Reflections on Thanksgiving

I wrote this piece for my book a few years ago. As we approach another Thanksgiving I thought it was worth revisiting.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.  Part of the reason is that it comes in my favorite season, autumn.  For me, it also is the start of a long holiday season.  I like to enjoy Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years for as long as I can.  That is why saying “Happy Holidays” is not offensive to me.  Oh I understand and sympathize with the argument Christians have with this phrase.  We want to put Christ back in Christmas.  And I say “Merry Christmas” frequently.  But for me “Happy Holidays” refers to the entire holiday season that begins with Thanksgiving and ends with New Year’s Day, so I am not put off by those greetings.  In fact, if you want to wish me a happy Wednesday, I’ll take that too.

The other reason I prefer Thanksgiving is the lack of commercialism, although that is now being tested.  It is not about shopping or giving gifts.  It is not about the making or spending of money.  Thanksgiving is about gratitude for what I have instead of thinking about what I want or need.  It makes me mindful of the many blessings God has given me.  It keeps me God-focused rather than me-focused.  It fosters contentment.  

This year God has stilled me, and that has given me plenty of time to reflect on His goodness.  I won’t be able to have Thanksgiving dinner at my house so I am SO grateful for daughters who step up. As I recover from knee replacement I am grateful for modern medicine and that I won’t stay in this state forever.  I’m grateful for a husband who takes such good care of me.  And I am so very thankful for all my friends who have brought in meals, come to visit, and called to check on me.  Thank you Lord, for an abundance of people in my life. 

The Pilgrims understood our need for gratitude.  They suffered more adversities than I ever will yet they knew it was important to set aside one day and thank God.  They dug so many graves and yet they found reason to be grateful.  In 1623 Governor William Bradford declared that everyone should assemble together “and render thanksgiving to ye Almighty God for all His blessings.”

Psychologists who have studied gratitude have found that gratitude is directly correlated with life satisfaction, peace, and joy.  Individuals who cultivate and express gratitude have fewer health complaints, reduced stress, and are generally less self-absorbed.  Dr. Robert Emmons, the world’s leading expert on gratitude states, “The fabric of gratitude is deeply woven into the human experience.”  He has found that there are two parts to gratitude: acknowledging the goodness in life and recognizing the source of that goodness.

I believe God created us with not only the capacity to experience gratitude, but also the need to express it.  Our Father knew that his children would reap psychological, physiological and interpersonal benefits by cultivating a grateful heart.  He does not need our praise; it is we who need to praise Him.  I have noticed something in my own life.  Maybe it is not a scientific fact, but it is something I have observed.  The more I praise Him for His blessings, the more blessings I receive.  Maybe that is not actually the case; maybe I am just aware of more of the blessings I already have.  Either way, it fills my heart with joy.    

I think there is something wonderful that happens with corporate praise, when we thank him together with our families, our church families, and our nation.  It binds us together.  It brings us in touch with the things we have in common and directs our attention away from the things that divide us.  That is why we need a National Day of Thanksgiving.  When we gather together on Thanksgiving Day, let us thank God for our blessings and acknowledge that He is the Source of everything good in our lives, in our families, and in our country.

Bless the Lord, O my soul,

And all that is within me, bless His holy name.

Bless the Lord, O my soul,

And forget none of His benefits;

Who pardons all your iniquities,

Who heals all your diseases;

Who redeems your life from the pit,

Who crowns you with lovingkindness and compassion;

Who satisfies your years with good things,

So that your youth is renewed like the eagle.  Psalm 103:1-5 (NASB).    

SITTING IN THE TOP ROW

If you have known me for any length of time at all, you know I am a HUGE college football fan. Specifically, I love my Oklahoma Sooners, but I will watch any game, even Wake Forest or Rutgers.  Because it’s football!  Jerry and I have season tickets to watch the Sooners play in Norman, and we even go to a few away games.  When the Sooners play at home, I don’t get to watch many other games.  I can listen on the radio while driving, and keep up with the scores on my phone, but it’s not the same as a full day of football immersion.  And that is what I had last Saturday.  Since the Sooners were away, I got to watch football ALL DAY LONG, starting with ESPN GameDay at 8:00 AM, and falling asleep to the Pac 12 games on the west coast.  At some point during the Florida/Auburn game there was an aerial shot of the stadium, you know, one of those blimp views.  It was a dramatic shot of a full stadium and it made me recall something I had read earlier in the week about the top row of a stadium.  I will explain later, but first I will share some stadium experiences of my own.

