Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Brat Gives Thanks

" everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you."
~ 1 Thessalonians 5: 18

"Oh, give thanks to the LORD, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever."
~ Psalm 107: 1

As much as I've been itching lately to devote a lengthy blog to the farcical display of grossly misguided naivete parading under the banner of "justice" (I refer to the nauseating executive decision to hold a civil courtroom trial for unrepentant terrorist Khalid Sheik Mohammed), I've decided to focus my next entry, this one, on more positive things. So, for the moment, I'll set aside political rantings and ravings (and oh, there are so many!) and talk about something very pertinent to the week for most American citizens: Thanksgiving.

My parents lovingly refer to me as "The Brat." I guess it's their pet name for me. Since my wedding day the name has evolved into a playful rendition of my married name, Brotzge. Hence, the new pet name: Bratzge. (Cute, isn't it?) I know that, when my parents call me "The Brat," it is done so in playful affection and love. They don't really think that I'm a brat (at least not most of the time, I presume).

Except for one thing: I am a brat.

Since Thanksgiving is coming up, like a well-programmed robot, about one week prior I begin to meditate on all the things for which I should be grateful. Now here's the part where my utterly self-absorbed, conceited brattiness is evident: I can only name about five or six things before I'm stumbling and faltering over the words and straining to think -- really hard -- about all of my blessings. So it occurs to me, with painful, stinging clarity, that I really am a brat. And I'm the worst kind of brat, too. I'm the kind of ungrateful brat who doesn't truly realize how utterly bratty I am, and who, for myriad reasons, should have not one bratty bone in my body.

But the truth is that I'm a brat.

Now I want you to know what I am not attempting to do here: I'm not attempting to solicit sympathetic condolences meant to assuage guilt. I'm not attempting to be overly harsh toward myself, and I'm not attempting melodramatic melancholy. I want to be truly, brutally honest with myself, with you, and with God. When I reflect on the content of my heart, the sad fact is that I am woefully ungrateful. What makes this so utterly repulsive is that I am abundantly blessed. And what is a brat, after all, but a whining, spoiled ingrate?

It would appear, then, to be a hopelessly depressing scenario, except for one wonderful thing: God's grace.

Oh, the beautiful grace of God. If ever a brat didn't deserve such lavish beauty and unrelenting mercy, then that brat is I. And His grace in His Word reminds me, over and over again, to be thankful. Moreover, He seems to be telling me -- oh so graciously -- to fix my heart on being grateful in whatever my circumstance:

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God...

Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise. Be thankful to Him and bless His name.

Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, 'Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.'

In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

And the list goes on and on...

One can determine a great deal about the state of one's heart based on nothing more (or less) than an attitude of thankfulness. And that's why I say, upon reflection, that I realize my heart is not where it needs to be. Not even close. But thank goodness for God's grace, and thank goodness that He allows me to confess and repent and recognize this ingratitude. Thank goodness that He lets me ask that I might have a grateful heart. It seems like such a simple request. In truth, though, to ask for a grateful heart is to ask a loving Father for one of the greatest gifts He gives. It is one of the richest blessings in the universe, an abundant fountain of joy from which nothing less than the heartbeat of life is derived.

I have a long way to go. But before my straining eyes, like emerging stars in the black canvas of night, I can begin to see them: Myriad upon myriad of blessings, shining brilliantly, extending endlessly into the unfathomable reaches of God's grace....

Thank You, Jesus, oh thank You, for these...

  • a wonderful marriage
  • a gentle, loving, and godly husband
  • salvation and freedom from sin
  • hope
  • the Bible
  • the Cross
  • parents that are still married and love each other
  • poetry
  • quiet mornings
  • my narcissistic cat
  • my dear brothers
  • a family with a sense of humor
  • laughter
  • good food
  • friends
  • my church
  • my pastors and their wives
  • my sisters-in-law
  • babies
  • women who courageously choose life for their children
  • learning, learning, learning
  • my wonderful in-laws
  • good books
  • sweet dreams
  • quiet places of great beauty
  • music
  • the stately beauty of barren trees in Winter
  • the warmth of the sun on my face
  • the beauty of Creation
  • eternity
  • chocolate
  • precious nieces and nephews
  • my health
  • the health of those I love
  • the pain and suffering I've been spared in life
  • America
  • freedom
  • my home
  • gerber daisies
  • walking barefoot in the grass
  • sexual intimacy in marriage (this is a really good one, by the way) *wink*
  • my best friend
  • the moon's luminous beauty
  • the sound of water
  • holiness
  • goodness
  • truth


Saturday, September 12, 2009

You'll Be Blessed

Driving is tedious work when it involves traveling from Kentucky to Oklahoma in one day. Shifts are necessary. When it's my shift I want music. And I've always loved the music of Elton John.

Somewhere in Indiana my hubby slid the sleek, silvery disc into the player. Don't go breakin' my heart! Elton John pleads, to which Deedee Kee replies enthusiastically, "I couldn't if I tried!" After about one minute I could practically see the disco ball spinning faithfully over the vinyl-covered seats. Oh, the seventies.

The midwestern scenery began to pass easily as I sang out familiar lyrics like "I'm still standing -- yeah, yeah, yeah!" and "You can't hurry love, no you'll just have to wait...". It was upbeat and fun and spontaneous -- the best way to traverse endless cornfields.

