Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Thanksgiving Message - 2005

Thanksgiving - 2005

Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; For His lovingkindness is everlasting.
(Psalm 118: 1)

This coming week is “Thanksgiving” in our country. It is a time set apart to reflect on those things we are thankful for. It is a time to look back over the past - over weeks, or months, or even the years - and thank God for the gifts we have seen in our lives. Sometimes our lives are so full of trials and troubles, that it is hard to see past even a few days ago! But every once in a while, we get a glimmer of what our lives have really been about - how our lives have been truly blessed . . .

Oh give thanks to the Lord, call upon His name; Make known His deeds among the peoples. Remember His wonders which He has done, His marvels, and the judgments uttered by His mouth.
(Psalm105: 1)

A few weeks ago, I was “ordered” to rest by not just my doctor, but Ted as well. I am not good at this, I tend to want to stay busy. So Ted suggested that I find a good movie, and just spend some time laying on the couch watching something I would enjoy. As I rummaged through the movies that we owned, I spotted an old video. “1990” it said - and “Kids playing” I read on the side. I wondered about it, and so I popped it into the vcr. As I laid down on the couch to watch, the emotions seemed to roll over me - like waves from the ocean. There, on the television, was a life that I only somewhat remember . . .

As I lay there on the couch, I watched my two children playing in the snow. It was January of 1990, and they both were laughing and making a snowman. As I watched, I couldn’t help but laugh as they struggled to get the head on the snowman, and tried to put mittens and a face on it. The video continued and the kids were getting ready for parties and holidays, talking and laughing with their grandparents or cousins. I loved hearing their young voices, and seeing them as they were “way back then”. It didn’t even bother me to see their father, the man who somewhat tried to do his best - and made a lot of mistakes along the way. But the hardest part to watch, was “me”! The person I saw on that video was in her early 30’s, with very short red hair, and walls that seemed to keep her from feeling or laughing. She felt so cold, and so emotionless - someone who seemed to have no hope, no life. That is, until the moment she turned and looked at her children - - - and there on the television, I saw it! She melted as she smiled at them, loving them so very much. “How had she gotten to be that person?” I wondered. And how had I gotten to be the person, that I am today?

For great is the glory of the Lord. For though the Lord is exalted, Yet he regards the lowly; . . . The Lord will accomplish what concerns me; . . .
(Psalm 138: 6 & 8)

As I look back over the years, I really can’t say that I did anything that special, or that good. I made some terrible mistakes, and yet I also know that I said “yes” to doing things that were good. How did it happen that my life changed so much, since the time of that video?

We had only lived in Connecticut for a few years, when the video was made. I had met some moms in the area, and for some reason that I still don’t understand, they were “Christians”. When we moved to the area, I didn’t even know what that word meant! I knew that I went to church every week, and it was a church that taught about Christ - but that was about all I knew. But these ladies had something more, something that I couldn’t stop wanting for myself. They seemed to have more “faith”, more “hope”, and a trust in God that I didn’t even know existed. I wanted those things, and maybe - just maybe, that is when things started to change. My relationship with my husband was one filled with anger and feeling like I was never good enough. I had grown up with a family that had no clue how to love “unconditionally”. And so when these ladies started to teach me about a God who loved me - no matter how bad I was or what I had done in the past - it was difficult to trust. But the seeds had been planted, and I started to wonder . . .

“Ask and it shall be given to you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you.” (Mathew 7: 7)

It was about the time of this video, that I really wanted to go on a week-end retreat with our church. The church had two retreats a year, one for ladies and one for men. I had heard about them for a while, and begged my husband to let me go. He thought I was crazy, and had said no a few times. The stories I heard about these week-ends, just made me more determined to find a way. My friends told me how their lives had changed as they learned more about the Lord and His love. They told me how they had learned about “who” they were, and that God really did love them. And they told me that their marriages had grown stronger, as their husbands had also gone on retreat and changed. I wanted that so much! But still, he said “no”!

I tricked him! I asked our minister’s wife to sponsor me. And then I asked the minister to approach him. He finally agreed, and I packed my bags. It was to be a three day trip, and nervously I waited for my friends to pick me up. As I left, I could see the anger in his eyes, but decided I would ignore it. The kids were around me, and I kissed them and told them to be good. Driving away from the house, I wondered what I had gotten myself into!

That first night was filled with meeting new people, singing and laughter, and stories that tore at your heart. As I carefully watched the other women, I wondered about the feelings that seemed to sometimes want to swallow me up. I felt like I might die from the intensity of them, and tried so hard to push them away. I didn’t let anyone see what I was feeling, as I carefully took my things and headed to my room. As I opened the door, the light from the hall fell onto the bed. There, on top of the bed that I had just made up that afternoon, lay a group of notes and cards. I picked up the first one on top, and saw the handwriting. It was from Norma! It was made of pink paper, with a design in the middle of flowers, and had this verse written inside: But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing greatness of power may be of God - and not from ourselves; (2 Corinthians 4: 7) And then on the back it said: Love, Norma!

