“Give Thanks”: The Epic Project, Wherein I Rejoice in Another Year in Jesus

Before I pen this post, allow me to say that what you are about to read is entirely Hannah’s doing. It wouldn’t have come to this were it not for that beloved sister of mine…

Back in 2011, we were doing our normal Thanksgiving things. I was rejoicing in the ways that the Lord had shown Himself to be my hiding place. We made macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes and green-bean casserole, a delicious basket of rolls… and—oh, yes—a turkey. We poured glasses of iced tea, set out plates adorned with sunflowers and I Corinthians XIII—not the most seasonal solution, but those plates were special to us—and sat at the table to pray. On the table next to my plate was the digital voice recorder. I had scarcely been without it since July of that year, and I had no intention of allowing Thanksgiving to go unscrapbooked. Well, we prayed, and then Jedidiah asked us to describe what we were all thankful for that year. Blessings were declared—we were thankful for God’s work in our lives, for each member of this exquisite family, for physical health… When it was my turn, I said:

“Last year, I was thankful for my spiritual life and that the Lord had gotten me through that year. It was so trying, and I was just determined that HE HAD GOTTEN US THROUGH THAT YEAR! and because things were looking better… that that would be kind of the end of most of our trials. I, I thought that. [Meaning: I really believed this, naively.] And this year, I’m thankful—yes, for the same thing, for my spiritual life… But I’m thankful that He has become my secret place. I’m not thankful because I think that it’s going to be the end of all trials. Maybe it is; maybe this is the last thing that we’re ever really going to have to go through… But I’m thankful that He’s going to get us through anything. I’m thankful that He’s shown me that, and that He’s taught me how to trust again. I’m thankful for the times when I had to really pray through … A plane trip that [Hannah] took when [she] went to see [an acquaintance]. … But that I didn’t have to panic about the whole airplane thing. [I am terrified of flying, and of having my loved-ones fly, but the Lord had sustained me when Hannah took that trip.] I’m thankful that He has taught me again how to trust and how to take refuge in Him—and, no, I’m not perfect at it, but I was certainly a whole lot less perfect at it last year, and all I really wanted [at that time] was for everything to go away. All I really want now is to see His glory.”

As you may have deduced from the disjointed nature of that speech and from the excessive use of brackets, I just listened to the recording of that moment and inserted a transcript of it here. Well, toward the end of that speech, everyone was embracing and weeping, so overjoyed at Who He is. After the emotion of the moment had died down, though, I was teased for quite some time because I had not done the typical minute-and-a-half cataloguing of earthly and spiritual blessings and left it at that. “You gave a speech!” “A message!” “What was that—a mini-sermon without the pastorship?” Yes, yes it was. Furthermore, I am convinced that 2011 would have been a one-time event were it not for some of the teasing. However, Hannah’s remarks have made me feel that the 2011 speech should be an annual tradition, and I have done my best to make it so ever since. Last year, I believe I spoke on being set free from a paralyzing depression and gradually restored thereafter.

I have been contemplating all of this for over a week. I plan to carry on the tradition this year, but would like to do it with deliberate umph. If I believed in the use of PowerPoint, I would create one—but I don’t, and never will. PowerPoint is for business meetings. It is not appropriate for church, because it should not be used in worship of any kind—and, at their core, these little speeches of mine are worship. So, no PowerPoint. Instead, I plan to use actual, tangible objects to illustrate my life, placing them on the table one at a time and expounding on their significance. I may also employ music.

And now, my beloved readers, you are going to be a part of my brain-storming session. Commencons!

“Back in April, 2012, I accompanied you on a number of errands. At one point, we stopped at [a diner] for chocolate malts. As I waited, I found a paper napkin. [At this point, I will reach into the bag I will have brought and retrieve a paper napkin. I will probably unfold the napkin as I talk.] Suddenly, I was caught up in what that napkin would look like if I unfolded it—how the thin, fragile paper would resemble the intricacy of Bible pages. And, oh, to think on the Word of God! For the rest of the day, my heart was enveloped in a knowledge of His presence. This, I learned, is what it is to pray without ceasing. It is possible—Paul was not employing hyperbole when he told us to do that. And for months after, the them of prayer without ceasing continued to envelop me. It was as though the Lord was taking a passage I had only ever read and applying it directly to my heart. It was shortly thereafter that I realized that my life is really comprised of themes—great, overarching ideas that characterize certain eras in my spiritual life.

