Recently, my wife and I embarked on a plan to reach out to people who are different from us—spiritually, ethnically, and otherwise. Why take on this challenge? We’ve experienced the grace and blessing of God, and we want to bless Him by loving others who are also made in His image. It’s interesting, however, that even as we’ve strived to bless Him, we’ve been greatly blessed by God through these new relationships!
As the father of four children, I tell them four words nearly every day: “You should be thankful!” I say it to them during dinner when they turn up their noses at vegetables. I say it to them when they want to get a toy that “all” their friends have. For my kids, and I suspect for many of us, giving thanks to God is an individual discipline—the proper response to what He’s done.
My friend noticed that his maple tree was shedding leaves prematurely. The tree doctor told him his tree was suffering from a girdling root. It had taken 30 years, but the offending root had encircled the tree and was now slowly choking it. If my friend didn’t dig down and hack the root off, the tree would die.
A pastor wanted to break his church out of their formal traditions and nudge them in a fresh direction. He sensed that the congregation’s formality was discouraging the local community from walking through the church’s doors. So he began to take small steps to help them change.
I started this year with great enthusiasm. Having mapped out a strategy for pointing the youth ministry at my church toward loving God and loving people, I shared it with some colleagues and off we went! Well, 6 months later, I did an evaluation and found we had made only minuscule progress. Discouragement covered me like a dark cloud.
Our young daughter Katelyn enjoys playing solitaire, but she lacks the patience to persist through the difficult points in the game. Instead of trying to solve being “stuck,” she’ll simply start a new game. I’ve challenged her not to give up but to seek the next available move.
Imagine going on a missions trip without your luggage. No change of clothing! Oh, and no money or credit card either. So, you can forget about buying the basic necessities you might need while you’re away.
Last week I took my adopted son and his buddy (whom my friends adopted from Ethiopia) to the beach where I grew up in Florida. Watching the boys as they splashed in the gulf, played in the sand, and curiously poked at a dead jellyfish that had washed up on the shore, I marveled at God’s work in their lives.
Today I read a eulogy written by a man in memory of his 6-year-old daughter who died of leukemia. “Our daughter was full of gratitude for God and others,” the father shared. “She carried a little purse—containing paper and colored pencils—with her wherever she went so she could write thank-you cards when someone gave her a gift or did something nice for her.”
As I sat in the surgical waiting room, I had plenty of time to think. I’d been here before. The last time, the outcome was bad—very bad. On that day, we received the news that my only brother was “brain dead”—two devastating words.