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Archive for the ‘Appreciation’ Category

 

The summers of my childhood included a blend of games and activities with neighborhood friends, afternoons at the community pool, bike rides to the library, and a few weeks spent with Grandma Clara and Grandpa Henry who lived four hours away in Iowa.

No doubt some would describe our summer experiences as mundane, not realizing the joy hidden among the ordinary:

  • The delight of lazy Monopoly marathons
  • The wonder of fireflies in a jar
  • The satisfaction of a big bowl of buttery popcorn–after biking to the park and spending several hours of nonstop cavorting in the pool, then biking home again
  • The pleasure of tucking ourselves under the willow tree to read
  • The fun of an evening bike ride with Dad

 

 

It’s the small, happy moments—not the grand events—that contribute to satisfying days and a joy-filled life.

 

The joy of small…makes life large.

–Ann Voskamp (1)

 

However, I have to admit: my childhood-self took those lovely moments for granted. I lived unaware of God’s glory pervading my everyday experiences: his creative genius on display—even in the backyard, his love, peace, and security within a family grounded on Christian values, and his goodness to provide joy-filled moments that shimmer in my memory with holy perfection.

Now, as the decades have passed, I’m learning to identify more of the transcendent moments God provides, including:

 

 

  • A cardinal filling the silence of the woods with his hope-inspiring “Cheer! Cheer! Cheer!”
  • A toddler wrapping her arms around my neck and crying, “I love you!”
  • A devotional that speaks exactly what I need to hear
  • An opportunity to encourage a waitress and see her concern turn to hope
  • A small gathering of family and friends quickly ballooning to twelve—with much laughter, camaraderie, and delightful conversation

 

 

God’s glory is on display right “in the middle of our minutes” (2).

 

So each night before falling asleep, let’s measure the moments of our days:

  • Taking note of God’s blessings and the delights of his creation; singing our praise for his breath-taking handiwork (Psalm 92:4; Job 5:9).
  • Thanking God for the camaraderie and conversation, hugs and support among family members and friends who keep us strong (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10).
  • Counting the riches that result from abiding in God, beginning with peace (Isaiah 26:3), stability (Psalm 16:8), and contentment (1 Timothy 6:6).
  • Celebrating the honor of ministering to others in Jesus’ name (Matthew 25:40), giving us purpose and cultivating fulfillment in our spirits.
  • Delighting in the opportunities to smile, laugh, and find moments of joy—even in the midst of trouble or frustration (Proverbs 17:22).

 

“Laughter is to life what shock absorbers are to automobiles.

It won’t take the potholes out of the road,

but it sure makes the ride smoother.”

–Barbara Johnson

 

 

And just as inches are measured into feet, so we can measure meaningful moments into satisfying days and a joy-filled life–because God is in them.

 

What meaningful moments are at the top of your list for today?  Please share in the comments section below!

 

Notes:

  1. One Thousand Gifts, Zondervan, 2010, p. 167.
  2. Sara Hagerty, Unseen, Zondervan, 2017, p. 109.

 

(Photo credits:  http://www.geauxguard.la.gov; http://www.pixnio.com; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.pxhere.com; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.pexels.com.)

 

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Several years ago our daughter dashed off two love notes and hid them in our house just before she and her family returned to their home, more than 2,300 miles away. You can imagine those little notes provided delightful, heartwarming surprise upon discovery. And I’ve kept them, to enjoy again and again.

God also leaves love notes tucked here and there into every day.

Love notes like:

 

 

  • A butterfly casually flitting above the traffic in a busy intersection—a dash of delicate beauty amidst concrete and steel

 

  • The welcome aroma of coffee wafting from the kitchen while golden sunbeams stream in the windows

 

 

 

  • Enthusiastic greetings and hugs whenever we see the granddaughters

 

  • The first fireflies of the season, drifting upward out of the grass and underbrush to float among the trees—soft, flickering lights, waltzing to silent music

 

 

  • A hummingbird lighting upon a flower at one end of the deck planter, even as I’m trimming sprigs at the other. A Close-Encounter-of-the-God-Kind if ever there was one.

 

 

  • Lost keys, found. I had dropped them at the grocery store somehow; ‘didn’t even know they were missing for more than twenty-four hours. But God kept them safe for me, and inspired some kind person to turn them in–an unmistakable love note of his compassionate care.

 

Some of God’s love notes actually include words—but not always from the Word.

 

 

Recently at the hairdresser’s I happened to pick up a secular magazine to pass the time. In her introductory letter, the editor wrote about her grandmothers and their important influence in her life. She reaffirmed that investing in our grandchildren is highly worthwhile, and they do remember love expressed, attention bestowed, and examples set.

Her words suddenly became God’s words, and tears came to my eyes. There is significance in the repetition of Goodnight Moon, “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” and pony rides. There is power in appreciation for primitive artwork, impromptu dances, and weed bouquets. There is influence in affirming strong effort, perseverance, and the courage to try new things.

 

Granddaughter #2,

building a stool for her doll with wood scraps–

with a little help from Dad

 

Also recently, I encountered a restaurant worker cleaning the drink station as I approached to pump my herbal tea. We exchanged the typical “hellos-and-how-are-yous.   Her greeting was especially positive and cheerful.

“Are you really that fine?” I asked, leaning forward in order to make eye contact.

“Yes, ma’am,” she exclaimed with enthusiasm. “God is so good, I can’t complain!”

“I feel the same!” I answered. “God has been incredibly good to us too.”

The woman finished her task and turned to leave, with more praise on her lips. I wish I could remember her exact words. Nonetheless, I do know those several moments with her provided another love note of affirmation from God, stirring up gratitude and joy in my spirit.

 

 

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

 

Lord, open my eyes to find all your love notes, prepared for me each precious day of life. Then nudge me to turn every note into praise, and joyfully celebrate you.

 

 (from http://www.quotefancy.com)

 

Oh, yes. Let me one of those who takes off her shoes.

 

What love note have you received from God recently?  Tell us about it in the comment section below!

 

(Photo credits:  Nancy Ruegg; http://www.geograph.ie; http://www.pxhere.com; http://www.wikimedia.org; http://www.wikipedia.org; http://www.pxhere.com; Eric Ruegg; http://www.dailyverses.net; http://www.quotefacy.com.)

 

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In the midst of my harried day

When I seem farthest from myself

A moment comes to me and beckons,

“Let us fly away.”

 

Shutting out the din

Of the never-ending to-do

I close my eyes and begin

To wander in thoughts sublime;

And gather flowers in my mind.

 

–Tara Afriat*

 

Such delightful imagery Tara creates with that last line. But I wonder, what sublime thoughts might be worthy of a bouquet in my mind?  So far, five varieties have occurred to me:

 

1. Humor offers blooms of joy.

 

 

Just recently my husband was hospitalized and underwent a number of tests. When an orderly came to accompany Steve to a procedure he announced, “One CT scan, coming up. Would you like fries with that?”

I’m thinking a new journal specifically for humor might be fun to keep (and savor later).

 

2. Quotes provide blooms of wisdom, encouragement, and beauty.

Isn’t it amazing how a few well-chosen words can suddenly enlighten our understanding or give us eyes to see what was invisible just moments before?

A recent addition in my quote journal offers wisdom, encouragement, and the potential for beauty:

 

 

“Make one person happy every day and in forty years

you’ll have made 14,600 human beings happy

for a little time at least.”

–Unknown

 

Such encouragement gives wise perspective to the impact of small kindnesses, doesn’t it?   And what fun to cause 14,600 beautiful smiles!

 

3. Observations become blooms of refreshment.

 

 

Another journal on my shelf is titled “A Celebration of Small Things.” Each day I record at least one observation worth noting, because:

 

“A grateful heart is one

that finds the countless blessings of God

in the seemingly mundane of

every day life.”

