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How The Habit of Gratitude Opens Our Eyes

Over at Proverbs 31 today, I’m sharing about that day I hid 1000 pennies in our house in a crazy attempt to squash some grumbles and grow some gratitude. Of course, I had no idea when I scattered those copper coins–in underwear drawers and on bookshelves, in closets and in cupboards–that those small pennies would give birth to giant joy. And I certainly never imagined that my unconventional quest for contentment would launch our family into a lifelong adventure that we’ve lovingly dubbed “Penny Praise.” If you stepped into our home today, you’d see a humble glass jar of copper coins sitting on a bookshelf in plain sight. It’s our daily reminder that thanksgiving isn’t just an American holiday, but a wonder-filled way to live.

If you haven’t read my “penny tale” over at Encouragement for Today, you can find it here. But before you go, I’d love to share how hunting for pennies had taught me some priceless lessons about gratitude. And I’d be delighted if you’d linger long enough to chime in on our Praise Party and enter to to win your very own penny praise package.It’s been many years since I first hid 1000 copper coins all through our our home and challenged my family to give thanks each time they found a penny. Those were the days when constant discontent rumbled in my heart and the ache of joylessness sapped my strength. Those were the days when I lived half-blind, stumbling through my hours without noticing the hand of God all around me. Little did I know that our silly little game called “Penny Praise” wouldn’t just change my cheer-less attitude; it would alter my visual aptitude.

These days, our home is no longer teeming with copper coins. Little ones don’t waddle around in diapers or sap my strength with midnight feedings. But after years of prowling for pennies, we still find ourselves spotting those little treasures wherever we go. We spy pennies lingering in parking lots and tucked under other people’s couch’s. We spot pennies mingling with dust bunnies and hiding in the crevices of car seats. We notice pennies planted on top of sand dunes and parked beneath playground benches. We find pennies on bleachers, in ice cream stores and on grocery store floors.

In fact, sometimes, this habit of penny praise can lead to embarrassing moments. I mean, there was that day when my son crawled under a friend’s dinner table (right in the middle of a meal) and offered up a loud and definitive shout of thanks as he plucked a rusted penny off of her dirty floor.

And then there was that moment in our small town bakery when my toddler found a penny and let out a whoop of pastry-praise: “Thank you Gawd for donuts!”

Of course that same toddler grew into the little girl who once payed for a piece of candy with a palm-full of pennies. And as she handed her copper coins to the unsuspecting cashier, she declared with a smile, “Now you have tell me twenty things you’re thankful for!”

Our penchant for penny hunting may lend to awkwardness now and then, but it’s also grown awareness. Thanks to our well-trained eyes, we see copper gleams that we once would have missed. And in the same way, giving thanks has opened the eyes of our hearts to see glimmers of God’s goodness and shimmers of His grace.

Perhaps that’s the most amazing thing about gratitude! It doesn’t just change our mood; it changes our vision as well.

In His powerful book, The Rest of God, Author and pastor Mark Buchanan writes: “You cannot practice thankfulness on a biblical scale without its altering the way you see.”

Perhaps that’s because when recognize a gift, we’re reminded of the giver.

When I look at the wedding ring on my finger, I think of my husband who gave it to me.

When I see the brightly colored picture hanging on my fridge, I think of my daughter who drew it for me.

When I slip into my fuzzy wool socks, I think of the friend who made them for me.

James 1:17 reminds us:“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights…”

The sustaining power of gratitude is this– Giving thanks doesn’t merely give light to our eyes; it shifts our eyes to the Father of lights.

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When You Realize Your Children Aren’t Really Yours

They’re not yours.

I was standing at the top of a snow-capped sand dune, my eyes fixed on those silly sisters singing Frozen songs as they skipped toward the icy water, when my thoughts were interrupted with those three little words.

They’re not yours.
borrowed treasure

The girls were lost in their own world, savoring that sacred space of sisterhood that’s framed in laughter and love, and for a moment, I was tempted to ignore the whisper and join their frolic.

But instead, I dropped to my knees right there on top of that white-frosted mount, and I let that trio of words rattle around my soul for a bit.

Because I’ve learned that when I lean into Heaven’s whispers, I lean into life.

Abundant life.

