April McGowan

Count Your Blessings

Here in the US it’s Thanksgiving week. It’s a time when a lot of people sit down and consider their lives and give thanks for what they have. I’ve struggled with this a lot since the diagnosis of my illness. It’s hard for me to thank the Lord for things that other people don’t have. Well-meaning people were telling me to be thankful I wasn’t sicker. But, when I joined support groups for my disease, there were plenty of people who were more ill than me. Did I feel I was more blessed than them?

People thank God for their houses and cars and their health. They thank Him for their secure job, their wonderful marriages, and their perfect kids. I mean, we’re told to count our blessings. But, what if what we think of as blessings aren’t limited to these things?

There are millions and billions of people who don’t have a laundry list of what the world would consider to be good things in their lives. They were just diagnosed with a scary disease, their spouses have betrayed them; they might be losing their homes, their jobs, their kids. Does this mean God doesn’t love them as much as the guy in the big house in the fancy neighborhood next to you?

Very simply: no. God’s Word says He loves His children and cares for them.

So, what if blessings aren’t all about these things; what if the Father’s ‘good’ is something different? His ultimate goal for us isn’t that we live in cushy houses and have everything we think we want. Rather, it’s having a personal, real, intimate relationship with Him.

Don’t get me wrong—it’s not bad to thank God for all the good things in your life—our hearts are to be grateful. But, we’re told to be thankful in ALL things. Thankful for suffering? Yes. Thankful for heartache? That, too.

Think of this: if we’re only thankful for the things we like, then when we hit on hard times (and there will be plenty) then we’re going to be tempted to think that God is displeased with us. That maybe He doesn’t love us as His word promises. That maybe He even hates us.

I can stand here today and say I’m thankful for my illness. I mean it. It’s not easy to say—but it’s true. I’ve seen a lot of blessings come out of this. I’ve met some amazing, encouraging people. I’ve been astounded by their faith in the Lord. Most importantly, I’ve become more assured than ever in the reality of the Father and His hand in my life.

So, as the song says, when we count our many blessings—maybe you should be thinking about the friends you’ve made during your trials; about your ability to come alongside others in their sufferings; and ultimately about the closeness you feel to the Father when He carries you through another day.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (full text here)

John 3:16-21 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God. (full text here)

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You’ve Got A Friend

I might have mentioned once or twice that we homeschool. There are many reasons we’ve chosen to do so, and I won’t take the time to list them now. But I have to say, the evidence we saw last week solidified our certainty in our choice even more so.

We’ve had doubters in our lives. People that thought we were nuts to take on the job of teaching the kids. And more so, people that were worried about how they were being socialized. For some reason, folks outside the homeschooling environment have the idea that the best way to socialize kids is to throw them into a room with forty students, one teacher and an aid, and hope all will work out for the best. Coming from that environment, I can say that didn’t work out so well for me.

Back to last week: My children were invited to a friend’s birthday party. In attendance were a number of homeschooled children, ages sixteen down to nine (I’m not including the nineteen year old in this, because, legally he’s not a child, and he’s a college student now-you know who you are and you can thank me later). We were at a family-fun center, playing mini-golf, video games, laser tag and the like. In the package, they had the choice of a virtual ride or go-karts. Of course, they all rushed to the go-karts and got in line.

The two youngest (one being my son) were tall enough to ride in the go-karts, but unbeknownst to us, if they were under a certain age, they couldn’t ride alone, and that the other person had to be an adult. The adults didn’t have tickets. So, out of the line came two teary-eyed kids, leaving the rest behind. We walked away, deciding to try and look on the brighter side and comfort those who were left out of the fun.

Here’s the neat part: Quite suddenly all the rest of the kids (six of them) showed up around us. They’d, as a group, decided it wasn’t fair that they went on the go-karts when the younger two couldn’t go and instead opted for the virtual ride where they could all take part. Now, let me be clear—those six WANTED to go on the go-karts. Those six were mostly teens. And no adults tried to encourage them in any way, shape or form. In fact, we adults were heading inside with the younger ones.

I can’t tell you how good that made my son feel. His friends (one of them, his sister) had sacrificed their fun time out of a sense of fair-play and togetherness. They said, “It wouldn’t be right us getting to go and them feeling badly at a party.”