–Anonymous

 

Pages of entries over the last two years remind me of just how blessed I am. For example:

January 10, 2017: “The birds are singing a “Hallelujah Chorus” of their own this morning, in celebration of the sudden balmy temperatures—into the upper 50s!”

 

 

Review of such moments does refresh my attitude.

 

4. Kindness creates blooms of grace.

In 1987 I began a journal to document God’s grace. So far, the record of more than 1300 entries offers sublime flower-gathering in my mind. Again, one example:

1996/97 proved to be a particularly challenging year at the school where I taught. Frustration plagued many of us faculty members. In late September I confessed to my early morning prayer group my difficulty in letting go of annoyance, and Betty prayed for me.

Minutes later as I drove to school, my attention was drawn to bright sunbeams radiating from behind great billowing clouds. It seemed the windows of heaven had been opened, and the glory of God on his throne radiated from just beyond that cloud bank. I could almost hear him saying, “You’re going to be fine—I’m right here to help you!”

 

 

Betty’s kind prayer and that God-given sky-reminder provided perfect affirmation. And now, that entry and many like it remind me: My Heavenly Father has been ever-faithful in the past; I can trust him for the future.

 

5. Scripture provides blooms of truth.

Within the pages of the Bible we find a variety of flowers for the mind, including those mentioned here: wisdom, encouragement, beauty, refreshment, and grace. But the most important is truth. Absolute truth.

We live in a time when relative truth is embraced by many, but:

 

 

(“Truth is incontrovertible. Malice may attack it,

ignorance may deride it, but in the end, there it is.”

–Winston Churchill)

 

The wise person seeks after truth—truth that revives the soul, gives joy to the heart, and provides insight for a well-lived life. That’s exactly what the Bible provides (Psalm 19:7-8).**

One psalmist who reveled in scripture wrote: “Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long” (Psalm 119:97).

And no wonder. The Bible is a continual source of flowers for the mind—of the very best, wisest, and most beautiful kind.

 

Where do you gather flowers of the mind? Share with us in the Comment section below!

__________________________________

 

*Quoted from Soul Retreats for Busy People, compiled by Lila Emspon

 

**If you’re not sure whether scripture is reliable truth or not, I recommend Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis, The Reason for God by Timothy Keller, or The Reason Why Faith Makes Sense by Mark Mittleberg. It is the honest person who invites God to reveal himself.

 

Photo credits:  http://www.pexels.com; http://www.wikimedia.com; http://www.pixabay.com (2); http://www.nps.gov;  http://www.pocketshare.speedofcreativity.org; http://www.azquotes.com.

 

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In the town where I lived till age ten, great elm trees bordered a number of the residential streets. Their wide-reaching branches stretched across the pavement and met in the middle, creating a thick, verdant archway in the summertime.

As we walked or drove underneath, the view was dominated by tree trunks—sentries of the streets in two straight rows.

One stand-alone tree, tall and far spread, is an inspiration, as Joyce Kilmer’s famous poem attests. But a double row stretching to the horizon? That’s a wondrous sight you don’t forget—even after six decades.

Not long ago I came across an observation of Charles Spurgeon, based on just such a view. And immediately I thought of those stately elms of my hometown:

 

“We delight to look down a long avenue of trees.

It is pleasing to gaze from end to end of the long vista.

Even so look down the long aisles of your years,

at the green boughs of mercy overhead

and the strong pillars of loving-kindness

and faithfulness which bear up your joys.”

(Morning by Morning, p. 366).

 

 

What better time to look down those aisles of our years than this week of Thanksgiving?

Down my own personal road…

…I do see the green boughs of mercy—times when God treated me with grace and compassion that I did not deserve—even in small matters.

One example out of many:  the time I forgot to order new books for the women’s Bible study at church. (This was long before amazon.com and priority shipping.) An emergency run to the Christian bookstore was necessary.

