3 Ways to Practice Gratitude

He stomped his foot and looked at me with arms crossed in displeasure. This behavior is a recent development that I have mixed feelings about. Obviously defiance is not okay and needs loving correction. But on the other hand, I see his behavioral development as crossing a threshold, and it makes me jump with excitement on the inside.

Progress.

Noticing little changes like this even when the result isn’t so great is a step towards thriving. And he is, we just go at a slower pace than most. That’s okay.

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Sometimes I get stuck on a merry-go-round of sadness noticing all the ways my son isn’t like his peers. It can quickly plummet into a downward spiral if I don’t get off that circus ride. Most days we operate in our own world without the comparison of typical children since Jesse is an only child.

The days we are around other kids can feel like a bucket of ice water dumped over me. A cold reminder. I hate being blindsided by my feelings like that. It’s not just because my son has special needs. He’s amazing and I know that. The isolation Jason and I experience as parents is what can make me bitter. We get pushed aside in those casual conversations parents have about their typical kids, concerned their child will fall behind in school, soccer practices take over all their free time, or fill in the blank. It’s hard to not inwardly roll my eyes – because I’m mature like that.

It can feel like we are speaking a completely different language. Hello Holland, hello Italy.

What I am learning on this journey of special needs parenting is that pain is universal, but not divided equally. It doesn’t matter the size of your problem, we all have feelings that matter and should be validated. I never want to minimize what a friend is going through just because I can’t understand it.

If I am going to practice grace toward others, I first need to learn the secret of contentment in my own circumstances. I have failed to do this in my own strength, but  have had victories in the Spirit’s power too. I want to learn how to honor someone else’s struggle so that I can come alongside them, not dismiss their trials.

Here are 3 things I know to be true in cultivating grace and gratitude:

1. Comparison is the thief of joy.

It breeds discontentment. Comparing ourselves with people we know or people we’ve never actually met (Instagram influencers, celebrities, etc.) manifests quietly in our hearts, as our thoughts lash out toward that person, usually without them ever knowing. We end up in envy and self-pity that eats away at our spirits if we don’t change direction.

2. Competing over our trials leads to bitterness.

I know it sounds crazy, but sometimes we rank the severity of our trials with one another. We use our pain as a measuring stick of “how bad we have it” instead of seeking to comfort a hurting friend. I know I’ve done it. But the different kinds of suffering we experience isn’t an indication of how spiritually mature we are. How we respond in those trials, big or small, is the factor.

Do I run to the Lord for refuge? Do I lick my own wounds and try to patch them up? Do I just get angry?

3. A thankful heart guides us back to the Father.

The reason God commands us to be thankful people is that its good for us. Our outlook is brighter and our hearts lighter when we see how much we are blessed. Count the ways, big and small, that God has shown you grace upon grace. It doesn’t come natural for us, but living out this God-honoring principle will be a blessing in itself. Grateful people are happy people. 

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So I start to notice how Jesse is currently laughing, clasping both hands over his mouth as if to contain the giggles bubbling out. The way he is super polite, always making sure to say “Excuse me” in the right context or “thank you” and “please”. We celebrate the small accomplishments, not taking them for granted.

I see how God is using our present circumstances in a new school to help his speech sky rocket. His teachers and therapists are amazing. Not only that, we have been tremendously blessed with a church family that loves him and supports us. Our families live nearby and help any way they can and often.

These are things the Lord has reminded me of lately. He is faithful to turn my heart back to Him with gentle reminders of His love for me, for my son. More importantly, the temporary blessings point toward the greatest blessing I have forever: Christ. They’re like arrows that lead me back to Him, because of what Jesus did at the cross. For me, for you. It all circles back to Christ. Preaching the Gospel to ourselves each day realigns our  ungratefulness to His grace-filled heart.

Grace upon grace,

April

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Becoming who you already are

Do I love Him?

Do I love Jesus deeply? Is He becoming what I treasure most?

