3 Attitudes that Kill Thanksgiving

Entitlement: If I think that I deserve more (or better), or if I think that I have earned all I own by my hard work, or if I believe that God owes me a good life, then I will feel entitled to more and will not be thankful for what I do have. But, if I see all that I have as a generous gift from a gracious God, I will be thankful for it because I know I don’t deserve it and I haven’t somehow earned it and God doesn’t owe it to me. It is a gift, and therefore I am thankful. 

Comparison: If I am constantly comparing myself with others–by noticing that someone is better dressed than me or eats better than me or lives in a nicer home than me or serves more than me or seems to be happier than me–I will never be satisfied and certainly never thankful. But if I think deeply about the blessings God has bestowed on me and meditate on all the ways that He has surprised me with His mercy, my heart will well up in thanksgiving for His goodness to me.

The Upgrade Mentality (a.k.a. Newer-Is-Always-Better): If I am constantly sucked into the marketing that promises I will save so much time if I have this new gadget, or my health will be so much better if I follow this new diet, or my Christian life will be so much more fulfilling if I read this new book, then thankfulness will be a fleeting idea that gets tossed aside like last year’s iPhone. But if I learn to see the value in enjoying deeply what I already have, and start to actually utilize things instead of just consuming them, and discover the relational joy that comes in making something together as a family, then thankfulness will take root and flourish like a shade tree that’s been growing for a century.

A Painful Poem

As a child in school, I dreaded the part of English class in which we had to write poetry–I was too precise and rule-bound, and the free-flowing creativity of poetry made me freeze up. So the poetry I tried to produce in those classes was probably quite painful for my teachers to read.

But the poem I want to share here is not painful because it’s poorly written. (In fact, it’s not written by me, so there is a much greater likelihood that it’s not painful poetry.) Rather, the reason I call it a painful poem is because it comes out of much pain and gives perspective on pain. And it was written for–and gifted to–a woman whose genuine joy in the midst of tremendous pain stands in stark contrast to my oft-complaining spirit in suffering that does not come close to hers.

This was written by Nan Powlison, and given to Joni Eareckson Tada as a birthday gift. Joni was speaking at the CCEF National Conference (which I was privileged to attend last month), and her birthday landed on the second day of the conference. So at the end of the evening session, in which David Powlison (Executive Director of CCEF and one of my favorite teachers) had been dialoguing  with Joni about joy and sorrow and suffering, Nan (David’s wife) came out to present this poem to Joni, in celebration of her birthday.

Joni is not first and foremost a quadriplegic, nor is she primarily an artist or an author or an advocate, but she is a woman whose life is defined by her relationship with God and her deep trust and delight in Him. But because she is also an artist, and because she suffers from quadriplegia and chronic pain, this poem from Nan is so beautifully descriptive of Joni’s deep desire.

Draw me into you, Lord

Rough me in and draw me

Sketch me and erase me

Sketch me and erase me

Trace me positive in negative space




By shades and shadows

A light design

Then fling me out

Across your page

Bold strokes for service

‘Til they see

Your face in mine

Draw me, Lord

(Nan Powlison)

Highlights from CCEF Conference

My wife and I greatly enjoyed attending the CCEF National Conference together this past weekend! Here are a few of the highlights for me, along with some oimg_1116ther random observations from our trip…

Most beautiful house: on Forest Ave, a few blocks from where we were staying on the North Shore in Chattanooga.

Favorite new song I learned at the conference: We Will Feast in the House of Zion

Favorite kinda new song we sang at the conference: Psalm 126

Favorite old song we sang at the conference: How Firm a Foundation (In case you can’t tell, singing together with 2000 other Christians so many songs rich in Gospel truths was one of the best parts of the conference for me!)

Favorite quote from the conference: Joni Eareckson Tada compared suffering to “splash-overs of hell,” but then said that “Splash-overs of heaven are: finding Jesus with you in the splash-overs from hell.”

Best find in the conference bookstore: The Radical Book for Kids, selling for $12.50 (50% off) before it has even been released!

Best restaurant food: sweet potato fries at Urban Stack in Chattanooga. So good!

Best lunch deal: a 4-pack of meal-size Santa Fe Chicken Salads for $5 (total!), from Costco.

Favorite insight from a speaker: Aaron Sironi reminded us that the essence of marriage is a one-flesh union, therefore marital conflict is more like an autoimmune disease (i.e. a body fighting against itself) than like a boxing match (2 opponents fighting each other).

Favorite speaker: David Powlison is a man I greatly respect, whose writing and teaching have become very influential in my thinking. He did not have a full plenary session to teach this time, but I was scrambling to jot down notes even from his opening remarks at the beginning of the conference–he has a lot of wisdom to share.

Most touching moment in the conference: Joni Eareckson Tada’s birthday landed during the conference, so we all sang Happy Birthday to her in the session when she and ice-signDavid Powlison had a “fireside chat.” Then Ken Tada (her husband) and Nan Powlison (David’s wife) came out with a gift for Joni and honored her–it was an emotional moment.

Most confusing road sign: We flew into Atlanta, and then drove up to Chattanooga, and all along the highway we kept seeing this sign. Huh?!
I finally came to the conclusion that it meant that the section of roadway that was a bridge might be icy even if the rest of the road was not icy, so proceed with caution. If I’m ever driving that road in winter, I guess I’ll have to watch out.

Hidden Joy

My friend and colleague in ministry, Ian Nagata, released his first album this past week, and I was very excited to listen to it. A year ago I had blogged my thoughts related to one of the songs on this album, called The Joy that Hides in You. That song, along now with a few others on the album that take the form of laments, continues to minister deeply to my heart in the midst of struggle and suffering and sorrow. What resonates so deeply from those songs is the reality that suffering, though very real, does not have the final word. And in that there is a joy that is hidden (i.e. not immediately apparent)–that the sorrow and suffering I face brings me into deeper communion with my suffering Savior, and in fact He is using that suffering to form His character in me in a way that could not happen apart from the pain. So rather than finding joy by escaping from the suffering, there is actually joy in the midst of the suffering–that is the joy that hides in Christ, and that is the joy that shines so clearly in these beautiful songs that Ian has put together.

You can check out Ian’s album here.

50 Shades of Green

Living as long as I have now in the dry, brown metropolis of Southern California, I forget how refreshing and beautiful the color green can be. Spending a whole week driving and hiking through the mountains and forests and hillsides of Oregon in the springtime (as I just did this past week) reminded me of that beauty that I used to take for granted living in the Pacific Northwest.


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Rain Clouds and Weather Apps

I grew up in Portland, Oregon, where there are typically more days of rain in a year than days without rain (or at least that’s how it felt). I also grew up without a TV in the house, so we never watched the weather reports on the news. Instead, I learned pretty well how to look at the clouds and the wind and figure out when it was about to rain.

In Southern California, rain is not nearly as commonplace as in the Pacific Northwest. And the technology that my children have access to differs dramatically from what I grew up with. So the other day when I was working outside with my 8-year-old son, I felt the breeze picking up and noticed that the sky was looking pretty grey and overcast, so I made some comment about it looking like it was going to rain. My son, without looking up or breaking his rhythm of sweeping, said “Do you have your phone on you? Why don’t you just look at the weather app and then you’ll know if it’s going to rain.”

I smiled to myself as I pulled out my phone to check. A different generation in a different geographic location using different means of addressing the same questions. Should I be feeling old?

It didn’t rain that day–my son (and my phone) were correct.