Beyond a Simple “Thank You”

I was visiting the home of a co-worker, sitting, chatting. Scanning her bedroom I settled on the spot above the head of her bed. There, fixed to the wall, were three small items. A picture, a scripture verse and a thank you card.

The card was from me.

A few weeks previously I had taken a few moments to thank her for the amazing work she was doing in her job. Here it was. Placed so that she could see it and be reminded every night and morning that someone simply said, “thank you”.

Those two words go deep and sometimes we forget that. They simply become the words of polite society. The lack of them a sign of bad manners. Rudeness, perhaps. Nothing more.

When my husband and I were engaged to be married, we were soaking in all the advice we could get. Go on weekly dates! Sacrificial love! Communication! Invest in intimacy! All the important and big ticket items was passed on. One couple said something that we would only understand years later, “Never, ever, stop saying, please and thank you”

I’ve thought about this a lot lately.

A friend was telling me about a simple lunch he was having with his leader. It was one of those, transition-wrapping-things-up type of lunches. As soon as I heard, I felt a feeling like a knife to my heart. The rest of the day I felt so down

Seeing this co-worker get thanked was bringing back a flood of memories where I had never been thanked. It was surprisingly painful.

I reflected on times when I had poured my life into a job, project or relationship and no one bothered to say, “thanks”. The impact I felt, even today, took me off guard.

I know there are times we throw tantrums when we don’t get the recognition we think we deserve. But, this was not a tantrum. I think I was feeling a healthy level of hurt. God was teaching me something.

Gratitude. It is not just about being polite and avoiding rudeness. It’s not simply good manners.

The Apostle Paul lists ungrateful people alongside those who slander, have no self-control, are conceited and treacherous. Let’s just say he doesn’t have a high regard for them.

This past week, I’ve been busy sorting through my own hurt and suddenly seeing gratitude very differently. I’m realising gratitude goes beyond good manners. Paul shows us it is so much deeper than that.

Gratitude says to a person, “I see you. I recognise you. I value you.”

A simple “thank you” can do that.

Gratitude moves a person beyond a simple cog in a machine.
Gratitude stops a gift from being an expected transaction.
Gratitude recognises gift-giving as a chance to connect hearts and relationship.
Gratitude affirms our dignity and humanity.
Gratitude says, “I don’t just affirm what you did, I affirm that I see you in the act.”

In the day to day transactions of life, gratitude boldly refuses to dehumanise. It refuses to say, “She has to do that, it’s her job” or “It’s just the teller at the bank” or “That’s just our tradition to give gifts”

It is one person saying to the other, “That act is valuable because you are valuable. I’m grateful.”

Researchers have found that children who say, “thank you” often also tend to be display more kindness, empathy and compassion towards others.

Gratitude is not just good social manners for children, it teaches them that others have intrinsic value.

I’m wondering where my lack of gratitude made people feel invisible. Where a simple “thank you” could have brought deeply needed value to human beings who sometimes do tedious work. When could my “thank you” have said, “I know your work is not just an obligation but an expression of your giftings and heart”?

I now know why we were told to never stop saying “please” and “thank you” in our marriage. What they were really saying is to never stop truly seeing each other in the daily mundane acts of life. Never stop saying, “I value you. I see you. I’m grateful.”

Grattitude. An act is valuable because the person is valuable.

Saying “thank you” is the daily practice of declaring a persons value in God’s eyes and ours.

Photo Credit: woodleywonderworks

The Temporary Break-Up

When crisis hits, we cry out. ┬áBad times come, religious fervor┬ástrikes. We cry out, “God, come to the rescue!” It’s kind of human nature. The amazing thing is not that we do this. The amazing thing is that God actually responds to such shallow cries of desperation.

The book of Judges cycles over this sort of situation, ad naseum, within the nation of Israel.

The people of Israel said to the Lord, “We have sinned; do to us whatever seems good to you. Only please deliver us this day. So they put away the foreign gods from among them and served the Lord” (Judges 10:15-16)

God is merciful, so he did rescue them. They put away their idols as a show of good faith. In order to secure a rescue from very bad circumstances.

This is human nature: we change actions or habits in order to gain a temporary reprieve or rescue.