Becoming…

It is a life long transformation. On one side we are instantaneously made righteous, redeemed, adopted. On the other side the Lord is patiently working out our salvation, growing our faith and love for Christ every day.

It’s the broken hallelujah being restored living in the middle of “already and not yet”. Jesus Christ has come and died and rose. My Hope is made real the more I see, the more I love the unseen. My eyes begin to adjust to the Light as I am washed in His Word.

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We have one foot in this world and one foot in heaven. It can be hard at times to live out the resurrected life. But it is ours for the taking. We have the Holy Spirit’s power to wield into our every day lives.

How do we do this exactly? In reading through the Scriptures you start to notice themes and commands that serve as the backdrop to all of life. It goes something like this:

Take your sin seriously because we offend a Holy God. Pursue personal holiness even when trials come. Commit your way to the Lord.

We stumble. Grieve our sin, repent, seek God’s unending storehouse of mercy. We do not live as one condemned. Lean into our freedom as sons and daughters of the Most High. This is the rhythm of Christianity.

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Becoming…

You already belong to God as a believer. Jesus made this possible. We live on the other side of the cross, complete with the canon of Scripture to read whenever we want. I need these reminders too. We have to preach the Gospel to ourselves not just on Sundays but every single day of the week.

This is my prayer and offering to you-

Father, 

Let Your truth fall fresh on us. Captivate our hearts and minds with Love so Divine, demanding our soul, our life, our all. Help cultivate within us deep joy and abiding faithfulness today, tomorrow, into the rest of our eternity when we will see You face to face. Our hallelujahs made fully complete.

 

Grace upon grace,

April

Unplanned: Movies That Matter And Why You Need To See Them

There are some films you see not for entertainment value but because of the message. It speaks to the heartbeat of current culture. This is why Unplanned was made. While I knew the movie would be hard to watch, there’s no way to really prepare for heavy content. In case you aren’t familiar with the recent film Unplanned, it addresses the issue of abortion, focusing on Abby Johnson’s story.

As a clinic director for Planned Parenthood, Abby rises to the top serving as the youngest director in just eight years. She even had two abortions of her own before working for this organization. The irony is that while she advocated for women’s rights to have abortions, she had never actually seen one done.

The day she assisted an abortionist by holding the probe over a mother’s belly, Abby finally saw the reality of abortion. She watches in horror as the infant twists away from the tube, and is then sucked piece by piece out of the uterus. I’m not going to lie, I thought I was going to throw up during this scene. The camera scans to the containers of blood and body parts afterward.

It’s gruesome to watch, but this happens every day, every hour, to thousands of humans who are murdered through abortions. It is happening right now as I write this- as you read this. Since Roe v. Wade in 1973 the death toll rises in the millions.

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Abby had a complete shift in her thinking over unborn life. She was so shaken by what she saw that Abby resigned from Planned Parenthood and now runs an anti-abortion ministry called And Then There Were None.

Because of her experience Abby knows how to counsel women considering an abortion or women who have had one. This post is not a slam on those who made the decision to end their baby’s life. I can’t imagine that kind of grief. But this doesn’t have to define the rest of your story either. There is forgiveness and redemption for those who seek it. God provided a way for all of us through Jesus Christ so that we can have freedom and fellowship with Him without living under condemnation anymore. What makes this movie beautiful is the whole story. We see Abby’s life reclaimed and set with a fresh vision of hope.

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Abortion is a shameful part of our history that most of us don’t think about often. I honestly don’t like to because I get upset, nauseous, and feel helpless to do any good. But abortion isn’t a game or just a political narrative. The greater evil at play is Satan’s victories in annihilating what God creates.

This doesn’t extend just to babies either. Where is the stopping point for someone who makes up their own moral code? What about the elderly in nursing homes who can no longer “contribute” to society? What about the disabled?

