Gratitude and Peace, Part 2

Gratitude part 2

For part 1, click here.

Several weeks ago I hurt my back … again.  After a disc collapsed two years ago leading to spinal fusion and a difficult recovery, it has been a long uphill climb to get back to a life of any kind of normalcy.  And finally I did.  Thankfully what happened a few weeks ago wasn’t nearly as severe as two short years ago, and at the same time, it caused a great deal of pain.  To manage it, I had an epidural steroid injection, which led to a spinal headache, a spinal patch, being admitted into the hospital, and now it’s been 3 weeks of a solid, constant, sometimes debilitating headache. 

It’s been rough.  Honestly, I am feeling somewhat discouraged. Frustrated. Annoyed.  Frankly, I’m a little tired of physical pain.  I feel a bit anxious and maybe even a little angry that I’m having to deal with this … again. Can you relate? Is there something you have dealt with in the past that rears its ugly head and leaves you feeling frustrated and helpless? Maybe it’s a physical issue. Maybe its an issue with a child, spouse, or friend. Maybe it’s financial. Maybe you just feel extremely weary … again.

In Philippians 4:11, Peter says, “I have learned to be content in whatever circumstance I am in.” I have to be honest. I’m struggling to be content right now. And this struggle is eerily familiar. Often times it seems that my circumstances are an enormous roadblock to my spiritual freedom. Because when I am discontent with my circumstances, with my life, I feel disconnected, discouraged, and distracted. I tend to forget and have a hard time focusing on who God is and what He has done for me. Instead of experiencing the peace and calm which I so desperately need, I am overwhelmed and anxious. And then I remember …

THERE IS ABSOLUTELY A PROFOUND LINK BETWEEN GRATITUDE AND PEACE.

Rejoice in the Lord ALWAYS; again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing but in everything in prayer and supplication WITH THANKSGIVING make your requests be made known to God. AND the PEACE of God which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:4-7).

Let’s be honest. It’s hard to rejoice and be thankful in the midst of pain. Whether the pain is physical, emotional, spiritual, or all three. Often times, it comes down to a choice. Choosing to be thankful even when it doesn’t seem there is much for which to be thankful.  What does this choosing look like?

Rejoice in the Lord Always. In all circumstances. Good and bad. Sickness and health. For better or worse. At the birth of a child, infertility, a joyous wedding day, a difficult season in marriage, a job promotion, chronic pain, laughter with friends, the loss of a loved one, great success, weariness in motherhood, a weekend away with a spouse or a friend. There are times when rejoicing seems easy. I remember feeling overwhelming joy when I held my first child for the very first time. It was not at all difficult for me to rejoice in the Lord. But then there are other times when rejoicing seems to be an impossibility. So what then? How do I rejoice in the painful circumstances? When it hurts? Physically, emotionally, spiritually?

Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise” (Philippians 4:8).

When my mind is set on things above, on the excellent things, on who God is – faithful, loving, true, relentless, gracious, merciful – and what He has done – “He drew me up out of the pit of destruction, out of the miry clay. He set my feet on a rock, making my footsteps firm. He put a new song in my mouth; a song of praise to my God” (Psalm 40:1-2) – I can choose to worship Him and rejoice regardless of my circumstances.

Let Your Gentle Spirit be Known. In the midst of hardship, it is SO hard to have a gentle spirit. For me, especially when I am in physical pain, it is extraordinarily difficult to be gentle, patient, loving, and kind. And yet, my gentle spirit being known in all circumstances is what I’m called to do. I think in these moments it has to be JESUS THROUGH ME. In my flesh, there is not one part of me that is able to be kind and loving when my circumstances are difficult. And there is this truth to which I can cling – “I can do ALL things through Christ who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13). Even have a gentle spirit.

The Lord is near. I absolutely love this truth. It’s not just that we are told not to be anxious and to be thankful. There is first a promise. “The Lord is near to all who call on Him” (Psalm 145:18). “He is near to the brokenhearted and saves those crushed in Spirit” (Psalm 34:18). “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” (James 4:8). There is never one second of one minute of one day when God is not near – right there beside us. Walking with us. Causing us to stand. Upholding us with His righteous right hand (Isaiah 41:1). His presence is a PROMISE. We don’t have to guess whether or not He is going to be with us in the good times and in the bad. “It is the Lord who goes before you. He WILL BE WITH YOU. He will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed” (Deuteronomy 31:8).

I have set the Lord continually before me. BECAUSE HE IS AT MY RIGHT HAND, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my whole being rejoices; my flesh (even if in pain) will also dwell securely … In Your presence there is fullness of joy. At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:9,11).

Be anxious for nothing. There is a peace and rest that comes from trusting in the sovereignty of God. But really trusting the sovereignty of God requires an enormous amount of faith. I once read that “the sovereignty of God is only peace-inducing if we learn to rest in its truth. Without faith it can be a scary thing … Because God is infinitely wise, He cannot err. And because He is infinitely righteous He will not do wrong” (from goodmorninggirls.org).

Once I realize that God wills only that which is good, my

heart is made to rejoice. He will do no wrong.

Do I believe that? Do I really believe that in God’s infinite goodness, He can do nothing wrong? That means that every single thing that happens in my life is God’s best for me and is for my good. Even the things in my life that aren’t good — sin, the death of a loved one, chronic illness, betrayal of a friend — God will use for my good and for His glory. As Joseph said in Genesis 50:20, “What man meant for evil, God meant for good.” God is ALWAYS in control and ALWAYS has a plan. Even when there seems to be nothing “good” about what we are experiencing. A faulty understanding of God’s sovereignty will produce fear. But an accurate view of His innate goodness brings peace and joy.

In everything in prayer … with thanksgiving make your requests made known to God. In everything and in prayer be thankful. Sometimes there are moments when a breath of praise and thanksgiving just flows out of my mouth. I have a friend who just got some great news from her doctor when she was preparing for the worst. The first words out of her mouth were, “Praise the Lord! I feel so blessed.” But what about when the call from the doctor reveals a cancer diagnosis or a husband who walks out? Is it really possible to then say, as Job did “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21b)??? When I have faced those times when being thankful seems impossible, I have found it quite helpful to cry out to Jesus and be honest with my feelings.

Lord, sometimes it is such a struggle to be thankful.  I need You. I need you to remind me of the things for which I can be thankful. That You have saved me and You have redeemed me. That you rescued me because You delight in me. Please remind me of who You are. Just because I’m not feeling it doesn’t mean it’s not true. Remind me of the joy that I find in You, in Your presence, and in relationship with you. Lord I believe that You are good and that you are faithful and loving, merciful and kind, and that there are many things for which I can be thankful. Help me now in my unbelief.”

In these moments of my weakness and honesty, I believe that He empowers and enables me offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving.

THEN YOU WILL EXPERIENCE GOD’S PEACE, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. There it is again … the definitive link between thankfulness and peace. And I can personally speak to its truth. There have been times when I have experienced a peace that makes no worldly sense: one that literally washes over me, even when it seemed everything around me was falling part. I have witnessed others walking through life shattering circumstances talk about being held and feeling a peace that exceeds what our human minds can understand. And I love that this kind of peace guards our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus. So often, it is my MIND that gets the best of me. I can create all kinds of stories in my head. My anxiety is often fed by scenarios that play out regarding the future or stories from the past. And God’s great promise is that He will fill our minds and our hearts with truth and peace as we turn to Him with hearts of gratitude, prayer, and praise.

So, as we enter into this specific time of year set aside to be thankful, let us choose to offer our thanks to God for WHO HE IS and WHAT HE HAS DONE. Let us fix our eyes on HIM so that regardless of our season in life – good or bad – we can choose to be thankful.

You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in You; all whose thoughts are fixed on You” (Isaiah 26:3).

Anchored in Christ,

Carrie

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Gratitude and Peace, Part 1

gratitude part 1

Recently I was with with some of my most favorite and trusted girlfriends with whom I meet every week. I absolutely love and look forward to our honest conversations as we seek to honor God with our lives. This particular evening as one of the girls was sharing something that happened in her life that week, I realized that deep down I was grumbling a little. I started feeling sorry for myself and thought, “Why isn’t that true in my life?” I felt discontent and anxious and was on the verge of tears. All of a sudden, in a room filled with some of my most trusted friends, I felt out of place. I felt alone. The reason for this sudden change in feeling??? I was comparing!

Comparison is an ugly thing. It causes anxiety and discontentment. It brings a lack of peace. It often comes in the two little words IF ONLY (see blog here that I wrote about this). Comparison is the place where the enemy convinces us that what we have is not enough. In One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are, Ann Voskamp writes, “Our fall was, has always been and always will be, that we aren’t satisfied in God and what He gives. We hunger for something more, something other.”

Over the past few years, God has really been dealing with my heart in regards to this issue, this sin of comparison. I have really sensed God calling me to let go of this struggle and to fix my eyes on HIM, not on the things of this world or the people of this world.

Let us lay aside every encumbrance and the sin that so easily entangles us and let us run with endurance the race that has been set before us fixing our eyes on Jesus the author and perfector of our faith…” (Hebrews 12:1b-2a).

As I was sharing this with a spiritual mentor, she gave me a very helpful suggestion. Keep a small journal with me at all times and every time I find myself comparing (or saying IF ONLY), write down the things for which I am grateful. Even the small things. In addition to helping me replace one behavior with another, it also provides a purposeful way to “set my mind on things above, not on the things of the earth” (Colossians 3:2). 

In this (my personal gratitude journey) I’m finding that it’s quite helpful to stop and write down the things for which I am grateful not only when I’m struggling with comparison, but also the moments when I just need to refocus. I’m writing down everything from the minute to the monumental.

  • my fingers and my thumbs

  • the ability to see and hear
  • laughter to the point that my side hurts the next day

  • my dog sleeping peacefully beside me

  • a walk with my good friend

  • cuddling with my youngest two

  • watching a Christmas movie with my oldest daughter (since Hallmark starts them so early now!)
  • joking around with my oldest son

  • my husband who brings me coffee in bed every morning

  • precious friendships with women who know my junk and love me still

  • honest and sometimes difficult conversations

  • date night with my hubby

  • smoked chicken wings and and a family night
  • growth

  • a visit from my niece whose smile brightens my day
  • pain that draws me closer to Jesus

  • a godly heritage
  • a life complete and full in Christ

  • a promise that “He who began a good work will be faithful to complete it”

  • the truth that this is not my home

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts … and BE THANKFUL (Colossians 3:15).

There is absolutely a profound link between GRATITUDE and PEACE.

It’s amazing how quickly my perspective changes when I take the time to be grateful. To recognize all that I have been given in Christ and how He has blessed me in immeasurable ways. I experience great peace and contentment when I take my focus off of my circumstances, myself, what is what is going on in the life of someone else, etc. and fix my eyes on Jesus.

Below is a prayer written by Scottie Smith that I found on the Gospel Coalition Blog (check it out here). As I have prayed this prayer, I have experienced great joy and peace.

Dear Lord Jesus, it’s not a formula, but I can surely see how the depth of my gratitude is largely determined by the extent to which Your peace is ruling in my heart. So as this day begins, and continues, I surrender to the dominion of Your peace—the governance of your grace, the might of Your mercy, the sanity-making freedom of Your all-encompassing sovereignty.

The increase of Your government and peace will know no end, in the entire cosmos, and in my little heart as well. Hallelujah, many, many times over. I am my least grateful when I lose sight of who you are, and who I am, in Your heart and kingdom. It’s patently true: When I forget the gospel is when I get my grumpiest, most distractible and anxious.

