Saturday, November 29, 2014

Paying It Forward: A Truer Picture of Thanksgiving

“So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other.” – John 13:34

‘Tis the season to be jolly, fa la la la la la la la la.

Oh wait! Wrong holiday. It looks like Christmas, with a proliferation of stores donning twinkling lights, gold tinsel, and displays of brightly decorated packages in red and green; and even the weather – with five feet of snow in some places – seems to think it’s December already.  But no, it’s a national holiday with the most humble of beginnings that used to signify something important, but somehow has become increasingly buried in a frenzy of football games and Black Friday retail sales. Yes, it’s that time of year again. It’s Thanksgiving.

It began almost 400 years ago with a boatload of Pilgrims struggling to settle into a newly discovered land, giving thanks to God for their very survival, made possible by Native Americans who shared their food crop. It has continued with traditions of family gatherings and feasts of turkey, corn and cranberries, reflecting the fruits of the land upon which we were founded.

From the richest of rich, to the poorest of poor, Thanksgiving was designed to bring to mind a most important concept: gratitude. The question is, “How do you express your gratitude?”

For many years, gratitude was something ingrained into our society. When we sat down to a meal, we gave thanks to God and to the host/hostess for the food. When we received a gift, we wrote out a handwritten thank you note. We acknowledged when someone did even the smallest act of kindness, such as opening a door. Perhaps it was those expressions of appreciation that made us want to do more for others. It wasn’t a burden. It was a privilege. In contrast to today’s world, in which we have to be reminded by books to keep “an attitude of gratitude,” we already had one. Courtesy and helpfulness weren’t the exception to the rule; they were the standard way of life.

A few years ago, a TV commercial aired and quickly became viral on the Internet. In it, one person did something kind for someone else, and then that person was inspired to do something for the next person he crossed. The concept of “paying it forward” was born.

While we may think of it as a new idea, “paying it forward” is not a new concept after all. It’s actually about 2,000 years old, originating with Jesus, as He commanded His disciples, “Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other.”

In His commandment to “love others, just as I have loved you,” Jesus asked us to follow His example – basically, to “pay forward” His love. And He knew we were capable of it, because He considered something we often forget, which is that we were made in the image of God. Since God is love, we were made to love. And because God is love, that means He also loves to give. In the Garden of Eden, God saw that Adam did not feel complete without a mate, and so He gave him a woman. Up on a mountain, when Abraham looked for a sacrifice, God provided a ram. And when we as a people couldn’t ever measure up to God’s holy standards to find fellowship with Him, He provided a Savior.
Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Why? As children of God, it is in our DNA to give. Wholly. Unselfishly. Lovingly. We cannot receive over and over again without feeling out of balance. We must find a way to give, or we will never find the peace, joy and abundant life we were created for.

If you’ve been following this blog for the past few months, you’ll know it’s not been an easy time in my life. From my father’s passing to an RA diagnosis, to a bad tooth paired with chronic migraines, it’s been a period filled with pain, one in which I leaned heavily on my husband to help me through. My gratitude grew immense as time went on, but there was a burden that came with it. I didn’t know how to give back.

Then it happened. My husband became ill with back-to-back viruses that put him out of commission for almost a week. As he alternated between the bed and the couch, shivering with chills under a blanket, I served as nurse, taking his temperature, administering medicine, and fetching him soothing foods and beverages. “Rest,” I would say with assurance, “I’ll take care of you.” Even as I became sick with the first virus, I was in better shape than he was. Besides, it felt good to be the caretaker, after so much time of being cared for by him. In giving to him, rather than just receiving, I felt better than I had in a long time.

This Thanksgiving, I bowed my head in prayer to thank God for all the gifts He has given me the past year, including the wonderful husband I now share my life with. I also thanked Him for the wisdom He recently imparted to me: Whether it is “repaying kindness with kindness” to someone who has helped me or “paying it forward” to someone else, the best expression of my gratitude is to give.

How are you expressing your gratitude during this season of Thanksgiving? Do you know what it is to find joy in giving rather than receiving, as we head into the holiday season?

Paying It Forward: A Truer Picture of Thanksgiving originally appeared on Spring Sight blog, by Linda W. Perkins.  Get even more encouragement by following me on FacebookPinterest, and Twitter.

