I attended Women of Faith this month and was so inspired by the entire conference, but especially by one session. Ann Voscamp has written a book, 1000 Gifts and shared about it at the conference. I left that session thinking that everyone I know should hear about it. At first, I thought I would come home and share it with Jerod and he could share it with all of you. But, before I left Women of Faith, God had convinced me that I should be the one to share it with all of you. I gave God all the reasons I couldn’t do that, but He countered every excuse. I bought the book and started reading it on the way home. My first excuse was that I couldn’t fill up time just sharing a book report. But, before I had finished the book, I was convinced by God that it was time to share my personal testimony and why this book had impacted me so much. And, there is so much more in this book that you won’t hear from me today. God told me this was the perfect year since Advent doesn’t begin until next Sunday and we actually have a Thanksgiving Sunday this year. But, when Jerod told me he was going to be gone and was looking for someone to speak, that sealed the deal. In We Bought a Zoo, Benjamin Mee said, “You know, sometimes all you need is just 20 seconds of insane courage. Just literally, 20 seconds of just literally embarrassing bravery. And I promise you, something great will come of it.“ So, I took 20 seconds of courage and shared with Jerod what I was feeling from God and we talked it over and here I am.
The big premise of the book is that Thanksgiving is more than just a holiday. It is a way of life. We should be looking for, identifying, and thanking God for all the blessings or “gifts” in our lives. Turn to Colossians 3:17. It says, “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” (NIV) We need to make this a purposeful, daily activity. Some days it is definitely easier to do than others. But, as with anything, the more you practice, the easier it becomes.
Before I completed the book, I realized why this had more of an impact on me than on others who heard the same talk. I have been doing this, giving thanks, and never put words to my experience. Ann Voscamp explained what I had been experiencing personally and just never put into words. Now, I did not write down my blessings, but I did practice finding them and thanking God. And, I did not make it an intentional, daily habit. So, I can speak from experience the difference in your life when you are giving thanks and when you are not. But, before I get to that, I should probably share a little of my story.
My life began wheelchair free. I grew up in Norton, attended the Church of God, and was in the same district as this church. I was in the District Youth with many of your children and with your Pastor. J After high school, I went to Mid-America Bible College, married Eric, began our life in the ministry, had our daughter, and was expecting our son. Then, my life changed dramatically. June 7, 2004, Eric and I were in a car accident on our way to lamaze class. Instead of heading to lamaze, we ended up in the ER with the emergency ceserean of our son 10 ½ weeks early, and myself with several injuries and in a medicated coma for about 6 weeks. I came home 3 months later with a traumatic brain injury, nerve damage on my right side, and with a wheelchair.
There is a verse that my mom clung to throughout my whole adventure. It eventually became my life verse as well. Look up
I Thessalonians 5:18. If you know it, you may know the KJV “In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” The NIV reads “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” The Message says, “Thank God no matter what happens. This is the way God wants you who belong to Christ Jesus to live.” Notice none of them say Give Thanks FOR everything. They say Give Thanks In Everything or all circumstances. When I was unconscious and unable to give thanks myself, my mom was thanking God for things like
The ER and ICU
NICU and Doctors and nurses
Ronald McDonald House
My orthopedic doctor who was only in Tulsa for the short time I needed him and was able to call a collegue to perform a surgery with consultation via cell phone. Before surgery my chances of having my pelvis repaired to normal enough that I would not be bed-ridden were slim. After the surgery, he was so pleased it was close to normal. We all know it was God’s hand in all of this.
Every sign of improvement, no matter how minute.
That I recognized the people in my life when I woke up--the doctors tried to prepare them that with my brain injury, I may not remember anyone. Again, we know that was God
I am thankful there were people giving thanks even when I couldn’t. Then, I am thankful that people were giving thanks when I was at the beginning of my recovery and I just wouldn’t. Mostly, I am thankful that I got to the place where I am giving thanks on my own. I am experiencing life everyday and trying to be thankful for the gifts I am given daily. Some days that is easier than others. It wasn’t really until I was preparing these thoughts that I went back to thank God for the gifts He gave over the past eight years.
I give thanks for:
An off-duty paramedic came upon our accident before the ambulance
Eric had presence of mind to call friends and family and call Hannah’s babysitter to tell them not to come down their road
Eric being able to get my Cds out of the CD changer in our totaled car
That Noah (& I) survived insurmountable odds
The NICU nurses who loved Noah so much they took great care of him and even came up to visit his mom
The NICU nurses and my mother-in-law preparing a gift from Noah to me
The Ronald McDonald House that took such good care of my family
Friends and family who took time out of their own lives to come help see me and take care of my family
My father help my neuro-surgeon see me as a person by making the connection as Noah’s mother. He was Noah’s neurosurgeon too.
Family taking such good care of Hannah to help keep her 2 ½ year old life as normal as possible.
Eric refusing to allow anyone to take Hannah to the zoo because that was a special mom/daughter activity
That the clothes I was wearing were maternity clothes, so I didn’t miss them when they had to be cut off
Good friends took special care of my wedding rings that first night and then my mom cared for them for 3 months
My parents came as soon as they were called and made it safely to Tulsa, my Dad time and time again
My mom for spending the summer in the hospital with me
My aunt and grandma for spending time with me when Mom went back to work
My sister for making time to come see me between her trip to Africa (where she was when the accident occurred) and her wedding that fall
That Noah and I were able to make the trip to Indiana to be in Cassie and Perry’s wedding
Music playing constantly in my hospital room (many times my sister was singing to me)
Laughter in the midst of everything
The hospital helping arrange a special 9th anniversary celebration for Eric and I (including Red Lobster)
Thickening liquid and swallow therapy that allowed me to get back to eating whatever I wanted (like Red Lobster)
Getting rid of thickening liquid so I could enjoy Dr. Pepper again
Losing my baby weight without hard work while in the hospital
My family being willing to take me to some special spots in Tulsa before heading home (Red Lobster, the scrap booking store and to get my ears repierced.)
