Ezra 3:8-11: "When the builders laid the foundation...with thanksgiving they sang to the Lord: '...his love...endures forever'" (vv.10-11).
"I wonder if I've done permanent damage to my mind and body," admitted a friend who had just left a destructive career environment. "As I begin this journey out of workaholism and burnout, sometimes I'm hopeful, other times I'm racked with doubt. I guess I'd better wait before I count my blessings."
At one time I too was frightened that total restoration was not possible. After all, I had "fried" my brain and soul.
Perhaps the Israelites experienced similar feelings. They had been freed from the oppressive chains of the Babylonians. Restoring the temple in Jerusalem was their goal, but many obstacles remained. The destruction was massive. Could they ever recover what they once had?
With such a huge task ahead, one might expect the Israelites to hold their praise until the temple reconstruction was completed. Yet as the foundation was being laid, they shouted, "God is good."
Learning new ways to live is risky. There is much work to be done and many obstacles to overcome. At first glance, it might seem like an unlikely time for Thanksgiving. However, even in our confusion and doubt, we can be grateful for evidence of growth and praise God.
Lord, your love endures forever -- before, during, and after the restorative process.
Can you think of a time when being grateful seemed like a strange or even ridiculous thing to do, but you found ways to thank God, anyway?
WIN A FREE BOOK! The Bible text (in the photo I took of the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem) and this blog post remind me of my devotional book, It's a Wonderful (Imperfect) Life. I'd like to give you an autographed copy. Make a comment here and I'll enter your name for a drawing on THANKSGIVING DAY.
I love taking photos of the flag of the United States of America. In spite of her faults, I'm grateful for my country, for those who gave their lives to give us freedom, and for God's blessing on this land. I was a child when the words "under God" were added to the Pledge of Allegiance.
It's addition impressed me deeply.
"I Pledge Allegiance to the flag of the United States of America
and to the Republic for which it stands,
one Nation under God,
indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."
Lately I've been snapping pictures of our country's flag. Here are a few more. Hope you enjoy. Maybe you'll even want to sing "You're a Grand Old Flag" by George M. Cohan.
You're a grand old flag,
You're a high flying flag
And forever in peace may you wave.
You're the emblem of
The land I love.
The home of the free and the brave.
Ev'ry heart beats true
'neath the Red, White and Blue,
Where there's never a boast or brag.
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
Keep your eye on the grand old flag.
While preparing for this gift-giving season, I asked myself (and God) two questions (at different times.)
1. What is Christmas to me?
2. What would it mean to enjoy a "grace-filled" holiday?
QUESTION #1: In my journal I wrote the following:
To me Christmas is:
"Sooooo, every day is Christmas to me," I concluded. And then it dawned on me that this reality (that every day is Christmas for me) has caused me to "lighten up" my unrealistic expectations for celebrating Christmas. It's been more an internal shift than an outward one. I've released some of the intense "shoulds and have tos and musts" that society, the media, the church, my inner bully, and others--who appear to have it all together--tell me (or at least hint) that I NEED to do.
In my heart, I now know that I don't have to cram all my giving, caring, doing, gratitude, merriment, music, celebrations, goodwill, and spirituality into the 4-5 concentrated weeks of Christmas holidaying.
QUESTION #2: And then I read about the original meaning of the word "grace" used in the Bible to tell us about the Christ of Christ-mas. This "grace" is the direct opposite of "works", in fact the two are mutually exclusive. All my "trying too hard to make it all just right" at Christmas (or any other time) is the antithesis of grace. When I truly accept God's grace/favor in Christ, I'm able to be grace-ful with myself and others. (John 1:14-17)*
Practical Grace Example! I shared this with some women at the beginning of December. A mom with 4 little kids got so excited that she began thinking of ways to "grace" herself and her family this season. One practical thing she did was to relax her expectations for how her artificial tree would be decorated. When she put it together, she didn't have time to "fluff" up the branches, so she let it go--and allowed the kids to decorate, anyway! All very smile-able.
How will you "grace" yourself and your loved ones this Christmas week?
BOOK WINNERS: Thank you to all of you for commenting on my last blog and entering the book give-away for It's a Wonderful (Imperfect) Life. The three winners were Robyn Bloomquist, Patricia Groff, and Tessie M. Congratulations!. Hope you enjoy reading the devotionals. Love your comments, Everyone. Keep them coming please! :-)
*The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. ...From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ." John 1:14-17
[Joan's taking some time-off and has asked her friends and fellow-writers Becky Johnson and Rachel Randolph to share an excerpt from their funny and heart-warming book about food and love.
