When Being Thankful Seems Hard

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If you look back on my last few posts, you’ll discover a pattern.

I’ve woven the word steal into my text a few times.

In the article I wrote for FullFill Magazine I used the word rob–same thing.

My point was to help us realize that nothing can rob our joy or steal our thankfulness.

I mentioned in Don’t Let Them Steal Thanksgiving (part 1) and Don’t Let Them Steal Thanksgiving (part 2) that in the world of advertising and retail–the focus is to get our attention on the next best thing to buy and they zip right past Thanksgiving and into Christmas often before the end of October.

I’m a true fan of Thanksgiving.  It’s a holiday that isn’t surrounded by purchasing gifts and commercialism.

For me Thanksgiving means gathering the family around the table, with a delicious spread of food, conversation, laughter and love.  When I sit back and enjoy the day, all I have to do is look at the people who are sharing it with me and give thanks.

However I realize that for some this whole season, beginning in November through the end of December, is the hardest time of year to make it through.

Recently I spoke to a woman who is contemplating divorce.  She has a fractured family and her pain runs deep.  The Norman Rockwell images of family and home can haunt a person in her circumstances especially at this time of year.

My husband knows a young man who lost his father at the tender age of 15 mo. and struggles in a difficult relationship with his mother.  His feelings of loss and abandonment are real and they intensify starting in mid-November.

Some people are separated from family by miles and can’t make it home.  Some are estranged from family for various reasons.

Those who have lost loved ones, during this season, carry that reminder with them every year while trying to wear a smile.  A loved one’s passing (at anytime of the year) can create a deeper void during the holidays.

I’ve heard people gloss over others’ pain with the trite remark, “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle,” as if somehow those words are ointment that can heal a wound.

First of all that statement cannot be found anywhere in the Bible.  This imperfect world sometimes gives us more than we can handle and if we rely on “The God doesn’t give us more than we can handle” theology then the question becomes “how am I going to handle this?”  The emphasis is put on I.  That sort of ointment doesn’t work.

So what works?  The healing ointment of grace and mercy from Jesus–that works.

Jesus Himself told us, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)  He said we would have trouble not that we might have trouble.

His overcoming power is available to help us through any obstacle, hardship or painful situation and that’s something we can always be thankful for.

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When we are weak He is strong.  That’s what 2 Corinthians 12:9 tells us.  In other words, when we tell the Lord that WE CAN’T HANDLE IT–whatever IT is–that opens up the connection for His resurrection power to flow.

That’s the key.  It’s how we lean and how we wait during the blackest of days that gets us through them.  Leaning on God, waiting on Him and looking for even the tiniest things to give thanks for restores hope and joy.

If we keep seeking Him through prayer–even when we doubt that he is there–even with our questions–our load becomes lighter, because in the seeking and the waiting we start expecting.

We become expectant for the arrival of an answer, a direction, a change in us, a change in circumstances, and just plain help.  Whatever form it takes, it will come and we start believing that truth while we seek and wait.

Sometimes taking a look back at our lives helps.  Pause for a moment in that place that seemed dark at one time.  It’s good to recall how God took the ashes (adversities) and made something beautiful out of them.  This practice always helps me when I’m in a troubling season, because it reminds me that what He did once He will do again.

In Isaiah 61 He promises a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.

So this Thanksgiving I hope that we can all find something that we are thankful for even if it’s just giving thanks that God has seen us through difficult days before and He will do it again.

Written by: Nancy Janiga ©2014

Are you wearing your new clothes today?

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I’m grateful and deeply humbled to lead you to Fullfill Magazine for today’s post.  They chose an article that I wrote titled “New Clothes” for their on-line publication.   You can read my article at  http://issuu.com/fullfill/docs/exits_fallwinter14_final/24?e=1170081/10192276

If you are new to pens and journals, you are welcome to look through my archived posts and for those of you who visit me often here–THANK YOU for your support, encouragement and many kind words–I love and appreciate all of you!

Nancy

Don’t Let Them Steal Thanksgiving (part 2)

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How do we give thanks in a culture that continues to tell us we’re not enough, we don’t have enough, and that our self-worth is only measured by all that is external?

Thankfulness can often be stolen from us, not only as we navigate through the retail stores during the month of November, but during any month.

You only have to glance at the magazines lining every check-out in every supermarket.

The messages that we’re hit in the eyes with are how to fix ourselves, our families, our relationships, our houses, our diets, our hair, our skin, our figures, our finances and how to have the best, be the best, want the best and never rest until we get the best.

Whoa!  Put on the brakes.

If we buy into all those plastered/plastic messages sprawled across the media, the advertisements, the displays or we get pulled into the enticements at the magazine counters how will we ever be thankful right here; right now?

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As I count down the days to Thanksgiving, I’ve been purposely keeping my focus off of the commercialism that begins this season and all the other messages I’m hit with at every checkout counter.

Before I start focusing on Christmas (too early) I’ve tried to cultivate an attitude of gratitude and finding one thing to give thanks for daily.

Often that one thing leads to many more things but concentrating on one is a great place for me to start.

One of the benefits of giving thanks daily is that the by-product of thankfulness is JOY.

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You can’t give thanks and be discontented, downcast or distracted at the same time and you really can’t give thanks and be depressed or angry either.

The out working of a thankful heart is always JOY and it’s deeply rooted in being aware of the blessings from God and it’s not dependent on circumstances.

Even in the middle of undesirable circumstances we can still have JOY.

Maybe that’s why 1 Thessalonians 5:18 tells us to give thanks in all circumstances.

As an overwhelming sense of gratitude works its way in and through our lives, we’re often moved to give thanks in new and unique ways to God.

A few of the ways we can offer thanks is through worship, by our lifestyle, by telling others about what God has done and is doing in our lives and by giving generously.

I don’t think there’s a better way of giving thanks to God for all He has given to us than by giving to others…in time, talent, resources, or other ways we may feel led to reach out to someone in need.

After all, we’re told in Matthew 25:40 that whatever we do to the least of these we’re doing it to Jesus.

When I concentrate on the simple truth that everything that I have belongs to God, and that I’m just a steward of all of it–even my very life–I’m more ready to loosen my grip and give to others.

So as I cultivate an attitude of gratitude in the days leading up to Thanksgiving, I’ve also included a simple prayer–Lord, who is it that you want me to help this season?

I pray my simple gesture (to whomever God leads me to this year) will have a ripple effect and that they would see it coming from the hand of God and offer thanks to Him.

Then the gift of thanksgiving won’t stop with me but will keep on going…

Written by: Nancy Janiga ©2014

Don’t Let Them Steal Thanksgiving (part 1)

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No sooner the costumes and scarecrows get put away, the last traces of candy vanish and the pumpkins get discarded, no sooner the fall harvest items disappear from store shelves–then all the shiny glitz and adornments for Christmas start appearing.

One by one they start lining shelves.  Sometimes Christmas appears alongside autumn, even before November.

I try to put the blinders on and walk past the displays.  But it’s all there, trying to grab my attention.

So what happened to Thanksgiving?

In the world of retail and advertising I’m sure that the purpose isn’t to conjure up feelings of thankfulness and contentment in us.

The message that seems to bombard us is that more of anything and everything will make us happier.  The message is reach, grab, take, more is better and we’re inclined to think that what we want is what we need.

Frantic, trying to create Christmas, thinking we have to keep up with all of it…well, it can make your head spin.

During this season that’s all about giving thanks, we feel it deep in our bones as the glossy; slick fliers start appearing in our mailboxes.  It’s like a pressure that pushes against us to hurry up.  Hurry up and get things done.

We may even start dreading the holidays when the countdown to Christmas begins and it’s printed in big letters across the pages of advertisements.  There are 50 days left until Christmas, then 49, 48, 47, 46, 45…and on it goes..until we get to 1 more day and then THE day.

Catalogs, magazines, newspapers, oh my!

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Take a deep breath–now let it out.  We don’t have surrender to the pull.  Easier said than done, you say?  I get it.  It’s not easy when we’re surrounded by everything that is telling us what we have to do, buy, be, and become to bring Merry and Bright into our homes.

Our environment is a far cry from the Plymouth settlers when they arrived in the new world in 1620. Arriving just as the cold weather was about to set in, they weren’t prepared for the harsh New England winter.  Half or more of the settlers died.

It was with the help from a tribe of Native Americans, who taught them how to fish, hunt, farm and survive, that they had a bountiful harvest in the fall of 1621 and they celebrated.  Boy did they celebrate…they had a 3 day feast (inviting the natives to join them) and gave thanks to God.  Thanking Him for His provision, bounty and help.  It was the first Thanksgiving day that would eventually become a national holiday.

Giving thanks, for the Plymouth settlers back in 1621, came from a deep place of gratitude to God for sustaining them and giving them a harvest that would carry them through their second winter in the new world.

What they saw coming from the hand of God, we can easily take for granted these days.

We who have supermarkets rarely go hungry but if we look back and reflect over the past year–on the third Thursday of November–I bet we can come up with a pretty comprehensive gratitude list.

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Everyday, not just this month, I’d like to live with a thankful heart…sort of like thanks-living!  Living in thanks but especially this November I’m going to concentrate on not allowing the retailers to steal Thanksgiving from me.

I’m going to try hard not to fall for their traps with the glitter, dazzle, this new gadget and that new thing to make me feel discontented.

We can’t give thanks when we focus on all that we don’t have.

How about you?  Will you join me?  As you look over the past year, what are you most thankful for?

Then tell God.

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.  Psalm 107:1

The more we give thanks the more we feel blessed.

Written by: Nancy Janiga ©2014

He Keeps Weaving ~ We Keep Becoming

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It’s getting cold.

Leaves from the trees are drifting in the wind along with some pretty big snowflakes today.  The once full branches, on the trees, are starting to bare.

The days are getting shorter, the air that once brushed my cheeks with warmth has a chill to it now.

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In the evening as the sun sets, my home becomes a cozy sanctuary.

Wrapping up in a blanket last night, grabbing a book on the table next to me, I thought about my youngest son’s blanket.  The one he once cherished.  It was a gift to him at birth and it became his special blanket through his toddler years.

He slept with it, snuggled with it in the morning while waiting to wipe the last traces of sleep from his eyes.  He carried it around with him most of the day, traveled with it and even ate with it on his lap sometimes.

I have a similar attachment to my blanket too.  Maybe not exactly like my son had but it’s still a special blanket.

My mother made it for me about 15 years ago.

I was with her for a couple of weeks in Florida that year.  It was her first attempt at Swedish weaving and often we’d sit and talk while she worked on it.

At the time, I wasn’t aware that it would one day become mine.

While working the thread through the fabric, one afternoon, she gasped.  A quiet hush fell over the room.  She made a mistake.

Setting the cloth down for a while, thinking about her options to correct the mistake, my mother came to a creative solution.

I let out a sigh–one of relief.

Instead of taking the section apart to start over, she weaved the mistake into the design.

No one will ever notice that, mom.  I assured her.

After she finished that first blanket, she made a couple more.  She gave one to me and the other two were given to my sisters.

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I received the one with the mistake.  Deep down I was glad that I got that one, because I was with her as she weaved some of it.

For a while I knew exactly where the mistake was.  Now if you asked me to point it out, I wouldn’t be able to find it.

The blanket is one big beautiful piece of art.

I love my blanket.  Not only because my mother made it but because it reminds of God.

Often when I look at it, I remember how God takes everything in my life–the good, the bad, the beautiful the ugly and every mistake I’ve made and is weaving everything together into something beautiful.

Nothing is ever wasted in God’s hands.  Nothing.

Even when we can’t make sense out of life, as questions arise or we are trying to make it through a difficult season, when we wonder how anything good can come from the bad, he weaves it through our lives to give it meaning and purpose.

Some situations may look hopeless but when given to him he creates a wonderful design.

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Did you know that YOU are God’s handiwork, workmanship, masterpiece?

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.  (Ephesians 2:10 NIV)  

For we are God’s masterpiece…(NLT)  

For we are God’s workmanship…(ESV)

The ‘good works’ it speaks of in Ephesians 2:10 stem from our relationship with the Lord and from every circumstance in life–even the pain and sorrow of sin–whether caused by us or caused by others toward us–the truth is we live in an imperfect world where the good resides with the bad and nothing is perfect.  We learn how to help others as God forgives and helps us.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, 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 have received from God.  For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.  (2 Corinthians 1: 3-5 NIV)

Ah…I love that.  Our suffering becomes a gift.  There are certainly experiences that send us running to God for comfort.  It’s often there that we truly experience God.  Then that same comfort overflows from our life into the lives of others.

How else would we know how to comfort people?  That’s why it’s woven in.  Everything is miraculously recycled to become something new.

Every situation in life is working in and working out for our good.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.  (Romans 8:28 NIV) 

He’s working it all together for our good.

Then He takes it a step further:

For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.  (Romans 8: 29)

The ultimate purpose of all our experiences is to transform us into the image of His Son.

As God weaves everything in life together for good to those who love him, we become more like him.

Our life is in process of becoming a perfect whole.  Just like I can’t see the mistake in my blanket anymore, many people won’t see how God weaves our mistakes–and the difficult circumstances in life–together with the good.  They’ll just see what we’re becoming.

We’ll keep being fashioned into the image of Christ and he will be revealed in and through the fabric of our life.

He keeps weaving.  We keep becoming.

Written By:  Nancy Janiga ©2014