Indeed, Jesus, I am my freest, most joyful and most peaceful, when I remember that You are the Lord, and I am not—though I foolishly grasp for autonomy and authorship of my story, at times. You never sleep nor slumber, and your timing is always perfect—even though I whine and vex, before coming to realize that good news, yet again.

You never get anxious or second-guess anything; You never react to anything, because You’re never surprised by anything. You do all things well, even (maybe, especially) when you don’t do things the way I want you to. Birds eat, flowers get dressed, and stars hang in the sky because of you, Jesus. You are the ruler of the kings of the earth and the determiner of the number of my days. None of us can thwart your will, or improve upon it, though we vainly try.

You are presently ruling the world with your truth and your grace; and, though it’s not yet fully apparent, you will make the nations prove the glories of your righteousness and the wonders of your love. Joy to the world; joy to me. May Your peace rule in my heart today, and may I overflow with gratitude. So very Amen I pray, in your great and gracious name.

May our eyes be fixed on the Giver of all things today. May our lives overflow with gratitude in Who He is and what He has done, and may our hearts and minds filled the peace of God that surpasses all understanding.

Anchored in Christ,

Carrie

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The Gift of Pain & Disappointment (The View From 5 Years Out)

Well, our team of 5 sure needs these words on a day like today, at a time such as this. Thankful our precious friend, Kitty Hurdle, has shared her heart and God’s faithfulness with us today on the blog. If you don’t know Kitty, we promise you’ll want to head on over to her site linked at the end. If you do know Kitty, you are already aware of what a treat you’re in for whenever she puts “pen to paper”:

A few weeks ago, it occurred to me that October will mark the 5th anniversary of my husband and I trying to have children. To some, five years sounds like the first 100 meters of a marathon, but to me, this mile marker seemed like a badge of honor. Almost like, if I’d make it this far, then I had a legitimate excuse to wallow.

Because, well, sometimes it feels good to feel bad.

Maybe if my pain is special and unique and if things are really hard for a sustained length of time, then certainly it means that I get a permission slip to be pitiful. As in the classic, don’t return phone calls to my mother; eat all the french fries; be offended by all the people type of pitiful.

Of course, everyone’s pain IS special and unique to the journey that God has them walking. But often I am tempted to hold on too tightly to my pain. To relish it and to keep it around when I need to feel cozy, understood and validated. Kinda like my worn out yoga pants that make me feel so known but so funky and frumpy at the same time. There is wonderful, necessary, God-given space for grief (and grody yoga pants) in the spiritual formation of every believer, but when I dwell longer on my pain than on the Provision and Person of God, I have misplaced my trust. We can’t rush past our pain. We must let God use it to do His good work. But I have the ability to make it into some sort of messed up idol. Clutching my pain close makes me feel safe temporarily, but the reality is that it keeps me far from trusting God.

Yeah…so, holding onto the pain was on my agenda for the entirety of my 12-minute carpool commute to drop my kids at school. (MY KIDS–the ones God gave me instead of giving me what I thought I wanted; the ones who have completely and utterly changed my views on God, life, love, calling and family; the ones I’d endure 60 more months of “no” again in an instant. Those kids.)

family pic

So, my plan was to feel sad, but it was one of the first crisp Fall mornings (which I love!) and the Holy Spirit–the Comforter–just would not let up. He kept recalling to mind all the gifts these 5 long years have held. Friends who sent flowers, wrote notes, called and cussed with me on hard days. He reminded me of the countless ministry opportunities He’d given me and He reminded me how dear HE HAD BECOME TO ME during these years. He wouldn’t let up. So much so, that as I pulled onto my street, my heart was in a place of gratitude and worship. I could honestly and emotionally thank Him for the gift of infertility. Not because He had given me what I asked for, but because His “no” had become my greatest YES. Because He had peeled my white knuckles off of the pain and in exchange, gave me the Person of Himself.

And not to go all Garth Brooks “Unanswered Prayers” on you, but isn’t there something in your life that God has consistently said “no” to, in order to give you a YES in Christ Jesus? What desire is it that He is continually using to create within you a stronger desire for Himself?

Because He is God and we are not, could we, today (and tomorrow, and the next day; when the said “gift” feels like a dagger through the soul), ask Him to give us thankful hearts–ones of humble worship–that say together with the all-sufficient, all-powerful One, “not my will, but yours be done”? Because, when I open my hands to Him, it’s all a gift.

headshotsmallKitty is a missionary, (adoptive) momma and a majorly obsessed wife. You can read more of her adventures of following Him and loving them at www.joelandkitty.com or on Instagram @kitty_hurdle. If you are walking through infertility yourself right now, she would love to send you her favorite book, “Infertility: Finding God’s Peace On The Journey.” Email her for more information at Kitty.Hurdle@CRU.org

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Giving Thanks for God’s Refusals

giving thanks for God's refusals

Over the last year, I’ve had a profound revelation about what I am truly thankful for. At a much older (and hopefully wiser) phase of life, I am being given the gift of perspective, the ability to look back on my life and see a bit more of the bigger picture. From this vantage point, I have compiled a very different sort of gratitude list.  This year, I am giving thanks for God’s refusals. Will you consider joining me?

“God never withholds from His child that which His love and wisdom call good. God’s refusals are always merciful -“severe mercies” at times but mercies all the same. God never denies us our heart’s desire except to give us something better.” –Elisabeth Elliot

So what are the desires of your heart? Have you ever so desperately, intensely and fully longed for something that you believe you absolutely cannot and would not want to live without it? Those deepest desires, good things that make us feel alive and fulfilled: the attention and approval of a parent, the healing of your closest loved one, the requited love of that one person who occupies your every waking thought… 

At different times in my life, I pleaded with God for the fulfillment of each of these specific longings in my heart (and many more). And each were met with God’s refusal. Deep down, there was seething anger towards God for his refusal to give me that which I so desperately wanted. I have literally cried out loud to God, “Why will you not give me what I want!  Why do you hate me so much?!?” He had to hate me, ‘cause there’s this verse… “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.” (Psalm 37:4)  There it is, in black and white.  He promised and then refused to deliver. 