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Friday, November 7, 2014

Licking the (Yummy) Filling of an Oreo Sandwich Cookie

"Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things." - Philippians 4:8

Out of all that happened this past week, three things stand out: 1) I had to take my car into the repair shop for the nth time this month, due to the inadvisability of driving with the engine light on, 2) My husband and I watched a gorgeous sunset (from our kayaks) across a beautiful little private lake during our annual fall weekend getaway, and 3) I painfully endured a series of excruciating migraines, aching joints, and an agonizing tooth infection.  

Do you see the order in which I wrote that account? Bad, good, bad. Now try and remember what those three things were. It’s easy to focus on the bad, when it’s at both the beginning and end of the story, isn’t it? In fact, it’s tempting to just ignore the middle all together. When you look at it that way, it’s easy to sum up my week as pretty icky. Yes, there was that sunset, but hey, the majority of it was spent feeling physically wrecked and emotionally wrung out. 

Unfortunately, the above is often how I see my circumstances. It is so easy to get bogged down in all of life’s low moments, especially when they are numerous or extreme, that I can easily skim over the good parts of my days and weeks. Pretty soon, if I’m not careful to check my attitude, my life can look and feel pretty bleak. 

At the same time as I was experiencing all of this, I read the sad account of a beautiful 29-year-old with cancer who took her own life under Oregon’s “Die with Dignity” law. While I understood her pain as she suffered from massive headaches and seizures (I have had both), what I didn’t understand was her timing. Just two days beforehand, she had said she was postponing her planned overdose, because she was experiencing so much joy with her friends and family. Truthfully, I was shocked when I heard on the news that she was dead. “What happened???” I thought to myself. How could she be so happy to be alive one day, only to take her own life shortly thereafter? 

As I reflected on this question, the answer became clear. More importantly, the answer became pertinent to my own life. It’s very simple. Life is like an Oreo sandwich cookie: brown and crunchy on the outside, with some awesomely yummy vanilla frosting on the inside. Sadly, that young woman just ate hers the wrong way. 

 If you grew up in the United States and saw the Oreo commercials, you know that the “proper” (and best) way to eat an Oreo is to pull the two cookies apart, lick the delicious icing first, and then consume the crunchy pieces that are left. Even better, dip them in milk so that the cookies will soften a bit too. YUM!  

If you’ve ever tried eating an Oreo in the same way as you would a different kind of cookie, you’ll know it’s just not the same. When you bite through both cookies at once, it’s easy to miss the taste of the best part – the icing – all together. And yet, that’s how we often go through life, isn’t it? We look at our overall “Oreo” called life, and it looks very crunchy. We think about how hard and painful it can be, especially if we take the experiences of our past and project them onto our future; and the prospect of enjoying it just doesn’t seem very good, much less “delightful.” This is especially true for those of us struggling with chronic pain, which can suck the life out of our daily activities, either incapacitating us all together or just hampering our efforts to live normally by making even the simplest tasks so very, very difficult.  

What I realized over the weekend getaway with Ben, which began with a morning migraine and ended with an aching tooth, was that the key to enjoying – and valuing – life on life’s terms (which can be messy, even for those without serious problems) is to really, really, REALLY enjoy the beautiful moments sandwiched in between the painful parts. If I can just approach the “Oreo” of my life the right way, focused on the delicious experience of “licking the icing” from the middle, my whole perspective changes. It tastes so good that I can better deal with the “crunchy” bits and realize that even when life is hard, the good times are worth enduring the bad.
My father, who endured Stage IV cancer for two years, knew what it was to approach life that way. Although he was in extreme pain much of the time, he held onto and enjoyed every morsel of goodness he could find in his life, despite his circumstances. He held out for the icing! And in the end, I know he was grateful for each one of those delicious moments “in between.” 

I saw a Facebook post this week from a fellow RA blogger who clearly knows how to focus on the “filling” of her Oreo sandwich cookie life. She posted that she had taken some time to spend with friends that day and then had to come home to take her (pain) meds and was resting. Her thought on the day? “Worth it! J 

How do you look at the “Oreo” of your life? Do you try and take it all in with one bite and feel “crunched”? Or do you take the time to enjoy licking the yummy icing in the middle?

Licking the (Yummy) Filling of an Oreo Sandwich Cookie originally appeared on Spring Sight blog, by Linda W. Perkins.  Get even more encouragement by following me on FacebookPinterest, and Twitter.

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