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- Too broken
I broke the bracelet my husband gave me for Christmas. It survived about 35 days before the slender gold chain got hung on the corner of a filing cabinet and snapped. Once I realized what had happened, I crumpled onto the floor and cried. I told myself, “This is why we can’t have nice things, Abby.” I tried to see if I could fix it, but the links are too small for me to open, hook together, and bend back. It was just too broken. I slipped the ruined bracelet with the initials of our four kids into my purse. Even though I felt defeated, I couldn’t just toss it. So a few days later, when I spied the thin line of jewelry in the zipper pocket of my bag, I thought about a song that’s been playing on the radio a lot lately. It’s called “Never,” and it’s by Tasha Layton. The chorus goes like this: Never forgotten Never forsaken Never abandoned Not for a second I am safe in Your hands Always and forever You’re never not working My heart is the proof There’s not a broken too broken for You Will there ever come a day when You’re not holding me together? You say “never” I thought about that line—There’s not a broken too broken for You—and what that means for those of us who follow Christ. Colossians 1 says it better than I ever could: “The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” When I break something other than jewelry—whether it’s a promise to a friend or a rule I’ve ignored or a perfect moment I’ve ruined with selfishness—whenever I’ve been on the destructive end of throwing mud on God’s goodness, I’m at a loss. It’s like I’m tasked with repairing the Colosseum, armed only with a half-roll of duct tape. I fool myself into thinking I can fix whatever I’ve broken, but I’ve come to see that I can’t do it alone. Once I shed that undeserved job title of Solitary Queen of the Universe, I can relax in the arms of a Creator who can repair creation where we’ve broken it. Even when we’re unreliable, He’s constant. We can trust Him, because there’s never been a time—past, present, or future—that He hasn’t already visited. And He’s holding all things together. Or as a different song likes to say, “He’s got the whole world in His hands.”
With the cold weather in full swing, now is the perfect time for me to spend my evenings crocheting. There’s not much that makes me happier in the wintertime than rolling yarn into balls and then turning those fluffy orbs into something usable. I don’t do a lot of fancy projects, mostly just throws and scarves, but sitting on my spot on the sofa with a glowing lamp on one side and my husband on the other while I crochet lines of chains and stitches is my idea of fun. There’s something so satisfying about creating a crocheted product. I’ve never built a brick wall (unless you count Legos), but I wonder if it’s a similar experience. In crocheting, you have to start by making a chain. This looks like a braided piece of yarn, but it’s actually the foundation for what comes next. Once the chain is complete, you turn the braid and make another row, building into what’s below. You keep building and turning and checking that you’re still making the desired shape. (My first few attempts always looked like a trapezoid with the sides unintentionally increasing or decreasing.) You learn to discern the criss-crossing of yarn—the tiny diagonal, horizontal, and vertical lines—to locate the exact opening where your crochet hook should go to make each stitch. It becomes automatic, and before you know it, your hands have made a rectangle or a square (hopefully not a trapezoid). Recently, my husband and I have enjoyed watching the National Geographic TV show First Alaskans while I crochet in the evenings. The show follows several families in different areas of Alaska as they use time-tested techniques and customs to survive in challenging conditions. Other than the extreme temperatures and the hardiness and resourcefulness of the people, the most remarkable part of the show for me is to see how they take care of each other. In one episode, a family with young sons go out to hunt a walrus so they can provide for the older members of their village, people who physically are no longer able to track, shoot, and butcher these giant animals. Without their help, these “elders” would go hungry. I watched how the people on the show chopped wood for older relatives and shared their catch of fish. They didn’t just fill up their own freezers. They considered the needs of others, as it says in Romans 15:2 “Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up.” And as I watched the show and crocheted my rectangle, I thought about how we are called to take care of each other, even if we don’t live in Alaska. Jesus had plenty to say about loving our neighbors. When He was prompted by a request from a man in the middle of an inheritance squabble with his brother, Jesus reminded the crowd, “Beware! Guard against every kind of greed. Life is not measured by how much you own.” Then Jesus told the people a story about a man who looked at the abundance of his crops. Instead of seeing the surfeit of grain and thinking of all the people he could bless with it, the man decided to build bigger barns to keep it all for himself. Jesus concluded the story by saying, “A person is a fool to store up earthly wealth but not have a rich relationship with God.” We have the opportunity to build something—bigger barns to stand as monuments to our own importance and self-reliance or better communities. But healthy communities don’t happen overnight. They are built, selfless deed by selfless deed and kind word by kind word. This kind of construction will stand the test of time, effecting generations to come.
- Drink more water
My New Year’s resolution this year was to drink more water. This is one of those goals that is laughably obvious and somehow difficult at the same time. If our great-grandparents saw the list of resolutions I found on the internet, they would think that humans of the future are bananas. Aside from the popular “drink more water,” I found that some of the other top goals for 2024 are exercise more, improve sleep, and cook meals at home. Upon hearing those, Great Grandma and Great Grandpa would’ve said, “Stop your whining, you whipper-snappers!” (I don’t actually know if they would speak that way, but stay with me.) “How ‘bout you plow the fields all day and see if that’ll fix what ails you!” But back to drinking more water…now that I’ve been meeting my goal of drinking 64-ounces of water a day for a couple weeks, I can safely say that I feel better. My mid-afternoon headaches are mostly gone. I think it also helps with those mid-afternoon snack cravings. It turns out I was more thirsty than hungry. The thing that has helped me the most with my resolution has been my water bottle. On one side of the green, plastic jug, there are lines and numbers with 32 at the top. If I fill it up and drink two of these, I’m done! It’s measurable, which makes meeting my goal a lot easier. I know if I’ve accomplished my water-drinking for the day, and I also know if I haven’t. Maybe it’s part of my personality, but I like quantifiable targets. I like boxes to check and lists to cross off. And being a ruler-follower (another part of my personality), I like to know if I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing. If you look at Jesus’ ministry, you see Him giving His followers goals and standards. Sure, there were times when He taught with stories and riddles, but by the end of His time on earth, Jesus made it plain for His disciples. “My children, I will be with you only a little longer…” Jesus says in John 13. “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Jesus offers both the goal and the test to judge if the goal is met. He tells us to be His disciples. Then he says to love each other with feet-washing, little-child-receiving, wholeness-restoring, cross-dying love. The measurement to know if we are Christ-followers isn’t how insightful our arguments are or how many degrees we have hanging on the wall. It’s how we treat each other. In Mark 9:41, Jesus gives us the baseline action for showing that we belong to Him. “Truly I tell you, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to the Messiah will certainly not lose their reward.” So now when I’m chugging my 64-ounces of water, I can remember His words. I can be reminded that showing up and showing love all begins with something as simple as meeting a need of another person.
- The Ghost of Christmas Future
The Last of the Spirits, from Charles Dickens: A Christmas Carol. In Prose. Being a Ghost Story of Christmas. With Illustrations by John Leech. London: Chapman & Hall, 1843. First edition. During Christmas this year, I must’ve watched half a dozen different versions of The Christmas Carol. Whether it was with Mickey or Muppets, a parody or a podcast, the storyline on all of these sitcoms and movies took the same basic route each time I watched one. Through studying his past, present and future, a selfish person sees the error of his ways. In Charles Dickens’ version, after Ebenezer Scrooge’s depressing end is revealed, he asks the third ghost in a shaky voice, “Are these the shadows of the things that will be, or are they shadows of things that may be, only?” After three or four times watching this scene play out, I started thinking about what would happen if people really were visited by a trio of spirits who could sum it all up. What if we all knew how it was going to end, and we were given the news with enough warning that we could change the ending? In 2 Kings 20, we read a similar story of a man who gets a second chance, but instead of three ghosts, King Hezekiah was visited by a prophet. Hezekiah had been sick, and Isaiah came to tell him he wouldn’t recover. Then Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord. He cried and cried, asking God for more time. Before Isaiah had left the palace, God told the prophet, “Go back to the king and tell him I have heard his prayer and seen his tears. Tell him I will heal him, and he will live 15 more years.” Now if this were one of those adaptations of The Christmas Carol, this would be the point when Hezekiah changed. He would wake up the next morning and throw open the window on a new day. He would call out to some passerby, “What day is it? Am I really still alive?” Then he would spend his last 15 years devoting himself to the Temple, God’s word and His people. He may have started off that way, but he actually squandered that extra decade and a half. When an envoy from Babylon came to town, he took them through his storehouses and bragged about his wealth and good fortune. It was as if those miserable, tear-soaked hours he had spent praying for God to save him had never happened. Because of his arrogance, Babylon would end up taking everything and everyone. I feel pretty certain that we won’t be visited by ghosts like Ebenezer Scrooge or get the King Hezekiah experience, but with the end of another year upon us, we get the chance to reflect and rededicate. Instead of making New Year’s resolutions or setting goals for 2024, I’ve decided to list what I know to be true. I will thank God for the promises in Scripture. I will try to praise Him in good and bad times. As the popular saying goes, “I may not know what my future holds, but I know who holds my future.”