While driving there, I prayed to find sufficient copies of a worthwhile study that we could complete in the necessary time frame: eight weeks.

I know, I know. Such specific requirements. But sure enough, God supplied exactly what was needed, in spite of my foolish forgetfulness.

 

(Women too!)

 

…I see the strong pillars of loving-kindness—times when God demonstrated his tender and compassionate affection.

Again, one example out of many: I spilled a bit of coffee on my computer and the mouse died. Steve tried the hair dryer trick, and miraculously, my mouse came back to life.

But Steve would be the first to tell you God gets the credit, first for bringing to his mind that solution, and because “every good and perfect gift comes from above”—even problem-solving power.

 

 

…I see the strong pillars of faithfulness—times when God demonstrated his firm and devoted support.

Just a list of categories is quite long. God offers protection and provision, equipping and encouragement, instruction and guidance, comfort and strength, forgiveness and restoration, support and deliverance, healing and blessing. Surely there are even more.

Often, God expresses his strong and loving support through his Word.

One morning while settling in for a quiet time, I opened my Bible first instead of the study guide. “Wake up,” I chided myself. “You don’t even know what scripture you’ll be studying today.”

I turned to the morning’s lesson and discovered my Bible was already open to the proper page, and the prescribed verse was right at the top. Before even reading the verse I felt a strong impression from God: “Nancy, this scripture is for you today.”

Now before I reveal the verse, let me explain that just a few days prior I’d received disturbing news. Hurt and discouragement were fighting against faith and hope in my spirit.

So imagine my astonishment when I read, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand” (John 13:7).  An overflow of joy in my heart became tears in my eyes. He saw my distress and came alongside with encouragement and support.

 

 

No doubt you have stories of your own green boughs of mercy and strong pillars of loving-kindness and faithfulness, as you gaze down the long aisle of your years.

I’d love to hear one of your examples; I’m sure other readers would too.

Please share in the comment section below, and together we can praise our God for the wonders he has performed (Psalm 105:5a)!

 

(Photo credits:  http://www.strongtowns.org (Daniel Jeffries); http://www.pixabay.com; http://www.heartlight.org; http://www.canva.com (2).

 

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Some believe that indulging in memories is a waste of time, that past events have no meaning for the present. But nothing could be further from the truth— especially if we acknowledge God’s part in those events.

When we include God in our remembering:

  1. We gain a sense of perspective.

Even difficult times are part of God’s plan. Sometimes, with the gift of hindsight, we catch a glimpse of his purpose later.

For example, how many students have struggled through school, yet in adulthood flourished in careers well matched to their gifts? Most of them are actually thankful for the early challenges, because they learned perseverance and developed strength of character. Those late-bloomers are often compassionate and understanding toward other strugglers, because they remember the difficulties of those formative years.

 

 

  1. We acquire wisdom for today.

“Reflective thinking turns experience into insight.”

–John Maxwell

In my younger days I used to be a champion talker. But somewhere along the way I began to notice the listeners—caring folks who often demonstrated the gentle and quiet spirit Peter spoke of (1 Peter 3:3). They reminded me of my sweet grandmother.

I valued that demeanor and began to turn insight into a new experience of focused listening. (Please understand: practice hasn’t achieved perfection yet. But improvement? Yes.)

 

  1. We build a foundation of stability for today as we remember God’s grace and faithfulness in the past.

But memories easily fade. So some believers keep a book of remembrance or a praise journal, as a way to savor God’s faithfulness.

Just for fun, I randomly opened my loose leaf praise journal in search of an entry to share with you. Here’s what I wrote, December 23, 2003, about our older son, who was in college at the time:

 

 

(“Eric got a new job yesterday and it starts today! The owner of the bike shop has not paid Eric for ten days, but a friend offered him a job in their family’s fireplace shop at the same salary.”)

