Looking Past the Dirty Window

It is not how much we have, but how much we enjoy, that makes happiness.
— Charles Spurgeon

I've never been great at mornings.

In fact, I'm quite certain my husband spent the first several months of our marriage leaving the house convinced I was mad at him because I barely uttered two words to him while we both prepared ourselves for the day.

So these colder months bring about an even bigger challenge for those of us who find it tough to get going. The below freezing temperatures makes the bed feel that much more comfortable and the lack of daylight makes it even more difficult to convince our brains that it's time to get up.

But as with most aspects of life, having kids has caused the mornings to take on a whole new “struggle”, as it were. For there is no mercy for this brain and body which like to ease in to the day when there are four little ones (two of which take after my husband in their ability to rise-and-shine) needing to get to school.

For those of you in the Midwest, you know that last week got cooooold. I'm talking morning temperatures in the teens. So when my alarm went off and it was barely light out, I was anything but excited to crawl out of the cozy warmth of my bed. As I drudged to the bathroom and then back to my nightstand, fumbling for my glasses, I could see the small sliver of sunlight coming through around the shades, beckoning me to start the day and let the morning in.

As is my custom, I gave myself a few extra minutes to mentally prepare for the go-go-go hour to follow by pulling back the drapes, drawing the shades and putting my bed back together. As I moved to my husband's side of the bed, I sighed as I reminded myself that he not only got up before the sunrise even during the summer months but that he had also already been at work for over an hour (there's a reason God made him the morning person in our relationship ;). I pulled the shade up which covered his window and finally stood up straight for the first time that morning.

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I took my first breath in and marveled. The sun, that glorious, golden beacon was peering out just over the house across the street. The slight dusting of frost made everything glisten, almost sparkle with light, calling for the day to begin. I reached for my phone to capture the scene – after all, this was an experience I rarely have when the sun makes its appearance any earlier.

Maybe this is just the perfectionist/photographer in me, but have you ever noticed how perfect you thought a scene looked until you put it through some sort of lens? As I tried to set up the shot, I noticed how absolutely filthy those panes were. I must've adjusted my angle at least a dozen times, attempting to find one that wouldn't show the endless dust and smudges which covered the glass. Remembering that I needed to get on with the day, I surrended to that imperfect scene, snapped one last shot and said “good enough”.

Such an insignificant part of the day. Or was it?

I have thought of that window so many times over this past week (notice I said thought of, not cleaned!). On a morning, like many, when all I wanted to do was go back to bed, God saw fit to create an amazing masterpiece which I would've missed had I not taken the time to notice it or simply focused on the filthy glass.

But how many times do we look past the gifts in our lives because we're focused on the imperfections which surround us? How often do we only see the bad and miss the good? And it's hard not to, isn't it?

Because the truth is, this life, this world, will always fall short. It will always disappoint. There is not a single aspect of this journey which has not be affected by sin. As we approach Thanksgiving and Christmas, the devil is going to be working overtime on all of our hearts. Feelings of frustration, discontentment and “why me” are going to well up in us and threaten to ruin any and all gratitude and joy. The devil wants us to focus on the dirty window.

If God really loved you, why wouldn’t He take the illness away?

If God really wanted to bless you, why wouldn’t He allow you to get pregnant?

If God really was who He says He is, why hasn't He provided the job your family so desperately needs?

If God really cared, why is parenting such an uphill battle?

If God really knew your heart, why wouldn’t He lead you to “the one” so you could stop being so lonely?

The questions are endless. And the devil wants nothing more than to steal your joy.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
— John 10:10

What gifts in your life are you missing? Maybe things are really tough right now. Maybe the light at the end of the tunnel of whatever you're facing is so dim that you're starting to lose hope. God has not abandoned you, my friend. He is standing there, arms open wide, waiting for you to stand up straight and take that first breath in. He's bestowing grace, mercy, gifts upon you every day, even though they may not be the ones you think you need. For He works all things for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28). It just may be that the “gift” in this moment is the struggle. How's that for a paradox?

Don't believe the lie that God has forgotten you or that you deserve more than He has seen fit to give you in this moment. For we are all sinners, in desperate need of His forgiveness and grace. And that is already yours through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This life is but a blink compared to the eternity that awaits us.

He is faithful. He does not change.

So this holiday season, pray for peace. Pray for joy. Pray for forgiveness for the times you've believed the lie and lost sight of the gifts. And then pray that God gives you the wisdom to look past the dirty window. Because sometimes, the sin makes the gift that much more beautiful.

Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.
— James 2:16-17
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If You've Ever Counted Your Blessing and Still Felt Sad

In no particular order….

Jesus, husband, kids, coffee, art, work, my kids happily playing on swings, warm weather, sunshine, the scent of lavender, big tall trees, a home, a car, puppy dog, friends that love me even though they know I’m a big mess, gardening, music…

These are a few of my favorite things - my favorite blessings to count when times are tough. Some days, the loveliness warms my heart and the blues just lift away and I’m ok. God is good.

But seriously, this scenario has played out for me as well:

I feel sad, I count my blessings, I still feel sad, I determine I’m super broken because it didn’t work, I decide it would be better to just stay in bed.

Sometimes we stab ourselves and each other with this accounting of blessings. Times are tough? Count your blessings! Ouch…. Why was there guilt there? Has that happened to you? Wasn’t it confusing? Did you feel bad for how ungrateful you are, rather than joy? Did you think you are required to be happy happy joy joy 100% of the time, no matter how hard the struggle?

Instead of just enjoying the grace of God’s amazing blessings, we use this handy survival tool as a way to pile on more guilt.

In Philippians, we find this passage: 

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.
— Philippians 4:8

This is solid advice, no doubt. Looking at whatever is lovely is a really good technique for seeing our life through the eyes of faith. It helps with perspective. As a designer I love love love to look for the lovely. I draw it, photograph it, paint it. Love it. Seeing good in life can be an important component of resilience. We see all the ways God has provided for us, so we know that we need not worry. God’s got this. It truly is solid wisdom for Christian living.

Like people tend to do, though, we make a royal mess of something lovely God has given us. Do we sometimes add up our blessings and rank ourselves against each other? Do we think that if we are really good at blessing accounting, sadness will go away and problems will disappear? Do we hope we have finally found the right behavioral formula to earthly joy? If someone is sad and wants to talk it out, do we assume they are weak in faith because they are struggling? That’s just not quite how it works.

At the very same time as we see all the beautiful things God has given us, we know this:

In this world you will have trouble, but take heart, I have overcome the world.
— John 16:33

If ever I’m tempted to think that I’m having trouble because I didn’t count my blessings, I remember this passage. Jesus promised trouble would happen, it isn’t a surprise or bad blessing accounting. This world is broken. Jesus overcame it, though. That’s where our joy is at. Joy and trouble coexist on earth. That’s why our feelings are a jumbled mess sometimes.

On a day when blessing counting is bringing me down, I turn to Romans 5. I can look at suffering and gifts in another way – and I just stand there rather than counting. I stand in grace. 

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
— Romans 5: 1-5

If a friend is suffering, it’s tempting to say, “Stop it!” Rather than assuming a shortfall in blessing counting, maybe we can look at Romans 5 together. Suffering – perseverance – character – hope. Standing in grace. I love that Romans 5 starts out with peace and standing in grace and then along side that goes through suffering and producing perseverance. Suffering is a HARD, and knowing we stand in grace while we go through it is real comfort.

Most of us suffer ugly. It isn’t such a lovely thing to look at on the outside. We’ve got the ugly cry going on and the dirty yoga pants and legos and cheerios everywhere. Hiding under the bed on a mama time-out, mascara all over our faces. Wiping our nose with toilet paper because Kleenex is an expensive luxury. Standing in grace, growing in character, having hope.

The world is broken, it hurts. Sometimes hurt is more complex than perspective alone can fix. Sometimes, healing takes time. Don’t feel bad about that. A good perspective from seeing blessings helps, but sometimes we need time to mourn. Other times, we may need to roll up our sleeves and fight battles. Or maybe we need to make peace through hard conversations, rather than keeping peace by pretending the storms aren’t real. Maybe we are just waiting and wondering if chronic pain will ever go away. Sometimes, it’s just complicated.

We wait for our Savior to heal our hearts and eventually bring us to our heavenly home – that’s the long term plan. Meanwhile, God’s pouring out his love in our hearts to get us through day to day. With all that perseverance and hope you’re gaining, you will have peace. You will wake up one day and realize God brought you through and it’s ok again. New seasons come.

I just want you to know, that if you have counted your blessings and still felt sad and struggled, you aren’t necessarily more broken than everyone else. Suffering isn’t a surprising thing. And in itself it is a blessing through which we gain hope. While you do it, you stand in grace – not contingent on your accounting skills. Grace is free – zero – easy math. 

And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
— Philippians 4:7