What I didn’t realize is that year after year, heart break after heart break, God has been stripping me bare of earthly attachments so that my heart will be set on the eternal, not the temporal.  Laura Story writes in the song “Blessings,”

 “All the while, You hear each spoken need, yet love us way too much to give us lesser things.”

Everything changed with the realization that, while my heart’s desires were good, they were not eternal. They were the lesser things.  The greater things are of another world.  And this is TRULY what my heart desired, I just didn’t know it. The blessing of God’s refusals is finally believing and living the foundational truths of what it means to be a follower of Christ.

THIS WORLD IS NOT MY HOME.  “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.”  (Philippians 3:20)

I WAS MADE FOR MORE.   “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10)

GOD IS MY PORTION.   “Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. Though my flesh and my heart may fail, God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” (Psalm 76:25-26)

And now, when I look back on my life, I literally weep with gratitude.  I am actually grateful for God’s refusals! I am thankful for unfulfilled longings that shattered my world and my heart into a million little pieces. I am thankful for pain so severe it left an emptiness nothing in this world could fill. I am thankful for abandonment, unrequited love, betrayal and death. I cannot begin to know all the reasons for God’s refusals… I’m sure they are all wrapped up in the complexities of God’s sovereign, eternal plans.  But for my own little life, I am thankful because the refusals transported me from the kingdom of this world to the kingdom that will never end. 

Laura goes on to sing,

“What if my greatest disappointments or the aching of this life, is the revealing of a greater thirst this world can’t satisfy?

I had so many earthly desires filling up my heart and my mind that I didn’t realize what I was really longing for all this time… and that was Jesus. But in His great love, God refused to give that which would never satisfy for long to give me that which would satisfy forever.  

What are your greatest disappointments? Where are your deepest wounds?  Believe me when I tell you that it is IN the pain and emptiness that we wake up to the reality of God’s love and our eternal destiny. Will you dare to make a different kind of gratitude list this year?  Will you be open to the possibility that His severe mercies might be your greatest blessings? It is my heartfelt prayer for you this Thanksgiving. 

Held by Him,

Leslie

BLESSINGS by Laura Story

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Unexpected Blessing

flower dry ground

Everyone has dreams. Expectations. We begin developing some of them as little children, with our little minds between the worlds of fantasy (where Tinkerbell and Peter Pan live) and reality (where we live).

Regardless, there are things we look forward to and get excited about!  It is important to have dreams and get excited.

I think it’s also important to remember that when our dream doesn’t look exactly like we thought it would, that we take a moment to consider that we may have received an unexpected blessing from above.  We can adjust ourselves to God’s plan for us and take back our joy.

The following story speaks for itself. I need not say more.

WELCOME TO HOLLAND

by Emily Perl Kingsley

  I am often asked to describe the experience of raising a child with a disability – to try to help people who have not shared that unique experience to understand it, to imagine how it would feel. It’s like this…… When you’re going to have a baby, it’s like planning a fabulous vacation trip – to Italy. You buy a bunch of guide books and make your wonderful plans. The Coliseum. The Michelangelo David. The gondolas in Venice. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It’s all very exciting. After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The stewardess comes in and says, “Welcome to Holland.” “Holland?!?” you say. “What do you mean Holland?? I signed up for Italy! I’m supposed to be in Italy. All my life I’ve dreamed of going to Italy.” But there’s been a change in the flight plan. They’ve landed in Holland and there you must stay. The important thing is that they haven’t taken you to a horrible, disgusting, filthy place, full of pestilence, famine and disease. It’s just a different place. So you must go out and buy new guide books. And you must learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you would never have met. It’s just a different place. It’s slower-paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy. But after you’ve been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around…. and you begin to notice that Holland has windmills….and Holland has tulips. Holland even has Rembrandts. But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy… and they’re all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life, you will say “Yes, that’s where I was supposed to go. That’s what I had planned.” And the pain of that will never, ever, ever, ever go away… because the loss of that dream is a very very significant loss. But… if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn’t get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things … about Holland.

c1987 by Emily Perl Kingsley. All rights reserved

I am taking today to consider that God gives me special gifts that I do not expect. Sometimes they are packaged very differently than I would have expected.  I can grieve what I thought it would look like. I should sit in that grief for a time and express my feelings to God.

Then I should enjoy the gift that HAS been given me.  Whatever that may look like.

Living in His Grace,

Lisa

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Can I Really Live a Life of Gratitude?

Several weeks ago I started to write a blog post on cultivating a heart of gratitude. Using some of the stupid things that drive me crazy, I was going to share how I’ve been learning to give thanks in all things. My dear friend and ministry partner and I started this habit of taking a look around when we start to feel like complaining and reminding ourselves, “It could always be worse.”  I don’t have to look hard, living in a third world country, to find someone who has way more to struggle with than I do.  I was going to write about how working through this process of changing my heart has changed my life.  And it has.  But then, suddenly, my little issues didn’t seem worthy to write about.

As I was trying to write about gratitude, a friend lost her 32-year-old husband suddenly.  A world shattered.  And then I read about another family near our hometown that lost their 14-month-old, suddenly, in his sleep.  A family ripped open wide.  How do I dare write about my complaints over bugs in my house and hot grocery stores when there are people who have real, deep, life-altering hurts?  Fellow believers who have had their hearts torn in two and are sitting deep in sorrow that I’m sure threatens to smother them.  How can I speak into these places?  I’ve been asking God.  How can I, who have never experienced such loss, such pain, even dare speak of giving thanks in all things?  And God says:

Rejoice always; pray without ceasing;

in everything give thanks;

for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

But how?  I think it’s very easy to sit around the family table with those we love, looking at a juicy turkey and all the trimmings, and give thanks for what God has given.  But when the world comes crashing down, how does one rejoice and pray and give thanks?  How does one build a life of gratitude – not just a one time action, but a lifestyle?  Here is what God is showing me:

Gratitude is birthed from a place of total surrender to a good God.