As I tried to control the tears, I wondered why I was such a huge mess! This was supposed to be a time of “renewal”, of growth and life! And here I was feeling like I was drowning! I read each and every card that night, some from people I had never met. All of them saying that I was loved! But the one card that kept drawing me back, was the one from Norma. She wasn’t at the retreat, but it felt like she was right there with me! I wondered about the verse, and what it meant. “power may be of God - and not from ourselves;” That seemed important, but I still didn’t understand . . .

Therefore, encourage one another, and build up one another, . . .
Always seek after that which is good for one another . . .
Rejoice always; - - - Pray without ceasing; - - - in everything give thanks;
(1 Thessalonians 5: 11, 15 - 18)

That week-end might have been another beginning of my life changing. The days flew by, and I wondered about how to go home to my husband and children. I had cried more that week-end than I had for the 30-something years leading up to it! At least that is how I felt. There were more “gifts” each night, and laughter and acceptance during the days. As the final day drew near, I really fought with my emotions. I hated that I didn’t want to go home! I wanted to see my children, but worried about my husband. As the final service started that Sunday morning, I filed into the chapel with the rest of the women. The chapel was filled with people, and I wondered who they all were. Looking around, I spotted her. There, over in the corner, was Norma. As I looked at her, she smiled at me - and I burst into tears. Throughout the service, I realized there were people there that I recognized from my church. And then it hit me - every one of them had come to celebrate - just for me! How could this be? How could people who had just gotten to know me over the past few years, care about me this much?

I will bless the Lord who has counseled me; I have set the Lord continually before me;
Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoices;
Thou wilt make known to me the path of life;
(Psalm 16: 7 - 11)

I wish I could say that from that moment on - my life changed completely. But it didn’t. I went home to a very angry husband, who wanted to know why I hadn’t been there to take care of him and the children. I found myself getting angrier and angrier at this man who was supposed to be my love and my partner. I also found myself doing things I really wished that I didn’t do. I drank too much and I lied all the time. I found ways of getting the things I wanted for myself. And none of that made me proud of myself. Doing those things made me wonder how God could ever really love me! After all, I didn’t love myself . . .

Thou wilt make known to me the path of life;

For some reason, God never gave up on me! Even when I was doing the exact opposite of what I knew I should be doing, He still cared about me. Over the next few years, I had found a Christian therapist to help me with the things that hurt in my life. There came a moment when I tested her. She wanted me to stop drinking, and to do things that were good for my life. And so she told me that if I drank again, she would have to stop seeing me. On this one particular day, the kids were away with friends, and I started to drink. Taking my six-pack with me, I headed over to her office. As I walked up to the door, with the six-pack in hand, she stood there waiting for me. “So, are we done?” I asked. Somehow, in my mind, she and God were hand-in-hand. Of course they both would give up on me! But they didn’t! And “hope” continued to grow in my life . . .

“Listen to this . . . Stand and consider . . . The wonders of God.” “Do you know how God establishes them, and makes the lightening of His cloud to shine?”
“Do you know . . . The wonders of One perfect in knowledge,”
(Job 37: 14 - 16)

How did my life change so drastically from that time so long ago? In little bits and pieces, as I hoped and prayed for something better!

The Lord will accomplish what concerns me; . . . Thy lovingkindness, O Lord, is everlasting; (Psalm 138: 8)

There is a new song out that seems to talk about “letting go” and asking God to take care of us. It is a song by Carrie Underwood. It is called “Jesus Take The Wheel”. The words tell of a girl who has struggled to make it on her own, with her baby. She finally realizes that she can’t make it, and is driving home with her little girl. As she does, she loses control of the car. As the car starts to spin, she lifts her hands from the wheel, begging Jesus to take it - to take control of her life and her child’s.

When I look back over my life, there are times when my life felt that out of control. As the hurts and awful times came into my life, I tried so hard to take care of everything. That girl from 1990 was trying so hard to control her life and the lives of her children. She wanted to be “safe” - and yet I know that she felt so hurt, and so unsafe! But as I look deeper, those are the moments when I also see the Lord. He was there that week-end so long ago. He was there to ask me to let Him be the one in control, the One who knew just what I needed to live my life.

But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing greatness of power may be of God - and not from ourselves;

He was there with me, as I faced my therapist. He was there a few years later, when I left my first husband. And He has been with both Ted and I, as we ask Him to be with us each day. He has brought so much change into our lives - - - a change that is full of joy and love - and Life!

Thou wilt make known to me the path of life: In Thy presence is fullness of joy;
In Thy right hand there are pleasures forever . . .
(Psalm 16: 11)

As we come to this very special holiday - Thanksgiving - where do you see God‘s touch on your own life? As you look back over the past few weeks, or months, or even years - can you see Him? In the middle of your chaos and confusion, He is there - just waiting for you to ask: Please Lord, take the wheel of my life! He is waiting to show you your own path - to Life . . .

“For I know the plans that I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans for welfare, and not for calamity - to give you a future and a hope.”
(Jeremiah 29: 11)

May you have a very wonderful Thanksgiving celebration! May you find the blessings that God is waiting to give you, as you travel this road we call Life.

In His Love,
Debbie & Ted Ayers