The Gift of Giving

Thanksgiving is the time of year when family and friends gather together and express their gratitude for all they have. It’s the season for giving to others and a time to put into perspective the things that truly matter.

But why is it so difficult for us to do these things all year round?

I’ve recently noticed how quickly and easily people give up. I’ve shared with friends about some of the struggles I’ve encountered in this season I’m in and I was surprised to find how many were quick to say maybe I wasn’t in the place God wanted me, maybe I should try something else, or maybe I should just quit altogether.

But being in God’s will doesn’t mean a struggle-free existence. Often times, it means walking right into the battle. His plan usually includes sharpening us through tests and trials and refining us through fire.

How much do we miss out on in life when we give up too easily?

Our society has cultivated an attitude of “what’s in it for me?” When we feel we aren’t getting enough out of what we’re doing, we quickly give up and move on. But what if it’s not about us or how we feel? What if we’re gaining skills and training for something down the road? What if His plan is not for you to get something but for you to give something?

I’ve been thinking a lot about Joseph lately. God’s plan for his life involved being kidnapped, sold as a slave and false imprisonment. What if he had given up? What if he had run away or escaped from Egypt? The world at that time, and what would eventually become the nation of Israel, would have been completely destroyed by famine.

We’ve fallen prey to the idea that says if we’re on the right path then we should face very little adversity, and if we do face difficulties they should be overcome very easily. So when we come across adversity, we quickly look for the easiest way to ease the pain.

Joseph, however, didn’t give up. He persevered and continued on the difficult path God had set before him. Joseph never imagined he’d be a slave or a prisoner and, yet, because of his perseverance through these trials and continued to give of himself, he was able to save his family, the entire nation of Egypt, and ensured the survival of YHVH’s chosen people Israel.

How much could we accomplish if only we didn’t give up at the first sign of difficulty?

Like Joseph, God could have us on a path that, while difficult in the present, could be for the benefit of countless others later. But if we’re too quick to give up, we could miss out on being a blessing to others further down the path.

As I’ve walked out this new season with new challenges, I feel YHVH asking me to give of myself in new and difficult ways. As I serve others, I don’t get anything obvious in return. In fact, it often costs me a great deal to serve others in this new capacity, but I know this is where YHVH wants me and that He’s training me for something more.

In these difficult moments of feeling empty after giving of myself to others, YHVH has reminded me that when we give, we should give freely, expecting nothing in return. He’s also reminded me that sometimes we are put into difficult seasons not just for our own benefit, but for the benefit of those we will cross paths with on this journey.

One of the most powerful ways to serve others is to persevere through the struggles of life and completing the task YHVH has set before you. As you persevere, you just might find others who are also struggling and need to be shown the love of Yeshua. As they watch you rely on YHVH as you walk through difficulties, you just might be shining the light and love of God that they so desperately need.

Giving of ourselves and expecting nothing in return is difficult, draining and tiring to be sure. But if we are faithful to the work He is doing in us, it will be to our benefit and to the benefit of those around us.

Like Joseph, we can never fully grasp why we must walk the paths we are on or why we must endure the trials we go through, but if we can continue to endure and be faithful to give of ourselves – even when it seems we don’t receive anything in return – YHVH will always be faithful to provide for us and help us become stronger through it all.

And that’s something to be thankful for this Thanksgiving!

A Thanksgiving Proclamation

The following is a guest post from Voice in the Desert contributor Stephanie Stockton. 

Happy Thanksgiving! I have so much to be thankful for. My wonderful husband of almost one year. My family and friends, even though we are far from each other this year. And I’m so thankful to live in America where we have the freedom to worship God and the opportunity to better ourselves.

Let us not forget that Thanksgiving was declared a national holiday by President Abraham Lincoln on October 3, 1863 for the purpose of giving thanks to God and helping to unify our nation. Two things we are again in desperate need of as a nation: God and unity!

Today, enjoy your family and remember to be grateful for all the many blessings of this year!

