Thanks – Just Kidding!

For, SO MANY YEARS, my life was out-of-control and my brokenness held a death-grip on the teeniest desire I may have had to change. During that time, if anyone would have told me to be grateful I likely would have slapped them silly! And in their stunned state, while I had their attention, I would have pulled out my handy “gratitude – NOT” list and spewed all my anger and bitterness right at them.

Let’s see…

  • Thanks mom for all the abuse. That was fun.
  • Thanks psycho-neighbor kid for introducing me to perversion when I was too small and afraid to run away from you.
  • Thanks ex-husband for your “lying, cheating, cold dead-beating, two-timing and double-dealing, mean mistreating, (un)loving heart”. What a knight in shining armor you turned out to be!
  • Thank you world for gleefully providing all my trivial wants, empty longings, and self-centered demands.
  • Oh yeah, and THANK YOU, GOD! for totally ignoring all the above.

I was bitter and hateful all those years; entrenched in such a deep sense of emptiness and hopelessness that I felt the only relief from the pain was to find a way to end my life. I did make a failed attempt to kill myself when I was twenty-three. Two years later, when I married my current husband, Tom, I became a Christian. But, for years it was in name only and nothing really changed.

Though that was the beginning of my faith journey (such as it was) it took years of healing for me to warm up to this scripture verse that is most critical for a life to be filled with joy, passion and purpose: 1 Thessalonians 5:18, “Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus”.

It has only been in the past ten years or so that I have been able to truly appreciate and claim for myself the meaning and depth of gratitude in two significant areas of my life: the painful experiences of my past and my sense of entitlement: My striving for “things”, successes, whatever it took to numb the pain. My constant shame battled with my pretense of being emotionally stable and spiritually healthy, “Look at me people! Aren’t you jealous? You are and you know it!”

I know gratitude for the pain as well as the joys in life seems like a paradox – it makes no sense at all, right? Believe me, I get it…

All I can say is that it was gratitude that finally made sense of my past. In the midst of the pain inflicted by others in my life I felt I had nothing to live for: No purpose, no hope, no concern for anything or anyone beyond myself. Gratitude has loosened my white-knuckled grip on my own sins as well, which was actually my biggest hurdle.

The beginning of my transformation was like a forest and trees analogy: I had to step away and look back to realize how God was with me all along; that He did love me, and had a plan to use my pain in service to others. My gift was to share my story. My purpose was, and still is, to walk alongside those God puts in my life that are also broken and lost. My life has never been richer. I have never been happier. I could never ask for more. I owe a debt I cannot pay to a God who will never send bill collectors to my door – not ever!

So, is my life now pain and heartache free? No…but…now I know how to access God’s love which resides within my very being; I know I can hope and trust in Him to overcome anything life throws my way even if I may not have the slightest idea what good will come of those struggles.

Brennan Manning Quote

Sooooo, how do you replace discontent with gratitude? Is gratitude a simple act of will? Sort of like all the diets I have been on? Let’s see…today I am going to be content with this bowl of broccoli while you eat that big, fat, juicy steak!

No, it isn’t easy.

It’s important to first realize what we’re up against. I believe the biggest obstacle to gratitude and contentment is our Western culture’s sense of scarcity in all areas of life. We need more gadgets, a bigger house, a better car, a more important job. We’re never grateful for what we have because someone else always has more.

The Scarcity Gremlin eats up sufficiency for a midnight snack. So, by morning each day begins with a sense of “not enough” of___________ (fill in the blank), and then a striving to get it. Whatever “it” is.

How can you be content, you ask, when your new neighbor, who just moved into a house twice the size of yours, is younger, prettier, has a career you envy, and a pool to die for. And if all that weren’t bad enough, she speaks eight languages – you only speak four. She has traveled to fifty-two countries – you have only made it to thirty-eight. She’s been married six times – you’ve only been married once! Okay…ENOUGH!

We are continually comparing ourselves to others in myriad ways: Our looks, our weight, our homes, our successes and that of our kids, our social status, our cars, the lushness of our lawns, and jealousy inducing vacation pictures of our friends posted on Facebook! It’s endless and exacerbating.