We change because we can no longer manage the consequences of our actions, habits and true heart desires.

We do not throw away our idols because we relise they are false. We throw them away because the consequences of serving them is temporarily too great. Once the consequence becomes bearable again, we quickly rush out to the dustbin, brush off the idols and welcome them back with open arms. We never threw them out because we hated them. We just couldn’t live with the reality of loving them as much as we did. So, we took a little holiday.

The classic picture is of an alcoholic. The drinking goes from bad to worse. Family threatens to walk out. Law enforcement threatens to lock up. Employers threatens no more grace. So, the alcoholic says, “I’m done! No more drinks!” Of course, this won’t last. He doesn’t truly hate the alcohol. The consequences simply got to be more than he could bare. At least for now.

It is winter here in South Africa. That means my boys need to wake up in the cold and dark for school. The desire just isn’t there. I found myself coaxing, cajoling, coaching, outright threatening. The whole circus was employed to get the oldest out the door on time.

I finally said, “Enough!”.

Now, my boys get to play a video games for 30 minutes a day on a Saturday and Sunday of each weekend. That’s all they get, so weekend video game access is highly anticipated.

On the way to school I said, “No more! If you don’t wake up, get ready, do the whole shebang without a word from me, then no video games. No warnings. No threats. Poof, it will be gone. I can’t do this anymore, it ruins my mornings. You know what to do and I need you to do it.”

The next morning was a picture of military precision. The day after that was the same. Up early, dressed, packed, teeth brushed, not a hair out of place. I hadn’t seen such a turn-around in a while.

This morning I pulled my son aside and thanked him. “I just so appreciate that you listened to what I said. Thank you for respecting me. Thank you for stepping up and making the changes.”

What a son I had, listening to his mother!

Without missing a beat, he looked at me and said, “Oh Mom, I live for video games. If I loose that I couldn’t survive!”

Just like the Israelites. Just like me. My son was the same. He didn’t change behaviour out of true heart transformation. He changed because the consequences had temporarily gotten too great.

What about you? What issue do you keep coming back to? What idols do you keep digging out of the dustbin after you swore you were done with them?

Perhaps the truth is, you simply threw them away because the consequences of serving them had gotten too great.

We all do it. “That’s it! I will never over-eat again! I’m done!” Perhaps our blood pressure was dangerously high or the doctor was giving us dire warnings. The current consequences caused us to declare a holiday with our idol of food. But, once the storm passed, life returned as normal.

When change in our life is not precipitated by deep heart work we can be sure the idol will return as quickly as it departed.

These are the questions I’m asking:
How could I journey with God this?
How can I move towards truly choosing God over idols? Choosing because He truly is more beautiful and merciful and my heart knows that and chooses that and truly rejects the idol.
In what areas am I only “returning to God” because I need a break from a toxic relationship with something that will never truly save?

Photo Credit: Cory Schmitz

Five Women to not Forget on Mothers Day

Mothers Day, a wonderful time of joy and appreciation for millions of women and families. As with any holiday, it can also be a hard day for some.

If you have a Mother who is still with you, make sure you tell her exactly what you are grateful for. Even if it is as simple as, “Thank you for giving me life”.

Whatever this day is like for you, it is also an opportunity to reach out to those who experience pain or sorrow on Mothers Day. We all know at least one of these five people on Mothers Day.

Those who struggle with infertility

Infertility is one of the most painful challenges any couple can face. Take time to pray for those who struggle with infertility. If you know them well, take time to just simply say, “I don’t know if this day is hard for you but I want you to know I’m thinking of you and praying”. Don’t make empty promises or give pity. Simple heart-felt words can mean a lot.

Those who have lost a child

Is there anything more painful than to lose a child? I honestly can’t imagine what could be. For some, Mothers Day highlights the child they have lost… either by mis-carriage or the death of a child that they were able to hold and mother. Take time to pray for them… a day mixed with joy and sorrow.

Those who have lost a Mother

Especially if the loss is recent, Mothers day is bittersweet for those who have recently lost theirs. It often brings the joy of remembrance and the pain of loss. You could pray but sometimes actions show so much love. How about inviting someone into your home on Mother’s Day? Give them time to share what they loved and valued about their Mother. Ask questions and listen to their stories. Let them reminisce. Once the immediacy of death has passed, many don’t have an opportunity to share the stories they long to remember.

