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

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…

The beginning to eternity- (Short Reflections)

Hi there! I wanted to give you a little encouragement as you head into your weekend. Typically ‘Short Reflections’ will be just that, short 😉

Happy Friday and hallelujah for March! Spring is around the corner you guys!

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“The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen.”

-Revelation 22:21 (The last verse recorded in Scripture)

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Revelation 22 is the beginning of our eternity. This is Home. It’s true that our eternity actually starts here, as we walk on earth, but the complete fulfillment of it is yet to be.

I can worship the Lord now in a broken world, knowing this isn’t forever – the hope of Jesus Christ finally fulfilling all of Scripture is what I hang my hat on. In the in-between we wait, seek and live as He has called us to.

May God’s grace go with you throughout this day and into your weekend. Because the Kingdom of God is here, among us, the Church. And you know what?

This is only the beginning to a very happy ending.

 

Grace upon grace,

April

Fit to serve

I am sitting on the couch, fingers wrapped around a cup of warmth and deliciousness, also known as coffee. It’s raining outside and thankfully there aren’t any urgent errands to run. After dropping Jesse off at school this morning, the house is still, and I take a moment to savor the quiet. As a stay-at-home mom, this is the career I’ve always wanted, but it requires me to be my own boss.

I’m responsible for how much gets done each day at home. If the laundry isn’t clean or the dishes stay piled high in the sink before dinner it’s on me.

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Discipline is key. This principle applies to all of life really. Structure, routine, rhythm, whatever you call it, time management helps things run smoothly. Even structuring time for margin is important. One way I do this is intentionally taking time throughout the week to take care of myself.

“Self-care” is a word that in the past, I gave a suspicious sideways glance. It gives an impression of selfishness, curated by our culture’s post-modern vocabulary which I don’t trust as a general rule of thumb. But over the years I’ve learned it is actually very important. As a mom to a boy with autism, my days are demanding physically, mentally and emotionally. I need healthy ways to relieve the stress that internally builds up.

Imagine you’re flying in an airplane that is in distress. The emergency oxygen masks pop down and they tell you to put yours on first before helping the person beside you. That goes against every mama instinct, but the logic behind it is that if you aren’t getting any oxygen, you can’t help someone else put on their oxygen mask.

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One way I’ve practiced self-care is by exercising a few days a week. I don’t make it a huge deal, just around 30 minutes is fine. But I feel better afterwards, for doing something good for my body and mental health.

After collapsing a few years ago with just my son at home it was a wake-up call to take better care of myself. I want to bless my family and friends and community by being around for as long as I can. The best way to do that is to make sure I’m able to function first.

Listening to my body and its warning signs: Am I breathing too quick and shallow? Brain fog? Short temper? Fatigued? You get the idea…It’s just about making simple changes to improve my overall health. Even if it’s just sitting for 15 minutes alone or not turning on music in the car to declutter my thoughts. Maybe you have to hide out in the bathroom to get away from the chaos of little ones for a few moments. That’s okay.

When we know that a short break will help us be a little more patient and kind to those we take care of, it’s actually a service to them too.

Our bodies are made to honor God, and He only gave us one. Moderate exercise, better food choices, even how I spend my time, are all ways to worship the Lord by demonstrating His authority over me. I don’t think it means we’re rigid with our lives, but I don’t want to abuse this gift either. I can please God by taking care of my body, which enables me to serve others well.

What is one way you take care of yourself? Or what simple change can you make to help your overall health? I’d love to know. Feel free to share in the comments below 🙂

 

Grace upon grace,

April

Missional Motherhood

This is a piece I wrote a few years ago. A gentleman in my church asked a group of mothers to contribute to his booklet on the spiritual role a mother has to her children. 

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Becoming a mom is not what I thought it would be. Before I actually had a child of my own, I was sure I already knew how I would parent. I started babysitting when I was 12 and even though the job was tiring, it didn’t demand superhuman strength either. I prided myself on my ‘Mary Poppins’ persona.

Then after Jason and I had been married for over a year, God gave us our son Jesse. This sweet boy has been the hardest and greatest adventure yet. Even the pregnancy was filled with plot twists and turns, as Jesse’s state of health became more of a question instead of a certainty. Later on we were faced with his genetic abnormality and developmental delays. Broken sleep, physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, neurology appointments, geneticist appointments, and can you please walk by your 2nd birthday little boy?

I used to think missionary service required traveling overseas to share the Gospel. However, the longer I’m a parent it is clear that right where I am is my missional work. It’s not the romanticized version I imagined. But it is just as important and humbling.

