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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Yellow Cars

Our family has been noticing a lot of yellow cars lately.

You see, as my kids are getting older, I'm learning more and more about just how important it is to instill in them an “attitude of gratitude.” For some reason I imagined they'd come out of the womb knowing how blessed they were.

I've perfected the art of clearing my throat loudly after handing them something and not receiving a reply. I've begun to read “Raising Grateful Kids in an Entitled World” by Kristen Welch (which I highly recommend, by the way, even if you don't have kids of your own). And I've been trying to work other hypothetical kids' stories in throughout the day; for instance, the “Did you know some kids don't have fill-in-the-blank...” or “Some kids don't get a home cooked meal very often if at all...”

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So when my sister told me about the yellow car idea, I was eager to try it out – a concept that I could start implementing right away and wasn't over complicated. The idea behind it is simple: Yellow cars are somewhat rare, right? But like anything, once you start looking for them, you see them everywhere. The same can be said of focusing on what we can be thankful (or not) for: the more you do it, the more you “see” it. Therefore, each time you spot a yellow car, you are supposed to think of or say something out loud that you're thankful for.

At first it was great – the kids loved the “game” and the hardest part about it was limiting them to just one single thing each time we saw one. But soon the devil stepped in and arguments began about who would say it first, who said too many things, who didn't want to go last. It got so bad that we now limit our time of thankfulness to only one yellow car per trip, as that was really all I could handle to referee from the driver's seat.

But this isn't really a post about my kids. It's about me.

Because there are the days when I just don't feel like “playing”. You know, the ones when you feel dumped on by everyone? Unappreciated, over-worked, ugly, poor, destitute, rejected, inadequate, entitled. By no coincidence that it is on those days that we seem to see the most yellow cars. And the kids will always inevitably say, “Mom, it's your turn!” Great.

I have a confession to make: on days like the one I just described above, I don't want to see the good parts. In fact, there have been times on a day like that when I have seen a yellow car and have not even pointed it out, praying that no one else would spot it. My mind is not into focusing on the good – it's too busy seeing the bad and my sinful nature wants to stay there.

Because, you see, some days I'm bitter. I'm mad at the world and maybe even a little frustrated at the Big Man, too. And for one reason or another, saying “thanks” for something else seems counter intuitive. How can I hang on to my bitterness and also show gratitude?

The answer is I can't.

But the devil wants us to. He wants to take all the good in our lives and cover it with the bad. He wants us to focus on all that isn't going as we planned, all that we don't have, all of our expectations that aren't met in our relationships and our jobs and our families and ourselves. As this year ends and we reflect on all that's happened, he wants us to see the failures, the illness, the losses and none of the ways that God has already or intends to bless us through them.

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And when sitting at the Thanksgiving table this weekend, the Great Thief of all happiness is going to try and fill your head with all of the aspects of this holiday (like all others) that are wrong. The relative that you wish would stop talking. The loneliness that sweeps over you when you look around at everyone else who “has someone” and you once again notice that you're the odd man (or woman) out. The frustration you feel when no one else understands your children's schedules and how important it is that dinner is served on time. The heartache that once again bubbles to the surface when you hold the new baby of your sister and long to see yourself in a child's face. The fact that your boyfriend always seems to say the wrong thing around your dad, leaving you to step in and make everything ok. The exhaustion you feel after spending the entire meal fighting with your four-year old, desperate to get him to take just one bite of the feast before him and stop wrinkling his nose. The happy face you once again put on because you wouldn't dare show weakness and admit that you're actually in the pit of depression and don't know why. And the list goes on.

Or maybe you won't even get to sit down at a Thanksgiving meal this year. Maybe you're working at the hospital, clinic or care facility taking care of those who don't have the opportunity to spend the holiday in their own homes. Maybe you were mandated to help cover the Black Friday mayhem (which now starts on Thursday in many places) and you'll look at those shoppers with disdain as you think about the meal you're missing. Maybe you're far from family and friends and would give anything to feel a warm hug or share a laugh with someone you love. Maybe you're finding yourself in circumstances you never thought you'd be in and tomorrow will feel just like another day to dread.

Whatever your situation is, there will inevitably be the not-so-great parts. Because unfortunately, we will never know a holiday without sin this side of heaven. But do you know what else? There's also gonna be a whole lot of good. Maybe it won't be anything big. Maybe you'll actually have to look for it. But whatever it is, be determined to find it and don't let the Deceiver steal your joy. Refuse to believe the lie that holding onto your bitterness will somehow make you happier in the end. For your heavenly Father has incredible plans for you and He gives each and every one of us experiences and things everyday for which we can be thankful. For He alone can see the bigger picture and knows how each moment of our lives fits into it.

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So the next time you see a yellow car, practice gratitude. Say it out loud, even if you're the only one in the car. Even if you don't feel like it, challenge yourself to find something about the day, about your life, about your self that you can be grateful for. Trust me, it's not going to hurt ;)

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for His compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, ‘The Lord is my portion;
therefore I will wait for Him.’
— Lamentations 3:22-24
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