PAUSE. REFLECT. GIVE THANKS.
I walked with a friend and visited a family member yesterday, both of whom I hadn’t seen in a while. They both asked, “How are you? What’s new?” I paused to think, What is new since the last time we chatted? My mind flew to the new school year and all that came with it, then, to all the ways God has taken care of our family. Where to start?
Since the last time I’d seen either of these women we’ve been through a billion transitions, experiences, challenges, and triumphs. I never doubted we’d “make it” through the first nine weeks of the school year, but we did have a lot of unknowns going in. Our oldest daughter moved to a new city. Our college son decided at the last minute to live at home instead of the dorm he’d been planning on moving into. It’s our younger daughter’s senior year, which is a super fun year filled with all the “senior stuff,” but also filled with the expectations of that “stuff,” plus decisions about the future. Our youngest started high school, which is a lot in itself. That’s just a sampling of what we tried to maneuver this fall.
And here we are. Nine weeks later. There have been hiccups, challenges and definitely some drama, but my heart is overflowing with gratitude. God provided my kids with great friends. He’s held them in rough spots and helped them make hard decisions. God has tangibly been with us these past nine weeks. Praise Jesus!
Yes, our family made it through the first quarter of a new school year, but for you reading this, you also made it. You made it to the end of October! Woo hoo! Maybe you made it through the next round of interviews, funding, auditions, payments, applications, trimester, treatments, or tournaments. But we all made it to today! God was with me every step. He was with you, too (whether you knew it or not). Let’s take a sec to thank Him.
How often do we pray for things, and when God answers those prayers just move onto other prayers? I mean, it is a new quarter with a whole new set of choices, situations, and opportunities. When things are going smoothly, do we just enjoy the ride? Or stop to praise God for how He’s minimized the bumps or gotten us over them? I don’t want to gloss over God’s goodness, His faithfulness. I don’t want to forget. I want to take time to let all the ways God loves us sink in.
God is constantly at work in our lives--blessing us with this and providing us with that. It’s important (and Biblical) to pause. Relect. And give thanks. When we do, it’s mind boggling to see all the ways God has been there. Giving thanks reminds us who God is, how He loves us, and that the promises of the Bible--that Jesus will never leave us (Matthew 28:20), has plans for our futures (Jeremiah 29:11), knows every hair on our head (Luke 12:7), that nothing can separate us from His love (Romans 8:38-39)--they’re all true. If we’re intentional about thanking God for knowing what’s best for us and providing exactly what we need, it changes our mindset, it reduces worry. And the next time we face a struggle or challenge, it’s so much easier to recall that God is faithful. What He’s done before, He can do again.
Today I’m so thankful that even though my freshman son had never run on a team before, he thrived and made amazing friends running Cross Country (read more about that blessing here). I’m grateful that despite the kids’ busy schedules, my husband and I still found creative ways to have date nights this fall. I’m blessed beyond belief by my daughter whose awesome personality fills our home with joy and laughter even after a hectic or stressful day. I’m grateful for priceless phone calls and visits with my older daughter who now lives in Tennessee that allow us to stay connected and share life together. I’m filled with gratitude for the precious moments I’ve gotten with my college boy as a result of him living at home. Once I get started I could go on and on.
What are you thankful for today? What has God done to get you here? What has He provided you with? What people has He put in your path? What ways has He delighted you (a bright blue sky? Unexpectedly bumping into a friend? A deer bounding across your path?) Pause right now and thank Him.
God doesn’t need a thank you, but He does ask us to thank Him. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 instructs us: Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Why does God ask us to give thanks? Not for Him, but to help us. When we pause to remember God’s goodness, His abundance, His faithfulness, how personal and powerful He is, our future feels less concerning, our fears less scary, our stress level less intense, our mood more joyful. We can exhale and see God’s provision and protection around us. Psychologists have discovered that thankfulness makes people happier, improves our health, helps us build relationships, and deal with adversity. What do you know? God is really onto something. Turns out gratitude is good for us.
As we enter into the Thanksgiving season will you join me on a gratitude journey? I’m planning on daily* posting on Facebook and Instagram something I’m grateful for and tagging it #gratitudejourney. I’m doing this to remind myself of God’s goodness and to embrace this abundant life He’s provided. My prayer is that if we all join in, that not only can we increase our faith and joy, but that we can also increase the faith and joy of those around us. Are you in? Let’s start right now. What are you thankful for?
