Saturday, August 23, 2014

God's Gifts.

Thankfulness produces joy.

Living in Niger has opened my eyes to a lot of things.  I'm learning to give myself grace.  Especially as I adjust to a new place and teach my first year.  I'm learning how to really believe and live out the idea, or rather the fact, that there is no relationship more important than the one I have with my Heavenly Father.  I'm learning to take time for others, and give before I receive.  I'm learning that doing things is not as important as loving people.  I'm learning that obedience, doing what God has commanded, is how to love God.  And that loving people requires sacrifice.

I'm learning that every moment of thankfulness captures deep joy for my heart.

It is transition that has made these lessons possible.  Adjusting to a new place, with new people, weird smells, constant sand, the "welcome to Africa" fever/sickness, unfamiliar food, and stand-and-sweat heat.  I have lived in Niamey 3 weeks Friday, and just this weekend I finally felt that I was able to relax, laugh and enjoy.  But what a rich life I am learning to live.

Yet these lessons aren't truly and fully learned without practice.  If I only write about it and talk about it and think about it, what have I really learned?  If it doesn't change the way I live, then the lessons are taught in vain.  My lesson of thankfulness begins like this:  I start to list things that I love, much like author Ann Voskamp ("One Thousand Gifts").  And after I name these things that really make me smile, I am giddy with joy.  My heart begins to see how God gifts such beautiful moments to me each and every day.  He loves me.  Here and now.  With a deep and persistent love.  I feel His Presence.

1.  the pounding rain so loud on the classroom roof that I have to shout for my students to hear the lesson
2.  taking time with 14 second graders to simply watch the storm instead of shouting over it
3.  barefoot children catching tiny toads after a night's rain
4.  the smell of orange peel as I sit and watch students and adults play softball on a sunny afternoon
5.  meeting my students' parents, so kind and encouraging
6.  the smooth rhythm of the swing as I sit on the porch
7.  sounds of children's laughter in the classroom
8.  singing an original song about the elements of weather in front of the second grade, and then having them tell you how good your out of tune and off pitch singing sounds
9.  emails from friends back home
10.  new friends, learning to laugh
11.  songs of which I can say "that's my jam!" while eating delicious Nigerien Perch-stuffed ravioli
12.  weather cool enough for snuggling under a blanket
13.  the smooth stroking of a good friend's hand as I lay sick
14.  melted tupperware and spoiled yogurt
15.  lunch and a lazy afternoon with Pennsylvanian friends moving to Moradi
16.  late night chats in the living room
17.  chirping crickets joining the bullfrogs in song along the riverside at night
18.  pot luck dinner in Niger, the assortment of new, tasty food
19.  scraping the pan, desperate for a taste of the already gone chocolate desserts
20.  the campus tortoise moseying past the players in the outfield during a game of softball

"I will praise the name of God with a song, and will magnify him with thanksgiving."  Psalm 69:30

Thanksgiving magnifies God in our lives.  Not that God needs to, or even can, be made bigger, but that our awareness of His Hand in our lives increases.  He becomes more, not when we "think less of ourselves..." but when we "...think of ourselves less."

A house is built one nail at a time.  And habit is only driven out by habit.

I'm creating a new habit in my heart.  The habit of thankfulness.  One nail at a time.


"Rejecting joy to stand in solidarity with the suffering doesn't rescue the suffering.  The converse does.  The brave who focus on all things good and all things beautiful and all things true, even in the small, who give thanks for it and discover joy even in the here and now, they are the change agents who bring fullest Light to all the world.  When we lay the soil of our hard lives open to the rain of grace and let joy penetrate our cracked and dry places, let joy soak into our broken skin and deep crevices, life grows.  How can this not be the best thing for the world?  For us?  The clouds open when we mouth thanks."  -Ann Voskamp ("One Thousand Gifts")

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