Thankgiving is not just a holiday or something we should do once a year. Instead, thanksgiving is a daily choice. It is the choice to give thanks in all circumstances. It is the choice to be thankful for the dirty dishes. Those dirty dishes are a reminder of food and family you have been blessed to receive. Remember there are many people who have no one to clutter there homes or dirty their dishes. It is a choice to be thankful for our children, regardless of their behavior. Yes, even those children who delight us one moment and disappoint us the next. You see it is our children that are the greatest blessings because they keep us humble and dependent on a God who loves them and us the same…unconditionally. Thanksgiving is a choice more than anything else. It is a choice to see good and to have an eternal perspective rather than a temporal one. It is a choice to thank God for the opportunities to see Him intervene and the opportunities to encourage others to seek Him as well. Thanksgiving is a choice to see God working in and through our circumstances. Choose thankfulness today.
A couple of years ago, I wrote this story for my eighth graders. I wanted them to never forget that God has a special plan for them and faith and hope are born out of a passion for Jesus. When we lose that passion for Jesus, He comes to us and restores us. I pray that this story will inspire you and encourage you to pursue Him. Please share it with anyone who might be encouraged by His message and give me any feedback you might have. God bless you.
Buried deep in the busy city, nestled between the crowded streets there was an abandoned, forgotten park. The once manicured and attractive shrubbery was now overgrown and repulsive. What once drew hundreds of children out of their homes, now only collected trash and a large variety of unwanted insects. It was almost as if the city no longer needed the park or remembered its purpose.
The park itself had felt the abandonment of its neighbors. It felt ugly and ashamed, and that somehow it had done something wrong. The busyness of the crowds and the carelessness of the children daily reminded the park of its worthlessness. With each passing day the park would try to put on the façade that it was still the park it had always been. It would straighten its shrubbery, weave its unmanageable vines, and sweep its trash deep within it foliage, but still people hurried by with only a glance. Tired of pretending that nothing was wrong, the park eventually allowed the pain of rejection and the carelessness of her inattentive neighbors to overwhelm her. She began to sleep in as the sun arose. She no longer cleaned up the trash or straightened her greenery. Sullen and depressed she sat, day after day hoping her life would change, yet unwilling and unable to risk another rejection. Her vines became more overgrown and unattractive, while the trash of the city cluttered every crevice, until one day she looked more like a dump than a park.
It was upon this day, that an unexpected guest came to visit the park. This guest was not like the others, who looked upon her with disgust. Instead he looked upon her with potential and love. Peering into the cluttered mess of trash, and dusty foliage, he saw the purpose and the potential of this park. He saw the treasure and value within. As he reached to unlock the rusted gate, the park lashed out in fear and tore the man’s hand with her cruel claws hoping to detour him from entering her painful world. This however did not detour the guest, for he knew that he could restore the park to what it was meant to be, but it would take time.
So, he began to gently pick up the trash on the outskirts of the park, and whistle a sweet song as he worked, until others began to see her beauty as well. With each passing hour, people began to see the park again, and remembered back to the days when they had played on her jungle gym and had rolled in her grass. Yet still they hurried past, which again crushed the park.
Exhausted, but unrelenting the guest continued to work day after day. Day and night he would trim her foliage and weave her vines. He would clean up her trash and polish her gate, until eventually her cruel claws no long attacked him. She now allowed him to enter her gate, exposing her heart. As he sang, however, she would continue to close her ears to his songs, and would reject his kindness, for deep down she believed she was a waste of space.
These feelings were a response to the anger she felt toward others. “Why don’t they appreciate my beauty? Why don’t they notice how miserable I feel? Why doesn’t anyone love me?” she sobbed. These feelings of anger and self-pity boiled within her with each passing day.
Yes, she appreciated the guest’s kindness, but still no one else noticed her. “I deserve more than this!” she would shout nightly into the darkness, until one night the guest came with a flashlight, a ladder, and a pile of silver. This night would be different. This night in the heart of the park, he began to build a beautiful slide. Intrigued the park perked up her foliage, and eagerly awaited the completion of the slide for she knew that this slide would change her life.
This slide seemed to be 50 feet high, and it had twists and turns that would keep children on their toes. The rails of the slide were high enough to protect the children, but low enough to bring both terror and delight. It was the perfect mix of mystery, terror, and joy. This slide was made of pure silver, and it glistened as the sun rose overhead. “Surely now children will come to play here again, and now others will see my worth,” she shouted. “I will be the most famous park in the city.”
However the guest quickly and sternly warned her, “Only if you use this slide for the glory of its Creator will it draw people to itself through her. Only if the neighbors can see past your beauty and purpose will you be blessed.”
Confused and a little annoyed, the park protested, “Why would you spend so much time on me, if this slide was not meant to help me? Why did you even come at all? This is what I need to make people love me again. I will be thankful to you, but why can’t I proclaim to the city my purpose, and use this slide to draw others to me?”