God created us, and His desire is to have all of us.  Not just Sunday morning, or the first hour of the day.  Everything.  Giving thanks in all circumstances is impossible for us as human beings unless our lives are totally surrendered to God.  “Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow” (James 1:17).  Our God is good and His plans for us are always for good.  If we cannot trust Him with everything, if we cannot trust in His goodness, then when the hard times come we will immediately resent Him or turn away from Him.  We essentially say “this is NOT good,” that we don’t trust God with our lives, and our plan would have been better.  When we are living from a place of surrender, and our trust is completely in Him, then we can know that even in the pain, He is with us, He is for us, He is working, and He is good.

Gratitude grows in understanding the deep love God has for us.

Recently, I read the story of how worship leader John Mark McMillan came to write his now well-known song “How He Loves”.  His closest friend had died in a tragic accident and as he sat with God, pouring out his grief, these lyrics came to life from what God ministered to him:

He is jealous for me

Loves like a hurricane


I am a tree

bending beneath the weight of His wind and mercy

When all of a sudden

I am unaware of these afflictions eclipsed by glory

And I realize just how beautiful You are

and How great Your affections are for me

Oh, How He loves us so

Oh, How He loves us

How He loves us so

About this song McMillan said, *“For me, the song was not about ‘how much’ he loves us: ‘he loves us so much that he died.’  It was ‘how’ he loves us, ‘the way’ he loves us. He loves us in ways that are not like we think; they’re better than we think.”

I think we usually have preconceived notions of what love should look like, and we limit God based on our conceptions.  But in actuality His love is so much deeper, wider, longer, higher that we can imagine.  Paul actually says this love surpasses knowledge (Ephesians 3:19).  And His ways and thoughts are so far above ours (Isaiah 55:8) that we cannot see the big picture unless He chooses to reveal it to us.  A catch phrase from Ann Voskamp is “God is always good and you are always loved.”  When we begin to grasp more and more the depth, the never-ending, the never-stopping, the abundance, the ALWAYS of God’s love for us, then we begin to look at things in a different light.  Gratitude becomes a natural response to this love.  The more we see love, the more we give thanks.  The more we give thanks, the more we see love.

Gratitude sets the stage for victory.

Before Jesus fed the five thousand, and before He fed the four thousand, and before He raised Lazarus from the dead, He gave thanks.  In this He sets an example for us.  Thanksgiving is how we enter into the presence of God (Psalm 100:4), and thanksgiving is key to receiving from God. Paul says in Philippians 4:6 that we must present our requests to God with thanksgiving.  I believe when we come with thanks, we position ourselves to receive.  Now, I’m not talking about naming and claiming.  I’m talking about receiving the fullness of what God has for us, from His heart.  His heart is to give us more than enough. This may not always look the way we think, but miracles in our lives and hearts come out of thanksgiving.  

I also believe that our gratitude speaks to the unseen forces around us.  If our battle is not against flesh and blood (Eph. 6:12), then we must believe that we are always part of a battle against rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms.  Many times the kings of the Old Testament sent out worshippers ahead of their armies to give thanks to God before the battle had even begun.  And I firmly believe that when we give thanks, even in the midst of battle and trial, saying, “Give thanks to the Lord, for His lovingkindness is everlasting,” we send a message to our enemy, that our hope, our trust, our victory is in the Lord.   Then I believe we will station ourselves to stand and see the salvation of the Lord on our behalf (2 Chronicles 20:17).

Gratitude gives birth to joy.

Joy is what we all want, yes?  “Rejoice always.”  I know it’s a major goal for me.  I want joy in the every day mundane.  I want to be a joyful wife and mother.  I want joy in the ministry work.  I want joy in my relationships.  I want joy to characterize me!  There is no magic formula for this, but I do believe it starts with a choice.  First choosing to surrender, then choosing to give thanks as part of our growth as surrendered children of God.  “Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him and established in your faith, just as you were instructed, and overflowing with gratitude” (Colossians 2:6-7).  Giving thanks in all things is God’s idea, His will for us.  Why?  Because when we overflow with gratitude, the gift He gives in return is joy.

But it doesn’t just come.  We have to practice.  And giving thanks for the small things, seemingly insignificant, is how we practice and learn.  “There is a way to live the big of giving thanks in all things.  It is this: to give thanks in this one small thing.  The moments will add up.”1  So, yes, I should give thanks for my electric kettle, even when it’s full of ants.  And I should give thanks for the provision to buy groceries, even when it’s 110 degrees in the grocery store.  And I should give thanks for the gift of healthy, happy children, even when they are loud and messy and dramatic.  Because in giving thanks for these little things I am building a life of gratitude.  I am practicing saying thank You to my good God in the small things so that when the hard things, the big things come, the foundation is laid and I have stationed myself to receive from Him.  I may not always feel like skipping and singing, but when I choose to give thanks, the feeling will come.  “While I may not always feel joy, God asks me to give thanks in all things, because He knows that the feeling of joy begins in the action of thanksgiving.”2

When this time of year rolls around, and we gather with those we love to give thanks, our turkey-eating, pumpkin pie-filled day can be a deep time of worship.  A culmination of a life lived in gratitude.  Even when the world has crashed down.  Even when the dark seems to overwhelm, joy can prevail.  May we all find the strength this Thanksgiving to say Thank You, in ALL things.  May we trust God’s goodness, experience His love, triumph by His grace, and find unspeakable joy.  Remembering that He alone gives us the ability to do these things,

He who calls you is faithful; He will surely do it.”

