Thankful?

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Hello, my friends! I just finished doing my holiday grocery shopping. It is astounding how grumpy people can be while choosing delicious and surprisingly affordable items (eight sweet potatoes for a dollar!) from a clean, well-lit, climate controlled palace of food. Yes, it was crowded. So are parties and sporting events, so… 

Hey, it’s THANKSgiving, not Grumpsgiving. I hope you’ll be the counterculture kid this holiday season, smiling and reminding everyone of all the gifts we already have. And, just in case you need a bit of extra encouragement, please take a moment to watch this video. Yes, I know, it’s going viral, and you may have already seen it. Even if that’s the case, I hope you’ll watch it again. Powerful stuff!

Have a wonderful holiday!

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The Saying Goes…

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Steve loves those quirky signs we all see in gift shops and coffee shops. They’re usually made out of a slat of wood or a square of canvas and sport short sayings fit for coffee mugs and fortune cookies (and the little paper squares attached to Yogi tea bags.) Every once in a while he’ll take a snapshot of one and text it around to family members, or maybe post it on Facebook. A few days ago I saw one that said,

“If anything can go well it will.”

  • Murphy’s Law in reverse!
  • Romans 8:28 in slang!
  • And, sadly, something you’ll almost never hear anyone say.

But why not? Isn’t it just as likely that the toast will fall jelly side up? Isn’t it possible that getting lost will lead to a new adventure? Really, now, don’t things go well a lot of the time?

It all depends on how we approach life. Yes, there are plenty of hard times to face, plenty of bugs and bugaboos waiting to spoil our plans. But I have to land, every time, on God is in control. The Bible is full of verses commanding us to approach our days with singing and rejoicing. We rejoice

because God is in control.

because he loves us.

because we await eternity.

One of my favorite verses talks about singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord. Isn’t that how we almost always can—and should—start our days? It all starts when the alarm goes off. I went to school where a favorite phrase was “Expect a miracle.” Expectations are everything when it comes to attitude. And why not expect a miracle? In fact, we begin each day with a miracle—the miracle of Christ in us, with us, going before us. And today, like every day, things can and will go well.

Sing!

Trust!

Begin with the end in mind—a day spent in the company of our Lord.

And let me know how your day goes!

Target Practice (Written a week ago)

 

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As I write this, I’m on a plane headed to Dallas from Vancouver, BC. This sounds delightful, except for the fact that, when I boarded the plane, it was headed to Austin (as in my hometown). Moments before we were due to land, the captain came on the speaker and said, “Folks, you’ve probably noticed how we’ve been flying around in a circle for a while. There’s a bit of bad weather in Austin right now. We can only circle for about 10 more minutes before we’ll have to reroute.” You could almost feel the hopes and prayers flowing through the cabin as we circled, but the scheduled landing was not to be. ‘Same goes for the Fourth of July evening I thought we’d be spending watching fireworks with our grandchildren. Ditto for the good night’s sleep to make up for our very early departure to the airport this morning.

So, now I get to practice what I preach, to trust that all will be well, to exhibit a joyful God-is-in-control attitude as I await further news and instructions. It helps to look at my blessings here:

  • I am NOT in the tight and non-reclining last row, center seat. (‘Did that last month for a short flight that couldn’t have been short enough.)
  • I still have a good bit left in my water bottle and one more snack bar. (Okay, it’s not a snack bar, it’s a packet of instant oatmeal, but that’s better than nothing if we’re stuck in plane for hours. Maybe Steve has a little bit of chocolate left and will be willing to share.)
  • My phone still has juice, so I can read more of the Eugene Peterson book Steve bought for us on Kindle.
  • I followed the nudge to wear very light clothes, which will come in handy if we sit on the tarmac and the a/c goes weak.
  • Steve is with me, and we are safe.

There’s probably even more hidden blessings here. Some I may notice later. Some I may never know about. But I am here. And I am smiling. And I hope my “misfortune” will be, as you read this, a word of encouragement for you today.

(Photo by Nickas Tidbury via Unsplash.com.)

Miracles in the Mundane

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Where have you seen the miraculous in the mundane, in your everyday life? I’m starting this blog with a question in hopes that right now, before you even finish reading, you’ll take a moment to share an experience in the “What are your thoughts?” section below.

While we can always experience the persistently miraculous around us (natural beauty, the grace of God, the wonder of human health), today I’m talking about the “coincidences” and interventions that surely must be touches of God’s love and blessing.

During our move I saw simple blessings arrive just as I needed them. For example:

My son Tony told me we needed to mulch our beds and trim back our monkey grass as we prepared to sell our home. (Groan. Yes, you’re right. I’ll add those two items to my list, my loonnnggg list.)  A week later I was headed out the door, and there in the street was a man with a truck full of mulch looking for a place to put it.  As the deal was struck he said (I kid you not), “I prep a lot of yards for market. You really ought to trim back that monkey grass. I can do that too.”  A few hours later, my whole yard (I had a BIG yard) looked incredible.