Proclamation of Thanksgiving

This is the proclamation which set the precedent for America’s national day of Thanksgiving. During his administration, President Lincoln issued many orders similar to this. For example, on November 28, 1861, he ordered government departments closed for a local day of thanksgiving.

Sarah Josepha Hale, a 74-year-old magazine editor, wrote a letter to Lincoln on September 28, 1863, urging him to have the “day of our annual Thanksgiving made a National and fixed Union Festival.” She explained, “You may have observed that, for some years past, there has been an increasing interest felt in our land to have the Thanksgiving held on the same day, in all the States; it now needs National recognition and authoritive fixation, only, to become permanently, an American custom and institution.”

Prior to this, each state scheduled its own Thanksgiving holiday at different times, mainly in New England and other Northern states. President Lincoln responded to Mrs. Hale’s request immediately, unlike several of his predecessors, who ignored her petitions altogether. In her letter to Lincoln she mentioned that she had been advocating a national thanksgiving date for 15 years as the editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book. George Washington was the first president to proclaim a day of thanksgiving, issuing his request on October 3, 1789, exactly 74 years before Lincoln’s.

The document below sets apart the last Thursday of November “as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise.”

According to an April 1, 1864, letter from John Nicolay, one of President Lincoln’s secretaries, this document was written by Secretary of State William Seward, and the original was in his handwriting. On October 3, 1863, fellow Cabinet member Gideon Welles recorded in his diary how he complimented Seward on his work. A year later the manuscript was sold to benefit Union troops.

Washington, D.C.
October 3, 1863

By the President of the United States of America.

A Proclamation.

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the United States the Eighty-eighth.

By the President: Abraham Lincoln

William H. Seward,
Secretary of State

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Letting Your Walk Talk: Living a Thankful Life

Thanksgiving. A time when we can gather with family and friends and be thankful for the many blessings we have in our lives. But I worry we are losing sight of what it really means to be thankful. In a generation that demands free stuff and feels they are entitled to whatever they want for simply existing, I fear that we have forgotten what it truly means to be thankful for what we have.

Take Keely Mullen, the Million Student March national organizer, who is protesting for free college and debt forgiveness. This is seriously one of the most cringe-worthy interviews I have ever watched. I felt so embarrassed for her. Seriously, watch the video and you’ll understand why. And, yet, I was so frustrated as I watched her struggle to find any real answers to the basic, logistical questions she was being asked. She feels entitled to have other people (the rich 1% that these poor, gullible kids are lied to about) pay for her college and to pay off the debt that she and others have accumulated in student loans. The third demand these protesters want is a $15/hr minimum wage for those working on college campuses. Unfortunately, the math just doesn’t add up.

Right now, if we were to institute a 100% tax on the rich 1% who is “hoarding” all the wealth, we would get roughly $1 trillion. There is currently about $1.3 trillion in student debt across the U.S. that these protesters want erased. The point? Even if we taxed 100% of the 1%’s wealth, it wouldn’t be enough to cover even one of the three areas these protesters want covered by the wealthy. She says that college systems are “unfair” and that there is “injustice” in the system. She was asked very basic questions like “at what point do you earn enough to be considered the 1%?” She had no answer. “What if the wealthy the leave the country? Who will pay for all this free stuff then?” No answer. “Even taxing the 1% at 100% we wouldn’t have enough to keep Medicare afloat for 3 years. How do you propose we pay for all the new stuff you’re asking for?” No answer. “Countries like Greece have also provided the same benefits that you’re demanding and now they’re going broke. Why do you think it will work here?” No answer. “Do you really think colleges won’t jump at the opportunity to raise the cost of tuition and room/board?” Some lame answer about what would happen in an “ideal” world.

It’s extremely frustrating to see the next generation of young people being as selfish and self-centered as they are. The world doesn’t owe us anything. We’ve confused a “right” with a “privilege.” These students are saying that education is a “right.” No, education is a privilege. When we begin to think that we have a “right” to anything and everything we want, we start going down a slippery slope. Suddenly, there’s no need to appreciate what we’re given because it was “owed” to us to begin with. We don’t have to work for anything or strive to be our best because it will all just be handed to us. We hear this and we’re outraged but are we any different than this entitled generation?