- Playing with dolls
Growing up the middle sister of three girls, we had a lot of Barbie dolls. We liked to make haute-couture dresses for them using scraps of fabric we would sew directly onto the dolls and then cut the dresses off of them when we were ready to change their outfits. (Our Barbies were so fashionable! They wouldn’t have dared wear any of their wardrobe more than once, anyway!) For their house, we would use lengths of yarn to mark out rooms for them. Then we’d create furniture in these rooms out of whatever we found lying around—wooden blocks, Legos, cardboard. We weren’t a Barbie Dream House-kind of family. We were more like a “dream it up yourself from junk around the house” kind of family. It would drive me crazy that we would work and work to get everything set up—the rooms just so, the outfits picked out, even a storyline devised for Barbie and Ken and their friends—then, just when we were about to start actually playing, my older sister would decide she was done. She would leave me and our youngest sister to either play out the drama by ourselves or clean it up. Normally we would just abandon the game at that point, too. All the fun was gone without the leadership and participation of our oldest sister. Since it’s been quite a while since I last played with Barbies, I’ve come to realize since then that life is nothing like playing with dolls. With dolls, you can make them say and do exactly what you want. You hold your Barbie’s waist and make her hop up and down while she talks to the other Barbies. When you want her to go to bed, she lies down and instantly goes to sleep. When you want her to wear high heels, she doesn’t complain. (Although, those shoes rarely stayed on her tiny, tippy-toed feet.) In real life, you can’t get people to do what you want AT ALL. They don’t respond the way you want them to, and they often behave in unpredictable, irrational ways which are completely off-script. The older I get, the more I realize that life is so messy. Couples fight. Kids make bad choices. Adults are selfish. Being a human around other humans can be downright impossible at times. After a while, we no longer recognize the life we’re living day to day because things didn’t turn out quite like we thought they would. So what’s a former Barbie operator to do? Proverbs 19:21 gives me a good starting place. “Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” Or in James 4: “And now I have a word for you who brashly announce, ‘Today—at the latest, tomorrow—we’re off to such and such a city for the year. We’re going to start a business and make a lot of money.’ You don’t know the first thing about tomorrow. You’re nothing but a wisp of fog, catching a brief bit of sun before disappearing. Instead, make it a habit to say, ‘If the Master wills it and we’re still alive, we’ll do this or that.’” (The Message) So I’ll start by acknowledging that I’m not in control. Then I’ll honor my commitments, even though those commitments are made with other flawed, disappointing humans. I’ll try to die to self and live for Jesus, which won’t usually result in me getting my desired outcome on my terms. And I’ll have to wake up every day that the Lord gives me and start that list over again. Because I don’t live in a Barbie Dream House. I’m “a wisp of fog, catching a brief bit of sun before disappearing.” And God has called me to love big through this chaotic mess.