Comment below to put your name in the hat to win an autographed copy of
WE LAUGH WE CRY WE COOK. Drawing on 12/08/13.]
Excerpt written by Becky Johnson, mother of the mother/daughter writing duo
An aside to moms of all ages: Even Iron Chefs have bad days in the kitchen. And being a mom is a little like being an Iron Chef—with a million things to do in a ridiculously short amount of time—only you have to do it without a full night’s sleep or hired help.
There are no perfect cooks and no perfect mothers. You will try. You will try so very hard. Still you will fail and fall and sometimes flail. You will feel guilty about all this. When I read about Rachel’s younger self longing for order and neatness, for a mother who valued routines and was fully awake and aware in the morning, I ache with the yearning to go back in time and do it all better. If only I cooked beautiful breakfasts and kept a better house, I think, perhaps my children would never have suffered, never have any of their own personality quirks, never made their own share of mistakes. If I had been more perfect, perhaps they would also be perfect and have only perfect things happen to them.
But let me share something my mother, Ruthie, who the kids call Granny, shared with me. Perhaps it will comfort you as it has comforted me through the years. “No matter how well you do your job as a parent, even if you should do it almost perfectly, you’ll still raise little human beings with selfish streaks, temper tantrums, and the remarkable ability to lie to you with the face of an angel. And even if you could be a perfect parent, your child will still have to grow up in an imperfect world and live through their own share of disappointments and heartaches. Ultimately, you need God’s grace and they’ll need God’s grace, and that’s just the way it is.”
So try not to sweat your imperfections. We are just fallible human beings doing our best to raise other fallible human beings. Do your best with the big stuff, and trust that loads of love and laughter and grace will cover the rest.
On your deathbed your adult kids won’t remember how you loaded the dishwasher (okay, maybe mine will as it is a memorable sort of thing); they’ll remember that you thought they were remarkable, lovable, and capable—a blessing to you and others. If you do your job as well as you can, you will arrive at old age knowing you and your children both had your share of flaws and mistakes, but you’ll focus on what matters most—how, over the scraping sound of burnt toast being whittled, you loved each other to the moon and back.
Granny’s Oat and Fruit Gems
These make healthy snacks and great grab-’n’-go breakfasts.
2 bananas, mashed
2 peeled apples, grated
3 cups old fashioned oats
½ teaspoon sea salt
½ cup raw organic sugar
½ cup dried chopped fruit (dates, dried cranberries, coconut, raisins, apricots all work well)
1 cup nuts and/or seeds, chopped (walnuts, pecans, almonds, sunflower seeds all work well)
½ teaspoon almond extract (or 1 teaspoon vanilla)
grated zest of one orange
Preheat oven to 350˚. Mix all of the above together in a large mixing bowl. Spray or oil muffin pans. Fill them about ⅔ full and gently press down with back of spoon. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes or until just golden brown around edges and top. When cool to touch, gently remove from pan. Serves 18.
• Gluten-free friendly (use gluten-free oats)
Becky Johnson and her daughter Rachel Randolph, couldn't be more different...Becky is messy; Rachel craves order. Becky forgets what month it is; Rachel is an organizational genius. But in the kitchen they are in sync.
In WE LAUGH WE CRY WE COOK, Becky and Rachel share stories of their fun and oft-crazy lives as Rachel becomes a mother herself. Though their differences in personality sometimes cause a clash or two, the family funny bone - plus generous helpings of grace and acceptance - keep them from taking themselves too seriously. Sprinkled throughout are delicious and nourishing recipes they love to make and share. Please comment below for a chance to win WE LAUGH WE CRY WE COOK!
[Joan is on vacation, so she's adapted a previous "Thanksgiving" post. At the end of this blog, comment and add your "gratitude soup" ingredient to put your name in the hat to win an autographed copy of the RELIEF OF IMPERFECTION where Joan first writes about her alphabet prayer. Book drawing will be held 12/01/13.]
Do you have leftovers from that delicious Thanksgiving dinner? If you’re like most families, the answer is probably “yes.” So you’ll be coming up with creative ways to continue to eat and enjoy that leftover turkey and mashed potatoes. Sandwiches? Barbecue turkey, turkey omelets, fried potato cakes? Soup?
Speaking of soup, remember the alphabet soup you ate as a child? Now follow me. It’s the way my mind is working this late Thanksgiving night! Here’s a creative way to keep enjoying your family’s Thanksgiving gratitude-spirit this season–with some ALPHABET PRAYER SOUP.
Moms, Dads, Grandparents, Aunts, involve the kids in making and enjoying this special soup. Maybe when you’re cooking in the kitchen, riding in the car, walking to the park, or tucking them into bed. Explain that you’re going to make some leftover Thanksgiving Alphabet Prayer Soup.
Take turns naming something that you’re grateful for starting with A and proceeding through Z. Example of how to begin the prayer: God, thank You for the:
A. Air we breathe. Apples we had for lunch. Animals. Artwork I did at school. Aunt ________.
B. Bird. Bananas. Books. Bike. My bed.
C. Clouds. Courage. Christ.
D. Duck in the pond. Dishes. Daddy.
E. Evergreen trees. Electricity.
F. Flowers. My friend ____________.
G. Gas for the car. Grace. Grandpa.
And so on, through the entire alphabet, as you have time. Be gentle with yourself and your family. Skip a letter if you can’t think of anything.
Watch your heart flood with gratitude as you enjoy this creative prayer tool with your family. Maybe you’ll want to make this Alphabet Prayer Soup often throughout the year to keep the Thanksgiving spirit alive and well in your home.
Okay, now it is YOUR TURN. Enjoy a little Alphabet Prayer Soup with me right here on the blog. What are you grateful for that starts with H, I, J, K, L… Well, you know the rest of the alphabet. I’m looking forward to your THANKSGIVING ingredients.
[A NOTE FROM JOAN'S ASSISTANT] Joan is very genuine. She is a true Intentional Woman and I'm blessed to partner with her in ministry. She has so much to offer! Not only has Joan authored or co-authored 13 books she is also a speaker and Bible teacher. (Comment below and you'll be entered to win THE RELIEF OF IMPERFECTION.)
But one of my favorite things about her is that she genuinely cares about others. She is also a Personal Life Coach and Intentional Woman Life Plan facilitator, she has accumulated hundreds of hours coaching and helping set people free to become who God gifted them to be. Joan is such a great listener who is full of empathy and love. This year my "J" list has: Jesus, Jack (my son), Janice (my mom) and Joan (my new boss, friend, and role-model) on it. Thank you Joan for the many blessings you have given me! -Karen Johnson
[Joan is taking some time-off and has asked her friend and fellow-author
Lucille Zimmerman to share an excerpt from her helpful new book about self-care.
Comment below to put your name in the hat to win an autographed copy of RENEWED. Drawing on 11/24/13.]
Harvard research has found these virtues strongly and consistently linked to happiness: gratitude, hope, vitality, curiosity, and love. That kindness, or gift, need not be tangible. It could be a simple gesture or intent that is represented rather than the actual item or benefit given. Maybe you offer to drive a friend home from the car mechanic’s shop, but instead she chooses the time to sit there and read. The unused offer still carries meaning to both involved. One study found three distinct parts involved in gratitude:
• A warm sense of appreciation for something or somebody
• A sense of goodwill toward that thing or person
• A resulting disposition to act positively
Gratitude is the key to happiness, and happiness seems to make good things happen. The benefits of happiness may include higher income, superior work outcomes, larger social rewards like longer marriages and more friends, more activity, energy, better physical health, and longer life. Happy people are more creative, helpful, charitable, self-confident, have better self-control, show greater self-regulatory and coping abilities. Happiness can add as many as nine years to your life.
In one study led by Dr. Robert Emmons and Mike McCullough subjects were divided into three groups: The first group described five things they were thankful for. The second group wrote about five daily hassles, and the third group wrote about things that had affected them, but they were not told whether to focus on the positive or on the negative. After ten weeks, those who wrote about gratitude were happier and more optimistic. Surprisingly, they also exercised more and had fewer visits to the doctor than those who wrote about hassles.
Another study found that managers who remember to say “thank you” to their employees may actually motivate them to work harder. Marriage researcher John Gottman’s twenty years of research shows that if a couple is unable to maintain a high level (5:1 or greater) ratio of positive encounters (smiles, compliments, laughter, appreciation) to negative encounters (frown, put-down, complaint), the marriage will end. In fact, he can observe a couple for three minutes and determine with 90 percent accuracy whose marriage will flourish and whose will fail.