How do we show that we’re thankful? How do we show our appreciation?

We need to set the example. We need to first remember what we are thankful for and then show it! We can’t just talk about it. Take care of what God has blessed you with. From your family, friends, home, job, school, and life! Even if everyone else around you is complaining and talking about what they wish they had, make it a point to be thankful and appreciative for what you have been given.

It’s easy to get caught up in the life we want and forget what we already have. I know it’s cliché but life truly is a gift. We can take this gift and make a difference in the world in which we live or we can waste it by complaining and always wanting what we don’t have. There’s nothing wrong with ambition or striving towards the next goal but when your focus is on what you don’t have rather than what you do have, we run the risk of becoming selfish, self-centered, entitled, spoiled brats.

I know in my life, I have so much to be thankful for. I live in a free country, I have food on my table, a safe home to live in, family and friends who love me, and a loving God Who has never left my side. I have an education (for which I worked extremely hard), a job where I can earn money to pay my bills, and a car that, while not the nicest looking, gets me from Point A to be Point B just fine.

We each have things in our own lives for which we are thankful, but there are things that we can all collectively give thanks for too. Like our military. These brave folks selflessly serve their country and its citizens and put their lives on the line so that we can enjoy the freedoms we are privileged to have. Often they aren’t able to be home with their family and friends because of their work and for their sacrifice we should be eternally thankful.

Democracy. I am extremely thankful for democracy. “We the people” can vote to elect the people we choose to run our country instead of just being taken over by some crazy dictator. And while we aren’t always happy with the outcome, we can still find satisfaction in knowing that the citizens chose our leader…even if it was the dumber half of our citizens.

These things just scratch the surface of the things we have to be thankful for. But rather than simply saying we are thankful, we should be showing we are thankful. We should live our lives in a way that our joy and gratitude is evident to all we meet, whether it’s Thanksgiving Day or not.

Thanksgiving is just another day on the calendar if we can’t learn to be thankful for what we have every day of the year. So don’t just say you’re thankful…actually be thankful.

How can you live a thankful life? And no, it does not involve using the hashtag #blessed! Volunteer. Give to others. Put others before yourself. Don’t complain about your job. Don’t lust after what you don’t have. Take care of what you do have. Love those who are in your life.

My high school vice principle had a saying that he would walk around school saying every chance he could. He would say, “Your walk talks, and your talk talks but your walk talks louder than your talk talks.” We all thought it was cheesy, and it was, but it was a good reminder that has stuck with me all these years that the way you live your life speaks louder than how you say you live your live.

So what are you thankful for? And more importantly, how will you show it? Tell us in the comments below! Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

The Art of Gratitude

I love fall. It’s my favorite time of year. The leaves change and it gets a little cooler. I love being able to use my fireplace, wear my favorite jackets, and bring out all my many colored scarfs! But I also love when Thanksgiving rolls around. I really enjoy Thanksgiving. I think it’s one of my favorite holidays because you get to spend time with family, don’t have to buy anyone gifts, but you still get the day off of work! It’s a win-win-win situation!

Three years ago on Thanksgiving Day, one of my closest friends went into labor with her first child. In fact, it was on my grandmother’s couch, waiting for the turkey to be served, that she watched all of us awkwardly watching her experience contractions. And so my niece was born! Which makes this time of year even more special for me!

Last night we had a birthday party for my niece. She had a blast playing with cousins and friends, eating cake, and being sang to. But then came the presents. Nothing gets a kid more excited than opening their pile of presents. She ooo and ahh’d, and squealed quite a few times with all the Frozen toys she got. (By the way, if you’re wondering how Disney stayed afloat this year, I’m pretty sure it’s from all the money they made off me in the Frozen department.)

