What do you do with a troubled heart?

Why do I wake in the morning and expect this day to go as planned, “normal?” I suppose for sanity we have to assume some things will go on, the sun will rise, my heart will beat, my family will live and thrive. To think otherwise every morning would lead to madness, or at least extreme anxiety. When something abruptly changes the rhythm of things, especially when a life is ended, we are brought up short by the small part we play in making this world go around, for the day to proceed, for the breath we take. And our hearts churn.

This week I ran across a text I sent last year, confirming activities in August so I could plan my mother’s 93rd birthday celebration. I had no way of knowing that only days later she would begin her journey home, and instead, celebrate that day in eternity. As the dates approached, I entered into the memories of last year, my mother’s fall and treatment in the E.R., her admission to the hospital, then the transfer the next day to hospice, and the vigil that followed until she died the following Monday.

Mom lived a rich, complex life, much of it blessed. She was long past ready to go to Jesus, and she left behind a rich legacy and memories that I will never finish replaying. Still, her absence in my world is a black hole, sucking my energy with a jab of emotion whenever something triggers a scene or her voice. But my sadness is limited now.

And it is balanced by my awareness of the pain of others. How can I take up residence in my own emotions when so many others need prayer, love and support?

A few days ago, I stopped to talk with my next store neighbor as he entered his driveway after walking his dogs. Only the location and dogs identified the scarecrow who was a hefty and active man only months ago. Cancer and something unknown is sipping away his life.

A good friend comes to church alone, the husband she anticipated growing old with in glory, instead lying in darkness in his bed, resisting her efforts to socialize.

An exhausted daughter tries desperately to calm her mother, terrorized by drugs and dementia, and learns her brother has died.

A child is torn from his mother, brutally sent to Jesus too soon. Her grief is set to destroy her.

My heart aches for these and others I know, or am asked to pray for, as well as for those I read about in the paper and hear on the news, lives abruptly changed by violence or accident or disease.

And yet, the Jesus who wept at his friend’s grave says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”

I’ve tumbled that over in my mind all weekend, my heart so troubled that sometimes I could barely walk. Lifting the ones whose burdens weighed on me to the only one who has the power to change anything, I interceded through out the day. Even during the night I woke and prayed.

Still, my heart ached.

This morning I read from my favorite prophet, Isaiah. “I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the Lord God is my strength and my song.”

The pieces slipped into place. Like so many others, the command from Jesus not to let my heart be troubled is one I can’t obey on my own. I need his strength. And for me, his strength comes in song, whether singing out loud, or responding to every little thing in my life as a gift, in a song of internal thanksgiving.

Once I began turning my heart toward Jesus, thanking him for the cardinals and finches playing out front, the dishwasher humming again after DH fixed it, the softness of my pillow, all the events in the lives of my children and grandchildren . . . once I started, the naming of thanks went on unassisted.

And though I am still praying for those in pain, my heart is no longer troubled.

Are you burdened, “heavy laden” as the old text reads?

Or are you the burden-bearer, bending under the weight of it?

Unforced rhythms of grace

My prayer for you

As I gave thanks on Thursday, and continued throughout the weekend, calling to mind people in my life I am grateful for, I couldn’t help thinking of you, dear reader.

Many are faithful friends and family. At times I hear from you and have a sense of what is going on inside your life. At times I have to read between the lines, or silences.

Others of you are strangers, connected through the wonder of words and Wi-Fi. If you’re a fellow writer or blogger, I read your words, searching your face and listening for the link between us.

My heart goes out to the young lady with the world on her shoulders, as well as the one who feels invisible. Having spent the early years of my life as a shadow, I know that land far too well. 

© Jack H Thompson
© Jack H Thompson

Yesterday, we celebrated with our five-year-old granddaughter, her home packed with family and school friends to wish her Happy Birthday. I watched her efforts to relate to many different personalities, the whirl of activity, so many people and interests calling for her engagement.

©Jack H Thompson
©Jack H Thompson

When I compose my blog, sometimes the ideas and words take shape before I even sit at the computer. Other days, trying to reach out to each of you, I am frustrated, knowing I can’t touch you all at one time. Like my granddaughter, my thoughts dash this way and that, seeking an encounter that holds meaning, something that will send you from this party the better for it.

As I often do when in need of inspiration or guidance, I opened the Bible, in this case, the YouVersion app on my phone. I scanned my bookmarks and found what I would say if we could sit together on the patio, or under a palm tree, in front of the fireplace, or walking on a snowy path.

©Jack H Thompson
©Jack H Thompson

My response is to get down on my knees before the Father, this magnificent Father who parcels out all heaven and earth.

sunset on Marco Island

I ask him to strengthen you by his Spirit—not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength—

that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in.Amberley door

And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, 

©Jack H Thompson
©Jack H Thompson

you’ll be able to take in with all followers of Jesus the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love.

Reach out and experience the breadth!

Test its length! Plumb the depths!

Rise to the heights!

