On Being Thankful

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Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.
2 Corinthians 9:10-11

Because I have so very much for which to be thankful and so very many thoughts on how and why to be thankful, writing about being thankful sometimes leaves me not knowing where to even begin. (For more on what I’m personally thankful for, click here, here, here. , or here. 🙂 )

But I think what I realize about writing about being thankful is that my words should be a simple reminder of what makes the Thanksgiving holiday meaningful in the first place. While an exquisitely composed, sophisticated article about giving thanks would, I’m sure, be helpful, a simple message of the importance of giving thanks seems much more fitting.

What this holiday calls for is simplicity. Bob Russell, a wise and respected Christian minister, recently explained that Thanksgiving is “one of the few holidays that hasn’t been commercialized.” It is a day in which we pause to gather with our closest family and friends to enjoy time together and to give thanks for our blessings. We take a time out. The world stops for a day so that we can remember and appreciate all that we have to be thankful for.

Being thankful does not come easily to us. Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving an official holiday, and perhaps he knew that we needed this day to be official so that it would remind us to make an effort to be thankful. We want to think we are grateful by design, but we aren’t because it isn’t natural for us. So we have all the more reason to choose to work harder at being thankful.

Children must be taught to say “thank you,” but even after learning to speak these two words, they must often be reminded to do so. Finally the words stick and become habit to repeat at appropriate times. And though voicing a “thank you” is certainly appreciated, it is politeness. To be thankful, our hearts must get involved.

For our hearts, our innermost being, to feel thankful, we should recognize two things. First, we should acknowledge what we are thankful for. Little things, big thinks, tiny things, ginormous things, and all the in-between things. Say them out loud, write them down, include them in your prayers. And tell people. Tell the people you love that you’re thankful for them. Tell them why you’re thankful for them. Just tell them. And second, we should accept our blessings with a sense of humbleness, knowing that we are often undeserving of such goodness. This last bit helps us fight entitlement, gratitude’s archnemesis.

Popular culture does not inherently support a spirit of thanksgiving. Instead, our society often encourages us to feel as though we deserve something — to feel entitled. When we begin feeling as though we deserve a, b, or c, it is time to pause and take a step back. Having an entitled attitude does not make us better humans. Entitlement strips us of our ability to empathize, and it hinders us from being compassionate. Entitlement shields our hearts from gratitude. We must fight the urge to let entitlement creep in, and strive to be better than entitlement will ever allow us to be.

We can cultivate a thankful attitude, perspective, and heart, but we must be intentional in doing so. Practicing patience, thoughtfulness, and love will help. It’s much more difficult to think of someone else rather than ourselves, but if we don’t capitalize on opportunities to show our true and deep feelings of gratitude, those moments will pass us by. Let’s model thanksgiving in our lives each day. Let’s be thankful. Acknowledge it, feel it, and bestow it.

Most of all, let us give thanks for Jesus Christ, who gave his life so that we might have life.

 

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
1 Thessalonians 5:18

Be the Courageous Chicken and Carefully Cross the Road

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Running for some people is a time to think and to process. For me, it’s more a time to shut down. I mindlessly listen to music or, if I’m feeling rather ambitious, I’ll listen to a podcast episode or audiobook. I don’t mind running the same route as long as it’s one I enjoy, especially on a pretty day.

One afternoon, I laced up my tennis shoes and headed out for a run. It was warm outside, but not too hot, and the afternoon sun was high and clear. Per usual, I headed down the same street I always run, lightly jogging to get started. An adorable neighborhood is on the right side of this street and a beautiful green meadow lines the left side.

I wasn’t picking up much speed since I’d just begun; instead, I was just cruising along on the left sidewalk, admiring the bright greens in the meadow. Just as I gazed down the sidewalk, a small brown bundle shot out from a patch of overgrowth into the street with such speed my eyes barely registered it. By the time I realized it was a bunny that had darted clear out in the street, it had long since disappeared into the overgrown ditch on the other side of the road, opposite me.

