading on, I discovered that though they began with college students, afterward they recruited participants from a farmer’s market and a church, and the results were the same. For some of the group tested, even negative experiences (a mild shock) were preferred to sitting idle and alone.
Even worse, “Department of Labor data show 83% of Americans do not spend any part of their day just thinking.” (I’m curious about how they came up with their data, and why our tax dollars are being spent there, but that’s another issue.)
I’ve pondered this for a couple of days, privately feeling a little superior to those tested. After all, I love time to myself and don’t need entertainment or constant contact through electronics.
Re-reading, I noticed the lead researcher, Timothy Wilson, stated, “The mind evolved to solve problems in the world, to look for dangers and opportunities to engage.”
Rather than blind evolution, I believe our minds were created, and that we were made to live in relationship with our Creator.
Light bulb moment!
Of course we don’t want to sit with an idle mind! We were created to communicate with the Word, all the time. Our minds are designed to engage, even when our bodies are still.
So, it’s not about whether or not we can sit alone in a room. It’s all about our focus.
“Be cheerful no matter what; pray all the time; thank God no matter what happens. This is the way God wants you who belong to Christ Jesus to live.”
It’s not by accident that Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts has transformed so many lives. We were designed to be thankful, to look around us and see His hand, to be grateful, and to say so, either in our thoughts, spoken or written words.
Everyone I know who is rising above “impossible” circumstances seeks blessings in the ordinary of each day. And gives thanks.
When we look anywhere else, we are settling for far less than we were created for.
Way back in the 80’s and 90’s, we lived in Honduras for eight years, the last six on Roatan, one of the Bay Islands that divers flock to from all over the world. Vacationing there is fabulous, but living and working in “paradise” was a different scene.
When we moved there, communication was by marine radio (“Cornerstone” was our call sign) and we traveled over coral rubble by public “chicken bus” or on our used motorcycle with no shocks. Because of ruts from heavy rains, people drove on the smoothest part of the road (“smooth” is euphemistic), no matter which side. Every time we rounded a bend, I clung on the back of the motorcycle, sure we’d meet a car or bus head-on. At the entrance to town, a local carpenter displayed a hand-painted sign: “We make coffins.” I fully expected his services to be required one day, when I was splatted on the road. Nevertheless, I survived the other drivers as well as the bone-grinding bumps.
The first time I went to town to shop I burst into tears at the price of food on the Central American island. I learned to poke my head into any nook where someone might sell something edible, and to wait at the dock for the boat from the mainland with fresh carrots, tomatoes and cabbage.
Basics were available at Casa Warren in Coxen Hole, most of the time. Sugar would disappear about four months before Christmas. (I was told someone hoarded it to drive up prices before Christmas baking. I learned to stock up in September, if I could afford it.)
One year, flour was in such short supply that small bakers went out of business. When flour started trickling into the country, only registered bakers could buy it. Another time, no ketchup or canned tomato products were available for months.
I would drive two “towns” away for eggs. When the chickens molted and didn’t produce eggs, the farmer was forced to sell them as stewing hens. (He couldn’t afford to feed them when they weren’t producing.) We went without eggs until his next generation of chickens were laying again.
There was no fast food or prepared food, so meal prep was a long process, and clean-up seemed just about as long.
It’s been years since we left, but I still smile when I turn on the dishwasher and hear the purr of the machine working for me.
That is leading me to the point of all of this. Though we made wonderful friends (Hondurans are very genial people), witnessed miracles and experienced enough for a life-time of wonderful memories, there were hard times, especially in the last couple of years.
Our EMS service, air ambulance and decompression chamber treating Miskito divers ran us 24/7, our son struggled to learn, and our daughter encountered social stresses that worried me. With growing health problems, I began to sink.
A visitor gave me a Twila Paris tape, with a song I played song over and over, for weeks, until I could finally say, “Yes. I trust you, Lord.”
We heard a reading today about Abraham taking his son Isaac to the mountain, obeying God and ready to sacrifice Isaac. I’ve had different reactions to the story, but today I’m struck with Abraham’s age when he finally had the promised son — way beyond child-bearing years for himself and his wife. Did it take that long because Abraham wouldn’t be able to say, “Yes,” until then?
Last week, in “Where do I Go?” I shared my burden of heartache for people I love. I encouraged myself, and you, to draw near to God.
Afterward, I wondered how many readers replied, “How?”
How do I say “Yes” to God? Will the road be as long as Abraham’s waiting for the heir to God’s promises?
I may wail, but then, like David, I remember. I recall what I’ve seen God do in my life in the past, and what I am certain he has promised.
“A white-tailed deer drinks from the creek; I want to drink God, deep draughts of God.
I’m thirsty for God-alive. I wonder, “Will I ever make it—arrive and drink in God’s presence?”
I’m on a diet of tears—tears for breakfast, tears for supper.
These are the things I go over and over, emptying out the pockets of my life. . . .
Why are you down in the dumps, dear soul? Why are you crying the blues?
Fix my eyes on God—soon I’ll be praising again.
He puts a smile on my face. He’s my God.
When my soul is in the dumps, I rehearse everything I know of you.” Psalm 42:1-6 The Message
That leads me to open my eyes to God’s “Yes” all around me. Right now.
“Yes!” because I have clean water, appliances to work for me, air conditioning, a roof that doesn’t leak and screens to keep out mosquitoes, easy to prepare food, and a refrigerator with electricity that will run day and night. I have friends and family that really love me. My broken hand is healing. My brother got a thumbs up from the cancer center. . . .
Every time the sun rises, the cardinal pair calls to each other, an orchid blooms, or cumulus clouds rise in the summer heat to bundle into beautiful rain clouds, God is saying “Yes!” Every time I hear my grandson sing to himself, or my granddaughter giggle with delight as she jumps on the trampoline, every time I connect with my daughter in Switzerland and another in New Jersey on cell phones, and we walk our dogs together, I feel God’s “Yes.” Every time I see my son cradle his daughter in the safety of his arms, or am cradled in the safety of my husband’s arms, I feel God’s “Yes.”