Thankful is Cool and Other Lessons

 

Turkey 2017

24 pounder smoked on our pellet grill.

We had a great Thanksgiving this year. Plans were changed, requiring the celebration to be at our house unexpectedly; but it worked out okay. We got the place cleaned, dishes prepped and cooked, and even the turkey (pictured here) turned out okay. I’ve prepared three Thanksgiving turkeys these last few years, and this year’s was by far the best. Oh, don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t the best turkey I’ve ever eaten, just the best one I’ve ever prepared (I think because of the brine and the herb butter under the skin). I’m finally getting the hang of the relationship between the pellet grill and that big ol’ bird. Although I do recommend grilling two smaller birds rather than one pterodactyl-sized bird; after brining and all the other stuff, the thing is almost as big as I am!

 

But what makes Thanksgiving a blessing rather than just a gathering are the people. It seems that more and more people are increasingly unthankful nowadays. Maybe they feel they have good reason to be, or are somehow entitled to live in a world of dark, stormy clouds. But this last Thursday, even amid such global ugliness, we were family together in one place at one time. We were thankful for each other, for the ability to have such an ample feast, and very thankful for our merciful God. And to top it all off, the rain stayed away as the turkey grilled in the corner of our deck under the branches of the leafless red maple tree.

The next day we had the great privilege of spending time with some good friends of ours.

Tree 2017

Our tree from Brooks Tree Farm.

They’re a couple we don’t get to spend too much time with. But on that day, we went together to cut down our Christmas trees. And once the trees were cut down, twined into easy-to-carry bundles and loaded into the back of our friend’s pick-up truck, we got a tour of the farm. The owners of the farm are members of our church and they were delighted to give us, including our eleven-year-old son, a tour of their facility. We got to see wreaths being made, trees being prepared to be shipped all over the world, including to Dubai (who knew they had Christmas trees there!). We saw the many large greenhouses where baby trees, called plugs, matured enough to be planted or shipped to nurseries. We saw all kinds of cool equipment as well.

 

After heading home and getting our trees set up and decorated (and eating a turkey lunch, of course), we reconvened and continued our day engaged in other activities. As the day came to a close, my family and I sat around our dining room table in flickering candle light and twinkly tree lights, feeling thankful that our last two days were spent with special people. We were also beginning to recognize that God was blessing us through the lives of others. We spent a lot of time with people that care for and love us as we care for and love them. Perhaps this is why there’s so much “unthankfulness” in this world, people don’t have meaningful relationships in their lives. Or maybe their hope, their future wishes, are based on flimsy philosophies or broken promises rather than on the God of the universe. Perhaps this helps me realize how important it is to be as much of an encouragement as I can to others. After all, Jesus did say:

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
—John 13:34-35

Maybe if I take Jesus’s words seriously, I can help an unthankful person see even an inkling of something to be thankful for. And if nothing else, at least I won’t add to their reasons to be unthankful.

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Ride of Blessing and Contributions

I rode my bike yesterday for the first time in three weeks. I’m not recovered enough to go for a hardcore, gonzo, killin’ it ride; but I was on two wheels, feeling the breeze caressing my face and seeing the sights of a sunny Saturday. Large volumes of people were milling through the parks. There was a walk-a-thon promoting a cure for Alzheimer’s, some sort of dog rally and a bunch of others like me going for a pleasant ride, run or stroll.

What a blessing. I don’t typically take being on my bike for granted, but it did get me thinking about how many other things, or even people, I do take for granted. It’s funny, and sort of sad, how a loss of something is the spark toward thankfulness and a deeper awareness of other people’s needs. Some people of course, allow hardship to make them bitter; but still, we all have a choice to either let the hardship better our character or to shrink it.

So, while on my bike and being attentive to my surroundings, my mind also seems to almost float, like it’s been freed from a cage of inactivity. In this freeing feeling a dawning of understanding broke through over the horizon of my soul. The dawning was a realization that I need to be more intentional about cultivating thankfulness. This sort of intentionality will improve my character while helping me be more of a blessing to others. It will also provide power in staving off any root bitterness from taking hold in the soil of my soul (see Hebrews 12:12-17).

1 Thessalonians 5 says:

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you (vv. 16-17).

It’s easy to be thankful while on my bike riding over a brand new sparkling bridge spanning a

Bike bridge

My bike with the Willamette River in the background.

gurgling creek. But have I have been thankful in the depth of mental or physical pain, or in work frustration or family tension? As I ride with the sun warming my face and with my quads cheering on the beauty of each pedal stroke, I become more mindful of my lack of thankfulness when I’m not experiencing such a blessing. It’s just one more reminder that I’m a work in progress; thankfully, God is patient with me!