Those who are estranged from their children

Mothers Day can be quite painful for women who are estranged from their children. There are so many possible reasons this came about. A child who rejected their mother. A child who disconnected because the relationship was painful or dysfunctional. It really doesn’t matter and is never straight-forward. No matter who made more mistakes… a mother almost always longs for relationship with her child. If you know of a mother who will not be invited over for dinner because of an estranged relationship… why not reach out and make space for them in your home? Or perhaps just a small gift to recognise the Mother they are.

Those who have impacted you like a Mother

Don’t forget to tell those “almost Moms” what they mean to you! A women doesn’t need to have given birth to or adopted you to influence you like a Mom. Today is a great day to bless those “other Mothers” in your life.

If your Mother is around, bless her and show her your love! But, don’t forget, there are many women around us that would be equally as blessed by our love and affection on this day.

Photo Credit: The U.S. National Archives

Let’s Not Say That Anymore (Pretty Please?)

Ok, time for honesty. You know how there are all these phrases that we use? Ones we should really stop using? Exhibit A: “Doing life together”. Didn’t we all agree to not use that phrase anymore? If you still use that it’s probably because you are over 50 and think that the “youngsters” speak in phrases like this. We stopped saying “doing life together” years ago. We just couldn’t bare to tell you. The embarrassment factor and all.

Exhibit B: I want to see your “doing life together” and raise you a “keeping it real”.

“Hey, I’m just keeping it real!” Let’s not say that anymore either. Please. I cringe every time someone says, “just keeping it real over here!”

Let’s be honest, we normally say this when:

  1. We are fake all other times. Stop that. Being fake and false is exhausting and who wants to be so tired?
  2. We have just overshared in a hilarious and awkward way. Don’t stop that. I love it when people overshare. If you are that way, let’s have coffee! No need to tag on “just keeping it real” though.
  3. We struggle with authenticity.

Let’s sit a little in number three.

That authenticity thing, it’s so subtle. Everything we say and reveal, we wonder how it compares to others. One day, “Just ran 5 miles, baked paleo cookies and ironed my husbands underwear… really nothing at all.” Next day, “Here’s a picture of my kitchen, yes, we are living in this pig sty… just keeping it real folks!”

A few things bother me about this. First, is this what it means to be real and transparent these days? “I’ve got dirty dishes”. If dirty dishes is your “keeping it real”, I definitely want your life.

It’s funny to me that in the midst of all this “keeping it real” we are still controlling what we reveal. We “keep it real” with just enough finesse to actually make us look better (compared to others). “Oh gosh, she’s even witty and honest when her home is a mess… love her!”

Control is the enemy of authenticity.
Comparison is the enemy of authenticity.

I read a confession the other day,

“I struggle with feeling like I can’t quite figure out how other women seem to do it all”.

It is a struggle, isn’t it? We endlessly compare and thus control what we do and don’t reveal. Being falsely modest when we succeed, witty and humorous when we reveal a small misstep. We are constantly comparing and controlling, praying we don’t fail to measure up to the perceived standard.

People get mad about everyone being “fake” on Facebook. Why does that bother us? Are we comparing ourselves to them? If they want to share their good news on Facebook and bad news in person, what’s it to you? That actually sounds pretty healthy to me.

Honestly, I think it bothers us because we are comparing ourselves to them. In our view, we can’t keep up with what we perceive is their perfect life.

How much longer will we believe this lie that anyone is keeping it together? The Christian life begins with falling down in a confession of failures and brokenness. The core of the Gospel is that no one has got their crap together, we all are in imperfect. We are all stumbling towards Jesus who brings mercy, grace and rest… three things that we desperately need. I personally alternate between awkward and desperate in my stumble towards grace and help.

“Keeping it real” does not need to be an occasional #hashtag. If I see only people’s success and not their struggle, failure and fights with their kids then I assume someone else get’s the privilege of seeing those glorious moments. Someone else gets to gently say, “let your children live to see another day, walls can be re-painted”. Someone else get’s to say, “call the counsellor and I’ll babysit for you and your husband tonight”. Another friend get’s to challenge our tendency hide our weaknesses and struggle.

