Looking Back for Thankfulness

Last year at this time, I was not feeling overly thankful. A variety of situations, most of them entirely out of my control, had spiraled me into a place of frustration and discontent. Looking back at my journal from that time, the resounding theme was, “I don’t know what to do.” Getting out of that place required difficult and what proved to be wise yet un-fun decisions, combined with the simple but irritating solution of time.

 

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Photo Credit: Andy Chilton

Comparing our past with our present can be a dangerous game, because things don’t always turn out to be greener on the other side, and while memory lane is a nice place to visit, it’s an impossible place to live. This year though, looking back is giving me a fresh perspective on my reasons to be thankful. It’s both a general and specific thankfulness–I’m thankful life is going better than it was last fall, though much of that isn’t my own doing so much as the circumstances around me happen to different. And specifically, I am so thankful to have a place of my own to call home, a place I chose, I bought, and that I will get to decide when and if I move out of it. After the past few years of moving frequently, it feels like an immense gift to know next fall, unless something really goes haywire, I will still be living in the same place. It’s beginning to feel like real home, and to know I get to continue to build that sense there is deeply, profoundly comforting.

While much of my thankfulness stems from an upturn in life circumstances, there is a spiritual component to it as well. For an undetermined amount of time, I’ve felt an uneasy distance and strangeness in my faith. Though I’ve come to see it as a natural part of being in any sort of long-term relationship, I’ve never welcomed it or been particularly at peace with it. Maybe the season is beginning to change in my relationship with God, or maybe I’ve grown used to this place enough that it doesn’t bother me anymore, but it doesn’t concern me like it used to. It’s not a giving up, walking-away-from-faith kind of change. Instead it’s a peace, however still unsettled, with not fully understanding how the ebb and flow of a relationship with an unseen God works.

None of this is permanent, none of it is guaranteed to be the same (or even better) next year, and there are still plans and hopes I have for life that haven’t shown as much of a glimmer of turning out like I thought they would. Those things don’t go away, but I can choose to not let them detract from this, here, this place and time where I am thankful for what is instead of so caught up in what could be. 

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. What has looking back made you thankful for?

Learning to Receive

Some people are good at receiving.

Others are not so good.

It wasn’t something I had given much thought to, until I started giving away grocery carts.

At Aldi, where I do most of my food shopping, the carts are stored all linked together. The process works like this:

Photo Credit: Flickr User Portal Abras, Creative Commons

Photo Credit: Flickr User Portal Abras, Creative Commons

  1. Place quarter in slot.
  2. Get cart.
  3. Shop
  4. Return cart.
  5. Get quarter back.

The first time I gave my cart away, it was sheer laziness. Someone was arriving as I was finishing loading groceries in my car, so I asked if they wanted a cart. Now, it’s become habit to give away my cart—not because I’m an exceedingly good person (I’m not), but because it’s proved to be a simple way to show kindness. And, in the process, I’m learning what it means to receive.

People typically react in one of two ways when I ask them if they want a cart and turn down their offer of a quarter. They either thank me and carry on with their day, or they try to force me to take their quarter—sometimes offering it two or three times. “Are you sure?” they say.

It’s a quarter, I find myself nearly saying. Even then, some will assure me, “I’ll be sure to pass it on!”

I think it shows a fundamental difference: Some people are good at receiving, saying thanks, and moving on. Others feel they must do something in return, as though they owe now owe a debt, even if it’s a quarter.

Now there’s something to be said for passing along a kindness or taking action as a response to a gift, but if we always live in a state of furiously trying to repay whatever good gifts we’ve been given, it can get exhausting. And it’s impossible, really.

The beauty of a true gift is that it shouldn’t need to be repaid.

Gratefulness and thanks are always appropriate, but repayment isn’t needed.

As I’ve thought about all of this and how it pertains to relationships, both with humans and with God, I’ve realized how not-awesome I actually am at receiving. In the back of my head, I’m often thinking about how I can “repay” a person when they give me a gift, whether it’s a physical gift or gifts of presence, attentiveness, love. Which is really not a great way to live. What if, instead, people give gifts simply because they like me? Not because they expect anything in return?

And what if it’s the same with God? What if he’s given me so many good things—love, grace, mercy, family, friends—not because he’s trying to get something from me, but just because he likes me? Because he loves me?

I can still serve God and give him glory and praise, but I don’t need to do so out of obligation, out of a sense that I am trying to repay what he has given me. Those things are gifts, really and truly freely given. No guilt, no obligation, no payment required.

It’s one of those things I’ve known in my head for a long time, but am still trying to figure out what it means for my heart. Outwardly, I may still serve in all the same ways I always have, but my internal reasons can be completely different. My responses can come out of thankfulness, not a furious need to earn what’s already been given to me.

If I let it, a gift can be just that–a gift.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. How are you at receiving?

The 5 Minutes I Was Thankful to Be Single

It hasn’t been a literal 5 minutes, but I do feel like this time of thankfulness will be fleeting. So I have to get these words out now, or else I fear this season of gratefulness will pass before I’ve recognized it for what it is and taken a moment to pause and relish it.

For me, most of the time being single is difficult—sometimes exceedingly so. It feels like an enduring fight, of trying to be content, to not compare, and so many other things.

Mixed in with it all, there are moments of appreciation for the reasons being single rocks and of recognizing the lessons I’m learning, but truthfully, not a ton of thankfulness. Dashes, here and there, but not bucket loads.

Lately, though, I’ve felt some of it. Thankfulness for time to really think through what the point of the kind of marriage I want is—not just two people who happen to love each other a lot, but two people who, because they are together, help one another to better love, serve, and glorify God than they would be able to do if they were apart. Thankfulness for time to read and pray about the way I think a wife and husband should interact and treat each other in marriage. Thankfulness for time to discover who I am and what it is that makes me uniquely me, on my own, without the influence of a significant other.

These are lessons that many people learn while they’re in relationships, but I’m not sure I would have been able to—or certainly not in the way that I have. And I’m sure I have much more to learn about all of these and many, many more. But, for at least a brief period of time, I’ve been able to identify specific reasons I am thankful I am single. Which in itself feels like kind of a gift.

It doesn’t mean I love being single, because most of the time I don’t. This is still not the way I would have planned for my life to go. But singleness has been my reality for a long time, and looks like it may be for a good while yet. Already it feels like this season of singleness may be changing to a more difficult one, and that the thankfulness may be slipping through my fingers. Even as it does though, I can say that it existed at least once. And maybe I’ll be able to get it back and keep it for longer another time.

Say, 10 minutes.

 

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. Are you, or have you been, thankful to be single? Why?

A Different Kind of Thankful

Family.

Friends.

A house to live in.

Food to eat.

A car to drive.

A job to work at.

My church.

A laptop and phone.

The finances to cover what I need and some of what I want.

Books to read.

Warm blankets and a soft bed.

As Thanksgiving approaches, I’ve noticed I often view thankfulness in terms of “things.” It’s good for me to be thankful for these, as many people in the world lack what has become so commonplace to me. But what I rarely remember to be thankful for are the moments that make up my life, from the big ones that have made me sit up and take notice of what’s going on around me, to small ones I’ve seen become something bigger later on, to the ordinary ones that simply compose my days.

My thanksgiving often narrows in on the small details of the picture, but fails to be thankful for the whole scene. “Family” and “friends” make my thankful list each year, but I usually only think in terms of the people, not in terms of the relationships–which are what I really mean to represent when I list the people. I forget to thank God for the pieces of my story I’ve seen come together, sometimes in surprising ways–or even in ways I didn’t want, but have learned to see the value of.

This past summer as I cleaned and packed up my room at my parents’ house, I was overwhelmed with gratitude. I found countless reminders of the relationships that have added so much to my life and to me as a person, from notes of encouragement to photos to ticket stubs. It is so cliche to say, “I don’t know where I would be without these people,” but I truly don’t know where I would be without these people and the relationships that have given me so much.

So while it is good and fitting for me to be thankful for my family, my friends, my job, my church, my car, this year my thankfulness feels much bigger–it is not for the details, but for the whole scene.

~Brianna!~

p.s. What are some of the big picture things you’re thankful for?

Thankfulness, Little Things, And Bonhoeffer

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a really smart guy. He wrote about a lot of topics pertaining to the Christian life, including thankfulness, which is the “in” thing this time of year. Here are some of his words, taken from a 40 Day Devotional I’m receiving via email. (Check it out here. Emphasis mine)

Thankfulness works in the Christian community as it usually does in the Christian life. Only those who give thanks for the little things receive the great things as well. We prevent God from giving us the great spiritual gifts prepared for us because we do not give thanks for daily gifts. We think that we should not be satisfied with the small measure of spiritual knowledge, experience, and love that has been given to us, and that we must constantly be seeking the great gifts. Then we complain that we lack the deep certainty, the strong faith, and the rich experiences that God has given to other Christians, and we consider these complaints to be pious. We pray for the big things and forget to give thanks for the small (and yet really not so small!) gifts we receive daily. How can God entrust great things to those who will not gratefully receive the little things from God’s hand?

