Monthly Archives: November 2017

The intentional, ordinary, simplicity of thankfulness by Willow Weston

I am often a thankless person. I can spend an entire day in a mindset that hesitates to find gratitude. I think it’s called a bad attitude. I can also get so hyper busy trying to take on my to do list that I fail to pause and recognize the blessings surrounding me. And I can spend more time thinking about what I want, than what I now have. Maybe you do this too?

The antonym of the word thankful is thankless. It is also ingratitude, unappreciative, condemnation and censure. I don’t think my spirit, deep down is a thankless one. I think I just don’t make space to be thankful. And I think thankfulness comes out a place that intentionally seeks to find it. If the height of our thankfulness comes every year for the 10 seconds we each say what we are thankful for around the Thanksgiving meal, we have yet to discover the depth of where gratitude can lead us.

As I think about the last year and the moments that I experienced true gratitude, there was something specific about each of them. Let me try and describe a few.

One night this summer, the kids and I decided to sleep out on the deck. I used to do this almost every night by myself in the summer as a kid. I loved it. I love sleeping in the fresh air. I love the air on my cheeks. I love the quiet and the peace it brings. And mostly I love the stars. Aidan and Bella and I got out as many blankets as we could find. We raided the linen closet, if you will. We pumped up an air mattress, threw those blankets on top, got in our cozy clothes and then tucked in. We, of course, looked for the big dipper and then the little dipper. We giggled and told stories, but mostly we looked for shooting stars. The idea of a shooting star still mesmerizes me. I still feel like I did when I was a girl, like a wish will come true if I see one. But now I have two kids and my greatest wish is that I will get to watch them grow up. Under the stars, I come under a big, big God with my little people and as small and insignificant as I may feel, I know God meets me. He meets us. He is Big and yet so personal, meeting us in the small and the ordinary. God made the shooting stars and He also hears my wishes. I don’t even have to utter their words. Psalm 136:7 says “Give thanks to Him who made the heavenly lights— His faithful love endures forever.”

All you have to do to be overwhelmed by gratitude is to sit under the stars.

This summer our family went on vacation to one of our favorite places, Kelowna, Canada. We were in great need of time together. We had been away for a variety things, but all with other people, and we love our people, but we needed to say no to other opportunities and say yes to connecting as a family of four. I found myself so many times on that trip in a matter of seven days with a heart overflowing with gratitude.

And you know what it was? It was turning off the phone, shutting down Facebook, taking zero pictures to post for other people, and not looking at the intraweb. It was not answering anyone’s calls, not putting out any fires, not giving any advice and not being a call away. It was not checking voice mail, not texting, not responding to every ping, every vibrate and every email. It was not using any emojis for a whole week. It is amazing what happens when we intentionally shut out the world wide web and all of its voices. We start talking. To each other. We start looking at each other in the eyes. We get bored. And we actually like it. We have dance parties. We play Gin Rummy 500. We go on bike rides. We make up dumb games and act childlike. We swim under each others legs in the pool and try to do 40 year old hand stands. We pull groin muscles. We ask unnecessary questions that lead to necessary conversations. We say thank you to each other and to God.

I love what Psalm 23 says: The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, He leads me beside quiet waters, He refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for His name’s sake. …

You know when you realize you lack nothing? It’s usually not when you leave the mall, a car lot or the signing of your new house mortgage. It’s usually when you are lying down in a green pasture or sitting beside a beach and listening to the waves crash on the shore or walking a trail surrounded by maple trees losing their leaves. You usually experience the kind of clarity that brings thankfulness when you allow God to lead you beside quiet waters. It is there He refreshes your soul and when your soul is refreshed, you can say thank you. You get to a place where you can even say thank you when your teenagers are being punks, when you are experiencing grief or when you are still wanting what you do not need. So turn everything off and say thank you, thank you, thank you.

Thankfulness is found when you say yes to God’s lead to lie down, slow down, and closedown.

This past year I got vertigo. I was so dizzy for months due to a neck trauma that I fell down a flight of stairs and crashed into a wall breaking through sheetrock. I fell into my friend Breeze. Everything was spinning and the couch became the only place I felt safe.

Do you know what vertigo is? It’s when your equilibrium is off. Apparently we have within our inner ear, a little pouch that contains something like a thousand little ear rocks that send signals to our brain guiding our sense of up and down. And did you know that when just one of those little rocks that rest on your ear hairs gets knocked off, you lose your balance. And when you lose your balance, you can’t exercise, you can’t drive, you can’t work well… It felt like all I could do was try to hold still and keep the world from spinning. When have I ever said “God thank you for my ear hairs.” Never ever have I prayed that prayer! But I tell you what, I now pray it all the time! Thank you God for the equilibrium that keeps me standing straight today!