Entry after entry highlight God’s provision, protection, and guidance through the years. And each memory contributes to my foundation of stability.

 

  1. We foster gratitude in our hearts.

As you can see, the entry recorded above ends with: “Thank you, Lord, for answering our prayers and providing for Eric.”  Joy just naturally overflowed into appreciation.

On the opposing page I wrote, “I am overwhelmed, Lord, by this continuing string of blessings. You are SO good to us, always demonstrating your faithfulness and grace. May your praise continually be on my lips!”

Research has now proven a number of benefits of gratitude.*  But surely one of the best: it nurtures a contented soul.

 

 

  1. We can turn remembering into a beautiful act of worship. 

That’s exactly what scripture invites us to do: 

“Rejoice in all the good which the Lord your God has given to you and your house” (Deuteronomy 26:11).

Praise the name of the Lord your God, who has done wondrously with you” (Joel 2:26b).

“You make me glad by your deeds, O Lord; I sing for joy at the works of your hands” (Psalm 92:4).

 

 

Such glorious cause and effect! Remembering God’s wonderful deeds of the past turns our hearts to worship, which causes a powerful, positive impact on the present.

 

  1. We can tell our stories of God’s miracles and mercies, to encourage the faith of others and refresh our own.

Scripture invites us to do that too: 

“I will tell of the kindness of the Lord, the deeds for which he is to be praised, according to all he has done for us” (Isaiah 63:7).

.

 

So let’s begin here! Please share in the comment section below about a kindness, miracle, or mercy of God from your memory. And together we can praise the name of the Lord who has worked wonders for us!

 

* Another post details some of those benefits, “Happiness.”

 

Art & photo credits:  http://www.flickr.com; http://www.nellis.af.mil; Nancy Ruegg (3); http://www.heartlight.org.

 

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(Cincinnati Music Hall)

 

Recently my daughter-in-love and granddaughter invited me to accompany them to “Sing Hallelujah, Cincinnati!”–an event at our city music hall.

Vocal groups and instrumentalists from the metropolitan area participated, presenting music around the theme, “Hallelujah.” The experience turned out to be much more than I expected.

First, a brass band came marching in from the back, playing a jazz rendition of Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus”–New Orleans style. By the time they exited out a side door at the front, we weren’t just applauding, we were smiling.

The genial atmosphere created by Cincy Brass was further enhanced by the relaxed and friendly master of ceremonies, Mr. Dilworth. In his opening remarks, he explained the meaning of hallelujah: to express joy and to praise God. And that’s exactly what we did for the next hour or so.

 

 

First, Mr. Dilworth taught the audience a hallelujah song, one segment at a time. Then he challenged us with a descant part. The final effort combining tune and harmony turned out quite pleasing. We applauded again, for Mr. Dilworth’s talented direction and our surprisingly good performance. Now we were smiling even more broadly.

Perhaps Mr. Dilworth knows the research: “Singing corporately produces a chemical change in our bodies that contributes to a sense of bonding” (1).

For the rest of the evening, one choir and ensemble after another wowed us with a broad range of music, including classical, traditional, ethnic (Ukrainian and African), gospel, spiritual, bluegrass, and jazz.

 

 

What made the occasion distinctive, however, was the racial mix among performers and audience members. And as the evening unfolded, the music became a catalyst for unity among us—in spite of various ethnic groups and a wide variety of musical genre.

Even though all of the pieces sung and played could not possibly be everyone’s favored styles, the entire audience clapped (Some even gave a shout now and then!) in enthusiastic appreciation for all participants.

We were bonded together in a unity of gratitude.

Also among us flourished the unity of contentment. For one hour we sat companionably immersed in the mutual pleasure of music.  Any rough edges of tension that might cause strain in other circumstances were smoothed over on this occasion–by the hallelujahs of praise.

Finally, there was the unity of joy—evident in the continuous smiles and occasional laughter.

And where there is joy there is the presence of God (Psalm 16:11).

