Give thanks. In all things.
I’m spending much time these days confessing. I’m confessing that I haven’t been giving thanks—in all things—always. When I confess my failure, I am agreeing with God. And when I agree with God, change for the better can begin in me. That’s the whole point of confessing, I believe. Not to shame us into running and hiding, but to open us up to Truth and Love—to God—who alone can heal our fearful running and hiding.
So after all the confessions, the day after Thanksgiving I’m reflecting on all my true blessings—the ones I’ve not appreciated so much because I had my sights set on other things—on other people—on other possibilities I thought I MUST have to be happy and complete. But God gives new eyes to the blind, thankfully. And yesterday, I saw through those new eyes given, through a new heart warmed, though our temperature here on the farm dipped into the teens once again and even into the single digits overnight.
We didn’t have family, technically, gathered around yesterday’s table. But we had a family who has been with us through all our ups and downs for 17 years—a family we came to know the year we adopted our first two kids, Anna and Zach, when they were six and four years old. This family lived up the street from us. Our kids played together and even started Christian school together. They even put up with my crazy antics. Like the time they brought their chocolate lab, Millie, to the neighborhood doggie birthday party I hosted for our yellow lab, Isabelle, complete with birthday cake made out of ham, cheese, Milkbone biscuits, AND candles, which the dogs didn’t eat or burn their noses on (my PETA disclaimer). Their second son Nick—the one on the right in the photo—even video-taped the event, doggie relay races and all!
Now all these kids in these photos are grown and gorgeous on the inside. (And their shells ain’t bad either, in my humble opinion!) They love us as we are—a lovely mess. And we love them as they are—another lovely mess. And nothing warms my heart more than the way they all have loved and treated our kids over the years. Though so many have come into our lives and gone because—well—we’re not your typical family—this whole family has stayed with us, loving us in tangible ways.
They’ve loved us by reaching out and giving to each of us in our darkest moments. The kids have surprised me the most. Yeah, our kids are the “between the cracks” kids, who look like all other kids but who have a lot of, shall we say, “issues” due to early trauma and in utero exposure to alcohol causing brain damage on the inside but not affecting outside appearance—at all. I hope they feel the same about us—that we’ve been there for them through easy and difficult.
Our family has adopted them as family, since we’re so into the whole adoption thing around here. So one of the things I am most thankful for is this—that when life doesn’t provide all we need in the ways we hope, God still provides in the ways that fill fully, even more than we hoped. If we will open ourselves to all the possibilities, which are always far beyond our wildest imagination with God, we will have a wildly joyous life.
So two unrelated-by-blood but related-by-God families gathered together yesterday on our farm for Thanksgiving traditions. Turkey and all the fixings served on beautifully appointed tables with candles lit. The first annual playing of our Bing Crosby CD singing Christmas carols. Gathering around the piano with me playing and us singing those same carols, reminding us all of the One to whom we owe our greatest thanks. Jokes and laughter, always present with this crazy crew when we all come together. Oh, and the traditional pumpkin shoot.
We grow pumpkins every year here on the farm—about thirty of them on just six vines—just to shoot them up on Thanksgiving Day after they have graced our porch and property with the color orange for two months. Todd gets out the shotguns and pistols. He sets the outdoor table with the whole smorgasbord of ammo. Then he positions the pumpkins on a wood plank. The poor things! This year they were frozen solid with all the crazy cold weather we’ve had so early on. Then we all come forward. One-by-one, we take aim with our weapon of choice and attempt to blow the squash to smithereens. It’s a howling good time, even for the dog.
As I snapped photos of all throughout the pumpkin shoot and the rest of the day, my memory took me back to when all our kids were little—all the talks between me and their mom, one of my best God-gifts in life. We’ve prayed for our kids and our spouses. We’ve prayed for each other’s kids and spouses. She rode with me to the hospital at 2 a.m. when our Nick was two and his thigh was covered with second degree burns because he pulled a chest of drawers over on himself in the middle of the night that had a vaporizer on for THE FIRST TIME because the pharmacist suggested warm air might help him recover from his month-long bronchitis and double-ear infection. And she prayed me through the whole horrible nightmare of mother-guilt as I carried him into the ER and explained what had happened. And she prayed us through the aftermath—six weeks of daily bandage changings with little Nick screaming in pain. We all watched the scars develop—the scars that are still so visible on his 16 year-old thigh.
And as the years have gone by, we’ve seen the unfolding of God’s plan in each of our lives and the lives of our family members. Oh such different courses! Some—mine—I would never have guessed. And it’s in the never-have-guessed and in the hoped-for-but-not-realized, I have finally realized that it’s in the giving up of one’s hopes and dreams and the putting all those hopes and dreams into the heart and hands of God that we find our true hopes and dreams realized.
The God who creates our hearts, knows our hearts. And He is determined to fill our hearts with as much of His goodness as we will allow. If we make room.
If we make room . . .
Will we make room in the inn of our hearts for the Greatest Gift as we walk into Advent this year?
Will I keep practicing the putting down of my will and the inviting of His will in to discover goodness beyond my wildest hopes and dreams?
Will I trust God that much?
