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)
One night at an observatory meant one impressive telescope, a sore neck from craning to look at the heavens, many words I didn’t understand, precious glimpses of the reality beyond view of the naked eye, and a lesson on our solar system that blew me away.
Did you know that there are stars that are a few hundred times the size of our sun? I didn’t. Forget twinkle, twinkle little star. More like burn, burn, gigantic ball of fire.
Take that fact about how big some of the stars are and remember that our sun is much larger than earth (where we feel dwarfed when we simply go to a big mountain) and your mind is ready to blow. We can’t conceive of the size of the known universe and certainly can’t imagine what exists that we don’t yet know about.
The theoretical lesson at the observatory ended and we marched outside to bend over the telescope. We sat in a circle around the machine, awaiting our turn to peek behind the curtain of the naked eye into the heavens.
Saturn’s rings are real — I saw them. The moon is riddled with craters. And, even under the telescope, there are groups of flaming stars that look like someone spilled salt.
Space has always scared me. The black, gravity-less unknown. It can feel like we are on a planet of life travelling through an abyss of scary nothingness.
But what do I know about it from looking up from little ol’ earth into the world of celestial bodies, gaseous planets, and ginormous stars that burn and soar?
We know nothing in the scheme of things and we don’t know what we don’t know. Maybe space is pulsing with life itself and we are living a shadow of it here on earth. What do we know?
This world is magical and glorious and if there is even more glory and fullness of life beyond what we see, what must it be like?
In C.S. Lewis’ novel “Out of the Silent Planet,” the main character finds himself hurtling from earth to another planet.
He comments on his fear of space: “Some moments of cold fear he had; but each time they were shorter and more quickly swallowed up in a sense of awe which made his personal fate seem wholly insignificant. He could not feel that they were an island of life journeying through an abyss of death. He felt almost the opposite.”
He goes on to talk about the majesty of traveling through space:
“He wondered how he could ever have thought of planets, even of the Earth, as islands of life and reality floating in a deadly void. Now, with a certainty which never after deserted him, he saw the planets—the “earths” he called them in his thought—as mere holes or gaps in the living heaven—excluded and rejected wastes of heavy matter and murky air, formed not by addition to, but by subtraction from, the surrounding brightness. And yet, he thought, beyond the solar system the brightness ends. Is that the real void, the real death? Unless . . . he groped for the idea . . . unless visible light is also a hole or gap, a mere diminution of something else. Something that is to bright unchanging heaven as heaven is to the dark, heavy earths.”
Doesn’t this imagining of space stoke your imagination?
The reality we see on earth is not the only reality. There is much we cannot see and are incapable of knowing. And I think it’s good to let my mind run wild with the possibilities of the majesty and glory and beauty and brimming life that is beyond what we see with our eyes.
The insignificance I feel before a great mountain is nothing compared to my insignificance (and even fear) before the galaxies. Yet the Being that oversees the celestial bodies was stuffed into the skin of a man —dignifying humanity, coming near, closing the gap, and bringing life. Our existence on this small planet might be minuscule but it is not overlooked, unwanted, or unimportant.
In the evening, before the sun goes down, the swallows take over the Cáceres sky.
I went for a sunset run with a friend and as we stopped to admire the painted sky, I looked up at the swallows and said, “I just love those birds because it looks like they’re just flying around for the joy of it.”
They don’t look like they’re flying to get somewhere important. They flit around and dive through thin air as if it’s their invisible roller coaster. Maybe they’re all surprise-attacking little bugs for their dinner or maybe some of them truly are flying around simply for fun.
You know how kids run just because? Outside play with their friends almost always includes running. Or, without thinking twice they, they break into a trot to get somewhere quickly. I did that today. I needed to get something from the other side of the yard and I ran for it. Why not?
Life isn’t always a piece of cake but I think we can sprinkle in enough just-because joy to get us through the days and then some.
Flit around the sky, run and skip through the lawn, dance across the kitchen, and sing for the sake of making music.
I felt it — the wreckage that selfishness and pride can cause. I was no distant observer. I was stumbling from the blow, a recipient of the trickle-down effects of others’ choices, wincing with the ache.
I saw it, cried over the pain, then declared war — war on my own heart, my own selfishness and pride, realizing the havoc we can wreck on each other’s lives.
We live and leave behind a trail of wreckage from the selfishness and pride in ourselves that we don’t see or haven’t addressed. Darkness we haven’t had the guts to bring to light or that operates like a secret agent, undetected even by the one in whom it lives. It’s not even only the ugliest of ugly — it’s also run-of-the-mill, daily thinking (even subconsciously) that it’s all about me and making decisions accordingly.