As I said, we have season tickets to all of Oklahoma’s home games, and we usually have a ticket to the OU/Texas game in Dallas.  Our seats in Norman aren’t VIP seats by any means, but they aren’t bad seats either.  We have had the same seats for years and have gotten acquainted with the people who sit around us.  However, this past spring OU made some improvements to the stadium and they moved our seats slightly.  So now we are getting to know some new stadium neighbors.  Our new seats aren’t any better than our old, but they aren’t any worse either.  Frankly, I think one is lucky just to be inside the stadium.  Home games are always a sellout.  

I have a couple of memories of some not-so-good seats.  Years ago, before we had season tickets, we bought a pair to a home game.  It might have been my first game in Norman.  I was trying to remember what team we played that day—Jerry thinks it was Iowa State.  What I do remember is where the seats were located: on the very TOP row of the upper deck!  It felt like we were in another time zone!  Being that high up certainly gives you a different perspective on the game.  That is probably why you will often see a shot of a position coach operating from the booth.  He can see the big picture, often better that he can from the sideline.  And he can see much more than I can from my regular seats on the 20-yardline.

On another occasion we followed the Sooners to College Station to watch them play Texas A&M. Every football fan should see a game at Kyle Field.  And if you think it’s loud in Norman, you should sit with a stadium full of Aggies.  They even practice yelling!  But it’s a fun atmosphere, especially when your team is predicted to win.  As happy (and confident) as I was, on this particular day things didn’t go so well.  It started with our seats.  They were almost on the top row, and the their upper deck is so steep!  It was quite a hike to get to our row.  I was gasping by the time I found my seat.  On top of that, the Sooners had a bad day on the field.  And I had a big, birds eye view of the whole debacle.  

So all of this brings me back to what I read last week.  My friend Ronda has a brother, Rick Renner, whom I have never met, but I follow on social media.  He pastors a church in Russia, and has written several books, including Sparkling Gems From the Greeka devotional book based on Greek words from the Bible.  He does such a good job of painting word pictures, and I can always do better if I have a visual.  Last week he posted a study on the word “clouds” from Hebrews 12:1.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,” (NIV) 

This verse comes after the famous passage in Hebrews 11 known as “the roll call of the faithful,” a portrait of the saints who have gone before us.  Renner says the word “clouds” describes the highest seats in the bleachers of a stadium.  Those saints are sitting up there cheering us along. This description gave me an entirely different perspective on that verse.  Those saints who have gone before us have a big picture view from their seats in the clouds.  They know the final score.  And they are there, cheering us on as we take our turn on the field.  

Each of us has a finite amount of time, and for those of us who are Christians, our own unique position to play.  The goal is to advance the Gospel, to move it toward the finish line.  There are some who may be called to important positions such as coaches or quarterbacks.  Others of us may be less significant.  We may merely serve as water boys, but that water certainly is important to those who are doing the heavy work.  As a team, as a part of the Church, we strive to carry the cause of Christ.  I think of the words from the hymn, Onward Christian Soldiers:

 

Like a mighty army
  Moves the Church of God:
Brothers, we are treading
  Where the saints have trod;
We are not divided,
  All one Body we—
One in faith and Spirit,
  One eternally.

My prayer is that I don’t fumble, that I don’t lose yards, that I can advance the ball.  And when my time on the field is over, may I take my seat on the top row and cheer on the next generation.

BEING A WATCHMAN

One of the things I am enjoying in retirement is the time to really dig into my Bible study lessons at Community Bible Study.  This year we are doing a study called The Road to Jerusalem, the story of the Jewish exile and the restoration of Israel.  Yesterday’s lesson highlighted the life of Ezekiel who was appointed by God to be a prophet and watchman to the people.  His main job was to warn the people to turn from their idols.  That term, “watchman” reached out and grabbed me. What was the job of a watchman?  

My thoughts turned to the medieval towns in Tuscany and Provence that we have visited over the years.  They were all built on a hilltop and they all had walls surrounding them.  These walls provided fortification and defense against attackers and intruders.  Along the walls watchtowers were erected a place for a watchman or sentry to stand guard.  Strategically, the towers were erected at points where entry were more likely, and where the watchman could have a 360 degree view of the landscape, where they could spot enemies before they got too close.  If an enemy approached, the watchman’s job was to alert the town of impending danger.  I’m thinking sentry duty then and now is a lonely job.

