Who’s who

Knowing who’s who makes a big difference–specifically, knowing Who is God and who is not.

Me sporting a pretty sassy mullet in 3rd grade

Me sporting a pretty sassy mullet in 3rd grade

I memorized Psalm 100, a psalm for giving thanks, in first grade in order to earn a special ribbon-like bookmark in Sunday School class. This bookmark was the first in a collection of hundreds. Each time I look at the bookmark, I fondly recall the Sunday School class at Olivet Baptist Church in Wichita, Kansas, and my teacher, Mrs. Gutshall, who a few years later generously provided the financial means for me to pursue my love for flipping and twirling via gymnastics. I remember running up the stairs of the church, clickity clacking in my new shiny black patent leather mary janes, excited about what crafts we’d concoct out of empty tuna can lids and construction paper.

I recite Psalm 100 each time I pull out the faded ribbon. It’s amazing how my memory has clung to the psalm’s vibrant words for decades.

Today as I read the psalm yet again, I noticed that before it instructs us to “enter His gates with thanksgiving and enter His courts with praise,” it admonishes us to “know that the Lord is God.” It then goes on to clarify, in case any of us are feeling confused about who’s who, to state that “it is He who has made us, and not we ourselves.”

Well duh.

But how many times a day do I attempt to take the reins and control my own destiny, often steering myself off the best course for my life? How often have I clearly been instructed by God to do X and did Y instead?  How many times do I worry and fret over situations out of my control without turning those worries over to God, who is very much in control? How often do these actions result in additional anxiety, missteps, and self-pity?

All the time.

The Psalmist–or God–must have known that stubborn folks like me would read these words and need to be reminded of who’s who.

God’s God. I’m not.

If I understand that, I can let go of my worries, release my fears, stop trying to fix everything, and rest knowing that Someone more capable has things under control.

Then, and only then, can I wholeheartedly and single-mindedly focus on thanking Him for being Who He Is and making me who I am. When I know Who He Is and who I am, I’m more likely to feel gratitude for what I have because I understand that all my blessings are gifts and that my futile efforts and the fruits of my labor could never amount to a fraction of what God provides me with.

Maybe I’ll remove that old orange satin bookmark from my collection box and tack it onto my bulletin board to remind me of who’s who.

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Top 12 things I’m grateful for in 2012

Recently I wrote a blog post for my personal blog, My 2012 gift list, and listed the most significant gifts I received in 2012. I didn’t list tangible objects or even relationships on the list–I limited my gift list to the intangible yet priceless blessings I received in the form of lessons, inspirations, and virtues.

Today I thought it might benefit my soul to take a look back at 2012 and identify the top 12 things on my annual gratitude list.