The job of every Christian mom is physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually draining. God is using motherhood as a means for my sanctification. It isn’t glamorous, but this can be eternal work when done in faith. Who is it I’m representing to my son? Christ? or myself?

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Parenting well requires dying to self daily, viewing our jobs as service to the Lord. The times I struggle are the days when I see my son’s sin nature more clearly and my own as well. That’s why Jesus gives us Himself, the Holy Spirit to help and guide when I have no clue what I’m doing, or come to the end of myself.

Our children, especially when they’re young, are our mission field. We train and make disciples right in our homes. Don’t underestimate the work you do. Can it be monotonous? Yep. But that can also be called faithfulness. Day in, day out, you’re showing up.

I don’t think I’m overstating how essential the role of parents are to our children. We raise them in faith instilling Biblical truth, a love for Christ, so that one day Lord willing, they grow up and multiply the fruit we’ve labored over for years.

A mother’s work is kingdom work.

God gives your ordinary tasks purpose.

Jesus humbled Himself to the most demeaning job in His culture, right before He went to the cross for us. During the Passover meal the Lord washed the disciples’ mud-caked, dirty, dusty feet. This job was always reserved for a Gentile slave, because not even a Jew would stoop so low. But Jesus’ act of service was a demonstration of His sacrificial love for them. You could say it foreshadowed what was to come on Calvary.

Christ was teaching His disciples that to become great one must be brought low. Even when it requires performing a mundane task or something beneath your skill level. He was implementing the upside kingdom effect.

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As we view our lives in light of His, let us remember that our humble work isn’t overlooked by Jesus. In fact, I think it pleases Him. We may not have a platform for thousands to see and applaud us, but all that really matters anyway is our audience to One.

Am I using my gifts, time, and abilities to mother well? Do I rely on His strength and not my own? Make no mistake that the eternal rewards for every faithful mother will far outweigh the lack of praise and attention here on earth. A woman who understands this knows her worth is in Christ. He goes before us, allowing us to carry out the call of missional motherhood.

 

Grace upon grace,

April

 

2019- God at work

Have you ever wondered if God’s presence and divine activity is something that happened only in the Bible? After the canon of Scripture closed, so did God. He won’t “reappear” until Second Advent when all future promises are fulfilled.

It can feel that way sometimes, especially in our current climate.

But this isn’t true.

In studying the book of Esther at church recently, I was reminded of God’s presence now, “hidden but present”. The Lord moved powerfully behind the scenes to keep His covenant promise to Abraham in Esther’s time. God protected the Jews from total annihilation even though His Name is never mentioned in this book.

The hand of God was actively engaged then as He is today. Esther’s world didn’t honor God as Lord either- The Jews were exiled in captivity, far from home, without reminders of His presence. Persia was filled with extravagance, opulence, many gods, and wicked leaders. Not much has changed today.

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It seems like God has forgotten us or doesn’t care anymore.

Yet our Father is with us even when our faith is small and the world looks bleak. Evil, sadness, weariness, even apathy, can’t win. We know God has the final victory and so I rest in that hope. But He is also here right now. The Father leaves His fingerprints in creation, wields His power in Heaven, commands the storms of nature, but gave us the unique privilege to not only work with Him, but to represent Him. God works through His people. He is working through me and you.

Just as the Lord used the actions of Mordecai, Esther, and even Haman and King Ahasureus, the God of this Universe can use our actions (even the failures) for His glory. It’s the mystery of God’s Sovereignty and man’s will weaved together.

I best understood this in reading Inconspicuous Providence. The author quotes an old Portuguese proverb that says, “God writes straight with crooked lines.” It doesn’t give us a license to sin, since God can use us no matter what, but an encouragement that though we fail God is not limited by how “holy” we are.

Our lives matter in 2019.

How we live it out day after day interests the Lord because He ordained each one. God the Father wisely placed you and me in this time in history with a purpose. It may not ever make headline news (thank goodness) but we aren’t forgotten either. Not by Him.

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Unbelievers will face judgement one day. This is a tragic horror unless the Holy Spirit intervenes and repentance happens. Our eternity far outweighs the burdens we bear now.

Jesus loves you.

YOU.

Don’t forget this one soul-saving fact.

God is at work this day using His Spirit in all believers. What a humbling and comforting truth. Just like in Esther’s story, God will not let His people be destroyed. He will not give you up to Satan’s hell.

God is the Covenant-Maker and the Promise-Keeper who works all things throughout Time for our good and His Glory. Even in 2019.

God is in our midst.

 

Grace upon grace,

April