Examine Your Praise
As I've reflected on gratitude these past few months (and through my two previous articles on finding joy and being prayerful and thankful through all circumstances), I've wondered to what extent I enthusiastically and respectfully praise God with thanksgiving. Do I speak in high regard of the blessings I have in my life, or do I complain about the negative aspects of life?
Webster's definition of exalt reminds me of my kids. I enjoy talking about the sweet things they do or say. I quickly text, call, post, snap a photo, or record their "cute acts" and share them with family, friends, and sometimes strangers. It is good to be grateful for my family, but I wonder if it is easier for me to speak about the wonderful aspects of my children than it is of God.
It is common to talk about our children in the grocery store line, or in a kids' clothing store, or when participating in a child related activity, but I ask myself, how quickly do I share about "my God, my King?" Do I readily and eagerly share with those around me the daily, amazing things God does? Think about it this holiday season and ask, "What am I talking about most with other people?" Is it more often the holiday preparations with gifts or parties, or is it the daily moments when God shows himself to us, or about how Jesus continually changes us.
Blessings in Challenges
God often brings blessings and his comfort and support through other people.
Hebrews 13:16 states: "And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased."
So in the spirit of gratitude and sharing of God's amazing blessings, I want to share a very special story of how God used a friend to help me regain physical strength, allowing me to walk without using a walker or cane.
"No discipline seems pleasant at the time but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it." -- Hebrews 12:11
Discipline. Pain. These are not words that spark joy or gratitude within me. Yet when I think back to how God used my physical pain and the discipline of persevering through a painful task, I feel gratitude for the way my character has been built. Therefore, I must speak up and share what God has done for me, and how he used a friend, her gifts, and her love for me to bless my life.
Pain's Classroom Becomes a Source of Gratitude
The day we moved into our home in Framingham, MA, Karen, from our new church family, brought a meal to our home. When she dropped off the meal only hours after we had moved in, she asked if she could help me with my recovery.
She explained that she is a chiropractor and an athlete. Among her many talents she is a swimmer and is very good at training others who are willing to be trained. Without knowing exactly what I was getting into, but desperately wanting to walk without a cane and with more strength and less pain, I agreed to give it a try.
On our first day planned to meet and exercise together Karen came to my house and brought her chiropractic table. She gave me an adjustment, and we went for a walk in our new neighborhood. She helped me maintain a good speed and good posture as we walked. I thought, This isn't that bad. I can do this. However, the next time we met was at her house, which brought on a more extensive workout.
She gave me a swim bag, goggles, and a wet suit. "Okay let's go," she said, and we were off to the lake! I had not gone for a swim in years, and I had experienced a major spinal tumor and surgery only seven months earlier. Several months after that I had gone to a pool for physical therapy and "walking" and now I was preparing to swim. I grew up swimming laps in pools and jumping waves in oceans but not swimming across lakes!
Our first time out we did not make it very far, but Karen cheered me on. She was happy with our swim. We continued to swim together every Thursday, every week going further than we did the week before. I began to swim during the week in a pool on my own, in preparation for my "Thursday swims with Karen." Half way through the summer we made it half way across the lake, which was a half of a mile. She believed I would be able to swim a mile before summer's end, and that became my personal goal—to swim one mile across the lake before the end of the summer.
We continued to swim a little further each week. Karen pushed me to swim further than I thought I could. One windy and rainy Thursday morning we swam three-fourths of a mile, the furthest I had gone to that date.
I was not an experienced swimmer in choppy waters. It was very tiring, and I was not sure I'd make it back to shore. Every time I reached this point of fatigue, I'd go on my back and float while swimming a light back stroke. Karen also equipped me with a personal floatation buoy designed for safety when swimming in open waters. She taught me how to take breaks by utilizing the buoy and swimming the back stroke to conserve energy for the distance.
After doing this several times on this windy day, I was losing steam. Karen being the experienced swimmer that she is, saw that I needed an extra push. She came over to me and told me to grab on. Yes that's right—she towed me along! She swam while I held on to her buoy (which was floated behind her, attached to a belt around her waist). This gave me the help and rest I needed to make it to shore. She pushed me, but she also knew when to step in and help me make it back.
Every time we made it back to shore she cheered me on with much enthusiasm. We would stand on the beach, look out at how far we swam and say, "Thank you God for our swim today." Each swim, challenging as it was, made my muscles stronger and moved me closer to the goal of walking without a cane. Every time I left that lake I left with a little more confidence and gratitude.
Victory in Pain
On September 17, 2016, we arrived at Walden Pond ready for my "never done before," one mile swim across the lake. My family came to cheer me on with a cow bell and signs. As Karen and I entered the water, she told people around the lake what a big deal this swim was—nine months ago Maria could not walk, and here she is ready to swim one mile across the lake. With tears in her eyes, she looked at me and we were off.
We swam one mile across the lake! I took my occasional back stroke breaks, with Karen cheering me on along the way. This time I had my family, with their cow bell, cheering me on as well. As we approached the shore we saw a small crowd of people cheering me on. There were hugs and tears of joy as we walked back to shore. We had the opportunity to share with the many spectators the miracle God had done in my life and how God used Karen and swimming to help me regain strength.
This experience has helped change my way of thinking about challenging situations. Each time we finished swimming I was exhausted. I'd come home to rest and ice my back. After those swims I experienced increased nerve fatigue and pain in my legs and along my spine. But the pain seemed worth it. I felt the progress I was making in my physical strength, and I also felt an inner strength the challenge was producing in me.
God used Karen (and continues to use our friendship) to show me how he loves me. Sometimes when things do not go as we think they should, God's love feels hurtful to us. Sometimes when we step out on faith we feel weak, but God's love carries us through, literally and figuratively. However, when we come out on the other side all the pain seems worth it because of the gratitude and character it has produced within us (2 Corinthians 12:7-10).
In the End Praise God
I still battle with chronic pain, but I am taking time to stop and thank God for each day. Challenges, accompanied by God's loving support, have helped me be more grateful. God has shown me that he will give me what I need to make it through each day.
We all have moments when God works through other people to help carry us through. They may not have physically carried you (like Karen did as she towed me on the lake), but nevertheless God uses them in special ways in our lives.
We all have moments of gratitude to share with others which can help us to extol God and magnify him to others. I pray that this holiday season we will all take time to enjoy the gifts God has given us with the people around us. I pray we inspire others as we thankfully and enthusiastically share our blessings with others. Have a wonderful holiday season and thank you for reading my article on gratitude, and for taking this journey with me!
"Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation." -- 1 Peter 4:12-13