- The Coventry Carol
Apart from the few cheesy holiday songs which make me want to rend my garments Old Testament-style, I love Christmas music. Once I start to consistently hear these tunes playing in stores and on my car radio and at home, I begin to believe that Christmas really is coming again, which brings on warm feelings of happiness and goodwill toward all. One of the most moving and haunting Christmas songs is the “Coventry Carol.” It’s an old English tune, dating way back to the 16th century. It was originally performed in Coventry, England as a part of their nativity play. In the song, we hear the voices of mothers singing a lullaby to their baby boys who King Herod sentenced to die after the Wise Men stopped off in Jerusalem on their way to follow the star. After the visitors saw Jesus, worshipped Him, and gave him gifts, the Wise Men (or Magi) were told in a dream to go home a different way, avoiding Herod. After the visit of these Wise Men, an angel appeared to Joseph and told him to leave right away. “Get up! Take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” The song picks up the story in Matthew 2:16: “When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.” When you stop and listen to the grieving mothers’ words and hear their plaintive tune in the Coventry Carol, your heart breaks along with them. “Lully, lullah, thou little tiny child/Bye bye, lully, lully.” No doubt these lines were inspired by Matthew’s reference to a prediction by the Prophet Jeremiah: “A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.” It’s hard to imagine a more tragic scene. Though the carol had been around for centuries, the song grew in popularity after it was sung on Christmas Day in 1940 on a live broadcast by the BBC. The broadcast came just six weeks after the industrial city of Coventry was bombed by the German forces, demolishing the city’s cathedral. The destruction of the city was so complete that the chief Nazi propagandist, Joseph Goebbels, coined the term “coventried” to describe future attacks with a similar level of devastation. Coventry was targeted by the German forces multiple times due to their munitions factories. A few months before the attack which reduced the cathedral to ruins, a lieutenant named Sandy Campbell came to take care of an unexploded bomb which had fallen at a factory formerly used to make motorcycles. Realizing that the bomb was fitted with a device to delay its detonation, Campbell made plans to move the bomb to a safer site. During transport, he lay next to the explosive device so that he could hear if the inner workings made a different kind of ticking sound, giving him the chance to tell the driver and the others who were helping move the bomb so they could get to safety. It's hard to focus on these stories of ruthless devastation and cold-blooded murder, especially during a season when we’d rather think about wrapped presents and twinkling lights and toy-making elves. But even during Christmastime, we see the consequences of sin and arrogance. Thousands of years may have passed between these stories but they ring true with similar notes of wicked selfishness, and the unfortunate consequences meted out on the innocent. All of this destruction points to our need for a Savior, someone to volunteer to lay down his life and position himself next to a ticking bomb. The world needed him during Herod’s reign, and we still need Him today.
- Blind Spots
One of the scariest parts of teaching someone to drive is sitting in the passenger seat when they’re learning how to change lanes. Once you’ve been driving for a while, the process of quickly checking and re-checking your mirrors while keeping your speed up and staying in your lane becomes second nature. But at the beginning, it’s like you’re asking them to cook a 4-course meal while playing the flute and giving your dog a bath…impossible. They look at the rearview mirror for a bit longer than necessary, and suddenly they’re inches away from the bumper of the car in front of them. The side mirrors with their message: “Objects in the mirror are closer than they appear,” just feels like a Fun House in a horror movie to a new driver. If they can’t trust their mirrors, they don’t know what to believe. And you can’t teach the concept of changing lanes without touching on the dreaded blind spot. It’s different for every vehicle, but when you’re about to change lanes and you look over your right shoulder only to see a car barreling down the interstate who wasn’t there just seconds before, it can be a frightening reality check. As you try to slow your heartbeat down to a rate that’s normal instead of one which indicates you’re being chased by a werewolf, you ask yourself, “What would’ve happened if I didn’t look first?” The way to know you’re achieving master-level status in your driving skills is when you can anticipate when the drivers around you want to change lanes, and you react when you realize you are in their blind spot. Here’s the scenario: You’re going a little faster than the car to your left, and you just get a gut-feeling that they want to be in your lane. You speed up to move out of the danger zone. No problem. But the only reason you knew this scenario was playing out in the car of the stranger next to you is because you’ve been there before. This idea of finding understanding due to common experiences doesn’t just apply to driving. A friend who can practice empathy is worth her weight in gold (or my preference: chocolate. You can’t eat gold!). If you stumble upon people who act out 1 Corinthians 12: “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it,” then you’ve found something pretty special. Why are we able to comfort and bless those who are suffering in this very personal way? It’s because we are made in the image of our Creator who, as 2 Corinthians 1 tells us, is “the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” That is recycling at its very best. Pass that heavenly comforter down to me, please! I could use that kind of snuggling. In Hebrews 4:14-16, we read that we have a great High Priest (Jesus) who has “been there, done that” way before we were even a twinkle in our mother’s eyes. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” We can’t shock him with our bad behavior and crippling baggage. He knew we were veering into that blind spot before we did. Now that we know that about our Heavenly Father and High Priest, it’s time to extend that grace to others.