So what does Ezekiel’s call to be a watchman have to do with me today?  I guess I think of watchmen as those people who will be on the lookout for the things that will threaten to destroy us.  Those who will sound the alarm.  Modern day Paul Reveres.  From a Christian perspective, watchmen are protecting our faith and defending our society from our modern day idols.  In my opinion, our biggest danger comes from our secular culture.  Watchmen have to be able to stand against the tsunami of a godless society.  As we were discussing these ideas, I was having my own private conversation with God.  “Please don’t call me to be a watchman.”  I thought of some of my friends who can stand boldly in the face of criticism.  I confess that is a lonely and scary place for me.  I don’t like it.

I remember a day during a sociology course when the subject of abortion was discussed.  I was the only person in my class of about thirty who expressed opposition to it.  And the backlash against me was fierce!  I looked around the room and though to myself that surely I can’t be the only one in this class who thinks abortion is wrong.  Here in Tulsa, Oklahoma?  The buckle of the Bible belt?   After class, several people came up to me and told me they were proud of me for standing up.  “Where was YOUR voice,” I thought.  

I don’t want to be a watchman.  I don’t like opposition.  I often feel that I can’t muster a cogent defense quickly enough.  I remember that day when I felt like I couldn’t get my words together.  I think of my friends who speak out on different issues and I find myself like those classmates.  I admire the watchmen, but I don’t want to be them.  However, in these times when religious persecution is on the rise (Christians being the most targeted group), perhaps God is calling all of us to be watchmen.  Because if we don’t watch, who will? 

All these thoughts were going through my mind when I finally allowed God to speak to me.  I realized He isn’t necessarily calling me to be a watchman to the world as much as He is to myself.  “You need to be a watchman over your own heart!”  Wow!  As always, God is right.  I have a full time job guarding against idols of my own.  An idol is anything that takes my time, energy, and devotion away from God.  My potential idols are more subtle than golden statues.  Self-indulgence, screen time, acquisition of things, even (Gasp!) Sooner football.  I could create quite a list.  I guess even my family could become an idol.  

So my first calling to be a watchman is a call to guard my heart from the benign or even “good” things that could take first place in my life.  I think of the words from the old hymn, “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” 

“Prone to wander, Lord I feel it, 

Prone to leave the God I love.”  

So today I lay open my heart before the Lord, and I ask Him to remove anything that has become an idol to me, and to keep me alert to the things that could sidetrack me in the future.  As I said, it’s a full time job.  But I also ask God to burden my heart for the things that burden His.  I want to “watch” for God, to see where He is moving and what He is doing.  Being a watchman is more that keeping an eye out for evil, more than warning about the dangers of sin.  A watchman also has the privilege of proclaiming the good news of the gospel.  As Believers, we get to announce to the world that God has provided a remedy for sin.  And we are all commanded to be on the alert, to watch for Christ’s return.  The more I think about it, I don’t get to opt out of being a watchman.  Nor should I want to.  It is an honor.

NEW PATHS

In a few days I will be closing my practice.  When I began thinking about retirement I was so torn.  Is this really what I want to do, because it will be final.  It’s not like quitting a job at Dillard’s and deciding next year that I want to go back.  Re-starting a practice at my age probably wouldn’t be feasible.  So I took a long time to decide, and I told my partners a year in advance.  I wanted to give them time to find another partner if they wanted, and I also wanted to give myself time to change my mind.  But as the days grow short, I am so comfortable with my decision.  I find myself thinking of all kinds of things I want to do, and being lazy is near the top.  At least for a few weeks.

I’ve been so blessed to have a career that gives so much back to me.  I think back to when I started this venture.  I was in my forties and it seemed impossible.  I had only one year of college, and that happened in the Dark Ages.  I remember driving up to the TCC South campus (it was TJC then), afraid to walk in to the admissions office.  Would they make me do algebra on the spot?  Would I have to use a computer (we were still in the DOS era)?  But I still remember why I did it.  I wanted to make a difference in the lives of others.  The sweet words and messages I have been receiving the last few weeks assure me that in some small way I have. 