Can you recall the last time you told someone how much he or she meant to you, how precious your time with him or her was, or how much his or her support enabled you to endure a difficult circumstance? Have you ever tracked down an old acquaintance to thank them for making a difference in your life? If so, do you remember how sharing that message made you and the object of your gratitude feel?
Dr. Martin Seligman asked 411 people to write a letter of gratitude to someone alive or dead, someone who had not been properly thanked for his or her kindness. The happiness benefits and decrease in depression scores, to the letter writer, were greater than any other exercise in Seligman’s happiness study, and the benefits lasted for six months!
[A NOTE FROM JOAN'S ASSISTANT: I truly appreciate the research Miss Lucille has done to help bring renewal to her readers. Joan tells me that this book is full of practical tips on how to be RENEWED! She says it's definitely worth reading. Now, I'm excited to read it and if you are too good news, you have a chance to WIN it! Just COMMENT below on this blog and I will put your name in the hat. I will select a winner from those who comment by 11/24/13. I look forward to seeing who is going to be one step closer to being RENEWED!
Lucille Zimmerman is a Licensed Professional Counselor with a private practice in Littleton, CO and an affiliate faculty professor at Colorado Christian University.
She is the author of Renewed: Finding Your Inner Happy in an Overwhelmed World. Through practical ideas and relate-able anecdotes, readers can better understand their strengths and their passions—and address some of the underlying struggles or hurts that make them want to keep busy or minister to others to the detriment of themselves. Renewed can help nurture those areas of women’s lives to use them better for work, family, and service. It gives readers permission to examine where they spend their energy and time, and learn to set limits and listen to “that inner voice." Are you ready to be RENEWED?
[Joan's taking some time-off and has asked her photographer friend Jodene Shaw to share an excerpt from her blog about gratitude. Check out more of Jodi's photographs on her website.]
"Gratitude. Thankfulness. Seeing the goodness. Finding the beauty in everyday life.
It makes a difference.
It is to enter a sacred place.
A holy, priceless state of being.
Psalm 100:4 says to enter his gates with thanksgiving, his courts with praise.
To have thanksgiving and praise takes us into the very presence of God.
This morning I walked for over an hour with my camera falling in absolute decadent love with purple coneflowers, dew drops, the sound of my feet on wet gravel after a rain, fence lines, birds singing, my daughter riding her bike through a rain puddle, and my beagle soaked in grass dew. My heart swelled with gratitude, with thankfulness for this very place in which I live. I wondered if the first ten years of my marriage and living on the prairie, if all of it was there then. Did the coneflowers bloom every summer? Were the dewdrops scattered like tiny diamonds in the morning sunlight? Did the birds sing so sweetly? Because I don't remember any of that from 1996 - 2006. It does not stand out in my mind. But certainly they were there. But my eyes were not open...
I noticed, as I walked, as I photographed, how fulfilled I felt.
Really? I could be so happy with such a simple thing?
Yes. I could.
It felt sacred,
It felt . . . with God.
And also giddy, delighted, indulgent."
(Excerpt adapted from Jodi's online Prairie Song summer class from summer 2012)
Over a year later, walking in the cool of the day with my camera helps me live Philippians 4:8 in the fall.
Think on these things.
That is what focus and seeking light and beauty helps me to do.
This is what photography is to me.
No matter the season.
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.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise . . . Psalm 100:4
Opening the door to sharing who I am as a wife & mom, writer, photographer & artist. 4 short statements describe my story to tell: Believe Truth. Be Who You Are. Be Real. Embrace Your Place. I am a believer in and teacher of the beautiful difference made by Jesus Christ. Wife of a handsome, good-hearted man who is a hard working cattle rancher. Mom of 10 yr old son, and 2 daughters (8 and 3). One of my "life verses" is John 4:42, "They said to the woman, 'Now we no longer believe, just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world."
*** All photos and writing contained in this blog are the copyright property of Jodene (Jodi) Shaw. No permission is granted to copy or reproduce them in any form without written consent of the creator. This includes copying them in any form for any digital use or use on the internet.
[A NOTE FROM JOAN'S ASSISTANT] Allow me a moment to brag about Jodi. Not only is she a talented writer but she is also an artist. Her photography is great and she composes fantastic pieces of art using mixed mediums to create unique treasures like the one pictured here. Click here and enjoy spending a moment browsing her other creations at her ETSY shop.
Joan C. Webb
Writing, teaching, coaching to empower and set free.