  1. DSC_0075_edited-1Margaret Jacqueline. This year, my husband and I were surprised to learn that we had unintentionally created a human being. We were ecstatic to learn that we would be parents, and we are overcome with joy to share our lives with her each day. I’m truly grateful for her health throughout my pregnancy, for a safe delivery, and for her health and happiness every day since then. At six weeks old, she’s already living up to the meaning of her name and bringing sunshine into every moment of our lives.
  2. Health. Going through a somewhat rough pregnancy fraught with rough patches, complications, and negative symptoms made me much more aware of how blessed I am to be healthy most of the time. As I recover from delivering my baby, I continue to pause each time I realize just how good I have it. I can clean my house myself. I can bend over and pick things up and exercise. Not everyone I know can do these things, and I’m grateful I can.
  3. A’s. This year I completed 24 hours of graduate school and somehow, in spite of five months’ worth of morning sickness, ten months’ worth of migraines, and severe lack of sleep, I managed to make A’s in all my classes. I am so thankful God enabled my brain to function well in the absence of sleep, but more amazingly, in the absence of caffeine :).
  4. 033My husband. This year I married the one man who encapsulated the wish list I wrote months before I met him. I call him my “Wild at Heart” man; as an avid John Eldredge fan, I decided (one month before I met my husband) that I would ask God for a man like the one described in John Eldredge’s book. I knew it was a long shot–I’ve been divorced twice and knew I might be asking for something I’d never receive. But God blew my expectations out of the water, brought my husband into my life, and has blessed us with a trusting, peaceful, romantic relationship that I wouldn’t trade for the world.
  5. Real friends. I’ve always learned when going through trials and tribulations which friends were true friends. This year, I also learned which friends love me enough to celebrate the blessings in my life despite their own schedules, difficult circumstances, or limitations. All year long, I felt showered with blessings by my friends in various forms–phone calls, messages, cards, gifts, visits, acts of service and kindness–and I’m really thankful for each real friend in my life.
  6. Reality. I often live in fear of things out of my control–I worry and fret over things that most often never come to pass. This year, I learned that what I fear is not as scary as I thought, and that all the time I spent worrying could have been spent positively–writing, praying, or laughing. When I was pregnant, I worried that I’d wind up covered in stretch marks on my stomach. I didn’t get a single one. I was afraid of various complications during and after delivery, including prolapsed bladder. I’m happy to report that I pee perfectly well. I’m grateful that in many cases, reality is much kinder than I give it credit for.
  7. Our church. I spent over two years searching for a church that fit not only my credo but also my picky preferences. This year, God matched us up–and used a persistent friend of mine in the process–with a church that matches our needs and wants and then some. We already had our own personal relationships with God–we just didn’t have a group of people to share those relationships with. Now we do.
  8. Gratitude. It seems funny to list gratitude on my gratitude list, but I really am grateful for it. In 2012, I listed “be more grateful” as one of my bucket list items. In order to motivate myself, I started this blog. Since then, and about 125 blog posts later, I’m pleased to report that it worked. Writing blog posts has served as a catalyst for my personal growth. I find myself contemplating my blessings in order to create new blog posts; I spend more time focused on what I have to be grateful for and less time mulling over what I’m missing.
  9. Recovery. I’ve been a member of a twelve-step recovery program for family members and loved ones of alcoholics for over five years now. This year, I committed myself a little deeper to developing our itty bitty local chapter of the program and to attempting to share some of the experience, strength, and hope I’ve found with people around me who might benefit from it. I started praying for our local group and asked God to multiply our efforts; He has. The group has tripled in the past few months in membership, and new people show up periodically, too. I reconnected with my sponsor who lives in another town and continue to experience insights and growth as a result of our relationship. I’m sure this item will be on my gratitude list for years to come.
  10. My employment status. Having been willfully unemployed since July, I’m super grateful for the opportunity to not work. I’ve worked since I was 13 years old. I’ve tutored children, taught gymnastics, served french fries, cared for emotionally disturbed teenagers, taught classes, edited resumes, sold software, and advised college students. But this year, my husband decided to give me a break and let me focus on graduate school instead of on earning an income. Now that I’m caring for our newborn daughter, I’m continuing that hiatus from the world of paid employment and am thankful for the chance to do so.
  11. RPM’s. For those of you who aren’t fortunate enough to have reaped the spiritual benefits of a recovery program, RPM stands for reading, prayer, and meditation. Some of you who foster your own personal relationship with God might refer to RPMs as devotional time. No matter which way you slice it, spending time with God is one thing I’m most grateful for this year. Having gone through some very tough spiritual valleys earlier in the year, which I thankfully found my way out of with the help of a great counselor, I learned to depend even more on my time alone with God. Each morning, I spend a little (or a lot, depending on the day) time with God reading Scripture, praying, and meditating on what I’ve read and on the nuggets of wisdom He imparts. Life without RPMs for me means spiritual atrophy. I’d rather keep growing.
  12. Prioritization. This year, I learned to let go of some of my priorities in lieu of more important things–namely, my own health, my marriage, my daughter, and my education. I could have kept working in order to earn more money to pay for more things that I really didn’t need to begin with. I could have opted to continue shopping, running errands, and eating out after my doctor advised me to spend more time with my feet up to reduce swelling and heal my injured back. I could have invited our entire family, church body, and list of friends to visit us at the hospital and come by our house in order to keep myself from feeling lonely. But I think I chose more wisely instead. I decided to stay home and focus on what matters most right now. I decided to take care of myself rather than take care of others or entertain myself. And I decided to limit my daughter’s exposure to a very germy world in the midst of flu season. And I’m grateful I made these choices.

