We Have a Gratitude Problem


Dear Church, we have a gratitude problem, and it’s not what you think.

We seem to have conflated the concepts of gratitude and worship, and so much so that many of us can no longer tell the difference. When we think about what it means to worship God, all too often our focus is reflecting on all the ways God has been good to us and all the ways we’ve seen His faithfulness in the form of blessings and earthly provision. Even listening to some modern worship songs can often reveal just how much the focus has shifted from who God is to what God has done for us.

As I begin to get deeper into writing my upcoming book about suffering, I’ve had to stop and reflect on this question: why it is that the modern church seems to have lost its way in regards to suffering? Why is my generation genuinely struggling to cope with pain and affliction and still keep the faith? I think part of it has to do with this “gratitude problem.” When our focus drifts away from who God is and we fixate instead on looking for God’s faithfulness in what he does for us? We shift our perspective, and we’ll ultimately weight our understanding of God by our own circumstances and experiences.

It often starts innocently enough: we see God move in an incredible way to provide for us, or we hear a testimony of His power and faithfulness to a fellow believer, and we say to ourselves “See? God is so good.” There is of course truth in that statement, God is so good, but the problem is when we assign that goodness to Him only in light of the ways we see Him provide for us. We use our limited perspective of what we believe is good and just and fair in this life, and start to see that as a measuring stick for our understanding of God’s faithfulness. Sure, we know God is good when He gives the miracle baby to the faithful couple who have spent 10 years waiting and praying, but is that WHY we know He is good? Do we believe He is good when the couple that tries for 20 years never gets a miracle of their own? Do we believe He is good when cancer and disease take our loved ones seemingly too soon? Do we believe He is good when the deepest desires of our heart are the very things He says no to? Do we believe He is good when we don’t have such obvious “proof” to hold up to show it? When we begin to focus too much on the testimonies of the things God has given to us as the proof of God’s character, then it shouldn’t be surprising when hard times lead us to question our faith or even God’s love for us. After all, if God’s gifts to us are the evidence we look for to prove His love and ultimately His goodness, how can we be sure of Him when our prayer seemingly goes unanswered?

 

 One of the ways I’ve tried to become more intentional about combating this issue is in prayer. We have used a very simple model in our home to teach our boys about prayer. Each night when we have bedtime prayers, the boys have followed the same pattern: first they thank God for at least three things, then they pray for at least three other people, then they can pray for themselves (which always includes an apology for sin and a request for forgiveness, as well as asking God to help them not to make bad choices and to make good choices,) then we tell Jesus we love Him and say Amen. I had always felt pretty good about this model, and my own prayer time usually followed a similar pattern as well. I wanted to make sure there was always a focus on gratitude before making requests, so that we never fell into the bad habit of seeing God as a genie granting wishes or a person we only come to when we want something. Recently I realized though that we were forgetting a very important aspect of how we should be relating to God – worship. There was nothing in that model of prayer that gave time to really reflect on who God is and to show Him the worship He deserves. So we’re altering our bedtime prayer pattern to add a new beginning. Before anything else, right after “Dear God,” we make at least three “You are” statements about who God is. “You are holy.” “You are wise.” “You are strong.” “You are everywhere.” “You are the Creator of everything.” “You are the God who made me.” “You are perfect in all Your ways.” No matter what they choose, it gives us all a chance to reflect on God’s character and to worship Him – not for what He has given to us, but simply for being God.

Dear Church, let’s work to separate our worship from our gratitude. Let us remind each other regularly that our God is not good because, our God is simply good. Full stop. Period. End of Sentence. Let’s commit to having worship services where we not only sing about what He has done for us, but more importantly of who He is. Let’s boldly share our present tense testimonies, the stories of those who haven’t yet reached the promise land, had the miracle baby, received the healing, or otherwise put the bow on the end of their story – but who still proclaim unequivocally of the goodness of their God. Let’s intentionally seek to teach our children to see God less as the provider of the things that bring us joy, but rather the fullness of our joy itself. Let us really worship God and not simply show Him our gratitude, for He is so very worthy of our praise.

Speak Their Names

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I’ve had seven miscarriages.

It’s a sentence I’ve grown too comfortably numb repeating, despite the very real pain my heart still carries from the loss. I think when death comes in measures beyond what we can bear our brain tries to cope by focusing on the number itself rather than people behind it. We can’t fully get our head around the 6,000,000 Jews murdered in the holocaust, but we can’t hold back the tears when we’re shown the story of just one. Why is that?

