April McGowan

On Gratefulness and Gratitude for 2016

85faffdb5ec7d00b5a8b63296d5ab885Yesterday I took some time to ponder this past year. I began compiling a mental list of things that happened in 2016. There were so many blessings.

However, I was quite startled to see a different account on social media. There are more memes and gifs of 2016 blowing up, being burned, and stomped out of existence than I ever remember seeing before of any years in the past. “Good riddance,” was the tamer of most sentiments.

The United States presidential run, the loss of life to terrorism, and the deaths of entertainment icons seem to be garnering the most outrage right now. I’m upset about those things, too, don’t get me wrong. But, I’m always left wondering as we watch remembrance lists of those who have died in the entertainment industry about the others who died. Those in less auspicious careers in ministry, literature, arts and sciences who are even more impactful in our daily lives that no one bothers to compile a list about because they aren’t famous. Or even more importantly, our own loved ones.

And even as I’m pondering these things, and the struggles I’ve faced this year with illness and disability, with loss and unexpected occurrences, I’m still overcome with a spirit of gratitude.

Every day is, truly, a gift. Lest that sound trite, know I spend many hours of those days in bed from illness, but still, they are gift I’m thankful to have.

So as I think back over 2016, the losses aren’t in the forefront of my mind as much as the gratefulness for what has happened. In 2016, after homeschooling her for her whole school career, we graduated our daughter from high school and she stared college. We’ve watch her grow greatly in maturity and responsibility—in compassion and grace. My son entered the last year of middle school, started a blog, grew many inches, and has become a source of comfort when I’m not feeling my best. Despite losing his closest local friends to an out-of-state move, he has found joy and grown in his sense of humor, and is finding new connections. My husband and I grew closer to God through trials and deepened our intimacy with our Savior and one another. I’m grateful for my sister-in-law, the blessing she is to us, and that she’s someone I can count as sister and friend. I’m thankful I got to see all my parents this year and made sweet memories with them. Daily, I’m blessed by good friends and sisters in Christ in countless ways—but mostly by their prayers and words of encouragement.

So, while life moves on, trials come and deep losses are experienced, I’m still grateful to the Lord for the blessings He brings, for the strength He extends, and for the small, sweet moments I enjoy in His company.

I hope and pray that each of you can look back and see pockets of unexplainable joy and peace that Jesus has brought to you despite your circumstances. And I pray that in the coming year you will be even more mindful (as I’m practicing at!) of seeing His gentle, guiding hand in all the hours of your days.

May the Lord bless you and keep you.

 

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God Of Wonder–Thankfulness

Tree3I’m always struck by the offerings of gratitude and thankfulness at this particular time of year. In the US we’re readying for Thanksgiving, a day we ponder and feel thankful for all the gifts and blessings we have received in our lives. In Christian homes, there is prayer and thanksgiving to God for these gifts. This makes sense to me–being thankful in general to a non-sentient universe (as the media portrays thankfulness) always leaves me wanting.

I enjoy reading daily posts of what people are thankful for on Facebook as they take a daily census: their God, their family, their freedoms, their health, their abilities. All in all, good things. I’m also thankful for other things: struggles, obstacles, hardships, because through these things I am learning what it means to persevere. I’ve learned that the Lord is my strength (truly) and my shield. I have learned He is my protector, my King, my worthy Savior.

I love this time of year, when the mountains are emboldened around me turning golden, red and orange. I gaze in wonder as the sun blazes bright through the last lingering leaves on the maples outside, striking my window and filling my bedroom with the warmth of color and heat before winter arrives full-force. I open my living room window and watch the wild finches flitting from branch to branch, scrambling for seed we’ve left outside as they prepare for cooler temperatures. Their lilting chirping sounds full of expressions of contentment—and sometimes warnings when the scrub jays arrive unannounced—fill my spirit with sweetness.

Today, I’m thankful especially for nature, for God’s fingerprints on creation that remind me of His appreciation of beauty, His authorship of our world, His mighty love for us.

Psalm 100: Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth! Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing!Know that the Lord, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.Enter his gates with thanksgiving,and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name! For the Lord is good;his steadfast love endures forever,and his faithfulness to all generations.

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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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