Where is God in all this? Ephesians 3:20 tells us, “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us”. Sounds lovely, but we prefer, no, must have, the newest doohickey that we often can’t afford, but cannot possibly live without. Really? The first smartphone was introduced, what? In the 1990’s? How’d we do without it for about 2,000 years before that?

Jesus smartphone

Our sense of scarcity; our need to one-up others, distorts and devalues all the blessings and gifts we have been given. We are so hyperfocused on what we don’t have, we fail to appreciate or show gratitude for what we do have. Gratitude seems to be a lost virtue in a culture never satisfied.

storage shed

David G. Myers, author of The American Paradox: Spiritual Hunger in an Age of Plenty, wrote in an American Psychologist article. “Compared with their grandparents, today’s young adults have grown up with much more affluence, slightly less happiness and much greater risk of depression and assorted social pathology. Our becoming much better off over the last four decades has not been accompanied by one iota of increased subjective well-being.”

So, are you sleepwalking through life, fooling yourself into believing that striving, owning, having, and out-spending others will make you happy? Is this what your purpose in life is?

You know you want to change because there is something deep within your heart that has been speaking to you for a very long time about how discontented and unfulfilled you are with your life and with all your “stuff”. All you need to do is trust that God’s got your back and is just waiting for the slightest motion toward him. That mustard seed step of faith (Matthew 17:20). A faith that begins with patience and hope which are two critical elements of a healing heart:

  • Gratitude requires a great deal of patience; trusting God’s timing and ultimate plan for our lives:

patience

  • Hope is not tangible, it is in things unseen: “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” Hebrews 11:1

Dr. Robert Emmons of the University of California-Davis, considered the world’s leading expert on gratitude, says, “Gratefulness is a knowing awareness that we are the recipients of goodness.”  When we turn our focus from ourselves to God, we are the ones who benefit. “The self,” in the words of Emmons, “is a very poor place to find happiness or meaning in life.”

“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above (not Amazon prime), and cometh down from the Father of lights.” (James 1:17)

If you want to read more Dr. Emmon’s Website is here:

Now then, time for true confessions. Until six weeks ago, I was feeling pretty altruistic and benevolent toward “the least of these”. After all, over the years, I have given away perfectly good: designer clothes, furniture, household items, a kidney, canned goods, and my precious time and energy. I thought I knew what poverty and hopelessness were all about. I was wrong.

Six weeks ago, my husband and I went to Rwanda in Central Africa to visit our son, daughter-in-law and two of our grandkids. It has been the most profound and overwhelming experience of my life! Here, hunger has stared down my apathy. I have seen the memorials that display the graphic reality of the genocide in 1994: A mass slaughter of almost a million men, women, and children in just one-hundred days, while the world stood by and watched. I have talked to survivors and been surrounded by hungry, often shoeless, always laughing, children. I can’t even put into words how it has torn at my heart.

And when I think of the contrast between this country and America: what we have and they don’t; what they appreciate and we don’t, I can’t help but think about the virtue of gratitude and pray that I will be a different person when I return home. That I won’t forget. I pray that contentment will look much different; that I will be mindful of the difference between need and want; that I will not be so wasteful or take anything for granted again.

Just try to imagine the following contrasts. I could have posted many more. But, I hope these will give you a sense of how this experience has impacted me:

Stop Your Grumbling!

(Originally posted 1/22/16)

suck-it-up-butterup

I have not posted since August ninth. Not because I got bored with writing or died. (I hope you’re happy I didn’t die!) On August 18th I was on the receiving end of a vaccination shot gone terribly wrong! (I would encourage you to be certain you know who’s vaccinating you and your family!!! This post was in January 2016. It took a year for me to fully recover)

That shot, administered into my shoulder joint instead of the muscle, was the cause of four months of constant pain, an emergency room visit, failed treatments, and a recent surgery. Then the surgery added to the pain because I awoke to the surprise of additional surgery. It seems the needle also tore my rotator cuff, which then needed mending. I was sent home for six weeks of recovery instead of the anticipated two weeks.

