On Sunday I challenged myself to write a post every day this week about things I am thankful for. It is now almost midnight on Tuesday, so you can see how that’s going.
But, I want to express my gratitude anyway. No… more than express it. I want to call gratitude up from within my heart; stoke the fires of thankfulness. I want it to be more than a cursory “Wow, I am so privileged.”
I want there to be genuine, joyful, amazed gratitude at beauty that I know, behold, have, see.
And this practice of beckoning grateful hearts is even more necessary this year. There is so much to be grateful for and our beings are thirsty for the soul-anchoring, heart-stilling, joy-inducing effect of giving thanks.
This year we need to be more thankful than ever!
We need to mine the hardships for the beauty that comes from ashes.
We need to give extra thanks for the people we love so much.
We need to acknowledge the incredible gifts we’ve been given and trace every single one back to the Giver.
Nothing to be thankful for this year? Quite the contrary!
Everything to be thankful for.
We have a different perspective to know a bit more about how to rightly value and treasure what we have.
We have everything that was taken, which has taught us, grown us, emptied us, refined us.
We have the One who daily fills us and sustains us with life, gifts, and grace that we hardly even have eyes to see.
May we receive eagerly and willingly with empty hands and grateful hearts.
A few weeks ago, Cáceres put up a memorial for those who passed away from corona. I personally know more than one person who will stand before it and mourn for their family members.
Death is never welcome. We want life and we want it to the full and it’s right to long for that.
During lockdown, for 48 days I leaned out of our window to clap for the medical personnel who were, as they say in Spanish, “at the foot of the canon” — fighting for life, watching suffering, and holding hands with death. I thought of the nurses I know and love and they are plenty, both in the States as well as Spain.
Forty eight times I clapped for them and more than that I prayed for them and checked in on them.
Then one day I saw the video of someone I know being wheeled victoriously out of the ICU while all the medical staff did their own clapping, celebrating that one victory over corona.
We celebrate life because we were made for it. We were made for fullness of joy and vibrant life and wholeness.
I’ve thought more about death — in general, of friends or family dying, of my own death — in the past five months than I have in a long time. I hope I’m not the only one.
This virus threatens to take our health and even our very breath; send us to the grave early, if you’ll pardon the frankness.
I was meant to inhabit this physical, 5’5″ body for a number of years. But, my days are counted. I have a birth date as well as a death date. I will grow old and get wrinkly skin.
If I don’t die of corona, I will die of something else. It takes a while for this to sink in and I don’t love to ponder it, but we must.
GB Caird says, “All men must die, and the question mark which death sets over their existence is just as great whether they die late or soon, alone or in company, violently or in their beds. Their ultimate destiny is not determined either by the moment or by the manner of their death… But by the opening of the heavenly books and by the true and just judgments which proceeds from the great white throne. The idea that life on earth is so infinitely precious that the death which robs us of it must be the ultimate tragedy is [idolatry].”
Jesus is the one I want to walk me through the gates of death and represent me before that throne. We must have more to stand on in life than a probability that we will survive this crisis or the cheap encouragement that “everything will be okay.”
Everything in our lifetime on earth might not be “okay” and you or I or someone we love might not live another day.
Although that uncertainty is actually how life always is, this odd, unknown virus puts us face-to-face with our humanity, our fragility.
We feel deep in our bones that we were made for fullness of life, not death. We were made for a perfect, flourishing, rich garden. I take comfort in the fact that the God who created us for that full life swooped down in human flesh to taste human suffering, to die and turn death into merely a seed that brings life.
I find myself afraid of the process of dying, but not death itself.
We westerners have a limited perspective on the supernatural. In general, we have eyes to see our physical life and little else.
It’s worthwhile to admit that we know so little. What if death isn’t the end — what if it’s the beginning? What if this life is not the most precious thing but merely a shadow of real life?
I’m currently studying the book of Revelation. That, combined with reading CS Lewis’ Space Trilogy, has helped me begin to imagine what is happening in the kingdom we are often unaware of and with the King we dare to ignore. Let’s peek behind the curtain and catch a glimpse of what we can’t see with our earthly eyeballs.
