Monthly Archives: August 2019

The Little Things

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Photo by Engin Akyurt on Pexels.com

I was getting ready for bed and suddenly felt this uncontrollable urge to write about something that happened today.

My friend, who I met in my Czech language class in the Spring, and I took a break from language review/practice to go for lunch. We went to a restaurant a few minutes from my apartment, and prepared to order.

We had a lovely, young woman as our waitress, and when she approached us, she (of course) spoke to us in Czech. My friend and I ordered our drinks and tried to tell her we needed a few more minutes with the menu. At this point, she switched to English, but I quickly told her we were learning Czech and wanted to practice. She smiled sweetly and switched back to Czech, but made an effort to speak more slowly so we could understand.

Throughout the remaining time at the restaurant this wonderful server treated us with kindness and patience as we fumbled our way through communicating with her in Czech.

Her gentleness and understanding of the fact that we were trying hard to speak in her language has stayed with me all day. I can hardly express how much I appreciated her patience, even though the restaurant was busy and she had many others who needed her service.

If she was frustrated by us, she didn’t show it one bit.

When we made a mistake or said a word incorrectly, there was no judgement.

Her sweet smile never left her face.

After we left, I’m sure she did not give us another thought, but her actions have stayed at the front of my mind all day.

How she treated us may not seem like a big deal to many, especially given that her job is in the service industry, but it meant a lot to me. She made me feel appreciated and valued for attempting to speak only in Czech.

This has not been a regular experience for me; often when I have attempted to speak Czech, the person I am speaking to will switch to English. If they don’t know English, they’ll just use hand gestures. And many times I have sensed their annoyance with me as I stumble through my limited Czech.

My experience today has reminded me of the importance of appreciating the little things.

So often we only focus on the big things – the next adventure, a new experience, going on vacation, the start of a relationship, the big presentation, a visit from a loved one, the wedding day, the birthday celebration.

We spend the time in between ‘the big things’ waiting for, and anticipating the next ‘big thing’.

In doing that, we frequently miss out on the little things that matter just as much as the big things.

The little things like…

Seeing a wooden moose painted with your home country’s flag in a small German town.

When your friend’s 5 year old son wants to sit next to only you.

When you see a beautiful landscape and take a moment to be mesmerized by it.

When you get excited over the appearance of a rainbow in the sky.

When there’s a hammock on the porch of the beautiful cottage you’re staying at for a few days.

I could go on and on…

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Often we can fail to see the beauty in the moments that seem small.

We forget that even the little things need to be celebrated.

We’re so busy planning or praying for that next big thing that we don’t realize how incredible much of the small things are.

A friend of mine writes her blessings in a gratitude journal. It helps her focus on all of the good in her life instead of the negative.

She struggles with anxiety, so it would be easy for her to focus on her trials. Instead she purposely focuses on her blessings and all that she is grateful for.

I used to keep a gratitude journal, and it is something I am going to do again.

I want to focus on all of the positive things, big and small, that God has blessed me with in my life.

I want to remember that every experience, every moment, every word spoken, every action taken matters.

Because we never know how our words or actions may affect someone else.

I am certain that the waitress I had today has no idea what an impact she had on me. I am sure she doesn’t know that she made my day better through her actions. I think she would be surprised to know how much what she did meant to me.

We often have no idea how we can impact people. Something we do that may seem minuscule or ordinary to us may be the difference between a good and a bad day for someone else.

A smile can lift a hurting heart.

Holding a door can straighten burdened shoulders.

Giving up a seat can bring rest to aching legs.

These are all little things.

But they matter so much.

Pay attention to the little things. Find the beauty in them. Find the inspiration in them. Find the joy in them.

Embrace the blessings.

Exude gratitude.

And be the bright spot in someone else’s day.

 

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Thorn in the flesh

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I am currently reading a book by Charles Swindoll called ‘Paul: a Man of Grit and Grace’, which is about the life of the Apostle Paul. The chapter I just completed focused on suffering and the “thorn in the flesh” God gave Paul to keep him humble.

