Feb 022016
 

lent

Growing up in a liturgical church setting, Lent was a somber time of contemplation.  Ashes crossed foreheads.  The hymn selection on the old pipe organ only included minor, dissonant sounding chords.  Black cloth draped the altar.  Items were given up.  I remember hearing many of my friends complaining about unsingable melodies and the number of services they attended during Holy Week.  While I kept my mouth shut about how I really felt, Good Friday, was actually one of my favorite days of the year.

For a long time, saying so made me feel a little bit guilty and morbid.  Sure I loved watching the sunrise through stained glass windows on Easter and hearing Lutheran voices belting out “He is risen indeed” with more emotion and joy than you’d hear the congregation use all year long.  But what I found equally, if not more, compelling was the quiet reverence and aching sorrow that echoed as each station of the cross was described.  The realness of my sin exposed.  The penalty willingly endured and paid for by Immanuel–God with us.  Even from a young age, I realized that Easter only came through Good Friday.  Both equally necessary for redemption to occur.

Lent in many ways has gotten a bad wrap.  The idea of giving something up for the 40+ days before Easter in some ways has become highly ritualistic and unattached from what the season really is about.  People abstain from certain foods or vices with a desire not to draw closer to God, but to lose weight, be a better person, or even as a way to earn forgiveness.  Others attempt to sacrifice because of a desire to win the approval of man or from a distorted view of obligation.  On the other extreme, Easter in many ways has become a holiday for consumers.  Jelly beans, eggs, and bunnies encourage us to bypass the crucifixion and instead focus on cultural icons tied more closely to sugar and spring than anything else.

The truth is, Lent is about the gospel.  It is…

…a time for us to slow down and focus on the work of Christ.

…a season to repent from sin and trust in His work on the cross. 

….a reminder that the empty tomb only comes through the cross.

…meant to help us prepare ourselves for the joy of the resurrection as we enter into the sorrow and pain that came first.

…a reminder that we live in the “already, but not yet.” 

Lent lasts 40 days excluding Sundays, which makes it about 46 days altogether.  This season, we invite your family to participate in a weekly devotional designed to help prepare your family to celebrate the fullness of what Easter truly is.  Each week, you will participate in a brief scripture reading, discussion, and prayer time.  At the end, you will use candles to remember the darkness of sin and later, the living hope of Easter. Instead of lighting a candle like we might do during Advent, we will extinguish a candle each week as we contemplate the brokenness of sin and Jesus’ journey toward the cross.  During the last week, we will relight all 7 candles as a way to celebrate the promise both of the resurrection and what it ultimately points to—the day when Jesus returns to make all things new. You can pick up a copy of the devotional along with a set of seven tea lights while supplies last at the Crossing Kids registration area.  You can also download the devotional here.

Since Lent may be a new season for you or a season desperately in need of redemption given your past experiences with it, we have provided a list of additional reading that might help you better understand its significance. Please know that we are praying for you as you help your family contemplate and prepare this season.

Dec 032015
 

At last night’s Family Christmas Celebration, we learned that Jesus is God’s greatest gift of generosity to sinners like you and me.  When sin entered the world, it broke our perfect relationship with God and others. Because of this, we need a rescuer/redeemer.  God sent Jesus to be this rescuer/redeemer. He is the greatest gift of all and the real reason we celebrate at Christmas time.  God generously gave us His Son, even while we were sinners.  Understanding God’s great generosity changes how we treat others. We can love, serve, and give to others during this season because God first loved, served, and gave to us.

One way that you can encourage your family to apply what we learned is to create a Generosity Jar.  If you attended the event, you should have left with a copy.  If you were unable to make it, we have extra copies available for pick up on Sunday morning near the Crossing Kids checkin area.  We’ve also included a copy of the instructions below.

 

Generosity Jar
Family Christmas Celebration 2015
Take Home

Introduction
Ask: Have you ever heard of the word “generosity?” What does it mean to be generous? Can you think of a time where someone did or gave something generous to you? Can you think of a time where you were generous to someone else?

Say: When we attended Family Christmas Celebration together, we learned a lot about the word generous. We learned that generosity is giving more of something than what is expected. We learned that Jesus is God’s greatest gift of generosity to sinners like you and me.  Do you remember the memory verse they shared with us? Let’s practice it together now.

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given.
Isaiah 9:6

Generosity Discussion
Ask:  Why was it generous for God the Father to send Jesus to the world? (The world was broken and filled with sinners like you and me. Our relationship with God was broken because we sin, or disobey God with our thoughts, words, and actions. We can’t fix this brokenness on our own. We need God to do it for us.)

How has Jesus been generous to you and me? (He left his throne in heaven and came to our messy, broken world. He lived a perfect life in our place, died, and rose again so that we could have a relationship with him and spend forever in heaven with him if we trust in Him as our Savior. He gives us everything we need. All of the good gifts we have on earth come from him.)

Say: When we understand God’s great generosity to us, it changes how we treat others. We can love, serve, and give to others during this season because God first loved, served, and gave to us. Let’s read a few verses about generosity together now.

1 Chronicles 29:14—But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand.

What does this verse say about generosity? (Everything we have comes from God already. We can only give what he’s first given to us.)

Proverbs 11:25—A generous person will prosper whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.

What does this verse say about generosity? (Being generous doesn’t just bless the person we’re being generous to, it blesses us as well. Being generous takes our eyes off of ourselves/what we want and places it on other people.)

Matthew 6:21—Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and rust do not destroy and where thieves cannot break in and steal. For wherever your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

What does this verse say about generosity? (Our hearts are always connected to what we treasure. When we struggle to give/be generous, it’s likely because our hearts are holding onto something/valuing something too much. Giving generously reminds us that our true treasure is in heaven, not on earth.)

1 John 3:1a—See what great love the Father has lavished* on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are.

1 John 4:19—We love because God first loved us.

What do these verses say about generosity? (God has given so much to us! Because He made us His children/He first loved us, we can love and give generously to others.)

*Note that lavished just means to give generously.

Say: There are three main ways that we can give generously to other people—through our time, through our treasure, and through our talents.

Ask:

What do you think it means to give generously through our time? (Spending our time loving/serving other people.)

What do you think it means to give generously through our treasure? (Using our money or resources to buy or give something to someone else.)

What do you think it means to give generously through our talents? (Using the things we’re good at/gifted at to bless other people.)

Generosity Jar Activity Directions

Say: Tonight we’re going to create a Generosity Jar. In this jar, we will brainstorm ways that we can give generously to others using our time, our treasure, and our talents. We’ll write down these ideas on a slip of paper and place them into the jar. We’ll take some time throughout the month of December to pull these ideas out of the jar and use them as ways to give to others.

Step One: Decorate your jar.

Step Two: Brainstorm/record ideas of ways to give generously. Use the categories time, treasure, and talent, to help you.

Option for Older Kids: Give each child a few slips of paper and have them discuss and write down ideas they have.

Option for Younger Kids: Brainstorm ideas together as a family. Write down the ideas onto the paper for them.

Step Three: Pull slips of paper from the jar throughout the month of December and give generously to others. You can also use the jar to collect spare change to give away at the end of the month.

Pray
God thank you for giving your Son Jesus to us as the greatest, most generous gift of all. Please help us to understand your great generosity to us more and more so that we can love, serve, and give to others this season because you first loved, served, and gave to us. Amen.

*We’d love to see how your family uses your Generosity Jar. Take pictures and share them on our Facebook page this month. https://www.facebook.com/CrossingKids

Dec 012014
 

I can think of many holiday seasons where the idea of baking cookies, watching snow fall, hanging lights, and listening to holiday music felt nothing but appropriate. I’ve also lived through holiday seasons and am currently experiencing one right now that doesn’t feel holly or jolly. The glitz and the glimmer at times feel like they are actively assaulting my soul, taunting me with triteness, reminding me of things I wish weren’t true of my life and circumstances. It’s true that grief doesn’t just surface in places like the doctor’s office or a cemetery. It can lay dormant waiting to pounce in the checkout isle of Target or during a seemingly benign conversation with a coworker. Christmas can trigger nostalgic joy and happy anticipation. It can also trigger a season of amplified loneliness and grief. It can remind us that our life doesn’t measure up to a Norman Rockwell Christmas card or even our own more realistic expectations.

My heart is heavy this holiday season. My days feel anything but merry and bright. I feel like decking my halls in sackcloth. Bearing the weight of deep sadness, disappointment, and fear my lips struggle to mouth the words of the songs my soul desperately needs on Sunday mornings. Sometimes it feels as though I expend more energy fighting tears than anything else right now.

