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Archive for the ‘Thankfulness’ Category

~ Written by Cassie Rayl

No one told us bonding with our son would feel impossible during pregnancy. Our first pregnancy resulted in our daughter being stillborn. To say we were cautious and hesitant to invest in our second child’s development would be an understatement. We wanted to be excited for our son, who we decided to name Judah, but what if he wasn’t placed in our arms, either?

Talking to Judah throughout the pregnancy often felt hollow as I battled deep anxiety and fear. Often the joy would be ripped away and replaced by immense sorrow with the thought, “What if we bury our son like we buried our daughter? What if we never get to witness the look of recognition on his face when he hears our voices?”

I forced myself to sing hymns out loud, telling myself I was singing to Judah as a compromise. If I couldn’t pour into him by bonding with him through motherly chatter, at least he could learn my voice some other way. I spent the entirety of my pregnancy begging Jesus to let that be enough, fearing it would be inadequate.

My husband, Peter, struggled just as I did. Only in the last weeks of my pregnancy could he bring himself to nickname Judah. He said very little, but what he did say always made our little boy flip in my womb in excitement over hearing his daddy. Still, I worried Judah hadn’t heard his dad enough to know his voice if and when he was placed in our arms alive and thriving.

I had no reason to worry. Judah made his arrival a month early and miraculously strong. There was one moment in the NICU, I’ll never forget. Judah was uncomfortable and scared, and though he would breathe more easily when I sang over him, he wasn’t calming down. The instant Peter leaned over Judah’s crib and said, “Hey, little dude, it’s okay,” Judah opened his eyes, stopped crying and just studied his daddy. He knew that voice, and he knew that voice was grounded by love.

Watching that interaction reminded me of my own spiritual journey with the Father. I don’t always feel like I hear God enough. I sometimes feel as if it’s been so long since I’ve heard him, I wonder if I’ll recognize his voice when I do. Yet the moment I do hear my Heavenly Father, the moment I can focus on his presence, all I hear is love. In the end, all I know is the Father wants me where I belong: In his arms listening as he declares his love for me.

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~ Written by Viki Rife

Anna felt all alone. The husband who had needed her care night and day over the past decade had just passed away. Her own health had deteriorated during that time. Now she was left with no friends, no family nearby, and the huge specter of anxiety and depression hanging over her. The isolation of the Covid shutdown had her almost paralyzed.

One morning she decided to make a list of things she could do that day. She grabbed her walker and made her way to the desk, where she found a notepad in the drawer. She started to write: Take a shower. Organize meds into a labeled contained so she would know which ones she had taken. Read a Psalm as a prayer. She was surprised at the satisfaction she got from checking each item off the list.

The next day her list was a bit bolder. Reorganize her sock drawer. Dust one room of the house. Write a get-well card to someone from church. Call Betty, her old high school friend she hadn’t talked to for years, just to catch up.

Betty was delighted to hear from her. Anna was struck by how little it takes to encourage someone else. After that, Anna made a point each day of including in her list at least one item that would bless or encourage someone else.

As time went on, she then started adding some occasion to celebrate God’s goodness each day. Eventually, the day came when she was able to sort and label a box of old photos, all the time thanking God for the memories rather than feeling sorry for herself. As she finished that project, the thought hit her: “I can choose to live in joy. And I’m doing it!”

Anna’s journey from anxiety and depression to joy seemed like a miracle to all of us. But as she summarized it: “Be Thankful. Bless others.”

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~ Written by Cassie Rayl

Our New Year didn’t come in the way I had hoped. Although our plans hadn’t been huge, New Year’s was potentially the last holiday my husband, Peter, and I had before our son, Judah, arrives in early April. Ideas of games, movies, junk food and laughter were all I had thought about for days.

Instead, there were bowls strategically placed between the bathrooms so  I would be prepared any time my nausea hit. Peter militantly checked my blood pressure, managed my new medications, and gently understood when sleeping seemed better than looking at his face. As miserable as I was, I giggled every time Judah kicked my ribs.

Relief was on the horizon, though. My medical team had jumped into action, and as soon as my body adapted to new medications, I’d be okay. Still, I wasn’t focused on Jesus, joy, or Judah. I was adamantly focused on how God hadn’t given me what I wanted for the New Year.

At some point in my pity party, I heard the Spirit whisper to my heart, “Will you sing me a song? Will you bring in the New Year praising me anyway? You’re obviously miserable. Will you actually let me help you refocus? Or would you rather just hear yourself complain?”

The songs started out quite begrudgingly, let me tell you. Honestly, I started singing out of mere obedience. Before I knew it, though, I wasn’t focusing on my discomfort, missed plans, or even my fears over my health or the health of our son. I was just singing to the Man who first called me Beloved. My thirty-minute, possibly-off-tune worship session ended in joy simply because God had shifted my perspective from myself to Him.

I’m fairly certain we’re all realizing that the strike of midnight on January 1st didn’t make our lives a bed of roses. As Christ has continually challenged me, I extend that same challenge to you: When your heart is filled with what you don’t have and what you can’t control in this new year, praise God anyway.

