Sunday, 24 April 2011

Practising gratitude

My children are grown up and gone. Is it too late to help them increase in gratitude? These are ideas from Ann Voskamp's blog:

6 Reasons to Focus Ourselves, our Children, On Seeing Grace:
The research can only support Scriptural Truth:
1. Better Attitudes:
Children who practice grateful thinking have more positive attitudes toward school and their families (Froh, Sefick, Emmons, 2008).
2. Better Achieve Personal Goals:
Participants who kept gratitude lists were more likely to have made progress toward important personal goals (academic, interpersonal and health-based) over a two-month period compared to subjects in the other experimental conditions.
3. Closer Relationships, Greater Happiness:
Professor Froh infused middle–school classes with a small dose of gratitude—and found that it made students feel more connected to their friends, family, and their school: “By the follow–up three weeks later, students who had been instructed to count their blessings showed more gratitude toward people who had helped them, which led to more gratitude in general. Expressing gratitude was not only associated with appreciating close relationships; it was also related to feeling better about life and school. Indeed, compared with students in the hassles and control groups, students who counted blessings reported greater satisfaction with school both immediately after the two–week exercise and at the three–week follow–up.”
4. Better Grades:
Gratitude in children: 6-7th graders who kept a gratitude journal for only three weeks, had an increased grade point average over the course of a year.
5. Greater Energy, Attentiveness, Enthusiasm:
A daily gratitude intervention (self-guided exercises) with young adults resulted in higher reported levels of the positive states of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, attentiveness and energy compared to a focus on hassles or a downward social comparison (ways in which participants thought they were better off than others).
6. Greater Sensitivity:
Children who kept gratitude journals were more sensitive to situations where they themselves can be helpful, altruistic, generous, compassionate, and less destructive, more positive social behaviors, and less destructive, negative social behaviors…
“Gratitude is good for the giver, and good for the receiver,” Professor Emmons said. “This has been documented in friendships, romantic partners and spouses. One study showed that the mere expression of thanks more than doubled the likelihood that helpers would provide assistance again.”
And if We Don’t Practice Gratitude?
On the other hand, research shows that youth who are ungrateful are “less satisfied with their lives and are more apt to be aggressive and engage in risk-taking behaviors, such as early or frequent promiscuous activities, substance use, poor eating habits, physical inactivity, and poor academic performance.”

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Bonnie's Faith Jam: What Easter Means To Me This Year

OK, it's Wednesday. I'm new to this Faith Jam thing but I do know that I link to it on a Thursday. And today is Wednesday. But I can't wait.

Over at facebook I reposted this classic paragraph: Greatest man in history, named Jesus... He had no servants, yet they called Him Master. Had no degree, yet they called Him Teacher. Had no medicines, yet they called Him Healer. He had no army, yet kings feared Him. He won no military battles, yet He conquered the world. He committed no crime, yet they crucified Him... He was buried in a tomb, yet He lives today. And I've been reading Philip Yancy's book What Good is God?  And what has struck me most is that Jesus came and spent time with the marginalised. The outcasts, the sick, the disabled, the poor, the immoral...and that, in contrast, I spend my Christian time with the comfortable, the accepted, the wealthy, the healthy...easy to do when one lives in the Western world.

Now, nothing wrong in having soul-restoring times of sweet friendship with devoted followers of Jesus who are comfortable, accepted, wealthy, healthy...but my focus has to be to the folk Jesus hung around with.

So my prayer this Easter is to recognise and relate to the sick, the hungry, the prisoners - all those afflicted not just physically, but spiritually. To hang around with them. Because when I do that, I'm with Jesus. Really with him.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

The Father's Love Letter

My dear friend and prayer partner Sarah (I am blessed with many friends with the name Sarah, all awesome women of Christ) just sent me this link to The Father's Love Letter. A little like the beautiful story Sarita in Uganda tells which I posted yesterday. Wonderful

Bible excitement!

Now, this is just so exciting that I'm going to post this over on Mama's as well.  I have just stumbled across a tremendous Bible reference site - thanks, Bonnie!  It has parallel translations, cross-references, the context, chain references, commentaries and many different translations such as Bible Gateway has. It has all kinds of other study aids too which I can't even begin to understand!  Interesting that there are different web addresses - I've added them all on here. The author of the sites has many other useful references as well.

And here are more sites: Bible study for children, free online Bible study courses, Bible research...And then there is the largest online Bible study, apparently!

Here are two other Bible reference sites: OpenBible and Blue Letter Bible.

I'm always a little bit careful about what I read on the internet - testing the spirits, and all that - but this does seem to be OK. It looks SOOO exciting! I feel God is just asking me to love him more and more: to do that not just by seeing him in people and circumstances in my everyday life, but by hearing what he says to me by reading his words. I've been reading the Bible just straight the way through, but know I need to stop sometimes and dive deeper, or consider particular themes or topics as they crop up.  These resources referenced above should now be easy to find and a great help along the way.  Can I use any other word but exciting? Inspiring, exhilarating and mind-blowing will do for a start!

