Category Archives: Holidays

What’s the Big Deal with Thanksgiving?

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I should be in the kitchen right now, throwing together some dough for the pie crusts I’ll need later today. The shopping is almost complete, but I do have to make that one last pesky run to the grocery store for the extras I forgot. And of course, there are several seasonal additions to our schedule for this Wednesday before Thanksgiving. But for just a minute, I’m going to sit right here and center my heart. If I skip that part, everything else is meaningless.

This year, the holidays came barreling at us like a stampede of wildebeests. We have been counting down days to Christmas break when our daughter will be able to come home and spend time with the family again, but we seem a bit blindsided by Thanksgiving. My mother in law recently passed away, our teenage daughter is living a continent away from us this year, and we are under the daily pressures of learning a new language, navigating crises and trying to reach out to the refugee community in our city. Living outside the USA makes it easy for us to skip over the American holidays and traditions we came from, and believe me, it’s very tempting to simply let them go at times like this. Granted, many of our Americanisms have already been released to elsewhere since we have stepped into life in Germany…but Thanksgiving? That’s a hill I’m willing to die on.

Why?

Because without gratitude—without Thanksgiving—we’re bankrupt. Cultivating thankfulness actually creates a good life that emanates outward from the soul, affecting everything we do, coloring our world with heaven’s perspectives. Without gratitude at work in my heart, I drift toward the default setting of negativity, self-pity and lack. I know where that leads because I have gone down that road before, and I’m done wasting time there!

I want my life to be full, passionate, joyful and fun—doesn’t everyone? But I’m old enough to know that abundant life isn’t a one-stop-shop. Abundant life is the product of plugging into the Source of Life, and actively training my soul in His ways. I have to submit my negativity, selfishness, pride (and the list goes on), and open up to be filled with the Spirit. I have to tune my heart to the frequency of His voice. I have to commune with Him—converse, listen, sing, pray, cry, and just be—soaking in His comforting, personal Presence.

The key to opening the gate of communion with God is THANKSGIVING. We begin to see a glimpse of God’s Kingdom, His beautiful reality, when we train our souls to thank Him.

Think you’ve got a sum total ZERO to be thankful for? You’re just not trying hard enough! Start with the easy stuff:

  1. breath in my lungs
  2. sight, hearing, touch, taste, smell
  3. sunshine
  4. stars
  5. trees
  6. puppies
  7. indoor plumbing
  8. candles
  9. squirrels
  10. geraniums

And go from there. It can be anything that you could say, “Thank you, God, for _________.” Anything! From the cosmic down to the microscopic–there are endless numbers of things to be thankful for! Pick a notebook and designate it as your “Gratitude Journal” or whatever you’d like to call it. Then set a goal for yourself: write down 10 things every day that you are thankful for. Maybe it should be more like 25 or 50 a day. You decide. The great thing is, once you prime the pump on your gratitude, it starts to flow more easily. Maybe you’ll even start going past your daily goal and keep on writing…maybe you’ll need a second journal!

After a few days, you will feel different. After a few weeks of faithfully writing down your thankfulness, you will see differently.  And after training your soul in gratitude for any extended time, you will be different—you will have flipped the switch from negative/lacking/depressed to positive/overflowing/joyful.

God knows what our hearts need. He is intimately involved in the details of your life. He loves you and wants what is best for you—even more that you do for yourself. Trust Him—He knows how your heart works, and His prescription for gratitude will heal you from the inside out.

 

Here’s my list for today:

  1. Family
  2. Annoying family members
  3. Non-annoying family members
  4. Framily–friends who feel more like family
  5. Friends and family members who live with integrity and compassion
  6. Running water
  7. Soap
  8. Hairspray
  9. Cereal
  10. Cheddar cheese
  11. Deviled eggs like my Gramma made
  12. Pumpkin pie
  13. Pie crusts from scratch
  14. The feel of dough in my hands while baking
  15. Mulling spices simmering on the stove
  16. Christmas music
  17. Crooners
  18. Orchestras
  19. Jackets
  20. Gloves
  21. WhatsApp
  22. FaceTime
  23. Amazon.com
  24. Sleep
  25. Comfy pillows
  26. Books
  27. The smell of books
  28. Spekulatius cookies
  29. Candy corn
  30. Maple syrup
  31. Elf movie
  32. Gut-busting laughter
  33. Coffee
  34. Coffee
  35. Coffee (yeah, it gets at least three spots today)
  36. Old friends
  37. Good as gold friends
  38. Spiced tea
  39. A complete set of markers
  40. Spiral notebooks
  41. Chip clips
  42. Paper towels
  43. Vacuums
  44. Balconies
  45. Flower boxes
  46. Cobblestones
  47. Lap dogs
  48. Wagging tails
  49. Pianos
  50. Someone to sing with

Why not try it? You’ve got absolutely nothing to lose, and practically everything to gain. I pray that this Thanksgiving holiday will be your moment–a first step into a new life of gratitude.