 

 

It’s probable not all participants and attendees were Christians. Most of the groups who performed would be categorized as secular.

But for this one evening, whether folks knew it or not, we drew close to God through grateful, contented, and joyful praise.   And as a glorious byproduct, found ourselves drawn closer to one another.

 

 

Note:

(1) Bob Kauflin (member of GLAD vocal band for thirty years), https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/words-of-wonder-what-happens-when-we-sing

 

Art & photo credits:  http://www.wikimedia.com; http://www.canva.com; http://www.jba.af.mil (Jordyn Fetter); http://www.quotefancy.com; http://www.dailyverses.net; http://www.pixabay.com.

 

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Numerous times in the Bible we’re reminded that the Lord is our strength. We’re promised that out of his infinite power he will supply the wherewithal to withstand any strain, force, or stress.

 

 

The question becomes, how do we avail ourselves of God’s glorious might?

The answer may lie in just three strategies: affirm, trust, and thank.

 

1) AFFIRM such scriptural realities as God’s sovereignty over all things, his power at work on our behalf, and his constant, loving presence to sustain us (1).

 

 

We can direct our thoughts toward the promises he’s made to help, guide, and protect (2). In fact, scripture contains dozens of promises that offer hope and encouragement for any situation, because:  “He who promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:23 NIV).

 

 

Asserting biblical truth hour by hour, even moment by moment, results in spiritual strength, much as repetitive moves with weights build physical strength.

Also beneficial to affirm: what we’ve seen God do in the past. Has a surprise check arrived in the mail—almost to the penny of what was needed? Have you escaped a car collision by that much? Has the answer to a prayer far exceeded the request? God has granted such miracles in our family, too.

 

 

 

And that brings us to the second strategy, trust.

 

2) TRUST that the God of perfection will be true to his Word and keep his promises.

But when fretful thoughts do threaten, we can bring them before God with total honesty, just as King David did in the psalms (3). Next, we can return to the Affirm Strategy (above)—which David also embraced. Third, we simply do the next thing, refusing to worry about tomorrow.

 

 

And a trusting heart is a thankful heart.

 

3) THANK God at every opportunity. Even in the midst of trials, we can find joy:

  • In Him and all his glorious attributes
  • In his Word, where we find comfort and encouragement
  • In creation, with all his meticulous handiwork and grand displays
  • In the people around us, with their expressions of loving concern and help
  • Through the five senses, providing unlimited delight

And the joy of the Lord will be our strength (Nehemiah 8:10).

 

 

These three strategies–affirming, trusting, and thanking—will enable us to move through each day with grace and a light spirit, just as a deer gracefully and lightly clears obstacles and scales rocky peaks, because:

 

 

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

Oh, Lord, keep me mindful that no one is exempt from trouble in this sin-wracked world, but you rule supreme and will engineer good even from the worst of circumstances. Help me to be ever-conscious of the ways I can avail myself of your strength. And may I learn not just to withstand stressful times, but actually flourish in the midst of them.

 

 

Notes:

(1) 1 Chronicles 29:11-12; Isaiah 64:4; Deuteronomy 31:6

(2) Isaiah 41:10; Psalm 32:8 & 12:5b

(3) Psalm 10, 13, 31, and 102 offer examples of psalms that begin with lament and end with praise.

 

P.S. A personal update: Steve received his first chemo treatment this week to keep the cancer from growing and spreading to other organs as we wait for a liver transplant. The anti-cancer drug was applied directly to the tumors. We were warned he might experience pain, nausea, fever, and/or other side effects. But except for some discomfort and fatigue he has been fine. We continue to praise God for his faithfulness!

 

(Art & photo credits:  http://www.canva.com (2); http://www.christianqotes.info; http://www.dailyverses.net; http://www.brainyquote.com; http://www.quotefancy.com; http://www.canva.com; http://www.dailyverses.net; http://www.brainquotes.org.)

 

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