Choosing Contentment–What My Daughter Has Taught Me

thumb_FullSizeRender-6_1024I’ve had a rather grumbly morning. Nothing has changed since yesterday except my perspective, and I’m finding it more difficult than usual “to be content whatever the circumstances” (Phil 4:11).

My daughter Kaila is halfway around the world on a 6-week trip to Australia, and in her absence I’ve realized how much impact she has on my level of contentment. You see, I’m not naturally content. Instead, I lean toward restlessness and have to choose to quiet my heart and be content.

Kaila, on the other hand, at 17, is a picture of a heart at rest, and I have much to learn from her. She has an innate sense of what matters most—God and people—and she is content with knowing that God controls her life and the people in it for her good. At any moment, she’s perfectly happy with what she’s doing, whom she’s with, and where she is.

Watching her over the years, I’ve learned much about how to quiet my soul and be content, but days like today remind me I am still on a journey.

If you also struggle with contentment in your life, I hope you’ll appreciate these lessons I’ve learned from Kaila. I know what it produces because I’ve witnessed it. It produces a contented spirit that is peace to the struggler, rest for the tired, and a source of quiet strength to those who know her.

I am blessed to be my daughter’s student and to learn:

1—To enjoy the moment instead of yearning for the next adventure. Kaila lives completely in the moment. It’s not that she doesn’t dream, but her focus is always on living in every moment and engaging every person in that moment with her.

2—To enjoy what I have instead of longing for something more or better. Whether it’s stuff or station, I have never known Kaila to look around and want for anything that isn’t hers. As a matter of fact, she is constantly sacrificing in order to give and yet feels no lack because of it.

One of this girl's many talents--YES those are her arms :-)!

One of this girl’s many talents–YES those are her arms :-)!

3—To appreciate my talents and accept my weaknesses as part of God’s divine purpose for my life. Kaila knows that she knows that she knows that her talents are God-given, and conversely, so are her weaknesses. She is a gifted singer, talented musician, and craft-sy artist among other things, but she is also disorganized, a slightly clumsy athlete, and a lousy joke-teller. She neither shows off her gifts nor hides her weaknesses. She is who she is and she is perfectly okay with it.

4—To enjoy a job well done, instead of focusing on all that’s left to do. While Kaila is constantly honing her skills, she is always content with where she has come instead of frustrated by how far she has to go. She is motivated by the joy of learning, not by a standard of perfectionism.

5—To celebrate the accomplishments of others without a single moment of insecurity or jealousy. People matter to Kaila. She loves to do a good job, but she loves it just as much when others do. If given the chance to shine or let another shine instead, Kaila will always choose the latter. She may not win the prize or the glory doing so, but she always wins our respect and admiration.

Nearly 18 years ago, I started this journey feeling the weight of responsibility to lead and teach this precious gift of a daughter. Little did I know that in so many ways, she would do the same for me.thumb_IMG_2277_1024How about you? Could you use some lessons in contentment today? I know I’m sure missing my little girl who keeps her heart–and mine–so content.

 

 

When It’s Difficult To Be Thankful

In less than two weeks, most of us will be sitting around a table full of food, surrounded by those we love, counting all the reasons we are thankful.

But maybe some of you are in a hard place this season. Maybe you’re finding it difficult to give thanks in the midst of a marriage that’s falling apart or a child that won’t stop breaking your heart. Maybe as you face overwhelming circumstances, you can’t find that place of gratitude. Take heart in the fact that this too is a season.

Today my mind goes back to a book I read years ago, and a story that changed my perspective (and my life) forever. In The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom, Corrie’s life teaches that nothing is in vain, and because God has a purpose and a plan for my life, I can trust Him to use even the worst of times, for my good.

I’m sharing an excerpt with you today hoping that no matter what hard place you might find yourself in, and what “fleas” you are dealing with, you are also able to find joy in the midst of it. It is possible, and it is so worth it.

From The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom:Hidinh_place_book

[Corrie and her sister Betsie have just moved into permanent quarters in Ravensbruck concentration camp.]

“The deck above us was too close to let us sit up. We lay back, struggling against the nausea that swept over us from the reeking straw…Suddenly I sat up, striking my head on the cross-slats above. Something had pinched my leg.

 “‘Fleas!’ I cried. ‘Betsie, the place is swarming with them!’

 “We scrambled across the intervening platforms, heads low to avoid another bump, dropped down to the aisle and hedged our way to a patch of light.

 “‘Here! And here another one!’ I wailed. ‘Betsie, how can we live in such a place!’

