"If the God you believe in as an idea doesn’t start showing up in what happens to you in your own life, you have as much cause for concern as if the God you don’t believe in as an idea does start showing up. It is absolutely crucial, therefore, to keep in constant touch with what is going on in your own life’s story and to pay close attention to what is going on in the stories of others’ lives. If God is present anywhere, it is in those stories that God is present. If God is not present in those stories, then they are scarcely worth telling." ~ Frederick Buechner

01 January 2012

On Gratitude

I clearly remember sitting on my bed a year ago, my back propped by pillows, my protruding belly creating a significant obstacle to my efforts to write a heartfelt First-of-the-Year entry in my journal.

I wrote about not making resolutions. I wrote about wanting to grow as a wife, to be a more present friend, to be more intentional in all my relationships, to be more like Christ. I wrote about how I wanted to be all these things because ultimately, I wanted to be a good mom.

Reflecting on 2011, I find that there are not enough words to encapsulate all the memorable moments from this past year. As cliche as it may sound, Brennan has changed my world, more so than all the other previous milestone events in my life. Even my wedding to Nich, as meaningful and poignant as it was, did not utterly morph my daily life as motherhood has. Being Brennan's mom is a beautiful, joy-giving, sleep-depriving, heart-wrenching, prayer-inspiring, patience-stretching, merciful journey of learning the necessity of daily submission to the Lord. During pregnancy, my frequent prayer was that I would hold this baby loosely in my hands, that I would always remember that he was Abba's child first, entrusted into our hands for this short while. It's harder to ask for that knowledge now, but I know that is where my familiar prayer, based on the lyrics to that old, old song, comes in: "Jesus, Jesus, how I trust You, how I've proved You over and over. Jesus, Jesus, precious Jesus. Oh, for grace, to trust You more."

If I were to summarize this past year in one word, it would be gratitude. I am incredibly thankful for the gift of Brennan, even on the days when I count down the minutes for Nich to come home so that I can have just fifteen minutes of solace. I am also grateful for the love that has been poured out on us as a new family of three. As I think back on this year, I am humbled by the generosity and kindness of the body of Christ. It floors me to think of the many gifts that have been bestowed upon us, the greatest of which is love for our little boy. Before motherhood, I'd hear people say that the best way to show them love was to love on their kids. I completely understand that sentiment now. So many friends, near and far, have remembered Brennan at various points in the past year, and I literally cannot even begin to express what that has meant to my heart.

I'm thankful, as well, for the prayers and encouragement of those who are further along on the road of life. I'm thankful for those who have invited us into their homes and their hearts as "surrogate" family as we walk -- and sometimes stumble -- in this journey of new parenthood. I'm thankful for those who pray over us, both in our presence but also without us knowing (until after the fact).

Those of you who read here regularly know how lonely I often feel, as well as my heart's desire to serve Him in a more tangible way in a developing nation. Today, as we embarked on this new year, I felt the Lord taking me by the shoulders, looking me in the eye and reminding me in the following ways, "I am right here, Hannah. I'm always RIGHT here":

1. The sermon at church was a powerful reminder of the dedication and submission it takes to perfect the art of waiting on the Lord.

2. An older couple nearing retirement pulled us aside urgently, spoke words of encouragement over us, told us that they had been praying for a while and the Lord had prompted them, handed us a check, and prayed amazing words of restoration over us. There is nothing more humbling than hearing from people who have journeyed on this road far longer than we have that they think highly of us as God's disciples and as parents to Brennan. Even now, as I think back on that precious encounter, my eyes fill up with tears. And as grateful as I am for the incredible monetary gift from this couple, the sweetness of that much-needed time of encouragement will remain in my memory long after the gift is spent.

3. After church, we shared lunch with some friends. Among them was a young woman who we don't know terribly well but who we regard with high esteem. Her genuine heart for the Lord radiates through every encounter we have ever had with her. It's just icing on the cake that Nich can take the credit for introducing her to her boyfriend several months ago. :~) Anyway, the topics of our mealtime conversation ranged from NGOs, Haiti, sustainable aid for developing nations, politics, short-term missions trips, and so forth. We loved it. At one point, Jenna asked us where we were in our life right now, saying that we were often in her thoughts, as she knew our desire to serve the Lord overseas. I know she had absolutely no idea how much those words would mean to me, but I was inexpressibly grateful for the reminder from God that we are "on the radar." Because I spend most of my days alone at home with Brennan, with very little interaction with other people (especially over the past few weeks with no Bible study and no Kindermusik) and because Nich and I rarely leave home after he returns from work, we often feel as though we're on an island, so to speak.

These three occurrences were just a few in a long list of things I have to be thankful for. I am a firm believer in expressing gratitude through a written note. It is a value I will be very intentional about instilling in Brennan. I always write thank you notes for every gift he gets, and Christmas was no different. (I have to inject here, that Brennan receive gifts from friends we would have never expected to get him anything. Thank you, thank you for loving on our little boy!) Someday, when he learns to draw and write, he will write his own. I feel as though it's not enough to just say thank you, and I suppose that writing a card is a small way of attempting to show the giver that their gift was meaningful, that I wanted to take the time to thank them properly.

But I think that ultimately, true gratitude should change your heart and inspire your soul. Just as faith without works is dead, I think gratitude without a changed heart is meaningless.

Thus, my goal, or "resolution," if you will, for this year is to "pay in forward" in a sense. I want to grow in the gift of hospitality, by inviting people into our home more frequently and breaking bread together. I want to grow in my love for the Lord by giving more to others, not just generously, but sacrificially, whether that means giving to a well project in Senegal, continuing to write monthly letters to our Compassion child, or sending a care package to a sweet friend serving the Lord in Jordan. I want my gratitude to change me. I pray that, as a result, my hands and feet will serve others in ways that nudge them just a little bit closer to Abba. 

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