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Posts Tagged ‘being thankful’

It is a grey Sunday afternoon, in the middle of our strict, Sydney lockdown. I sit at the table in our living room, idly wondering what to do next. I have various options, but I am too unmotivated to take any of them up. Instead, I sit and stare, almost frozen into inaction. It is as if those restrictions in the world outside our four walls are reaching inside me too, shutting down my heart and mind and restricting any creative thoughts I may have.

I take a deep breath and, as I do, the first few words of Psalm 23, read again recently, come to mind.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul.

My soul does indeed feel a little weary right now. Day after day, we hear news of ever-growing numbers of COVID cases in our city. Week after week, we cannot go to visit family members. And, one by one, events I was looking forward to participating in or speaking at are cancelled.

Yet, as I sit there in the silence, I hear God’s gentle but insistent whisper. Look around you, Jo-Anne. Look at all you have and be thankful!

I gather my thoughts together and try to focus. My eyes settle first on some things right in front of me on the table. I see an excellent, helpful book I am reading, while next to it lies a pen and a book of crossword puzzles. I love words—and I love challenging myself to work out the answers to those rather cryptic clues. And there is my steaming cup of tea too, along with a buttered scone—simple, heart-warming pleasures. Yes, Lord, I truly am grateful for each of these things and the joy they are giving me right now.

I lift my eyes then and notice my precious, old piano, inherited from my grandparents, with its lid up and some music open, as if waiting to be brought to life. Even as I glance across at it, so many memories come flooding back of hours playing this same piano in my grandparents’ home as a child. And I know God is reminding me to be so thankful for these memories—and for that fact that I can still play and enjoy doing so.

My eyes continue to roam around the room. I see comfortable lounge chairs, a TV, family photos and some precious, little possessions in a nearby china cabinet. The room is warm on this cold afternoon and I glance up at our very effective reverse cycle air conditioner. Once again, I hear that whisper in my spirit. Look at all you have, Jo-Anne—and be thankful.

Then I gaze out through our balcony doors to the shrubs and trees beyond, their various shapes etched against the sky. They look so green and vibrant, even on this dull day, and remind me that, whatever is happening everywhere right now, God’s natural world out there is so still amazingly beautiful.

Yes, Lord, despite everything, I know you are still watching over me, still caring about me, still longing to lead me and to restore my soul. You are my faithful, ever-present shepherd—and I am so thankful.

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Jo 12I love my old car. It is a 1999 model Ford Fairmont that has done quite a few kilometres—over 255,000 in fact! No doubt it chews up more petrol than a small, newer car would—but it requires only a gentle touch on the steering wheel to point it where I want to go and it still soars up those hills like a bird.

Sadly, however, little things have begun to go wrong with it. The numbers and symbols on the dashboard telling me what setting the air-con is on stopped working a while back. The remote unlocks the boot, but refuses to either lock or unlock the car itself. And (ahem) certain parts of the car do not lock properly at all anymore! I can live with all that, but I found it hard on a long trip recently when my poor old car refused to warm up inside at all, so that I arrived at my speaking engagement in a slightly frozen state!

As I drove home afterwards, I suspect it was God who reminded me how, back when our children were young, we had no car air-conditioning at all and no fancy numbers and symbols on the dashboard. To cool ourselves, we wound the windows down. To warm up, we wore jumpers. And we certainly didn’t own a remote to lock and unlock the car. Yet now I took for granted and felt entitled to a car that could deliver so much more.

Then it dawned on me to wonder whether God was also pointing out other things I had taken for granted that day—like the fact that I had been invited to speak somewhere at all; or the fact that I was able to drive myself there—and through such beautiful countryside; or the fact that my ability to speak and to thoroughly enjoy doing so comes from God anyway. How grateful I needed to be for all these things—and so very much more!

But then I started to ask myself some even more serious questions. What if I had I begun to take God for granted in my life in general? Had I come to presume too much on God’s grace and patience and long-suffering towards me each day? Was I treating God in too cavalier a fashion, listening only when I felt I needed to, instead of staying in that place of intimacy? Had I forgotten how much I need to thank God for the many blessings poured out on me in all sorts of ways over the years?

I think I need to remember well that recent cold drive to my speaking engagement. I don’t want to take anything in my life for granted, but instead thank God each day with a grateful heart for all I have been given.

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs. Know that the Lord is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations. Psalm 100

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I wonder if you have experienced how good it is at times to turn from an extremely focused, brain intensive task to a job that requires little thought on your part. We can bemoan how these boring jobs waste our precious time—or at least, that’s what I caught myself doing one day this past week. I had much more important things to do, I grumbled, like preparing for some upcoming talks I’m giving, like cooking, like—well, like actually writing for a change. That would be good, seeing I am a writer!

Still grumbling, I spread out all the paraphernalia for my two easy rote jobs needing to be done, ready to begin my first task—sticking white labels on the back of about three hundred business cards, in order to let customers know about my new website, www.soulfriend.com.au, set up specifically for my new non-fiction book.  I didn’t want to waste the cards I have, so had decided to try this option. Over and over, I removed labels and stuck them on, getting into quite a rhythm in the process.

My second task had a few other components to it. It involved folding five different greeting cards produced by a friend, collecting one of each and placing all five together in a cellophane packet, along with five envelopes, then sealing the packet by ripping off a strip of very light plastic from the top and folding a flap down. Easy really—and again I worked out a kind of system. Except the light plastic strips had a very annoying way of clinging to my fingers and refusing to be shaken off, whatever I did!

But somewhere in the midst of all these mundane tasks, something happened inside me. I began to realise a few things. And I began to suspect they were in fact little lessons my heavenly Father might want me to take note of. Firstly, how thankful I needed to be, I realised, that I actually have a business card and something to advertise! By the grace of God, I now have five published novels and one non-fiction book, plus the ability to speak on a variety of topics. Moreover, how thankful I needed to be for my website itself! One of our daughters had carefully guided me through setting this up—a huge gift and help to me. As well, most of the information on mentoring and spiritual direction/spiritual friendship I was able to include there had come from the many different experiences and resources God has brought my way over the years. I had been given much, I realised—and I needed to share it.

As for my friend’s packs of greeting cards, I began to see again what a privilege it was to do this small task for her. She has gone overseas to a hard place to share the good news with others—what was I doing, sitting in my lounge room complaining? Besides, I have had some lovely conversations with people as I have sold these cards alongside my books in many different venues in recent years. I needed these firm reminders from God, I realised, to set my thinking straight and to gain God’s perspective once again.

Do you perhaps need similar reminders right now too?

Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done. Sing to him, sing praise to him; tell of all his wonderful acts. Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice. Look to the Lord and his strength, seek his face always. Remember the wonders he has done … Psalm 105:1-5a

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I confess I’m a ‘glass half empty’ person. Sadly, I have to admit I focus on how much more water has to be poured into that glass before it is full rather than how much it already contains. And sadly, in the process, I suspect I miss out on much of the joy and encouragement God has for me in that moment.

An almost too clear example of this occurred this week when my husband and I celebrated our wedding anniversary—our forty-third! We decided we would head to a nearby Club for dinner. As we entered, my husband showed his membership card and was given a special ticket to put in a nearby barrel. Apparently, at 7.00pm, a name was to be drawn from this barrel and some lucky person would be given the chance to win up to two hundred dollars by spinning a small ‘chocolate wheel’.

Well, we didn’t think much about it after that. We rarely enter such competitions and of course don’t tend to win anything as a result! But as we were finishing our main course, we heard someone loudly calling out my husband’s name. Lionel made his way to the wheel, spun it—and won fifty dollars!

What a neat thing to happen on our wedding anniversary! My husband quickly pocketed the fifty dollars, commenting it would almost cover the cost of our meal, including drinks. Needless to say, I was delighted. But then … well, then that ‘glass half empty’ side of my personality kicked in with a vengeance.

‘That’s great you won fifty dollars,’ I told my poor husband, ‘but it would have been even better if we’d won the two hundred dollars—or even the hundred dollars!’

My husband looked at me a little stunned but just smiled. He was still basking in the glory of winning fifty dollars. But then, as we waited for our dessert to arrive, something—or perhaps Someone—prompted me to think about my response. Instead of rejoicing over our totally unexpected fifty dollar windfall and the fact that our meal would now cost almost nothing, I had felt peeved that we had missed out on even more money!

At that point, I felt ashamed of myself and my miserly response—but I almost laughed out loud at myself too. How crazy to spoil the joy of the moment by wishing something even better had happened!

‘Well, I think I showed tonight how much of a “glass half empty” person I am,’ I commented.

My husband agreed—a little too readily for my liking! But I couldn’t argue. After all, it was our wedding anniversary.

Since then, this whole event has caused me to reflect in general on my response to God’s gracious acts of kindness in my life—and everything else I enjoy from God’s hand on a daily basis. How often do I ignore what I have and selfishly wish for more, instead of responding with a heart full of thanks? Surely my thoughts and words need to take the same line as Paul’s do in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18:

Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

How about you? Are you a ‘glass half empty’ or a ‘glass half full’ person? Do you think one honours God more than the other?

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