Tag Archives: gratitude

Writers and Musicians

Fans of Canadian suspense writer Linda Hall will be happy to know some of her stories are available in various ebook formats through Smashwords. Currently there are two free short stories, one 99-cent short story and the novel, Steal Away, for $2.99. The short stories may not be suspense, but Steal Away is the first in a series featuring private investigator Teri Blake-Addison. I highly recommend it, and you can read my review of the paper version here.

A Better Way is a new blog from Canadian writer Jan Cox, reflecting on the “better way” Jesus told Martha that Mary had chosen… and discovering how we can choose that way as well.

Part of living the better way–God’s way–is gratitude and praise. Check out Marcia Laycock’s excellent post, “Maybe it’s Time we Pay Attention,” on Grace Fox’s Growing with Grace blog.

The Barn Door Book Loft spotlights and interviews 3-6 Christian authors each week and hosts book giveaways.

I’ve been captured recently by the music of Geoff Moore, specifically his new album, “Saying Grace,” which is not yet widely available (you can get it at any of the stops on his cross-Canada tour with Steven Curtis Chapman). I wish I could share my favourite tracks with you: “I Believe,” “Saying Grace” and “The Long Way.” You can hear some of his other music on the Geoff Moore facebook page. Or searching YouTube will bring up older material including a duet with the legendary Larry Norman: “Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music?

God is Still at Work

Great are the works of the LORD; they are pondered by all who delight in them. Glorious and majestic are his deeds, and his righteousness endures forever. He has caused his wonders to be remembered; the LORD is gracious and compassionate. He provides food for those who fear him; he remembers his covenant forever.
Psalm 111:2-5, NIV*

The psalmist starts by praising God for what He has done in the past. They he switches to present tense: God provides food, remembers His covenant.

Sometimes I feel that while God’s acts and wonders are recorded and remembered in the Bible, in North America today we live with a sense of “that was then, this is now.”

Is it because the Bible is the “official” written testimony? That doesn’t mean God stopped working when John wrote the final “Amen” to end the book of Revelation. God hasn’t changed, as Christians in other parts of the world know.

I had a real treat the other week when I shared a meal with two Christian friends. Perhaps because we don’t often get together, we opened up to share what God has been doing in our lives, what He’s been teaching us, where He may be leading us.

I long for more of that kind of conversation. It encourages my faith, and it reminds me to keep a sharper eye out for God at work in the little as well as the big. And I think God enjoys hearing that we’ve noticed—and appreciate—His care.

Father, help me remember You are at work whether I see or hear or not. Help me look, help me recognize what You’re doing and return thanks. Give Your people boldness to declare Your work. And forgive us for beginning to believe that if we don’t see it, it’s not happening. How self-absorbed is that?

Let’s join Matt Redman in singing, “You Never Let Go.”

*New International Version (NIV) Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Review: One Thousand Gifts, by Ann Voskamp

One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully, Right Where You Are, by Ann Voskamp (Zondervan, 2011)

One Thousand Gifts is a rare book: at once a very personal story of one woman’s journey, and yet it’s everywoman and everyman’s story. It’s a journey we can all join.

Which of us hasn’t struggled with ingratitude? It is, after all, Satan’s oldest lie. It can root so deeply that we don’t even see it anymore.

Listen to how Ann Voskamp describes it, describes the too-familiar wretched state and the haunting questions that lured her out of it:

“If I’m ruthlessly honest, I may have said yes to God, yes to Christianity, but really, I have lived the no. I have. Infected by the Eden mouthful, the retina of my soul develops macular holes of blackness…. One life-loss can infect the whole of a life…. Now everywhere we look, we only see all that isn’t: holes, lack, deficiency.” (p. 16)

“How do we choose to allow the holes to become seeing-through-to-God places? To more-God places?