During this brief moment, my adrenaline had kicked in, but it wasn’t until a few seconds later that I realized it. After the clearing of the bunny, I felt a warm rush move through extremities and my heart sped up as it reacted to the adrenaline coursing through my veins. I kept moving forward to try to calm my nerves while also trying to steady my breathing a bit.

You see, the sudden movement that came from out of nowhere gave me quite a little jolt of fear. No matter that it was a bunny; it was still unexpected. And even after processing that the small, speedy motion was only a bunny, I still felt the after-effects of such a rush.

Obviously the bunny was harmless, but wow! It was making a move! And this bunny not only caught my attention, he startled me. The bunny must also have been watching for traffic because there wasn’t a car in sight when it made its dash to the other side.

Though this comparison might be a bit cliche, I think sometimes we need to be more like this bunny.

Occasionally it’s just good to make a change. If you have a longing for something on the other side of the road, and your longing is for something good, it’s ok to cross the road. Maybe you’re a quiet, bashful person who has a desire to make a rather grand leap. Bound away! If change hasn’t been your thing, but you’d like to mix things up, get to shakin’. You may not be one to keep people on their toes, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with that. But if a little bit of change is going to give you an extra pep in your step, it’s worth pushing yourself. Remember, too, that sometimes you may just have to give yourself a shove one direction or another.

Now mind you, I don’t mean a dangerous, bad, or super risky move, nor do I mean one for which you’re unprepared. Again, consider the bunny. He didn’t run over and bite me nor did he live so dangerously he got hit by a car. Rash decisions should be cautioned. I’d go so far as to say, don’t make them. But there’s something to be said for being thoughtful, purpose-driven, well-prepared, and courageous. If you want to get to the other side, you must cross the road; just do so carefully and after having prepared beforehand.

We can become rather unhappy without even knowing it. I think it’s gradual a lot of the time, which is why it’s more difficult to sense. But try to take a step back and evaluate where you are. Are you content? And if not, is there something you can do about it? Be smart about the changes you make, but know it’s ok to have the courage to make some.

Most importantly, pray, seek God’s will, and ask for his guidance. Then, continually ask for patience in the meantime. If you’re walking daily with God and pursuing His will, He will make your paths straight.

 

In all your ways submit to Him, and He will make your paths straight.
Proverbs 3:6

Riveting Mystery Books That Will Still Allow You to Sleep at Night

Recently I’ve picked up a few popular psychological thrillers to read. I kept seeing them advertised everywhere, so I started making a list of the one’s I thought looked interesting. I’ve made it through two in the past couple weeks, but I stopped reading my most recent find only a few chapters in. I got the feeling it was going to be a bit too gory, so, long story short (too late), I read some reviews and found out real fast that finishing that book was not going to happen.

Classic mystery stories are a big part of what got me hooked on literature in the first place. I’ve always loved a good mystery. So what happened to those good ole fashioned ghost stories and mystery tales? I don’t know, honestly. But I wish someone would bring them back.

In the meantime, here’s a list of a few mysterious but not-too-scary books. Happy haunting!

 

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie (1939)

A group of ten people arrive on Indian Island, though their host remains unknown. After dinner the first night of the guests’ arrival, a gramophone message announces the guests to be accused of murder – and they will pay. One by one, guests begin to disappear. This is a mystery story of intrigue and secrets.

The Complete Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (first appearance made in 1887-1927)

Sherlock Holmes is a detective whose stories are narrated by his friend and counterpart, Dr. Watson. The duo have become quite a popular pair over the years. The complete works total four novels and fifty-six short stories. Holmes cares not for cleanliness; it is his cleverness that has allured readers for over a century.

“The Telltale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe (1843)

This short story is narrated by one of Poe’s famous unreliable narrators. The unnamed teller of the tale recounts having murdered an older man who apparently never wronged him. Thus the motive for the murder remains masked. However, the details which lead to the actual murder are described quite vividly. All the while, the narrator insists that he is sane. You be the judge.