It’s ironic that in this modern era we consider ourselves so sophisticated and tolerant, as long as we’re not inconvenienced. I think one of the ways we can contribute to fight for life is through prayer. Don’t be fooled into thinking prayer is a passive tool. It is a valuable weapon for the believer. Use it and use it often. The only way a person who sides with abortion will ever see the truth is for their hearts to soften. God can do that. Sometimes when we need to justify our sin we become blind to the truth standing right in front of us.

Abortion is barbaric.

 Abortion annihilates humans.

 Abortion destroys so many lives left in the aftermath.

 We can help pick up the pieces. We can bring hope to men and women by showing them another way. One that leads not only to saving an actual life but healing for those caught in the lies and brokenness that the world applauds (Romans 1:32).

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Please go see this movie. This is an important movement we need to support. It is rated R for the violent scenes. Hello. Sometimes we have to look the truth in the face ourselves to remind us of the heartbreaking reality. Unfortunately our local Christian radio stations won’t advertise the film because it has an R rating. Perhaps because the movie isn’t exclusively Christian they won’t back it up?

Unplanned depicts real people in real life situations- it isn’t always tied up with a pretty bow. This is exactly who Christ came for. He redeems the messy, broken, and sin-sick. Us. Jesus finishes our stories. Hallelujah.

 

Grace upon grace,

April

p.s.- The previews to this movie are mostly garbage. I have no idea why they chose them with this particular film. Just letting you know ahead of time so maybe you can avoid seeing the previews. 

Made To Worship

I’m reading right now the book of Jeremiah in the Bible. He has a tough message to give the people. They have pranced around in a masquerade as God’s people but did not really know Him. Their hearts were far from the Lord as they paid Him lip service, deluded into thinking their Abrahamic lineage could save them.

This is what the Father tells Jeremiah to say:

“My people have committed two sins: 

They have forsaken Me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, 

broken cisterns that cannot hold water.”

-Jeremiah 2:13

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Israel ran to worthless idols, forsaking God and binding themselves as slaves to lifeless, manmade objects. The people sought purpose, satisfaction and love apart from God, coming up empty, yet lusting for more. They loved their idols more than cultivating a genuine relationship with the Lord.

They loved their idols more…

It doesn’t sound much different than our world. And it isn’t just “us” pointing the finger at “them” and their depravity. I was convicted in reading Jeremiah’s words too. How often do I run after other things, ANYTHING, other than the One who created me?

Like chasing the wind in a desert, I can commit spiritual adultery too. Reading through this book is humbling. I want to daily bring myself before the Father asking Him to guide my decisions. As Emily P. Freeman says, “to do the next right thing in love”. Because it’s just as easy to make the next wrong decision. And the next. And the next. Until we’ve spiraled so far down we don’t even know when we’re drowning.

There is nothing new under the sun. For me I read this to look at myself too. I think it’s spiritually healthy for believers to take stock of where our treasures are. Do I want what God can give me more than I want God? One is soul killing, the other soul saving.

Who or what satisfies you today?

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We can still be His children even when we stumble but it isn’t His plan for us. The Israelites abused God’s grace and patience. They had no real heritage with Him as they continued to reject God’s love. Those who continue to fight against the Creator doing as they please were never His to begin with.

God wants our hearts so that we worship Him alone.

We are made to be worshippers- and we all worship something. Is it the Lord? Let us not be deceived into spiritual complacency and compartmentalize God just on Sundays thinking “we’re okay” or good enough if we check a box.

Through His Son Jesus we are called to so much more. Chasing the temporary can’t bring contentment. He has equipped us together with all the saints to pursue Him in holiness, in love. We have the privilege to honor Christ today as humble warriors!

Delight in the One who gave everything for you. 

Believer, you are lavished in God’s consuming love. You are protected in Christ’s righteousness. You are guided by the Holy Spirit.

Anything other than our Father will let you down. That’s a promise. Trust in His wisdom for your life and worship God alone today.

 

Grace upon grace,

April

Fear and Doubt: The lies they tell us

Hi friend! I’m over at Our Shared Tales today talking about my fears. You can click here to read the full post or this excerpt below. 

