Why a Gratitude List is Good for Your Health

Why a Gratitude List is Good for Your Health

Lucinda Secrest McDowell

“I tell you I’m going crazy,” the woman shouted to her mentor.

He gently replied, “Here is a yellow pad and here is a ballpoint pen. I want you to write down your blessings.”

She refused, overcome by the despair that had seized her soul.

But he didn’t give up. “Think of the millions of people all over the world who cannot hear a choir or a symphony or their own babies crying. Write down ‘I can hear, thank God.’ Write down that you can see this yellow pad and think of all the millions of people around the world who cannot see a waterfall or a flower blooming or their lover’s face. Write down ‘I can see, thank God.’

And so she began to make her list. As she reached the last line of that yellow notepad, clearly “the madness was routed.”

From then on Maya Angelou wrote all of her books and poems on yellow notepads, saying, “As I approach the clean page I think of how blessed I am.”

Ann, a Canadian pig farmer’s wife, began listing her blessings on a dare. Pretty soon her entire life and outlook changed as she kept lists of her one thousand gifts. Ann Voskamp began blogging and writing books to encourage others to do the same. And in just a few short years, many readers have seen their lives transformed by the spiritual practice of thanking God for all that is given.

Even science has shown that practicing gratitude is good for you. According to one study, those who keep gratitude journals:

  • exercised more regularly,
  • reported fewer physical symptoms,
  • felt better about their lives as a whole,
  • and were more optimistic about the upcoming week

They were also more likely to make progress on their personal and professional goals if their gratitude was recorded in some manner, like a list.

The hymnist Frances Ridley Havergal kept what she called a ‘journal of mercies.’ She crowded it with remembrances of God’s goodness. She was always on the lookout for tokens of the Lord’s grace and bounty, and she found them everywhere. She believed that many a complaining life would be changed into music and song by a journal of mercies.

Do you have a gratitude list? Why not?

The daily planner I ordered online this year includes a space each day to list gratitudes. My husband keeps one of those small pocket calendars solely dedicated to writing his everyday thanksgivings. Some people put them on slips of paper in a Mason jar.

You could even start right here:

  1. I am grateful for __________________________________________
  2. I am grateful for __________________________________________
  3. I am grateful for __________________________________________

But however you choose to record God’s goodness and faithfulness to you, my prayer is that it will enrich your life, bubbling over to all those you encounter.

under the mercy, Cindy

©2017 Lucinda Secrest McDowell – adapted from Ordinary Graces (Abingdon Press)

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But How Do I “Rejoice Always?”

But How Do I “Rejoice Always?”

Lucinda Secrest McDowell

“I have been living without the use of my hands and legs for fifty years!” Joni Eareckson Tada recently wrote.

When she first broke her neck as a teenager, she met a guy who had been in a wheelchair for eight years – unimaginable to her at the time. And yet today this vibrant woman remains full of JOY.

How has she been able to do what the Bible commands, “Rejoice always” ? (1 Thessalonians 5.16)

Joni answers, “I shake my head in amazement, look  back and wonder, how did I make it to this point? And how have I done it, for the most part, with a smile? It’s all because of God, His grace, and loving Christians. The grace-filled believers that God brought into my life made all the difference.”

Do you find it hard to Be Thankful in difficult times?

In this verse Paul was writing to people in distress. After the Romans overtook Thessalonica, they stripped the people and the territory of everything valuable. They pillaged resources, then set into place a prohibition for trade between districts which totally impoverished the Thessalonians.

Can you imagine how a command to “rejoice always” went over?

Kind of like today?

But Paul was able to empathize with them because he, too, had been there. “Over the course of his life, Paul is tossed into prison and brutally beaten on multiple occasions, shipwrecked, and nearly drowned. His life is marked by affliction and controversy, his body shaped by exhaustion, thirst, and hunger. Yet even in the midst of life’s heaviest blows, he still says give thanks. If Paul lives a safe, comfortable life, his words could easily be dismissed. But Paul embodied his message.”