It’s been a pretty wonderful year. I’m thankful for the chance to share it with each of you.

Just wheat

Last year, I started a tradition of writing a gift list, recording the ways God had blessed me by teaching me a new lesson, adjusting my proverbial eyesight, or concreting an abstract concept. As I celebrated New Year’s over cabbage rolls with my then boyfriend and his family, I had no idea what gifts God had in store for me in 2012.

This morning, as I crept out of my newborn daughter’s nursery and quietly filled my mug with coffee, I reflected on how vastly different my world seems now compared to then. And yet one thing remains constant despite the myriad of changes whirling around me–God never ceases to surprise me. He blows my expectations away. He gives me what I do not deserve and withholds harsh and painful consequences that I do deserve. He dusts off places inside me I’d resigned as impossible to clean.

When I…

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The Ghost of Christmas Disappointment

*Special thanks to Mary Agrusa for serving as today’s guest contributor. Check out Mary’s blog!*

“And be thankful…with gratitude in your hearts…”

                                                          Colossians 3:16

Mary Agrusa

Mary Agrusa

Genuine thankfulness and gratitude go hand in hand. I often struggle with these. I find it easier to focus on things that aren’t or didn’t work out as planned. Let me share with you my encounter with The Ghost of Christmas Disappointment.

I remember an incident from a Christmas over 50 years ago as if it was yesterday. We visited my grandmother a few days before The Big Event. As we left her apartment she presented each of us three children with a gift. Hers were always something special. On the ride home my sister, brother and I feverishly fingered our packages for clues to their contents. After much poking and prodding I had an alarming revelation. My present was a hanger!

I shared my discovery in a less than enthusiastic tone. My complaint wasn’t well received by my parents; something about needing to be grateful. My brother howled with laughter. My sister, sullen and silent realized she had suffered the same fate.

My worst fear was confirmed on Christmas morning. My brother, John, got a really cool Dick Tracy machine gun complete with sound effects. My sister Patty and I got fancy padded satin hangers. I felt so disappointed–no, make that cheated. What kind of gift is a hanger? My poor grandmother was probably perplexed at what to buy her two young granddaughters; she’d raised two boys. My mother tried her best to convince my sister and me that these were very special gifts, especially for hanging up our favorite dresses. “Bah humbug” was my silent response. They ranked right up there with socks and underwear.

I sent my grandmother the obligatory Thank You note and not one word I wrote contained an ounce of gratitude. I’m amazed that even now I can close my eyes and relive the whole event. When it comes to remembering things I should be grateful for, I can draw a blank quickly.

There is a group of people who drive me crazy. You’ve met them. Their smiles are permanently etched on their faces. Looking at the world through rose colored glasses, they find the best in any situation. They exude thankfulness and gratitude. I despise them. Why? I wish I was just like them. These people were hard-wired, straight from the factory with sunny, optimistic and thankful personalities. The workers must have been on break when I came through the line. Maintaining a thankful, grateful disposition requires concentrated effort on my part.

‘Tis the season for resolutions, changes to make to improve our lives and the lives of those around us. For me, this year, being thankful and grateful top the list. Who knows, this year may be the time to dispel the Ghost of Christmas Disappointment and morph into one of “those people”…not a bad idea.

