I have written a few times about thanksgiving and gratitude. Going to last night's Thanksgiving Eve service at church and thinking about thanksgiving today was not the first it's been on my mind. But I still am in need of those reminders and promptings. 

Gratitude gets me out of my head where I can induldge in self-pity or selfishness or greed or fantasy. Giviing thanks reminds me of reality: that I have more than I need, that God takes care of me, that I am not in control.

Gratitude changes my emotions. If I am fearful or frustrated or envious, giving thanks recenters me and replaces those feelings with serenity and joy.

Gratitude changes my thinking from temporal and earthly to eternal and spiritual. Giving thanks reminds me that God is in control and that He gives me more than I need and that He loves me deeply.

I know that gratitude is good. But I often forget to practice it. I find myself complaining and grumbling about circumstances and the things I lack sometimes. This morning I was getting frustrated when traffic on the interstat came to a standstill after three and a half hours in the car and being within a half hour of my destination. But I was reminded that instead I could be grateful that I had safe travel thus far--no car issues, no accidents. A little delay in traffic was nothing compared to where I would be if I had an accident. 

Even after a tough past several months, I was reminded at church last night of all the things I have to be thankful for in life. Things can always be worse, of course. But being kept from disasters in not the only reason to find reason to give thanks. Giving thanks is not to keep us from worse situations, but it remindsd me that no matter how bad things are, I am still taken care of and provided for in ways I often can't comprehend. 

Gratitude is good. I am thankful for reminders like today, for time to reflect and give thanks. 


Year End: Direction

I went to bed last night and woke up this morning feeling at a loss of direction in life. After a divorce hearing earlier this week and my grandma's death a month ago and a lot of new begnnings and restarts, I find myself wanting more goals in life. 

Todaay at church the pastor gave us the image of canoeing across a large lake on a windy day. It's not easy. The wind blows you off course, and it's hard to get to where you wantto be going. His illustration remind us that you need to pick out an object or landmark--such as a tall tree--at your destination at the other end of the lake and keep that as your focus for where you're going. No matter how much you get blown off track, you know where your goal is. 

It's also easy to feel like you're not getting there. The pastor also recommended picking out a nearby object, such as a rock along the shoreline, as a mile marker. That way you can tell that you're progressing. 

It's the same in life. We need a focal point and milemarkers. Paul tells us to keep our "eyes fixed on Jesus." Pastor Mark reminded us to keep our eyes focused on the cross; that is our ultimate destination in life as a follower of Jesus. 

He also encouraged us to have milemarkers: goals along the way to help us know we're getting closer to our destination. It might be a milemarker of actions: choosing to love our neighbor. Or a milemaker of words: stopping gossipping, or standing up for the person being picked on.

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Today is Christ the King Sunday in the church. It''s the end of the Christian year. Next week marks the beginning of a new year and a new season of Advent. 

The traditional gospel story reading for the day is where Jesus tells the parable of the sheep and the goats: He will separate those who gave to the poor, visited prisioners, feed the hungry, etc. from those who didn't. It's a jarring, uncomfortable story of living a life of love directed in service of the marginalized. Jesus says when we do these things, we are serving Him directly. 

All this is tied in to the reminder that we call Christ our Lord. That means we give Him rule over our lives. 

Here is where I fail. Not all the time. But enough. I choose my own direction. And this gets me in trouble. The path I choose seldom ends up being the right one for me--at least one that is good for me. But when I follow Him, I don't have to worry about that. Sure, the path isn't always easy or pleasant, but I don't regret it when I walk on that path (I'm mixing metaphors now, I'm aware...canoeing, hiking...but it's all about the destination and how we get there, so bear with me). And that sounds good--a life without regrets. 

So, forward I paddle, eyes focused on that cross at the end of the lake, marking my progress in getting closer to my mark. Today, I'm trying to set some of those milestone markers as I take a look at what I want my life to look like. I know I want a fruitful life, one with no regrets, one that I'm proud of. I can't change the past, but I can reset my course for the future. 

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When Jesus begins His ministry, He starts with one word. It is the same word His cousin John used in preparing the way: "Repent." At it's core, the word repent means to turn 180 degrees in the opposite direction. The Greek word used in the New Testament refers to a changing of the mind. It is a course alteration. 

I'm thankful for the reminder this morning of the need for periodic course corrections in life. I may not know what will be along the path ahead, but I know how to get there: with eyes fixed on Jesus. 

There will be times in the future when I need a course correction. I wiill make mistakes. Thankfully, not only is the Lord, but He is Savior and Forgiver. And He gives me the Holy Spirit to aid in not making those same mistakes again--because I'm very inclined to do that. 

Thank God for grace. And for direction. 


An Ode to Small Towns

I was back home this past weekend for my grandma's funeral. I was reminded throughout it how lucky I was to grow up in a small town, and hopefully will someday return to one. 

The farm to the east of my dad's is owned by a man who was killed in a motorcycle accident this past summer. The day after I arrived, six combines along with several tractors, wagons, and semi trucks showed up to harvest the field for his family.
Many people brought food both to the church and to my family's home. Others served in the kitchen during the visitation and the funeral. My dad's cousin made several pans of lasagna to feed the family (dad's four siblings along with all thirteen grandchildren, their spouses, and thirteen great grandchildren as well as some exctended cousins and great-aunts and uncles and such) after the visitation. 

My childhood best friend's grandfather let my brother and I use his home (he's in an independent living apartment now) for our families to stay in while we were there.

I can't even tell you how much money was given in sympathy cards in memory of my grandmother. My aunts from California were stunned. That doesn't happen elsewhere. 

All of this happens in big cities, of course, but I think small towns are the breeding grounds for generousity, service, and love. I'm grateful to be a byproduct of one such place. I hope the seeds of those characteristics continue to work their way through me.