“This year has been no different. First, there was the era of rest—from November of last year to early March of this year. [I have a candle decorated with four crosses. The lid, too, has a cross cut into the top, and the effect is like that of a lantern. The candle itself is highly fragrant and would detract from the food aromas that will be filling the dining area, so I will simply bring the lid, holding it up and emphasizing the cross.] There are many things in life that I am not all that good at—thinking holistically when my brain wants me to be so concrete about life, engaging in intense emotional or physical exertion and finding work a pleasure, certain types of paperwork, talking to others… But one thing I am good at is knowing how to rest. I’m good at listening to worship music in many different languages, loving the Old Covenant as well as the New, connecting mundane words and phrases with the things of God… Resting. Being rather than doing. Of course, there used to be quite a tension in my heart between what I knew I was called to do and what I felt others expected of me. The classic Mary and Martha tension—but, you know, Jesus loved them both. And gradually, I learned to do what I needed to do without tearing myself away from worship, and I learned that worship and rest comprised a glorious calling that should not be spurned. This was when I learned to devote one specific day to Him each week, and when I wrote and refinded that allegory. [The allegory is entitled “Your Grace Is Sufficient” and is present on this blog.] I’m so thankful…

“From early March to early May, the overarching theme was honesty. By this, I don’t mean simply not lying, or even just telling the truth—but a sense of purity, holiness, and sincerity that penetrates every facet of life. [I have an old-fashioned-looking glass bottle with a quaint latch and an artistic handle. I call it the Iced Tea Lantern. I will be setting it on the table, filled with iced tea. Unlike other objects, which I will be retrieving and then replacing, the Iced Tea Lantern will remain on the table—both as a symbol of something I’m still experiencing and for the practical purpose of using it as my beverage du jour.] Those were the days of writing the Alpha and Omega Project [an annotated compendiom of everything that had ever blessed me or my family]. That project required a level of sincerity that was sometimes daunting, but always exhilarating. It also served as a reminder that I have a profoundly unique perspective on life. Like the Iced Tea Lantern—you know that iced tea is a motif, that it tells a story of sunshine and clean laundry freshly warmed in the dryer and of children’s Maranatha! Recordings and of coming home from a long journey. To others, iced tea is simply iced tea. Sometimes, this has been a gift; at other times, a challenge. I call it the rosebush—both thorns and blooms. That theme of honesty embedded itself in my heart and removed any possibility of facades. I shan’t elaborate on this, but the Scripture for that theme is John 1:43-50, which describes Jesus’ interactions with Nathanael. The Lord gave me that passage in 2010, and these past few months have only served to reiterate it. Yes, I’m so thankful.

“Then, from 6 May to 6 July, there was the era of restoration. First, on 6 May, the Lord showed me that He is enough, no matter how some of His people treat me in church and such… Let’s not dwell on that, save to say that He is my shield, my exceedingly great reward. On 7 May, He promised to restore me and to heal the heartache caused by so much pain in 2006. [I will retrieve my Bible, a Revised Standard Version in a quilted cotton case, trimmed in softest lace, with a cameo affixed to it.] This Bible was given to me in 2004, when life was still pure and new… Then, I endured things that threatened to shred my heart, and I did not know what to do about them. I didn’t even think to ask the Lord for healing because, on the surface at least, I appeared fully set free. Only I knew the turmoil I continued to experience. But then, for two weeks in May, the Lord gradually began to restore me… And then, on 21 May, He set me completely free from all the anguish of 2006. [Singing while Unzipping this case to reveal a worn and much-loved leather Bible] “He’s turned my mourning into dancing again…” And I am full of joy. Every waking moment, I now spend dancing in my heart before the Lord, worshiping Him with a devotion I thought had been silenced, soaring on eagles’ wings, rejoicing in a treasure I cannot even put into words. [If I can find it in time and fix a flaw in the construction, I will hold aloft a Willow Tree carving, a girl who appears to be dancing with abandon, with her arms outstretched. I will also be placing the Bible in my lap instead of returning it to the bag—again, symbolic of something I continue to experience.] Hallelujah! I’m so thankful…

“I think I would have continued doing exactly what I was doing—rejoicing, but perhaps without as much growth—had it not been for 7 July. You all know the story: hot water heater, long and complicated days, new carpet… [Retrieving a small battery-operated water fountain, with no rocks but with enough water for the demonstration.] I was torn by all of this. For a time, I feared that I had lost what the Lord had so recently given… But then… [Now, adding the little rocks that go with this fountain, one by one until all are in place.] Then, there was a time of devotion. Of remembering anew who I am in Christ Jesus. Of continuing to read Matthew and Isaiah and Psalms. Of studying Hebrews with [Naomi] and just holding fast to the Father. Of spending that week in the Oasis, and listening to the Oasis Network [a Christian radio station from Oklahoma]. Of learning to differentiate emotional stress from spiritual turmoil. Of putting my apartment back together after having been displaced—rearranging the furniture, and allowing it to be symbolic of starting anew. Of acquiring the new sofa set and doing interesting things like recording the Phonetic Alphabet. Of writing that poem, the one about tears, cascading down… [At this point, turning on the waterfall and allowing water to actually trickle down the twists and turns in that little structure. Quietly:] Yes, I am thankful.