So now I am starting down a road I’ve never been before.  Retirement.  I see the possibility of both good things and not-so-good things ahead.  The good things include leisure time, travel, and the luxury of not having to be somewhere (Lord, please guard me from filling up all my days).  But there may be some unpleasant days ahead also.  I see it in the lives of my friends and acquaintances, my fellow Baby Boomers.  Even though we intellectually knew it, I don’t think any of us really expected to get old.  Yet here we are.

In my quiet time this morning I was reminded of a favorite scripture:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.

I notice that “paths” is plural.  That suggests I have multiple paths ahead.  I hope so.  I know that time and circumstances will make my paths fewer and more narrow.  But I want to do all that is in my power to explore all that God has for me in this next chapter.  And I still want to make a difference in the lives of others.

Surviving the College Drop Off

It’s been a frequent topic for therapy these last few weeks.  “My child is leaving for college.  Will she be all right?  I’m going to be an empty nester.  I’m not sure what is next.”  These are common concerns and juicy issues to explore.  I tell all these parents the same thing: It’s going to be okay.  You will probably shed a few tears when you drop your child off.  Well, let’s be honest; you may ugly cry.  But the tears will eventually stop and you will get a new normal.  A different kind of good.  By the time Christmas break is over you may be counting the days until he goes back to school and you can get your house back.  But if you were sitting in my office and we were having this conversation, I would ask you to do these things:

  1. Trust your parenting.  You did and great job, Mom and Dad!  You have poured 18 years into your children.  You have made sure they were well cared for.  And you have done everything in your power to give them a good start in life.  You made sure they ate properly, had regular checkups, you put braces on their teeth and took them to the dermatologist.  You made sure they went to the best schools you could afford, either your neighborhood schools or private.  You helped them with reading and spelling, and later, you may have paid someone to help them with algebra.  You took them to soccer games, dance classes, band concerts, football practice, school plays, and cheerleader tryouts.  You sat in the scorching heat and freezing cold, and you cheered them on. You nursed them through ear infections, breakups with first loves, and mean girls.  You kissed their boo-boos and tried to mend their broken hearts. You prayed with them and took them to church.  You tried your best to keep them out of trouble.  Everything you have done for the last 18 years was preparing them for this moment.  You may be having a slight sense of panic (as I did) over the things you forgot to tell them. If that is the case, write them a letter and leave it in their dorm room.  Tell them the things you wish your 18-year old self had known.  And then leave them.  This is not the end of parenthood, but your role will change. One practical note: If at all possible, don’t be too quick to hand off their room at home to the next child in line or to convert it into your hobby room.  They will want to come home to the familiar for a while.  
  2. Trust your child.  Unless your child proves you can’t trust her, back off.  Don’t be a helicopter parent.  Let hercall you.  And when she does call, focus on her concerns instead of the things you are worried about.  Give her the grace and space to make a few mistakes.  These are teaching opportunities, a time for your child to learn the difference between having a failure and being a failure.  It may come as a surprise, but you will no longer have access to your student’s grades.  You may think this is unfair, especially if you are the one paying for his college.  But because of FERPA laws, this is the way it is.  Hopefully you have they type of honest and supportive relationship that will make it easy for him to tell you if his grades are floundering.  By now, you should have made him responsible for his own grades instead of constantly checking to make sure he did his work. Practical note: Don’t do every little thing to unpack her and set up her room.  Allow her the autonomy to do it her way, even if you think you could do it better.
  3. Trust this time in your life.  This is not the end; it’s a new beginning. Parenthood may have encompassed much of your life, but now it is time for you.  Use some of that energy for yourself, to pursue some of the things you haven’t had time to do.  If you are married, it is a time to get reacquainted with your spouse.  Hopefully you have been nurturing the relationship all along so you are not now finding yourself married to a stranger.  But in any case, neither of you is the same person you were at age 22.  Try some new things together.  If you are single you may be ready to find a new special someone.  This is a time to try some new things for you.  Take up a new hobby; spend time with friends, and travel (if you still have some money after paying the bursar’s bill).  
  4. Trust your God.  This is the most important.  Your child has been a precious gift, but he has been on loan to you. It is time to put him back into the hands of the One who loves him even more than you do.  Ask God to help you release your grip.  God has a plan for your child, but He also has a plan for you. A plan for a new chapter for what the poet Mary Oliver calls your one wild and precious life.  And take care of your knees because you will need to stay on them! 