The Thankfulness Project
Due to crazy schedules and me skimming too fast through one too many emails my youngest and I pulled up to his school for basketball tryouts the other night. “Hmm,” I said. “I wonder why there aren’t any cars here.”
“Yeah, kind of strange,” he answered. “We are kinda early.”
I checked my phone. “Six minutes early.”
We got out of the car walked to the door, and you already know the scenario, the door was locked. No one was there.
I texted another mom and scrolled through emails. Pretty sure I did this simultaneously, which might be how we’d ended up here in the first place. Yes, there was a coach’s meeting tonight. No, there weren’t tryouts. Yes, there were tryouts for an elite team at a different place tonight, but those were not the tryouts we were trying to attend. Total mom fail. Although my son shrugged it off as we got back in our car, I knew he’d gotten mentally and emotionally ready for tryouts. There’s an adrenaline surge of excitement and nervousness no matter your skill level or what you’re auditioning for. It was a chilly evening and he’d had to change into basketball clothes and ride to the next town for absolutely nothing. When we got home he said, “Thanks for bringing me home.”
Ummm. “You’re welcome.” I couldn’t stifle my laughter. “Do you think I would have left you at the tryouts I thought you had, but weren’t real?”
He laughed, too. “No. But thanks for coming straight home, and for taking me in the first place.”
This kid is too much. He is honestly the most grateful person I know. This has nothing to do with parenting and everything to do with the kind spirit God has placed inside of him. This is the same boy who has said, “Thank you for letting me make dinner tonight.” As in him. Cooking for our family. And then thanking me. No lie. He oozes gratitude. Not surprisingly, he’s also one of the happiest people I know.
Does thankfulness equal joy?
There’s research that makes it sound like that’s true. Brene Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston who studies courage, vulnerability, shame and empathy, wanted to know why some people were content with their lives, while others were not. She conducted thousands of interviews trying to discover what makes a wholehearted person. “Wholehearted living,” she says, “is about cultivating the courage, compassion, and connection to wake up in the morning and think, No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough.” These people had joy.
Do you know what she found? Every single person who made it to her “wholehearted” list practices gratitude on a regular basis. Meaning, they don’t just say, “thank you” when the barista hands them their pumpkin spiced latte, but they daily, intentionally, take time to mentally note things they can be thankful for.
I think Brene is pretty rockstar, if you haven’t watched her Ted Talks or read her books, do that and soon, but there’s a source I deem much higher than Brene, higher than any other source, the Bible. And the Bible repeatedly instructs us to be thankful.
Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. —1 Thessalonians 5:18
As we enter into November and pumpkin pies and pilgrims, are we focused on which family we’ll see when and what dish we need to prepare for Thanksgiving, or are we actually taking time to be thankful?
My son has to practice basketball. Dribbling and shooting aren’t part of his daily life, unless he intentionally goes out to the garage, grabs the ball, and takes time to practice. No one else in our family plays this game. So for Maguire, this means motivating himself, dribbling up and down our cul de sac when it’s chilly outside, shooting over and over when there’s no one else to play with. The same is true for gratitude. We aren’t going to just “be thankful” unless we intentionally set aside time or habits that enable us to appreciate all we have.
Where do we start? A lot of people say grace or a prayer before they eat. Do you do this? Before every meal? Even a Starbucks scone on the fly? Even at a business dinner with clients? You could start by thanking God for every single meal, regardless, for having food, any food, when so many people in the world are literally starving, for crunchy apples the colors of fall leaves, and warm, hearty soup on a chilly day. It’s an easy place to start.
How about as a family with daily prayers? Could you all go around and say one thing you’re thankful for? Before you start your day? Before you go to bed? Both? This holds you all accountable to one another. At least once a day, even the grumpiest family member with the lousiest stuff going on can practice finding something they’re thankful for. And when we say it out loud, “Thank you God for cozy blankets or a stunning sunrise this morning,” all of a sudden, we realize we truly are grateful.
A thankful list or journal is a brilliant way, for all you planner-obsessed, list-making, color-coded folks out there (raises hand). Create a separate journal or pad of paper where you write down at least five things, or ten things, or twenty, up to you, you’re grateful for each day. Make the time consistent—when the kids get on the bus, when you arrive in the office, when you park your car in the parking lot, but before you get out—whatever time of day you can both make it fit into your schedule and it will help mentally prepare you for what’s next.