“And then, do you know what He taught me? He taught me about healing [displaying a container of anointing oil], and about spiritual warfare [a wooden representation of the Armor of God]. You know that I was very concerned about an impending doctor’s appointment for a time. And yet, what went on in my prayer-closet was a different story entirely. During those evenings when I drank tea and listened to the Oasis network, I was being constantly reminded of the power of the Holy Spirit. In fact, Acts II might well be the theme for all of October. That’s why we read so much of it together. [Over the past several weeks, I have been requesting recordings of specific chapters in Acts, particularly those pertaining to healing, God speaking to His servants, and othyer manifestations of His power.] This has been a time of learning anew to love, to cherish, to rejoice in, the comfort of the Holy Spirit, and to trust Him. All of this was clarified to me in what the Lord said to Hezekiah—”Surely, I will heal you.” If ever I needed this promise confirmed to my heart, it was last month—and now it is firmly etched there again, a promise for me as well as for that king of Judah. The spiritual warfare aspect of this came in when I began to remember that when we resist the devil, he must flee from us. I didn’t always trust the Lord to the extent that I should have, and sometimes I didn’t come against Satan—as evidenced from some of the things I said and refused to let go—but I began to learn, to see what it was to put on the whole Armor of God, and to call on Jesus when I was tempted. Believe it or not, Mark is full of moments that emphasize spiritual warfare. We’ll explore them sometime… And I really am so thankful.

“And now? Is there an overarching theme for this moment? Yes, there is… It is a portion of Colossians 3:3: “Your life is hid with Christ in God.” [Removing several Communion cups—a few olive-wood, some glass, some plastic, some of slightly different shapes—and one taller cup, more fragile glass, and elaborately engraved.] You may have noticed that I have been quiet, especially last week. In fact, [Hannah] even told me that I looked sad. I wasn’t melancholy then, and I’m not now. I have been quiet because [a sister in Christ] and I have been talking about what makes each of us unique. I had confided to her that I sometimes drive myself and others to distraction by some of my eccentricities. I have tortured myself for years, wondering whether I should change but constantly held by those Scriptures about honesty [tapping the Iced Tea Lantern]. Well, as [this sister in Christ] and I were discussing the ins and outs of what needed to be changed and what didn’t, the Lord filled me with the deepest possible of peace. Ever since that time, He has been guiding me through every moment of every day. It is as though He has been carrying me. And ever and always, a constant in my life and what He has engraved at the deepest level on my heart, has been the Scripture about my life being hidden with Christ in God. [Noting the Communion cups] We are all vessels for His glory, used by Him—some of us to reach those who are broken, some to give nourishment and provide leadership to those inside the church. [Holding up the one unique cup] And some of us are Mary of Bethany, called to rest and worship, made of different materials and with different adornments and of a different size… It used to bother me that I did not look like other vessels, that I did not belong to this group or that one or the ones over here [separating the different types of cups into groups]. Now, though, I have learned for myself that my life belongs to Him, that it is hidden. In Christ. With God. I wish I had more profound words to express this concept—I wish I could explain it adequately—but for now, all I know is that it is in my heart, placed there by the Lord. I know that we are all hidden with Him when we die to self, despite trials or quirks or pain or brokenness or earthly difficulties. And I know I am so very thankful.”

That will be my speech—or my presentation, however you would like to think of it. I just proofread this post while taking notes on the things I would need and the points I wanted to emphasize within each of the seven themes. It begins to strike me that perhaps this project is too vast for the Thanksgiving table. Never mind that my own food will get cold—I could live with that, and it does not concern me. However, some of this bears the undivided attention of Jedidiah and Company. I might bring it into the living room following our feast and show others what the Lord has been doing in my life—things that I have felt ill-equipped to discuss before because they were so close to my heart. However I do this, I know that it should be a joyful and celebratory project that may help to put the spiritual aspect back into this day.

Thank you for the ideas, Hannah, no matter how inadvertently you bestowed them in 2011.

Addendum: “Give Thanks” is one of those delightful songs which proclaims the Lord as all-powerful. Centered on the provision of the Holy Spirit; the grace of God the Father, Who is referred to as the Holy One; and rejoicing in the gift of Jesus Christ—absolutely beautiful! Any of the various versions by Don Moen is anointed, but I am basing this post off of the rendition from his album “Worship with Don Moen”. As far as I can tell, this album is still unavailable from the iTunes Store, but may be purchased from Don Moen’s website.

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