Picture Gratitude

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“Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!”
-Psalm 107:1

Marks of Gratitude

For I bear on my body the scars that show I belong to Jesus. (Galatians 4:17, NLT)

It’s hard—to feel grateful especially when we find ourselves in the middle of suffering. Many of us who understand suffering and pain often carry the scars to prove it.

There are many different types of scars. Some of my scars come from playing wildly as a little girl. The scar on my forehead reminds me of the fun times I had with my sisters, while the big one on my knee takes me back to the time when I pushed my little brother on his bike and I fell on a huge piece of glass. In all honesty, I don’t mind looking at these scars. I enjoy sharing the stories behind these, but the ones deep inside me—those bring me to my knees.

I can’t help but pray when I remember those scars. Those scars—the deep, painful ones—often times help me to reflect on God’s mercy. They remind me to thank the Lord for His provision. That’s the thing about these kinds of scars; they help us remember God’s grace, healing and faithfulness.

These deep-rooted scars also provide us with our stories. That’s what makes all of our stories different, unique and so very special. These scars remind us of our history and they give us hope for the future. They don’t make us ugly; they make us beautiful because we get to see Christ in each other’s lives.

Often times however, we look at our scars and we lose faith that our God has our best interests at heart and in our desperation we stop talking both to God and to others. The apostle Paul writes, “Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.” (Rom. 8: 35, 37, NLT)

I guess I will always find it difficult to thank God during times of suffering. Self-pity just seems like the norm sometimes. For that reason, I strive to stay on my knees, thanking the Lord for His work on the cross and the abundance of grace that He showers me with every day.

What kind of suffering are you experiencing in your life that seems impossible to overcome? How can you be thankful in times like these? God reminds us that His strength is made perfect in our weakness. I encourage you today to surrender your suffering to God with an open heart and seek His direction in your life.  ~Raquel

 

Giver of Good Gifts

Whatever is good and perfect comes down to us from God our Father,  James 1:17a, NLT

This season God has been teaching me about Himself as the giver of good gifts.  I must admit that this has been refreshing after receiving teachings and life experiences on God using brokenness and suffering to bring us closer to Him.  In an effort to challenge the ‘prosperity and wealth’ gospel that teaches that God gives material, spiritual and physical blessings to those who believe in Him, there have been many well-meaning teachings on God’s desire to use brokenness to draw us closer to Him. I have seen and heard so much about suffering that I along with others have become afraid the other shoe is going to drop in my life.  But hey, I will know Jesus more, won’t I?

Just as prosperity and wealth can become glorified causing people to expect only blessings from God, suffering can become glorified causing people to expect only gloom and doom from God.   Just as God uses brokenness to draw us closer to Him (Genesis 37-45), God also blesses people with good gifts to demonstrate His love (Lk 11:9-13; James 1:17).   It is important that a believer holds these two truths together, never separating one from the other.

In the story of Job, we see these two truths work together.  In Job 1:1-12, God gives permission for Satan to inflict suffering on Job.  Job went through a season of deep brokenness and suffering but held onto his faith through it all.  At the end, Job experiences God intimately (Job 19:25) and God rewards His faith with many good gifts and blessings (Job 42:10-17).  We also see God blessing Hannah with a son, Samuel, after struggling with infertility for years (I Samuel 1:1-20).  Then, there is the Gospel.  God freely gives us the gift of salvation through Jesus Christ.  Through all these stories, the end of the story is God’s blessings of good gifts.

This Thanksgiving season I am focusing on praising God for the many good gifts He has given in my life.  I must admit it feels strange to me.  I sometimes feel like I am not a good Christian and I should hope only for suffering and brokenness in my life.  However, God is releasing my heart to worship Him in the good gifts He has given to me.  He has blessed me with a wonderful church that I love.  He has blessed me with an amazing husband who is the hands and feet of Jesus to me.  He has blessed me with a healthy baby boy and another one on the way.  He has blessed me with wonderful family and friends that I love dearly.  When I reflect on the things that God has given to me, I am overwhelmed by His abundant love, kindness and mercy.  Thank you, sweet Jesus, for being a giver of good gifts.  ~ Edna

When Gratitude Feels Impossible

My soul waits in silence for God only. Psalm 62:1

I have several friends who lost a parent this year. As the holidays loom, they are bracing themselves for the many “firsts”: without Mom, making the turkey, staying home instead of sleeping at her house. The ache is rushing toward them as the calendar turns without their permission. And they’re on a collision course with an unwanted reality: deep emptiness during a time of appointed thanksgiving. What do you do when your mouth spits ashes and you find it impossible to say, “I’m grateful for this, Lord”?

