Thursday, July 28, 2011

Seven Days of Thankfulness

Or, "an exercise in recognizing the often passed-over blessings in the mundane moments and occasionally unpleasant details of everyday life."

How's that for a blog post title?

My mom's reading this book called One Thousand Gifts, and I'm hoping she finishes it soon because I really want to read it before I leave. It's about learning gratitude right where you are in life, regardless of exactly where that is.

The author, Ann Voskamp, literally wrote a list of 1000 things she was thankful for. I'm hoping to do that someday too. But for now I thought I'd start with listing 5-10 things (experiences, moments, occurrences, people, objects, etc.) that I'm thankful for every day for the next week as both a way to say farewell to all the amazing evidences of grace that I'm leaving here in California, and a way to transition into my first year of college with my eyes wide open, learning to appreciate the beauty that's found in the little things.

Also, the author says that experiencing joy in individual moments slows down time, so I'm kind of hoping that doing this will help draw out my final days a little longer, so that I can have more memories to savor when I look back on this week of parting.

I can't become a significantly more thankful person in a day, so if I list things that I ordinarily would complain about, it's because God is enabling me to see that the things I consider to be challenges, burdens, or afflictions could really be blessings in disguise - either leading to a good thing or showing me that I should be thankful when I do not have to deal with those kinds of things.

That said, the first thing I'm thankful for today is:

1. the cold I'm currently battling. It's SO ANNOYING. But even in that statement, there's evidence of a blessing - it's annoying because I'm not accustomed to living with illness. In fact, I am a fairly healthy person. And I have God to thank for that. Sadly, I don't stop to do that often - I just complain when I'm sick. By His grace, however, it's different this time - and I know it must be His grace, because who usually thanks God for colds? Not me. I am today though: I am thankful for this cold because it reminds me to be thankful for all the days that I have been able to enjoy life illness-free.

2. Next, I'm thankful for the moments of peace in our household, when my brothers not only tolerate but maybe even enjoy each other's company. I like home so much better when it isn't full of anger.

3. I'm thankful for my sense of taste. I made two cheesecakes and a batch of cupcakes today for my birthday party tomorrow (and I promise I did not sneeze in the batter. Honest.) and, of course, taste-tested everything. That's pretty much the reason I bake - so that I get first dibs on everything I make, haha. But what fun would that be if it all tasted the same? Or didn't taste at all? It was so kind of God to not only give us the ability to taste, but to create an endless variety of flavors and textures for us to enjoy. Because of our tastebuds, eating isn't just essential to staying alive - it's an agreeable experience.

4. He is unbelievable incorrigible sometimes, but I still thank God for our dog, Blackjack. Today he came upstairs and found me in my room, which is something he's not supposed to do (usually he's confined to the kitchen). But I couldn't be mad at him when his tail started wagging the second he saw me and he ran over to say hello.

5. I'm so glad that God gave someone the idea to invent books. Books are my favorite. They let me go anywhere in the world - back or forward in time, even - and explore places that I will never see with my own eyes. They educate me and inspire me and instill in me a love for creation by showing me how very little I know about it. Today I'm especially thankful for this book I'm reading that I don't like at all, because instead of being aimless like the main character in this pointless story, I'm reminded that I have so much to live for and a reason - the best Reason - to be alive.

6. This one is unusual too, but it's true: I'm thankful that our dishwasher doesn't work anymore. Very few things force you to stop and think and absorb and appreciate like hand-washing a whole pile of dishes does. In fact, it was while I was doing dishes that I decided to embark on this endeavor in an effort to more fully appreciate my last week in California until I come home for Christmas in December.

That's it for now - even though there are a million other things I could add to this fairly short list, I will save them for another time. More tomorrow. :)

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Stupid Mistakes, and Greater Grace

