Giving My Thanks

So, our house was full.

Walking from the front door to the living room, there were family antiques that Mom taught herself how to restore. Standing in the dining room, there was inherited china on display. If you walked the hall to our bedrooms, you found turn-of-the-century framed photographs of relatives on the wall, next to mid-century school-year photos pinned to a bulletin board. Shelves of scrapbooks and albums cataloguing recent personal history were crammed next to textbooks that spanned a century.

If you sat by the kitchen while the food was cooking, or at the dining table once it was done, you’d hear which relative was known for the recipe. We smelled and tasted their legacy on Sundays and holidays. 

And on any day of the year, we could tour our history – thumbing through the albums, and sitting where our people had sat. Here, an upholstered bench dedicated to talking on the telephone; there, a sturdy hardwood chair reserved for a large-scale relative. In this way, we were trained to never forget the people that we’d never met. 

We knew security and peace because we knew loving care. We knew joy because every season was celebrated. We knew melancholy and grief because of our mother’s lament for the loss of youth, and its innocence, and the people she loved in those times.

There was a sense of a people in our home, more than the five who lived there. And Someone more.

There were crosses over doorways. By my father’s side of the bed, there was a rosary and a cross made of palm leaves pinned to the wall. And at our table, we bowed our heads and said a blessing.

On New Year’s Eve, we’d turn off the TV for a family prayer. Later, we’d turn it back on in time for the countdown. My father would pop a cork with his signature toasts, and we’d hear car horns and firecrackers in the distance.

But first came my mother kneeling with her forehead on the seat cushion of the sofa, praying out loud over us, and thanking God for her family, starting with the loved ones who’d gone on. She would wipe her eyes, and then we would each take a turn praying from our hearts too.

And our hearts were full. 

Now, we pray for God to restore us. To help us know what to frame, what to keep, and when to tell the stories to the next generation. We pray for God to reveal His imprint on our lives through the stories that we tell, about ourselves and those who came before us. To testify how God has preserved us, though we be as fragile as the china, and sometimes as tattered as the photographs. 

We pray for the transparency to show Your hand upon us, sustaining and providing for us in spite of ourselves. To show Your daily transformation of us, and our lives crammed with personal concerns. Help us to dust off the lessons You’ve taught us, and those we love, and to walk in Your wisdom.

Knock at the door of our hearts with others’ testimonies; remind us to listen and learn how You have moved mightily in their lives, and to celebrate Your glory in their stories.

May we meet You in these shared stories. May we know daily family reunion with You. 

Help us never to forget.

Receive the Gift

GiftIt was ready. Long before I toyed with agnosticism at age 10. Long before I ever chose my adult value system and methodical reasoning as substitutes for seeking, exploring and following singularly triune Truth.

Long before I was lovingly anticipated or lovingly welcomed into the world, and long before I had ever disappointed, hurt or angered anyone, the gift was already ready.

And long before I had a name, my name was already on it.

It was my salvation, prepared long before I entered the world. My salvation came with redemption, justification and sanctification.

Salvation meant I would be freed from ties to sin; I would not be sin’s servant. Redemption meant sin would not own me because of my debts, my transgressions, because those were now paid off and forgiven. The wages of sin – death – would be replaced by an inheritance, as a new child of God. And my value, set by God treasuring me, could not be reduced.

Justification meant that long before God’s enduring law had defined what I lacked, God was ready to share his holiness with me. Sanctification meant that sharing God’s holiness would immediately and ultimately redefine me.

All these riches, gifted to me in Jesus’ name, were prepared long before I ever existed. Long before I knew my need, and long before I was ready to receive them.

All these riches are labeled by multisyllabic words. They only begin to define God in the human mind. When all is said and done, we must know for ourselves that God is love. And that He loves passionately and compassionately – long before we ever choose to love Him.

If you have yet to receive them, receive them today. By faith, turn from sin and all its shortages to receive your God, the giver of every good and perfect gift.

If you received these gifts long ago, invest them today. Recall that they were never meant to nestle back in tissue paper, and that the lid will not set back in place. Because these gifts were never meant for storage out of sight, out of mind.

Our actions and words will reflect God’s ways, while presenting a reminder that God’s ways are not our own – or they will be unproductive, bearing little fruit. We can choose day by day to invest and be further enriched by our gifts, or let distraction and discouragement stash them aside.

You are part of your Father’s business. You – and those you either pass or do business with – are your Father’s business. When you were commissioned to the work of sharing Jesus and His gospel with the world, you became His empowered hands and feet in the world. With each day, your face continues to take on resemblance to Him, and so you represent Him where you go.

Receive God’s immeasurable gifts. Invest them to His glory.

Fingerplay

ThanksIt’s been a year, marked from Thanksgiving to Thanksgiving.
It’s been full. It’s been fast. To measure the time, I stop to count my blessings.

I can do that starting with my thumb. I think with joy of what is so precious to me.

I can do that with my pointer finger. I think with joy of what is so precious to me.

I can do that with all my fingers. And before I get to my pinkie, I know I have more blessings than I can count. But I have to.

Because God is just so good.

I turn to my other hand. I can count with those fingers, just in this past year, times of intense strain, struggle, sorrow, grief, fear. I touch fingertip to fingertip, hands together. And I thank You, Lord.

You’ve been so good to me. Through times I would never have chosen. Through times I would trade nothing for.

Together I touch my gathered fingertips to my face, and I praise You for every comfort and every comforting. You are the same in all seasons, Lord, for in everything you give me life abundantly, above more than I can ask or think.

In every year I can recall, and in years that others recalled for me, I can count more and more blessings like these. As I do, I find myself fully in gratitude’s grasp.