I have no problem rejoicing at the good things in life. But the test comes when we realize we are invited to rejoice also in the midst of bad things.

“Gratitude invites us to trust God in all things. Thankfulness is the acknowledgement that God can redeem every situation and make us more than triumphant in any circumstance. Whether we’re facing a season of absence or abundance, barrenness or bounty, turmoil or tranquility, the command to give thanks remains. To the outsider, such an act is undeserved; but for those who place their faith in God, thankfulness is a powerful confession that God’s purpose is being worked out in all things.” (Margaret Feinberg)

What things in your life need to be worked out by God? Can you rejoice today that God is able?

Could radical gratitude reorient your own life toward God?

Begin not by looking at your circumstances. Look up – to God. The Giver of all good gifts. Rejoice!

under the mercy, Cindy

©2017 Lucinda Secrest McDowell – adapted from Ordinary Graces (Abingdon Press)

ORDER HERE – Click “BUY” and you can choose to purchase from ANY Online Store.

NOTE: Did you enjoy this blog? If so, would you consider entering your email in the above right form and subscribing to it by email? I assure you I won’t overload your in-box, but would love to send you these ‘encouraging words’ each Wednesday. Thanks!

 

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How Do You Remember Them?

How Do You Remember Them?

Lucinda Secrest McDowell

Do you celebrate All Saints Day (Nov. 1) and All Soul’s Day (Nov. 2)?

Even though some think only the canonized are ‘saints’, the Bible recognizes all Christians as ‘saints.’ We remember the great cloud of witnesses who have gone before us in the faith, stretching across the centuries and around the globe.

“However hard it might seem to follow the way of Jesus in our own time and place, this is a day to remember that we may be crazy, but we are not alone.” (Common Prayer for Nov. 1st)

  • Recently I visited the grave of a woman I never met. I helped my son and husband plant flowers and we sang together the hymn inscribed on Inka’s tombstone “Thine is the Glory.” Except for our voices, it was strangely quiet in this small Dutch village churchyard as we dug and stood vigil. A grace gift of both joy and solemnity.
  • Before my youngest daughter married her husband, we stood in a Texas memorial garden honoring his father, and prayed with thanksgiving for Tom’s life and our children who had come together to carry on his name and legacy.
  • And when I visit my Georgia family, I occasionally kneel at the grave of my childhood friend Cax and chat about growing older without her. Sometimes I leave little gifts, like the Barbie Christmas ornament that reminds me of so many little girl dreams – ones that she decided on her own would never come true.

Graves and tombstones are tangible memorials to someone’s life. As believers we know they aren’t actually there, in the ground or the vault. But these places provide a touchstone of remembering who they were and how they changed our lives.

“How often do we go to the cemetery and stand, kneel or sit in front of the place where our spouse, parents, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, or friends have been buried? Are we still in touch with those who have died, or are we living our lives as if those who lived before us never really existed? (Henri Nouwen)

How do you remember the life of a loved one who has died?

Perhaps you keep a possession of theirs, a recording, or a letter. Maybe you donate to a cause or ministry they were passionate about, or establish a scholarship to encourage students their field.

“What a gift it is to know deeply that we are all brothers and sisters in one human family and that, different as our cultures, languages, religions, life-styles, or work may be, we are all mortal beings called to surrender our lives into the hands of a loving God. What a gift it is to feel connected with the many who have died and to discover the joy and peace that flow from that connectedness.” (Henri Nouwen)

Because they lived, we are different.

So…. if you, like me, find yourself teary occasionally as you trudge this journey of faith and fortitude, seeking to persevere amidst all that says give up, then remember those words, “we may be crazy, but we are not alone!”  

What will others remember most about you? That you were kind, encouraging, helpful, funny? Or that you were always too busy? I urge you to live each day as though everything you do, everything you say and everyone you encounter builds the kingdom. Because it does. You don’t have to worry about memorials. Just live.

under the mercy, Cindy

©2017 Lucinda Secrest McDowell – adapted from Ordinary Graces (Abingdon Press)

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NOTE: Did you enjoy this blog? If so, would you consider entering your email in the above right form and subscribing to it by email? I assure you I won’t overload your in-box, but would love to send you these ‘encouraging words’ each Wednesday. Thanks!