 

Choosing to smile

Regular readers of this blog have enjoyed reading Henry Petty’s guest blog posts. Henry hosts his own YouTube vlog as well as a WordPress blog. I’ve known Henry since college and have watched him grow spiritually, professionally, and personally. He’s a loyal friend and generous person, but I believe his best quality is his ability to see the bright side of grim situations. To the casual observer, he may seem like the most carefree person on the planet who must have had an easy life–how else could he laugh, smile, and share so freely?

Henry and the love of his life

Henry and the love of his life

Let me assure you that it’s not because he’s had an easy life. He chooses to laugh, smile, and share in spite of the obstacles that he’s overcome, and his faith and hope fuel him to inspire other people to do the same. And that is what I am most grateful for about my friend Henry.

Take three minutes away from your strict schedule, stressful shopping excursions, and obnoxious out-of-town guests to enjoy this vlog from Henry :). I’m sure the fun will be contagious.

 

 

Just like Clark Griswold

clark griswoldMy mom is the female version of Clark W. Griswold of the National Lampoon’s movies. Perhaps this is why the Christmas Vacation movie is one of her favorites (and one of mine, too). I am absolutely certain she can relate to Clark’s impossibly high standards for holiday fun, his desire to create bonding opportunities for his kids and family, and his inability to remember where he places gifts, discovering them covered in cobwebs years later in the attic. And she can certainly relate to Clark’s ideas about how to track down the best Christmas trees, counting frostbite as a necessary casualty in the name of good old family fun.

My parents celebrating Christmas a few years ago

My parents celebrating Christmas a few years ago

My mom loves to create memories. As a result, she loves holidays, particularly those with religious significance and those that emphasize the importance of family. Thanksgiving is her favorite, but Christmas probably runs a close second. As a child, I remember that my mom never told us that Santa was real, but she didn’t tell us he wasn’t, either. She let us draw our own conclusions. At five years old, I asked her about the character’s validity. She responded, “What do you think?”

“Okay, now I know he’s not real,” I answered, and returned to whatever game I was playing.

My disbelief in Santa Claus never hindered my love for Christmas at all. My mom created fun traditions and tried new ways of getting us involved in celebrating Christmas throughout the years. We baked the most delicious sugar cookies on the planet most years. She allowed us to trim the tree with our handmade ornaments from Sunday School, never opting for the “pretty” trees until we’d moved out of the house. She taught us how to string popcorn and cranberries and helped us make green and red construction paper rings for counting down to Christmas Day. She took us to Midnight Mass every year at the Episcopal church (when we were old enough to stay awake for it without grumbling incessantly) and then let us stay up to enjoy hot chocolate afterwards. And most importantly, she read us the real Christmas story, including the infamous baby the holiday is named after, and made sure that we understood the Reason for the season.

She might have even let us sing “Joy to the world, the teacher’s dead…. we barbecued her head…” (a terrible rendition, but as elementary-aged kids, we found it hilarious) in the back of our van as we drove around town admiring Christmas lights.

With my daughter, December 2012

With my daughter, December 2012

My mom may have her over-the-top Clark Griswold moments, but I wouldn’t trade the memories I have of Christmas for anything. I’m so grateful she is who she is. And I look forward to sharing special moments with our little Maggie, hopefully passing on some of the traditions my mom created 33 years ago.

 

 

Just wheat

“What’s one feeling you’ve had since having her that has surprised you?”

One of my best friends posed this question to me a few days ago as I rocked my drowsy five week-old baby girl.

How’s she doing? Are you recovering from the delivery? How do you like breastfeeding? Isn’t it crazy how fast they grow?

I’ve been asked these questions countless times lately. Maggie’s doing well. I’m recovering well. Breastfeeding is complicated but worth it, I think (ask me a month from now). And yes, it’s insane how quickly she grows, changes, and develops adorable rolls of baby chub.

But my friend’s question caught me off guard. Not many people have asked how I feel about being a mom.

Honestly, I hesitate to write about it. I hesitate because when I was pregnant, I felt skeptical of all the women I knew who believed that pregnancy was beautiful and…

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