Thursday, November 25, 2010

Gratitude Journey

     Plenty. My life demonstrates one filled with abundant blessings. My Pepsi One can overflows. And I'm not talking about my tendency to spill.

     On Thanksgiving, I want to direct my gratitude upward, beyond the textbook stories of harmony and peacemaking between the Native American tribes and the pilgrims, beyond the beginning of a nation that has generally blessed me, but hurt others. I want to direct my gratitude above the human-created ideals. To the Maker of the Universe, the Lord of my life.
     In his sovereignty, God could have made me the same person from the start, and placed me in an entirely different situation. But He didn't. He put me in this life, rich with friends and necessities covered, and in a safe neighborhood. He gave me a husband that worships Him, and us three healthy, precious children. He is the God of grace beyond comprehension.
     In her book, Radical Gratitude, Ellen Vaughn, explores countless stories about people who remain thankful, or find thankfulness again, through and after sudden family deaths, captivity, persecution, rape – and everyday life.
As a great friend of ours has said, a thankful heart gives a greater sensitivity to beauties both divine and mundane. He often finds himself sitting still in the moment and looking at what's around him, processing it all with different gradations of appreciation, but using the same word throughout: “Oh, Lord! I love my family. I love my house. I love the sky. I love this cup of coffee. I love You! Thank You!”
That's not only gratitude, and love, and worship. It's called joy. Radical Gratitude, pg. 205
     Granted, it's not always easy. But I believe to start the habit, I can record thankful thoughts in a gratitude journal, and when complacency, tragedy and difficulty enter, perhaps I can find thankfulness anyway. I do keep a gratitude journal, irregularly, and it is a good practice.
     Vaughn relays a truth, though, that Chuck Colson, founder of Prison Fellowship, emphasized to her. Gratitude is not at all a spiritual discipline, it is, in fact, the response of a believer to the Spirit's work. In turn, Vaughn says, if grace is the gift of God (which it is), so too is the gratitude that grace creates. I want both. Please, in Jesus' Name, Lord, give me an overflowing of both.
     In my life, I've experienced loss of friends and family. Disappointment about goals and prayers God has answered, “No,” or “Not yet.” Frustration with myself and others. Anger about injustice. Wounds. Grief. (And I confess to dishing out these, too.)
Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you who belong to Christ Jesus. 1 Thess. 5:16-18

     Lord, That's a tall order. I can't do that without You doing it in me. Please, please help. I know if you give me a heart of gratitude, you'll also be giving me a heart full of joy. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Helene's Thanksgiving '10 Gratitude List, Abbreviated
A phone call this week from a friend who I had not spoken with for about 10 years. For younger church friends who let me cuddle their babies, and get my fix. My women's and couples' small group friends. Children's ministry at my church. Sisters. Family. Great tunes that bring back fun memories of high school. Pepsi One. Chai. Laughter. . . .

©Helene Bergren. All Rights Reserved. 

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Wise Encouragement about Prayer

As a writer, I know well how much it matters to use the right word in the right place, in the right context. Precision matters. In terms of our spirituality, which is inseparable from our identity and what we do and say, the same holds true.

Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. James 3:10 NIV

The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. Proverbs 12:18 NIV

Some of my most formative spiritual times started in a little white church building on a gravel road atop of one of the many rolling hills of southwest Iowa. More importantly, the formation in Christ happened because of the people, the true church, and the information and support I gained from them.

In a remote village in Guatemala, I want my Compassion International sponsor son, Jorge`, to receive the wise guidance and words he needs from adults, as well.

I want Jorge` and other kids also living in poverty to receive guidance like I did.

My high school Sunday School teacher, Eloise, asked in class once when I was a sophomore what we prayed about. From where I sat, I could see light streaming in a north window about two feet off the floor of the church stage. The dark-wood upright piano stood beside the window, and just a couple of yards from where we sat, the lighter-wood pulpit. I was honest. I said, “Tests. School”

I thought it was a pretty obvious answer, but it came out of my mouth more quietly, more hesitantly, than my outgoing, often too-loud personality usually generated words. My prayer-topic confession proved a little hard for me to admit. I earned generally good grades and took the challenging classes, but I was not an academic natural to the degree of this girl, not an all-star brain like this peer and friend in my Sunday School class.

The girl laughed (not meanly), and said, “You would.” I figured she meant I was the type to pray about a lot of things. True enough. I probably seemed a little odd, in her eyes, but likable enough. She meant no harm.

But our Sunday School teacher, I think, saw that this could be a pivotal moment. A moment that could lead each of us to limit, or broaden our view about prayer and its power, and our value as individuals.

Eloise assured me that praying for success in school was one fine prayer topic, of many. The conversation must have taken less than a minute. Eloise’s voice never rose. She was gentle, and truthful. She looked me in the eye, smiling. Eloise’s words were wise and important. Influential.

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need and thank him for all he has done. Philippians 4:6 NLT

Indeed her words' influence continues. Why else would I remember them 20-some years later? Her encouragement became part of my understanding that I can pray about anything. I want someone around my teenage Jorge` in Guatemala, assuring him of truths like that.

Compassion International provides that opportunity through child sponsorship. I know Jorge` experiences that in person, because I received a letter from his pastor, one he penned to sponsors of children in his church. The concern for his church family came through clearly, as he described single-parent homes, poverty, health issues and more. This pastor supports his community, and Compassion International backs him up. And I try to encourage Jorge` across the continent. You can get in on the action, the fun, in Jesus' name. You can help another child like Jorge`.

Please consider sponsoring a child. What a wonderful way to bring deep meaning to our upcoming Thanksgiving. What a wonderful way to celebrate Christ at Christmas. What a wonderful way to start the New Year. I will pray that you do.

Go to the web site right now, please.

©Helene Bergren. All Rights Reserved.