There is a King on a throne who is wiser than I can imagine. When I’ve chosen the privilege of connecting with him, trusting Him, and joining His kingdom, fullness of life starts now and continues even after I change this body for a brand new one.
In Christ, the one who conquered death, death can not steal from me.
““The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” – Jesus (John 10:10)
I rolled out of bed with a headache this morning. Things are starting to catch up to all of us at this point.
The world continues to reel and we are dizzy with the spin of it. I ache for my affected friends and pray and continue to sit in my home.
My back is rebelling against all that time sitting combined with the unusual living room workouts I’ve been doing. Can’t sit and can’t stand and “I can’t wait until I can go for a walk to work out the kinks,” I thought to myself. Instead, I got creative with a standing desk for today and mentally braced myself for a few more weeks of this.
It is easy to feel as though this life we are living right now, this daily movement confined to a few hundred square feet, is a sort of half-life. Like life is on hold until things return back to “normal.”
But it’s not on hold! This very day is my life. This is no half-life! This is the real deal — today.
Henri Nouwen wisely said, “While optimism makes us live as if someday soon things will get better for us, hope frees us from the need to predict the future and allows us to live in the present, with deep trust that God will never leave us alone.”
And so while I long for future wholeness, I live in the present. Maybe a heart full of hope means not thinking about tomorrow much at all — not worrying about the hardships that are sure to come, nor pining with flimsy optimism for the good days we want.
Instead, I should live firmly planted in the present day, the life I’ve been given. I will ground my feet to the earth (or in my case, the floor) that’s beneath them and live this day as I’ve lived all the other ones of my life: with the grace and strength I’m given.
C.S. Lewis gives a great reminder for our overactive minds: ”Remember, one is given the strength to bear what happens, but not the 101 different things that might happen.”
I have strength for this very day and I’ll live it as if it were the realest day of my life! And it is. I was, quite literally, born for this day.
I’ll live this day in the same way and out of the same identity as I’ve lived all my other days. There is strength and mercy for this present day. Tomorrow morning I’ll get more.
“Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:21-23)
I heard the click-clacking of high-heeled shoes in the hallway — an eerie sound of normality among such silence and seclusion. Was she going to the grocery store? Probably. There’s really no other place we are allowed to go.
As I sat on my couch with a mug and a Bible, I imagined her: well-dressed like a good Spanish woman, color on her lips, purse on her arm, maybe carrying a grocery bag or wheelie cart. And now, most likely, wearing a face mask.
The streets are mostly empty when I look down from my balcony, but, among the police car that often circulates our block, a handful of cars can be spotted. Maybe they’re hospital staff, headed in to work. There are the occasional dog-walkers and grocery-shoppers, outside to do the only two things we can do outside. The ambulance sirens are loud, no longer hiding among other traffic noises.
And here I sit inside, working on my computer and writing and watching movies and studying the Bible and getting creative with living room workouts and reading in the sliver of sun that hits the balcony. And feeling very helpless.
It’s time for creative love, unceasing prayer, and kindness to my neighbor, which very well may only be the person I’m living with. And maybe most of all, it’s time for a new breed of trust in the Lord.
As I’m forced to embrace my helplessness and frailty right now, I remember that my strength was never the force that turned the universe anyway. I’ve always been helpless (it’s a human trait), but here it is, staring me in the face a bit more than usual.
So I’ll do what I can to creatively help and love those around me, but also really flex my trust muscle — standing on the Rock, putting my eyes on our faithful Jesus, and constantly bringing my burdens, and those of the people I love, to Him.
Then, I’ll keep sitting at home with peace and joy, knowing that Christ can never be taken from our hearts and knowing that He who has given grace over and over will give grace for whatever comes.