 “‘Show us. Show us how.’ It was said so matter of factly it took me a second to realize she was praying. More and more the distinction between prayer and the rest of life seemed to be vanishing for Betsie.

 “‘Corrie!’ she said excitedly. ‘He’s given us the answer! Before we asked, as He always does! In the Bible this morning. Where was it? Read that part again!’

 “I glanced down the long dim aisle to make sure no guard was in sight, then drew the Bible from its pouch. ‘It was in First Thessalonians,’ I said. We were on our third complete reading of the New Testament since leaving Scheveningen.

 “In the feeble light I turned the pages. ‘Here it is: “Comfort the frightened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all…'” It seemed written expressly to Ravensbruck.

 “‘Go on,’ said Betsie. ‘That wasn’t all.’

 “‘Oh yes:’…”Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus.'” 

 “‘That’s it, Corrie! That’s His answer. “Give thanks in all circumstances!” That’s what we can do. We can start right now to thank God for every single thing about this new barracks!’ I stared at her; then around me at the dark, foul-aired room.

 “‘Such as?’ I said.

 “‘Such as being assigned here together.’

 “I bit my lip. ‘Oh yes, Lord Jesus!’

 “‘Such as what you’re holding in your hands.’ I looked down at the Bible.

 “‘Yes! Thank You, dear Lord, that there was no inspection when we entered here! Thank You for all these women, here in this room, who will meet You in these pages.’

 “‘Yes,’ said Betsie, ‘Thank You for the very crowding here. Since we’re packed so close, that many more will hear!’ She looked at me expectantly. ‘Corrie!’ she prodded.

 “‘Oh, all right. Thank You for the jammed, crammed, stuffed, packed suffocating crowds.’

 “‘Thank You,’ Betsie went on serenely, ‘for the fleas and for–‘

 “The fleas! This was too much. ‘Betsie, there’s no way even God can make me grateful for a flea.’

“‘Give thanks in all circumstances,’ she quoted. It doesn’t say, ‘in pleasant circumstances.’ Fleas are part of this place where God has put us.

 “And so we stood between tiers of bunks and gave thanks for fleas. But this time I was sure Betsie was wrong.”thumb_IMG_4038_1024

[Some time later, Corrie discovered Betsie was indeed right.]

 “‘You’re looking extraordinarily pleased with yourself,’ I told her.

 “‘You know, we’ve never understood why we had so much freedom in the big room,’ she said. ‘Well–I’ve found out.’

 “That afternoon, she said, there’d been confusion in her knitting group about sock sizes and they’d asked the supervisor to come and settle it.

 “But she wouldn’t. She wouldn’t step through the door and neither would the guards. And you know why?”

 “Betsie could not keep the triumph from her voice: ‘Because of the fleas! That’s what she said, “That place is crawling with fleas!'”

 “My mind rushed back to our first hour in this place. I remembered Betsie’s bowed head, remembered her thanks to God for creatures I could see no use for.

I don’t know what “fleas” you are facing as you head into this season of thanks, but I do hope you know that your situation, however impossible it may seem, is not hopeless.

I want to challenge you today to believe that you will not only get through it, but you can even learn to be grateful for it as you ask God to work in it. Thanksgiving is a powerful force, and it has a way of working miracles, especially in our own hearts.

Do you believe it?

He Just Doesn’t Love Me Like I Deserve To Be Loved

Shortly after I was married, I felt the first claws of resentment reaching into my heart because my husband just didn’t love me like I deserved to be loved. I decided that in order to move forward, we should air our frustrations. We sat together with our own notebooks and wrote out each grievance line by line. Jon began to write…and write…and write…and with each stroke of his pen, I became more and more irritated and began to write just as furiously.

ID-100186774He filled a page, and I filled a page. He filled another and I kept in step. Finally out of things to complain about, I put down my pen and he did the same. We traded notebooks and to my horror, I read several pages of “I love you. I love you. I love you.” And to my shame, he read a barrage of accusations against him.

My husband may not have loved me liked I deserved to be loved, but then I didn’t love him like he deserved to be loved either. And most of the time, I still don’t. Next month, Jon and I will celebrate 26 years of marriage. Some of those years have been full of fun and movie-screen romance and some have been filled with hurt, disappointment, and the sheer determination to make it through no matter what.

Through it all, I’ve learned that the greatest destroyer of genuine love in my marriage is a spirit of entitlement rather than a spirit of gratitude. Yes, I have inestimable value. Yes, I am worthy of love. But entitlement to anything makes me a taker, while gratitude makes me a giver. Focusing on what I deserve leaves me wanting, while focusing on what I can offer satisfies me.