Those girls aren’t yours.

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The words weren’t ringing in my ears, they were taking root in my heart, and to be honest, at first, they made my stomach flop a bit.

Because no matter how much I talk about raising kids for God’s glory, it’s really easy to live like they’ve been created for mine.

And no matter how often I write about placing my children into God’s hands, I’m still tempted to wrap my arms around them and pretend that they belong to me.

But for years, I’ve been learning a simple truth, and sometimes I just need to take a moment to let it seep quietly into my soul. Again—-

My children are not my own.

It’s an uncomfortable thought, actually.

It shatters my myth of control and reminds me that my days are numbered.

And so are my children’s.

These five precious kids with whom I’ve been entrusted?

They are gifts of love on loan.

And someday, the generous Giver will ask for their return.

Because they’ve been His all along.

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Why I’m Serving Pennies for Thanksgiving Dinner

The turkey is in the oven and the potatoes are peeled.

The pies are baked and the cider is simmering.

I haven’t burnt any bread yet or placated any sibling strife, but, in all fairness, the day has just begun.

I’m not banking on a flaw-free Thanksgiving dinner, but I know without a doubt, that I’ve got the perfect garnish!  My potatoes might be lumpy. The turkey could be dry, but no matter how the food turns out, I’ll decorate each plate with a copper coin.

Yep, I’m serving up pennies for Thanksgiving this year.

And if you’ve got a minute before you bake that green-bean casserole or carve that bird, I’ll tell you why…

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Our family’s penny tale began years ago when the kids were small and my patience was stretched thin. I was slogging through a season of discontent, weary from a decade of diapers and discipline, toddler tantrums and time-outs. I knew in my head that I was blessed beyond measure; still, I woke each morning with a sense of subtle dread.

I couldn’t reconcile the emptiness in my heart with the fullness of my life, and something deep within ached for more.

More than closet-grumbles and stumbling steps. More than sheer survival and quiet complaints.

I begged God to change my circumstances but He decided to change me instead. From the timeless pages of scripture, He whispered this gospel grace—

Give thanks in all things.

I’d read those words a thousand times before, had glazed over them and nodded my good Christian nod–Yes, yes, of course, I’m thankful.

But, then a friend challenged me to put that little verse into action, to take God at his Word and to deliberately give thanks despite my circumstances. In my monotony. In my discouragement. In my pleasure. As I told you on Monday, I accepted the challenge. (If you missed it, you can read more about that here.)

I scribbled thanks in a little striped notebook, counting the simplest of gifts—the scent of just-bathed babies, the feeling of pudgy fingers clutching mine, the sight of freshly-folded laundry piled neatly in a basket. And moment by moment as I willfully acknowledged the gifts God chose to give rather than wishing for the ones He didn’t, gratitude opened the door to joy. It tiptoed in unexpected, like a long-lost friend and settled quietly into my soul.

And one day I woke up and realized that even though my hands were still full, my heart was no longer empty.

Of course, once I discovered the power of thanks-living, I wanted my kids to experience it, too. Since not all of my children could write at the time, I knew that the concept of a gratitude journal wouldn’t allow my little ones to take ownership over the habit, so I began to pray for a simple way to prompt praise within our home.

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Why We all Need Thanksgiving More than Black Friday

kassiere07She’s bagging my Monday morning groceries as Maggie hops up and down in front of the candy display, and she doesn’t even chuckle at the sight of those princess pajamas sticking out from beneath my daughter’s fuzzy pink coat. 

On any other Monday morning, she would have. 

On a different Monday morning, one that didn’t happen to be three days before Thanksgiving, she’d have stopped scanning the loaf of bread and let loose a bubbly laugh as she  delighted in the antics of my big-personalitied daughter.  

“Mama! Mama! Look at me! I’m balancing on just one foot!” Maggie springs happy like a human pogo stick and adds a circular twirl to her jumping. “I’m a real live dancing girl, Mama.  Do you see me? Do you see me? Can you believe it? I’m just using one toe, Mama. Only one toe. Isn’t it amazing? Don’t you think I’m like a famous girl? A famous bouncing ballerina!” Maggie pauses her one-toed-bouncing to blow me some kisses, the dramatic swoop of her hand toppling a bag of Skittles right off candy row. 