 

“Almighty God, with Whom still live the spirits of those who die in the Lord, and with Whom the souls of the faithful are in joy and felicity: I give You heartfelt thanks for the good examples of all Your servants, who, having finished their course in faith, now find rest and refreshment. May I, with all who have died in the true faith of Your Holy Name, have perfect fulfillment and bliss in Your eternal and everlasting glory; through Jesus Christ my Lord, Amen.” (Divine Hours)

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“Mama, I Cut Off All My Hair!”

“Mama, I Cut Off All My Hair!” 

Lucinda Secrest McDowell

“Mama, I got somethin’ to tell ya…” said four-year-old Maggie as she knocked on my door during naptime. 

“What is it hon?” I casually replied as I closed my notebook.

          “Mama, I cut off all my hair!”

          And she had. Her shoulder-length bob had been turned punk-like with several bangs only 1/8 inch long.

For once in my life, I was speechless. But I distinctly heard a voice in my head, “Be careful, Cindy, she will always remember how you handle this one!”

          After studying GRACE for so long, I was now faced with the Lab Exam. 

As I held Maggie close, her words tumbled out,

  • “Mama, can you make my hair long again?
  • Mama, am I still pretty?
  • Mama, do you still love me?”

          My actions-have-consequences sermon could wait. What she needed now was an assurance of love, an offering of grace.     

          Do you ever feel like you’re running out of love? You’ve simply used up your allotment for the day, the week, the whole month.

          If so, isn’t it great to be reminded “If we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us.” (1 John 4.12) When the Lord dwells in our heart,  it’s “His love” that fills and releases through us. 

          Because love was “brought to full expression” in me that snowy day as I was writing a presentation on grace.   

On my own, I would have FLIPPED OUT – horrified that she had found and used scissors. Chagrined that the next day was Picture Day at Preschool and I had, of course, pre-ordered a gazillion photos (see Exhibit A – attached photo). But with God’s love inside me, I was able to wash her hair, trim it and tell her no matter what she did or looked like, I would always love her.

For Maggie, at that time, it was enough.

          Who hasn’t stumbled into the heavenly Father’s presence with a similar confession – “Lord, I have somethin’ to tell ya’. I blew it again. Do you still love me?”

How grateful I am that He, too, gathers me in His arms of love and grace.

Because God’s very nature is love, He cannot be other than what He is.

We can refuse the love of God. In fact, most of us have at one point in our lives found a reason to do just that. But we can never stop God loving us. We can reject His love which may prevent its flow into us, but we can do nothing to stop its outflow from Him. Grace is God’s unconditional love freely given to the sinful, the imperfect and the totally undeserving.

          Are you having a hard time loving someone today? Would it help to remember how very much you have been loved, even at your lowest point of failure?

          “Christianity is not primarily a moral code, but a grace-laden mystery; it is not essentially a philosophy of love, but a love affair; it is not keeping rules with clenched fists, but receiving a gift with open hands.” (Brennan Manning)

          Open the GIFT of Grace. Put away the scissors. And take the LOVE deep into your heart.

under the mercy, Cindy

©2017 Lucinda Secrest McDowell – adapted from Ordinary Graces (Abingdon Press)

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NOTE: Did you enjoy this blog? If so, would you consider entering your email in the above right form and subscribing to it by email? I assure you I won’t overload your in-box, but would love to send you these ‘encouraging words’ each Wednesday. Thanks!

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Whatever You’ve Done… Just Show Up

Whatever You’ve Done… Just Show Up

Lucinda Secrest McDowell

 Let’s say you’ve done everything wrong.

  • Demanded money from people who love you.
  • Turned your back on familiar for the lure of exotic.
  • Flirted with vice and grabbed forbidden pleasure.
  • Bought lots of stuff and tried to buy friendship.
  • Eating, drinking, partying.

