a hard thanks giving

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We live in an unfinished story.  So many loose ends, so many winding roads, so many threads that seem knotted and tangled or just plain torn out, and we wonder what it all means, where it is all going to land.  The unanswered prayer, the lingering need, the weary middle.  This is where we live most of our days.  This is where Thanksgiving finds us.  Many of us with hands held open: searching, hoping, waiting.  Asking.  Maybe this is where you are this Thanksgiving.  At the beginning of a new diagnosis.  The news of a job loss, an affair, a broken dream, a broken heart.  Maybe you’ve been walking a painful road for some time–you started out strong in faith, but find yourself now in the weary middle of it with uncertainty all around.

Brandon and I watched cheesey Hallmark Christmas movies the other night, and something in me broke open and poured out.  I tried to hide the tears, until they became wracking sobs.  Sometimes we are holding onto a pain so tightly, we don’t even know it.  We can’t feel it for the sake of just trying to survive it.  We want to be strong, we want to be faithful–all the while, I wonder if our Savior isn’t beckoning us to release and to receive.. to be weak and let Him hold us.  We are trying to race ahead to the finish and end well, to do it well NOW, but we can’t do so if we aren’t honest in the raw hurting of it.  We’re in the weary middle of it, the aching middle.  The end isn’t anywhere in sight.  What does it look like to be faithful in this place?
I’m convinced: God doesn’t want our feigned joy.  He doesn’t care about our unshakeable strength.  He isn’t interested in our perfect faith.  He already knows the state of our real hearts.  I’m convinced He wants us to give our honest, broken hearts to Him.
Brandon, totally perplexed with my tears waited for me to be able to speak, to explain.  It’s the grieving, the fear of the future with Phoebe.  The weariness of the battle for her health.  The seemingly little gains when I hope for some great turn-around.  It’s the weight of the unknown, the wonder over what pain is around this next bend.
She did blood work last week.. and I’m trying not to let this week be consumed with the waiting and the dreading of the results.  I hope to have the results before Thanksgiving, but what if they are bad?  In the 2 1/2 years since her diagnosis, we’ve never had good blood test results, we’ve never been given a “normal.”  Every time, it is crushing disappointment.  Every time it feels like condemnation–we still aren’t getting this right.  We still haven’t done enough.  So we wait for news.  Anyone else out there waiting for news??  Waiting for–longing for–good news?  And I shouldn’t let me mind go there but it does–what if bad news comes to us on Philippas birthday–will it overshadow her day?  What if it comes on Thanksgiving day?  Will we genuinely be able to give thanks with family when we will be riding out the inevitable low that comes after getting bad test results?  How do we live, truly live, and not just hold our breath waiting for the next disappointment to come?  How do we be human and yet somehow rise above our humanity?
I’ve seen it all week, how she sits under the spreading tree, the tree that we’ve been filling up with leaves of chalky words even as the leaves have slowly fallen from all the trees around us throughout the month, and I can’t miss the juxtaposition.  In the background, this tree, a record of grace, a turning of our hearts, our stubborn and tired and forgetful hearts daily back to thanks.  In the foreground, this girl, the one with the battle that threatens so many times to steal my joy and my praise.  In many ways it has quieted me, made me feel like a big fat hypocrite.  This battle has carved out a weak and broken place in me, it has humbled me, and when can a humbling ever be bad?  Painful, discouraging, humiliating at times, yes–but always fruitful, if we submit to it.
Can it be that even in this place we turn our hearts to thanks?  Can this be genuine?  What if this is the best place for a thanksgiving, this weary middle of the road?  This juxtaposition between so many good gifts and so many heart aches and questions.  What if we didn’t wait until we had the good news to give thanks?  What if real life is in fact that we hold in our hands all these things–“these patches of joy, these stretches of sorrow”–as we celebrate God’s goodness to us, knowing that even in the wounding, even when He’s broken our hearts with what He has allowed, we know that we know that we know He is good.  He is working it together for our good, for His glory.  What if the most beautiful thing we can do is exactly that: to give thanks when it isn’t easy, when we have to hunt for and remind ourselves of the many riches we have in Jesus?  What if we have to remind ourselves that God’s good gifts aren’t the same as the usual things we call good gifts?
“No good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly.” (Ps. 84:11)
“No good thing will He withold. But how is this true, when God oftentimes withholds riches and honors, and health of body from men, though they walk never so uprightly. We may therefore know that honors and riches and bodily strength, are none of Gods good things; they are of the number of things indifferent which God bestows promiscuously upon the just and the unjust, as the rain to fall and sun to shine.The good things of God are chiefly peace of conscience and joy in the Holy Spirit in this life, fruition of Gods presence, and vision of His blessed face in the next, and these good things God never bestows upon the wicked, never withholds from the godly.”
-Charles Spurgeon

I remember easy thanks giving.  Good years, joy mixed without much sorrow, years where praise and joy welled up with ease.   It feels strange to me now, after being in this place for so long.
I don’t know what your “hard” is this Thanksgiving.  Maybe it’s a broken relationship.  Regret over the past with consequences still playing out fearfully in your present.  Maybe it’s financial loss or strain, maybe it’s sickness.  Maybe it’s that shocking diagnosis, maybe it’s that wayward child that still hasn’t come home.  Maybe it’s that loved one battling an addiction that cuts you to the core.  Maybe it’s a lost loved one, a lost child.  Maybe it’s the way you keep returning to that same old sin that bewilders you and leaves you feeling helpless and hopeless.  I don’t know what it is, but I know some of you are out there, too, some of you for whom giving thanks this year in this particular season feels hard, maybe even feels a bit fake, a bit like a slap in the face.
So when its hard to give thanks, when we are hurting and there is brokenness, when there are questions and a howling ache, then it is a hard thanks that we give.  It may feel hard to give thanks, but we do.
In these times, Lord, we bring a sacrifice of praise to You.  You know, you already know.  Nothing is hidden from Your sight.  We are so thankful we don’t have to clean up and come in pretense before You.  But we do come in holy awe and wonder that somehow, some way, even in the hard, we still can give thanks to You, we still get to give thanks to You.  We have life.  We have breath in our lungs.  We have Christ in us, the hope of glory.  We have another day, therefore we have hope.  This story can still finish differently than we fear.  But even if it doesn’t, we have You.  You in the midst of all, You, our shield + exceedingly great reward, and You at the end of it all.  You to look forward to, fulness and completeness and final satisfaction in You and with You, our forever home.  So we draw strength–miraculously, we draw strength to praise You and in our praising you, we find we are again strengthened for the road You have called us to walk.  Strange, this–how obedience to You in our “hard” feels not burdensome but life-giving.  Strange–how we feel filled up, renewed.  How in our “giving” to You, somehow we still walk away the beneficiaries.  We think we are giving to You, yet all the while You are giving to us–yes, you are not able to be outdone.  Wild grace, Jesus.  Wild grace.
Shame on us that we lose sight of You so easily in this wilderness, but we do.  And You know it, You who put on flesh and lived as one of us, tempted like us.  If we can’t find anything else to give thanks for, we give thanks for You.  That we get to know you, to walk with You, a testament fully to Your faithfulness, not our own.  We give thanks that in the middle of your biggest “hard,” You endured, fixing Your eyes on the joy set before You, and because of that we get to have You with us in all of our hard, too.
So we sing on, even if it is a broken hallelujah, because You are worthy and because You have loved us well, and will love us till the end.

thankful tree

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The holiday season is so busy for us, with Philippa’s birthday the week of Thanksgiving, and Noah + Phoebe’s birthdays the week of Christmas, along with all the other usual holiday hectic!  We press in hard to some intentional habits during this busy season to keep our hearts tuned to God’s grace and to keep ourselves rooted in the soil of our simple everyday lives.  We started the habit of intentional thanks during the whole month of November a couple of years ago.  Our children love doing this!  When they saw that I had turned a corner of our living room into a little corner of praise + thanksgiving, they were literally squealing and jumping with joy.  I grab a branch from the yard (or in this case from one of our favorite picnic spots) but you can also just tape cut-out branches to your wall or draw a tree on a chalkboard (as I did last year, see pictures below) and tape your leaves to it.

I fill a bowl with cut-outs of colorful leaves (though you can print free thankful tags here) tied with baker’s twine, put a footstool nearby so little feet can clamber up anytime to bring their thanks.  I make it a point to let them interrupt whatever I’m doing to come over and help them add a leaf to the tree when praise strikes their hearts.  Yes, child, come boldly to the throne of grace!  Ordinary footstools become altars of praise.

We started this a couple of years ago after reading beloved One Thousand Gifts author Ann Voskamp’s posts (look here + here for lots of ideas + free printables!)  about making a thanksgiving tree a sweet family tradition, a way to focus our hearts toward Thanksgiving and to remember that this is how He tells us to enter His presence: enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise (Ps. 100:4).

We carve out a space right in our living room, the gathering room, the room where most of our life happens: the reading of books, the cuddling around the fire, the sibling fights, the teaching + disciplining, the laundry-folding + the vacuuming.  Right in the mix of it all, we plant our own little tree and as the leaves are daily all falling outside our windows, this little tree is gaining leaves day by day, until the end of the month when it will be full of color + singing of all His goodness.

Don’t get me wrong.  We are not a super-holy family over here.  We fail a lot, daily.  We argue too much.  We worry about money.  We lose our tempers.  We are too harsh with one another.  Our selfishness comes out in a million little ways.  Isn’t this the strangest miracle of all, the most beautiful of all?  That He beckons us, even us, to come to His table?  To feast on His goodness?  His mercy + forgiveness for us in Christ Jesus?  This little altar isn’t for the self-righteous.  It isn’t for the Sunday-best.  It’s for the meek.  The ones who know they are unworthy, dirty.  Undeserving.  The ones who know that the good things alone aren’t grace, but that all is grace.  It’s for the penitent.  It’s for the failing + flailing families, just like ours.

And that’s reason for the highest praise of all.  God giving us the greatest gift when we are least deserving!

Our challenge for each other this year is to find new things every day to praise Him for (last year most of our tags said “cars” + “lights”), and thus teaching our kids + ourselves to hunt for His manifold grace.

It’s not too late to start your own Thanksgiving tree.  It’s never too late to give thanks!  Here are some pics from our “tree” last year.

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Even in the midst of hard weeks, even in spite of our unholy moments, we want to remember we can come + give thanks.

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thess. 5:18)