The man in the wool overcoat behind us chuckles quietly. But the gray-haired cashier who normally beams at children doesn’t slip a grin. Those eyes that usually sparkle don’t even lift from the cash register to meet my gaze.

My girl bounds past me and plants herself within reach of her favorite cashier . “I’m gonna help you!” Maggie declares as she tries to transfer a towering sack of toilet tissue from the check-out station to the cart parked at the aisle’s end. I take three steps toward the cart, and place three gallons of milk in the unused front seat before my daughter can drop them.  

Maggie pirouettes with a bag of cereal in her hands. “Look! The Cheerios are dancing with the Fruit Loops!” she bellows, the white sack spinning over her head like a slingshot. 

I poise myself to catch the sure-to-fly-away cereal boxes and wait for the ruddy-faced cashier to catch my eye and repeat her standard line—Honey, don’t even blink; ’cause if ya close your pretty blue eyes for just a minute, that baby girl of yours’ll just grow up. And before you know it, you’ll  be an old grandma like me.

 She’s been telling me that since Maggie was a baby, sharing her wisdom in the check-out lane of our small town Walmart for as long as I can remember. And I love her for that. I love the way she brightens my dreaded grocery-runs  with a sweet smile and a snippet of  grandmotherly advice. I love the way she casts a compassionate grin rather than a scornful gaze when my exuberant girl knocks over the bubblegum display while reaching for that pink-foiled package of Trident that is placed out of a four-year-old’s reach. I love the way she chats with me like I’m the only one in the store even when the snaking line behind me is filled with cranky customers.  

But today, my best-loved checker keeps her eyes fixed on the cash register until she totals my charge. Then she finally looks at me and announces my due. I swipe my credit card and try to make conversation with her before she drops her head again. “How are you today?” I ask, holding her gaze

“Oh, I’m alright, I guess,” she replies, solemn-faced and quiet.

“Are you getting ready for Thanksgiving?”  I beam her a grin in hopes that it might coax her weathered pink lips to curve upward, too.  

“No,” she says slowly, “I don’t get to celebrate Thanksgiving this year. I mean, I don’t get to join my family for dinner.  I’ve gotta be here….” She sweeps her hand across the check-out lane and shakes her head in disbelief. 

I poise the gray stylus in my hand and squiggle my signature on the plastic screen of the credit card machine. “I’m so sorry,” I say and reach to pat her hand so she knows that I mean it. 

“Yeah,” she acknowledges my words with a sigh, “We never had to work on Thanksgiving day in the old store. It was actually a respected holiday back then.” I nod, both of us remembering when our hometown Walmart didn’t bear the name Super before it’s title. Both of us remembering when Black Friday was a shopping day contained to Friday only.  

“I’m sorry,” I say again, my response echoing hollow and trite.

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For the Mom Whose Eyes Have Grown Dim

DSC00930When I first laid eyes on my newborn son, I didn’t know that motherhood would impair my vision.

On that day when I first drank deep the sight of him, all wet and wiggly and wonderful, I had no idea that I’d  be prone to blindness.

When I lost myself in his baby blues, my labor-weary body ravished by awe,  I couldn’t have imagined that someday I’d have to fight to see him clearly.
 
And on that day when the world stopped spinning so I could steady my ravished heart and count his tiny fingers and toes, I had no idea that  someday when those feet barreled down the hallway before sunrise, I’d forget to count them as proof of wild grace .
 
I didn’t know that the greatest challenge of motherhood wouldn’t be figuring out how to grow a boy into a man; but learning how to keep his mama’s eyes from growing dim.

I didn’t know how difficult it would be to live near-sighted; didn’t realize how easy it would be to miss the treasure right beneath my feet.
 
“Satan is an agent of familiarity…” Max Lucado writes in God Came Near.  “His goal is nothing less than to take what is most precious to us and make it appear common.”
 
There’s no affliction that steals our vision more quickly than the curse of the common life. And no disease that hardens our hearts like the dimming of our eyes. 
 
When all I can see in the priceless moments of my day is the spelling words that need to be mastered and the laundry piled high and the dirty dishes cluttering the counter, then I am at risk of becoming blind.  
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