TIME TO SAY GOODBYE

Retirement.  It is finally here.  I will officially close my practice at the end of August, and so I have begun a series of goodbyes.  Hard goodbyes.  I have said this many times, but I must say it again.  Sharing the lives of others has been a privilege.  The trials and joys, the heartbreaks and the victories, the endings and new beginnings have been my great joy.  If you have been my client I want to share a little secret: you have helped me! It’s hard to explain, but it’s true. As a psychologist I am called to be both objective and relational.  When we enter into therapy together, you allow me to walk part of your journey with you. And as I have entered your lives, I have been changed.  Therapy is a sacred hour, and you have honored me by sharing your life with me.

I am not quite sure what my next season will look like.  Some things are starting to take shape.  I know I want some days just to do nothing except maybe read a good book.  I am grateful that I have been allowed these bonus days with my husband since his illness.  We are talking about things to do together, places we want to see for the first time and places we want to see one more time before we die.  I have closets that need to be cleaned and things to be put in order.  There is a big crate of photos that I need to organize.  I want to spend more time with God, I want to write more, and I hope still get asked to speak.  I want to spend more time with friends and family, doing fun things and making new memories.  I’m thinking I might take up cooking again, but I’m not rushing into the kitchen!

But most of all, I want to be useful.  My life calling has been to help the hurting, and I want to continue doing that, but in a less structured way.  I’m not sure what that will look like, so I am just putting one foot in front of the other right now.  And I am asking God to direct my steps and order my days.  

BOUNDARIES: DO YOU HAVE THEM?

We all know what a “No Trespassing” sign means.  It marks a line that designates private property.  We are not to cross that line without permission.  We also know that there may be penalties for crossing that line without permission.  You probably have no problem with a fence around your yard or locking your doors at night.  But many of us have problems setting personal boundaries.  

A personal boundary is that invisible “fence” that separates me from others.  It is where I begin and end.  Just like a fence, personal boundaries help us keep the goodin and the bad out.  When people come into my office we often talk about their boundaries.  Some of them have weak or no boundaries.  It is like a storm came through and blew their fence on the ground.  People walk all over them.  

Some examples of weak boundaries would be:

  • An inability to separate my feelings from others.  I allow someone else’s mood or feelings to dictate how I feel.  I can’t be happy unless they are happy.
  • I feel overly responsible for someone else.  I think it is my job to fix them, to please them, or to make them happy.  That is not my job.  Conversely, I may feel it is someone else’s job to make me happy.  I am responsible to others and formyself.
  • I blame others for my problems.
  • I continually sacrifice my plans and dreams for others.
  • I over-share private information even though doing so makes me feel too vulnerable.

Instead of weak boundaries some people have rigid boundaries.  They are walled off from others.  They have no gate in their fence that allows the good to come in.

Some examples of rigid boundaries are: 

  • An inability to be emotionally intimate with the significant people in my life.
  • An inability to take a risk to trust.
  • Having to have things done my way because my way is the right way.
  • An inability to be wrong and say so.
  • Being so walled-off no one can get through.  This may cost me friendships.

Deciding to set boundaries may feel risky, but the payoff is so worth it.  Others will either get on board, or they won’t.  If they won’t, you may have decisions to make.

Here are some tips for setting your boundaries:

  • When you need to set a boundary with someone, do it clearly, appropriately, an in as few words as possible.
  • You cannot set a boundary and take care of another person’s feelings at the same time.
  • Anger, rage, complaining, and whining are clues that boundaries need to be set.
  • Expect resentment from those who are not used to your newly set boundaries.  They will most likely push back.
  • A support system is helpful as you strive to establish and maintain boundaries.
  • Strive for balance and flexibility.  You don’t want your fence on the ground, but you don’t walls either.  The goal is to have a healthy sense of self and to treat others the way you would like to be treated.

WHAT’S YOUR STORY?

Our church (First Baptist Jenks) has been doing a series called “Who’s Your One?”  It is a focus on personal evangelism, and was born out of our pastor’s heart to reach those who don’t know Christ as Savior and Lord. He is equipping us to share our personal story with that “one” person God lays on our heart.

