It has been four weeks since I stood and watched a fire consuming my land. The landscape has been permanently altered. There will now always be scars and evidence of trauma. But I have discovered something in the midst of the wounds and barrenness the flames left behind; I have found gratitude and beauty.
What my physical eyes now see day after day is charred earth and dying trees, but my spiritual eyes see something more. The scars are ever reminiscent of God’s mighty hand of protection over me. I see what I have right now, but I am also blatantly aware of what could have been. And I am grateful.
Sometimes, I walk out and stand in the burn zone. I look in every direction, and my physical eyes see what the fire tried to take, but my spiritual eyes see the hedge of protection that God raised around us. The firebreak that the bulldozer carved has become a new path where I have been able to walk and discover new beauty.1 Missing trees and absent foliage provide a new line of sight to scenery that was previously obscured. I have caught my breath in awe and wonder.
And this is the message to my heart: when the receipt of the blessing is long past, let your gratitude linger. At the end of the day, be thankful He awakened you to that new day and kept you through every hour of it. When events become memories, remember them. When discontent and disappointment arrive, remember how you were blessed in the past and still are. When Thanksgiving Day passes, continue to give thanks.
As we move on through life, let us not forget the Giver of Life. He gave us the breath of life so we can know He gave His life on the cross to offer us the gift of eternal life. His power is real. His plan is perfect. His peace is available. Let’s accept His gift, and let’s return our gratitude to Him.
And let that gratitude linger, remembering all He has done for us. Let our hearts feel wonder. Let our lips offer praise.
They shall utter the memory of Your great goodness, And shall sing of Your righteousness.
Bless the LORD, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name.
Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.
1 This scene was newly photographed from the bulldozed path across my property.
Certain times of year lend themselves to the expectation that we will receive gifts: Christmas, birthdays, Valentine’s Day, graduation, and anniversaries, to name a few. But sometimes, gifts come at unexpected times—gifts “just because.” There is a special type of joy that arises with the receipt of gifts, but there is a whole different facet when they happen “just because.”
This past week, I was the recipient of several gifts of the latter kind:
Monday, it was evidence of the promise of spring—flower shoots poking through the soil earlier than expected. That evening, I received an unexpected call from a dear friend from church who prayed for me over the phone.
Tuesday, it was the arrival of the birds of spring, and to a birdwatcher/photographer, this is exciting. And then the ears, shoulders, and prayers of a dear friend were made available to help bear my burdens.
Wednesday, it was a follow-up text of encouragement from this same friend, as well as a text from someone I do not hear from very often to say I was being thought of.
Thursday, it was a message in a devotional encouraging me to let God love me daily because, after all, Jesus died to bring love to me. And as I was reading this, the mailman came to the door and delivered a box filled to the brim with handwritten notecards from a friend and her children, cookies, chocolates, and a bookmark. The day was sunny, and there were heart-shaped clouds above my front yard and some deer in my backyard. Later that same day, I was given the gift of being employed in a career I love, and then was given the gift of someone’s time, friendship, and a book. My husband took care of some things my chronic illnesses did not allow me to handle.
Friday, I received a handwritten card tucked into an invoice because the financial secretary felt God wanted her to send me a card of encouragement. A Bible verse she had written in the card was also in my devotional reading that night!* My husband again took care of things my chronic illnesses did not allow me to handle.
Saturday morning, I sat reflecting on the significance of what God had poured into my life for several days straight. It was an overwhelming amount of proof that He loves me and cares about every detail of my life. He was pouring into my life just out of the goodness and kindness of His heart. And then the mail arrived. A dear friend who faithfully encourages and prays for me felt God prompt her to send a card. The card was filled with a gift of words to lift my heart in the midst of all my health challenges and to encourage me on my journey for Jesus. And that evening a sweet young friend closed out our conversation by telling me she loved me.
Wow! No ribbons or wrapping paper, but I feel as if I have had day after day of Christmas morning.
Are all weeks like this? My first tendency would be to say no. It does not often happen that I am lavished with gifts—well, at least not gifts of this type in this amount. But if I look deeper and think about what goes on behind the scenes from day to day, there are myriad ways God shows His love for me. My answer to the question of whether or not all weeks are like this has to be yes. Yes, even at the darkest of times and in the most difficult of circumstances, God is pouring out blessings into my life. I may not see them at that particular time or be apt to classify them as blessings, but He is at work and is bringing something good out of my life.
When I think back to my growing-up years, there was quite a bit of pain and struggle. But with time and maturity removing me from the situations, I see God’s hands all over the place. For example, the pain of being a military child moving from place to place gave me opportunities I never would have had growing up in the small rural community where I was born. As much as I disliked the uprooting and the subsequent “new kid” treatment, in each place I also encountered people who significantly touched my life and loved me dearly, although I did not realize it at the time. One uprooting brought me to a place where the gospel was shared with me, and I gave my life to Jesus. Another uprooting brought me to a rental home with a piano in it which I learned to play. I subsequently became a piano teacher, a church pianist, and have played for schools, hospice, and other organizations. Another uprooting brought me to a place where I developed multiple language skills which have assisted me in ministry and as an author and teacher. Another uprooting, not due to the military but rather a devastating event in our community, led my family to a new community which is where I met my husband. Adulthood has featured more pain and struggle: years of challenges, betrayals, disappointments, and emotional scars; years and money poured into an education that did not lead to a job in my field; years that found me in places I never thought I would be. Yet, these years and experiences have been the very things that have found me in places where I was better able to carry on relationships, parent, teach, minister, and volunteer. It is truly astounding to see how God has woven the threads into a beautiful gift, and for more than just my benefit.
I want to encourage you that if your heart belongs to Jesus, you can trust Him with it. Even though you may not see or understand what He is doing, He has a perfect plan for your life. Evil will be turned to good, whether your eyes ever see it or not. There is so much more happening of which we will never even be aware. If you allow it, your relationship with Him can reach a place it never would without the difficulties. You can be made stronger. Your testimony can touch the lives of others and encourage them. These are some gifts you can expect. God will complete the good work He has started in your life.
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights,
with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.
*My flesh and my heart fail; But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. (Psalm 73:26)
Author’s note: All of the gifts I received this past week, and the very meeting of the people who gave them, came after I passed through trials. I did not know any of these gifts would be given, but God did. And He knew just when my heart would need them.