1 Thessalonians 5:24

~Kerri

*http://worshipleader.com/song-story-“how-he-loves”

1 One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp, p. 57

2  One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp, p. 176

 

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Gratitude and Peace, Part 2

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For part 1, click here.

I was putting on my boot. That’s all. We were going over to my parent’s house to celebrate my dad’s 66th birthday and I was completely ready to go aside from putting on my shoes. I leaned over to put on my boot and the most excruciating pain shot down my back and into my legs. I couldn’t move, breathe, walk, sit, or stand without horrible pain. After a ride to the hospital via a lovely ambulance, a stay overnight, an MRI, and lots of drugs, I discovered that 2 discs were out, there is a possible torn ligament, and there is extensive degeneration of certain discs in my lower back as well.

I’ve had back trouble for years … since I was playing tennis as a a teenager. It’s been something that has caused much pain and frustration and at times I have felt like I would be debilitated by back pain for the rest of my life.  But, thankfully, five years ago I had a back surgery that helped tremendously and since then my back issues have been manageable. I’ve been able to stay quite active, really enjoy working out, and have even run several half marathons.

But today, a half marathon seems a very distant memory or hope for the future. At this point, I’d happily take a walk around the block. Instead, I’m lying in bed. Helpless. I need someone help me do pretty much everything. I have an amazing husband and some of the best friends a girl could ask for. While mama is in bed there has not been one need unmet.  Yet, I’m feeling terribly discouraged. Frustrated. A little annoyed. There is a list of things running through my head. Things I’m wondering if I’ll ever be able to do again. Big things like running a half marathon, and little things like going to Walmart. I feel a bit anxious and maybe a little angry that I’m having to deal with this … again.  Can you relate?  Is there something you have dealt with in the past that rears its ugly head again and leaves you feeling frustrated and helpless? Maybe it’s a physical issue.  Maybe an issue with a child, spouse, or friend.  Maybe it’s financial.  Maybe you just feel extremely weary … again.   

In Philippians 4:11, Peter says, “I have learned to be content in whatever circumstance I am in.” I have to be honest. I’m struggling to be content right now. And this struggle is eerily familiar. Often times it seems that my circumstances are an enormous roadblock to my spiritual freedom. Because when I am discontent with my circumstances, with my life, I feel disconnected, discouraged, and distracted.  I tend to forget and have a hard time focusing on who God is and what He has done for me. Instead of experiencing the peace and calm which I so desperately need, I feel overwhelmed and anxious.  And then I remember …

 

THERE IS ABSOLUTELY A PROFOUND LINK BETWEEN GRATITUDE AND PEACE.

 

Rejoice in the Lord ALWAYS; again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing but in everything in prayer and supplication WITH THANKSGIVING make your requests be made known to God. AND the PEACE of God which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:4-7).

Let’s be honest. It’s hard to rejoice and be thankful in the midst of pain. Whether the pain is physical, emotional, spiritual, or all three. Often times, it comes down to a choice. Choosing to be thankful even when it doesn’t seem there is much to be thankful for. What does this choosing look like?

 Rejoice in the Lord Always.  In all circumstances. Good and bad. Sickness and health. For better or worse. At the birth of a child, infertility, a joyous wedding day, a difficult season in marriage, a job promotion, chronic pain, laughter with friends, the loss of a loved one, great success, weariness in motherhood, a weekend away with a spouse or a friend. There are times when rejoicing seems easy. I remember feeling overwhelming joy when I held my first child for the very first time. It was not at all difficult for me to rejoice in the Lord. But then there are other times when rejoicing seems to be an impossibility. So what then? How do I rejoice in the painful circumstances? When it hurts? Physically, emotionally, spiritually? 

Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise” (Philippians 4:8).

 When my mind is set on things above, on the excellent things, on who God is – faithful, loving, true, relentless, gracious, merciful – and what He has done – “He drew me up out of the pit of destruction, out of the miry clay. He set my feet on a rock, making my footsteps firm. He put a new song in my mouth; a song of praise to my God” (Psalm 40:1-2) – I can choose to worship Him and rejoice regardless of my circumstances.

Let Your Gentle Spirit be Known.  In the midst of hardship, it is SO hard to have a gentle spirit. For me, especially when I am in physical pain, it is extraordinarily difficult to be gentle, patient, loving, and kind. And yet, my gentle spirit being known in all circumstances is what I’m called to do. I think in these moments it has to be JESUS THROUGH ME. There is nothing in and of myself that is able to be kind and loving when my circumstances are difficult. And there is this truth to which I can cling – “I can do ALL things through Christ who gives me strength” (Philippins 4:13). Even have a gentle spirit.

The Lord is near.  I absolutely love this truth. It’s not just that we are told not to be anxious and to be thankful. There is first a promise. “The Lord is near to all who call on Him” (Psalm 145:18). “He is near to the brokenhearted and saves those crushed in Spirit” (Psalm 34:18). “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” (James 4:8). There is never one second of one minute of one day when God is not near – right there beside us. Walking with us. Causing us to stand. Upholding us with His righteous right hand (Isaiah 41:1). His presence is a PROMISE. We don’t have to guess whether or not He is going to be with us in the good times and in the bad. “It is the Lord who goes before you. He WILL BE WITH YOU. He will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed” (Deuteronomy 31:8).

 I have set the Lord continually before me. BECAUSE HE IS AT MY RIGHT HAND, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my whole being rejoices; my flesh (even if in pain) will also dwell securely … In Your presence there is fullness of joy. At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:9,11).

 Be anxious for nothing. There is a peace and rest that comes from trusting in the sovereignty of God. But really trusting the sovereignty of God requires an enormous amount of faith. I once read that “the sovereignty of God is only peace-inducing if we learn to rest in its truth. Without faith it can be a scary thing … Because God is infinitely wise, He cannot err. And because He is infinitely righteous He will not do wrong” (from goodmorninggirls.org).