Dracula by Bram Stoker (1897)

We have this book to thank for all the vampire novels we are still reading (and shows we’re watching) today. I love that these stories are still with us! In the 1897 version of Dracula, the vampire attempts to move to England from his home in Transylvania because he basically wants to spread vampirism. He gets into quite a tiff with Van Helsing along the way, and wah-lah: you have an epic vampire tale.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (1818)

Captain Robert Walton writes to his sister the story of Victor Frankenstein. While in college, Frankenstein became rather obsessed with life and immortality and excelled in his studies of chemistry. The combination of his desire to generate life and his knowledge of science make for a deadly combination, so to speak, when he creates his Creature. This Creature turns evil (to no one’s surprise) and seeks revenge on Frankenstein.

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson (1886)

Dr. Henry Jekyll and Mr. Edward Hyde are quite opposites, but interesting enough, it’s discovered early in the novel that Dr. Jekyll has made Edward Hyde his beneficiary. Hyde has some secrets to hide, while Jekyll is well-liked and respected in society. The link between the two becomes blurred, but as it turns out, Jekyll drinks a serum in order to become Hyde. The struggle between the two personas becomes one of riveting plight.

The Tragedy of Macbeth by William Shakespeare (1606)

You’re probably not going to pick this one up for a quick read, but it is actually Shakespeare’s shortest tragedy. Macbeth believes himself to be destined to become king, and he decided, at the urging of his wife, to do whatever it takes to become king. Shakespeare shows us what can happen to those who seek power for selfish ambition. Macbeth is a story of witches, murder, and unveiled mystery.

Fear Street by R.L. Stine

Goosebumps and Fear Street are two of the series that got me hooked on reading. (Charlaine Harris’s Aurora Teagarden series is one of my now favorites.) I can’t help but give them a shout out since having been introduced to these books led me to my love of literature.
Let me know any mysteries you like, too!

Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe

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It’s never too late to be wise.
Robinson Crusoe


Robinson Crusoe
was published in 1719. Written by Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe is the tale of a man who dreams of becoming a sailor and has adventure far beyond those dreams.

The first few pages open with an explanation from Crusoe about his desire to have a life at sea and his father’s wish for him to find a different desire. Crusoe’s father has a serious conversation with him about the casualties and discomforts of such a life. He explains all the benefits living a middle class lifestyle provides, telling Crusoe that many people would be elated to have the opportunity to live a life in “the middle station.” His effort (and tearful plea) to persuade Crusoe against going to sea moves Crusoe – but only for a year’s time. Desire ultimately gets the better of him, so he leaves on a whim without a word to his parents.

Crusoe’s first voyage includes two storms, the first of which scares Crusoe terribly. He prays to God to save him, promising he will return home once upon land. Yet he forgets that promise once the storm passes, but when the next one approaches, he immediately regrets abandoning his prior conviction. But again, this storm passes, Crusoe reaches dry land, and, even after being warned by the master of the ship that misfortune at sea seems to follow him (Crusoe), he presses on to another voyage.

From there, Crusoe sets sail, is captured, becomes enslaved, strategically escapes, and surprisingly enough, lands himself in “the Brazils.” He becomes a plantation owner and lives there for about four years before volunteering to sail to Guinea. Yet it is on this voyage, great calamity strikes: Crusoe is shipwrecked on a deserted island as the lone survivor.

Amazingly, Crusoe doesn’t only focus on the fact that he is all alone on an island. Instead, he makes a home for himself there, establishing first his very basic needs, such as finding food, building shelter, and, later, constructing amenities such as a table and chair. A year into Crusoe’s journey, he becomes very ill with fever, which he later discovers is due in large part to not having calculated and planned for the rainy season on the island. As he’s recovering, Crusoe has a dream of warning. Though this dream is similar to that of John’s on the island of Patmos, Crusoe’s dream is one that prompts the true beginning of his spiritual journey. When he wakes, he begins reading the Bible, praying to God, and ultimately growing spiritually. Dangerous currents, terrifying storms, feasting cannibals, and the fear of the unknown make for a serious adventure story.