I could do the same at St. Patrick’s Day, or National Chocolate Chip Cookie Day, if I celebrated either. On any date, I could measure off a year of God’s goodness, both humbled by his touch in my life, and enthralled to witness it in others’.

Our lives are graced by seasons, given to help us mark the times, but wonder has no season.

Jesus began his ministry on this earth with this message:

The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” Mark 1: 15b

The kingdom of God is within your reach. Give thanks and receive God —  again today, and then every day you’re given.

The time is at hand.

Fingerplay

ThanksIt’s been a year, marked from Thanksgiving to Thanksgiving.
It’s been full. It’s been fast. To measure the time, I stop to count my blessings.

I can do that starting with my thumb. I think with joy of what is so precious to me.

I can do that with my pointer finger. I think with joy of what is so precious to me.

I can do that with all my fingers. And before I get to my pinkie, I know I have more blessings than I can count. But I have to.

Because God is just so good.

I turn to my other hand. I can count with those fingers, just in this past year, times of intense strain, struggle, sorrow, grief, fear. I touch fingertip to fingertip, hands together. And I thank You, Lord.

You’ve been so good to me. Through times I would never have chosen. Through times I would trade nothing for.

Together I touch my gathered fingertips to my face, and I praise You for every comfort and every comforting. You are the same in all seasons, Lord, for in everything you give me life abundantly, above more than I can ask or think.

In every year I can recall, and in years that others recalled for me, I can count more and more blessings like these. As I do, I find myself fully in gratitude’s grasp.

I could do the same at St. Patrick’s Day, or National Chocolate Chip Cookie Day, if I celebrated either. On any date, I could measure off a year of God’s goodness, both humbled by his touch in my life, and enthralled to witness it in others’.

Our lives are graced by seasons, given to help us mark the times, but wonder has no season.

Jesus began his ministry on this earth with this message:

The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” Mark 1: 15b

The kingdom of God is within your reach. Give thanks and receive God —  again today, and then every day you’re given.

The time is at hand.

And a happy new year

new year 2015 a     My family has a way of stretching out what’s known as a seasonal greeting.
At the end of the midnight countdown, wherever we are, we all join in to imitate my father. Thirty years ago, we began doing it in his memory — emphasizing that first syllable like a bleat from a bugle horn: “HAP-……………………!”
     Then dramatically, emphatically, holding our breaths — until the rest just has to come rushing out.
“…-PY New Year!”
     Sometimes happy sounds like something  whimsical, wish-ful and wistful, because happy sounds elusive. It’s had various meanings through history, from a luck-based status (as in happenstance), to drunkenness, to impulse and obsession (i.e. gadget-happy).
      Sometimes the commercial energy of our economy’s retail sector at this time of year can prompt a misplaced celebration of the gimmes. And the gimmes represent the most familiar connotation for happy — having what you want.
 
     When we begin to learn about joy as revealed in Scripture, we often start by contrasting it to being happy. We think of being happy as something fleeting, based on whim. We come to know that joy is something else. That joy is something you can have, and be strengthened by, even when times are not happy — times of grief or sorrow.
Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fair, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls: Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation.     Habakkuk 3:17, 18 KJV

Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.      Psalm 30:5b KJV

     There’s more, and it comes rushing out from the meaningful words of Scripture, which offer more meaning for happy.
    When the Psalms and Proverbs speak of being blessed, their Hebrew wording includes esher, or ashar. Ashar means “to go straight, make progress, be on the level, to lead on, to be made right, and to be made happy.” (http://www.beithashem.org/SeedsOfFaith/June2002a.php)
     Esher is the noundefined as blessedness and/or happiness.  Here we can find a conjunction of meaning.
     We discover in the Bible a definition for happy that is rooted in blessed, in language that is based on the Giver instead of the gimmes.  Picture if you will a little kid, who seems happy because cotton candy is now in hand. That’s a gimme image. Now step back a bit for a different scene: a little kid already delighted in anticipation of the parent buying it. That’s a Giver image, of the happiness in having a Father who you trust to give you good things.
Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.     James 3:17 NIV
     He’s a Giver of good things.
     Before the countdown begins, our family has another tradition, led by my mother. The TV and its party sounds are silenced, and whoever can kneels in prayer. We take turns thanking Him aloud for the great things He’s done. We ask Him to tend what is on our minds and in our heart. We entrust him with the days to come.
     HAP………py new year! It’s really more than a greeting. It’s a blessing, emphatically reminding all who have ears to hear that happiness truly awaits. It’s in the fullness of that conjunction of meaning between blessed and happy.  It’s like a bleat from a bugle horn, ultimately sounding praise for God who dramatically has revealed His goodness to us throughout all time.
For more on a happy new year, turn to:
  • 1 Kings 10:8     Happy are thy men, happy are these thy servants, which stand continually before thee, and that hear thy wisdom.
  • Job 5:17     Behold, happy is the man whom God correcteth: therefore despise not thou the chastening of the Almighty:
  • Psalms 144:5      Happy is that people, that is in such a case: yea, happy is that people, whose God is the LORD.
  • Psalms 146:5     Happy is he that hath the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope is in the LORD his God:
  • Proverbs 3:13, 18     Happy is the man that findeth wisdom, and the man that getteth understanding.
  • Proverbs 16:20     He that handleth a matter wisely shall find good: and whoso trusteth in the LORD, happy is he.
  • Proverbs 28:14     Happy is the man that feareth alway: but he that hardeneth his heart shall fall into mischief.
  • Proverbs 29:18     Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.
  • John 13:17     If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them.
  • James 5:11     Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy.
  • 1 Peter 3:14     But and if ye suffer for righteousness’ sake, happy are ye: and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled;
  • 1 Peter 4:14     If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you: on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified.