Thank Yous

Our church has a tradition every Thanksgiving. It isn’t anything spectacular or earth shattering; we simply stand up and say what we are thankful for. That Sunday is my favorite day of the year. It isn’t about the meal we share afterwards–although a Baptist potluck Thanksgiving meal is just about the best food you will ever eat– it’s about the feeling of gratitude.

A few years ago, I told my husband I wanted to start sharing what we are thankful for every night at dinner. We decided we would all share two things each day. My youngest son started us off, saying “I’m thank you for…”, and my heart melted. We didn’t even try to correct him. Sometimes my boys are thankful for the tacos on their plate, other times they are thankful for a house to live in. Sometimes I have to do a lot of soul searching to verbalize anything meaningful, especially if I’m feeling less than gracious after a frustrating or difficult day at work. But regardless of my circumstances, I find two things to thank God for. If I can find just two things to be grateful for, life can’t be all that bad.

I’ve come to think of it as a discipline. I don’t want to skip saying what I’m thankful for just because I don’t feel like it. I want my children to see that it is important. We teach our boys Bible verses about giving thanks. They have memorized Philippians 4:4, which says “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” and Psalm 138:1, “I will give you thanks with all my heart”. I can’t just teach them the verses without practicing what I preach.

It’s hard being a parent when you feel like nothing is good enough for your children. I struggle when I provide for my kids and they complain. I want them to be truly thankful for the gifts they’re given and see how abundantly blessed we are. The dinner time “thank you” isn’t a magical fix for this, but it certainly is a practice I intend to cultivate.

I love when friends and family come over for dinner, because we are able to hear what they are thankful for as well. It is fun to share our rituals with others. The boys get excited to hear new responses and to share their expressions of gratitude.

There are nights when one child might proclaim he is thankful for nothing. (I never said it was perfect!) My husband and I roll our eyes and either stifle a laugh over the drama or hold in a lecture– not at the dinner table. We try to gently offer suggestions. What did you have for lunch today? Who did you play with? Can you thank God for your friends? Your teacher? Can you be thankful you aren’t being sent to time out right now?

My hope is to teach them to see God in all things. No matter our circumstances, we can thank God for loving us and providing for our needs. I want them to notice God’s hand in our lives and see the good in each day. I find myself preparing throughout the day. When something good happens, I store it in my mind for later. My husband is the best at thinking outside the box. I am always amazed at what he can be thankful for.

Our lives can be busy and chaotic. We don’t end up around the dinner table each and every night. Sometimes our dinner is in the car or at the baseball field. Sometimes we find ourselves at a restaurant. The good news is we can be thankful anywhere. It is a portable ritual. If we forget, we can express gratitude before bedtime. Most of the time, one of the boys will remind us. We certainly aren’t perfect. Our thank yous often come out under our breaths or as an afterthought. But we keep saying them, remembering it’s called a practice for a reason. It’s a small thing, but when we are thankful in the small things, we learn how important they truly are.

 

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Surviving Five

I made it past the terrible twos. I survived life with a threenager. I somehow worked through the roaring fours. But let’s talk about frickin hard fives.

Raise your hand if you’ve ever been personally victimized by a five year old.

Tonight will go down as the night we all lost our ever loving minds. I’m living life on the brink. My husband is out of town, work is hard, life is fragile–and I saw a lot of evidence of that today–and to top it off, it’s pouring down rain.

My five year old was set off by a dinner choice he made earlier this week but didn’t want tonight. He said he changed his mind. We had 30 minutes to eat and get back in the car to go to church. (You know the phenomenon of Sunday morning chaos that somehow turns to smiles when you walk through the church doors? I’m convinced Wednesdays are worse.) In a matter of 25 minutes, every pillow was off the couches, sheets were stripped, legs were bruised, bottoms were spanked, toys were taken away, privileges were lost, SOS calls were made, words were yelled, and tears were shed.

I was frustrated that my child’s actions were different for me than they would have been for his dad. Daddy says stop, and he stops. I say stop, and he moves faster. I was frustrated that he made an A in conduct at school, yet couldn’t carry over the same behavior for me. (Let’s be real, I was proud of that A. I know how hard he worked for it, but help a mother out!) I was frustrated that I had a hard day, and it wasn’t going to get easier any time soon.

After an hour away from each other, we came back together for bath time and bed time. He had to pick up the Nerf bullets, scattered throughout the house, and he had to straighten pillows and blankets that he haphazardly threw about. We had a long talk about respect and love and obedience. We ended the night with hugs, kisses, and prayer.

On nights like these, I’m exhausted, but I’m thankful for grace. I’m thankful for a heavenly Father who gives me grace when I act like a five year old. I’m thankful for a God who gives me grace when I lose self-control. I’m thankful for forgiveness and mercy when I don’t live up to what God has created me to be. I’m thankful that His word tells us, “Indeed, we have all received grace upon grace from His fullness” in John 1:16 CSB.

Proverbs 29:17 says, “Discipline your child, and it will bring you peace of mind
and give you delight”. I may not be feeling delightful, but I know I’ve done the right thing. Leaving his behavior unchecked will result in a terror of a human being. I can only hope that he learned a lesson about consequences AND grace tonight. 

Maybe you need to hear that you are not alone in your struggles. Maybe you need to hear that someone else is in the same boat tonight. Parenting is so hard. It would be a hundred times easier to throw in the towel and let the inmates run the asylum. But I guarantee that the tears shed today are watering a harvest for tomorrow. It will get better and these moments will not be the keepers. They will pave the way for better memories down the road. Thank you, Jesus.

“Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day.”- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Disappointment

I ate ice cream and pretzels for dinner tonight.

Let me explain. I need you to understand that I literally cannot legitimately justify this, but I feel the need to share what led me to this point.

A few weeks ago, I decided I wanted to add some highlights to my hair. It’s been a while since I’ve colored it (about two years), and I was ready for a change. I wanted to try out a salon my friend goes to, so I called to make an appointment. To my surprise, I couldn’t schedule for three weeks. After I finally set a time, I realized my husband would be out of town that day. My sister came to the rescue and offered to watch my boys so I could still go. I would also need to leave work a little early to make it to the only appointment time available. Good news was I had plenty of time to plan!

Well today was the day. I left work early, and I couldn’t wait to sit with a good book for a few hours AND get my hair washed–because what is better in this whole entire world than getting your hair washed? I had my pictures pinned on Pinterest, and I was planning my post-highlight selfie.

Cue the screeching halt.

My phone rang as I neared home. The voice on the other end said my appointment was cancelled due to an ill-timed stomach virus. “When can you reschedule?” she asked. I felt the tears well up in my eyes. “But I took off work early, and I arranged child care! It wasn’t easy to make this work. I can’t just reschedule.” I sat in the parking lot at the library with my planner out as we tried to agree on a new date. Nothing in the evening. All booked. No one available. Blink, blink, blink. I coached myself through inevitable tears. I knew I had to pick my boys up from daycare and I would not let myself have to explain that I was crying over rescheduled highlights. Even if they weren’t technically rescheduled. We couldn’t find a date within the next two weeks that would work. I hung up, feeling like I had been punched. I was disappointed that my relaxing afternoon wasn’t going to happen tonight or anytime soon.

I didn’t feel like playing with my boys. I wasn’t in the mood for Nerf gun wars or Monopoly. I made them dinner, but I just wasn’t hungry. I texted my friend to ask if it was stupid to cry over a cancelled hair appointment. She understood my grief and validated my feelings. Friends are the best. I visited with another friend and my tears spilled over when another subject on my heart came up. While it was a serious note, it probably wouldn’t have sent me over the edge on any other night. I apologized for the flash flood and managed to pull it together. Some silly highlights were wreaking havoc on me.

I know the feeling of true disappointment. Being rejected by a potential job. Miscarriage. Losing something of value. Realizing a dream would never come true. The world is full of heartbreak. In the scheme of things, this was so minor, so miniscule. But today, it’s what kept me going. It gave me something to look forward to, and it was gone.

My friend texted to see if I felt better. I did, and it meant a lot that she checked in on me. My sister called with a list of other salons with late hours. Since I cancelled her babysitting gig, she had some free time on her hands. God sends us just who we need.

So I don’t get to go to work tomorrow with fun, new hair, I don’t get to post a new-do selfie, and I might not ever get an appointment with this hair salon. I was, and if I’m honest, I still am disappointed. And I think that’s okay. But I won’t live here. I will remember that God’s mercies are new every morning (Lamentations 3:22-23). It will do me no good to be upset about it tomorrow. I will extend grace. I will rejoice in the Lord, always, and enjoy the dark brown hair He gave me for a few more days.

After I put the boys to bed, after my melancholy mood had subsided, I finally felt a rumbling in my stomach. It did me some good to read a few bedtime stories and get some extra cuddles. I remembered the taco I didn’t eat, and the Bluebell in the fridge. I wasn’t up for getting the leftovers out, so I grabbed the ice cream scoop. And after I had my fair share, I needed some pretzels to balance out the sweet. So that, my friends, is how I came to have ice cream and pretzels for dinner. I can say with certainty that bringing my burdens to God was way more effective and calorie conscious, but it didn’t leave me disappointed.

Y’all Come Back Now!

Here’s a fun fact: I do not have the gift of hospitality. My Bible study group took a spiritual gifts quiz a few months back, and it was my lowest scoring item! Ironic since I work in a hospital, huh? It was kind of surprising to see it on paper. I felt a little weird about it. Does that mean I’m not a nice person? Who isn’t hospitable? But when I started looking back through the questions, it made sense.

Having people over always makes me a little uneasy. What if I run out of food? What if the toilet doesn’t flush? What if my dog barks too much? What if, what if, what if? And then there’s the cleaning. Everything looks fine until you commit to visitors. Then you seem to notice every speck of dust and all the to-do list items that were left unattended. I begin to make a mountain out of a molehill. I know a lot of people who dream of hosting a perfect Thanksgiving or Christmas. A house full of family, food, and memories. Not me. No thanks. I’m all about bringing a side dish.

But let me tell you this: It really does warm my heart when people gather at my house. Cleaning, preparing, and stressing aside, there is nothing better than using my home for fellowship. Tonight, Daniel and I hosted our youth group at our house for the first time since we stepped into our roles as youth ministers. We didn’t have any Sunday night activities planned at church, so Daniel suggested we have the group over at our house for dinner and a devotional. And guess what! I didn’t freak out!

In the moments before the first few students arrived–and they drove themselves which I’m still not used to– I worried that we would only have a couple kids and it would be awkward. I wondered what we would do for two whole hours. I grabbed a can of Pledge for a few last minute swipes across furniture. In my bedroom. You know, just in case someone went wandering? I know, I’ve got to chill.

But they came. They came because they wanted to. We played games, we read the Bible, we talked about school starting and upcoming events. The girls showed me their homecoming dresses, because it’s never too early, and the guys played baseball with Daniel. We ate pizza and brownies, and it was just perfect.

When Daniel and I moved in our house, we made a commitment to use it for God. We saw it as a home that welcomed others, a place to share God’s love, and a place to cultivate a walk with Christ. This wasn’t the first time it’s been used for students or Bible study, but it was exactly what we chose this house for. God reminded me that it wasn’t about how big or how clean my house was. He just asked us to be obedient in using it for His glory.

