We all know that gratitude is an incredible spiritual practice, but did you know that it makes an actual impact on your mood, thought-life, and even your health?
This month on the podcast, I am looking at three ways that we can renew our minds and reset them on things above. This week we look at how the practice of gratitude can help to reframe and reshape our outlook. We’ll talk about realistic ways that you can practice gratitude on an everyday basis. Get ready, because we’ll also talk about Fred Rogers and practice one of his gratitude meditations together. I’m not crying, you are!
Below are the articles, videos, and books referenced in today’s episode:
I’m not proud to admit it, but apparently I underestimated my child’s ability.
Swimming lessons started this week. Due to fear of water on their part, laziness on my part, and a pandemic that put us behind a year, this Mom was late in putting my two youngest in swimming lessons. I pulled up the information on the classes offered at the YMCA, but I had no clue which class was most appropriate for their swimming abilities. So, I took a shot in the dark and placed them both in the same class. (Saves on driving, right?)
I was wrong about both of their skill levels.
Surprising both me and his swimming teacher, one of my children could do laps back and forth in the pool. His teacher pulled him aside after the first lesson and told him he qualified for a more advanced class. He didn’t want to move up, so she generously volunteered to spend extra time with him after class helping him hone his skills.
In contrast, my other child was not yet ready for the class I placed him in. His specialty has been clinging to the wall and trying not to swim. He does enjoy the occasional splash and face dunk though, so he’s working his courage up slowly.
I would love to say that this is the first time I’ve under or over-estimated my children, but it’s definitely not. In fact, sometimes I think parenting is like one big experiment. Our job is to train these little beings into responsible adults, but most of the time we’re still learning how to be responsible adults ourselves! No, I definitely don’t always see my children clearly for both their strengths and weaknesses. It’s a work in progress, and they continually teach me so much!
Here, I want to lovingly juxtapose my parenting abilities with that of our Heavenly Father. Listen, if ever there was someone who could rightly assess our strengths, weaknesses, faults, and abilities, it’s our Creator. He knows the inner workings of our minds, our emotions, and our motivations. Even more astoundingly, he knows all that we’re capable of, and the good works that still lie in our future. He knows it all, and he never underestimates us.
If that weren’t already the best news, there’s more! He totally never overestimates our abilities either. He knows that on our own, we can’t always make it as far as we think we can or as far as we dream we will. We just may not have the resources or skills at our disposal. He, however, has an endless supply of resources. Like the loving Father that he is, he promises to provide for our needs (Philippians 4:19). He also promises that through His grace, we will not only have our needs met but be able to excel at every good work He lays before us (II Corinthians 9:8).
And God is able to make every grace overflow to you, so that in every way, always having everything you need, you may excel in every good work.
II Corinthians 9:8 CSB
I don’t know about you, but that is REALLY good news to me today. There is some “good work” that currently lies in my path that feels way above my skill level. Truthfully, many days, even parenting feels above my skill level. Still, we’re promised that God’s grace will not just flow, but OVERFLOW, so that in every way, with everything that we need, we will not just accomplish but excelat the good work before us.
What is the good work that the Lord has laid before you, friend?
I pray that this encouragement helps you realign your own estimations of not just yourself, but of the God who goes before you in it.
Pause: Take a deep breath and allow your mind and body to be still. When you’re ready, read through II Corinthians 9. What stands out to you from this chapter? Underline or highlight any phrases or verses that resonate with you.
Renew: This chapter is not only about provision but also about gratitude and generosity. How do gratitude and generosity play a roll in the good works you are accomplishing in your life right now? Take some time to consider in what ways you can reframe your thinking through the lens of gratitude.
Next: Take time to think, journal, or reflect this week on ways that you’ve seen the Lord’s grace overflow to you. If you know that you need help outside of yourself to accomplish the good works that lay before you, pray specifically for those needs. He is faithful to listen and respond to His children.
My oldest son and I sit in the van, biding time and creeping forward. It’s 3:14, and the school bell will soon ring, releasing my three youngest boys from their school day. Here we sit, just like we do every Monday, waiting in the school pick-up line. I glance at my dash board and see that I have made an error in judgment. I should have stopped for gas on my way here. The van is not yet on empty, but it will be by tomorrow morning, when I am rushing to get everyone back to school.
I inwardly sigh, preparing myself for the collective groan I will hear from the backseat when I announce we have to stop for gas. The whole carload of kids who are so ready to go home will not be happy about this little detour.
I take a deep breath and say out loud to my oldest son, “Well, it looks like we’re going to need to run by the gas station on the way home. I’m almost out of gas.”