My realtor Mark said, “You need to get all those boxes up off the closet floor.” (Sure, I do, but where am I going to put them since they are too heavy to heft onto a top shelf, too heat sensitive to put in the garage, and…) A few hours later, Ben, Tony’s strong young brother-in-law, said, “I’m heading to Austin this weekend IN A TRUCK. Want me to take anything there for you? Eight heavy boxes? No problem.”

Mulch and boxes? Those were big deals to me at the time, and I noticed God’s hand. Sometimes, though, we allow the miraculous to become mundane. We forget within the hubbub that we’re walking in the presence of the Almighty God, and that he cares about us enough to know the number of hairs on our head.

So let’s have a praise session here. When have you noticed God’s hand?

 

Preoccupation or Prayer?

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Multitasking can lower productivity. A life of distraction hinders happiness. But meditation may actually impact the structure of the brain. Scientists don’t know why, but meditation can reduce anxiety, depression, and pain. Quiet time, prayer, Scripture memorization—these are all part and parcel of a meditative life and are certainly encouraged throughout the Bible. When the day takes on frantic undertones, or when we find it difficult to stay in the present time and place, there’s a good chance that refreshing our devotional habits will help.

Of course we’re called not only to prayer, but to praise, worship, and thanksgiving. Time[1] Magazine reported that people who are grateful tend to feel more content. Gratitude means noticing the good in our lives and being happy for what we have. If one of your “brain ruts” is that of constant comparison or disgruntlement, you’re dragging yourself down. Happy people are seldom bothered by the successes of others. They count their own blessings. They have a biblical perspective: all good things come from God, and he knows what is best for us. Remember, we can change those neural pathways with practice. We don’t need greater wealth or better circumstances to be happy. We need greater appreciation, mindfulness of our blessings, and a willingness to express our gratitude for them. Church helps. It’s an easy place to express our gratitude. Furthermore, when I of Sunday mornings, I think of

  • Music, a proven mood enhancer.
  • Fellowship, touted by many as essential to sustained happiness.
  • Friends. Time says stable, committed relationships matter.
  • Faith. Multiple studies assert that people of faith tend to struggle less with depression and anxiety.
  • Acts of Service: Time insists that charitable giving brings greater happiness than personal spending, and that doing acts of kindness is better still.

Does money buy happiness? No, but it does give us the opportunity to do a scientifically (and Biblically) supported happiness-building activity: spend some on other people. In one study, children as young as 2 years old were given the choice of giving another child small crackers from either their own pile or from that of someone else. They were happier giving away their own crackers! Another study showed that people who commit to doing three or more acts of kindness a week may elevate their happiness level.

Is wanting to be happy a selfish goal? I think not. The Bible talks about rejoicing and gladness and praise. And isn’t it generally unhappy people who become turned in upon themselves, sometimes spreading their gloom as they go? So, let’s make choices that bring good cheer. Currently, only 30% of Americans say they are very happy. Maybe this is the year we can up that number.

[1] The Science of Happiness: New Discoveries for a More Joyful Life, A Time Special Edition, September 9, 2017.

Live Like You Were Movin’

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As I write this, I have been an Austinite for precisely one week. Here’s what I’ve been learning:

  • It’s nearly all small stuff. The worldly goods we chose to shed in this process would fill a small bedroom wall-to-wall and floor-to-ceiling. Astonishing how little I miss any of it! Soon I won’t even be able to recall what I left behind. In the future, as I ask myself that inevitable “buy or don’t buy” question, I’ll also be asking myself, “What would make it onto a moving truck?”
  • People are important. No brainer? Yes, but I’m not sure I’ve always acted on that fact. As I hugged friends and neighbors goodbye, I wished I had found small, frequent means by which to show my appreciation throughout my tenure in Houston. Moving to Austin means I get to hit the “reset” button on hospitality, neighborliness, and even friendship. As I write this, I’m praying that I will slow down and make people a greater priority in demonstrable ways.
  • A little discipline goes a long way. During the “house showing” phase of this adventure, we upgraded our home to nearly picture perfect condition. We enjoyed the improvements, but getting things fixed up right before we left seemed a bit of a shame. Perhaps the same goes for our spiritual life. Shouldn’t we be staying in shape all the time, enjoying the peace and joy that good spiritual habits afford us? There’s no good reason to wait!
  • Sometimes, accepting help is more important than giving it. We were too slow to say “yes” when offered help with the monumental task of packing. When we finally did accept an offer, it was a great relief. More surprising, though, was what I heard as my friend wrapped and boxed, “Now I feel better about you helping me!” Ah, two-way roads are nearly always better.

This place is already beginning to feel like home, so many thanks to those of you who prayed for our transition. I’m off to unpack a bit more now, so “see” you next week!