Half way through her presents though, it hit me. She didn’t need this stuff. She didn’t need any of it. The words “rampant consumerism” kept scrolling through my mind like breaking news on Fox. I knew that this shouldn’t surprise me or that I shouldn’t be shocked by her pile of presents but for some reason, I suddenly wanted to gather most of her presents up and put them away from her; not forever, but just until she could learn to appreciate them. She would never be able to play with all her toys. And I had the desperate urge to pull her aside and have a talk about gratitude and thankfulness with her.

Now, I know. She’s only three and I may have been overreacting just a teensy bit (Me? Overreact? Never.). But I so desperately wanted to make sure she understood how blessed she was and to be truly thankful for everything she has. Sometimes I think we all could use a little reminder in this area.

Enter Thanksgiving. This is a holiday completely dedicated to giving thanks for everything we have. But do we take that opportunity or is it just a day we eat a lot and don’t have to go to work? I can’t help but feel that we have lost the art of being thankful.

Thanksgiving Day is now spent by many in line (in the freezing cold!) outside stores and in parking lots. People stuff themselves and then sit down and come up with a game plan for their Black Friday exploits. And are we surprised?

We have become a generation that created a culture of consumerism. We feel entitled to anything and everything we want. If we want it, buy it. Even if we know we won’t really use it or need it. Then we act surprised by the actions of the thugs in Ferguson? They are robbing stores for food, beauty supplies, Nike shoes, clothes, car parts, you name it. They feel they have some sort of right to it simply because they want it.

On a less extreme scale though, the average, non-thug American is guilty of this too. Heck! I’m guilty of this. I’m the one who bought my niece a nice chunk of the toys she doesn’t play with and the new ones that will litter her floor. I’m the one who taught her to expect a new surprise (no matter how tiny it may be) every other week.

But I want her to learn the art of gratitude. I want to learn the art of gratitude. We don’t take nearly as much time as we should to really appreciate the things we have; the blessings YHVH has graciously given to us. I don’t want her growing up feeling entitled and not being thankful for what she is given. I don’t want her to be consumed with always getting more and never being content with what she has. But it’s my job, as an adult in her life that loves her with all my heart, to teach her this.

It starts with me. Am I being thankful for what I have? Not just material stuff either. Those aren’t the important things in life. Am I thankful for every new day when I wake in the mornings? Am I thankful for the warmth in my house? Am I thankful for the family and friends who love and are there to support me? Am I thankful for my time with the people I love? For my time with YHVH? For my Bible? For my freedom of speech…which I exercise quite often.

Am I thankful for my health? For the use of my legs? For water to drink and food to eat. Am I thankful for my education? For my job? Or do I spend my time complaining about things instead?

And when I’m thankful, do I express that gratitude? Do I say “thank you” enough? Do I say “please” enough? Kids mirror everything we do. If you want to get an honest assessment of how you really act, just take a look at how your child acts. Chances are they learned that behavior, good or bad, from you; from the adults that are a major part of their lives.

Now, please understand. I am not saying that presents are bad. Or that buying stuff is wrong. I am simply saying that our want for more stuff should never outweigh our thankfulness for what we already have.

The art of gratitude is a skill that we must cultivate; first in ourselves, then in the next generation.

imageMy niece has always been a worshipper. Before she was even two, she was at my house wrapping herself in a tallit (a prayer shawl) and listening to worship music on Shabbat. She prostrated herself on the Temple Mount last year on her first trip to Israel…without any prompting from anyone. She loves worship during our service and will push me through the door if it starts and we haven’t made our way in yet. She will make her way to the front during worship and loves to sing, dance, and simply be in His presence.

This is what I want to cultivate in her. This is the person I want her to be. I don’t want her to be spoiled or entitled or always wanting more. I want her to worship and be thankful to YHVH for all that He has given her.image

But it starts with me.

And so I’m committing myself to periodically gauge my thankfulness level. I am a thankful person but I know there’s always room for improvement. After all, it’s an art, not a science. And because of the love I have for my niece and her future, I am committed to examining my life more carefully and will be more intentional about teaching her the art of gratitude.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!