- Relatively speaking
While talking to a friend the other day and standing eye-to-eye, I was amazed by how tall I am. With her just barely skimming 5 feet in running shoes, I felt all 5’4” of my towering height. I was an Amazon! I considered heading to the basketball goal in our backyard so I could dunk a few. Then my husband, who has around 8 inches on me, came home from work and I realized my error. I am not tall. I am also not short. I am average. My height was consistent throughout the day, other than those lazy moments when my posture was lacking (Don’t tell my mom!). The only difference was how tall I felt, not how tall I am. This is the danger of comparison. Once our identity or self-evaluation is based solely on others around us, it’s easy to lose our grasp on what’s real. I encounter this impulse to define myself according to the appearances, attributes, and accomplishments of everybody else way too frequently. When someone shares a new exercise regimen or details about an exciting trip or even just good news, I’m embarrassed to say that there’s often a pause, a brief space, when an unwelcome thought enters into my mind: “What does this mean for me? Should I be eating that or going on vacation there? Is her life considerably better than my life?” Romans 12:15 gives us this advice: “Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with each other.” This has been the advice I’ve given to my own kids as they’ve watched others get things they wished they could have for themselves. Feelings are sometimes like the wind, arbitrarily blowing in one direction and then the other, but usually not both directions at the same time. In other words, if I’m putting all my heart into rejoicing with and for my friend, there’s less emotions leftover to put towards jealousy and bitterness. But how can I battle the evils of comparison without living like a recluse in the woods, away from everyone else? (Let’s be honest, I’d probably just develop an inferiority complex with the squirrels or something. I’d be asking, “How do they stay so fit? Should I be eating only acorns and running along tree branches, too?) There are practical things I can do, like restricting my time on social media, and I do think that can make a big difference, but the habit with longer-lasting effects is to learn who the Great I AM says I am. Scriptures tell me that as a believer, I am adopted and accepted. I am brought to fullness and bought at a great price. I am chosen and a child of God. I am new and known. I am a part of the body of Christ and my body is a temple. I was made by God in His image. All 5’4” of me is loved and valued, not because of my weight or wealth or wit, but because I am His. In fact, Christ died for me when I was still a sinner, so, no matter how my unreliable feelings fluctuate, I am worthy.
- Asking questions
The other day, I heard someone say that Jesus asked 307 questions in the first 4 books of the Bible, but, of the 183 questions he was asked, he only directly answered three of them. Only three! I thought about this Bible fun fact a lot that day, wondering about Jesus’ teaching methods and his success as a disciple-maker. He was the greatest teacher, the perfect rabbi, the most effective communicator. His words changed everything, so why the lack of straight forward answers? For one thing, like John said at the end of his gospel, “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.” Those numbers—307 and 183—may sound large, but I’m sure they’re just a drop in the bucket of the words that were said to Him and by Him. Also, when I read the gospels and Jesus’ words to the people around Him—the ones who loved Him or were just curious about Him or absolutely despised Him—he may not have given them a “yes” or “no” answer to their queries, but He didn’t shy away from imparting instruction. Seventy or so times we see Jesus giving very candid and clear-cut commands. All of His instructions from “Abide in Me” to “Watch and Pray” show us that He wasn’t shirking the tough questions and tricky moral dilemmas. He knew His ministry would be relatively short, so He got busy saying what needed said. The other conclusion I came to was that asking questions can be a holy and revealing exercise, but don’t expect to always get answers. This is especially true when our questions begin with the word why. When I ask God, “Why did you allow that disaster?” I may not get a response. But it’s still okay for me to ask. It’s part of a continual conversation I’m having with Him. So now, instead of asking “why?” I’m trying to work on asking a different question. Author Jamie Winship says it this way: “There are very few times in scripture where God answers a ‘why’ question because the explanation is too great. However, God will always tell you what He wants you to know about something. But He's not obligated to explain Himself to you.” Winship recommends asking God, “What do you want me to know about what’s troubling me? What do you want me to know about my fear?” This has shifted my conversations with God, and, to be honest, it’s taken me out of the driver’s seat—the spot where I was never actually meant to sit. It’s a lot harder for me to come to Him with a “Here’s what needs to happen, God…go ahead and bless my plans” when I’m asking Him to reveal what He wants me to know. Now I will have to do what Jesus commanded in Matthew 7: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” What do you want me to know, Lord?