“How do I give up resentment for gratitude, gnawing anger for spilling joy? Self-focus for God-communion.” (p. 22)

For Ann, the answer started with a Greek word, eucharisteo [yoo-khar-is-teh’-o], which means ‘thanksgiving’ and which contains the root words of ‘grace’ and ‘joy’. From reading her Bible, she discovered “Eucharisteo—thanksgiving—always precedes the miracle” (p. 35). And that’s what God proved in Ann’s own life as she kept her friend’s challenge to list 1,000 blessings—gifts—from God.

She came to this point in her life with more pain than some of us have: the most significant cluster in the form of losing her younger sister as a child. But whether you’ve lost more or less, whether it’s been taken from you or you’ve given it away, you can find healing in these pages.

Read the book slowly, let it encourage your spirit by its message and by the poetry that is Ann Voskamp’s prose. Walk with her as she learns to thank God for the sweet blessings—graces—in her day. Keep walking as she learns to see His grace in the painful moments, to practice what she calls the “hard eucharisteo” by giving thanks even when what He gives doesn’t look like grace to our eyes.

If you like simple, plain language and straightforward sentences, this may not be the book for you. I’ve included some excerpts to give a feel for the flowing language. And be aware that poetic language often uses imagery for a soul’s intimacy with God that strictly-literal thinkers may find difficult.

But if you’re one of the many who choose to read this book, you will be challenged and changed by the example of an ordinary Canadian woman who dares to have a heart like King David’s and to offer the sacrifice of thanksgiving to God in the good and in the bad—not denying the pain, but trusting the Master Designer not to waste it.

This is how Ann describes what she discovered in her list of now well over 1,000 gifts:

“In eucharisteo, I count, count, count, keeping the beat of His song, the love song He can’t stop singing, this long song of longing. That He sings love over me?

“What else can all these gifts mean?” (p. 204)

One Thousand Gifts is a book to read contemplatively, and to keep near to read again. My friends are buying extra copies for their friends rather than lending a copy they might not get back. I can see why. Click here to read an excerpt from One Thousand Gifts. And here’s a link to the book trailer, which is a gift in itself.

Canadian author Ann Voskamp writes a daily encouragement blog at A Holy Experience. She’s also a regular contributor at the DaySpring blog, (in)courage.

Oh… my list? I’m at #33 today. And loving it.

[Review copy source: my personal library]

Marching Forward

I don’t know what time of year our local writers’ group began, or how many months I attended before guilt made me write something: just a short letter to the editor of our local newspaper.

The group, bless their hearts, praised me as if I’d written a feature article. I started listening to my thoughts—and to God—a little better and writing inspirational and personal experience essays.

Got my first rejection letter—and a positive one at that—on my birthday one May.

When a novel started brewing, I resisted for a year before giving in. My earliest dated notes for that manuscript are from March 1994. That means I’ve lived with some of these characters for 17 years now, ignoring the long gestation period. No wonder we have cake every March!

Three years ago, again in March, God nudged me into this blog. It’s been a great way to meet some new friends in the faith, and I need to publicly say that not once has He not provided the input for a weekly devotional. He is faithful.

Since March seems to be the month for significant writing beginnings for me (not that I’d turn one down in, say, September) it feels appropriate to choose now to join the Christians keeping gratitude journals.

Not lists of positive things, but lists acknowledging that those things are gifts from God who loves us. Lists that accept the gifts and thank the Giver.

I’ll add a thank-you to Ann Voskamp, whose lyrical book, One Thousand Gifts, convinced me to give this gratitude journal idea a try.

I won’t post a weekly list, but here are the first gifts I’ve recorded (resisting the urge to play catch-up for the ones in my memory):

  1. Bright, white seagull in a clear blue sky.
  2. Spring sunshine.
  3. Dancing candle flames—and the little girl who shared them with me.
  4. Expansive stillness moment in my spirit.
  5. Michael Tait singing “Glorious”.
  6. Sparkles on my journal cover—and that it was waiting on my shelf for this purpose.
  7. Fluffy black cat nestled on the back deck.
  8. Sun stripe bright on green moss on the willow branch.
  9. Small brown sparrow in the bare, brown hedge branches.

