Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thank YOU!

This week I have been thinking about people I am thankful for. There’s a very long list!

But here’s what I just this morning realized: The list is even longer than I had thought since it includes—you! What I mean is that it includes hundreds of moms that I get to meet when I travel and speak. Some tell me that they read this blog (thank you!).

And here’s what happens when I travel and meet moms: I am so inspired by your stories. I am absolutely blown away by your commitment, creativity, and courage. I see it in your eyes when you talk about your families. I hear it in your voices when you share your stories. I feel it in your body language when you bring your children to meet me.

Whether you are sharing your stories about being a single parent, about your husband’s repeated deployments, about your long struggle with cancer, about the joys and challenges of parenting your beautiful little girl with Downs syndrome—or just the day-to-dayness of being a mom, I see something in you that I admire beyond words.

It causes me to give thanks—to God and for you.

I just got back from a super-fun Texas road trip. And the stories linger…and they blend with stories from the last six months or so of travel. There are way too many to share right now. Especially since this is Thanksgiving week and I know you have a whole lot to do besides read this blog!

But I do want to thank you for the way your thanks to me for Mom to Mom’s ministry in your life encourages me. You encourage me because my prayer for Mom to Mom is always that we will pour encouragement into moms and point them Godward. It is a great gift for me when I hear that is happening.

Just three quick examples:

Thank you to the New Hampshire mom who told me that she was so encouraged by some of the quotes from Mom to Mom that she wrote them all over the wall of the room she seemed to find herself spending the most time in—her bathroom! She even showed me a picture to prove it. And believe me, it looked really cool! (She obviously has an artist’s touch).

Thank you to the Texas mom who told me, “Mom to Mom saved my life—and possibly the life of my son!” She went on to tell me that her baby had such bad colic that he cried all the time, night and day. Her husband traveled during the week so she was mostly alone with this baby. “Sometimes I felt as if I just could not survive,” she said. “Being a mom was so very different from what I had expected. But then I would come to Mom to Mom on Wednesdays, and it would get me though the rest of the week till my husband came home Friday night. My son finally outgrew the colic—and now I’m loving being a mom!”

Thank you especially to the precious New Mexico mom who has struggled with cerebral palsy and told me: “This year at Mom to Mom was the first time in my life that I truly felt God’s love—at deeper levels than ever before in my life.” She paused and added, “And you know, Linda, when you know God loves you—really loves you—it changes everything!”

It does, doesn’t it? Change everything—to know God truly, deeply loves you and your family unconditionally and forever?

That’s my prayer for each of you this Thanksgiving: That you will feel His love. And you will know that this is the best reason of all to give thanks!

I echo Paul’s words in Philippians 1:3-4: “I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for you, I always pray with joy…”

Thank you! And Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Gratitude Factor

It feels like a conspiracy of some sort. A Holy Spirit conspiracy, that is. The good kind. Everywhere I look, I am surrounded by reminders of the immense value of gratitude—reminders of my need to foster a grateful heart.

It started when I turned the calendar to a new month: November. November has always been my month of thanks-giving. Years ago when I led a local Mom to Mom group, November was my month for writing each Titus 2 leader a note highlighting particular things about her for which I was grateful. I was amazed every year at how good it felt to do that. It was such a reminder of God’s many blessings in giving us the leaders we had. It was also a reminder of the crazy, wonderful, diverse gifts of the Body of Christ. I love how different we all are!

Yet I seem to need November. Maybe it’s because I can be prone to self-pity—especially in regard to how far away all our kids and grandkids live. It seems to hit me the hardest when I’ve just returned from a visit with some of them. Woody and I just got back from a great weekend with Bengt (4) and Hannah (6 months) and Kelly (their mom) in North Carolina and even got to talk with Lars (their dad) from Afghanistan. I am so grateful—I really am.

But we did have to come home. And home (in Wisconsin) is a long way from North Carolina—and an even longer way from Afghanistan! So this week was somehow lonelier than usual. I could feel a pity party coming on.

Funny, isn’t it, how easily I forget how much I have to be thankful for (wonderful kids and grandkids, for example—and the opportunity to see them fairly often).

As I said, I need November. And God, it seems, had arranged more reminders for me this week. There’s my sign in the kitchen, beautifully done by a Mom to Mom mom: It says simply “Give thanks.” And it reminds me of a sign I read about in a missionary’s home which put it this way: “Try giving thanks.” Hmmm. Good idea!

God’s reminders kept coming to me—often from the most unsuspected places. I was working on a talk about “Three Gifts That Keep on Giving.” Guess what one of those is: a thankful heart. Then, in preparing for a Bible study on Colossians, what should I find but Paul talking about “overflowing with thanks.” Paul, of all people. Writing as a prisoner, probably chained 24/7 to a Roman guard. According to one commentator, Paul uses that word translated “overflowing” some 26 times.

And he didn’t even have grandchildren!

It seems, according to Paul—and also in my own experience—that a thankful heart leads to joy. The deep-down kind of joy that transcends circumstances. The kind you can feel even on the lonely days, the overwhelmed days, the “down” days.

I’ve seen it happen in my own life. Here’s one way it works: when I begin to feel sad, lonely, or disappointed, or when I am overcome with missing my mom, or when I am feeling way too far away from family and friends, or when I feel myself letting worry overtake prayer (instead of the other way around), then I take a “sad-glad” walk. For the first part of the walk, I tell God all the things I am sad about. You’d be surprised at what a good listener He is. And very patient! Then I make the choice to tell Him all the things I am thankful for. I am amazed every time how long that list is. It often becomes a very long walk!

Now this may seem backward to you. And theologically speaking, I think it is. We really should begin with praise and thanksgiving. But somehow, on certain days, I find that venting—getting all that sadness out—frees me up to truly rejoice in the many blessings God has given me. And how many there are.

It’s like the old hymn my mom used to play so beautifully: “Count Your Blessings.” It’s true, isn’t it? “Count your blessings, name them one by one; and it will surprise you what the Lord has done!” It always does—surprise me, that is.

You can see why I need November.