As people answer the question “What are you thankful for?” there are some answers that come up repeatedly. Tangible things, like family, friends, job, house, car. Intangibles, like grace, salvation, love. While important and true, these answers only skim the surface. As Bonhoeffer suggests, we forget to give thanks for the small.

A comprehensive list of things I’m thankful for would include all of the ones listed above: family, friends, job, house, car, grace, salvation, love. But it would include so many more.

  • Church. I am so incredibly blessed to be a part of a church that has shown me glimpses of what true church should be.
  • Laptop. For about a month and a half this year, I didn’t have one, and it gave me a renewed appreciation for having one. Considering how much I like to write, having  laptop is important for me, and I’m so thankful to have one to type these words on.
  • Travel. In May I got to go on a trip to London, Oxford, and Edinburgh, and it was amazing. It was by far the biggest adventure I’ve gone on so far, and not only did I have a lot of fun, I learned a lot about myself.
  • Education. Had I not gone to college, and specifically Kuyper College, I’d be a very different person in a very different place in life. I’m so thankful for the head, heart, and hands knowledge I gained in my time there.
  • Facebook. It sounds silly, but it allows me to keep in touch with a of friends I wouldn’t communicate with otherwise, either due to distance or other reasons, and I really appreciate it as a communication tool. One of my jobs is also in social media, so I appreciate it on a work level as well.
  • Words. I’m so thankful God gave words as a way of expressing ourselves. I don’t know what I’d do without them–both the ones I write myself, and the good, truthful ones I read of others.

Some of those aren’t quite-so-little, so on a smaller scale, I’m also thankful for:

  • Colors.
  • Blankets.
  • Coffee.
  • Indoor plumbing.
  • Pens.
  • My goldfish.
  • Ice cream.
  • You, for taking the time to read this.

What are some of the little (or big) things you’re thankful for that you might sometimes forget to thank God for?

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

Thankful (Again)

Back in the day I had a Xanga. Mine still exists out in cyberspace, actually, and the other day I looked it up again. Seeing as it’s fall, I wanted to see what I had written in previous falls.

This next bit comes, word for word, from a post I wrote 5 years ago on Thanksgiving.

“it was a good day…a fun day. with my mom’s side of the family tonight we were laughing so hard almost everyone was crying…it was great. i think i burned off at least one of my helpings of mashed potatoes and gravy just through laughing. but for me, the whole day kind of had an underlying melancholy tone…not because i wasn’t happy, because i totally was, but because that in this past year i’ve become more aware that what i’ve got isn’t what everyone has.

once a month some people from my youth group go downtown to degage and we play bingo in their dining room with the people who come there for dinner. it’s not a free dinner, but it’s fairly cheap, and the people who come there are there because they can’t afford much else. a lot of them have a mental illness of some kind which prevents them from holding a steady job. many of them have probably not had a place to call home at some point in their lives, and some of them may leave degage and go sleep under a highway bridge. and it’s SO UNFAIR. what did i do to deserve what i’ve got? nothing! and there’s people in other countries who have it worse than these people downtown! kids whose parents have died of AIDS, kids whose parents sell them cause they need the money, people who are forced to be slaves of others, and so much other bad stuff. and here i sit, in my warm house, typing on my computer, having eating waaaay too much today, with SOOOOO many people out there who have no house, no food, no clothes…so today, i am very thankful for what i have, but at the same time, my heart breaks for those who don’t have it. i started to read the wishes in the grand rapids press today but had to stop because i had tears in my eyes…and i only got about halfway through the second page. it’s not because i’m an overly emotional person, but because i’ve become more aware that there actually are people out there who have so many needs. why can’t the rich people give up some of what they’ve got…but for that matter, why can’t i give up some of what i’ve got?

hebrews 12:28 “therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our ‘God is a consuming fire.'” “

Pretty solid insights from 16-year-old me. This year, I find myself feeling quite blessed, and that blessedness is overflowing to thanksgiving, but I can’t honestly say that that thankfulness is overflowing to much action. Once again I found myself tearing up as I read the section of the newspaper asking for help for a variety of needs of people in my own community. But if that doesn’t result in action, I suppose it’s not much good. So maybe that’s why we have Thanksgiving each year–to remember to be thankful, and for that thankfulness to spur us to action. Hopefully.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

Thankfulness IN.

Thanksgiving is getting to me this year.

“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” I Thessalonians 5:16-18

I recently heard a sermon on this passage, and as I sat in church I got to thinking on the little word “in.”

Give thanks IN all circumstances.

I don’t know Greek, and although I was with some friends the other day who do, I forgot to ask them about this particular passage, so I can’t guarantee that the original text says “in.” However, I did check several different translations, and most of them keep the word “in.” None that I checked use the word “for,” which is what I was really wondering about.