We don’t need to remind people that we are “keeping it real”. As if anyone’s life is perfect or pain free. It’s not and it won’t be. That’s true for all of us, whether we see it or not.

Photo Credit: misselejane

On Life

Migraines are no good friends to have. My no good friend came to visit during the annual and eagerly anticipated girls retreat away. It’s one of those events where you count down the days and then hours until you sprint out of your house away from your children, messes and responsibilities. Straight into the arms of your friends, copious amounts of cheese, dark chocolate and clean white sheets at a guest house. My participation was cut short as my husband had to rescue me in my migrained puking state.

I felt sorry for myself in appropriate amounts. Meaning, a lot. It took no less than three days to recover. From the migraine. I’m still dealing with the self-pity of the lost girls getaway.

By Saturday I had to get out of bed and face life again. Minus the restorative power of friends, cheese and clean sheets. Sometimes life is like that, isn’t it?

Small children where loaded in to the car. To the grocery store we go. Along the way I stopped by a friends house (“pick up a hard drive” were the instructions of my husband). Of course a short stop for a hard drive was quickly forgotten as our kids mingled and we quickly settled in to a conversation about those things we talk about. The worlds problems were close to resolution by the time we were done. Middle East peace. Rampant disease. Broken families. All that.

At one point I casually checked my wrist watch. Too much time had passed and I had worked my-self in to a very bad situation.

I had to get to the local Pick ‘n Pay grocery store and it was nearing 10:30 a.m.! On a Saturday! At Capricorn! At the beginning of the month! The day before Easter! With children in tow!

If you don’t live in South Africa this all means nothing to you. But if you do, you know that all of the above factors spells imminent doom for whoever foolishly proceeds with said plan to grocery shop in those circumstances. Or at least some hair loss and momentary insanity.

I told my friend where I was headed and she just shook her head and muttered, “Well, good luck to you. You are a braver woman than I.” She was no help.

I steeled myself as we entered. “Thabo, get the cart! Garett hold the list! Now listen closely and let’s all stay focused”. We weaved in and out of aisles navigating each obstacle.

A large group of young girls was gathered near the pasta talking loudly and laughing like they were waiting to see One Direction. Another group of men was walking ever so slowly past the dried beans like they were sight-seeing and had spotted the Leaning Tower of Pisa. They did not want to be rushed.

I herded my boys through, on a mission to get in and out before even more people packed in an already packed full store.

We finally got to checkout where everybody was squeezing into various lines trying not to knock over the lemons in the process. It was my turn and I could feel a tap on my shoulder. A tall strong man was standing behind me holding a deli pack of fried chicken and a large bottle of bright green Cream Soda. I looked at him and he said something I could not understand.

All the noise, chaos and accents were blocking his meaning from my understanding. He pointed at his chicken and cream soda and said it again.

I responded how I always do when strangers say something I don’t understand.

“No!”

His face sort of pleaded. Again the pointing at the chicken and cream soda and then at the check-out lady. He wants me pay for his food. This is what he wants.

I mentally added up his bill, feigned a look of compassion and said again, “No”.

Again the talking in the accent I didn’t understand with the noise and the chaos.

Again I said, “No, I’m not paying, sorry!”

He looked confused and his words became suddenly clear. “I just want to pay quickly lady, I’m late for work. Couldn’t I jump in front of you?”

I turned red in the face. I was embarrassed. He was generous. I assumed he wanted me to buy his food, that he had no money. Honestly, it’s not an uncommon request. I stepped aside and he quickly paid and rushed off to work. I finished up and escaped Pick ‘n Pay (On a Saturday! The day before Easter! With kids in tow!).

Things happen. Things just do. Lot’s of little moments of unmet expectations, crowded grocery stores and strangers speaking in accents you don’t understand.

A lot of kindness and grace is required. Wether you missed your friend-cheese-chocolate-clean-sheet escape or mistook the tall-strong-employed-man for a beggar. A lot of kindness and grace is required. It just is.

Photo Credit: Kate Ter Haar