I could no longer make friends with my own self-centeredness. I don’t want my darkness to tag along like a wrecking ball, hurting those closest to me as well as others whose names I may never know. If kindness is a ripple effect, so is my own self-centeredness. I will fight that part of my heart to keep you safe.
The battle begins in my heart and it’s fought not by determining to be good — that just leads me to believe that I’m better than those around me who haven’t decided to be better people. That feeds my pride.
No, the battle is fought by turning away from myself and toward the God who sees the blackness I’m warring against (and what I cannot yet see), loves me still, and changes me slowly but surely into something better. I am humbled and raised up at the same time. No false assurance that I’m a perfect person and no shaming in an effort to make me shape up.
I can acknowledge my selfishness and pride without being bound to it or despairing because of it, because I know that I’m loved and being changed into beauty, and I will participate in that change process.
My heart is steadfast, resting in love and begging for more light to expel my darkness.
Jasper is chill. Confession: I am not always quite as chill about lockdown and everything going on around us as he is.
Some days are fine, others aren’t the greatest. Without being able to go outside and walk off some of the grayness in the soul, I’ve had to get creative. Here are three things I’ve always known but never quite put into practice like I have during these weeks. The truth is, I’m still trying to get these things into my brain. Writing this will help me do that.
We don’t have to wait until we feel like something to do it – in fact we shouldn’t wait for feelings. We should act in order to change our feelings about something, not wait for our feelings in order to act on something. Knowing that, I’ve tried to do these three things when I can tell my heart needs them, if not even more regularly.
Singing like I mean it and singing things I believe. Also singing silly songs while I cook and dance in the kitchen (the neighbors don’t mind). This isn’t just jamming to music, it’s me singing! It’s not pretty, but I love it 🙂 I think in some mysterious way, it’s good for us humans. Makes sense that God tells us to do it.
“But I will sing of your strength, in the morning I will sing of your love; for you are my fortress, my refuge in times of trouble.” (Psalm 59:16)
2. Caring For Others
It’s good for them and good for me (great how it works out that way, right?!).
This one is admittedly a bit hard when we’re truly stuck at home and can’t even wave to a friend from across the road. But you’re underestimating humanity if you think we can’t still think of interesting and creative ways to show love to the people we know (or people we don’t know). It looks different and it doesn’t have to be BIG. It just has to happen. Structure is okay for this. If you have to set a reminder to send a gift to so-and-so or call your grandma (ahem, that’s me), it doesn’t negate the goodness of what you’re doing.
I need to remember that things were never about me and they still aren’t. I’ve not suddenly become a queen and I’m not trying to act like it. Instead, I want to look at others and think of them as the kings and queens!
“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves.” (Phiippians 2:3)
3. Being Thankful
Thankfulness is not the same as toxic positivity that negates reality. I think we can be thankful, joyful, and peaceful while still sitting in the middle of junk. Thankfulness is not just being positive because we know some “bad” thing will eventually end, it’s being joyful in the middle even when there’s no end in sight.
Over five weeks ago, I started a “Coronavirus Thankful List” that I’ve kept adding to as I think of things. This list has all sorts of things on it, including taste buds, thunder, technology, that we have a balcony, Jesus, chocolate, that I still have a job, and that I enjoy cooking. This list helps me.
Thankfulness roots my heart in humble gratitude and I’m able to see and enjoy the gifts I have all around me. Plus, since I know Jesus, there will always be something for which to be grateful.
“…give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18)
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)
My heart aches and heaves with the slow pulse of the city. I smell the bleach in the hallway — an olfactory reminder of what we are dealing with. I put my hand on my chest.
It seems I’m always telling my heart to buck up and toughen up — it’s too vulnerable, takes on too much, breaks too easily, cries too much, and bears too quickly the burdens of others.
This time seems no different as tears spring up from my heart that is not broken nor hopeless nor joyless, but simply heavy with emotion. It’s heavy inside my chest, holding hurts that aren’t even directly my own.
I start to scold my tender heart for how quickly it takes on pain and burdens. Then I stop. Maybe the weight is for my good and the good of those I know.
If I let the weight of it all take me to Jesus — on my behalf as well as on behalf of those I love — it’s good and it’s a burden I will gladly bear. There I am, bringing things and people and situations to Him that I wouldn’t have brought if my heart didn’t ache.
And there I find myself with a secure identity and an unshakable joy, held up by Him who never changes and never fails. I will not shy away from the pain around me, because as it sends me to prayer, I bring the ones I love (and the ones I don’t know) over and over again to our kind Father.
We all carry on day by day, unaware of how much our own daily being is sustained and upheld by prayers we don’t even know are being prayed; by God’s intervention whether or not we see it or acknowledge it. I pray my own share of secret prayers, trusting not in my strength to pray them but in the Lord who hears them and cares.
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