The guest simply smiled and said, “You can, but the glory will only last until your slide tarnishes. You see silver requires constant polishing for it is the only metal to lose its luster over time. If you are not careful, your newness will fade into a distant memory as you did before. When you look at life for only what you can get today, you will miss the plan I have always had for you. You will miss your greater purpose, and you will be sullen, depressed, and overwhelmed again, when the attention fades. However, if you use this gift to proclaim my glory, and the glory of the one who sent me, you will never be overwhelmed. You will remember that it is not for you that you exist. It is much more than that. You were not meant to draw people to you. You were made to draw people to me. I am your designer and I allow you to draw others to you, so that they see me. Sometimes you will draw others through your joys, sometimes you will draw others through your pain, but never will I draw others to you simply for yourself. You were meant to share me, to a city full of people who don’t know me. You have experienced my grace before, yet you have forgotten because you have allowed others to affect you, instead of you affecting others. I will renew your beauty as I prune you and polish your slide daily, if you allow me to. But if you grow too busy or you take the glory for yourself again, you will miss out on your purpose and the blessings I have for you. Please, heed my warning and cherish our time together each day. For I know the plans I have for you and I want nothing to stand between us. Please let me guide you each day, I am your only hope for true happiness and joy.”
Ashamed of her selfishness and limited perspective the park hung her head and humbly replied, “Thank you for loving me when no one else did. Thank you for designing me, and placing me where you did. Please help me to draw others to you, and remind me when I get off course.”
Overwhelmed with love for his creation, the guest straightened the park’s shrubs and closed her gate ever so gently, leaving her to reflect his glory throughout the day. Excited to see the children’s faces each day as they rushed to the slide, the guest beamed with joy. He knew many would be drawn to the splendid, silver slide, but they would be most changed by the work that he had done in the heart of the park.
Throughout life we are called to be obedient; however even at the very beginning of life we rebel against it. As toddlers we seek to control our world, and we fight against the authority of our parents. Our parents tell us to sit down, and we stand up. Our parents tell us to come to them, and we run away. As we grow, some of us learn to obey a little more often, at least in our actions that others can see. However, at the core of who we are we rebel against the authorities in our lives: God, parents, teachers, bosses, husbands, ….and we use obedience as a four letter word.
This week God has continually reminded me that partial obedience isn’t really obedience at all. If my children only clean their rooms partially, I go crazy and start ranting about how disobedient they have been. However in their minds, they have cleaned their rooms: the clothes were in the drawers (Who cares that the drawers weren’t able to close?); the laundry was in the basket (In fact all the clothes that were on the floor, both clean and dirty, went into the basket.); and all of their stuff was on their desk (Even though it is piled so high, the desk can’t even be used for its purpose.). When I see this type of behavior in my children, I cringe because I know they rushed through the motions and were seeking to obey only enough to get me off their back. Their hearts were far from being obedient in heart, mind, and spirit and in turn it hurts me as their parent.
Well, how does this relate to you and me? Bottom line: Humans are selfish and at our core we choose to be disobedient and it hurts those around us. We choose to obey God, our bosses, and our spouses only enough to get them off our backs. We say on the outside that we are obedient, and we even trick ourselves into believing that we are at times. Although the majority of the time, we are shoving things into the closet, hiding them under the bed, and piling them on our desk. When in reality, God doesn’t want us to be faking it and partially obeying what He asked us to do. He wants us to be 100% obedient to Him moment by moment. He wants us to depend on Him for our strength. He wants us to be praying continually, and obeying immediately. He doesn’t ask for this because He is controlling and wants His own way, instead it is because He loves us and knows His way is best. So remember, when you want to only partially obey what your boss, your spouse, and even God says, this is still anact of disobedience.
God over the years has asked me to do some crazy things like: write short stories for publishing, even though my brother is the writer; speak about His healing power, even though I have not seen anyone completely healed; and be obedient in the little choices of food consumption and daily devotions, even though I constantly fail to do this. This week God pointed out to me why I feel like a failure. The truth is I have only been partially obedient. I have obeyed enough to start to see the fruits of these tasks, only to stop partially through the process and fall back into bad habits. Then the cycle begins: I feel like a failure and a crazy person; I get depressed; I give up and I run away; God reminds me of the tasks; and the process begins again.
So where do I go from here.
I pick where I left off. I seek moment by moment to be obedient even when I don’t want to, and I stop using the word obedience as a four letter word.
When Adam and Eve chose to sin, they naively believed a fig leaf could cover their nakedness. However, no fig leaf can do what Jesus alone can do. Yet everyday, I get up and put on my “fig leaf” wardrobe and try to convince myself and others that I have it all together. I work hard to repair the parts of the leaf that are decomposing and might expose my innermost thoughts or my selfish ways. I work hard to smooth out the wrinkles and not crumble the itchy mess of my delicate fig leaf. I try hard to be the best employee, friend, wife, and mother, only to realize that I fall short in all of those areas. I point fingers at other’s faulty fig leaves, trying to distract others from myself and deflect my own shortcomings. I do this only to give myself time to try and fix my own figgy mess. But the truth is my mess is too great to fix, and my mess is ok when there is sufficient coverage. So what I do from here is a choice. I can keep trying to repair my fig leaf and be my own savior, where I will fall short. Or I can remove the fig leaf, exposing my inadequacies, and put on the sheepskin of my Savior, which covers all of my flaws. The choice is mine afresh daily: fig leave or sheepskin? I can’t wear both, I am either going to depend on myself or Him? So good-bye fig leaf. I will miss your itchiness, gapping holes, and lack of coverage, while enjoying the costly sheepskin of the Lamb of God.