I did something stupid yesterday.
Something so stupid that I would very much like to pretend it didn't happen at all. Something so stupid that I wish I could go back and fix that moment so that it didn't happen at all.
But no amount of wishing changes the truth. The truth is, a) it happened, and b) I have a lot to be thankful for.
Since the instant after I realized what I did, I've been saying to myself, "I can't believe I did that." It was difficult to register what happened, because I completely did not expect it, but it's not my confusion talking - it's my pride. I'm really saying, "I shouldn't be stupid enough to do that. I'm better than that. I should be perfect. Always."
But that is NOT true. Unfortunately I am a slow learner in this regard and it's going to take a LOT more mistakes, accidents, and failures to drive the point home for me. I am not perfect - only God is. I am not independent - I depend on the One who gave me life. I am not competent - it's only through Him that I can do anything good at all.
So I have an opportunity here. I can learn from my mistake and grow in my ability to accept my shortcomings and rely more fully on the eternally-sufficient grace of God, or I can keep beating myself up for something I cannot change.
While in my sinfulness I'm prone to choose the latter option, I can see God's grace at work in me through this occurrence already. In years past, I have reacted far more extremely to much less serious mistakes. I thank God for teaching me that it isn't the end of the world when I mess up, and overreacting doesn't help anyone in any way ever.
I also see His grace in that one of the first things to come to mind after the incident was a concept from the John Piper message used in last night's Speechless presentation: God is enough.
I don't give glory to God in every aspect of my life if He's only enough for me when life is good! In order to truly make much of Christ in my life, He has to be sufficient for me during the hard times, when accidents happen and I make terrible mistakes.
And He is enough - He is bigger than my stupidity, hallelujah! And even in the midst of regret, I found joy. My car was fine. The other car was fine. No one was hurt. No one was even mad at me except myself! No one (as far as I know) lost faith in me as a (mostly) capable driver. And that one moment did not negate the amazing time I got to spend with three of my favorite people (and one hilarious little brother, haha).
The truth is, it could have been SO MUCH WORSE. But it wasn't, and instead of dwelling on my mistake, I'm learning (too slowly, it seems at times) to be thankful for the blessings I receive even in the midst of trials. It amazes me that God has done so much work on me already, and I hope and pray that it continues to completion.
But while I remain a frail, fallible, accident-prone human, I hold on to this promise:
But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. (2 Corinthians 12:9 ESV)
God is enough.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011


I've decided that I like being candid when I post. I don't have much to hide anyway, but I guess blogging feels more worthwhile when it's open and honest.
That said, the following post is a slightly modified journal entry from last week's First Friday Fast. It was the first time I seriously committed to fasting on the first Friday and it's definitely something I will do again, by God's grace.

I wish my reluctance to admit it made it less true, but when I'm being honest I know that I don't strive to become more dependent on God.
I'm a perfectionist. I like being responsible, capable. Skilled in a wide variety of areas. I like independence and accomplishment. My worst fear is incompetence. I want to do everything right, my way, the first time. I want to rule my life like my own personal kingdom and keep everything in order according to my preferences and specifications.
Sometimes, I feel like I'm doing okay - I feel good, I'm doing well. And then my neat little facade comes crumbling down the minute I get angry, or I say something nasty, or I'm insulted, or something unexpected and inconvenient happens.
It's in those moments that I reach for grace, because I am confronted with my need in a way that makes it impossible to deny.
But the Gospel, and the grace that has been lavished on me so that I might not only accept it, but live it, is not only true in my moments of failure! It is not only relevant when I admit my incapability. It is not only powerful when I recognize my need for it.
The truth is, my need for grace is just as great in the moments when I'm standing as it is when I've fallen flat on my face. It's only by His grace that I can stand at all, but in my pride I like to think it's my strength.
I'm fasting today. There's been a dull ache in my stomach for most of the day, reminding me of my need for food.
I'm experiencing physical pain because I'm denying myself physical sustenance. For less than a day.
Do I experience spiritual pain when I'm deprived of my spiritual sustenance? Does my soul cry out in agony, like my stomach is, when its need for the Living Water goes unfulfilled for a day?
I might feel guilty, but I don't usually feel hungry. I say that He is my everything, but that claim is not always reflected in my lifestyle.
Even now, when my physical hunger is supposed to drive me to my knees as I see my need for God through my need for food, I'm just counting down the minutes to dinner, marking time until I can eat again.
Already I feel proud of myself for making it this long without consuming a single calorie. I'm tempted to commend myself when I start my day with Bible reading and prayer, and I like to think I did something right when my day goes well.
I'm terrified of college because everything familiar will be taken away from me and the only thing that will remain the same is God. But I think that might be exactly what I need - a wake-up call so eye-opening that it's shocking. I need to see how much I need God, how little I truly am capable of (it's summed up in four words: sin leading to death), how much He's given me.
I want to live in a place of humble awe and worship of who He is and what He's done in my life. May I live in wonder of the mystery of election and adoption, of the love and mercy He has inexplicably poured out on me. May I say with Charles Spurgeon, "He must have elected me for reasons unknown to me, for I could never find any reason in myself why He should have looked upon me with special love."
When I find myself in that place, may I not be tempted to congratulate myself for reaching it - because it will be all His doing with none of my help.
My prayer is that He would teach me to hunger for Him, to crave time with Him like I'm craving food right now. I want to learn to rely on Him, the true Bread of Life and the Living Water that satisfies.
Me - Jesus = nothing.
Jesus + nothing = everything.