All along thinking that maybe this will finally fill the hole. The one in your heart that longs for more.

But it never does.

Until that day you turn around—alone, filthy, starving, and totally lost. And all you can think about is that your father’s home is looking pretty good about now. But returning is out of the question. You are defeated, shamed, dirty, broke, outcast.

Not the sort of homecoming you once imagined.

But you have nothing. And nothing to lose. So you start the journey with faltering steps. Drawing closer to familiar terrain, you slow down.

Your father is running toward you.  And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him.” Luke 15:20 A “compassionate” father.

This is a word derived from two Latin roots: cum (with) and pati (to suffer). To show compassion means actually entering into someone’s struggle and coming alongside his or her pain—to “suffer with.”

The word used here in New Testament Greek is splagchnizomai, literally defined as “to be moved in the inward parts.” Today we believe the physical seat of our emotions is the heart or brain, but the Greeks believed that all emotions were centered in the splagchnas—heart, lungs, liver, and kidneys.

This father is experiencing the deepest of feelings in the deepest of places.

Rembrandt’s painting The Return of the Prodigal Son hangs in the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Russia. Upon seeing it for the first time, Henri Nouwen said: “My intense response to the father’s embrace of his son told me that I was desperately searching for that inner place where I too could be held as safely as the young man in the painting. With his son safe within his outstretched arms, the father’s expression seems to say . . . , “I am not going to ask you any questions. Wherever you have gone, whatever you have done, and whatever people say about you, you’re my beloved child. I hold you safe in my embrace. I hug you. I gather you under my wings. You can come home to me.” 

Are you ready to come home to the community of faith?

If so, look no further than your own compassionate heavenly Father, who is ready even at this moment to welcome you.

Why do you think Jesus told the parable of the prodigal son?To make it clear that a compassionate God joyously welcomes repentant sinners into His house.

“What a word of encouragement, consolation and comfort! We don’t have to sift our hearts and analyze our intentions before returning home. Abba just wants us to show up. We don’t have to be perfect or even very good before God will accept us.” (Brennan Manning)

HOME.

under the mercy, Cindy

©2017 Lucinda Secrest McDowell – adapted from Ordinary Graces (Abingdon Press)

ORDER HERE – Click “BUY” and you can choose to purchase from ANY Online Store.

NOTE: Did you enjoy this blog? If so, would you consider entering your email in the above right form and subscribing to it by email? I assure you I won’t overload your in-box, but would love to send you these ‘encouraging words’ each Wednesday. Thanks!

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You Are Not Her!

You Are Not Her!

Lucinda Secrest McDowell

  • “I can’t believe the Joneses are vacationing in Europe, and we can’t even get to the beach.”
  • “Why did she get a book contract when I’ve been writing longer than she has?”
  • “I sent the steering committee my résumé, but they chose a younger person with less experience.”

 

Don’t do it, friend.

Compare. Compete.

Because it is simply a dead end. Personally. Professionally. Spiritually. God has called you to follow Him, glorify Him, and further His kingdom through your own unique story. Not hers.

Can you trust Him for that? A chance to live out the grace you received as a free gift?

Paul reminds us today, “Isn’t everything you have and everything you are sheer gifts from God? So what’s the point of all this comparing and competingYou already have all you need.” ~ 1 Corinthians 4:7 MSG

We were created, redeemed, and sustained so that we may live our unique stories—yes, with all the mess, mistakes, meanderings, and even miracles.

Those who need to know us will be put in our path by a sovereign God. Her success does not mean my failure.

A few years ago, Tracie Miles was thrilled to be invited to speak at a large women’s conference. But as she sat in the hotel lobby and observed the other speakers, her confidence began to slip away. “I began wondering whether the other speakers were more experienced than I was, if their messages would be more encouraging than mine, . . . if they were more successful in their ministries, if the attendees would like them better, on and on it went. As I compared myself to these women, my mind was filled with thoughts of insecurity and inferiority.”

Every time we compare ourselves with someone else, we are in danger of believing the lie of rejection—that our own lives are not important.