“For we are powerless before this great multitude who are coming against us; nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are on You.” – 2 Chronicles 20:12
“The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation. He is my stronghold, my refuge, and my savior.” – 2 Samuel 22:2-3
In John 20 it’s a race to the tomb but the disciple who won the race couldn’t bring himself to peek inside. I imagine him paralyzed outside the tomb, examining but not touching the strips of linen that still smelled of death. Filled with fear of what he would find inside the tomb and fear of what it would mean for him; deep grief over the loss of his friend; anger at everything that had happened in the previous days. Finally he follows the other disciple in then “he saw and believed” (John 20:8). Believed what? The resurrection of Jesus? Was it a moment of clicking? A dizzying second where all of Jesus’ words came rushing into his head and they all finally made sense? He saw the empty death cloths that Jesus had been wrapped in and it all clicked and he believed.
Later, Thomas, after adamantly claiming he wouldn’t believe unless he physically touched the wounds, sees Jesus in person. Jesus feels no awkwardness nor does he turn Thomas away because of his doubts. Instead, Jesus walks right up to Thomas, gives him what he needed, and calls him out: “Stop doubting and believe” (John 20:27). And Thomas did. He believed and he proclaimed Jesus Christ as his Lord and God.
And as I finish reading the chapter, I am called to believe: “these (words) are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31). I am urged to believe in the identity of Christ, his words to us, his resurrection, and what his life means for my life right here and now.
Seems easy, but it’s hard. Jesus says “do not be unbelieving, but believing” (verse 27) but it isn’t as simple as it sounds. I can want to believe him, trust him and desire him, but can still find myself unbelieving, untrusting, and apathetic. So what’s a human like me to do? Ask for help, because it’s never been about my strength to grab hold of him anyway. “I cling to you; your right hand upholds me” (Psalm 63:8). I cling desperately to him, as I should, but he is the one who does the upholding and the sustaining. So I ask along with the dad who wanted healing for his son: “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24) and Jesus welcomes that prayer. He cares that we come to him even if the first step is with hearts that still harbor some unbelief.
In “As One Devil to Another,” (a brilliant book similar to Screwtape Letters) Richard Platt says that God simply wants us to come to him and it matters little the way by which we come: “If they are brought up in a household where thoughts of Him are ever present and His existence is never questioned, where He is mindlessly obeyed out of simple inertia, He welcomes them. If they are totally devoid of the joy of going back to Him and make their pilgrimage purely on intellectual pathways, through reason, He welcomes them. If they return to Him purely through Grace, engulfed in the joyful knowledge of His presence but without two real thoughts to rub together, He welcomes them. And if they come to Him resisting to the last, only because every other attempt they have made at happiness and fulfillment has failed them, as surely in the long run it must, He welcomes them.” We have the audacity to doubt, we have silly hearts that are full of unbelief, and we take our time in trusting, yet still he wants us close. God tenderly and mercifully, yet at the same time powerfully and jealously, just wants us to go to him and then he changes and molds our hearts toward purity, love, and faith.
When we believe but have doubts or when we don’t want God but we want to want him, we can tell him that. So in the end we can come to God with any shred of belief we can find in our hearts, the tiniest desire to want him, and we ask him to help us with the rest of our unbelief. I believe, help me with my unbelief!
What if we existed in this world exactly as it is, but we were without eyes. No eyesight, and no one is an exception. Humanity is simply without eyes.
We have ears to hear of the chirps but no eyes to see the bird, and noses to smell flowers but no eyes to see the petals. While our other senses would compensate in many ways, there would still be aspects of this world of which we would simply be unaware.
There would be realities at work around us that we wouldn’t know about, though we would experience the effects. Our unknowing about the realities would have no effect on their existence or their work.
What if this is our reality now? What if we are “missing a sense”? Not in a defective way but simply a lack of knowledge and experience. What if there are realities we are unaware of? What if there is a wealth of knowledge we are incapable of understanding?
We have to humbly acknowledge some sort of finiteness, a degree of a lack of information, a sense of unknown. There are things we don’t know about – more than that, there are things we can’t even imagine of to wonder about.