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Lately, I’ve started questioning whether it’s worth throwing my two cents into the ring of social media. There are a million voices, some with the same message of truth I write about. But after a while, the faces become faceless and I wonder, does it make any difference? It begins to feel like a circus show and I’m the clown.  My hands get clammy and my breathing grows shallow. Did I take up the wrong mission of longing to reach out to others, to speak truth into their lives? Or at the very least, leave them a blessing for the day. I ask myself, is it possible to encourage people in the virtual world or is it a waste of time? I sense the familiar feeling of fear creep up again- it rises from my belly to my throat, making me a little queasy.

Read the full post here…

Failure To Communicate

My son Jesse loves to imitate. He also likes to hear my husband do imitations. When Jesse was younger, one in particular that he wanted to hear over and over again was a line from the movie Coolhand Luke (which for the record, he has never watched- he’s only seven). Jason was always willing to play along because it made our son belly laugh so hard. I’m still not sure why, maybe it was the creepy voice.

“What we have here is, failure to commun-i-cate,” he would say, turning the words in his best southern drawl. The character in the movie, Captain, is a sleazy prison warden with a superiority complex. I’m both amused and cringe at my husband’s talent.

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The irony behind the movie line is that Jesse has delayed speech. He was born with hypotonia (low muscle tone) which affects his speech, along with other developmental delays. He began speech therapy when he was 23 months old. There were only a handful of words he could say, and even then we had a difficult time understanding him. I taught him basic sign language words to get by, such as: water, help, sorry, eat, bathroom, please, and thank you. At least he would learn to be polite.

Part of the struggle besides helping Jesse’s language was figuring out how much he knew. I had no idea what was sticking and what wasn’t. Teaching him about the Bible and Jesus was just as important to me as learning self-help skills. But I didn’t know how to do this. How do I reach him? We can’t even communicate beyond basic survival words.

At some point I realized that God saw the work I was doing to train my son’s heart. He knows exactly what Jesse retains. All I’m called to do is to stay faithful and trust Him. The Lord takes care of the outcome.

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I started singing children’s Bible songs complete with hand motions, playing worship music, and read to him very simple Bible stories. I’m not worried about whether he can memorize a catechism or multiple Scripture verses. It would be wonderful if he could learn these things one day, but for now we sing, “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”

Jesse will be eight next month. His speech has skyrocketed into sentences and even opinions! I believe he is learning more than I fully realize. But more than his current progress, I rest in confidence that the Lord has charge over my son’s heart. As a parent I’m learning my role as a shepherd. We can pray for our kids, disciple them, teach them our faith with words and by our example. But thankfully their salvation is not dependent on us. We have the privilege to join God’s work in communicating His eternal truths to our children. However simple or imperfect it may be, our Father can use our labors for their ultimate good and His Glory.

 

Grace upon grace,

April

Perfect Love (Short Reflections)

“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” 

1 John 4:18

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When I am abiding in the Spirit (perfect love) I don’t fear that I am not His. I’m not afraid of losing His love or of being rejected. I have peace and confidence that not only is Christ keeping me, but He is continually doing a good work in and through me.

To be like Him.

When I am set in this truth He makes my face like flint, burying my roots deeper as I draw life giving water from His well.

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So what does abiding look like in our day to day lives?

*Seeking God’s Presence in His Word daily to learn and listen and grow

*Prayer throughout the day that’s more like a conversation with a friend, who happens to also be the God of the Universe.

*Memorizing Scripture- this one is hard for me but always worth the challenge. Learn by heart a few verses to carry with you during your day when you can’t have your Bible open in front of you. It’s a blessing to give your future self in those moments.

This list isn’t comprehensive, but it can nudge us in the right direction. Start with one today. When we abide in the Lord, He helps us remember just how much He loves us by pointing us back to the Cross.

Christ is our Perfect Love.

 

Grace upon grace,

April