Even in times of uncertainty, focusing on our First Love is always the answer to finding freedom and living in joy.

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~ Written by Tabby McMonagle

We went to Maui on our honeymoon, and decided to go snorkeling for first time. As I approached the water, I assumed it would be your typical beach entry. To my surprise, it dropped straight down, like falling into the deep end of a pool! I was caught off guard; however, I was quickly distracted by the beautiful depths around me.

I was in God’s aquarium.

The waves were crashing by the edge of the drop off which made it a challenge to get out. My husband, being a stronger and more experienced swimmer gracefully exited the water. I, however; bobbed around in the crashing waves, looking ridiculous.

When I finally made it to shore I was wrapped up and spit out by a wave. My suit, half hanging off my body, was full of sand, as well as every orifice in my face. I was a pitiful, disoriented mess. My husband had to rescue and help me.

Unlike my time in Maui’s waters, at the beginning of the pandemic I had a better handle on things. I was caught off-guard but I found things to be grateful for. Everyone I knew was freaking out, and we were all being held to the same standards. We were all even struggling on what to do with our groceries, but we found community in our frustrations.

Now, each state has its own rules, everyone has to make decisions based on their own health restrictions or work guidelines. Nothing feels the same, except we stopped bleaching our groceries. It is hard to feel grateful now. I don’t feel like we are all on the same page. Are we all just stuck in the waves?

I can’t look ahead, behind, or beside me. I have to be grateful for the mana given each day. I don’t know what tomorrow brings. I might find myself wrapped up and spit out by a wave, but I can rest in one thing.

God will get me to shore.

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~ Written by Samantha Freds

She could not understand what was happening. This was the place. She was sure of it. She had seen it with her own eyes just two days before. They had laid his body in that tomb and it took several men, straining against the immense weight, to roll the stone in place. Now it was gone and she didn’t dare look inside.

She ran to tell Peter and John, but she hardly had the words out of her mouth when they both sprinted past her, their eyes filled with disbelief and fear. She followed them back to the tomb. This was her second trip, though, and the heaviness of the morning’s events were weighing her down. Why was this happening? Had she not been through enough already? By the time she arrived back at the tomb, Peter and John were already gone. She was alone, out of breath and frightened.

She wept. It was all just too much to take.

Suddenly, a voice cut through the morning air. She turned to see who the voice belonged to, but her vision was blurred by her tears. She wiped her eyes and looked at his face. This time blinded by her anxiety and fear, she still did not recognize him. Until he spoke her name,“Mary.”

Then she knew. All at once her fear was gone, the weight she felt melted away and she knew who stood before her—it was her teacher, it was Jesus. He was alive!

That’s the kind of Savior we have. One whisper of our name and all the weight is lifted. Nothing cuts through anxiety and fear like the voice of Jesus. He is alive and he calls your name through the chaos of today. Like Mary, all you have to do is turn and listen.

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~ Written by Viki Rife

Something hard must have been going on in my life March 28, 2012. The other day something I posted that day showed up in my Facebook memories.

He will be the sure foundation for your times, a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge; the fear of the Lord is the key to this treasure” Isaiah 33:6.

It couldn’t be more timely for all that’s happening right now! Whatever I was concerned about at the time I posted it must not have been as big as I thought it was, since I don’t even remember what it was. But I’m sure I felt I needed it every bit as much then as I do now.

Even in the most unstable of times, our God is still as rich as ever in salvation, wisdom and knowledge. And he has given us, his dear children, access to the key to this treasure! Whatever your situation as you watch the world crisis and battle your own challenges and anxieties, God has already anticipated and provided the opportunity for the stability your soul needs.

We are richly blessed!

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~ Written by Viki Rife

I realized the Pilgrims were kindred spirits the year I turned nine. Up until then, I hadn’t thought much about people who landed in the United States, half a world away from where my family lived, and celebrated a season of thankfulness. Because Thanksgiving wasn’t a holiday in the country where my parents were missionaries, the fourth Thursday of November was just another school day a few weeks before the start of summer vacation.

That year, my parents decided to put on a Thanksgiving dinner to share our culture with some of the people they were working with. Mom was seven months pregnant with her fourth child, and I suspect she was craving stuffing and pumpkin pie. Dad talked to some friends who said they knew a butcher who might have turkeys, so the day before the celebration we all piled into the car to drive across the city to check it out.

We three kids waited in the hot car for what seemed like an hour before Mom and Dad came out of the butcher shop empty-handed. That shop didn’t have turkeys, but they referred us to someone in another part of the city who might have some. That shop ended up referring us to another, and so it went.

Four hours later, we still had no turkey. It was starting to get dark. We were all hot, tired, and irritable. The tension in the car was palpable. Frustrated, I said, “I bet the Pilgrims didn’t have this much trouble getting a turkey for Thanksgiving!”

My parents laughed and my younger siblings wanted to know what Pilgrims were. As Mom and Dad explained, with me jumping in to share what little I knew, the mood in the car became thoughtful, almost reverent. We talked about what it meant to leave family and friends and struggle in a new land. We talked about gratitude and why it was important.