Several genres influenced the creation of Robinson Crusoe, such as travel books and conversion narratives. Crusoe describes in great detail his labor, his daily comings and goings, and his life on the island. Since travel books were popular during this time, Crusoe’s story of life abroad would certainly have been one of great interest to the general public. It’s clear from the beginning of the novel that Crusoe is telling his story from a future perspective, as he is able to look back on certain situations as he retells them and mention times when he didn’t listen to reason – or to God. (There are echoes of Biblical stories in his tale, such as the Prodigal Son and Job.)

The text reads as though it were written in the early 1700s, so before you pick a copy, do be aware of that. However, even if you aren’t necessarily a fan of eighteenth-century prose, my guess is that you’ll appreciate the adventure part of the story regardless. There are times you’ll want to knock some sense into Crusoe, as the saying goes, and others where you’ll be relieved of his decisions, but I’d say the fact that you’re bound to feel this way only goes to show Defoe’s craftiness in creating the character of Robinson Crusoe.

Feel free to message me with questions or let me know your thoughts as well! Happy reading!

When the Choice You Need to Make Isn’t the One Culture Suggests

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Making decisions is difficult, but they become increasingly stressful when the choice you need to make isn’t the one culture suggests. In those circumstances, it’s important we turn to Scripture to seek guidance.

But know this: Hard times will come in the last days. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, proud, demeaning, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, slanderers, without self–control, brutal, without love for what is good, traitors, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to the form of godliness but denying its power. Avoid these people.
2 Timothy 3: 1-5

So many of the things listed in the above verses have become “the norm.” Doesn’t culture tell us to be “lovers of pleasure” (v. 4a)? In doing so, culture simultaneously and consequently tells us to choose pleasure “rather than [be] lovers of God” (v. 4b). And isn’t money held in highest esteem? Isn’t boasting, pride, and conceit traits which are encouraged amongst society?

The conflict of culture versus God isn’t anything new. Let’s consider Sarah. God promised Abraham and Sarah (Abram and Sarai at the time, pre name change) that they would have many descendants (Genesis 12:2); however, they were older and by Genesis chapter 16, Sarah was tired of waiting and thus decided to take matters into her own hands. She told her husband to take Hagar as his wife, to which Abraham did not object. What we must keep in mind is that Sarah’s suggestion was a cultural norm at the time. While we balk and gawk at this decision, having your maidservant sub in during Sarah’s day and age was anything but unheard of; in fact, it was common practice.

It’s hard not to wonder, though, what Sarah felt or thought, deep down. If she’d been honest with herself, did she feel ill at ease with this idea? Had she hoped Abraham would object to this proposition? Culture told her one thing, but God had told her something different.

Culture tells us that we can say we are Christians but continue to act in sinful ways. Yet Scripture warns of people who will be “holding to the form of godliness but denying its power” (v. 5). So what must we do to hold to the form of godliness but embrace God’s power? We must allow God to come into our lives and invade our every day. Think about when a king or queen entered a room during his or her reign. Absolutely everything changed. The room straightened. The atmosphere shifted from one of lax to one of authority. So, too, are our lives to change when we ask Christ to be our king. He is to engulf every part of our lives so that our life is completely different, as though a king has entered it. When the Risen King enters our life, nothing can be the same. Culture tells us one thing, but God calls us to something different.

