True Thankfulness is Learned

true thankfulness

There is a discipline to true thankfulness.  It takes a journey to develop an attitude that is truly thankful for everything.

Are you thankful for everything?

On Sunday, the preacher asked if we are truly thankful.  We all ask this question around this time of year.  One I think we should ask more often, but that’s not the point I want to make today.  So, right there in my chair third row from the front, I asked my heart if I was thankful to God for everything in my life.  It’s easy for me to say I am thankful for my family, because they are amazing!  I live in a fantastic community and go to a wonderful church.  I feel accepted and loved by my friends and I know I belong.  But am I grateful for the pain and hard work it took to bring me here?  That is a much harder question.

James 1:2-3 says, “Count it all joy my brothers, when you meet trials of many kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.”

Thankful for suffering?

I’ve never understood how I could count all my trials as joy.  I’ve really struggled with the concept.  About three years ago I began a journey to understanding.  I learned that year I have PTSD from some experiences in my younger years.  EMDR is specialized therapy used primarily on patients with PTSD and trauma.  Therapy is exhausting and can be hard, but I believe healing is worth the struggle.  It was instrumental in bringing me healing and health in so many areas.  Therapy taught me if I put up walls to protect myself I don’t just keep bad things out, but I also keep bad things inside.  Those walls can also keep God out.

This was also the year both my grandfathers passed away within months of each other.  It was a tragic loss when my Grandaddy died.  As I grieved I learned I had wrapped a good bit of my identity in whether or not my Grandaddy was proud of me.  I wanted more than anything in the world to earn my Grandaddy’s approval.  After many months of therapy and hours spent in the word, I realized I was striving for something I already had, love and acceptance.  I realized the striving I was doing for my Grandaddy’s acceptance was the same striving I was doing for God’s.  He freely gives love, acceptance, and also hope.  So when my pastor asked on Sunday if I had true thankfulness in my heart, I had to take into consideration the journey I have been on.  My world was turned upside down.

True Thankfulness

Luke 17 tells a story about ten lepers that had an encounter with Jesus.  The passage says they cried out “Jesus, Master have mercy on us.” Jesus gave the healing they so desperately desired and sent them on their way to present themselves to the priest.  But only one of them turned back and thanked Jesus.  This one had a worship service at the Lord’s feet.  There is a lot to be said about the other 9 in the story.  Why didn’t they go back and at least acknowlede what Jesus did?  How long did it take to realize they were healed?

But Luke 17:19 is the verse that really struck me that day.  It says, “And he said to him, ‘Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.'”  What a miraculous thing!  Jesus healed leprocy.  But what is more miraculous is the word well can also be translated as saved, or whole.  Then it hit me.  We can be healed from whatever trials or afflictions we face, but only Jesus can make us whole.  Only Jesus can save us.  

This last year has been incredibly hard for me.  I have been tested and stretched emotionally, physically, and even relationally, yet I am thankful.  I am thankful for a God who is unsatisfied with just healing my heart.  He wants to see me made whole.  James 1:4 says, “And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”  Thank you Jesus for loving me enough to make me whole.  I lack nothing because I have you!

What are you thankful for today?  Are you truly thankful for everything God has given?

Curvy Lines and Control

I love to create.  Singing long and loud feeds my soul.  Putting paint on canvas helps me breathe.  I’m not really that great at it, but that’s not the point.  I have been writing for years because it helps me process.  However, the one thing I go to in times of stress is making things with wood.  I want to share how my last project helped me understand the truth about curvy lines and control.

Curvy Lines

My grandfather, Robert Barlow, was one of the most amazing men I have ever known.  He was a man of great integrity and raised a family who all love Jesus.  I could write a whole other post devoted to the things he taught me, but I won’t do that today.  What I will talk about is how much he loved to work with wood.  It’s a love that I know I inherited from him.  There’s something about drawing up a plan for something and seeing it come to life.  This summer, my son asked for a bookshelf in his room.  Instead of going and buying a new bookshelf, I decided I would make one for him using some wood I had gotten from my grandfather’s house.  This would be an amazing way to remember my grandfather and release some of the tension and angst in my heart.

So I sketch the project out and gather all of my materials together.  I have to plan it out and do a good bit of measuring and remeasuring before I start putting anything together.  For those of you who care, I am an Enneagram 5 so I have to be completely ready before I cut a piece of wood.  I have done research on the best wood to use.  I know the average size of bookshelves sold in stores.  I’m a huge nerd, I know.  No matter how long I research, I eventually reach the step where I cut the wood.  The thing is, I want to look like I know what I am doing.  I hate making mistakes, and my lines have to be completely straight.  I draw straight lines to follow but rarely ever cut a completely straight line.  The curvy lines I cut on this project made me think.

Control

I had curvy lines where I thought there should be straight ones.  Here’s the thing, I like predictable straight lines in life.  It is comforting when I see the road ahead and know what’s coming next.  Straight lines make me feel like I am in control.  Some people might think it is boring, but I would argue that people love the idea of boundaries and predictability in life.  I see it in the eyes of the children I teach each week.  Then it occurred to me that life is very often one curvy line after another.  I make a plan that I think will be fun for family time and the kids start to argue, curvy line.  I share my heart with a friend and they don’t acknowledge my feelings, curvy line.  Things at work are going great and I get called to my bosses office, curvy line.  When everything piles together I start to feel out of control.  I want things to follow the plan in my head, and when it doesn’t I get mad at God.  My faith starts to get shaky because it feels like God isn’t in my plan.  

Who’s Really in Control Here?

The fact is if I serve a god I can manipulate that easily, he’s not big enough to take care of me.  Control is an illusion.  Proverbs 16:9 says, “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.”  In this simple verse, we see the true nature of our hearts.  We spend too much of our time trying to make our curvy lines straight, and not enough of our time looking at where God is leading us.  God establishes our steps.  What feels like a curvy line to us may be the opportunity we have been praying for.  We have to learn that it’s better that we are not the ones in control.

Our walks with Christ aren’t supposed to be straight lines full of all the blessings this world offers.  If that is the brand of Christianity you signed up for friend, I’m afraid someone lied to you.  Look at the life of Paul.  In 2 Corinthians 4:8-9 he said, “We are hard-pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.”  Do you think that Paul would have planned a life of persecution for himself?  No, this man was not in control, but I think he was better because of that fact.

So What?

I could be completely wrong.  I could be the only one who struggles with wanting to be in control and manage my own life.  However, I think there are people like me who have to let go of the illusion of control.  Instead of making a plan and inviting God into it, we have to pray about what His plan is for us.  Just think of the freedom we will find if we could just surrender to His will.  When things don’t work out like we think they should, it wasn’t our plan anyway.  What if all the things we are experiencing aren’t for our benefit, but are to glorify God instead?  How would you feel if you could share your suffering with someone else and they could walk closer to Christ because of it?  What if it led to their salvation?  Wouldn’t such a life of freedom be so much more attractive to the lost people around us?