Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Counting Our Blessings

Thanksgiving was upon us, but I felt I had very little to be thankful for that year. The past few months had brought tremendous upheaval and sorrow to our family. Without warning, a national company I worked for was closing their doors, eliminating, on short notice, a good portion of our household income. My mother-in law, the dear mother of my husband and beloved grandmother of my children, was diagnosed with untreatable liver cancer. This would be the last Thanksgiving we would spend together.

So it was with a heavy heart I sat in our little church that Wednesday evening, pondering the morrow when we would gather around the table to give thanks. Grabbing the hymnbook from its appointed place, I turned to the correct page as directed by the pastor. It was, I suppose, a great choice for the holiday at hand, but as the church family began to sing, “Count your blessings, name them one by one, count your blessings see what God has done, Count your blessings, name them one by one…” I simply didn’t have the heart to continue. I knew God was good. I knew he would see us through this difficult time. I knew his promises were true. But at that moment, I could not think of a single blessing worth counting.

When the service concluded, an elderly woman who was acquainted with our family came up and stopped in the aisle. Not really wanting to talk, I turned to the task at hand, that of trying to contain our four rowdy children who were anxious to leave the church pew to which they had been confined. Seeing I was flustered, I expected her to hurry on, but she would not be dissuaded.

With a twinkle in her eyes she proclaimed, “Such joy must be yours as you can not only count, but name your blessings.” Then she did something I will never foreget. Making her way down to where the children were, she proceeded to tap each child gently on the head as she spoke their names, “Loren, Sharon, Brett, Laura… one, two three, four." Turning again to me she proclaimed, "My dear you will find your blessings multiplied many times over during the years to come in the lives of these four. Cherish them, nourish them, enjoy them.” And with that, she gave a quick hug and walked down the aisle and out the doors of the church.

Eighteen years removed from that Thanksgiving eve, I find myself remembering and rejoicing as I realize just how true were the words of that sweet saint. In our prolonged season of difficulty and sorrow, God not only gave unto us “beauty for ashes and the oil of joy for mourning”, but he used that very time to draw us into a closer relationship with him. In that seemingly endless season of brokenness, a fresh, sweet fragrance of God’s love permeated our hearts. Out of the depths of despair was born a passionate love for Jesus, which would grow and bear much fruit in the lives of each of our children.

This Thanksgiving I find it difficult once again to count my blessings, not because they are few but because they have become innumerable. As we continue to cherish, nourish and enjoy those whom God has entrusted to our care, our hearts are filled with praise and thanksgiving to the One who has been faithful. He alone is worthy of our praise.

Whether you are walking through difficult days or times of rejoicing, it is my prayer that each of us might join with the four and twenty elders who surround the throne saying, “Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honor, and power, and might be unto our God for ever and ever. Amen.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Melody

From the far corners of the earth they had come, if not to bid, at least determined to catch a glimpse of the masterpiece to be offered. It was said no other violin in the world could match the one to be auctioned off that afternoon. To the highest bidder it would go; an instrument capable of rendering such an exquisite sound one would sell all his worldly goods to gain it’s possession. Who would be counted worthy to own such a piece?

A hush descended upon the crowd as he entered the room. A rapid crescendo of whispers followed until at last the auctioneer sounded his gavel. Of course, who better to purchase the old master’s violin than the one who had trained under him for all those years? Who but he could produce the haunting melody that left one longing for more, saddened that such a tune would ever end. Though the bids continued higher and higher, everyone knew it was he who would emerge victorious. There could be no other. It was as it should be.

Stillness crept over the hall as he cradled the violin in his arms, rapt attention given to the moment his gifted hands would bring bow and strings together. Eyes closed in anticipation, few noticed as he carefully began removing the violin’s strings, gently placing them in the aged case. Disappointed swept through the crowd as he began to explain. It would take time to fine tune such an instrument. Perhaps next week he would give a concert, perhaps next month or maybe next year. He would let them know. And with that, he turned and walked out the door.

Years passed, and those who knew him well said he was never again the same. To have such a violin in his possession was more than he could comprehend. Surely he could never recreate the beautiful melody that had flowed so freely from his master’s skillful hands. It was said he spent the remainder of his days stringing and unstringing the violin, never playing the tune for which it was made.

Has God bestowed upon you gifts that are intended to encourage your family, your friends, your sisters in Christ? Has he enabled you to minister to children or worship Him in song, to greet those who walk through the doors Sunday morning or to open your home and invite women in for a time of coffee and fellowship? Has he filled you with compassion to care for the ill or visit the lonely? Has he given you resources to share with those in need…to be the answer to someone’s prayer? Has he simply given you the ability to open your heart to someone in need of a friend?

Romans 12 tells us we have each been given “gifts that differ according to the grace given us”. The choice is yours. God masterfully orchestrates a beautiful symphony of praise. Will you remain in the wings, fine tuning the gifts you have been given or will you choose to let your life become a part of God’s melody? Choose wisely that one day you might hear those words, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.”

Saturday, November 1, 2008

As I Forgive Those...

The call itself was not so unusual. Over the years we would keep in touch and always it was as though no time had passed since last we spoke. Maybe it was a question I asked, maybe it was the very reason she had called, but whatever the cause, it wasn’t long until the tears began to flow and years of anger and hurt and gripping sorrow tumbled out across the line. Twelve years since the bond of marriage had been severed, twelve years since a relationship was shattered and still the pain continued to wear away at her soul.

I grieved for the broken relationship that had strewn heartache and misery in her path. In the wake of her broken marriage angry words had ensued and accusations had been made. The very cords of love which had served to bind the extended family together soon unraveled. Those with whom she had once shared sweet fellowship were now banished from ever crossing the threshold of her home. There seemed to be no balm that would heal the wound.

Now, word had reached her that the one who had so wounded her was nearing life’s end. The pain has surfaced anew, but she has vowed he will be long in his grave before she will offer forgiveness. And all the while, the tears flowed.

The significance of those words struck home several weeks later as I attended the funeral of another who had suffered a broken relationship. Raised by God-fearing parents, he had once seemed to draw near to Jesus. But like my friend, he was left hurt and bitter by the rejection of one who had professed to love him. The years had never seemed to ease the pain and rather than turning to the One who had suffered the greatest rejection of all time, he chose to sever all ties with the One who had died to offer him the greatest gift of all. Only God knows the eternal price of a broken relationship.

Forgiveness is not easy. Peter knew this to be true. He came to Jesus that day and asked “Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Till seven times? Jesus answered him, “I say not unto thee, seven times: but seventy times seven.”

Realizing how difficult this would be, the apostles said unto the Lord, “Increase our faith!”

As I gaze upon the cross and hear the words of Jesus which echo through the ages, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do”, may I humbly pray every day, “My Father who art in Heaven….forgive me my trespasses as I forgive those who have trespassed against me.”