Why are we so reluctant to share our spiritual journey when we are so eager to share every other aspect of our lives?  Just take a look at social media!  We share EVERTHING!  In fact we sometimes over share.  I confess to being one of the guilty ones.  I love sharing both my random and more profound thoughts.  I like sharing pictures of my family, beautiful vacation spots, and even my dogs.  And, by the way, I love seeing what you post.  And we share in our conversations.  We share where to get the best deals, the best service, the best food or the best workout.  So with all this sharing going on, why is it so hard to talk about God?  What are we afraid of?

We are afraid we won’t do it right, that we will mess it up somehow.  If I am just telling my unique story, how am I going to do it wrong?  I just tell a few details about my life before I became a Christian, how I came to know Jesus, and a little about what life has been like since.  Or if I am talking with someone going through a trial, I may talk about how the Lord walked with me through something similar.  Jesus told us to share as we go (Matt 10:7).  As we are going about our daily business we are to share the gospel. We sometimes think it has to be a formal presentation.  It doesn’t have to be a knock-on-the-door-hit-them-on-the-head-with-a-King-James-Bible thing.  In fact, I think that is where we often get it wrong.  Just share as you go.  That requires stepping out of my own life and actually noticing people.

We are afraid of offending someone.  Or we are afraid of looking foolish.  Guess what? Those things will happen.  The message of the cross is offensive to those who do not believe.  “How can you say there is only one way to God?”  Because Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).  And to the intellectuals, the simplicity of the gospel sounds senseless.  “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18).  Yes, some will be offended, and some will think we are just plain dumb.  But we must share anyway.

We are afraid we don’t know enough about the Bible.  One of my favorite quotes is from D. T. Niles: “Evangelism is just one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.”  You don’t have to understand everything involved in bread making to show someone where to get bread.  You just share your own hunger, how you found it, and where they can get it.  Just share what you know.  You need to be able to have some scriptures ready to share, but it doesn’t have to be a lot.  When I share my story, I quote the verses that moved me, that led me to salvation.

Maybe we are afraid of revealing too much about ourselves, afraid of being vulnerable.  Listen; if you are a Christian, someone took a risk with you.  It could be the neighbor who took notice of you, the friend who invited you to coffee, or the pastor who took the risk of setting his life course in the direction of winning lost souls.  When you share your story, it strengthens you.  Our speaker yesterday said, “Your story should overwhelm you.”  I wish I could tell my story without choking up, but when I think of what God has done in my life I am blown away.  Maybe you think your story is not dramatic enough.  Perhaps you were brought up in a Christian home, came to Christ as a child, and have lived a pretty good life.  The drama is what God saved you from! You were saved from the wrong turns in life, from the damage of sin, and most of all, from the fires of hell. 

So in our church, we have been encouraged to ask God to give us One.  Give us one person to be burdened for, to pray for, and to share with. I know who my One is.  I have told him where the bread is.  The rest is up to God.     

GIRLFRIENDS

This morning as I was listening to the words of I Need Thee Every Hour, I thought about how God is always ready to meet my deepest needs, often before I ask or am even aware of them.  For the past week or so I have been blessed with an abundance of girl time.  It wasn’t really planned to happen all at once…I guess it was just God’s timing. So I’ve had a couple of lunches and even a precious sleepover, a grown-up slumber party.  Some of these girls have been my friends for years and years. Others have been more casual friends, but these friendships have been deepened in the last few days.  I have even been blessed with a new friend.

When I was getting my degrees I had to lay my friendships down for a while.  It was a conscious but difficult decision.  I just didn’t have the time.  Every day was a school day, and for two years those days included a commute to Stillwater and back.  Nights and weekends were for studying, family, and church.  There just weren’t enough hours for joining the ladies who lunch. I say that as if girl lunches are a frivolous thing but to me, they are precious.  However I had to put them on the back burner even after I got my doctorate. Because after school came a time of getting licensed and growing a psychology practice, although I was able to squeeze in a ladies Bible study for a few years.  But life got busy, so I felt I needed to give that up too.

These days I am winding down my career and looking forward to retirement.  And I am finding more time for my women friends.  And I have gone back to that ladies Bible study.  There is just something so special about girl time, the time with trusted friends that allow you to let your hair down and be real.  These are unguarded moments, bound by our love for the Lord.  When we get together we laugh and we cry.  We share our secrets, our hurts, our failures and victories, our fears, and most of all, we share our God.  We pray together.  We pray for each other and for the families we have.  Yesterday a sweet friend showed me a prayer list she carries around on a note card.  She has had it for years.  I recognized many of the names on that card, including my daughters and grandchildren. I had no idea that she had been praying for them all this time.  Another friend has been a mentor and special friend to one of my girls, and I have a special love for her daughter.