Reams of paper and scrolls of digital pages have been written about gratitude. Gratitude journals, an “attitude of gratitude”, and exercising “eucharisteo” dot our bookstores and computer screens, thanks to our favorite personalities and writers. Even research and studies remind us that those who practice thankfulness have stronger immune systems, more joy and feel less lonely.

But there are days and seasons and years when we just can’t muster it up. We just can’t conjure thankfulness. No matter how hard we try, it just won’t come, not from within and not from outside us. We’re speechless, but not in an overwhelmed way, instead in an underwhelmed way. Our mouths are empty because no words will do.

Even in this place–this lonely, desolate place–God enters in. He offers hope for my friends facing a shrouded holiday, and hope for me on a weepy stretch. He says that He can transform nothingness: “If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans” (Romans 8:26, The Message).

From emptiness and ashes, He shapes our silence into prayer, a generous offering from nothingness. God plus nothing equals something. That’s gratitude. ~ Judy

Renewing Gratitude

“Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.” ( I Thess. 5:18, NLT)

God, I need a fresh word on gratitude.

After all, I’ve heard about this topic many times in my Christian life. And do believe gratitude is vital to a fulfilled life in Christ even as I wrestle with living it out. AND, after all, this is the launch of the Sacred Story blog conversation!

To refresh my perspective, I did a bit of research on the benefits of gratitude. Harvard Medical School reports:  “In positive psychology research, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships. . . gratitude also helps people connect to something larger than themselves as individuals — whether to other people, nature, or a higher power.”

I love how God’s wisdom proves true whether people recognize Him as the Source. Through Jesus, I am so grateful to be connected to the Source. What I experience in my daily life is an opportunity to acknowledge God. Even when I can’t make sense out what is happening in my story, I want to thank Him for hearing me and moving in ways I cannot see.

Speaking of stories, my gratitude meter is OFF THE CHARTS when it comes to thanking the women who have contributed so far. What a rich and precious collection–continuing to expand with your help!

I believe every woman’s story overflows with gratitude. Not necessarily for the unknown roads and hard circumstances in and of themselves. The overwhelming response is thankfulness for how God shows Himself faithful.

Faithful to guide.

Faithful to sustain.

Faithful to comfort.

Faithful to transform.

Faithful to work all things together for good.

I also have LOADS OF THANKS flowing out of my heart for the following people who helped launch this site:

Cynthia Johnson, your groundwork is invaluable.

Laure Bertrand, your design of the site is amazing.

Jack Potts, your photos add a special touch.

Alicia Garza, your calligraphy is beautiful.

Brittany Mederos, your heart for stories is so refreshing.

Each month the Sacred Story blog hosts a conversation about a topic. I’m beyond grateful for the blog contributors whom I deeply admire. I can’t wait for you to interact with these dear sisters.  In November, tasty food is a reason to give thanks as we sit down for THE THANKSGIVING MEAL. You won’t want to miss side-dish recipes posted by culinary queen and trained-chef Lauren Browning.

I want to share this reminder. A few sentences after the apostle Paul writes the command to give thanks, he pens the following blessing and promise (I Thess. 5:23-24, Italics mine): “Now may the God of peace make you holy in every way, and may your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ comes again. God will make this happen, for He who calls you is faithful.”

What evidence of God’s faithfulness do you see in your story? What helps your gratitude meter increase?

Ladies, I’d love to talk amongst ourselves in the comments below as we celebrate the start of the conversation. ~Laura