Thanksgiving with a Twist

thanksgiving

This Thanksgiving, as with many others, I have much for which to be grateful.

For friends and family who have loved me unconditionally. For countless undeserved blessings that have enriched my days. And for thorns and suffering that have taught me to lean on Jesus. They have all been gifts.

The following narrative was emailed to me many years ago, and has lingered in my mind ever since. I hope this blesses you as much as it blessed me.

 

Thorns to You!

Sandra felt as low as the heels of her Birkenstocks as she pushed against a November gust and the florist shop door.  Her life had been easy, like a spring breeze.  Then in the fourth month of her second pregnancy, a minor automobile accident stole her ease.  During this Thanksgiving week she would have delivered a son.  She grieved over her loss.

As if that weren’t enough her husband’s company threatened a transfer. Then her sister, whose holiday visit she coveted, called saying she could not come. What’s worse, Sandra’s friend infuriated her by suggesting her grief was a God-given path to maturity that would allow her to empathize with others who suffer? “Had she lost a child? No-she has no idea what I’m feeling,” Sandra shuddered.

‘Thanksgiving? Thankful for what?’ she wondered. ‘For a careless driver whose truck was hardly scratched when he rear-ended her? For an air bag that saved her life but took that of her child?’

“Good afternoon, can I help you?”  The flower shop clerk’s approach startled her.  “Sorry,” said Jenny, “I just didn’t want you to think I was ignoring you.”

“I….I need an arrangement.”

“For Thanksgiving?”

Sandra nodded.

“Do you want beautiful but ordinary, or would you like to challenge the day with a customer favorite I call the “Thanksgiving Special.” Jenny saw Sandra’s curiosity and continued. “I’m convinced that flowers tell stories, that each arrangement insinuates a particular feeling. Are you looking for something that conveys gratitude this Thanksgiving?”

“Not exactly!” Sandra blurted. “Sorry, but in the last five months, everything that could go wrong has.”

Sandra regretted her outburst but was surprised when Jenny said, “I have the perfect arrangement for you.” The door to the shop once again opened.

“Hi Barbara!” Jenny called.  She politely excused herself from Sandra and walked toward a small workroom.  She quickly reappeared carrying a massive arrangement of greenery, bows, and long-stemmed thorny roses.   Only, the ends of the rose stems were neatly snipped, no flowers.

“Want this in a box?” Jenny asked.  Sandra watched for Barbara’s response. Was this a joke?   Who would want rose stems and no flowers!  She waited for laughter, for someone to notice the absence of flowers atop the thorny stems, but neither woman did.

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Where is God when I’m NOT Suffering

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“Can you be close to God when you’re not suffering?”

This is one of the most common questions I get after I speak.

I understand that worry. I’ve faced it myself. It can seem that sufferers get the inside track on intimacy with God, joining an exclusive club that no one else can enter. I have even found myself half wishing for trials so my walk could be deeper.

Yet trials are not the only way to meet the Lord. They are not the only way to grow. Suffering is not the only way to have the abundant life God offers us.

But in some respects, it’s the easiest way.

When I am suffering, there is nothing else to think about but God. I am drawn to Him in incalculable ways. I see my need for Him with every breath. But when everything is going well, it’s more of a struggle to see God.

But I must remember that God ordains my days and gives me exactly what I need. He purposefully shapes me through all of my experiences. So when He is showering blessings, I should enjoy them and be content. In abundance and in need. In plenty and in want.

In both trials and joys, God can be found.

He says so in His Word. And in His Word He says simply that we need to call upon him. Draw near to Him. Seek Him.

I can do that in both good times and bad times. But in the bad times, God is all I have to hold onto. In the good times, I can feel like time with God is something else on my to-do list.

God is not changed by my circumstances. He is the same yesterday, today and forever. Only my perceived need of Him changes.Continue Reading

What’s the Point of Suffering in Obscurity?

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The angels and demons are constantly watching to see if I treasure God.

When I initially heard this idea, almost 15 years ago, it changed me. Radically.

At first it was unsettling to think that I was constantly being watched. Yet it became strangely comforting when I realized I was not alone in my suffering. That there was a greater purpose to my being faithful than I could see.

Over the years, I had often wondered if my private suffering had much meaning. I understood that public suffering, such as the faithfulness of the martyrs, inspired believers and unbelievers to see the value of God. But unseen suffering, that no one else on earth was aware of, seemed pointless.

Or at least it seemed pointless to me.

If no one ever knew what I was going through, how could God use it? If it didn’t inspire others to love Jesus more, did it really matter? If no one was there to observe it, what was the point of a godly response?

And yet as I heard Pastor John Piper unpack the book of Job, I saw that my response to suffering mattered. Not just for me, but because a watching world, a world that I could neither see nor hear, was waiting to see how I would respond to trials.

The book of Job begins in the throne room of God. Satan is mocking God, claiming that Job treasures Him for what he has been given. Satan claims that if God takes away what Job has been leaning on, Job will curse God to His face. In essence he implies, “God, Job doesn’t really love you. He loves your blessings. He worships you not for who you are but for what you give him.”

This is a great assault on God’s value. And after the worst has happened to Job, Job’s wife falls into despair and tells Job to curse God and die. This appears to be a great victory for Satan.

At this point, Piper conjectures that tens of thousands of angels watched in dismay, wondering what Job would say as well. But when they heard Job declare, “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” Piper imagines that 20,000 angelic arms went up, proclaiming, “Yes Job! God is more valuable than your health. Thank you for holding fast.”Continue Reading

Celebrating Joni’s 65th birthday- A Radiant Life in a Dark World

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I write about suffering.

I have been all too familiar with it for decades. In many ways, my life has been intensely painful but at the same time breathtakingly sweet.

The sweetness has come from walking with God. Many of you know that paradox as well, as you found the faithfulness of God in the darkest of places.

No one I’ve ever met demonstrates and lives that paradox more than Joni Eareckson Tada. Joni, who was paralyzed at age 17 in a diving accident, has a radiance that shines against the backdrop of unspeakable life challenges: quadriplegia, riveting pain, and cancer to name a few.

Joni turns 65 today, on October 15, 2014.

I marvel at this because quadriplegics generally don’t live very long. She doesn’t look 65 though; Joni looks like she’s in her 40s. Anyone who has met her would agree that she is stunningly beautiful.

But mostly I marvel at this because Joni has been faithful, blessing God and proclaiming His glory, for almost 50 years of quadriplegia.

This is why Joni is my hero. Not because Joni is so amazing, though she is, but she demonstrates what God can do in a life yielded to Him. Her life points to a magnificent God who is beyond compare, who can elicit genuine praise in the midst of deep suffering.

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