In this season of giving thanks, I’m reminded that even in my pain there is much to be grateful for. Towards the top of my list is a season called Advent. Advent comes from a Latin word that means “coming.” It’s an opportunity to reflect on the humble birth of Christ and the anxious wait of His return in glory. It’s a reminder that we live in between the comings of Christ, the already, but the not yet. During this season, we are reminded that waiting, longing, and angst are very much a part of the Christian life. Just as God’s people and prophets groaned and ached for the Messiah hundreds of years ago, we too groan and ache for Christ to return and make everything sad come untrue.

In his book What Jesus Demands from the WorldJohn Piper writes,

When Jesus demands that we rejoice, he has not forgotten the kind of world we live in. It is filled with suffering…For Jesus the demand for joy is a way to live with suffering and to outlast suffering. Therefore, this joy is serious. It’s the kind you fight for by cutting off your hand (Matt. 5:30) and selling your possessions (Matt. 13:44) and carrying a cross with Jesus to Calvary (Matt. 10:38-39). It has scars. It sings happy songs with tears. It remembers the dark hours and knows that more are coming. The road to heaven is a hard road, but it is not joyless. 

Much of this quote reflects exactly what Advent means to me. Advent is about a deep, serious, abiding joy that doesn’t ignore the pain of life but doesn’t buckle underneath its weight either. It acknowledges the difficulty but continues to trust, hope, and rest in a faithful, loving God. Advent gives me permission to celebrate in the midst of all of my hurt this December. It reminds me that Christmas is at its core about a God who enters into our suffering and pain and keeps His promises. So I will light candles and hang lights and I will sing those happy songs with tears. Just like God’s people many years ago I will wait as they waited and I will long as they longed.

Come Lord Jesus, come redeem us, we will wait for You.

holly

Photo Credit

Feb 252014
 

lent

Growing up in a liturgical church setting, Lent was a somber time of contemplation.  Ashes crossed foreheads.  The hymn selection on the old pipe organ only included minor, dissonant sounding chords.  Black cloth draped the altar.  Items were given up.  I remember hearing many of my friends complaining about unsingable melodies and the number of services they attended during Holy Week.  While I kept my mouth shut about how I really felt, Good Friday, was actually one of my favorite days of the year.

For a long time, saying so made me feel a little bit guilty and morbid.  Sure I loved watching the sunrise through stained glass windows on Easter and hearing Lutheran voices belting out “He is risen indeed” with more emotion and joy than you’d hear the congregation use all year long.  But what I found equally, if not more, compelling was the quiet reverence and aching sorrow that echoed as each station of the cross was described.  The realness of my sin exposed.  The penalty willingly endured and paid for by Immanuel–God with us.  Even from a young age, I realized that Easter only came through Good Friday.  Both equally necessary for redemption to occur.

Lent in many ways has gotten a bad wrap.  The idea of giving something up for the 40+ days before Easter in some ways has become highly ritualistic and unattached from what the season really is about.  People abstain from certain foods or vices with a desire not to draw closer to God, but to lose weight, be a better person, or even as a way to earn forgiveness.  Others attempt to sacrifice because of a desire to win the approval of man or from a distorted view of obligation.  On the other extreme, Easter in many ways has become a holiday for consumers.  Jelly beans, eggs, and bunnies encourage us to bypass the crucifixion and instead focus on cultural icons tied more closely to sugar and spring than anything else.

The truth is, Lent is about the gospel.  It is…

…a time for us to slow down and focus on the work of Christ.

…a season to repent from sin and trust in His work on the cross. 

….a reminder that the empty tomb only comes through the cross.

…meant to help us prepare ourselves for the joy of the resurrection as we enter into the sorrow and pain that came first.

…a reminder that we live in the “already, but not yet.” 

Lent lasts 40 days excluding Sundays, which makes it about 46 days altogether.  This season, we invite your family to participate in a weekly devotional designed to help prepare your family to celebrate the fullness of what Easter truly is.  Each week, you will participate in a brief scripture reading, discussion, and prayer time.  At the end, you will use candles to remember the darkness of sin and later, the living hope of Easter. Instead of lighting a candle like we might do during Advent, we will extinguish a candle each week as we contemplate the brokenness of sin and Jesus’ journey toward the cross.  During the last week, we will relight all 7 candles as a way to celebrate the promise both of the resurrection and what it ultimately points to—the day when Jesus returns to make all things new. You can pick up a copy of the devotional along with a set of seven tea lights while supplies last at the Crossing Kids registration area starting March 2.  You can also download the devotional here.

Since Lent may be a new season for you or a season desperately in need of redemption given your past experiences with it, we have provided a list of additional reading that might help you better understand its significance. Please know that we are praying for you as you help your family contemplate and prepare this season.