Did you think you were the only insecure person around?

Everyone suffers from comparison. “So much of our own unhappiness is rooted in assuming that someone else is living the happy life we want. The person you’re measuring your life up against? She is measuring her life against someone else’s. And someone is comparing herself to you! It’s a whole cycle of comparison that doesn’t end until someone says enough is enough.” (Jennifer Dukes Lee)

Okay, I’ll say it: “Enough is enough!”

Here’s how I fight the comparison battle:

  1. I truly believe that I am loved and chosen by God.
  2. I obey what He is calling me to do and be.
  3. I encourage, promote, and lift up others. I go first. I pray to be a generous and grace-filled person.

You were not created to be her.

Isn’t that a relief? Now, go forth and become the very best version of yourself, by God’s grace.

under the mercy, Cindy

©2017 Lucinda Secrest McDowell – adapted from Ordinary Graces (Abingdon Press)

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You are Surrounded!

You are Surrounded!

Lucinda Secrest McDowell

Do you feel alone today? Alone in your decisions? Alone in your struggles?

Actually, you’re not alone. You are surrounded — by more Love and Protection than you can possibly imagine…

A missionary once told the story of biking for two days into the nearest African city to purchase supplies for his small field hospital. After treating the injuries of a man he encountered, he visited the bank and supply store, and then continued his bike journey home, camping one night in the jungle. 

Two weeks later, when the missionary returned to the same city, the young man he had bandaged up previously pulled him aside and made a surprising confession.  “My friends and I knew you carried money and medicine, so we followed you to your campsite, planning to steal everything and kill you. But just as we were about to attack you, we saw twenty-six armed guards surrounding you.”

          “You must be mistaken; I was all alone that night,” the missionary answered.
          “Oh no,” the young man said. “All of us saw the guards. That’s the only reason we didn’t kill you.”
          While home on furlough, the missionary shared this story with his home church and a man interrupted him, “What was the specific month and day this happened?”
          After being told the date, the man explained, “At the time of this incident, I was on the golf course for some morning practice. I was about to putt when I was struck by a sudden urge to pray for you. It was so strong I left the course and called some men at our church to join me in praying for you. Would all you men who prayed that day stand up?” One by one the missionary counted the men.

There were twenty-six — the exact number of ‘armed guards’ the thwarted assailants had seen.

          When I heard this story I was immediately reminded of Elisha in the Bible… One day the prophet Elisha and his servant awakened to discover they were surrounded by the enemy.

Though his servant panicked, Elisha could see that spiritual protection was also in place. He told his servant, “Don’t be afraid,” Elisha said, “because there are more of us than there are of them.”  Then Elisha prayed, “Lord, please open his eyes that he may see.”

The Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he saw that the mountain was “full of horses and fiery chariots surrounding Elisha.” (2 Kings 6.16-17 CEB) So then Elisha prayed that his enemies’ eyes would be blinded. They were, and Elisha led them directly into the hands of the king of Israel.

  You are surrounded today. Perhaps by distractions and duties and discouragement. But also surrounded by God’s presence and power; even in the form of heavenly guard!

“As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds his people both now and forevermore.” Psalm 125.2

The psalmist compares this protection to the city of Jerusalem and rightly so. “In ancient times there was no more militarily secure position for a city than to be behind encircling mountains. Trusting in God is like being in a mountain fastness. How? Trusting God is also the way to eventually get breathtaking sights of God himself. Most of all, trusting God means connecting yourself to the one person who will endure forever. And that means you will endure as well.” (Tim Keller)

In a world in which seemingly everything changes and nothing lasts,  remember that God surrounds you. Always. 

under the mercy, Cindy

©2017 Lucinda Secrest McDowell – adapted from Ordinary Graces (Abingdon Press)

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NOTE: Did you enjoy this blog? If so, would you consider entering your email in the above right form and subscribing to it by email? I assure you I won’t overload your in-box, but would love to send you these ‘encouraging words’ each Wednesday. Thanks!

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