(Do I want to go back to work after Easter?  There just isn't enough time to do everything!)

The joy of time...

Oh, the joy of having time to read blogs and gain such wonderful encouragement. Look at these: from Ed at inamirrordimly and Bonnie Gray faithbarista - notice her link on my sidebar, I like her blogs so much, so I was thrilled to stumble across this in Crosswalk. Bonnie runs a 'faith jam' on Thursdays, and this was from last week when I was still enmired in the hectic busyness of the end of term, so I missed out on that. I still wrote a comment, though:

I’m with you on ‘safe’ joy – probably not as good as you are at celebrating on a beige day, but certainly ‘I can’t imagine a better way to spend time with people in everyday life and hearing them share stories of faith.’

But I have yet to truly discover real joy. I’ve gone through hard times and others have seen joy in me, but I didn’t FEEL joyful.

This looks like the beginning of a very serious journey on joy discovery!

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

The love story

Here's another post about the same blog.  And I just have to repeat part of it here because it is just such a hugely powerful retelling of THE Love Story. The Story of how Jesus loves us so much - with a pure, everlasting, nothing-in-it-for-me, no selfishness love.

Here it is. Thank you, Sarita.

There was a man who fell in love with a girl who was a slave. He loved her so much that he worked 7 years for her to pay the debt off her life because to him, there was no flaw in her. He married her and made a covenant with her, but because she grew up a slave, she did not understand this love. Her whole life she had been abused and taken advantage of. Her whole life’s worth had been in serving her master and trying to make him happy, even though she never could. Her husband’s devotion made her uncomfortable. So she left him and went back to the one who had owned her before and she got pregnant with his child. She lived in guilt but she did not know how to be different.

Her husband came for her, he pursued her, not to tell her how much she had hurt him, not to hold her sin over her head, but because he loved her, with all her faults, with all her mistakes, he loved her as his bride and longed to be with her again. His love for her was unconditional, it was without limit and without end. The owner said he could not have her back because the child was his and would grow up a slave in his house. The husband could have killed him. He wanted to and he could have. But deep down he knew that it would not prove his love and that his wife would only run away again to someone else. So he offered something else. He said he would give his life as a slave unto death, if his wife and child could be free. The owner hated the husband so much, he hated his love and his tenderness, so he agreed to the exchange, to take his life to pay off the debt of her sin. The slave girl found out and begged him not to, she begged him because she knew she did not deserve that kind of love, she begged him because she did not believe she could ever change. But he just looked at her, as though there was no one else in the entire world and said he would gladly die so she could be free, so she would never have to return to being a slave. When they tortured him she could not watch, she could only sob. When they beat him up and pierced his side with a knife, she collapsed in anguish. She could not understand how he could love her so much. She only knew that he did. They mocked him, they mocked his love for such a woman, but he bore it all without responding. When he died he told his wife, “I died so you could be free. You are not a slave any more. Go back home and raise our child in the knowledge that you both were loved.”

Something snapped in her, something deep in a place long shut down by the life she had lived, in a place long devastated and long given up on, a place she remembered as a child before she gave up her soul. And she just knew--no more. She was a slave no more. She was a wife, a bride who was loved, loved enough to have a man die for her and his only request of her was that she live as one who was free. She had never felt love so much, love in her that made her want to die in his place. But it was done. She left that day for good. The owner would come to her house and tell her that she should work for him to pay for the guilt of her sins, he would tell her that she did not deserve the love her husband had shown. It was hard. In her heart, she believed those words, and yet she could not return with him though she wanted to pay off her debt, though she wanted to be free of guilt, she could not return with him because she knew that she had promised not to. She knew that everything her lover died for would be for nothing if she allowed herself and her baby to be enslaved again. Love had cost him everything. And she could not make a mockery of that love. Even though it pained her, even though she rather would have lived a slave in the owner’s house just to prove her love in some small way, she clung to the belief that she had been loved and that He wouldn’t want her to see herself that way. How could she become a slave again if he died for her freedom? It was the hardest thing she ever did, in saying no. Everything in her knew, she had not deserved such a love, and yet it had been given. Though she had not asked for it, it had been given. There were days she struggled with shame, but she kept trying to remember that He had seen her as worth the price, so she began trying to live as though she was worth it. And slowly, she began to believe it, began to believe that He saw something in her she did not see and He had wanted it to live.
For the first time in my life I have seen the anguish Jesus must feel when we live as slaves even though he died for us, his lover, his bride, so we could be free. I do not yet know how to live as one who is free. How to believe in that kind of love. And yet I know it is the lack of knowing that keeps us in chains, or stuck to our church pews paralyzed to do anything or make any difference in the world because we are so bogged down in the areas of our hearts that have not been healed, we do not know how to spread out leaves of healing for others, or how to offer fresh bread to the poor. How to give when we are so empty.