As I think about these friendships, I see how God has worked to bring us together.  We have all been interconnected even though we may not have known it.  It may have seen like chance at the time, but looking back I can see His design.  One woman has sweetly pursued time with me. We have a friend in common and the three of us have determined to get together once a month.  Another woman has been walking parallel to me many for many years, but for some of those years we were merely acquaintances.  At one time she actually lived around the corner.    Now I realize the Lord was trying to get my attention.  “You need her in your life!”   I get it, Lord.  A brand new friend hugged me and said how happy she is that God put us together.  I look forward to that friendship deepening.   

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the wonderful women in my family.  I know they have special roles in my life, but I actually likethem.  There is nothing as special as a day with my daughters and granddaughters. Sisters, nieces, and cousins, and those special women who are no longer with us…God has blessed me with many wise and wonderful women.

So this morning in my prayer journal I wrote a thank you note to God.  I thank him for the friendship of godly women.  Some friends I get to see every Sunday at church, while others live far away…one even in Kenya.  Some I haven’t seen in a long time but I still carry them in my heart. I know I could call on them in a time of need, and they could do the same with me.  I have sweet friends I have known since high school, and though I don’t get to see them very often, I still count them as treasured friends. When we get together we pick up right where we left off.  These friends nurture my soul.  I pray the words of the hymn, “God be with Thee till we meet again.”  

I have decided that girl time is essential.  I hope to be a better friend and to do a better job of cultivating and maintaining friendships.  And I pray that I will be aware when God brings an important relationship right in front of my face.  I need my tribe of special women.

WANT STORMS

I want a new car.  I want to take a cruise.  I want a designer handbag, a kitchen remodel..no a bigger house, a boat…heck, make that a yacht!  I want, I want, I want!  Does any of this sound familiar?  Everyday we are assaulted with advertisements designed to convince us that we need more stuff, more exciting experiences. If you dwell on these messages you might even convince yourself that you are entitled to these things.  And if all these messages were not enough, you have the Joneses.  You know, those friends and acquaintances that have the shiny new thing.  The upwardly mobile that keep attaining higher status, while you stay stuck in the same place.

This morning while I was getting dressed I was daydreaming about something I want to do, a place I want to go.  The longer I thought about it, the more it changed from a daydream to an actual plan. I’m really ashamed to admit this, because I get to go a lot.  It’s not like I’m travel-deprived.  But before I could start googling hotels, the Holy Spirit chimed in.  “Have you talked to the Lord about this?  Is this the best way to spend money?  Is there something else you should be doing?  Then I remembered a Bible verse:

Godliness with contentment is great gain1 Timothy 6:6 NIV

The New Living Translation specifies “true godliness,” and “great wealth.”  God wants me to seek Him, not more stuff.  He wants me to experience contentment.  Contentment is a great feeling. It is awareness that I have everything I need. It is a stillness of soul.  But when I get caught in a “want storm,” it doesn’t feel good.  A want storm is an endless craving for more and more, bigger and better, shinier and prettier.  And that craving is never satisfied with material things.  

God desires to give me “great wealth.”  The truth is, He has already provided it, He just wants me to be aware, to experience it. A few weeks ago I received a phone call at work from an attorney in Canada looking for an heir to an estate he was representing.  Even though I knew there was no way it could be me, for a brief second I had that “what if” feeling, excitement over a surprise bequest.  I think we have all had that fleeting thought of inheriting from a long-lost uncle.  Well Jesus, as my Elder Brother has left me a fortune!  When I am sitting quietly with Him, I have access to it.  And I am then gratefully aware of all the blessings He has bestowed on me.  I am content.

Lord, forgive me for the times I get caught up in wanting material things that never satisfy.  Teach me to be always aware of the difference between wants and needs.  Create a spirit of gratitude in me so that I am always mindful of my blessings.  Teach me “true godliness” and help me to seek after it.  And thank you for the “great wealth” that comes with knowing You.

And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus.   Phil. 4:19 NLT