Because “Give thanks FOR all circumstances” sounds quite a bit different. A much taller order.

Giving thanks IN all circumstances…ok, that’s still a tall order, but slightly less tall than giving thanks for them.

There are things in life that just suck. Sometimes they suck because we do something dumb, or someone else does something dumb, and sometimes they suck just because the world is broken and messed up. Still, there are always things to be thankful for, even in the middle of an intense suck-fest. Even if it’s as simple as the fact that your eyes or ears work, or for the sun hitting the trees at just the right angle, or a warm fuzzy blanket to wrap up in–these are all things to be thankful for.

I know that I often get bogged down in looking for big things to be thankful for, and if it’s the big things that are going wrong, thankfulness seems elusive. It doesn’t have to be though. I can be thankful IN the midst of all circumstances, even if I can’t quite muster up thankfulness FOR all circumstances. Occasionally, and usually after the big stuff isn’t so bad anymore, I can be thankful for the yucky stuff–or parts of it, anyway. Not that this is easy, or expected, or that I’ll be able to do it always–I’d say the majority of the time I’m not thankful for the difficult stuff, even long after.

But the little things–those I should be thankful for. Always.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

Pre-Thankfulness

My calendar says I don’t have to be thankful til Thursday, but I guess I’m feeling a little ahead of the times. Or the holiday, in this case. Canadians were thankful in October, so by their standards I’m behind the times. I suppose I’m just on my own time.

For me, thankfulness didn’t arrive just today. I’ve been feeling quite blessed lately, and thankfulness often seems to accompany that. It’s not just the big things I’ve been appreciating, and it’s not just the little things either. There’s all sorts of big and little and medium things that are all worth being thankful for, and although I know there’s a lot I should be thankful for that I don’t always do a good job of, I am learning.

There are some repeats that show up on my list of things I’m thankful for every year. God, and the gift of his son Jesus, who’s sacrifice covers all my sin, is kind of a biggy. The biggest, really. And it’s cliche, and people think you don’t mean it when you say you’re thankful for God, but I think it’s more true for me than ever this year. He has taught me so much in the past year, and it is only through his grace that I continue to muddle through each day and on to the next. Lately I’ve been noticing him so much more than I have at other times, and the big and small ways in which he’s at work. My mind has been blown by the things he is doing, and I am so, so thankful that he is opening my eyes to it.

Redemption is one of the biggest things I’ve been noticing. Because this life is messy, and things get broken and screwed up, but God is bigger than the broken. He is able to, and has been, renewing things I had thought were lost. So for redemption, renewal, and repair, I am oh-so-thankful.

Family shows up on my list each year too. It doesn’t make it any less true, and if anything, with the changes my family has undergone with marriages and births in the past few years, it makes it more true that I can honestly put it on my list each year. There are 2 new people in my family since last Thanksgiving, a nephew and a niece, and they already add so much to our family. Things will continue to change in my family in the coming years, but I am confident that I will still be able to genuinely put it on my list year after year. For that confidence alone there is thankfulness, because I know many do not have that.

Friends keep making my list, too. Since last Thanksgiving I think I have learned a ton about friendship, so yet again I find myself saying that it feels more true this year than in years past. Family I’m stuck with, but friends–I am not necessarily stuck with them, and they are not necessarily stuck with me, so the ones that have stuck with me are something to be thankful for. Old friendships that have gotten better, new friendships that hold promise of years to come, and all the “middle-aged” ones that have so much good going on–I am so very, very thankful. Being a friend and having friends is not always an easy thing, and I am grateful that there are those that have seen fit to stick around even when I mess up terribly.

Those are the big ones, I suppose. I could add so many more to this list though. Kuyper College, for one. The academics are good, sure, but more than that I have found incredible community there. I have found fun, and acceptance, and laughter, and love, and GOD through the people there. I have been given many opportunities that I would not have had elsewhere, and I am so, so thankful for my time there.

There’s a lot of things that are perhaps slightly less dramatic, but I am no less thankful for them. Music, and the way it adds so much to my life. My car. Socks. Warm blankets. (Especially important seeing as we still haven’t turned the heat on in our apartment.)

Books. Movies. Ice cream. Cell phones. Hair. Laptops. Lotion. Indoor plumbing. Sunshine. Bacon. Color. Hope. Coffee.

WORDS. I LOVE WORDS. Seriously. I don’t know where I’d be if I hadn’t discovered my love of words.

This post could go on for an incredibly long time, but I’ll leave it at that for now. Moral of the story: I’m feeling pretty thankful these days, and not just because on Thursday I’m supposed to.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~