I can honestly say it’s been NEVER since I’d seen a mixed peer group give up something they wanted to do just so two little kids wouldn’t feel badly. I don’t know about you, but my heart warmed at the selflessness of those older ones. Yes, it was just a ride, and they went on to have fun on another ride—but it’s those little things that solidify relationships, reveal kindness and build us up. I was so glad to witness it.

 1 Thessalonians 5:11 Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. (Full text here.)

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Wishing You Were Here

The past few years have been a struggle for my family health-wise. I’ve shared as much on my blog. This has made it hard for us to take vacations. But a couple months back, we planned one down to northern California, to see a good portion of our family—one of those being my Granny who, at the age of 96, was declining in health.

Unfortunately, we didn’t get there in time, but were able to attend her memorial. And while I love to write and do pretty well with my fingers on the keyboard, I’m not much of a speaker. I mean, I do fine—but it’s hard for me to talk in front of people, and especially difficult during such an emotional time. So, I waited until now.

I’ve been very blessed to have a number of grandparents in my life. I have four parents (due to remarriage), and were able to know most of their parents, and even a couple of their grandmother’s.

Both Granny, and her mother, Grandma Lind, were instrumental in my life. My mother and I moved to northern California when I was ten. To say I was lonely is a huge understatement. It was just a few short months later that my mother met and married my step-father. And thus, I was thrust into a new family with grandparents and a brother and sister (who were out of the house by my arrival), aunts and uncles and cousins. I felt very uneasy, and didn’t know what to expect.

Both Granny and Grandma Lind took me right into the family. If there were any doubts they had about me, I never knew it. As soon as my parents said, “I do” I was a grandkid and that was that. I can’t tell you what it meant to me to be accepted so quickly.

Granny was expert in making just about anyone feel at home, and I did. So much so, that one time, when she was babysitting me, I noticed that the clock on the piano was an hour off (Daylight savings time had come and gone). So, I fixed it. She had a funny look on her face when I told her how I’d taken care of it for her. I had no idea that a professional needed to set that clock…that expensive mantle clock. But, after explaining it to me, it was never mentioned again. I discovered later it had been quite expensive to repair. I kept a clear path between that clock and me from then on.

She loved music, and during a period of time when I was taking piano lessons, let me come over and practice at her house. I’m sure she must have gotten pretty tired of hearing me play the same pieces over and over again (I use the word play loosely)—but she just smiled and encouraged me. I never really mastered it, I wish I had.

Granny loved clowns and had a collection of figurines and pictures. One Halloween, I was about thirteen, I decided to be a clown for trick-o-treating. My friends and I canvassed the whole town (it felt like) and I needed to use the bathroom. We were nearby Granny’s house, so I knocked on the door. She answered and gave me a candy. I asked, “Can I use the bathroom?” Well, I’d never seen an incredulous look on her face before, but sure gave me one. When I stepped inside, she kindly asked me to leave, took me firmly by the arm and escorted me out, shutting and locking the door, flipping off the porch light. To say I was shocked didn’t begin to explain my feelings. My grandmother had just tossed me from the house! As I was standing in the dark, wondering what happened, I realized she had no idea who I was. So, I started knocking again. After a minute, she flipped on the porch light, opened the door a crack and told me to go away in a very stern voice. Had I been the miscreant she took me for, I’m sure I would have turned tail and ran. Instead I said, “But, Granny, it’s me, it’s April!” She was just as relieved as I was. I apparently made a very convincing clown.

Years later, when I got engaged, she lovingly sat my fiancé and I down and asked what our plans were (we were pretty young). She was matter-of-fact, yet kind. And over the twenty plus years we’ve been married, unendingly supportive.

People at her memorial talked about her classy appearance (always dressed to the nines); her love of travel (was even asked by a native New Guinea man to be one of his wives); her love of sporty cars; how she walked in her faith every day of her life, reaching out to strangers and making them feel like a friend. She so did. But, for me, I’ll always remember how she looked at this lonely ten-year-old girl and took her as one of her own—no questions asked—and loved her. Thanks, Granny.

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