- The ending
I have a friend who had a children’s Bible when he was little that he loved reading. The only problem was that this hardback version had torn at some point, leaving him with only the first half of the book. It was because of this that my friend thought the Bible ended with a story from the book of Judges. In this particular story, God’s man Gideon is worried about the battle he was supposed to wage the next day, so God tells him to go down to the Midianite camp and listen to what they’re saying. Gideon overhears one of the men telling about a dream he had. The dream included a round loaf of barley that rolls down into the camp and hits a tent, causing it to collapse. And that’s where my friend’s Bible ended…giant loaves of bread leveling the place. From this, he concluded that’s how the world would end. Now he’s an adult and knows the rest of the story, thank goodness. If that half of his Bible was all he’d ever heard, he wouldn’t get the guiding star or the water to wine or the rugged cross or the stone rolled away. He wouldn’t know about the church or the letters or the revelations about how the story really ends. Getting the full account is crucial. Getting the “rest of the story” reminds me of the late radio broadcaster Paul Harvey. Through his suspenseful yet folksy story-telling method, Harvey would weave a tale about the early history of a real person. He would only use a first name or the name this person used to go by or something equally vague. Near the end of his segment, he would reveal his/her identity. “The poor, guitar-playing boy who wasn’t allowed inside was…Elvis Presley!” You listened along to Harvey’s words, because you wanted to know how it ended. You craved that a-ha moment. As I’ve been reading through the Bible chronologically this year, I’ve had several of those a-ha moments. When you view God’s story as a whole document, well-crafted with the end in mind way back in the lush Garden of Eden, it changes our understanding. When I write my own works of fiction, I map out what will happen so that my story arc continues to chug toward the big finale, but many of the scenes in between develop as I go. This isn’t the case for God. He is the “Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come." He’s the Author of every story, beginning to end. My goal is to live like I’m a part of God’s story, instead of relegating God to the role of a minor character in mine. Author Paul Tripp writes this in his book New Morning Mercies: “Thankfully I am not the author of my own personal story. Your story isn’t an autobiography either. Your story is a biography of wisdom and grace written by another. Every turn he writes into your story is right. Every twist of the plot is for the best. Every new character or unexpected event is a tool of his grace. Each new chapter advances his purpose.” Just as He knit me together in my mother’s womb at my beginning, I have to trust that God holds the ending.
- When we can't help but be thankful
One of my all-time favorite books is L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables. Anne, the waifish orphan, is mistakenly brought to live with Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert, elderly siblings who are expecting to adopt a boy to help them on the farm. It’s funny and heart-warming, and I could go on and on about all of the characters, (Dear, sweet Gilbert!), but I’m too old to write book reports. Instead, let me tell you something I noticed as I’ve been re-visiting this book for the umpteenth time. I’ll set the scene…Eleven-year old Anne is finally given a family and a real home for the first time since both her parents died when she was just a baby. She has never owned anything pretty in her life. Marilla, practical and strict, is sewing her a new set of dresses, and Anne shows her dislike of their plainness. She says, “I'll imagine that I like them.” Marilla’s feelings are a smidge hurt as Anne asks if at least one of the dresses can be made with puff sleeves, but Marilla thinks this is wasteful and unnecessary. Anne says, “I'd rather look ridiculous when everybody else does than plain and sensible all by myself." That just smacks of ingratitude doesn’t it? How could this 11-year old girl say such a thing to the woman who has opened her home to Anne? Years ago, when we were waiting to bring our son Ezra to live in our home, I read a post by an adopted mom who had already brought home her African daughters. They were older—maybe 8 and 11—and she recounted a moment they’d had at the dinner table. The mom had told the girls who, by the way, couldn’t speak English and were just recently orphans, that they couldn’t leave the table until they had asked to be excused. She said they refused, so she made them sit at the table until they could be more thankful. The comments I read under her post mentioned how ungrateful their own adopted kids had been, and didn’t they know what had been sacrificed for them? Now this isn’t meant to be indicative of adoption or adopting parents, or anything like that. What I realized reading that post and