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How hard is it to take something for granted?  Actually, it’s about as easy as it gets!  It’s no trouble whatsoever for us to begin viewing an incredible gift or abundant blessing as some sort of entitlement or guarantee.  All we have to do is possess it for a while, and it soon becomes a “given” in our minds and attitudes, a presumptuous expectation that it will always be there.  However, life’s unpredictable circumstances frequently serve as a system of “checks and balances” to jerk us back into a greater sense of reality and to rekindle a proper appreciation for the blessings in our lives.

My most recent “Took That for Granted, Now Didn’t You, Tim?” lesson was provided by a lack of air conditioning in my car.  For the most part, I’ve lived in an air-conditioned world, with the exception of the house where I lived in Liberia for two years as a boy and my apartment in Australia as a young adult.  Actually, the apartment where Kim and I lived for three years in Hawaii wasn’t air conditioned either, but who cares?  It was in Hawaii!  Other than those brief stints, my life has been blessed with an abundance of artificially cool air.

In the fall of 2010, the A/C went out in my car.  I planned to use my tax refund the next spring to get it fixed before the summer of 2011 arrived.  However, on Hannah’s first trip home from college after the weather warmed up, she told me that her car’s air conditioning wasn’t working.  So, I did the fatherly thing and used the money I had set aside to have her system repaired.  That’s just what we parents do for our kids, right?  I stuck it out through the heat of the summer of 2011…. and 2012 …. and 2013.  Don’t feel too sorry for me.  It only got up to 114 degrees those first two summers.  Oh, and did I mention the black leather interior?  That helped a lot!

On the hottest days the last three summers, I overcame the temptation to complain by reminding myself that I was extremely blessed to have a car at all, and one that, mechanically speaking, worked quite well.  It faithfully and regularly got me from Point A to Point B, which is what it was designed to do.  I was doubly blessed by the luxury of owing two vehicles.  I lived in an air-conditioned home, worked in an air-conditioned office, and shopped in air-conditioned stores.  I had more than enough food to eat.  I had clothes on my back (my stuck-to-the-car-seat, sweaty back!).  What right did I have to complain?

I got my car’s air conditioning repaired this week.  I can’t believe how cold the air is.  Yet, it probably won’t be very long before I just turn it on and ride in comfort without a passing thought of thankfulness.

Don’t let that happen with the greatest blessings in your life: your relationship with Jesus, your spouse, your children, your parents, your friends, your church family, your job, your co-workers, and all the physical blessings you enjoy.

Let the important people in your life know how much you love, appreciate, and treasure them.  Start with the Lord and work your way down the list!

I met her last year.  Well, I didn’t actually meet her.  We just saw one another briefly two or three times a day over the course of a week.  We made eye contact a few times, but never actually spoke to one another.  The primary reason that we never spoke was that our paths crossed in the Retreat House at the Abbey of Gethsemani near Bardstown, Kentucky, where silence is strictly observed.  I was there for a week-long sabbatical and spiritual retreat.  She worked in the kitchen where the meals for retreatants were prepared and served three times a day.

Just as silence is observed throughout the monastery’s retreat house, grounds, gardens, and walking trails, so it is also in the small commercial kitchen where retreatants fill their plates and soup bowls from a serving line before walking into the adjacent dining room to eat their meals.  On each of the tables is a small placard that offers the gentle reminder, “Silence Is Spoken Here.”

Between meals, she could often be found in the dining room, seated near the kitchen door, facing the large window that overlooked a peaceful garden, sipping coffee, and working diligently through the pages of a paperback crossword puzzle book.  I’m not sure why I even noticed her fondness for crossword puzzles, but she seemed devotedly passionate about them.

As I stood in the serving line each day or returned to the kitchen to refill my coffee cup, I would smile at her, hoping to communicate gratitude for the delicious food she had prepared.  However, I felt like I spoiled any positive impressions by arriving late for a couple of meals after the serving line had already closed and she was mopping the floor.  Though no words were ever exchanged, I found myself on the receiving end of “the look.”  While I’m totally incapable of knowing her heart or her intent, I interpreted “the look” as meaning, “Are you serious?  Can’t you read?  Can’t you tell time?  You’ve got gray hair, for crying out loud!  Get here at meal time if you want to eat!”  I just sheepishly grabbed a banana from the ever-present fruit bowl, and toughed it out until the next meal.

I returned to the Abbey of Gethsemani two weeks ago for another much-needed week of spiritual renewal, refreshment, and undistracted focus on matters of the Spirit.  Not until I arrived there did I realize just how badly I needed a week away from my normal routine.  Disconnected from the noise and endless beckoning of my office phone, cell phone, computer, email, Facebook, television news, and the daily demands of ministry, I soon became acutely aware of how conflicted my heart had become.  I was immensely blessed through the course of the week to be able to wrestle through some inner turmoil, anxieties, and fears and be graciously restored once again to a sense of peace, emotional calm, and renewed spiritual strength.  I was reminded of my daily dependence upon the Word of God and disciplined times of extended prayer.

Among the things that were familiar to me on my second visit to the Abbey was the lady in the kitchen.  With as many people as she encounters throughout the year, I felt like there was little chance of her recognizing me or having any lingering negative impressions from last year’s episodes of tardiness.  Perhaps we could enjoy a fresh start!

About midway through the week, I realized that I had failed to pack a couple of needful things and decided to briefly leave the Retreat House and drive into Bardstown to purchase the items at (where else?) Walmart.  I don’t know why it hit me as I neared the store, but I decided that I would buy a crossword puzzle book to give the lady in the kitchen.  I didn’t know her name or anything about her or her family.  I just thought she might enjoy it.