I don’t know how it works, but gratitude somehow multiplies my blessings and shrinks my longings. I’m also still learning that the more I appreciate and love Jon, the more easily he can reciprocate that.

I wish I could say I have perfected gratitude. Unfortunately, there are still days I grumble and think he just doesn’t love me like I deserve to be loved, but then I remember this: Love is a choice and, each day, Jon still chooses me. He has done so for 9,449 days and I know he will continue to do so until the day he dies. That alone is reason enough to be incredibly grateful.

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Gratitude, Not “Attitude”–7 Ways to Teach Thankfulness

My greatest blessings minus one :-(.

My greatest blessings minus one :-(.

I have always told my children that there is something to be thankful for in all situations, but finding just one in the port-o-potty of a Lancaster farm earlier this month was difficult for me. Although I was suspended between the door and the potty hole for mere milliseconds, to me it seemed much longer–long enough, in fact, to have a dozen possibilities race through my mind. You see, somehow I thought I could maneuver my way through the whole process of going pee in a 1X3 foot area with a cell phone in my right hand and the door slide in my left because, for whatever reason, it wouldn’t latch all the way. Somewhere in the midst of this task, I lost my balance and had a decision to make. Do I lurch toward the door and risk falling out with my pants down or do I lean back and…well, you know?

I chose dignity over sanitation and came down on my hip with a thud. Now any reasonable woman would know she can’t actually fit down a port-o-potty hole, but I was not exactly a reasonable woman at that moment, and I was certain there was the chance I’d be forever humiliated for having to be rescued from my toilet fiasco.

In any event, it all ended with little more than bruised pride and a bruised hip for which I was not the least bit grateful. Annoyed, I kept my little incident to myself and wanted nothing more than to take a bath in Lysol. Unfortunately, I couldn’t stop my own words from creeping out from the corners of my mind, “Give thanks in all things.” Um, No. But after all day of listening to that nagging phrase, I finally threw up my hands and declared, “Lord! Thank you that my butt was too big to fit through the port-o-potty hole.” I know, it was pathetic and not very sincere, but sometimes gratitude is hard work. However, as in all things, practice makes perfect and the dividends are worth the investment.

For instance, new studies by R. A. Emmons, Ph.D., at the University of California at Davis show that a heart of gratitude actually makes us feel happier, healthier, and behave with more kindness and goodwill toward others. Who wouldn’t like to see more of that in our families?

7 ways to move from attitude to gratitude that have worked in our family:

1. Say thank you. To everyone. The teller, the clerk, the waiter, and most importantly to those in your own house. Just the habit of saying those two words is very powerful and your children will catch on.

2. Teach your children not to compare themselves to others. They will always find someone who has more. Model this mamas. Please don’t let your children hear you wishing you were in someone else’s house or driving someone else’s car or living someone else’s life. Yours is an amazing one without someone else’s stuff.

3. Teach them to give and serve. This is huge and it doesn’t require much effort to find ways to reach out. Whether it’s as involved as serving regularly as a family at a shelter or nursing home or as simple as inviting a lonely person to dinner, making others a priority will help your children develop not only a heart of gratitude but a heart that cares.

4. Give thanks in all things. And now I’m back where I started. They’re really not my words, but the apostle Paul’s from 1 Thes. 5:18, and I have stood on a rather large soap box and preached endless sermons about this one to my children. I wholeheartedly believe that there is something we can be thankful for in every situation. Look hard; it’s hidden somewhere. While I’m still not grateful I beat myself up inside a smelly port-o-potty, I am extremely thankful I didn’t lose my phone in a pile of poop.

Courtesy debspoons at freedigitalphotos.net

Courtesy debspoons at freedigitalphotos.net

5. “Count your blessings, name them one by one; count your blessings, see what God hath done!” It’s a great hymn and great advice. Whether you intentionally talk about them daily or encourage your children to write them down, recalling blessings helps us be conscious of all we have instead of focused on all we don’t. Let’s not limit it to a once-a-year ritual.

6. Pray. Gratitude is not easy so ask God to cultivate it in us and our children. James 4:2 says “You do not have because you do not ask”, so ask and believe.

7. Keep at it. Let your children know it’s okay if they are only going through the motions but don’t feel grateful at first. Eventually it will move from an exercise of the mind to a response of the heart. It will.

There will always be too many reasons to grumble, but if we choose instead to move from attitude to gratitude, things won’t only feel better, they will actually get better. I’d say that’s a reason to be grateful.