Gratitude is essential for handling challenging seasons with grace. And since these last few months have been particularly busy and stressful, I thought: let me take my own advice and “think on” those things that are excellent and lovely and worthy of praise right now (Philippians 4:8) – those things that are bringing me joy. Especially since this is a new season with fall arriving, which means cooler temperatures (if you live in the south, you know what I’m talking about!), college football (Go Blue!) and some upcoming speaking events, projects, and a new book to write (more on that soon)!
So in the midst of all that’s happening, here’s what I’m loving right now:
1. Encouragement on the cancer journey
A few weeks ago, I posted a video update on my health and cancer journey. Since then, I’ve been flooded with emails, cards, and notes of encouragement. Both from my followers and from old friends. That sense of support has been one of the strange blessings that has come from my diagnosis. I have been unbelievably touched by hearing from people that I don’t know personally who have been praying for me regularly. Just . . . wow. I’m overwhelmed and grateful for people’s kindness. And it is also so special to re-invigorate a sense of closeness with friends I haven’t spoken to in a long time. (Which is especially important to me because while I have a public social media presence, I’m not really able to use social media to stay connected with old friends.) So these personal messages I’ve received recently have been such a sweet blessing to me.
2. The book When to Walk Away: Finding Freedom from Toxic People by Gary Thomas
I’m not getting anything to promote this – I just wanted to share one of the best books I’ve read in a long time! This book by my friend Gary Thomas has been an invaluable resource to me and my team recently. It is so very easy to get burdened and distracted by challenges from difficult family members, social media attacks from unhealthy people, or even just the rude and entitled rage-monsters that seem to be everywhere in restaurants and on airplanes these days! It is easy to take all of that personally and feel like we need to placate, to spend time responding, to encourage or challenge or soothe. Especially if we are trying to be kind, and “Christ-like.” Yet Gary convincingly shows that if we are dealing with a toxic person, all those efforts are likely only distracting us from the much more helpful and healthy things that God wants us to be focusing on. I had never before noticed that even Jesus walked away from toxic people. He had His eyes on the prize and refused to allow his time to be taken and his emotional energy to be pulled away from the mission and purpose God had for Him.
Anyone who has been spinning their wheels trying to address and respond to the division and toxicity in the culture – or in an individual relationship in their lives – will find a lot of freedom from this book!
3. Downtime with good friends!
This pandemic season has been a strange blessing to me and Jeff as public speakers. On the one hand, it has been difficult to have fewer events (and thus lower ministry revenue) as in-person events still remain “iffy” today. But one true blessing has been the ability to spend more time with friends. Over the last 17 years, the “usual” times to connect with friends (like, “Hey, come over for dinner on Saturday!”) have been few and far between because I’m usually traveling to speak at conferences and church events! So it has been precious to be able to answer “Yes!” when someone says, “Want to go out for lunch after church on Sunday?”
I particularly loved a recent weekend at the beach with close friends who have a condo overlooking the water. And boy, was that needed during this insanely busy season! So while I definitely hope more speaking and ministry opportunities start opening up again soon as places open up again from COVID, I have loved the downtime with friends.
5. Kids pressing into God
This one is painful, but I’m including it here because it is much on my heart . . . and is an example of how God takes even things the enemy meant for evil and will use it for good. Last week, there was a terrible car accident involving three boys from my son’s small Christian high school. As I’m writing this, one of the boys is in a coma, on a ventilator, in a neurotrauma ICU unit. As you can imagine, we are all fervently praying for this boy and his family (and the others involved). And this has been an incredibly emotional time for the students and the school family, who all love this boy dearly. We want to protect our kids from this pain, to spare them from this testing of their faith. And yet in this broken world, pain and tests will come. In the middle of this trauma, the students have pressed into God. They have intensely prayed (they kept showing up to pray so much at the hospital that the hospital finally had to ask everyone to pray elsewhere so as to not block up the area for others!). They have created worship playlists for the boy’s mom to play to him as he lies unconscious. They have made meals and donated to a GoFundMe page for expenses. And this week as they gather for a previously scheduled school-wide retreat, they will be wrestling together with trusting God through these challenges of life. As one mom said of this image of students gathering to pray before school, “This is not what these kids are usually doing at 7:40 am before classes start.”
As I said, this one is a painful thing. It is not light and cheerful. But even as I cry for the boy and his family and continue to pray for God’s mercy, I love that God will make Himself known in the dark and tearful places. Not just in the light ones.
Please let me know what things you’re loving these days that help bring joy into your life – even in the dark places. Let’s spread that goodness and gratitude around to each other!
This article was also published at Patheos.
Check out the online courses of Shaunti’s research and teachings at SurprisingHope.com.
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