“Have you seen my flowers?”
I now ask all of my guests as they leave my house. I can’t help but shout about what He’s done with my flowers. “They were dead. All of them. The sun scorched them before I could plant them, and they looked pretty pathetic.” (My daughter demonstrates the bent over, dead look of the flowers, rolled-back eyes and all.) “So we prayed. Yeah. Me and the kids. We soaked them, sprinkled some plant food, buried their roots in the soil and asked God to make them thrive.”
I remember the first time I read her words. With piano playing gently in the background of her stories, I sunk deeply into the comfort of her rhythm. It was a rhythm of grace. I watched as Ann Voskamp, author of One Thousand Gifts, counted daily gifts, always adding to her gratitude journal. And soon I tried it too. It’s pretty simple, really. It isn’t supposed to be complicated. Yet, this one choice has the power to shape a life. My life didn’t drastically change overnight. My gratitude journal wasn’t magical, and there were many days I’d forget all about it. But my eyes were opened to a new perspective, and gradually my heart shifted. Giving thanks in all circumstances truly did begin to shape my life. I have found that when I am in the midst of a trial, and I choose to praise God- my heart changes. And when I choose to thank Him often, whether in good circumstances or bad, it begins to form a habit. And when I form a habit of praise, my whole life becomes a reflection of His grace.
Giving thanks is a response to receiving something good. Joy is the result of giving thanks. When we are filled with joy, we can’t help but share it with others. So, ultimately, thanksgiving moves us to action.
I was asked a question once, and it went something like this: “If I can live a comfortable life as a Christian and still receive salvation, still have a relationship with Jesus, still go to Heaven…why would I want to push myself out of my comfort zone to do more?” She was a genuine, God-loving, selfless, church-serving woman, and she wasn’t satisfied with an ordinary answer. If she’s already earning an A+ as a Christian, why should she seek to do more? I’ve thought back to this question many times because I think that deep down we are all constantly weighing this question in our hearts.
How much will He ask of me if I say with abandonment “Here I am, Lord, send me?"
The first time I eased out of my comfort zone, I attended a conference out of state, away from my babies and husband, and I missed my daughter’s very first day of preschool. Daddy dressed her in a Dodgers dress that day and scooped her hair up into a bumpy ponytail. It made my heart swoon, and I was thankful for the way God provided those sweet details while I was away. There was a woman named Noel Yeatts at this conference. She made us all weep with both sadness and joy as she took us through pictures and stories of her missions. The babies in the pictures were far too thin and far too listless.
But nothing brought more tears than the final pictures of the happy endings of rescued babies being restored with their families. There was hope for them. A little window in my heart opened a bit. I have avoided scary things my whole life. The news? I can’t watch the news. Way too sad. Way too scary and way too real. But this little window into the world of these babies who needed rescuing brought a glimmer of hope and not a source of fear. In Noel’s book Awake, she talks about how she is scared too. She says that fear doesn’t necessarily leave her as she is doing dangerous missions. But she just does them scared.
Wait- that’s an option? Just embrace the shaking knees and jump? Do them scared. The little window in my heart opened a bit more. What she said next was the turning point for me. She said that whatever makes me the most angry- that is what I am most passionate about. Allow it to move me to action, she had said. She had told many stories in her book that were difficult to stomach because they were so very sad. Way worse than any stories I had ever heard on the news. And when she talked about the young, vulnerable children and babies who were either parentless, malnourished or being taken advantage of, I knew exactly what my passion was. Fear cannot protect me any more than worry can add an hour to my life.
But God can take those fears and worries and use them for good to propel me into action. (Matt. 6:27, Rom. 8:28) When we can help with a problem, we no longer feel the need to shield our eyes from it. We can look at it head-on because we depend on One who is greater and higher than we are. (Ps. 61:2) He has the solutions, and we are willing and excited and privileged to be the ones to bring them. The more I fall in love with God, the more I am willing to do for Him. I do not yet know all the good works God has prepared for me (Eph. 2:10), but I am thankful that my heart breaks for what breaks my Father’s heart. There is much hope in Him, and regardless of how He will choose to use me, I want to live my life with open, willing, thankful hands; even if they tremble. Because sometimes when we choose to give Him thanks and then make our requests known to Him (Phil. 4:6), He gives abundantly.
After we planted the flowers and watered them daily, we saw them perk up and show their beautiful colors once again. And we praised God. We were thrilled, but we didn’t even know that He was working underground. But isn’t He always?
A few weeks later, we returned from vacation to find every space in this little flowerbed filled with vibrant, thriving flowers. There are more blooming even now. I have tried for years to make this little area look full to no avail. The pink and white flowers that we planted and prayed over are still thriving. We did not plant the orange flowers that day. But we know who did. He is a Father who knows how to give good gifts to those who ask Him (Matt. 7:11), and in return we give Him thanks and tell everyone we can about His goodness.
Where there is gratitude there is joy. And where there is joy, there is a willing spirit to take action against the darkness.
Let’s all be joy-seeking, thanks-giving, darkness-fighting action-takers. We have one life to live well, and the abundant life starts with praise and willingness to go where He sends us.
“You’ve all been to the stadium and seen the athletes race. Everyone runs; one wins. Run to win. All good athletes train hard. They do it for a gold medal that tarnishes and fades. You’re after one that’s gold eternally. I don’t know about you, but I’m running hard for the finish line. I’m giving it everything I’ve got. No sloppy living for me! I’m staying alert and in top condition. I’m not going to get caught napping, telling everyone else all about it and then missing out myself.” 1 Cor 9:24-27 (Message version)
Ways to take action right this minute: 1. Pray. Ask for God to break your heart for what breaks His and to soften your heart to be willing to go wherever He would send you.
2. Begin a gratitude journal.
(Nothing fancy. Just pick up a pen and scratch down blessings. Make it a habit.)
3. Find an organization(s).
(in addition to your home church) and give to it with your time, talent or financially.
Here are some of my favorite organizations if you need some ideas: