Like a Shower of Leaves

I had forgotten the sound, but I remember it now.

Standing in a New England woods, watching the autumn leaves drift through the canopy, I flash back. I remember tumbling through giant piles of leaves, the scratch of rakes against the lawn, the smell of old work gloves and leafy tannins. I remember the sunlight, how it glowed gold and orange until it felt I was somehow walking through the inner glow of a jack-o-lantern.

If you asked me about my favorite autumn memories, these are the ones that would stir. But I had forgotten, until just now, this one:

A sound that is softer than raindrops but more alive than snowflakes. Like a hundred incandescent butterflies sifting through the branches and settling like whispers on the wind.

I had forgotten what it was like to spin in a circle with my face turned upward to watch so many leaves tumble out of the trees that they bounce off my hat and brush my outstretched hands. They flow like a curtain. Their tiny applause is like a chortle of gratitude. But soft. So soft I have to close my eyes and simply listen.

I had forgotten what it was like to be caught inside a shower of leaves. Not the handful that I see every year and run laughing to play catch with the sky. But a golden whirl that makes me catch my breath, and hold out my arms to be filled.

In that moment, more than my arms are filled. My own spirit lifts and swirls as though also touched by the light. It’s like the word God gave to Ezekiel when He promised “showers of blessing” to His people. There is something in the shower that fills me with hope and wonder and gratitude. Far too often I run after stray blessings, trying to snatch one from the sky. In the whisper of the leaves, I hear God whisper, “Stop. Hold out your arms to be filled.”

God will send showers in their season. Not just showers of rain or showers of leaves, but showers to bless us, sustain us, protect us, deliver us. He will meet our needs in the darkness, in the emptiness, and in the loneliness. When God’s showers come, nothing will make us afraid. We will know the most beautiful certitude of all: that the Lord our God is with us, and that we are His people. (See Ezekiel 34:25-31.)

It is easy to remember this when the golden showers come. But I am so thankful that God’s promise is just as true when the wind seems to blow across empty skies.

The empty-sky times are when we learn to listen harder, dig deeper, and trust further.

If God can do this with leaves, just imagine what else he can do.

Close your eyes. There is a whisper as soft as a butterfly wing. Do you hear it?

Hold our your arms to be filled.

This post was first written for inspireafire.com. I hope you enjoyed it!

Memories. And a Net of Thanksgiving.

This post first appeared at http://www.inspireafire.com/casting-a-net-of-thanksgiving/

Memories can turn bittersweet in a second.

I can be happily following the rabbit trail of my thoughts, hopping between afternoon plans and pleasant reminiscing when WHAM!

Thoughts in a rabbit candy dishIt’s like a hole suddenly opened up beneath my feet, or a rock slammed me back twenty yards. Use whatever analogy you want – perhaps you’ve experienced it too? – but a wave of sadness, or anger, or fear (or all three) has me pinned and wriggling beneath its weight. My happy little thought trail just turned deadly.

Maybe it’s the loss of a loved one, or a struggling relationship, or a transition you’re trying to navigate. There will be a time when memories bring you joy and comfort, but not right away. First, they hurt. They hurt like a red hot poker you can’t get near enough to touch. And so you stay away. But eventually those memories start to sneak in. A familiar location, a familiar scent, a familiar sound. Between the red hot poker phase and the happy memory phase there is this in-between time. A memory starts out so innocently that you glance its way. And then it pummels you.

I’m navigating that in-between time right now. Trying to learn when it’s okay to look, and when it’s not. When it’s safe to let my mind wander, and when my mind is about to turn against me. It is a journey by trial and error. But it’s a journey I have to take. If I never touch the thoughts, I never progress. I would simply harden my heart, withdraw, turn cold. But on the other hand, if I move too quickly, I will drown in the floodgates of emotion.

I am learning to walk my thought trails with a weapon at the ready, and the weapon I have found most effective may surprise you. There is a fraction of second, a space barely the size of the gap between two thoughts, when I feel my thoughts turning against me, swinging me over a pit of grief.

TrailAnd in that thought gap, that fraction between thought and emotion, I throw a net.

A net of thanksgiving.

“I am thankful for this memory,” I say. And then I transition immediately to the present. “I am thankful that God is continuing to take care of me and preparing new moments for me to enjoy. I am thankful God is restoring old relationships and bringing new relationships. Thank you…”

The secret to success with this weapon is three-fold. First, I have to throw the net the milli-second I feel myself being swung over that pit. I can’t test the thought to see if it’s really turning on me; I can’t think a little further to see if it’s really all that sad. I lose that battle every time, and once I’m on the way down, it’s much harder to grab a handhold.