But our emptiness is authentic. Our need is what draws God to us. He longs to fill the need, to put to rest the issues in our hearts that keep us from truly living. Do you not see the good the Lord longs to give to those who love Him, to those who allow themselves to be loved. It is not easy for some of us. For some of us, being loved is harder than actually loving. I think of Elisa whose face would go from stoic, to ruined. I think of how hard it was for her to not get up and run away because our love was overwhelming. She was not sure, after all that time in darkness that it was real, that it could last. I think of the girls in Uganda whose brittle arms I want to hold in mine, even if they push me away because they cannot believe in love. I think of myself, struggling to believe, fighting for my freedom, that others might be free. It is so hard to hope, to actually believe we are beautiful, that to God, there is nothing more beautiful in the world than our face. That if we gave him nothing else than our time with Him, our sweet embrace, that it would make him happier than any other sacrifice of long hours worked, or churches built, or lives saved. All He wants is us.

It is hard to believe. Hard to have faith in. And yet nothing else---no person, no addiction, no hobby, no food, no drink, no work, will heal that place in our hearts that needs to believe in it.

I spent the morning with a blank piece of paper. And I asked God what He thought of me. And always, always, I am shocked by the answer. I am ready for Him to list my faults and my failures, I am ready for Him to tell me who I should have been or what I should have done instead. I am ready for another reason to loathe myself. But he is just holding me and the answer is sweeter than I think I deserve.

Who is this coming up from the desert leaning on her lover…I pray it is me and then I pray it is you.

“Arise my darling, my beautiful one and come with me.
See, the winter is past; the rains are over and gone.
Flowers appear on the earth; the season of singing has come…
Arise, come, my darling; my beautiful one, come with me.” Song of Songs 2:10

Love in Uganda

I've just come across an interesting blog, posted from Uganda.  I like it for the language. I like the way it's written. And I like the themes - this one, about loving God, for instance. Simple, encouraging, just to LOVE. To follow the greatest commandment of all: to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul and mind.

Sarita says: God is most concerned with who I am when no one is watching than what I do. There is something coming. Wars and rumors of wars. Time grows short as Jesus coming back to reclaim us gets closer. And I ask myself the question, are we ready? Are we the Bride? Do we really love Him with our whole hearts. And I ask myself the question what would I do differently if I knew I only had years left. If I knew time was not a given, stretching into infinity. How would I change my life?

That is what I would like to change. To fill my days with activities and non-activities which encourage me to just LOVE GOD. That's all. That's more than enough.

However short - or long - the time I have left.


I read quite a few blogs, when I have time. Mainly Christian ones, and mainly those written by women. Not by any deliberate choice, it's just that I've discovered a few of them through blog referrals (actually, how else would I discover blogs? I certainly don't have time to sit and trawl blogger or wordpress for interesting blogs to read. Usually.)

Anyway, there is a great reflection by Renee Swope on longing for friendship. On how often she checks emails to see if her friends have written, and on how little time she has spent recently on maintaining friendships.

I identify with that.  I love meeting with friends: it is, literally, meat and bread to me.
I'm energized - not least, when I know they are coming round, to have a quick catch-up on the house cleaning. I'm not super-houseproud, but that's another story. Suffice to say, that a quick catch-up is all my house can hope for at the best of times.
I'm energized if I'm going out to meet them - I whizz through the chores. 
And I'm energized by being with them, spurred on to 'good works' or to pursuing some interest I had let lapse, or discovering something new to get excited about. This week I've delved into history, exercised more and caught up on school work, all on the back of one conversation. Can't be bad.

Though I spent time with very close friends all weekend, invited colleagues round for coffee and cake on Monday, spent quality time with my best friend (who is also my husband) on Tuesday and have invited friends from our Bible study home group to supper on Thursday, I still crave to connect.  So I've been challenged by Renee. Challenged to REconnect with a friend whose friendship seems to have lapsed.

I'll send that email. Right now.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Ladies breakfast: Esther

Just waved the last of the girls off.  Such an encouraging morning, discussing 'Esther' principles. One quote - attributed to Tozer - sticks in my mind. We need to be 'eternally preoccupied'.  Eternally preoccupied. Connecting with God in every situation through every hour, minute, of the day.

We touched on many ideas.  Then I shared this wonderful explanation of the Gospel - it only takes 4 minutes! I've watched it many times and every time notice or understand something new. It's amazing.

I just LOVE being amazed and excited about God-stuff. There's NOTHING better.