What if there is a whole realm of which we are unaware? Maybe we aren’t necessarily wrong about what we know if what we know is all that exists. But if it isn’t all that exists, if we’re missing a sense, then what we know suddenly becomes very incomplete and lacking. Can we entertain the idea that we don’t know everything there is to know about the inner-workings of this life? That sometimes things don’t make sense because we are without eyes? And can we entertain the idea of an awe-inducing God who does see?
I spent several days last week visiting my grandparents in south Louisiana. It’s always good to go back “home” (home is sometimes a relative term) and there is definitely something special about south Louisiana; the land of sugar cane and gumbo, Duck Dynasty and Swamp People. It is a special culture that is unlike any other (the closest it gets is Nova Scotia, Canada, home of the ancestors of the Cajuns). The history of South Louisiana is rich and the people have held onto history, traditions, language, and culture like few other areas of the United States.
I had a lovely week spending time with my grandparents — there’s always a lot to learn and much to laugh about.
I met an 84-year-old man. When he went to 1st grade in the 1930s, the school he attended in South Louisiana still taught everything in French. He still says “bonjour” to people and he walks everywhere he goes (even to the dentist a mile down the road).
I went to the “beauty parlor” with my grandmother, who has been getting her hair done at the same place for the past few decades. It’s like something out of Steel Magnolias. The Deep South is real. I sat around as the old ladies listened to Elvis, perfected hair, talked, and asked if I am married or at least have a boyfriend, and upon learning the answer is “no,” they began to set me up with eligible grandsons.
I met a tiny woman in her 90s. Measuring 4’6″, she wore a crown of snow white hair, perfectly shaped, not a strand out of place. She had on white pants, hot pink shoes, and a pink floral jacket. Her name was Fannie. Anybody read “Miss Fannie’s Hat” as a child? I felt like I met her.
My grandma and I watched TV a lot in the evenings. One night she was commenting on a show and said that she doesn’t like because it has a lot of “ugly jokes.” Of course I knew what she meant – some kind of crude humor or innuendo or something – but it struck me that she used the word “ugly.”
It implies something different than the typical phrases people use such as, “inappropriate jokes,” “bad jokes,” or “crude humor.” I started thinking about the difference that one word seemed to make. Ugly. Something ugly is something not beautiful, not attractive, something we would prefer not to encounter.
To me, “ugly joke” implies that it’s not just a bad joke that we know we shouldn’t laugh at (but kind of want to), but instead something that we actually find repulsive and in no way interesting or attractive. I don’t know if that’s what my grandma meant, but I think it’s a wonderful distinction! If something really is wrong, shouldn’t it be ugly to us?
Then I read Romans 12:9 which says, “Abhor what is evil, cling to what is good.” Abhor is a strong word. The definition is to “regard with disgust and hatred.” So if we are clinging to good and abhorring evil, things that are evil will simply be ugly to us. Unattractive. Repulsive.
The heart of the matter isn’t even making a judgment call on jokes, although I think we often take those types of things more lightly than we ought. For example, there’s Ephesians 5:4: “and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks.”
I read a quote the other day that was striking and convicting: “We must not amuse ourselves with humor about things that sadden the heart of God.” Just let that one sit for a minute. It gets pretty uncomfortable. It did for me.
But anyway, it’s not necessarily about the jokes, it’s more about how my heart reacts to wrong things it encounters — be it murder, the chance to raise myself while putting another person down, lying, lust, pride, dishonesty. Is there a difference between “bad jokes” and “ugly jokes”? Is there a difference between wrong things and ugly-wrong things?
There’s a difference in the way our hearts come at it. Wrong things are things we know are wrong but are sometimes attractive anyway. Ugly-wrong things are things that are wrong that we appropriately dislike, find unattractive, or abhor. I want things to be ugly-wrong to me! Do I run from sin and wrong because it is repulsive to me?
The reality is that my heart finds sin and wrong appealing. But I have a mighty, mighty Savior who is constantly working in me to make me clean and give me a pure heart that rejoices in the beautiful things and hates the ugly things – a heart that knows more and more of the heart of God. “Create in me a pure heart, O God.” (Psalm 51:10) And He will.