10.  White-gold sun disc behind translucent clouds.

Thank You, God!

To Know He Loves Us

For you make me glad by your deeds, LORD; I sing for joy at what your hands have done. Psalm 92:4, NIV*

Sunday’s sermon taught that God wants us to know He loves us. We need to know it in order to have a close relationship with Him, and to be open to His work in our lives.

We need to know He loves us.

The night before, I’d read in Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts that noticing—naming—in her case writing a list of—those things that bless our spirits is, in a sense, accepting the gifts. God gives them, be they sunsets or fireflies, but if we don’t receive them we miss the blessing.

So… we need to know God loves us. What better way to press it into our hearts than by recording and rehearsing the many small gifts He lavishes on us each day?

Father God, You give so many good gifts to Your children. Many we don’t notice, some we refuse because we don’t like the way they’re wrapped. Help us to know for sure that You are good. Open our eyes to see Your gifts, open our hearts to receive Your grace. Let your gifts prove Your love to our tentative hearts. Draw us into the relationship You’ve designed us for.

Breaking the pattern this week… instead of a song, here is the video trailer for One Thousand Gifts. It will bless your spirit.

*New International Version (NIV) Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Perspective and Gratitude

Think of the grateful, hopeful people you know. Have their lives been easy, or have they learned to rely on God despite their circumstances? It’s tempting to complain about the small stuff when the framework of our lives is rich with blessing. If we do it long enough, though, we don’t see the treasures that are really ours. I wonder if that’s why people keep gratitude journals.

This is something God is nudging me about in my own life. I need to be awake to the wonders of the present and delight in what He gives—and not allow desire for my own way to poison me.

I love how whatever He’s trying to show me will pop up in the strangest places. Here are a few:

§ I’ve recently discovered Louise Penny’s mystery series, set in small-town Quebec, Canada. Wish the language wasn’t so harsh in places, but I have so enjoyed the first two novels and am in queue for the third at the library. For mainstream novels, they treat Scripture and faith with respect. Armand Gamache is a homicide detective. Look at what he says:

“People expect me to be cynical because of my job… but they don’t understand. …I spend my days looking into the last room in the house, the one we keep barred and hidden even from ourselves. The one with all our monsters, fetid and rotting and waiting. My job is to find people who take lives. And to do that I have to find out why. And to do that I have to get into their heads and open that last door. But when I come out again,” he opened his arms in an expansive movement, “the world is suddenly more beautiful, more alive, more lovely than ever. When you see the worst you appreciate the best.” Dead Cold, by Louise Penny. [Headline Publishing Group, 2006, p. 268]

§ I finally had the chance to see the Chronicles of Narnia movie, Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Near the end, Prince Caspian realizes he’s spent his time regretting what’s been taken from him (his father), instead of embracing what he’s been given—a kingdom to rule. That changes his life.

§ One of this week’s posts at Other Food: Daily Devos includes this quote from Eugene Peterson’s A Long Obedience in the Same Direction:

“We can decide to live in response to the abundance of God and not under the dictatorship of our own poor needs. We can decide to live in the environment of a living God and not our own dying selves. We can decide to centre ourselves in the God who generously gives and not in our own egos which greedily grab.” A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, p. 96-97. [It’s worth reading Violet’s entire post here: Statute Songs]

§ I’ve been hearing Johnny Reid songs on the radio lately—and liking them. The first time I heard him,. NJ Lindquist was teaching at a local writers’ conference and she used one of his songs as an example of story: “Kicking Stones” . Again, it’s about how we choose to react to our circumstances.

§ My copy of Ann Voskamp‘s One Thousand Gifts arrived today. I’m sure it’s going to reinforce the message.

We may not have much control over what happens, but we can choose how to respond. We can choose where to focus. We can, by the grace of God, learn to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” 2 Corinthians 10:5, NIV*. Or in the fresh language of The Message we do it by “fitting every loose thought and emotion and impulse into the structure of life shaped by Christ” 2 Corinthians 10:5, MSG**.