Second, I have to move away from the memory that threw me over the pit to begin with. Too many times I’ve tried to weave a net of thanksgiving by stringing together everything I’m thankful for in that old memory. The problem is that while my brain is saying thank you, my heart is feeling the loss of every one of those old memories. Before I know it, I’ve used my net to climb down into the very pit I was trying to avoid.

View from hammock.Third, this is a safety net, not a hammock. This strategy disrupts the spiraling thoughts just enough for me to get back to safer ground. Whatever train of thought brought me to the edge, now is not the time to hop on board again. Too many times I’ve swung myself out of the pit just to ride my thoughts right back down into it. If I can’t lead my thoughts elsewhere on my own, I need to turn on music, a podcast, or call a friend. Anything to move to a new location in my mind. I can go visit that train of thought some other day.

Memories are finicky things. They don’t always announce whether they are friend or foe, whether they carry joy or sadness. Often they carry both. Memories allow us to learn, to grow, and to relive moments. But their power should propel us toward our future, not hold us mired in the past. There are times we need to thank them for their service, and walk away.

The Five Things I’m Thankful For

Is it possible to be thankful without feeling thankful?

The answer, I think, is: Of course.

The Bible tells us that we should give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18).  I’ve heard more than one sermon on this passage that suggests God doesn’t tell us to be thankful for everything; He tells us to be thankful in everything.  I have to contest this theory with Ephesians 5:20 which says we should be always giving thanks to God the Father for everything.  God, I think, wants us to be thankful both in everything and for everything.  God is in control, which means everything will ultimately be used for His glory.  Even when we don’t like something, we are to give thanks recognizing 1) there is always something to be thankful for, and 2) even the very thing we don’t want to give thanks for can be used for God’s good purposes.  Even if others mean it for harm, even if the Devil himself is after us, God can use it for good.  We know that for those who love God all things work together for good (Romans 8:28).  Even the things we’re a little less than thankful for.

With all these verses on thankfulness, I got to thinking how I’ve never seen one that says we are to feel thankful.  Which got me thinking some more.  Sometimes I go about this all wrong.  I act as though thankfulness is something I should be receiving, when in actuality, thankfulness is something I should be giving.  I shouldn’t be sitting here waiting for God to give me that full-to-bursting feeling.  I should be saying, “God, even though I don’t feel very thankful today, I am still glad you’re in control.  Thank you.”

It’s not easy to say thank you – and mean it – when you don’t feel it.  It’s a bit like walking a familiar path in the dark.  The “sunny” days I dash off thanksgivings without a second thought.  I love everything!  I am thankful for everything!  But when the dark days come even the major gifts don’t seem quite so bright and shiny.  I may have the exact same things to be thankful for – everything I loved in the daylight is still there – but I no longer see it.  Outwardly, nothing has changed.  It’s the same path.  But in the dark, my feeling is different.  And this is where we hear Paul say: In everything give thanks.  For everything give thanks.

I am blessed to have a friend with whom I randomly exchange thankful lists.  Sometimes by phone; sometime by email.  One of us will say, “Today I am thankful for…” and we will each list five things.  The other day I dashed off an email that said, in essence, “I am in need of an attitude adjustment, so today I am thankful for…”  and I am sad to say that out of the millions of blessings I should have been able to dash off, it took me several minutes to type out five.  You might say I was in the dark and even though I knew the blessings were there, I just couldn’t feel them.  But it doesn’t matter if I don’t feel them.  I can still give thanks in the dark.

We were talking about that tonight, this friend and I, and she was laughing that she had been thinking about all kinds of things for me to be thankful for.  “Just think of that email transaction,” she said.  “You could be thankful for the computer and email and internet and your eyes to see it and your fingers to type it…”

“I know.  I know,” I interrupted.  And then: “I’m glad at least one of us is thankful!”  But as I hung up the phone I thought, Carry one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2).  Sometimes that means helping each other to be thankful.

Tonight I not only am thankful, I feel thankful.  For a friend who called and talked to me about being thankful.  And also for pillows, breakfast, carpets on cold tile, and indoor plumbing.

It is good to give thanks to the Lord, to sing praises to your name, O Most High; to declare your steadfast love in the morning, and your faithfulness by night (Psalm 92:1-2).

Happy Thanksgiving!

May we all find something today worth giving thanks for… because indeed there are many things… no matter what we may be facing.

Shout to the Lord, all the earth, let us  sing

Power and majesty, praise to  the King

Mountains bow down  and the seas will roar

At the  sound of Your name

~ Darlene Zschech, Singer/Songwriter

(If you’ve never heard this song, you can get an unofficial sneak peek on YouTube.)

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever (1 Chronicles 16:34).

Happy Thanksgiving, Everyone!