Maybe none of these ideas make sense for you, but your morning drive time would be ideal, or your lunch break, or you’d like to put up a sticky note on your mirror each day with something you’re thankful for, or change your screen saver to “Give thanks in all circumstances!” so that every time you pick up your phone, you’re reminded to thank God for something. You don’t have to limit yourself to being grateful at these set times, but scheduled times, just like brushing your teeth before you go to bed, makes it part of your routine.
Today, I’m sick. I don’t know what hit me, but I feel like my head is in a way too tight helmet and like I could sleep until Christmas. But I am so grateful. Grateful my kids are old enough to feed and dress themselves, so I don’t have to worry about their basic needs. Grateful my husband brought a rich, chocolate muffin and steaming, coffee up to me in my bed. Thankful for vitamin C packets that give my immune system a boost. Grateful I could sleep in and wear sweats, because there is only one place I had to be all day, you guessed it, actual basketball tryouts.
Throughout November, I’m going to provide a place for us to practice gratitude together for anyone who’d like to get into this habit. It is proven to bring us joy, and more importantly to please God. I’ll use #thankfulnessproject to organize the posts. I’d love for you to check out my Facebook and Instagram daily to join in. But let’s start right now. What’s one thing you’re grateful for?
How to Change the World
“Who here is a library nerd?” John Wood asked the crowd at the Center for Social Entrepreneurship at Miami University last week. Not only did I raise my hand, but I was all in. Because I may be the BIGGEST library nerd. I am a lover of books, a collector of stories. I want to read every classic, every new series my kids pick up, every book my friends recommend. I want to read them all and learn and get carried away and discover new friends, places, and perspectives. I am a reader and a writer and a storyteller. Words and books are my very pulse.
But one seventh of humanity can neither read nor write. They don’t have access to books, any books, let alone books in their own languages, books that teach literacy. But founder of Room to Read, John Wood is changing that. The man famous for his book, Leaving Microsoft to Change the World, was on a trekking trip in the Himalayas when he was challenged by a native schoolmaster, “Perhaps sir, you will some day come back with books.” Something inside John was stirred. Deeply. He left his high-paying executive position at Microsoft despite being repeatedly asked by his peers, “Are you crazy?” and has since reached 10 million kids. Ten million! That is world changing.
John believes every child should have the right to be educated, that just because they were born in Nepal or Sri Lanka doesn’t have to mean they lost the lottery when it comes to their future. Every child? Now that’s a bold goal. Bold goals are one of the lessons John says he has learned leads to success.
Are you being bold in your goals today? Because I know I’ve let some of mine slip. I have big dreams and God-inspired ideas. I have talks I’m itching to give, books I crave to publish, blogs I want to write, lives I hope to touch, people I long to remind that they are marvelously created by the ultimate Creator, and therefore they are a-ma-zing! But some of my grandiose dreams get lost in to-do lists, get squelched by rejections, get buried in the ins and outs of daily life. Sometimes I’m checking boxes, getting back on the treadmill, doing what I’ve always done. Sometimes I tell myself I’m doing all I can, but that’s not true. And it’s not enough. It’s not.
I’m not saying God calls us to grind ourselves to the quick. But He does challenge us to get going, get moving, get doing for Him. He has His hands on all of us, for something special. What’s the special thing God is urging you to do? The God who came up with the original designs for volcanoes and invented thunderstorms is not wimpy. He’s not a half-way kind of guy.
He doesn’t want me or you to be either. God strengthens us and empowers us and gives us these dreams, and He expects us to boldly chase them.
The question is, what are you going to do with yours? What has God put on your heart that you’ve been tinkering around with, dipping your toes in the water? It’s time to dive in head first. To be bold. As John Wood says, “Bold goals attract bold people.” And they do. Will people tell you, “no”? Of course. Will obstacles get in your way? Most definitely. Will God part the Red Sea, tumble the walls of Jericho, turn water into wine—make crazy, awesome, amazing, huge things happen that are supposed to happen when you are faithful to His call. Absolutely. So be bold today, and together, we too, can change the world.
What bold dreams are on your heart? What are you going to do with them?
STUCK IN A RUT
You've got to get yourself together. You're stuck in a rut. And you can't get out of it.
Ever feel that itch, that urge, that tug inside to change something? It could be your scenery, your haircut, maybe you crave a new identity, even a new phone cover would help at this point. Ever been bored, or exhausted or numb, from your current set of circumstances?
Maybe you just finished up your school year and you’re not sure what summer has in store for you. Or the school year seems to be dragging out thanks to all the snow days this past winter.
Well, you don’t need to be Jason Bourne and grab a different passport from your safety deposit box to jazz things up. But it is up to you to get out of your rut. Sitting around wishing things would change won’t do the trick.
Now some of you change your address or hair color as often as others of us change our socks. To you, there’s no need to make drastic changes, you already do that, daily. But for the rest of us there’s something refreshing, maybe even daring about trying something new. Summer can be a lazy time to fall into old routines, OR a chance to change your perspective and relight your inner spark. It’s up to you. Which one is it going to be?
Here are a few ideas to get jump-started:
What about you? Any other ideas on how to spice things up?
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 2 Corinthians 5:17
I recently had a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle marathon with a six-year old. Granted I knew who the turtles were, some kind of super heroes who ate pizza and shouted, “Cowabunga!” But, I’d never actually watched an episode.
The thing about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is—they mutate.
Leonardo, Raphael, Donatello and Michelangelo began as four ordinary turtles in the sewer system of New York City, but after coming in contact with OOZE they mutated into these cool ninja-like heroes and were named after Italian painters. But the problem with OOZE is it doesn’t always have positive effects.
There is an episode (trust me, I watched eight in a row) where the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles mutate into creepish, monster-like versions of themselves. Instead of bringing peace they bring destruction. Instead of working together (“turtle power”) they attack one another.
I find myself mutating sometimes too. I don’t have to come in contact with TGRI (the chemical nickname for the OOZE) to turn into a monstrous version of myself. All it takes is something small and quirky. It might be the train gates clanging shut just as I approach, followed by the longest cargo train ever crossing the tracks to mutate me from my smiley self to an impatient grouch. Or if I spill my dark roast with mocha down the front of my white shirt, I mutate from feeling stylin’ to feeling like an ugly beast and growling a bit for good measure. If I hear a friend has been talking behind my back, I mutate into someone with a hole in my gut, who snaps and says unkind things in return.
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles needed fragments of Vortex Crystal to stabilize their mutations. I need The Word.
Snub evil and cultivate good; run after peace for all you’re worth 1 Peter 3: 11
I read that, and I’m a bit less monstrous. I feel more comfortable in my own shell and don’t’ feel the need to bad-talk those who have bad-talked me.
OR Our God gives you everything you need, makes you everything you’re to be
2 Thessalonians 1:2
And then I’m less grouchy, less negative and less worried if I’m late for a meeting or have dark brown spots down my blouse.
God’s Word reminds me I am not alone, I am loved, I am capable, God will give me strength and stand by my side. I can breathe deeply, shake it off, cross the tracks, take a sip and walk proud, knowing I am stabilized.
Only the Vortex Crystal can save the turtles? What stabilizes you?
HOW TO UNLOCK POTENTIAL
I recently went to see Snow Patrol play at a dated club in Cincinnati that holds about 1000 people. Let’s just say the last time I’d been to Bogart’s was when I was in college, and my friends and I were jamming to Royal Crescent Mob.
The place hadn’t changed a bit – not even the sticky concrete floors or the stench of stale beer or the dated wood paneling.
Half way through the show the band played their song, “Run”, and at the chorus the entire audience began chanting along with the lead singer, Gary Lightbody, “Light up light up as if you have a choice - even if you cannot hear my voice.” Bogart’s echoed with the inspiring lyrics. Goosebumps ran up my arms. For a moment, everybody in the crowded club shared something. From the stage I could see Lightbody’s eyes well up with tears. He drew his hand to his chest and at the end of the chorus shouted, “Bless your hearts.”
This is a band who has recorded and released five albums. This is the band who opened for U2 in their last tour, playing for stadiums full of tens of thousands of people, but that night, at a teeny, grungy club in Southern Ohio they were reminded they had potential. People identified with their music, sang their songs.
Potential. We all have it. We just need to be reminded every now and then.
Our God gives you everything you need. Makes you everything you’re to be.
2 Thessalonians 1:2
No matter where we are in the pursuit of our dreams, sketching out our plans or riding high in the rafters, we have days of discouragement, “no’s”, dings and doors slammed in our faces. But one fan singing along is all it takes to keep us going.
Who do you need to encourage today? Who do you know who doesn’t see their potential, but might, if only you pointed it out?
Laura L. Smith