Johnny Reid’s official video for “Kicking Stones.” (2007, Open Road Records) 

*New International Version, ©2010 (NIV) Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2010 by Biblica

**The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are

No matter how busy you are, and especially if you’re busy and stressed… find five minutes today to watch this video trailer for Ann Voskamp’s new book, One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are. You will feel better. 

How does one live life well? In the book trailer, Ann Voskamp makes it sound so simple… yet so hard… but attainable. Doesn’t it stir something in you?

The book has just released in the US and won’t be available in Canada until February 1, although apparently the electronic version was available in time for Christmas. Reader response has been huge, and I think it’s because the premise touches a need so deep in our hearts that most of us don’t even recognize it until someone like Ann Voskamp articulates it.

You can read an excerpt of One Thousand Gifts, and refresh your spirit with a visit the community at A Holy Experience. To read more about how a quiet Canadian writer attracted such a large international following, see Emily Wierenga’s article about Ann Voskamp in ChristianWeek.

I had the privilege of attending a blogging workshop Ann taught at Write! Canada in 2010. We came to learn how her A Holy Experience blog gained so much attention, in hopes that we could do the same. Instead, she challenged us to write what God gives us–gives each of us–and to be faithful in delivering that message with excellence, as an act of worship, even if it only reaches one person. None of us went away disappointed. Her words and the example of her attitude inspired us, and a number of new blogs were born that day.

This is a woman with a gentle, authentic spirit and a true heart, and in One Thousand Gifts she’s sharing a message that can make a difference in our lives.  The book is on my must-read list for this year. I’ve already put my name on the list at my local Christian store.

One Thousand Gifts is a Bloom (in)courage book club selection, and the club is offering a limited quantity of free copies to those who need them, plus the opportunity for others to act as sponsors for these books. You need to live in the US to be eligible for a physical book, but Zondervan has made e-books available for international participants. As a bonus feature for all participants, beginning February 6 there will be weekly videos with Ann Voskamp discussing the various chapters of the book.

You can learn more about the book at the Zondervan site, and read Violet Nesdoly’s review of One Thousand Gifts at Blogcritics. And consider accepting Ann’s invitation to “Come join the community taking the dare to LIVE FULLY” at A Holy Experience.

Not Anxious

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
Philippians 4:6, NIV*

Sunday morning I watched the blowing snow and thought about the 6-hour bus ride Wise Guy Son had booked for that afternoon to go back to university. The route includes a section of highway noted for its whiteout conditions.

I knew I could spend the whole day fretting about his safety, and the only thing I’d gain would be muscle tension. Been there, done that.

It took several times of consciously stopping to commit the situation back into God’s hands (and to remember that the bus driver is a trained professional who presumably dislikes death and lawsuits) but I was able to join in morning worship instead of worrying, and to relax in the afternoon instead of checking road conditions online.

The bus reached its destination safely and almost on schedule, and I’m praising God for the answer to prayer but also for the progress He’s making in my heart.

Usually my prayer is something like, “See the problem, God? Please help.”

I thank Him for His power and love, and for being with us. I thank Him for the plans He’s already made, that whatever the situation is has not caught Him by surprise. But I keep aware of the problem.

Now I see a bit more to the “with thanksgiving” part of today’s verse. I need to thank Him with expectation that He will act. Not to decide how He’ll act, because that’s His call. But after committing the need to Him, I need to stop looking at it and trust Him.

He reinforced the lesson by not bringing this devotional together until Tuesday mid-afternoon. I schedule them to post early Wednesday mornings, and this particular week has no time Tuesday evening to write.

He’s been giving me a Wednesday devotional thought every week since He nudged me to start blogging in March of 2008. It’s not usually this close to the line, though.