Once I realize that God wills only that which is good, my

heart is made to rejoice. He will do no wrong.

Do I believe that? Do I really believe that in God’s infinite goodness, He can do nothing wrong? That means that every single thing that happens in my life is God’s best for me and is for my good. Even the things in my life that aren’t good — sin, the death of a loved one, chronic illness, betrayal of a friend — God will use for my good and for His glory.  As Joseph said in Genesis 50:20, “What man meant for evil, God meant for good.”  God is ALWAYS in control and ALWAYS has a plan.  Even when there seems to be nothing “good” about what we are experiencing.  A faulty understanding of God’s sovereignty will produce fear. But an accurate view of His innate goodness brings peace and joy.

 In everything in prayer … with thanksgiving make your requests made known to God.  In everything and in prayer be thankful. Sometimes there are moments when a breath of praise and thanksgiving just flows out of my mouth. I have a friend who just got some great news from her doctor when she was preparing for the worst. The first words out of her mouth were, “Praise the Lord! I feel so blessed.” But what about when the call from the doctor reveals a cancer diagnosis or a husband who walks out? Is it really possible to then say, as Job did “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21b)??? When I have faced those times when being thankful seems impossible, I have found it quite helpful to cry out to Jesus and be honest with my feelings.

Lord, I am struggling so much to be thankful about ANYTHING right now. I need You. I need you to remind me of the things for which I can be thankful. That You have saved me and You have redeemed me.  That you rescued me because You delight in me. Please remind me of who You are. Just because I’m not feeling it doesn’t mean it’s not true. Remind me of the joy that I find in You, in Your presence, and in relationship with you. Lord I believe that You are good and that you are faithful and loving, merciful and kind, and that there are many things for which I can be thankful. Help me now in my unbelief.”

In these times, in these moments of my weakness and honesty, I believe that He HELPS me offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving.

THEN YOU WILL EXPERIENCE GOD’S PEACE, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. There it is again … the definitive link between thankfulness and peace. And I can personally speak to its truth. There have been times when I have experienced a peace that makes no worldy sense: one that literally washes over me, even when it seemed everything around me was falling part. I have witnessed others walking through life shattering circumstances talk about being held and feeling a peace that exceeds what our human minds can understand. And I love that this kind of peace guards our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus. So often, it is my MIND that gets the best of me. I can create all kinds of stories in my head. My anxiety is often fed by scenarios that play out in my head regarding the future or stories from the past. And God’s great promise is that He will fill our minds and our hearts with truth and peace as we turn to Him with hearts of gratitude, prayer, and praise.

 So, as we enter into this specific time of year set aside to be thankful, let us choose to offer our thanks to God for WHO HE IS and WHAT HE HAS DONE. Let us fix our eyes on HIM so that regardless of our season in life – good or bad – we can choose to be thankful.

You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in You; all whose thoughts are fixed on You” (Isaiah 26:3).

 

Lovingly His,

Carrie

 

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Gratitude and Peace, Part 1

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Recently I was with with some of my most favorite and trusted girlfriends with whom I meet every week. I absolutely love and look forward to our honest conversations as we seek to honor God with our lives. This particular evening as one of the girls was sharing something that happened in her life that week, I realized that deep down I was grumbling a little. I started feeling sorry for myself and thought, “Why isn’t that true in my life?” I felt discontent and anxious and was on the verge of tears. All of a sudden, in a room filled with some of my most trusted friends, I felt out of place. I felt alone. The reason for this sudden change in feeling??? I was comparing!

 Comparison is an ugly thing. It causes anxiety and discontentment. It brings a lack of peace. It often comes in the two little words IF ONLY (see blog here that I wrote about this). Comparison is the place where the enemy convinces us that what we have is not enough. In One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are, Ann Voskamp writes, “Our fall was, has always been and always will be, that we aren’t satisfied in God and what He gives. We hunger for something more, something other.”

 In the past couple of years, God has really been dealing with my heart in regards to this issue, this sin of comparison. I have really sensed God calling me to let go of this stuggle and to fix my eyes on HIM, not on the things of this world or the people of this world.

Let us lay aside every encumbrance and the sin that so easily entangles us and let us run with endurance the race that has been set before us fixing our eyes on Jesus the author and perfector of our faith…” (Hebrews 12:1b-2a).

As I was sharing this with a spiritual mentor, she gave me a very helpful suggestion. Keep a small journal with me at all times and every time I find myself comparing (or saying IF ONLY), write down the things for which I am grateful. Even the small things. Therapists would call this Cognitive Behavioral Therapy – replacing one behavior with another. I think it is also an opportunity and a purposeful way to “set my mind on things above, not on the things of the earth” (Colossians 3:2). So I began my personal journey of gratitude.

On this journey, I’m finding that it’s quite helpful to stop and write down the things for which I am grateful not only when I’m struggling with comparison, but also the moments when I just need to refocus. I’m writing down everything from the minute to the monumental.

  • my fingers and my thumbs

  • my car that, while on its last leg, gets me and my kids where we need to go

  • the ability to see and hear
  • laughter to the point that my side hurts the next day

  • my dog sleeping peacefully beside me

  • a visit from my 3 month old niece whose smile brightens my day

  • a run with my good friend

  • a cuddle with my youngest daughter

  • prayer time with my oldest son

  • my husband who sets my coffee every night before bed so it’s ready when I get up super early

  • healthy friendships with women who know my junk and love me still

  • honest conversations

  • date night with my favorite chicken wings and my favorite hubby

  • growth

  • pain that draws me closer to Jesus

  • a life complete and full in Christ

  • a promise that “He who began a good work will be faithful to complete it”

  • the truth that this is not my home

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts … and BE THANKFUL (Colossians 3:15).

There is absolutely a profound link between GRATITUDE and PEACE.