For the first few weeks, my husband had to do almost everything for me. God bless him, he’s a trooper. My neighbor has come over several times to fix my hair, when I actually cared what I looked like. She helped me decorate my house for Christmas, and clean it for a Christmas party.

I know I have been more miserable that necessary because I cannot/will not taking pain medications. They make me feel physically and mentally whacked. So, very often from the beginning of this adventure I have experienced more pain than ever in my life. Including childbirth! Seriously. Besides, that pain is short-lived and there’s a prize at the end!

But I am getting better. I am able to do more things for myself: shower, dress, etc.. Occasionally I will muster up the energy to cook a meal and clean the house. But, it takes everything I have to do it. My husband never complains which I am eternally grateful for.

To be perfectly honest, sometimes I catch myself actually enjoying the sympathy from friends and family, and even strangers. Of course no one is going to feel sorry for me if I don’t complain, right? When someone asks how I’m doing I jump feet first into my pit of misery and do my best to pull them in with me! I might begin by saying, “Oh, you’re probably tired of hearing about it it’s been going on for so long!” But then I don’t give them a chance to respond before, choking back tears, I give an update on my ongoing misery. Poor, poor pitiful me!

Then, one day, “Holy lesson-in-the-making Batman!” I shouted after receiving God’s proverbial THWARP. It’s never audible. It just hangs around me like a shroud until I acknowledge its presence, “Okay Lord, there’s a lesson here I just know it! You’re not going to let me get away with this are you?”

This actually was a lesson in process since December, I just didn’t know it at the time. I was thinking about the silly New Year’s Resolutions I usually end before they even begin. I’m going to lose weight right after this super-sized hot fudge sundae, or maybe the next, or maybe not at all. I don’t know. I’m not feeling it.

So, I decided instead, in order to grow deeper in faith, to choose a virtue that I would daily put into action in all I thought, said, and did. Like contentment or joy or peace. Then, out from under that shroud, “Or, Linda, how about gratitude?” Hum. Gratitude. Okay, that’s a good one! At the end of each day I could write in a Gratitude Journal all the things I was grateful for that day: a beautiful sunrise, the song of birds outside my window…

“That’s lovely Linda, and safe. But, let’s go deeper. You are thankful for your good health, but, how about the suffering from the shoulder pain? Whiner! You are grateful for friends who are low-maintenance, but what about the relationships that are difficult?  You are grateful for all the things you have, but what about the things others have that you don’t; that you covet?”

When we consider gratitude, if we consider it at all, we often stay within the realm of the warm squishy stuff. I remember the times at my son’s house when the kids were small and they would each take a turn thanking God, mostly for “things” – a doll, a stuffed animal, a birthday present envied by their siblings. Unfortunately, as adults we are still prone to thankfulness for adult “things” that make us happy. But, being grateful for our struggles in life just doesn’t make sense. It’s easier for us to see a beautiful sunrise, attribute it to God, and then thank Him for it, than to thank Him for adversity. Are you old enough to remember this commercial?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1prd0Dpfytw

(Sorry, I just had to throw that in!)

I suppose we are in one of two camps when dealing with suffering: we either believe (a) God doesn’t cause suffering but he allows it, think of Job (more on him later), or (b) God is behind everything that happens to us. I’m going with (a). Either way, we are probably going to complain, and complain loudly! If we believe it’s the former we cry out, “Lord, why don’t you stop this?” or the latter, “Lord, how could you do this to me?!” God is blamed for our suffering either way.

Philippians 2:14 tells us to “Do all things (my emphasis) without grumbling or questioning.” But we just can’t can we? Whining is in our nature apparently. Look at the Israelites for heaven’s sake. I can see why Moses tried to get out of God’s call that fateful day! But he acquiesced and was drug into the Israelite’s unrelenting pity party. He went to God and begged him to make it stop! I suppose the Israelites got it in their heads that because they were God’s chosen people (Exodus 6:7) life would be good from here on out, their suffering was over. Not so much.