I think it’s because there is holiness in personhood. [Read more…]

Devotionals Aren’t Bible Studies

quiettimeWith the start of fall and children heading back to school, my Instagram feed is once again filled with snaps of book covers laid next to morning mugs of coffee, captioned with inspirational quotes taken from within their pages. Women are getting back into their morning quiet time routine, moms’ ministries are announcing their new fall event schedule, and Bible Study groups are starting up again after their summer break. With the amazing year that Christian publishing has had, there’s certainly no shortage of quality books to choose from. My own Amazon purchase history certainly suggests it’s been a gangbuster year for female authors of faith. But here’s the thing friends: those inspiring devotional books we all love? Most of them actually aren’t Bible studies, and it’s important we carefully recognize the difference. [Read more…]

When Doctors Hurt Instead of Heal

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Far too often grappling with a chronic illness is a fight not only for your health but also for your dignity. Many times the medical community can unintentionally compound the pain of those suffering by minimizing their experience or even invalidating them entirely. It can take years or even decades for some patients to get an answer to what is plaguing them, and for some the diagnosis never comes at all. Here are some actual responses I have encountered from doctors in my 15 year journey to getting my diagnosis of Lyme disease.
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Thoughtful Gifts for the Chronically Ill

Since I often blog and speak about my chronic illnesses, I occasionally find myself on the receiving end of an email that sounds something like this, “Hey Stephanie, my friend so-and-so just found out they have insert diagnosis here. I really want to send them a care package or a gift to show them I care. Could you give me some kind of idea of what they would want?” In fact, I get these sorts of messages so often I’ve decided to dedicate an entire blog post to answering this, so I can point people towards this list in the future.

It’s important to remember: whether your friend or family member is facing a life long chronic ailment, is spending the next few months enduring chemo or radiation, is facing a long bedrest for pregnancy complications, or is learning to cope with a new physical handicap – every case, and every person, will be different. Not every gift is appropriate in every circumstance or personality, so above all, don’t be afraid to ask. But in the end, I know first hand how hard it can be to ask for help even when it’s offered, so hopefully this list will offer some great ideas when you have that friend says “it’s ok… we’re managing” (Yeah, guilty as charged on that one!)

Heartfelt Gifts

Caring Crate Subscription Box ($39.95 per month, or discount if ordering multiple months)
caringcrate

Subscription boxes are all the rage right now, and this incredible company decided to create a box specifically to minister to the needs of the chronically ill. Every box has beautiful self care products for the body and mind, each hand chosen with those suffering from long term illnesses in mind. They are the perfect gift for somebody going through cancer treatments since you can arrange a 3 or even 6 months subscription so that when the initial wave of cards and calls start to taper off, they are still receiving beautiful reminders each month that someone is thinking of them.

Spoon Necklace ($14.99)
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Members in the chronic illness community have adopted the spoon as one our most important symbols, often referring to ourselves as “spoonies.” The inspiration behind this comes from an incredible post called The Spoon Theory, that you can read all about here.  A spoon necklace is a touching way to tell your friend that you understand the choices she faces each day with managing her “spoons.” I suggest adding a thoughtful note to let them know you always want them to have an extra spoon for those especially tough days.

 

 

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Mama Has Lyme

mama has lyme“Does your child have any special challenges I should be aware of?”

Two tiny blank lines staring at me, enough for maybe three sentences if I wrote very narrowly. Yes, Aidan is on the autism spectrum, and has a variety of specific learning challenges in the classroom, but there was already an IEP file explaining these things at length. There wasn’t space here to revisit those again.

“Does your child have any special challenges I should be aware of?”

Two tiny blank lines, waiting for me to explain. My face was beginning to flush and I could feel the fog in my brain growing thicker as I grew more and more flustered trying to turn thoughts into words on this cheery yellow paper. The neuropathy in my hands was making it harder to grip the pen and I could see the words on the page start to shift out of focus the longer I tried keep them in view.

“Does your child have any special challenges I should be aware of?”

I scribbled out lightly, “Yes, I have Lyme disease.” [Read more…]

Tortellini Sausage Soup

When the first grey fall-ish day descends upon Oregon, or even the slightest hint of rain can be smelled on the pavement, my husbands eyes light up like a kid at Christmas. “Is it time for soup?”

This soup is quite possibly the most requested item of anything I cook. It’s filling, hits that perfect comfort spot when the cool rainy weather comes to stay, and the recipe is easily doubled (once i even tripled it across two large pots) to serve a large group. This is definitely what we would call a meal soup: its far to hearty to be served as an appetizer course to a regular meal. Just make a side of garlic bread, perfect for scraping every last drop from the bowl, and this soup is a meal in and of itself.

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God Doesn’t Exist in a Niche: Neither Should You

niche

 

Finding your niche. Define your niche. Know your niche.

Niche.

Niche is hands down the official buzzword of the blogosphere. What it mean? Essentially, the number one piece of blogging advice given at conferences, classes, and all over Pinterest boils down to this: find a specifically defined and branded area of the internet where you can establish yourself as an expert, and then stay in your lane. If you blog about recipes? Don’t post about home decor. If you’re a graphic designer? Don’t talk about your parenting. Pick an area of expertise, and then streamline your posts to stay within your sphere so that you have a clearly defined audience and an established brand.

So what’s my niche here at The Joy Parade?

I don’t have one.
photo-1461773518188-b3e86f98242fWhen I started this blog, I hired an amazing designer who specialized in branding. I created a Pinterest board while working with her to brainstorm what I wanted my branding to communicate. Sure, some of that work is about color palettes and graphics and such, but much of it is defining how you want to make people feel. It’s imagining what your readers will experience when they go to your website, scroll through your Instagram, or otherwise engage with your brand online.

If you’ve ever clicked on the Meet Stephanie page, you may have seen this verse: “So being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.” The verse serves as a manifesto of sorts for my purpose behind the Joy Parade. It’s a place where I get to share myself with my readers in an authentic way, letting each and every one of you into my story to see what God is teaching me and how He’s showing Himself to our little family. It’s an extension of who I am – spilled out to take form in these words and images, and sent lovingly outward to travel the web and onto the screens of whoever God would have them for.

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Cultivate Community with a Midsummers Soiree

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Each summer I host a dinner for 12 in my backyard. Months of planning go into the event: theme, decor, menu, no detail is overlooked. I figure if we can invest so much time and effort into celebrating events like baby showers, engagement dinners, or birthday parties, why not take one night a year to celebrate the people we appreciate simply for the role they play in making our lives more rich and full. Why not celebrate community itself?

8In selecting the guest list, which varies each year, I deliberately try to bring together a group of ladies who vary in social circles. In fact, many of the guests share only one thing in common when the night begins: they know me. A guest of this years event summed it up perfectly when she posted a photo on social media with the caption, “We ate appetizers with strangers and dessert with friends.” Sure, there’s always a little initial awkwardness as people get to know each other, but by the time the sun had set and the table was lit by the string lights overhead? The conversation was rich, the connections ran deep, and the authenticity with which these women spoke and shared was vulnerable and brave.

This year I used a floral theme, inspired by my desire to create a floral table runner to feature as the centerpiece of my tablescape. I waited until Michaels had a great coupon to combine with the clearancing of their spring seasonal decor to make room for summer. I grabbed some mixed bouquets from the clearance section that caught my eye, trying to keep to a believable color palette to better imitate the look of fresh blooms, and then supplemented with some greenery and single stems from the floral department. When I got home I disassembled everything and placed them all in piles so I could see all of the varying styles I had to work with. 90 minutes later, after placing each bloom individually on the burlap open-weave ribbon I was using as a base,  I had a beautiful faux floral table runner that set the tone for whole evening.

4The 2 sets of china were thrifted at low cost, the glassware was from my own collection but had also been thrifted, and the beautiful gold flatware was actually PLASTIC! Can you believe it? You never would have known until you picked it up. Thanks to some Amazon sleuthing I was able to invest in a very low cost grey table cloth and white linen napkins that are sure to get future use. One of my favorite finds those was probably a set of beautiful flickering led taper candles, so we didn’t have to worry about candles blowing out in the wind. (The set I purchased is no longer available, but was very similar to this set, which actually includes a remote as well.) The beautiful menu cards were designed by the talented Freshmint Paperie on Etsy, and I simply printed them on cardstock at our local copyshop and cut them to size. Yes, there was some cost to the event as not all of the items came from my existing collection, but one of the benefits to planning all year is that you can space out the costs, as well as use the time to search for the best deals. In the end, this is one of the ways I give back to the women in my life who have blessed me over the past year, so the cost is something my husband and I consider a worthwhile investment into the people we care about most.

Here are some photos from this years event:

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Easy Letter Play with Alphabet Stamps

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With Jack being three, we’ve begun to take on a little bit of homeschool preschool. We’re not using a strict curriculum or even a set schedule, it’s mostly just following his interests and his lead and getting him comfortable with school-like activities, pre-literacy skills, shapes, numbers, etc.

Today’s activity was a real hit! We had purchased a jar of alphabet stamps from the fun in a jar collection by Recollection (available at Michaels) earlier this summer. I’m unsure if this item is still available, but I found this gorgeous option on Amazon for only $7.96 with free shipping for Prime members! I’m tempted to get one of these for the boys since it has both upper AND lower case options, as well as numbers and some punctuation as well.

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Jack enjoyed spelling out his name and Aidan’s with the stamps, as well as copying words from his Melissa and Doug See & Spell puzzle set by stamping each letter on his paper. It was great to see how comfortable he was getting with the idea of sounding out letters phonetically into words without the frustration of needing to write each individual letter.

Some quick and easy ideas for incorporating alphabet stamps into your own homeschool routine or letter play:

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