Timothy is pretty forthright here. Not only does he provide a detailed explanation of how people will become, he says to avoid these people. (See also 1 Corinthians 15:33.) Timothy was warning his audience so that they would not be influenced by such acts. We are to love God and love others (Luke 10:27), but we aren’t to allow ourselves to become corrupt in the process. James chapter 4, verse 7 says, “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” Being like Christ only when it’s convenient and putting ourselves in situations we know we’ll be tempted isn’t part of the deal. But doesn’t culture imply this is ok?

Sometimes in life there comes a time when you must make a decision to go the right way or the wrong one. Making right decisions is hard, and it’s hardly ever the popular route. But take comfort in knowing that this isn’t a surprise: “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matthew 7:13-14). Have you made wrong decisions? Yes. We all have. We have all fallen short. But we are always given a choice to make new decisions. Every day we are given this opportunity. Christ gives us a chance to be redeemed, and He can redeem anything.

We can stand back and see the folly, but we have to make the decision to not be a part of it. And you can make that decision! Be encouraged that you are called to be a lover of God, and make the choice not to just know that, but to be that.

Working, Resting, and Knowing God Is Who He Says

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I’ve always been on the move. As a child, I wanted to walk everywhere, which usually turned into running everywhere with a cartwheel or ten thrown in along the way. I’m still occasionally called out for being a mover and a shaker. At a teacher orientation I attended a few years ago, the speaker picked me out of the crowd having noticed that I was shaking my foot. I remember being taken aback because I wasn’t even aware I was doing it.

I had a conversation this week with a friend about yoga. She’s really enjoying the exercise, but as I told her, I’ve always found it boring. I realize that the point of yoga is to relax, to calm, to stretch, and to center, but I’ve just never gelled with that kind of exercise. (In yoga’s defense, I didn’t even really like Zumba. I tried it, but again, it didn’t require enough energy for me.) Personally, I prefer an open road for a run or a hot studio for a high-intensity dance class.

But sometimes running is part of my problem. I go, go, go until I’m tired, worn out, and irritable. I can go on lack of sleep for a while, but eventually it catches up to me, much to my dismay.

Though you may not have moving and shaking personality tendencies, on some level we can probably all relate to experiencing a lack of rest in a spiritual sense. We forget to rest and take time to replenish our souls – the most important part of who we are.

In Psalm chapter 46, the well-known verse “Be still, and know that I am God” (v. 10) comes from a time of battles and war. God wanted His people to know that He would be “exalted among the nations.” He was reminding them that He is ruler.

Let me pause and say that God doesn’t tell us not to work or to sit back and simply hope for the best. After all, He gave us a model of working for six days and resting for one when he created the earth, and Jesus told the parable of the talents to teach that we are to use the gifts God gives us. (See Matthew 25:14-30.) Aren’t we told to work as if we are working for the Lord?  “And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men” (Colossians 3:23). When we work, we are to work. But when we rest, how are we supposed to rest?

There are so many articles and books being published right now encouraging a message of rest. In our constantly moving, hectic, and busy world, these messages are good reminders, certainly. But most importantly, we must remember that God wants us to rest in Him. Psalm 68 says that He “daily bears our burdens” (v. 19). In everything we do, we are to please the Lord, we are to remember Him, and we are to know that He is God. One way we acknowledge Him as God is through prayer.

David was quite the pray-er. He wasn’t afraid to be honest and vulnerable in his prayers. When he felt threatened, weak, angry, thankful, or happy, he prayed. And wow, did he! Just look at Psalm 69 or read Psalm 70 to see his truthful, humble, and heart-wrenching words. These prayers are models for our own. And though David was honest, he was still respectful. He both loved and feared the Lord. Reading David’s prayers can encourage us to be just as honest but respectful before God as well. He already knows our hearts anyway, but through prayer, we rest in Him. We can gain knowledge from the Holy Spirit, we discern His will for our lives, and we draw closer to him if we allow ourselves this time.