That night, I scribbled a brief note, slid it between the pages of the crossword book, walked downstairs to the darkened dining room, and placed it at her “spot” on the table near the kitchen door.  I can’t remember exactly what I wrote, but it was something to the effect of, “Merry Christmas!  Thanks so much for what you do for God, and for the delicious meals that you prepare and serve every day.”  I signed it, A Grateful Retreatant.

The next morning, I noticed that the new book had been neatly placed beside the other puzzle books she had been working through.  I saw her as I walked out of the kitchen with my bowl of oatmeal and cup of coffee.  Maybe it was just me, but her face seemed a little brighter and her smile a bit kinder and sweeter.  Not knowing which of the 30 or so retreatants had left the book for her, she could afford to look at each of us as if we might have been the responsible party.  A multiplied dividend!

Later that day (or the next, I can’t remember for sure), as I carried my meal tray past her “spot,” I noticed the new puzzle book on the table by itself, with my little note visibly sticking out of the pages.  Beside the book was a napkin upon which she had written, “Thank You!”  She didn’t know exactly to whom she was directing her appreciation, but the message was received.

A small, simple gift of affirmation and gratitude!  The book cost practically nothing, but it assured someone created in the image of God that her efforts were noticed and appreciated.

I hope that I will have the opportunity to return to the Abbey of Gethsemani again for another retreat.  If I do, I know of one item that I will be certain to pack.

Gratitude

I am thankful for an awesome, powerful, loving, and just Creator who made me in His own image with the intention of sharing a relationship with me as His child for all eternity.

I am thankful that when I squandered and severed that relationship by my own foolishness, willfulness, selfishness, and sinfulness, He acted yet again to seek me and save me through His gift of grace and mercy in His Son, Jesus Christ.

I am thankful for the eternal Son of God, the Logos, the Word who became flesh, who laid down His life as an unblemished and spotless sacrifice for my own mountain of sins and for those of the world.  I am thankful that through His precious blood I have been forgiven, redeemed, restored, renewed, and revived.

I am thankful for the divine, indwelling Holy Spirit whose unfailing presence within me serves as a mark of identification that I belong to God, as a down payment and pledge of my eternal inheritance, and as an empowering incentive to live in holiness.

I am thankful for a wife of 25 years who has loved, supported, and encouraged me through times of both smooth sailing and troubled seas, not because of my goodness, but in spite of my weaknesses, and who has been an incomparable nurturer, guide, and mother to our children.

I am thankful for the joy and blessing of two precious children, each of whom, in their uniqueness, giftedness, and expressiveness, have enriched my life beyond measure.

I am thankful for friends who have embraced me and accepted me, warts and all, and who have extended their faithful friendship to me, not on the basis of my role of ministry in the body of Christ, but based on who I am as a person and as a Christian brother.

I am thankful for the local body of believers of which I am a part and among whom I serve, for our shepherds, for my co-workers in ministry, and for every servant-hearted member of this family.  I am thankful for every precious, beloved brother and sister with whom I have been blessed to serve in years past in other states and other countries.  I am thankful for the innumerable lights in this world and salt upon this earth that I will not be blessed to meet until this passing world is done.

I am thankful for daily bread, the warmth and protection of my home, clothing, transportation, the tranquility of life and the freedoms afforded by living in this country and for the untold sacrifices of those who have served and are serving to ensure them.

Thank you, Father! And please forgive me in those moments when I forget just how immeasurably blessed I am.

In a village on the borderland between Galilee and Samaria, Jesus encountered ten leprous men while on His journey to Jerusalem to face betrayal, trial, torture, and death (Luke 17:11-19).  The men raised their voices to Jesus from a distance, observing the social isolation and separation that their leprosy demanded, crying out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.”  Despite the nearness of His own suffering, which could have easily (and understandably) consumed all of His focus and concern, Jesus was moved with compassion and directed the men to go and show themselves to the priests.  According to the ritual requirements of the Law, a leper could be declared clean and free from the disease only after examination by a priest and the offering of sacrifices (Leviticus 14:1-32).

All ten of the lepers demonstrated great faith by following Jesus’ instructions, especially since their leprosy was still upon them as they began their journey.  Somewhere along the way, their disease was taken away by the power, grace, and mercy of the Lord.  One of the ten, only one, a Samaritan, turned back to find Jesus.  He glorified God with a loud voice, fell at Jesus’ feet, and gave thanks to Him for the gift of restored health.

We often use this story (and rightfully so) to illustrate our need to offer thanksgiving and praise to God and to caution against having a heart of ingratitude.  However, it is interesting to note that the other nine men still enjoyed the blessing of healing, despite their failure to return and thank the Lord.  The attitude of Jesus wasn’t, “I’ll heal you only if you promise to be grateful.”  He healed them because of who He was; loving, compassionate, and merciful.

Jesus instructs us to be merciful in the same way that our heavenly Father is merciful, loving our enemies and doing good, expecting nothing in return (even gratitude); “for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men” (Luke 6:35-36).  “God causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45).  There are multitudes who enjoy the warmth of the sun and the sweetness of the rain who never acknowledge the divine Giver of those blessings; some of the them even overtly deny His existence.  Still, He blesses.

Acts of kindness to others are self-authenticating.  They need no justification.  They do not require anyone’s permission.  They are not dependent on the gratitude, or lack thereof, possessed by the recipients of the kindness. 

We do good for the sake of doing good and for the sake of the Savior in whose steps we follow.

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