Just as I had predicted, my son was visibly disappointed. “I just want to go home,” he said. “I’ve been gone all day, and I’m tired of being in the car.”
Yes, believe me, I get it, I thought. Going to get gas is not at the top of my joy list either. I agreed aloud with him, and then, somehow in the middle of my complaint of agreement, my narrative shifted.
I just love it when that happens.
“You know,” I said to my son, “having a car is a privilege, but cars can’t run without gas.” As a fourteen-year-old, preparing to get his drivers permit next year, this seemed an apt lesson. Fully in Mom mode now, I continued my mini lecture. “With all privilege comes responsibility. It’s part of the way it works.”
Wow. Maybe I needed to preach to myself. Sometimes I surprise myself with words of wisdom that flow in my counseling office or when I’m parenting. Often I find when that happens, I needed to hear the lesson more than the person I was speaking to. This particular afternoon, I have no idea how much of an impact the lesson made on my son, but it certainly helped to shift my thinking.
Just earlier that morning the Lord had reminded me how truly blessed I am. Sure, I complain a lot about my kids: the hard work they require, the little gratitude they show, the many messes they make, the referee they require me to be to break up fights all the time. Still, they are my blessings: full of joy and life. Yes, I long for peace and quiet, but I would never trade the life they’ve given me for one of silence. The noise and work of motherhood is just the gas pump price.
My attitude about my job is similar. I love my job. Well, most of the time. A year of counseling virtually has had me question my calling a time or two, but at the end of the day, sitting with people and hearing their stories is a tremendous privilege. Whether I see a client for one visit or for years, I had the honor of being a part of their life, of their journey, and of their healing. Paperwork, videoconferencing, and phone calls are not the joy of my job. Sometimes, these tasks make me tired, yet I would never trade the privilege of counseling for the gas pump price of the paperwork that comes with it.
I think you get the idea. The minutia of complaints we can find to focus on are the gas station stops that come with the gift of being able to drive. Driving gives us freedom. It gives us independence, and it helps us get where we want to go. However, this responsibility also comes with tune ups, frequent refuelings, insurance prices, and the occasional flat tire. Personally, I spend a lot of life trying to avoid the hard things. Sometimes even dreading the hard things. This outlook can keep me from enjoying life on the road.
Driving the road of life comes with a lot of potholes and gas station stops, but let’s not forget to enjoy the wind in our hair and the reason we’re driving in the first place. What an absolute privilege it is to be alive and placed in the roles God has given us: our jobs, our families, our ministries, and our friendships. Like me, I hope you take the time to preach to yourself and refocus on the gifts you’ve been given, rather than the hardships that accompany it.
Now, remind me of that lesson next week when I need to fill up again.
Pause, Renew, Next: Be still and take a deep, cleansing breath. Take time to meditate, pray, or journal as you reflect. What have you recently found yourself complaining about in life? How are those responsibilities part of the privilege of the gifts you’ve been given in life? How can you shift your thinking and find gratitude this week? As you think about it, offer these findings as prayers of thanks.
May we have eyes to see the gifts we’ve been given rather than just the work that accompanies the gifts.
We can all use some good news these days, so I was pleased and grateful to have one of my favorite people on the podcast, Cynthia Simpson, who, as an Enneagram 7, is chock full of fun and joy. Cynthia was my first guest ever on the podcast, and I invited her back to share a praise report about what the Lord has done in the life of her son, Nolan. If you missed the first part of her story, you can hear it in Episode 3, Pressing In During Hard Seasons.
We also chat about what we’re finding fun this Christmas season, favorite Christmas traditions, and how Cynthia is practicing soul-care in her day-to-day life as a mother of 3 boys. This is a fun and uplifting episode, and you are going to come away from listening with a smile on your face.
Merry Christmas everyone, and may you be encouraged on your journey with Jesus!
On this week of Thanksgiving, I want to count my blessings. I want to publicly document all of my abundance. Normally, giving thanks comes easily for me, and this year is no different. I can always find much to be thankful for. It’s just that this year, my gratitude comes mixed with sorrow, more like a broken hallelujah. Often we separate and juxtapose joy and sorrow, but together they are powerful. (If you don’t believe it, go watch Inside Out!) The Psalmist writes songs mixed with lament and gratitude, and thus his praises are not just beautiful, but authentic. So, before I begin my thanksgiving, I want to reflect on the difficult changes that have occurred this year.
My husband and I made the choice to transition our children to public school this school year. In fact, we announced this change to our children approximately two weeks before the pandemic began last March. At the time, two of our children were in private school and two were being homeschooled. Then, almost without warning, Covid-19 rapidly changed the end of their school years. My children were sent home from their school and homeschool co-op abruptly, unable to truly say goodbye to their friends.