Therapists that came to my home in Oklahoma
A speech therapist who believed my speech could improve and used some special tools to massage my vocal cords to help wake them up
God sending us back to Kansas where I could have superior traumatic brain injury rehabilitation
Care attendants, friends, and family members who help me become more and more independent
Finding great friends and a disability community through Ms. Wheelchair Kansas
God healing my voice so that I can be understood when I speak
God leading us back to NW Kansas closer to family, to a community that allows me independence, and a culture I understand.
Some might say it is easier to identify the gifts looking back. Hindsight is 20/20 after all. I wouldn’t say it is easier. For anyone that has experienced a traumatic event, it’s pretty typical to shove the memories way back in your brain and shut the door. Reopening the door and letting the memories come flooding out even to identify “gifts” and give thanks is not easy. Opening the floodgates can lead to a literal flood of tears. But, God told me that is OK--even if you see them today, that is OK. God never promised us an easy life here on Earth. What he does want is for us to be obedient. So, that is what I am attempting to do. Turn to Phillippians 4:6-7. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” I have been giving thanks off and on for the past several years. I can testify from personal experience that when you are giving thanks, your heart is full of thankfulness and the peace of God. When you are not giving thanks, your heart is full of other stuff like worry, anxiety, fear, doubt, stress, anger and other negative feelings. When I am not intentionally giving thanks and looking for blessings, I tend to focus on myself and what is wrong in my life. My heart is not full of gratitude and peace. In 1000 Gifts, Ann Voscamp talks about when your heart is full of thanks, there is no room for fear. Philippians suggests that the “peace of God” comes after thanksgiving.
Now, we do “give thanks in all things,” but I have found it is easier to be truly thankful when I am looking for and naming all the small gifts in my life. I am thankful for the “big” things as well--like salvation, family, friends, but it is really when I start taking time to really look for everything small or big and giving thanks, that my heart is truly at peace. In 1000 Gifts, Ann Voscamp says, “Life-changing gratitude does not fasten to a life unless nailed through with one very specific nail at a time.” I don’t believe any of us will start living a life of thanksgiving until we start looking daily for small gifts as well as the big ones to be thankful for.
In 1000 Gifts, it states repeatedly that “thanksgiving always precedes the miracle.” Before the feeding of the 5000 in John 6:11, “Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish.” He gave thanks and then the miracle happened. In John 11, at the tomb of Lazurus Jesus asked that the stone be removed, then He thanked the Father for hearing Him, and then said, “Lazurus, come out.!” Once again, thanksgiving preceded the miracle. He thanked His Father and then Lazurus came out.
Turn with me to Luke 17:11-19. This is an interesting passage, because all 10 were healed of their leprosy. But, Christ says to the one who returned, “Your faith has made you well.” I don’t think He was referring to the physical healing here. All 10 had been cured of leprosy. The peace of God that fills your heart when you give thanks. His healing was more than just physical, more than just what could be seen on the outside. He was “healed” spiritually as well.
We refer to the Last Supper as the Eucharist. The Greek meaning can be translated “thanksgiving.” In Luke 22:19 it says “And He took bread, gave thanks, and broke it, and gave it to them saying, ‘This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.’” Most of my life is was explained to me that Christ was commanding us to take the bread and the drink “in remembrance of me.” What if the command includes “giving thanks?” I believe we are commanded by Christ to give thanks to the Father. After all, the greek meaning of the word we use for The Last Supper or Communion means thanksgiving.
It is important not to just give thanks when things are good. We shouldn’t just count our blessings when blessings are easy to find. We need to practice looking for blessings when the world would say things are so terrible there are no blessings to be found. There are always blessings to be found. We just have to practice looking for them and giving thanks. Jesus gave thanks at the Last Supper just before His arrest and crucifixion, knowing what was coming. If He can give thanks at that time, we can give thanks in our darkest days. Remember, it’s not FOR everything, it’s IN everything. It is possible and it is what we are supposed to do.
“Thanksgiving always precedes the miracle.” It is important to remember to be thankful for things even in the midst of struggle, but then also remember to be thankful when the miracle comes.
I have a challenge for each of you. Join me in looking for God’s gifts, the blessings in our lives. Even when it is hard and seems impossible, take time to stop and look for the touch of God in your situation. Every time you feel fear, worry, anxiety, doubt, frustration, anger, stress, any negative feeling, stop and look for the blessings and give thanks. Slow down and pay attention to the moment. Live in the present. I believe gratitude and peace will fill your heart and will not allow room for those negative feelings. No matter how often they come back, repeat the process. Practice, practice, practice. God is faithful and blesses us constantly, let’s thank Him for all the gifts He has given. Ann Voscamp says, “Count blessings and discover Who can be counted on.“ Let’s start by doing this today as we prepare our hearts for communion.
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Thanksgiving for Today:
216. Heater in the vehicle
217. Online banking
218. Advent calendar
219. Making dinner with enough leftovers to use in make-over meals for the rest of the week.