When things don’t go as planned in my life it’s usually a wake-up call. After all, when did I win the perfect life lottery? When was I promised immunity from suffering and pain? We can’t seem to watch the news or talk to a neighbor any day of the week and not hear of someone’s tragedy: A death, an illness, a cancer diagnosis, a divorce, a lost job. But when that’s my story I scream NOT FAIR! I pout and complain and solicit sympathy from anyone who will listen, especially God.

charlie-brown

Let me share with you some powerful examples that the Holy Spirit has led me to just this past week as I have been writing this post (and let me just say here that as you read this don’t lose sight of the fact that every time I am inspired to write a blog post I most always sit in front of an empty page having no idea how to put into words what God has put on my heart. Yet He has NEVER failed to give me all I have needed to complete it. It just blows my mind!)

So, anyway, here you go…

Are you familiar with the life of Dietrick Bonhoeffer? His writings about gratitude in the midst of his suffering, and ultimately his execution, tell us a great deal about an attitude we are all called to. Here are a few excerpts about him from Breakpoint:

“…there are many lessons we can be meditating on from his life and thought. He showed us how to be the church, what it meant to lay down one’s life for his friends, and how to fight against evil. Moreover, he taught us to count the cost of discipleship, rejecting the compromised religion he called ‘cheap grace.’

 But there are two related lessons from Bonhoeffer’s life that have been particularly impressed upon me…: first, having a constant attitude of gratefulness and, second, being joyful in the midst of suffering.

 Gratefully accepting the life He gives us. Bonhoeffer wrote about gratefulness, but more importantly, he lived it. Even in the midst of the agonizing circumstances of a Nazi prison, Bonhoeffer never ceased to overflow with gratitude towards the Lord. Facing the daily possibility of death, he regarded each day as a precious gift from the Lord, to be received with thankfulness and joy.

 ‘I think we honor God more’ Bonhoeffer once wrote ‘if we gratefully accept the life that he gives us with all its blessings, loving it and drinking it to the full.’

 One English officer, imprisoned with Bonhoeffer, later commented: ‘Bonhoeffer always seemed to me to spread an atmosphere of happiness and joy over the least incident and profound gratitude for the mere fact that he was alive.’”

 http://www.breakpoint.org/the-center/columns/changepoint/16437-gratitude-joy-in-the-midst-of-suffering

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

Then, there is the story of a family Dateline just aired this week. They have been following this family for several years. It is one of the most powerful examples I have ever seen of gratitude. Sadly, for most of us who find it so difficult to be thankful when the slightest thing does not go our way, gratefulness would seem impossible in this situation. You can watch their story on Dateline and they have a blog:

jason-and-stacy-bingham

http://www.nbcnews.com/dateline/video/preview-where-the-heart-is-601790019798

http://jasonandstacybingham.blogspot.com/2016/01/after-dateline.htm

“In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” 1 Thessalonians 5:18

Today my thoughts turn to beginning a Gratitude Journal. I have been contemplating where I should begin. Should I just begin with today or go back and revisit the pain of my past; my childhood? As I began thinking about that I could not imagine what I could possibly be grateful for during those hurtful years. I suppose I could come up with something insignificant: I got my own room when my sister got pregnant and moved out, I got a lot of exercise staying away from home all day long. We had food on the table and a roof over our heads. Actually, the last one should always be something we are grateful for!

Then I happened upon (NOT) this talk by Dr. Robert Emmons:

http://www.dailygood.org/story/532/how-gratitude-can-help-you-through-hard-times-robert-emmons/

It is an awesome article and I know I did not come across it by accident! He also has written a book titled, “Gratitude Works!” which I purchased and cannot put down.

Here is his profile from the Website: Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., is the world’s leading scientific expert on gratitude. He is a professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis, and the founding editor-in-chief of The Journal of Positive Psychology.

http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/author/Robert_Emmons

Dr. Emmons says we actually should remember:

Remember the bad… then remember that here you are, able to remember them, that you made it through the worst times of your life…. This process of remembering how difficult life used to be and how far we have come sets up an explicit contrast that is fertile ground for gratefulness.”

So, I am not going to recall the painful events in my live simply for the sake of reliving them. I am going to use those experiences to contrast where my life is today. I have never been happier or more fulfilled. I will especially sing praises of gratitude that my attempted suicide in my 20’s was unsuccessful!!! That, my friends, will be the first thing I write in this journal!