Dec 302013
 

Have you ever found yourself singing a familiar melody on December 31 a bit unsure of of what “Auld Lang Syne” is or who exactly we’re supposed to pass a cup of kindness to?  While song lyrics may be lost in translation for many, most people find themselves doing exactly what the song implies.  For however brief a moment, we press pause on our life to take an introspective glance at days gone by.  We remember.  We reflect.  We don’t just stop there, however.  We promise.  We resolve.  We try.  We even try harder.  Yet more often than not, we find ourselves defeated before winter has even given way to spring.  The cynics among us will say, “Why bother?”  The broken places of our hearts and lives might even call out accusations and condemnation.  ”You’re back here again?”  ”You’re still struggling with that?”  As a result, we’re often tempted to despair and give up or fix the problem by pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps and turning to our old friend, “self-discipline.”

So are resolutions good?  Are they bad?  Should we jump on board?  Should we stay clear?  Or are they morally neutral in an of themselves like most created things?  Morally neutral things that can go either way depending on the heart of the person making them and the source they place their hope in?  When I think about reflection and resolutions in my own life, I think of a double edged sword.  One with the potential to do both harm and good to my soul depending on how I answer those questions.  Am I trying to save myself?  Am I looking at this through the lens of the Law or the lens of the Gospel?

The truth is that the message of the Gospel has everything to do with transformation and nothing to do with bootstraps.  The message of the Gospel isn’t about being a better person, but about a dead person being raised to life.  Jesus reminds us in John 15 that He is the vine and we are the branches.  Apart from Him we can do nothing.  Perhaps the greatest question I should be asking myself isn’t what I’m resolving from, but why I feel this strong desire to change and who I’m ultimately placing my trust in.

Here are a few posts that flush out this idea far more eloquently than I can.

Happy New Year!

12 Important Questions Every Christian Should Ask Themselves Each Year
Dave Cover shared a blog post with Don Whitney’s original twelve questions a few years ago.  I’ve found them helpful each year since.

Year End Thoughts from Spurgeon
But here is the joy, here is the peace of Christians, that our salvation is a finished one…

The Resolutions of Jonathan Edwards
If you’re like me, your gut reaction might be to scan this lengthy list, throw your hands up, and shout, “Yeah, right.”  Instead, perhaps we should take a moment to think about how this opening line might speak to any resolutions we make.

Being sensible that I am unable to do anything without God’s help, I do humbly entreat him by his grace to enable me to keep these Resolutions, so far as they are agreeable to his will, for Christ’s sake. 

Back to Square One?
Colleen Luley, a friend of mine, shares thoughts on letting our resolutions and reflections come under God’s grace.

What is a Habit?
Ann Voskamp responds to this question by saying, “A habit is what we wear.  A habit is the way we wear our days.”

The New Year Wears Hope Like a Fragrance
Another post by Ann Voskamp.  ”What if all tomorrows are just more of all our yesterdays?  A thousand times I’ve told myself, “I simply must try harder.”…Self-striving nurtures self-hatred.  Toiling in the flesh produces foiling in the soul…The grace of His Spirit, fills our empty spots, intercedes, and gives us a fresh start every day.

Sitting in the New Year
Two years ago, CJ Maheny’s wife and daughters posted a series called, “Sitting in the New Year” on their blog Girl Talk.   The series walked through the story of Mary and Martha in Luke 10 and provided practical tips for being intentional to spend time sitting at Jesus’ feet.

2014

Dec 102013
 

We are Christmas people,
not Advent.

Waiting feels
unnatural,
countercultural,
uncomfortable.

Yet waiting
is just as much a part
of our reality
as it was theirs.

We no longer wait
for his birth,
but His coming.

Eternity amnesia
blinds us to the reality
that this world isn’t all
there is.

Just like kids
tearing open presents
we ask,
“Is this it?”

Unrealistic expectations
that life
can’t deliver.
We ask too much
of other people.
We misplace priorities.
We misunderstand suffering.
Robbed of meaning
and purpose.

We are wired by God
for more.
Eternity set inside
of every human heart.

There is surely
a future hope
that will not be cut off.
A hope
on the other side
of the grave.
This world is
preparation,
not a destination.

A life of wisdom is dependent
on knowing this
isn’t all there is.
Don’t set your hope here
set your hope on the grace
to be brought to you.

We wait as they waited.
We long as they longed.
Come Lord Jesus, come redeem us
we will wait for You.

*A found poem from Keith Simon’s Sermon on November 27, 2011.

advent1

Dec 052013
 

Last night, over 700 children and their families joined us for Journey to Jesus, our Family Christmas Celebration.  At the end of the night, we passed out a copy of this year’s weekly Advent Devotional.  Additional copies are available to pick up this Sunday morning or you can download a printable version of the entire document here.

Family Christmas Celebration Devo

Each week, we’ll post a copy of this week’s focus on the blog as well.

introletter

week1

Nov 282013
 

Untitled

 

There, in the presence of the Lord your God, you and your families shall eat and shall rejoice in everything you have put your hand to, because the Lord your God has blessed you (Deuteronomy 12:7).

Praise to the Lord! Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever! (Psalm 106:1)

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

Over three hundred years ago, America’s forefathers gathered together in this new land and gave thanks to God for the blessings that He had bestowed on them during the year.  See – the English girl is learning!

I hope that this week, each of us finds the time to sit with our families, friends and children, discussing and delighting in the blessings that God has bestowed upon us this past year. It’s a great opportunity to talk with our kids, and even remind ourselves why we celebrate Thanksgiving, and why Thanksgiving is so much more than a commercial holiday…

But really. Give thanks in all circumstances?

 

A 5 a.m. to start for this wretched Turkey and I…

Family tension…

Uncle Bob lets out a second notch on his belt, before having his annual snooze…

Grandma has enjoyed it, but now she’s exhausted and the kids are arguing, again…

Mum just doesn’t stop complaining…

Dad just watches the football all day…

First Thanksgiving alone…

If you only knew the year I’ve had…

God sees. He knows. He cares. He loves.

Look Back and see God’s faithfulness to his people throughout history, at the cross and in Jesus’ resurrection. Give thanks.

Look Down and around, wonder at God’s blessings and gifts of grace in your own personal life. They are there, no matter how big or small. Give thanks.

Look Out, seek to encourage and bless those around you with joy and thanksgiving. Give thanks.

Look Forward to the joy that is set before us. The future we’re promised in Christ Jesus. Give thanks.

To give thanks is a command. In the highs and the lows, the ups and the downs of life… we are to give thanks. So let us give thanks this day. Let us praise, thank, serve and worship our ever faithful God! 

Psalm 100

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!
Serve the Lord with gladness!
Come into his presence with singing!
Know that the Lord, he is God!
It is he who made us, and we are his;[a]
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
and his courts with praise!
Give thanks to him; bless his name!
For the Lord is good;
his steadfast love endures forever,
and his faithfulness to all generations.

For the kids: here is a funny poem and some coloring pages to enjoy!

Nov 262013
 

While grocery shopping, I overheard two girls about my age describe what kept them from having people over to share a meal.  Perhaps their list looks a little like yours.  You feel like the place you live isn’t big enough, the dishes you own don’t match, or perhaps your cooking and decorating prowess leaves something to be desired.  While they talked, I couldn’t help but think about the homes and people who have demonstrated hospitality most clearly to me.

One was the place I grew up in, the kitchen where my mom strategically placed rugs to cover over holes in the linoleum.  Chipped every day dishes and mismatched silverware graced both everyday and holiday tablescapes alike, but there was always room for one more.  Another is the home in which I currently live.  Two dear friends have entrusted it to my husband and I while they serve the people of Guatemala.  Their generosity began far before handing over a set of keys, though.  The space itself reminds me a lot of where I grew up.  So do the people who own it.  A third place is on the edge of town.  It’s different than the other two places physically.  Intricately decorated hallways and beautiful place settings, it looks as though it could have come from a magazine.   Yet the people who welcome countless crowds and individuals alike each night put their guests at ease with their genuine warmth.  I can’t help but find myself sinking into their couch the same way I would at my own home.  Their words echo those I’ve heard from the other two sets of people, “This house isn’t ours, it’s God’s.”  If I were to ask you to describe those who modeled hospitality to you, I have a feeling that the external descriptors might vary while the internal ones remained the same.

It’s not hard to have a distorted view of what hospitality looks like.  Pinterest, HGTV, and the Food Network are quick to offer both great ideas and a lengthy list of how what we have both in terms of possessions and competence simply aren’t enough.  Comparison and discontentment can lead us to give up.  They can also lead us to condemn and dismiss others who have the very things we so desperately want.  Hospitality isn’t about having a plain home OR a fancy home.  Pinterest is not the problem, our hearts are.

I’ve recently been reading a book called Table Life that is helping me process what true hospitality looks and feels like.  Joanne Thompson writes,

Hospitality is more about your faith than your competence.  A farmer can’t create a single grain of wheat himself, but by faith, he cooperates with God by tilling, planting, watering, and expecting a great return.  Sharing your table isn’t fueld by faith in your magnificent entertaining skills or gregarious personality; it’s believing that God will satisfy hearts as well as appetites when you share your table in Jesus’ name…Have you ever had the restless thought, ‘I’ll never have a table like that’?  Creativity celebrates God, but when we allow someone else’s gifts to poke holes in our own contentment, we’re not likely to share the tables in our homes.”

Therein lies the problem.  Who am I placing my faith in?  Is sharing a meal about God’s glory or about mine?

Like Martha, we may be anxious and troubled about many things as we welcome friends and families into our homes this holiday season.  Yet Jesus patiently reminds us too that only one thing is necessary.  That one thing is not the perfect pie crust, not the perfectly scrubbed bathroom floor, not the perfectly behaved kids or family, not the perfect tablescape or conversation starter.  That one thing is His very presence.  As you celebrate this Thanksgiving, remember His invitation in Luke 10:38-42 is the same He offers us as well.

Hurry Destroys Souls
Found Poetry from Keith Simon’s Sermon on Luke 10:38-42
January 8, 2012

An obstacle
more common
than
hardship,
suffering,
renouncing,
or doubt.

Busyness.

Cluttered minds.
Distracted hearts.
Lives sprinting.

Settling for a
mediocre version
of faith.

Worried and upset
about many things.

A picture of who we are
and who we want to be.

Choose what is better
and it will not
be taken away.

The things of most importance
can’t be left
to the mercy
of the things of least.

Yet we feed
souls created for more
with busyness.
Kept from the greatest treasure
we could ever know.
Neglecting the ultimate
for the lesser.

Life doesn’t just fall in place
without
deliberate,
intentionality.
Neither does transformation
happen apart from
grace.

Jesus isn’t yelling,
but inviting.
Few things needed,
indeed only one.

My soul finds rest
in God alone.

Be still and know
the one exalted
among the
nations.
The one who prefers
our company
to our service.

tablelife

Nov 192013
 

Each year I’m always trying to find ways to help my family celebrate Thanksgiving in a way that is meaningful.

If you are like me with three boys, then you need fun and active things to do when they are home and the house is full.  Here are a few ideas that we did as a family when my children were younger.

Now that my kids are older, I’m still looking for ways to engage them. Last year I tried an idea that Jess posted on our blog. I made a Thanksgiving Tree for our dining room table. Each of us would write something we were thankful for on a leaf as we ate a meal together. It was a great visual picture of our thankfulness to God for all the blessings in our lives. And we got a peek inside of our hearts and minds as we read what others wrote.

IMG_2071

But along with planning out things for my family, this year I wanted to prepare my heart as well. I was at a dinner with some friends from church and one woman shared this devotional about “practicing thankfulness”. I was struck by the reminder that thankfulness is “learned”:

I believe gratitude grows with practice. When you thank God, regardless of your feelings, it primes the pump of your heart until gratitude begins to flow freely.

If this is a language you have not spoken often, you can become fluent…with practice. Paul wrote, “I have learned how to get along happily whether I have much or little. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything” (Philippians 4:11-12 NLT, emphasis mine). “I have learned.”

As with any foreign language we attempt to learn, the more we use it, the more fluent we become. Is it too strong to say that the language of gratitude is a “foreign” tongue? I don’t think so. We come into the world screaming with our very first breath, “It’s all about me and my needs!” With tightly closed fists and squeezed shut eyes we demand attention. A newborn babe can think of nothing more than his wants and his needs: feed me, hold me, change me, nurse me…and do it right now! I would like to think we eventually grow out of that infantile attitude, but I’m sorry to say, many never do.

But we don’t have to live like self-centered, self-absorbed ingrates. We can learn God’s love language of gratitude that opens our eyes and unfurls the fingers. We can speak words of gratitude that remove the blinders to see glimpses of His glory every day. As we discover and practice the beautiful language of gratitude, our native tongue of self-focused dissatisfaction begins to fade.

So I committed myself to reading a book this month called One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp. I’ve only read a few chapters but, wow, is God using it to deepen my desire to give thanks for all the blessings he has given to me. Ann spent a year writing down 1000 gifts that she could thank God for in her journal and it changed her forever. This book is her story of how God used this process in her life. I’m hoping it will change mine as well.

How will you “practice thankfulness” this year?