I like what Robert Louis Stevenson says: “The best things are nearest: breath in your nostrils, light in your eyes, flowers at your feet, duties at your hand, the path of God just before you.” When is the last time you said “thank you” for the things nearest you?

Gratitude finds you saying thanks for the simplest of things.

The other day Bella was nearing the end of a week of having the flu. She still couldn’t go to school but was getting bored at home. She walked downstairs with her baby book. And by baby book, I mean a book that has no pictures, it holds cards only because Lord knows I don’t scrapbook. They were cards written by the women who came to my baby shower. Each woman wrote a note to “Baby Weston” before they ever met her.  These women had written beautiful prayers over Bella, they shared some silly things about us, her parents, and they encouraged Bella in who God would make her to be. So much life has happened in the women’s lives who wrote those cards over a decade ago; death, divorce, adoption, career changes, more babies. Baby Bella Weston is now 12 and can read the cards herself. So she sat next to me and did just that. She got to one and warned me it would be sad.

She read the card aloud, closing with Love, Grandma Weston.”

Bella looked at me and said “I miss her.”

I said “I miss her too.”

At the same time that we felt sad that we no longer had grandma, we also shared a gratitude, that we once did.

Gratitude can even come when you make space to look back and see that though you experienced loss, you also experienced love.

I recently got word that our dear friend’s kiddo was in the hospital for a serious illness and they had found irregularities on his brain. He spent weeks in the hospital while his brain was swelling and he was having seizures and the doctors were trying to assess what was going on. Caleb is one of those kids that lights up a room. He sings, he dances, he tells jokes, he does impersonations, and he makes it his mission to make everyone laugh. When his mom, Sarah told me about Caleb’s serious situation, I begged God. Now, I don’t mean to make myself sound spiritual because I often fail to pray or I pray rote prayers or I pray because I am expected to and all the other weird things we unconsciously do or don’t do around prayer. But this was different. I begged God. I said “God I am begging you…” And then I begged. I came before the only One who has the power to do anything in circumstances like this and I pleaded with Him on behalf of this very special kid.

Now just a few days ago, I just got word that Caleb is being released from the hospital! I am so so grateful and relieved! And you know what? I didn’t say thank you. I forgot. I moved on to the next prayer, the next task, the next mission, the next thing I wanted. I didn’t stop and say thank you to the One who quite potentially heard me and many others begging on behalf of Caleb and brought relief. I forgot to say thanks.

Meister Eckhart said: “The most important prayer in the world is just two words long: “Thank you.”

Thankfulness comes when we don’t chalk answered prayers up to the way the story was always going to go because that’s how we wanted it to go. Thankfulness comes when we stop confusing miracles with coincidences.

Thankfulness comes when we stop and actually say “Thank you.”

I have so many more moments that welled up in me a thankfulness this year, too many to share. There was the river rafting accident that took me under a sweeper this summer while my husband watched, thinking I might not come back up. There was the MRI that came out clear. There were all the learning lessons that gave me the chance to do things differently next time. There were the opportunities placed before me that catalyzed one thing that catalyzed another. I could keep going but this I know: Thankfulness, we must intentionally make space for it. It often shows itself in the extraordinary ordinary places. And your response to God can be as simple and profound as “Thank you.

Hand It Over by Willow Weston

I spoke at a young adult ministry recently and was moved by a young woman I met there. I had been asked to talk about sex and forgiveness that night. I let the guys in charge know that if they wanted me to come speak, what I would say would take a different angle than what might be typical when it comes to this kind of message in the church. I guess I feel like I should warn people about what they are getting when they are getting me:) I wanted to talk about the brokenness that finds us living out our sex lives in broken ways.

Because, really, if the message is: “You are messing up and God will forgive you”, I wasn’t convinced that they hadn’t already heard that or that they would walk out different than the way they came in. Though that message may be true, I wanted to go a bit deeper than that. I took on the challenge of speaking about why we keep finding ourselves in the same places we don’t want to find ourselves. I invited young people to look at their deep rooted pain that they were trying to comfort with sex and the woundedness they were trying to heal by exchanging their bodies to feel loved.

All this to say, it was a powerful night where God showed up. He invited hundreds of young people to seek God’s healing in their lives so they would no longer live out their pain in broken ways that leave them even more broken. After I preached, I sensed that we should ask people who wanted prayer to come to the sides and we would pray over them. A beautiful young woman walked up to me weeping. She said she had never been invited to view things this way. She had never viewed her sex life through the lens of her own brokenness. She was beside herself because she carried so much shame. Her shame has had the last word. She is dirty. She is used goods. She is unworthy of someone loving her unless….. She looked at me and wanted God to heal her. She no longer wanted to live out her pain and brokenness in broken ways…but not because she felt more shame like God was displeased and disgusted by her, but because she yearned for God’s hope of wholeness for her life.