“…confront your own mortality.”

This is an easy one for me. Since my clinicals three years ago when I trained for Hospice work, and during the almost two years of sitting with dying patients, I have had lots of time to think about it. Unless you are stone-cold dead yourself you cannot help but face your own mortality. It has helped me to accept the inevitable, but more importantly, to live each day to the fullest. I believe that is why I feel strongly about being intentionally grateful each and every day.

Dr. Emmons also tells us:

Gratefulness is a knowing awareness that we are the recipients of goodness. In our best moments, we know it, and that knowledge produces gratitude.”

 And when we turn our focus from ourselves to him, paradoxically we are the ones who benefit. “The self is a very poor place to find happiness or meaning in life.”

I realize the depth of what I truly have to be grateful for from that painful time in my life. I have gained  an understanding of God’s love I would not have otherwise been able to grasp, let alone embrace. I have written often about my time in Kentucky. When I went there I left everything behind. At least I thought I did: My past, my family, the life I longed for. I was angry and lost. I used to cry out to God desperate to know why he abandoned me in my suffering. How could he say he loved me when I was a child being abused and he stood silent? After several months in Kentucky, as he showed me my own sinfulness, I thought I had more reason to believe he couldn’t possibly love me. And then, just like the experience of Job, he broke his silence, “Linda, I do love you. Every tear you cried broke my heart. And even in your own sin, I have not stopped loving you. Giving humankind free-will has caused much suffering, but it has also given those who believe in Me the freedom to love.”

There is evil and suffering and natural disasters we all have to endure in our lives. It is the human condition and has been since the beginning of time.

We have no idea what tomorrow will bring. Nor do we know if we will even be here tomorrow. Things are never what they seem and certitude in this life is, well, uncertain. However, there is one thing that is always guaranteed and assured by God, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6)

Let us not forget that Jesus lived a life of gratitude to His Father to the very end. Some believe that because Jesus was human and divine that he knew the outcome of his Passion. I once had someone tell me that because He was divine he really didn’t suffer (how convenient – that kind of thinking gets one off the hook doesn’t it?). Others believe that in his humanity he did not know God’s plan in advance (that’s what I believe as well). Consider how he suffered at Gethsemane. Do these sound like words of a man who wasn’t really human; that it was all just pretend and in the end he would be glorified?

He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. (Luke 22:41-44)

 And why in Matthew 27:46 does Jesus cry out to God, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” – if he knew?

Pastor Scott Pauley says of Jesus’ suffering:

The Lord Jesus gave thanks for the provision of God in the midst of suffering.

He would be on a cross in just a few hours. Enemies were plotting His death.  Gethsemane and Golgotha lay ahead. He took bread and a cup and gave thanks. This is more than thanks for food and drink. The bread represents His body that is to be broken; the cup represents His blood that is to be shed.

 Thanks? On that night? Christ gave thanks with the confidence that God’s plan was being fulfilled. This is the meaning of “In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

I will end with these words from Father Richard Rohr:

When Job’s life is about to be taken away from him, he can say one of two things. He can curse God, as he is tempted to do, and say, “God, why not fifty-one years of life?” Or he can surrender to love and say, “God, why even fifty years?” Why did I deserve life at all? When we take on that attitude, we’ve made a decision for grace.

 “Naked I came into the world, and naked I will leave,” Job says (Job 1:21). What do we have, brothers and sisters, that has not been given to us? All is grace. All is given….It is all gift.

 From beginning to end, everything is grace, everything is given. There is nothing that we have a right to or that we deserve.

 No, wait! I will end with “thank you”. Thank you all for reading my posts. I don’t even know who you are (outside of receiving an email message each time someone registers on my Website) because, against the advice of some of my friends, I have chosen not to start a dedicated Facebook page so I could interact with you. Besides, you can always email me directly at surrenderedlove66@gmail.com if you want to. But, I just want you to know that it humbles me more than you can imagine that my meager words are even being read!

Most importantly, Thank you, God, for this life, for your unfailing love in spite of myself, and for the gift of your Son, Jesus who shows us the way of gratitude!

GOD IS GOOD…VERY GOOD is He not?!

AMEN!