 

 Contribution

As most of us, I am deeply aware of the ravages happening in the wake of two raging hurricanes slamming into our brothers and sisters. Please pray for these people and for these tragedies to somehow turn hearts to God and not away from Him. Also, if possible, please consider contributing to one of the many good fund-raising efforts or even volunteering to help if possible for you to do so.

God, please help them!  

What a Ride: Despair and Celebration

Sad_Smile

Yes, 2016 has been an interesting, up and down year. My blog posting has been sporadic at best and my emotions have been stretched from east, to west and back again. But I am returning to a situation in life where I expect to begin posting on a regular basis; and I have a lot of ideas on things to write about. For instance, I want to write about atonement, and about the resurrection, and about Jesus being fully God and fully human, and about sin and whole bunch of other stuff.

But for the moment, I want to respond to a reader that recently asked why I’ve been absent. Well, lots of things have happened in 2016. But it began at the end of 2015.

The Recap

My last post was about the sudden death of a 20 year friend of ours, the oldest son of a wonderful family in Nebraska. Granted, the tragedy affected them more deeply of course, but it still shook us to our cores. Then 2016 began with my mom being rushed to the hospital. Mom, a very dear lady, suffered from advanced dementia and other physical disabilities. She spent much of January in the hospital. This led to her being admitted into hospice care. In the midst of this, my favorite pet ever—BK the cat—suddenly took ill and died. It was weird.

I came home from work on a rainy Thursday night and he ran over to greet me as he usually did. He was a great cat because I could pick him up any old way and he would just purr and head butt me. This particular evening, after his greeting, he all of the sudden lost control of his back legs, began panting furiously and had a wild look in his eye. We wound up at the pet ER where they said he was dying; feline congestive heart failure and his lungs were rapidly filling with fluid. In the process of his agonizing death throes, he bit into my left thumb with such force that I could feel his fangs sinking down into my bone, puncturing everything on the way. Shortly after that, he died. We spent the rest of the evening grieving in the people ER because my thumb was seriously injured. Even today my left thumb is partially disabled with the loss of some motion along with chronic pain and numbness.

About a month later, hospice care left a frantic message on my phone at about 4:30 in the morning; mom had died. No one expected it; sure, we expected she would pass away say in the summer or early fall, but then she suddenly started trending upward. Hospice was thinking she may have to be discharged from their care. But on February 29, she went to bed and at some point thereafter she was ushered into the presence of Jesus. Personally, I think she’s dancing in Heaven!

Then there’s the final semester of grad school. Through all of this and keeping up with my full-time secular job I was also trying to finish grad school on a high note. No easy task when so much of life is being filled with pain and loss. But God brought me and my family through it and last Saturday I was able to walk the platform in commemoration of completion along with about 300 other graduates from Corban University.

But…

So it’s been a challenging year so far. But now I have more “free time” and am looking forward to diving into blogging again (and perhaps more cycling too!). But thanks to God for all his work in my life and in my family, and also a huge thank you to my family and friends, I cannot tell you how much of a blessing you are to me. I can’t describe it because the tears of joy block my view. And thank you, dear reader, for your patience.

My God richly bless you in undeniable ways.

God at 1,000 Feet

God at 1000'

Not even half a mile away from our new home and I’m already climbing a gigantic hill. It goes from 249 feet to 1,000 feet in less than five miles; five very slow miles I might add. Because of other chores that were a higher priority I’m starting my ride in mid-afternoon where the temperature has topped 85 degrees and is expected to reach close to 100.

What am I thinking? I’m thinking about celebrating life, feeling the strain of muscle against pedal, sweat trickling down my neck and back, and catching vistas of vineyards and lavender fields. My lungs ache, my heart pounds, and my legs protest, but my spirit is running free from the shackles of stress, chores and long to-do lists.

Cresting the hill I stop to drink in the view of the lush Willamette Valley: green and brown pastures, towering evergreens and sprawling deciduous trees, manicured orchards, vineyards, and purple patches of lavender wafting a calming fragrance through the breeze. The river winds in long, silver meanders with hawks and a few eagles soaring on thermals high above my head. I take just a minute of pause to snap a picture and thank God that I even get such an experience; yes, world, I am alive and glad for it!

I often recall the short conversation I had with my surgeon on Saturday, January 7, 2012 where she said, just barely 24 hours after operating on my spine for a second time that I may not do the things I used to do. While that statement is true in some respects, especially in running, chronic pain and other things, I still get to ride my bike up big hills that reveal the splendor of a creative and loving God.

So before I begin the terrifying descent I whisper (basically gasp) “thank You, Jesus!” Then I turn my attention to the looming downhill portion of the big climb. I’m not used to such big climbs, which, of course means I’m not used to bombing down such big hills—this brings a totally different type of prayer (but that’s another blog)!  For the moment, though, I celebrate life and praise the God that gave it to me.