Lily coming out of the water retrieving

         Live full lives, full in the fullness of God.                                       Ephesians 3:14-19 The Message

Got attitude?

When you hear “attitude,” do you think of someone strutting, chin high – maybe even with a chip on the shoulder? Someone looking for trouble? Someone who expects everyone to get out of their way?

©Jack H Thompson
©Jack H Thompson

That’s certainly an attitude, what I call BA – bad attitude.

But in truth, we all have an attitude. Attitude is how we approach life, what we expect when we arise in the morning.

  • It can be an attitude of defeat, and we find it hard to get out of bed, because there is no hope, no matter what we do.
  • It can be fear, and we postpone or avoid whatever we dread, even if it keeps us from what we need, or from what is good for us.
  • It can be entitlement, thinking we deserve everything, and we are angered or upset when everything doesn’t come to us as we expect, or those around us don’t jump to meet our needs.
  • It can be confusion that twists and turns us throughout the day, keeping us from accomplishing what we’d hoped to do.
  • It can be a constant pity-party, interpreting everything that happens as proof that, “Nobody loves me. Everybody hates me,” as we sang years ago, leading to a diet of worms.
  • It can be living short-fused, with anger ready to singe whomever doesn’t respect us, or gets in the way of what we want life to be.
  • It can be a neediness that sucks the life out of relationships, and deprives children of proper nourishment from parents.
  • It can be a need to control that drives us to strive to take charge of everything in our lives, and usually those around us. It wears us out, and drives people away.
© Jack H Thompson
© Jack H Thompson

Clearly, the way we think makes a huge difference in how we behave.

There is a lot of talk these days about picturing what you want, believing and you’ll make it happen. That can be taking attitude to the extreme, a kind of hocus-pocus, as if we were gods who could control the world with our thoughts.

All we really have control over is our minds. We are encouraged to “take every thought captive.” It’s up to us to choose our attitude.

We can choose to let life be a praise song.

What a beautiful thing, God, to give thanks, to sing an anthem to you, the High God!
To announce your love each daybreak, sing your faithful presence all through the night,
Accompanied by dulcimer and harp, the full-bodied music of strings. Psalm 92:1-3 (MSG)

In reading through The Message (© 2002, NavPress Publishing Group), the Biblical paraphrase Eugene Peterson wrote when he realized so many people missed the excitement and passion of the original texts, I discovered these fascinating lines from a psalm.

Light-seeds are planted in the souls of God’s people,
Joy-seeds are planted in good heart-soil.
So, God’s people, shout praise to GOD,
Give thanks to our Holy God! Psalm 97:11,12 (MSG)

© Jack H Thompson
© Jack H Thompson

Light seeds! Wouldn’t you love to be able to sow seeds of light into your mind that would grow and glow, giving you what you need to change your attitude?

Joy seeds to put a song in your heart, no matter your circumstances?

We canThis is the perfect season to start planting, because the seeds are giving thanks!

© Jack H Thompson
© Jack H Thompson

Let the peace of Christ keep you in tune with each other, in step with each other. None of this going off and doing your own thing. And cultivate thankfulness. Let the Word of Christ—the Message—have the run of the house. Give it plenty of room in your lives. Instruct and direct one another using good common sense. And sing, sing your hearts out to God! Let every detail in your lives—words, actions, whatever—be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way. Col 3:15-17 (MSG)

Since I love music, I’m happy to receive the command to sing my heart out, and welcome the chance to do so. For me, singing praise turns my heart to gratitude quicker than anything else. I usually have the radio tuned to a Christian station throughout the day, and participate in the Contemporary and Spanish music ministries at our church. Without music playing, there is usually a song running in the back of my mind. I’m learning how to let the song continue, even when I’m alone and don’t feel well, or a rude, aggressive driver cuts me off on the Interstate, or my mother’s dementia makes it hard to find her in the midst of her ramblings.

Though the cherry trees don’t blossom and the strawberries don’t ripen, Though the apples are worm-eaten and the wheat fields stunted, Though the sheep pens are sheepless and the cattle barns empty, I’m singing joyful praise to God. I’m turning cartwheels of joy to my Savior God. Counting on God’s Rule to prevail, I take heart and gain strength.      Habakkuk 3:17-18 (MSG)

A deep revelation of the value of giving thanks came from Ann Voskamp’s book, One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are, HarperCollins Publishing. I can’t recommend it highly enough. You can read her blog at http://www.aholyexperience.com.

My youngest daughter and her family have fun ways to give thanks before meals. My favorite is everyone clapping out, “I’m thankful for, I’m thankful for, I’m thankful for.” Then they point both hands to one person at the table who gets to say what or whom they are thankful for at that moment. Even the three-year old loves to participate, and the chant goes on until everyone has had a turn. 

The more opportunities we build into our day to remember to be thankful, the more the attitude of gratitude will grow and mature in us.

ThanksgivingBe 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.     1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (MSG)

What are you thankful for today?