Though many have speculated, it is unknown what Paul’s thorn was, whether it was physical, mental or emotional. All we know is that it caused him great pain, and he pleaded with the Lord three times to have it removed. We also know that God’s response was ‘No’.

Each time He said, ‘My Grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness’.”    2 Corinthians 12:9a

At this point, Paul could have responded in many ways. He could have walked away from the Lord in anger. He could have wallowed in his suffering and given up on life. He could have refused to do God’s work until he was healed.

But instead he accepted his thorn.

So now I am glad to boast about my weakness, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:9b-10

Wow.

I don’t have another response to that, so just, “Wow”.

Paul’s faith and trust in the Lord was so strong that he simply accepted his thorn knowing that in his weakness, God would make him strong. Paul chooses to boast in his weakness so that God may be glorified. He accepts his suffering and trusts God’s promise that His grace is sufficient.

In ‘Paul’, Charles Swindoll writes, “The world needs more followers of Christ who embrace pain and hardship rather than deny it.”

So often people come to Christ and expect that life will suddenly be significantly better. They expect instant happiness, no more pain, and a life without drama. I’ve heard this and witnessed it many times. They think that after they accept Jesus, God will give them everything they need and desire. Then they get so angry and discouraged when that doesn’t happen.

This is why it is so important that those of us who are followers of Christ are open about our struggles. We must be able to show our suffering and reveal our weaknesses. Then we can also show how God uses our times of trial to reveal His grace and strength.

God never promised us a life without suffering. In fact, He promised us the exact opposite. Jesus told us that as His followers, we would face struggle, trial and pain. He was very clear that His way is difficult, but He also promised He would be with us and give us strength, and that our reward in heaven would far outweigh the suffering of this life.

Paul is an inspiring example of true faith and trust God, despite enduring much pain and suffering. Charles Swindoll writes, “The secret to Saul’s contentment was knowing Christ’s strength was perfected in his weakness.”

We all have a thorn in our flesh. For some it is a physical ailment. For others it’s a constant, sinful temptation.

My thorn in the flesh is my mental illness – the depression and anxiety I’ve struggled with since the age of 11.

For many years, my thorn caused me excruciating pain and suffering. I remember nights of sobbing and begging God to take my illness. I remember pleading with Him and offering to do anything to be relieved of the hurt that ravaged me from the inside out. I remember asking what I had done to deserve it, and then promising to be good all my life if He took it from me.

But He never took it from me.

As my suffering and desperation grew, I turned away from God and tried to numb my pain with alcohol, drugs and self-harm. I was drowning in self hatred, anger and hurt, and too many times I came close to ending my life. But in those times, He always saved me, even when I didn’t realize He was.

It was only when I finally turned to Him in my suffering, when I finally laid myself at His feet and asked for His grace that I learned how He could strengthen me in my weakness. In His grace, I found healing. In His strength, I found hope. In His love, I found joy.

And I began to understand Paul’s acceptance and contentment even when God did not remove his thorn.

I discovered that in my weakness, Christ’s strength can be made perfect. I learned that God’s grace in my suffering is sufficient.

He revealed to me how He could use my suffering and use me to bring glory to His name.

God has used my struggles with mental illness to help others. He has used me to help others who also suffer with depression and anxiety. He has given me strength to not only overcome my struggles, but to help others find hope, joy, strength and healing in Him. And that is an incredible gift.

I know that I will always be at risk for my depression and anxiety to attack. I will never be free of my illness as long as I am in this world. But now, with God’s strength and grace, I am prepared for it when it comes.

In fact, just last week, my depression began to surface, so I had to get into “battle” mode and put my fight plan in action. But it’s a battle I cannot win on my own. I am weak and I am broken. But when I turn to Him, He pours His strength into me so I can endure my thorn and battle my demons.

In His grace and strength, my weakness is made strong. With Him, I have nothing to fear, even when my thorn brings me to my knees.

Because of this, I, like Paul, am grateful for my suffering. It has brought me closer to God and allowed me to experience His grace, mercy, power and love.