Saying that I trust God is easy when I can predict the outcome. Trusting God is easy when I have seen Him come through in this area before. Trusting God is easy when I have nothing to lose. But trusting God when I might look foolish, simple, or naive…NO THANKS. For the last seven years for sure, and probably for my whole life, I have refused to risk looking foolish even if God was the one asking me to do it. You see for ten long years, my family has been altered and afflicted with the disorder known as autism. When my daughter Alicia was two and a half, she was diagnosed with autism and a year later epilepsy. These diagnoses devastated me and made me very confused. Autism broke my heart because I love my daughter, and I felt my hopes and dreams for her were dashed upon the rocks. It was in those early years of her diagnoses though that I grew in leaps and bounds spiritually. I learned to trust God and depend on His strength and direction. I learned to be less selfish and to trust that God works all things for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. Then as the years passed, I became discouraged and often took matters into my own hands. I went through many stages of grief and acceptance. I often took matters into my own hands and tried to be her savior. I stumbled through this strange world of autism, thinking I am going to be the one to heal my daughter. She will be the exception to every rule, I often told myself. I read every article, book, and ad about autism I could find and tried even the craziest of therapies. I watched video after video and tried therapy after therapy, only to feel more discouraged and disappointed. Then in my desperation I cried out to God, why have you forsaken me? Why don’t you love me, and why are you punishing my child for my obvious sins? It was in those moments, that God spoke to my heart. Tami, I haven’t forsaken you or Alicia; instead, I have been and will continue to be in these difficult moments with you both. I will heal her, and through her the world will see my glory! No one will be confused! No one will think you have healed her. No doctor will get the glory either. Instead, you and the whole world will know that I created her to display my glory. I have a plan, so please just trust me!
That talk with God was almost 7 years ago, and still I doubt the promise God made to me. I question myself, “Did God really make that promise to me, or was it just wishful thinking? Maybe He meant He would heal her in heaven, and I in my ignorance assumed it would be in this lifetime.” Over and over again I have gone over and over these thoughts and this promise in my mind. I have begged God to correct me if I am imagining things, or if I have placed words in His mouth, and again and again He has reassured me that He made me a promise.
So where do I go from here? Do I sit and pout because I haven’t seen it happen? I have been there and done that. Do I keep this promise a secret and wish it was true? I have done that too. Or do I boldly proclaim His promise to me and risk sounding like the crazy Christian who blindly trusts in an invisible God? Well, guess what God has asked me to do? That’s right I am going to risk being the fool. I am going to risk looking like the crazy woman who blindly trusts God! I am going to be like Abraham and walk up Mt. Moriah with no lamb, and I am going to sacrifice my pride for the sake of obedience. I am going to trust like David, that my God can do the impossible, if I stand before the giant. I am going to hope like Moses that God will part the waters and allow Alicia to walk safely through the Red Sea of Autism to the promise land. I am going to proclaim that God made me a promise, and even if I am 80 year old when He fulfills it, I will stand firmly on the faith that my God is the God of impossible dreams. I will no longer be silent, and I will stop doubting His plans are for my good. I am going to rest in His promise and trust that He will heal my child.
As the month of April, Autism Awareness Month, approaches, I beg you to pray with me for Alicia and other kids like Alicia who are diagnosed with autism. Pray that God’s healing power would heal them, and His name will be glorified. Risk looking crazy, for the sake of Christ, that He may be glorified!!!! Yes, I am crazy for Jesus, even if I look like a fool to you.
There are very few things that smell as potent as a skunk! Skunks are pungent smelling creatures that spray their foul odor when threatened or mating. However, even when they don’t spray it, they seem to ooze a musky smell. We have a lot we can learn from a skunk.
Several years ago, when I was teaching the book of Ephesians to my students, I was inspired by Ephesians 5:1-2, which talks about being “a fragrant offering of love to the Lord”. This phrase got me thinking of a word picture to remind myself and my students to be cognoscente of the scent we leave behind when others encounter us. You see we can either leave a scent that is foul and laced with the sinfulness and filth of this world, or we can leave the sweet, pure scent of our Lord oozing with His love. We can either swim in the sewers of life: selfishness, fornication, lust, envy, drunkenness., ect and let off a “crappy” odor turning people away. Or we can swim in the pools of life: love, joy, faithfulness, gentleness, kindness, peacefulness, patience , and self control and be stinky with the love of the Lord. I would encourge you to adopt this motto: Be Stinky 4 Jesus and trasmit his scent of Love to a world who wants to see Christians, who are authentic imitatiors of Christ. So be like a skunk and transmit the scent of the Lord wherever you go. Ooze Love and spray people when necessay.