I think it was my little sister who said, “Can we pray that God will give us a turkey?” Somehow it suddenly seemed important to celebrate such a crucial holiday. We prayed as we drove to the last-hope butcher. Sure enough, they had a (very scrawny) turkey.

The next day, we sat down to a feast reminiscent of the pictures I’d seen in magazines. All was great until we bit into the turkey. It was one tough bird! Before we could complain, Mom said brightly, “I bet the turkey the Pilgrims ate was tough, too.” We laughed, and I decided I could really identify with those Pilgrim children.

Tough turkey and all, we had a lot to be thankful for.

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~Written by Samantha Freds

I don’t cry easily, but there is one thing that inevitably brings me to tears: a soldier’s homecoming. The videos are everywhere this time of year. Whether it happens at a football game, a school event or the front door, military men and women reunited with their families gets me every single time.

Perhaps that’s because I know the feeling.

“Sami! Wake up, Daddy’s here!” My brother tried to shake me awake. “You better not be joking,” I groggily replied, afraid to get my hopes up. We hadn’t seen Dad for months and we were not planning to see him that weekend, either. He was stationed in Florida at the time and we were visiting Grandma in Connecticut.

Dad had served twenty-one years in the Air Force before becoming a pastor. He was still in the Air Force Reserves while pastoring a small congregation in New York. He put thousands of miles on the car traveling from New York to Massachusetts, where he was stationed, to fulfill both duties. But after September 11th he was called up to active duty. That’s what eventually sent him to Florida.

My mom, brother and I were scheduled to see Dad around Thanksgiving. Our plane tickets were purchased and the countdown had begun. Instead, that early morning in Connecticut, our family had our own soldier’s homecoming moment. There’s no video, but I don’t think any of us need one to remember it.

Dad had been deactivated early and drove through the night to see us. Although he would continue traveling from New York to Massachusetts until his reserve time was complete, we wouldn’t be separated for months at a time again. I know my mom has never been happier to cancel a trip to sunny Florida! And, thanks to an inner ear infection that hit me at the perfect time, our plane tickets were refunded. God’s blessing in disguise!

I can relate to the sacrifice of our military men and women from a child’s perspective and I know I’m one of the lucky ones. I praise God often that my dad came home.

To all the veterans and their families: Thank you for your sacrifice and service.

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~Written by Samantha Freds

A few weeks ago, my brother and I visited my parents on a rainy Saturday afternoon. We had hoped to enjoy some outdoor activities before the summer was behind us, but Indiana weather had other ideas. Not wanting to spend the entire day on the couch, the four of us ventured over to the gym at my dad’s church.

We played a little basketball and threw a few rounds of corn hole before Dad disappeared into a storage closet. He soon reappeared, bringing more dodgeballs than I have ever seen in one location. An all-out war ensued. It was every one for themselves, and not even Mom was off-limits. Spontaneous dodgeball makes for an exciting afternoon!

It wasn’t until later that evening I saw a spiritual lesson hidden in that simple game.

Most people use one of two tactics when they play dodgeball. Some players try to catch any ball thrown at them while dodging the ones otherwise too risky to catch. Others continuously hold on to a ball at all times so they can block anything thrown at them. I prefer the second tactic. Unfortunately, that is also the way I often approach temptation.

I stay in the game, trying to make a block at the last second.

But while dodging and blocking may be an effective dodgeball tactic, it isn’t the way we are told to handle temptation. Jesus instructed his disciples to pray they would not even be led into temptation. And Paul told the Corinthians God would provide a way out when they encountered it.

Essentially, we need to use a flight, not fight, response to temptation!

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~Written by Samantha Freds

I wanted to write about how we, as Christians, should have eyes like our Heavenly Father to see the world around us. It seemed fitting right after Father’s Day, but the words were not coming. I quickly realized why. I have been struggling with discontentment lately, and I doubt I’m alone. I needed to be real and raw this week.

Contentment. I don’t even like the word. It seems so nondescript. It’s not happy or sad, excited or melancholy. It’s not one extreme or another. Contentment is about being satisfied wherever you are. But, what if I don’t like where I am? How do I find contentment if my circumstances were supposed to be different by now?

Does God really expect us to be content if we are underpaid and under-appreciated at our jobs? Or if we are still waiting for marriage or for children while all our friends are enjoying both? How can we possibly be content after the latest diagnosis?

I think God does want us to be content in all circumstances, but I’m not pulling any punches. I started by saying I’m struggling with areas of discontentment, so I don’t pretend to have the answer. I am distinctly aware that even if I received all the things I thought I deserved or wanted, it would not be long before I was back to feeling discontent. That seems to be the nature of this life between two gardens.

I don’t take lightly the reasons for my own discontentment, and I certainly don’t mean to say “just get over it.” Here is the verse I keep coming back to: “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Phil 4:6). And the very next verse promises that the peace of God, which is beyond all understanding, will be ours.

Later in the same chapter, Paul says he has learned the secret to being content in all circumstances: God. No, seriously. It’s not a Sunday school answer and I’m not a simpleton. Discontentment is real, but the only way out of it is to give thanks to God for everything we do have.

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