was reminded of re-reading Anne of Green Gables, is that gratitude is rarely natural. Just like playing the piano and riding a bike and writing in cursive, in most instances, it has to be taught and practiced to become second nature. When I originally read those comments, I wanted to ask the ones who had left irritated responses if they’d ever spent more than 5 minutes around kids…any kids. As the adults in their lives, we’re constantly chanting the thank you chorus to them: “What do you say?” Eventually they will say please and thank you without being reminded, but it takes time. We aren’t born grateful. Which is why Scripture has to urge us again and again to be thankful. Psalm 95 begins with “Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song.” Then it goes on to list a few of the reasons why we should be grateful, like the mountains and the seas. It would be nice, but a baby doesn’t emerge from the womb remarking, “Thanks for all that hard work, mom! I appreciate all that you went through to bring me into this world!” He learns gratitude from us, from the emphasis we put on it when we don’t let him move on without saying thanks and from how we model gratitude. But even with all of this information, I have to wonder if there are times when the angels are sitting with God, watching me act entitled and petty, and they say, “How ungrateful can Abby be? Doesn’t she know what has been sacrificed for her?” The hope is, with enough practice, our own character arc will match Anne’s. In a later book, older Anne says, “In May one simply can't help being thankful . . . that they are alive, if for nothing else. I feel exactly as Eve must have felt in the garden of Eden before the trouble began.” When our heart gets aligned with the truth of what God has done and continues to do, we can’t help but be thankful!
- Happy National Day of Encouragement!
I’m regularly amazed by the addition of holidays to the calendar which I never knew existed. I’m not just talking about silly ones like National Spaghetti Day (January 4) or National Sock Day (December 4). I’m talking about actual, official holidays that show up on the printed calendar I hang in my kitchen. For instance, I just found out that September 12 is the National Day of Encouragement. It was started by The Encouragement Foundation at Harding University in Searcy, Arkansas in 2007. And it was eventually made official by President George W. Bush. It’s no coincidence that a day of encouragement should follow a day that we all associate with tragedy and loss. In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, we all needed to be inspired and reassured, but September 12 isn’t the only date on the calendar when we should devote time to this practice. In fact, we’re reminded all through Scripture to be encouragers. The prime example for this attribute was a man named Barnabas. Acts 4:36 says that his name was actually Joseph, but the apostles called him Barnabas, because it means “son of encouragement.” What a fantastic nickname! If you continue reading in Acts, you see Barnabas’ name pop up several more times. We see that he encouraged the church in Jerusalem by giving away the money he made after he sold a field he had owned. Scripture says he “brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.” Later we see Barnabas step up and vouch for his friend Paul, the Christ-hater turned Christ-proclaimer. The other believers were understandably wary of Paul, but Barnabas told the apostles all about how Saul (renamed Paul) had seen Jesus on his journey to Damascus, and then Paul had started proclaiming the name of Jesus wherever he went. Because of Barnabas’ words, Paul was accepted and could freely preach in Jerusalem. Next, we see thoughtful Barnabas arriving in Antioch. Once he got there, he saw what God had done in this church, and he encouraged them to keep up the good work. Acts 11:24 says, “He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.” One of my favorite stories about this “son of encouragement” comes in Acts 15. Paul and Barnabas, the super missionary team, felt called to go back and check up on the churches where they had previously visited. Barnabas wanted to bring Mark with along them, but Paul was against the idea. You see, Mark had bailed on the team on a previous missionary journey when they had hit some treacherous mountains in Turkey. But Barnabas was willing to give young Mark another chance. They ended up going their separate ways with Barnabas and Mark heading one direction, and Paul and Silas a different one. In spite of this disagreement, God blessed the efforts of both teams. And Paul didn’t hold a grudge against either man. He wrote lovingly about both of them in his later letters, and Mark went on to write one of our four Gospels. Throughout his life, Barnabas was a model for a type of encouragement which goes beyond empty words of praise. He was generous and a faithful, forgiving friend. He may have mostly acted behind the scenes, but he let God use him in important ways. So from me and Barnabas, Happy National Day of Encouragement!