Because I don’t know what I really need and I don’t know what I really want. I’ve learned this truth.
But there’s still the letting go and the trusting that God will keep getting it right. That’s the part I wonder as I wander about through my days. That’s the part I must keep practicing. The trusting. The truly believing that God is so perfectly good in the practical everyday moments of His leading that I should want to leave all and follow that yonder star—that still small voice calling to me, whispering my name, wooing me to follow His lead.
And oh, how He has led this year—into dark pits from which He has not only rescued the living but resurrected the dead.
That dear first adopted, our Anna, she’s had a go of it this year with her move into assisted living at 22 years of age—a supported apartment with a resident manager on site. And then, she spent nearly two weeks in a locked and guarded hospital wing after a psychotic break that broke our hearts and scared us half to death. But my best friend and her one daughter who grew up with Anna and loves her still—they came to the scary, locked wing and visited the broken woman/child and loved on her in her deepest pit . . .
And then, the months of psychiatric appointments and medication adjustments and all the horrible side-effects.
And then, the complaining about having to clean toilets and bathroom floors when she went back to work—the only paid job she has ever had.
And then, the guilt I felt about finding this job for her in the first place, hearing that taunting voice in my head spoken by a real relative way back when we hadn’t yet left for Russia . . .
“So if your kid grows up to be a garbage collector, you’re really OK with that?”
I said yes, as long as my kid knew and loved Jesus.
“I don’t believe you.”
Well, she has grown up to be a garbage collector AND a toilet cleaner and she does love Jesus. I’ve had to revisit my claim, many times. I still don’t have a problem with it. I still stand by what I said. And I still kneel to clean toilets and pick up other’s garbage as I pray for Jesus to clean me on the inside and take care of my own garbage every time I do these two “lowly” tasks—which is often.
But Anna? She doesn’t like cleaning up other’s garbage and she doesn’t like cleaning up other’s bodily waste. So while we wait for her Department of Vocational Rehabilitation to reopen her case and help train her for something different, she continues to work as a janitor–a garbage collector and a toilet cleaner. And I encourage her. I tell her, without saying I’m quoting Scripture . . .
“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as if you’re working for the Lord . . . It is the Lord Christ you are serving . . . and with Him, there are no favorite people and no favorite jobs.” (My paraphrase of Colossians 3:23-25)
There is no favoritism. Whom are we serving? Ourselves? Our parents? Our kids? Our God? Who comes first? Ourselves? Our parents? Our kids? Our God?
Whatever you do . . .
Whoever you are . . .
And I tell her to find a way to leave her “beauty mark”—to pray for a way to create something beautiful because that’s what God does—He creates beauty wherever He is. And I wave goodbye to her when she gets out of the car to start her day.
So these days, my husband and I are still supporting kids, two now grown, who need us and most likely always will in some capacity. My husband retired to serve them. I left my profession to serve them. Some view us and all our professional training (B.S., M.B.A, Psy.D., C.P.A.) as a bit of a waste, so I’ve been told. We could have chosen differently, so I’ve been told. As Dr. Suess taught us as kids . . .
Today is your day.
You’re off to Great Places!
You’re off and away!
You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself
any direction you choose.
You’re on your own. And you know what you know.
And YOU are the guy who’ll decide where to go.
Is Dr. Seuss inflating our ego? I like this poem, really. But only GOD can move MOUNTAINS. Really.
And nothing is EVER a WASTE, when we let GOD decide where we will go!
Whatever you do . . .
As I look back over ALL the different things I’ve done in life, it’s the serving God by serving others that has brought the most gratification, the most fulfillment, the greatest connection with the Creator of all.
It’s the serving of others.
It’s the getting down on one’s knees to take care of another’s needs when they can’t bend to even tie their own boots because a mother drank when she was pregnant and one of the invisible outcomes is a spine that won’t bend like the spines of most . . .
It’s the kneeling down, often on cold, hard surfaces, the laying down of one’s entire life to love another in tangible ways—this is where we discover true life.
When we come to the point where we embrace God’s values more than our ego values, even those of us with more challenges than others take off and glide free, embracing all God has to give us in our life with open arms and a wide smile. This is the point where we become as beautiful as we can possibly be.
And that exhortation to Anna to do her job with all her heart like she’s doing it for Jesus?
She got into the car when I picked her up from work the other day, beaming with smile as wide as it could be. She couldn’t wait to tell me what an angel had told her that very day during work—the cleaning of toilets and such.
“Mom! Angel (yep—that’s her real name!) told me I made her smile when she went into the bathroom and saw that I had folded the end of the toilet paper into a triangle, just like they do in the hotels!”
Now THAT warms my mother’s heart. No matter where we are, no matter what we’re doing, we can leave our beauty mark, if we’ll do everything to serve God and others.
Look at this smile!
This is pure joy—of a janitor—who leaves her beauty mark at the end of every toilet paper roll.
Thank you, God, for my daughter, given by You, who works as a garbage collector and a janitor and does it all for you, leaving Your beautiful mark behind for others to see and enjoy—her very own beauty mark, from You—to her—for others. And so the circle of love is completed. And so, through a garbage collector and a toilet cleaner and a toilet paper artist—I am healed.