About 20 miles and 100 farms later, the music changed. Rather than an upbeat, disco-like tune, this song spoke deep-rooted emotion in every opening note. It sounded a little bit like a lullaby. Then the words began: "Hey you, you're a child in my head. You haven't walked yet. Your first words have yet to be said...". Suddenly, I was crying. I wasn't supposed to be crying! Where was my fun-loving, upbeat disco music -- the tunes that made the cornfields pass by so pleasantly? Now the pasturelands blurred in my vision as he continued to sing, "but I swear you'll be blessed."

I had heard this song before, and though I remember liking it, it had always been one of those 'serious' songs that came in between his more chipper tunes. Sometimes I likely skipped ahead to signature Elton John stuff, the songs I remember piping out at fifth grade slumber parties in between adolescent girl-talk and lime-flavored popsicles. Those songs reminded me of time gone by, of the past. But this song -- it reminded me of, somehow, the future. How could the future make me cry?

As the lyrics continued, I realized that this simple song echoed a cry in my heart: The longing -- the hope -- for a child. Not a self-centered longing, as the lyrics so beautifully betrayed, but a selfless one. The sacrificial desire "to have and to hold" that child, as Elton John sings, and to invest my own life in him or her -- that is the emotion that stirred my heart and made me cry. The future made me cry.

I want to share those lyrics with whomever may be reading this. But I also want to dedicate them to the child -- or children -- of my future. These lovely lyrics are for you, and so I send them out into the future.

And I promise you that you'll be blessed.

Hey you, you're a child in my head.
You haven't walked yet.
Your first words have yet to be said;
But I swear you'll be blessed.
I know you're still just a dream.
Your eyes might be green,
or the bluest that I've ever seen;
Anyway, you'll be blessed.
And you -- you'll be blessed, you'll have the best, I promise you that;
I'll pull your star from the sky, pull your name from a hat;
I promise you that, I promise you that, I promise you that you'll be blessed.
I need you before I'm too old,
To have and to hold,
To walk with you and watch you grow
And know that you're blessed.
And you -- you'll be blessed, you'll have the best, I promise you that;
I'll pull your star from the sky, pull your name from a hat;
I promise you that, I promise you that, I promise you that you'll be blessed.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Becoming the Rose

Let grief do its work, send sorrow or pain; sweet are thy messengers, sweet their refrain, if they can sing with me: 'More love, O Christ to Thee. More love to Thee. More love to Thee.'

~ Elizabeth Prentiss

"We are not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us; we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be."

So said C.S. Lewis, and I must confess that I haven't read the above quote in context, nor do I know in which of his books it is to be found. I came across it in a fiction book recently, quite by God's grace, for the moment was ripe for me to hear those words. The moment is still ripe, actually, and ripening more by the hour.

If you have been acquainted with me over the last few years, you probably know that I have a paralyzing fear of flying. Why is this relevant, you ask? How is this related to pain and suffering and God doing the best for us? It isn't really directly related to Lewis's quote, but I bring it up because this fear is so raw and real that it deprives me of all common sense and rationality. It's not an "Oh man, I'd really rather not fly" kind of fear. It's a heart-pounding, tears-inducing, please-hand-me-the-paper-bag-so-I-can-breathe-into-it-or-vomit kind of fear. In short, when I fly I'm brought face to face with the stark reality that life is, well... dangerous. And I'm not in control.

I don't like those feelings.

Here's the thing, though: I've flown twice in the last week, and it was the least scary thing I've encountered in recent days. I'm not saying I was perfectly at ease and didn't yearn for the paper bag once or twice. I wasn't. And I did. But compared to other events, the flying was actually small potatoes. The really scary stuff involved people and deferred hope and pain. The really scary stuff was about life on the ground, the place where I normally feel the most secure and safe.

Life is hard right now. We might not be able to have any children. People I love are hurting each other and acting selfishly. Other people I love are suffering physically and dealing with the frustrations of growing older. Lately it's been one thing after another. One bad thing after another. Lately I've wondered what lovely rose will blossom at the end of this thorn-riddled path.

If I believe God's promises, and I do, then I must trust that the beauty in the pain is the transformation of my heart into the likeness of His precious Son. But if I believe God's Word, and I do, then I must realize that the transformation comes through suffering. It always does. And there's the rub: I want to become the rose. But I need to walk through the thorns and thistles of a fallen world in order to get there.

The other night, as I lay crying in bed, Lewis's words came to me so strongly: "We are not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us. We are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be." I was laying there in bed, shaking like a leaf, totally helpless and afraid. I was more afraid in that moment than I was the day before when I stepped onto a flying, metal box, scanning the seats for the nearest paper bag.

And it occurred to me in that moment that life is, well... dangerous. And I'm not in control. It's true whether I'm 36,000 feet in the air or lying in the comfort of my bed at home. It's the stark reality of living between Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained. God might not give me the things I most want. He never promised that He would. He may decide to take me through the turbulence of loss and grief and suffering much more than I ever would have dared imagine. But He'll do it because He loves me, and He wants me to be like Him.

The best lies ahead of me, beautiful and radiant, born of redemptive love. The road there... that's another story. Prickly and painful, certainly. Uncomfortable and uncertain, probably.

Worth it? Definitely.