Being practically homebound last spring felt like a gift at first. Usually, I found myself driving all over the county, keeping up with work, school, church, piano, and karate schedules. Now, I was given permission to work from home, watch church from home, and stop all of the extracurricular activities. The quiet felt like a much-needed break. However, as the months dragged on, I found that I was losing energy. My extroverted self was missing relationship. It turns out, my kids were feeling this lack of connection as well.
As school began this fall, my children transitioned beautifully into public school. Still, it was hard for them to form new relationships while wearing a mask, sitting six feet apart, and only going to school two days per week. They grieved their old friends, their old life. All of the children and youth activities at our church were placed on hold, and they missed their old social outlets. I had planned to be an active parent at their new school, volunteering and forming new relationships of my own. The pandemic changed this plan as well. Instead, I met most of their new teachers virtually.
I also found, as the pandemic wore on, that parenting became much more difficult. Navigating puberty, school transitions, brotherly competition, loneliness, and boredom has made parenting extraordinarily challenging. All of the feelings of grief, it seemed, were being turned into anger, and our house felt (and still feels) like it will implode with the power of it.
My counseling work changed as well. Practically overnight, my counseling practice of 13 years went from in-person counseling to virtual counseling. Although on the positive side, I was able to work from home much of the time and wear jeans and tennis shoes to counseling sessions, I quickly learned that counseling via videoconference is exhausting work. At the end of the day, I left feeling depleted: emotionally, mentally, and physically. Like many other helping jobs which have transitioned from in-person to virtual, I found that an element of the relationship goes missing through a computer screen. It takes more work to be understood, to be felt, and to create safety.
Through the pandemic, I have learned a lot about myself. A couple of years ago, I discovered the Enneagram, and it has been so valuable to me in this season. It has helped to give language and understanding to the way I am experiencing the pandemic. As an Enneagram 2, I am wired to see the world through emotion. It can be a super power to understand the feelings and needs of others and be able to help and provide understanding. It certainly is helpful as a counselor. However, the flip side is that I expect to receive love and appreciation back for my efforts. Well, this year, there has been little good feedback and positive interpersonal interaction with which to refill my cup.
Whereas normally my job is rewarding through person to person connection, now the connection feels tenuous through screens and phonelines. Whereas normally I can get together with friends on a regular basis, this year I’ve had to work harder and be more creative to make that happen. Although as a parent I know that my children give little positive feedback, this year, their negative feedback towards each other and myself has felt almost demoralizing. Even my podcast, which I spend hours and hours working on for the purpose of encouraging others has had less listenership since the pandemic began. In other words, it feels like all of the places that I am usually most “helpful,” are places that this year I have received little reward for the effort.
Thanks to the Enneagram’s insight, knowing my own underlying proclivities, and getting to the end of my own rope, the Lord is leading me through some really good soul work in this season. He is rooting out pride and digging up humility. He is unveiling sins that I can normally dress up or quickly move past. He is teaching me to “pare down,” and cling to what is good. I am learning how to be more intentional in my relationships, even my relationship with Jesus.
This brings me, finally, to my thanksgiving. In a year where many lost their lives, I am thankful for my health and my family. In a year where racial dynamics have risen to the surface of our country, I am thankful for my adopted son, and how his presence in my life is teaching me to see racial differences and injustices I would have previously overlooked. I am thankful that through a major life transition, the Lord has sustained my family. I am thankful that though many are without jobs, my husband and I have good, meaningful work. I am thankful that though some days of parenting are exhausting, the Lord has given me four beautiful boys which, in faith, I believe will grow into Godly men. I am thankful that I have learned to be more intentional about relationships, no longer taking them for granted. I am thankful that the Lord is honing my skills and creativity. I am thankful that I am growing a true appreciation for peace: relationally, mentally, and spiritually. I certainly have much to be thankful for.
Thank you for coming to my Thanksgiving TED talk.
Pause: Inhale deeply and exhale slowly. Find a comfortable position, and read Psalm 103, taking note of the Psalmist’s gratitude.
Renew: Music can help us reflect and move words and thoughts from our brains to our hearts. I love Ellie Holcomb’s music, which often reflects Scripture. In this song, she sings through the first few verses of Psalm 103. Listen to her song: Don’t Forget His Love and reflect on the Lord’s goodness.
Next: What about you? Do you have much to lament this season? What are you thankful for? Think, pray, or journal through your experience over the past year and how you’ve seen the Lord’s provision in your life.
May we be people who learn to lament, and still lift our eyes and hands to praise the Father for all of His good gifts.