I’m still working on prayer, and I guess I always will be. Last week, I had a prayer answered. It wasn’t answered because of what I said or how I prayed though; it was God’s doing. The answer wasn’t the exact outcome for which I’d prayed, but there were an unending number of outcomes that I prayed against. And I believe God answered my prayer. I am thankful to Him, and I give Him glory in answering that prayer. I want to be intentional in acknowledging Him as God, and though he doesn’t always answer our prayers as we pray them, we continue to be still and acknowledge that He is God. We rest in Him.

I’m better at being still than I used to be, but I still push myself too much sometimes. I want to continue to learn the importance of resting in God. I hope to continue to gain friends to rest with, too. Won’t you join me?

 

But if not, He is still good.
Daniel 3:18

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

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“Take nothing on its looks; take everything on evidence. There’s no better rule.”
Great Expectations

There is no possible way to do this book justice in one blog post, but here’s a quick review anyway. Great Expectations, one of the greatest classics ever written, is set in Victorian England and tells the story of Pip, an orphan who faces monetary challenges, relationship struggles, and life-changing choices.

Pip’s tale begins with much excitement. The opening scene takes place in Kent, specifically in a graveyard, with an escaped convict preying upon Pip and ordering him to bring him “wittles” (food) and “a file” (small handsaw). The convict’s legs are still chained, and Pip is his only hope in escaping such a burden. Lucky for Pip, his brother-in-law is a blacksmith, so Pip is able to return with the convict’s demanded items after having been severely threatened if he did not. Though Pip plays no part in the convict’s capture, the convict is ultimately caught and taken back to the Hulks (old ships used as prisons), but from that point on, Pip’s journey becomes one of both great fortune and detestable misfortune.

Some scenes later, Pip is invited to the wealthy Miss Havisham’s house to play with her adopted daughter, Estella. After being exposed to the upper class, Pip’s view of the world changes, along with his ambitions and aspirations in life. He greatly desires to be wealthy and to leave his life of blacksmith apprenticeship behind. He falls in love with Estella, who treats him with utter contempt, yet his ultimate hope is to become a gentleman to both impress her and win her heart.

Interestingly enough, Pip receives word that he has been given a large inheritance (his great expectations), and he moves to London to – that’s right – become a gentleman. While there, he comes to believe that Miss Havisham is his mysterious benefactor and that he will one day marry Estella. Pip meets Herbert, and the two become the best of friends, but Pip’s relationships at home in Kent become strained. Pip learns much in London, including the truth about the circumstances that brought him there and the real desires of his heart.

Much of Pip’s focus is on his shortcomings; he is constantly upset with himself at his failure to be better child in Kent with his sister and brother-in-law, his miserable attempts to impress Estella, and his awkwardness in becoming a gentleman in London. Yet Dickens seems to encourage his readers to look at Pip’s actions, not just his words. Pip deals with much internal conflict as he learns he must live with the choices he makes, but his great adventures, conflicts, gains, losses, and changes allow Pip to develop as a character while also giving the reader the ability to easily connect to Pip.

Dickens is known for his development of character, but his style and the choices he made as an author are certainly worth appreciating: the importance of the settings and their reflections of Pip’s journey; the development of themes; the characters, objects, and elements of symbolic nature; the depth of the allusions made; and the beautiful imagery Dickens creates. Critics disagree about the worth of the numerous coincidences (often involving characters) which are so prevalent in Dickens’s works. Regardless of your take on the happenstance of the characters’ relations, you’ll likely agree that Dickens was very creative in his creation of such coincidences.

So much can be learned from Pip’s journey into adulthood, including the need for loved ones, the unimportance of wealth, and the value of staying true to who you are. If you’ve never read Great Expectations, you’re missing out on a story from which much can be learned. Happy reading!

 

“That was a memorable day to me, for it made great changes in me. But, it is the same with any life. Imagine one selected day struck out of it, and think how different its course would have been. Pause you who read this, and think for a moment of the long chain of iron or gold, of thorns or flowers, that would never have bound you, but for the formation of the first link on one memorable day.”
Great Expectations