As I reminded the youth of 2 Timothy 1:7– For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind– I spoke to myself as well. That fear did not come from God. It was a distraction to prevent a night like this from happening. Hospitality doesn’t have to be my strongest characteristic for me to still be hospitable. Opening my house gave me an opportunity to use one of my stronger gifts of exhortation. I used my gift of faith to help me trust God that stepping outside of my comfort zone was exactly the right choice tonight. In other words, not today, Satan!

In my weakness, He is strong (see 2 Corinthians 12:9). He will use all things to work together for His good (see Romans 8:28). He will supply everything I need (see Philippians 4:19).

How can you step out in faith today? How can God use your weakness for His glory?

“God has called you to be brave. And God will equip you to do it.” -Annie F. Downs

Stoplight Gospel

Here’s the thing about reading books by Bob Goff: It will wreck you!

Let me explain. I read Everybody, Always, and I’ve been inspired to love like Jesus. And Bob Goff. So I gave it a try last week, and it didn’t go so well.

On my way to and from work, there are several homeless men. It’s usually the same guys every day, one at one stoplight in the morning, another at a different stoplight in the afternoon. My route doesn’t put me in the best lane to give to Morning Guy, at least that’s my excuse, but last week, I finally felt the urge to give to Afternoon Guy, who was more easily reachable. I had a five dollar bill and a one dollar bill. I felt SO good about myself because I had the five ready to go. Above and beyond, I tell ya!

So I get it out, but he has already passed my car. I roll down my window, keeping an eye on the light, and I realize he hadn’t noticed. So I yell “excuse me!”, and he comes running. I handed him the five, and he thanked me, very genuinely. And I drove along. But I didn’t feel right. I felt like the “excuse me” was rude, or weird or just off. I definitely overanalyzed, but I just felt like I’d made a mistake. Not because of the man, but because of me. I prayed, asking God why I didn’t feel like I’d done it right. And he reminded me of a family I’d met minutes before.

As I was nearing the end of my work day, a family came in to the playroom. The oldest daughter was in the hospital, and her siblings needed a place to go for a little bit. When they first came in, I was about to walk a sippy cup to another patient, but the little sister got super excited because she thought I had juice for her. The other brother asked my coworker for change for the vending machine. The mom asked if she could borrow a phone. The children seemed a little overwhelmed by all the toys and movies. The brother picked out a movie and was ecstatic when I told him he could play with a ball and watch a show at the same time. Something seemed a little strange, and we soon realized they were homeless. I should have gotten together some change for the vending machine at that moment or provided a roll of quarters, which we keep on hand for families in need. I just didn’t think about it. I focused on cleaning up the playroom, sending them on their way, and making my exit.

God laid them on my heart on my drive home. I didn’t take care of the people right in front of me. The next day I did my best to help them, grateful I had a second day to make it right—blessed by people who donate gift cards for times such as these.

Well, today I was at my usual stop light, and the timing was right. I had a few ones, and I “just happened” to have an extra apple and a granola bar in my lunch box. I rolled down my window, and uttered a much more sympathetic “sir?”. He came running. I offered my snacks and a couple bucks, but this time, after he thanked me, I asked his name. There was dialogue. He’s John. And I’m Maddie. And then he asked me to please pray for him. I’m hopeful that next week, I can find out what he wants me to pray for.

Today I got close enough to learn more. Close enough to leave a trace of smoke in my car. Close enough to be uncomfortable for a minute. And that was the difference. Jesus wouldn’t keep anyone at an arm’s length. I did it all wrong the first time. My hands gave, but my heart didn’t.

Matthew 25:40 says “And the King will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” (CSB) So many see John as the least of these. I’m sure he has a story, and right now, he probably feels like the least of these. But more than that, he’s child of God. He was in front of me today, but I can’t miss others whom I see as well. Those whose needs aren’t so apparent or easy to fix. Those who have to ask for money. Those who don’t act like you because they’ve never known a life like yours. Those whom God lays on your heart. For those people, be brave.

Love like Jesus.

Join me in praying for John.