It’s amazing how quickly my perspective changes when I take the time to be grateful. To recognize all that I have been given in Christ and how He has blessed me in immeasurable ways. I experience great peace and contentment when I take my focus off of my circumstances, myself, what is what is going on in the life of someone else, etc. and fix my eyes on Jesus.

 Below is a prayer written by Scottie Smith that I found on the Gospel Coalition Blog (check it out here). As I have prayed this prayer, I have experienced great joy and peace.

Dear Lord Jesus, it’s not a formula, but I can surely see how the depth of my gratitude is largely determined by the extent to which Your peace is ruling in my heart. So as this day begins, and continues, I surrender to the dominion of Your peace—the governance of your grace, the might of Your mercy, the sanity-making freedom of Your all-encompassing sovereignty.

The increase of Your government and peace will know no end, in the entire cosmos, and in my little heart as well. Hallelujah, many, many times over. I am my least grateful when I lose sight of who you are, and who I am, in Your heart and kingdom. It’s patently true: When I forget the gospel is when I get my grumpiest, most distractible and anxious.

Indeed, Jesus, I am my freest, most joyful and most peaceful, when I remember that You are the Lord, and I am not—though I foolishly grasp for autonomy and authorship of my story, at times. You never sleep nor slumber, and your timing is always perfect—even though I whine and vex, before coming to realize that good news, yet again.

You never get anxious or second-guess anything; You never react to anything, because You’re never surprised by anything. You do all things well, even (maybe, especially) when you don’t do things the way I want you to. Birds eat, flowers get dressed, and stars hang in the sky because of you, Jesus. You are the ruler of the kings of the earth and the determiner of the number of my days. None of us can thwart your will, or improve upon it, though we vainly try.

You are presently ruling the world with your truth and your grace; and, though it’s not yet fully apparent, you will make the nations prove the glories of your righteousness and the wonders of your love. Joy to the world; joy to me. May Your peace rule in my heart today, and may I overflow with gratitude. So very Amen I pray, in your great and gracious name.

 May our eyes be fixed on the Giver of all things today. May our lives overflow with gratitude in Who He is and what He has done, and may our hearts and minds filled the peace of God that surpasses all understanding.

 

Lovingly His,

Carrie

 

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Finding Thankfulness in Brokenness

As we approach Thanksgiving, I’m reminded that I need to be cultivating a heart of gratitude. In a few days, I will sit around a table with family and friends and savor a bounty of yummy treats. We will go around the table and say what we are thankful for.  I can list many: family, friends, food, comfort, etc. I can put on facebook what I’m thankful for each day in November. I can make a thankful tree with my children. But if I’m really honest with myself:

I’m not as thankful as I should be.

At least about what is really important. The one thing I should be so utterly thankful for each and every day:

That I am a sinner saved by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ.

So I started to ask myself. Why wasn’t I living a life overflowing with thankfulness? How had I let my heart get hardened? And I was drawn to this story in Luke:

(If you are like me, you have read this story many times. It has always been one of my favorites. But don’t skim over it, savor each word.)

Luke 7:36-50

English Standard Version (ESV)

A Sinful Woman Forgiven

36 One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37 And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, 38 and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. 39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” 40 And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.”

41 “A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty.42 When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?”43 Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him,“You have judged rightly.” 44 Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. 46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47 Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” 48 And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49 Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?”50 And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

woman_at_jesus_feet

This woman, who everyone knew was a “sinner”, stood at Jesus’ feet and started weeping. She was given a gift. The gift of conviction. She could have let her sin overwhelm her with guilt and shame and run to the nearest corner to hide, fearing someone might see her shame. But she didn’t. She fell before Jesus’ feet where she was met with unconditional love and forgiveness. She went in peace. I bet she was thankful!

And then it hit me:

A thankful heart must first be a broken heart.

I’m not that thankful because I’ve forgotten how broken I really am. The reason I don’t feel thankful or overflow with gratitude is because I’ve forgotten the depths of my own pit. Like the sailors trapped with the Lotus Eaters in Homer’s Odyssey, I have eaten too much of this world and become apathetic, numb, dulled to the reality of my constant need of a Savior.

I had to ask myself, “If Jesus were to come and sit at my table this Thanksgiving, would I be like this woman or the pharisee Simon?” Would I be more concerned with what other people thought of me and what the “socially acceptable” way to behave was? Would I allow myself to feel the brokenness she felt in order to receive restoration? Has my heart become so hard and calloused that I don’t feel the need for grace? Do I see conviction of sin as a gift? Am I thankful that God uses pain to bring me back to him or do I push Jesus away because I don’t want to be broken. Being broken hurts.  Seeing the depth of my sin is no fun. I don’t want to be humble, exposed, broken. Would I rather feel numb towards God than let his love shatter me?

No, I’m ready….

I weep. My heart breaks. I’m on my knees…AGAIN!

I admit…

“Lord, I see the depth of my sin in contrast to your holiness, and it BREAKS ME. I’ve had the props of my own goodness kicked right out from under me. I’m once again reminded that I can’t save myself. That I’m not as good as I think I am. That I NEED YOU.”

And He is there to wipe away the tears.

Jesus meets me in my brokenness and offers love, forgiveness, and peace.

And my heart is full of thanksgiving.

For I have been forgiven much!

 

May you feel the blessings of restoration this Thanksgiving.

 

Hugs,

Julie

 

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A Week of Thanksgiving and a Giveaway!

Week of Thanksgiving calledforsuchatime.com

 

We hope you join us this week for a week of Thanksgiving as we look at what it means to be truly thankful!

And because we are so thankful for YOU, we are giving away a large jar Yankee Candle (Christmas scent). Just enter the giveaway below by Friday at midnight (EST).  I mean, who doesn’t love Yankee Candles?! They make great Christmas gifts, but I would have a hard time not keeping it for myself:).

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