My prayer wasn’t “Lord, do You have something to say?” so much as “Lord, help me not to miss what You say.” Still, there was a definite choice to make. Would I go through the day reminding Him of my need, or would I look expectantly for His reply?

To me, there’s a difference. The first way still has the tension, the uncertainty. The second has a confidence that God will do what He planned, even if I don’t see it yet.

Father God, Your plans for us are good, and You love us. We don’t always like what happens to us, nor do You. But You are our Creator and Sustainer, and Your patient grace teaches us to trust You. Give us the confidence to pray with thanksgiving and with expectation that You have heard… and that You will act. Thank You for your grace.

Here’s another song from the newsboys that expresses our confidence: “Strong Tower” from their Devotion CD.

*New International Version (NIV) Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Expectations and Complaints

Then Moses led Israel from the Red Sea…. For three days they traveled in the desert without finding water. When they came to Marah, they could not drink its water because it was bitter…. So the people grumbled against Moses, saying, “What are we to drink?”
Exodus 15: 22-24, NIV*

The Israelites were jubilant at what God had done: deliverance from Egyptian slavery, parting the Red Sea to rescue them (neatly eliminating their enemies). They believed He could fulfill the rest of His promise and bring them into the promised land.

After a string of miracles and evidences of His great power, it’s understandable that they’d expect Him to melt all remaining opposition and obstacles in their way.

Then right away they have three waterless days in the desert, only to find water they can’t drink. No wonder they complain!

Moses, on the other hand, is used to setbacks, from his dealings with Pharaoh. He cries out to God.

The people know God can help, but they don’t ask. They expect, and then protest when He doesn’t operate the way they want.

Don’t we do the same?

Father God, mighty to save and wise to teach, You could give us smooth paths. But we seem to learn better when we experience Your help in the rough places. Help us to trust Your leading and to listen, obey, and learn to do life Your way. Help us to be grateful for Your presence.

A good song and prayer for today is Matt and Beth Redman’s “Blessed Be Your Name,” sung here by Matt Redman.

*New International Version (NIV) Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Grumbling in the Camp?

But you are the ones chosen by God, chosen for the high calling of priestly work, chosen to be a holy people, God’s instruments to do his work and speak out for him, to tell others of the night-and-day difference he made for you—from nothing to something, from rejected to accepted.
1 Peter 2:9-10, The Message*

I’ve been reading the start of the Old Testament, how God called Abram and built his descendants into the nation of Israel: a holy people, chosen by God, with one tribe called to priestly work and all twelve to be living illustrations of the difference God makes.

Right now I’m at the part of the story where Moses is leading the Israelites in the desert. God is visibly with them, the cloud by day and the fire by night. He speaks to them through Moses.

They know He’s with them, and they’re a bit scared of Him. But what do they do, over and over?

They complain. They grumble.

Every time I read it, I shake my head in wonder. God is with them—don’t they get it? He’s brought them out of slavery and protected them from Pharoah’s army. He’s parted the Red Sea and provides their daily manna. Can’t they trust Him to look after them?

As I investigate my own heart to see what’s gumming up the works, as I listen to myself talk to my friends, is that a… grumbling spirit? Oh, dear.

Henry Blackaby says in the Experiencing God workbook, “Settle in your own mind that God has forever demonstrated His absolute love for you on the cross. That love will never change.” (Unit 6, Day 2)

Although I have head knowledge that God loves me, I haven’t been acting on it in belief. I’ve been letting circumstances (and people) irritate and disturb.

But God is good. And He loves me.

I’ve confessed and rejected the grumbling. As I repeat the truth about God’s goodness and His love, I feel myself relax, like all the tension is melting away from my body.

Father, thank You. Please keep reminding me of the truth and quieting my spirit to receive it. You are good. You love me. Help me rest in this knowledge and grow in gratitude and trust. Let it be an antidote to grumbling, striving and discontent. Help me demonstrate by my life that You are trustworthy and good.

A fitting prayer is the song, “Give Thanks,” sung here by Don Moen and friends.

*The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson.