Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Sacrifice of Praise on Thanksgiving

Heading into the holiday season this year, my kids have been a bit melancholy. Grandparents and aunties are all out of town for Thanksgiving, and many will be gone for Christmas, too. They are feeling lonely, missing family and friends we won't see during this special time. And it is hard. Ours is a very close-knit family, sharing life very intimately. So, when people aren't around, their absence is keenly felt. Adding to the disappointment is our diet...Thanksgiving just isn't the same on the GAPS mashed potatoes, no flaky pie crust, no jellied cranberry sauce, no fluffy stuffing, no fresh-from-the-oven get the idea.

And, our house won't be bursting at the seams with people. It isn't unusual to have groups of over twenty crowding around our dining room table, filling our home with laughter and gaiety. This year, however, we'll only have five guests (that's still fifteen people, but only five don't live at our house), and that is making folks feel kind of lonely.

Because of the GAPS diet, we won't be going Black Friday shopping, either. We simply don't have the money. That is disappointing...very disappointing.

As I was visiting with one particular child, however, we both remembered family and friends who are missing loved ones, and this is the first time to celebrate birthdays, Thanksgiving, and Christmas without their precious husband, father, sister, or brother. That gave us a little bit of perspective.

Then we thought about families who are separated because of the ongoing war on terror. Military families can visit via Skype or Apple FaceTime, which is better than nothing, but they are still separated by thousands of miles. And, they have no guarantee that their loved one will be alive for their next scheduled visit. That gave us even more perspective.

And we've been loving on a family who is homeless, with virtually nothing but the clothes on their backs. They won't be going Black Friday shopping, either. They barely have the money to pay for gas. Without the generosity of strangers, they won't have any gifts for Christmas, either. Even more perspective...

Those healthy doses of perspective adjusted our thinking a bit. Though we won't be enjoying the sweet fellowship of parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles, we have the hope of celebrating with them again in the near future. And though our situation isn't what we'd prefer, it is definitely worth being thankful for!

Hebrews 13:15 describes bringing a sacrifice of praise to God continually. To a people very familiar with the sacrificial system, the picture would have been very clear...praise isn't always easy. It isn't always simple. It isn't always a result of feelings. Sometimes, praise is a sacrifice! Habakkuk 3:17-18 says, 

"Even though the fig trees have no blossoms,
and there are no grapes on the vines;
even though the olive crop fails,
and the fields lie empty and barren;
even though the flocks die in the fields,
and the cattle barns are empty,
yet I will rejoice in the LORD!
I will be joyful in the God of my salvation!" NLT

That is most definitely a sacrifice of praise. And it comes from focusing on something beyond our circumstances. It comes from focusing on the God of our salvation. And truly, nothing is more praise-worthy, nothing is more precious, nothing is more worth celebrating than the God of our salvation!

So, on this day before Thanksgiving, I am choosing to offer a sacrifice of praise to the God of my salvation, thanking Him for my family, even though my parents, sister, and only niece are miles and miles away. I thank God for the guests who will surround our table, even if we have just a few. I will thank God for the privilege of celebrating such a precious holiday without fear of reprisal or attack, and I will thank God for those who are standing in harm's way so that I can. I will thank God for the blessings we enjoy, and for the special treats we'll have on our table tomorrow, even though ours is a very different holiday. In the end, I choose to offer a sacrifice of praise, because I have so very much to be thankful for.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Worst. Day, Ever.

Last Friday was truly the worst day ever. But it wasn't the circumstances that made the day so horrible; it was my response to them.

Days before I had suffered an epic disappointment, made worse by the pain that disappointment caused my daughter. And I was tired. Caring for special needs kids, especially kids with "hidden disabilities," is exhausting. The burdens and struggles, day in and day out, wear you down. And, I had just begun to understand the depth of my mental exhaustion. Normally a pretty laid-back kind of person, I don't generally freak out about anything. Lately, though, I have been freaking out about every. little. thing. Driving in a new place completely stressed me out; I had never experienced that emotion before. I didn't like it. 

So, I cried. For a long time. But not until I had spewed my hurt, frustration, and disappointment on my husband. He listened patiently while I spewed, comforted me while I cried, and generally did an amazing job taking care of me. 

For my part, as I cried and vented, it was like a dam burst. Every negative thing I had experienced came to mind. The glass was definitely half (or three-quarters) empty. Not my usual pattern, even feeling that way frustrated me. It was truly a no-win situation. 

And then God met me, in the midst of my despair. And He demonstrated the truth of His promise in 2 Timothy 2:13, that even if I am faithless, He remains faithful. I experienced that. 

Ultimately, God is good. Period. Not because He makes my life "feel" good. Not because He protects me from disappointment or heartache. God is good because He is. He just is.

Sometimes trusting God requires more faith than other times. Sometimes it is easy. But His goodness is not dependent on my circumstances. His goodness is dependent on His character. And His character can be completely trusted. You may disagree with me, thinking back over your own heartbreaking story of God's apparent unfaithfulness. Let me say now that I'm sorry you've experienced such heartache and pain. But your circumstances still don't define the character of God. His goodness can not be called into question because your life hasn't been what you wanted it to be. God's goodness certainly can not be called into question because my life hasn't been what I wanted it to be, but I can tell you for certain it has not been. 

If my life was what I wanted it to be, I would never experience disappointment.
I would never be lonely, or sad, or hungry, or tired, or uncomfortable. But without all those experiences, I would never be the person God has made me to be. The process, just like for a butterfly or baby chick, isn't easy or comfortable, but it is very, very good.

And so, my worst day ever turned into a pretty amazing experience of seeing God's faithfulness in spite of me.