We prayed together as she wept. The worship music wafted over us like God’s hand resting over our pain and our hopes. I told her it was time to hand it over. It was time to hand over all the shame, all the mean names, and all the ways she was not forgiving herself. I asked her to turn her palms up. I prayed for her. I often find in ministry we pray for other people, but at what point is it powerful for people to pray for themselves? I think there is power in having to say the words ourselves. We hear our own voices proclaim what we hope for and what we want to let go of. This has always been helpful for me in all the letting go I have had to do. I invited this girl to hand all those things over to God, to literally put her hands out and say “God I hand you…”  I have to tell you that we shared one of the most beautiful moments where I watched this young woman hand to God all that kept her stuck.  She prayed a meaningful prayer of surrender handing over shame, guilt, sick patterns, and all the pain that led her there.

I share this story because so often I think we KNOW things about God but rarely do we LIVE them out in tangible ways. We might know God forgives us, but do we come before Him like we would a friend and ask for that gracious gift? Or do we just assume forgiveness? We know God loves us, but do we come before Him and sit in His love watching a gorgeous sunset? We know that God asks us to hand over what it is that hurts us, harms us, or holds us back, but do we open our hands palms up and hand it over?

When you literally, physically hand over to God what you no longer want to carry, you know what that does? That becomes real for you. It is not just an ideology. It is not just a spiritual concept. You literally say “You know what God, I don’t want to carry this anymore. I don’t want this label, I don’t want this guilt, I don’t want this burden. Here, it’s yours.” Psalm 55 calls us to “cast our burdens on the Lord.” Heck, forget handing them over, throw them at God. Extend your arm and cast those things on the only One who can handle them. 

God makes a few promises to us that I think we should remind ourselves of:

  • “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9           
  • “I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.” Isaiah 43: 25

God is faithful and just to forgive us AND He no longer remembers our sins. The problem is, we remember them and we don’t forgive ourselves.

When you hand things over to God, you are doing a few things. One is that you are saying to yourself and to God “I no longer want to carry this anymore. And I know that you, God, are strong enough, good enough and gracious enough to carry them for me.” This becomes a conversation you can hang your hat on. When those names start calling you, when you start questioning your identity and the knowledge that you are fully loved, when you start to think that you are who you have always been instead of who God is becoming of you- you can go back and read your note-to-self that says: “NO! I already let that go. I am a new creation. The old has gone, the new has come. I handed that over and I can’t steal it back from God.”

When you hand things over to God, palms up, you are trusting God and forgiving yourself. Having grace for self requires faith because you have to trust that God’s grace is greater than the skeletons in your closet, greater than the dirt your enemies have on you, and greater than the long laundry list of things you wish you would have never done. If you hand over your parental fails and you hand over your gossip, if you hand over your self-centeredness and the ways you have blown it again and again, why do you keep being your own worst enemy? God is like, “I took that from you.” And you are like ”But I want it back.” You hand God your screw ups only to snatch them out of His hands the first second you can because it’s almost as though you don’t know who you would be without them. Stop taking back what you already handed God. Hand Him your sin, your dysfunction, your deceit, your falsehood, your addiction, and then receive.

Sit palms open and allow God to love you. Allow Someone to love you in all your glorious mess. Allow Someone to love you, poop stains and all. Allow Someone to love you even if you don’t feel you deserve it.

Here is the deal. You can walk around carrying shame just like the young women was when I met her that night at the college ministry. You can walk around and let your mistakes and your mess call you by name, identifying you and weighing you down. Or you can hand it over. Handing it over has to be more than an idea or a belief, but I think we have to physically and verbally hand it over so that we can see ourselves give it up. We need to see ourselves leave it at the door. We have to hand it over like we have to say good bye, it’s healthy closure. Be done with it. Have the conversation. And then don’t turn back.

This past Collide event for women, which was an amazing day, we invited women to write on balloons what it was they sensed God was calling them to let go of or leave. Women wrote a word on their balloon and then let it go as a prayer. The room was filled with a grace and a hope as we watched each other hand it over. “Doubt”, “fear”, “self harm”, “shame”, “addiction”, “Johnny”, “inadequacy”, “Expectations”, “anger”, “pride” and “resentment” lifted up into the rafters of the cathedral like ceilings never to be carried again. Never to be carried again, unless we let it go, only to grab it right back unable to extend the grace God extends to us, to ourselves. Perhaps the extent to which you extend grace for self is in direct correlation to the extent in which you trust God’s. Jesus said, “My grace is enough for you.” Let that be so.

Jesus calls us to leave everything and though that feels like a big request, it is when we leave everything, that we actually find it. And Jesus knows that, that’s why He asks us to hand over all that we are, to become who we are meant to be. God has amazing, good, adventurous chapters written for our us. Let us not be held back by what was, but lean into what can be. Let us be a people who “hand it over”, trusting God’s big amazing grace, and then gifting it to ourselves.

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