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The Secret to Everything

(This article first appeared on SingleMatters.com on November 22, 2013)

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The holidays are upon us. Christmas decorations were up even before Thanksgiving turkeys were purchased, people are crossing gifts off their shopping lists, and anxiety is rising. It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year…

For many, this will be the first round of holidays after the loss of a family member, or after a traumatic event like a divorce. Now, added into the mix of holiday busyness and excitement is a throbbing pain around the newly formed hole in your heart. I feel it, too. For countless more, this will be ANOTHER holiday season alone–again. I understand.

If we are going to make it through the holidays without a meltdown, we are going to need a plan. (And a REAL plan, not just adding more rum to your punch.) We need to learn the secret that happy people know.

This is where the genius of Thanksgiving comes in. In American history, we have recorded the first Thanksgiving Feast as a hallmark in our nation’s existence. Regardless of your take on how it all went down…a small group of settlers made it through their first brutal winter in a new land, many of them losing their loved ones to disease just days and weeks beforehand. The survivors had many things to grieve, yet they made a point to be grateful.

They were on to something. If you want to survive grief, loss and trauma in your life, you must consciously choose gratitude.

It is necessary to grieve your losses. It is healthy to express your sorrow and your anger over what has happened. But if you live in that emotional place permanently, you will not survive it. The best way––the only way––to come through these tough times intact is to choose to be grateful. To CHOOSE thanksgiving. Learning to be grateful is the secret to everything.

Thankfulness is a God-idea. He knows that when we begin to thank Him, our sights are recalibrated and our hearts get realigned. The Psalmist knew this secret all too well, and he recorded it for us so we could know it too: “Enter into His gates with thanksgiving and into His courts with praise. Be thankful to Him, and bless His name” (Psalm 100:4). Thankfulness transports you into God’s presence; and in His presence is where you will find fullness of joy (Psalm 16:11).

Need some practical ways to choose gratitude this holiday season?

1. Lock down your lips. Don’t just let words come pouring out of your mouth unchecked––choose your words. Choose words that are positive, encouraging and gracious. Getting together with family can be a volatile situation on the best of days, and with the added pressure of holiday festivities, someone is bound to explode over something. Don’t let it be you! Decide ahead of time to keep your mouth shut if you can’t think of something good to say.

2. Keep a “Thankful For” list. You can like the idea of becoming a more grateful person, but if you are not intentional about it, you never will become one. Get an actual pen and an actual notebook or notepad and start your own personal “Thankful For” list. Actually, literally write down the things you are thankful for! Keep it with you and add to it whenever you come up with something else. After a while of doing this, you will find yourself LOOKING for new things to be thankful for, and you will find your heart feeling a bit lighter. Keeping a list helps retrain your thoughts, and retraining your thoughts will retrain your emotions.

3. Help someone else.  Sometimes you just need to stop thinking about yourself and focus on someone else for a while. This is the perfect time to help other people! I am sure you personally know some families in need––surprise them with groceries or gifts or an envelope of cash! Dream up ways you can bless people who are needy and hurting. Join with a church or charity to serve the poor. Find creative ways to serve with your time: cleaning someone’s home, fixing their car, babysitting their children. The sky’s the limit when you start thinking of ways to help other people in their times of need! When you help others and put their needs first, you are blessed in the process.

4. Check your input. Whatever you put into your mind and heart will be exactly what comes back out of you. If you listen to sad, depressing music and read sad, depressing books, then you will continue to be a sad, depressed person. If you are tired of feeling the same way you have for so long, do something different! Listen to joyful music that puts a smile on your face. Read books and articles that bring hope to the surface of your heart. Take large bites of the Psalms in the Bible and start repeating the meaningful ones out loud. Focusing your heart and mind on God’s goodness and the blessings in your life will turn you into a grateful person.

One of the best books written in the past several years (according to me) is all about gratitude. Author Ann Voskamp details her own deeply personal loss and her journey back to full life via the highway of thankfulness in her book One Thousand Gifts. She invites you into her world as she experiments with the idea of being thankful in the midst of great sorrow, and transports you as she paints exquisite word-portraits with her unique style of writing. I was so uplifted as I read her story and I was challenged to take charge of my own emotional pain through the miraculous portal of gratitude. If you are looking for a starting place on your journey to thankfulness, this book is a great one.

One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp

I pray that your heart is transformed into a palace of thanksgiving and that you experience a deeper, sweeter holiday season with those you love this year!

Gratitude truly is the secret to everything… Let’s get the secret out!