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A Season of Thanksgiving: Giving Thanks in Troubled Times

“Come, you children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord.” Ps. 34:11 NKJV

As a group of writers dedicated to sharing our faith with the next generation, do we effectively communicate thanksgiving and hope in difficult events as well as holidays?

Why give thanks?

The very first mentions of “thanksgiving” in Leviticus 7:12-13 reference food, so our traditional Thanksgiving Day celebration feasts derive from both faith and historical events.

As families and friends gather this year, whether in the usual numbers or smaller groups due to local restrictions, we have all experienced a year of daily announcements related to disease and efforts to avoid it. Many have lost one or more loved ones. Perhaps more than ever, then, we need to focus on reasons to celebrate and express gratitude, first of all, to God.

How we celebrate

Psalms like 69:30, 95:2,100:4, and 147:7 pair thanksgiving with instrumental music, vocal songs, and praise, and Old Testament historical books record specific celebrations of thanksgiving in Israel, especially by the kings David and Solomon. As many later kings fell away from the true worship of God, there are fewer references to thanksgiving in the rest of 1 and 2 Kings and 1 and 2 Chronicles. But Ezra and Nehemiah record the renewed celebrations and thanksgiving to God when the exiles returned to rebuild Jerusalem and the Temple.

Thanking God in the hard times

Perhaps most relevant to Thanksgiving celebrations in 2020 are prophetic utterances about thanksgiving connected to times of trial.  Isaiah 51:3 and Jeremiah 30:19 offer God’s promises of comfort to restore thanksgiving after a season of judgment, while Amos and Jonah proclaim thanksgiving as a sacrifice to God.

Write2Ignite Team member Gail Cartee offers this wise observance about the ways in which God transforms painful past events and sins to bring about salvation. Her November 15, 2020 review of Squanto and the Miracle of Thanksgiving, by Eric Metaxas, acknowledges selfish motives among early colonial explorers and traders, and outbreaks of disease which decimated whole tribes of Native Americans. Metaxas compares these to Joseph’s brothers, who sold him into slavery. He shows God’s redemptive purpose even in the most tragic human misdeeds.

As Gail observes, “Confusion and mistrust surround us on every hand, but God has not left us alone. He is working all things for our good. Pray for our nation and all our leaders. Pray for wisdom as Christians. Help wherever you can. Do not be afraid, because God is with us through every circumstance working all things for our good.”

I encourage you to subscribe to Gail’s blog, Family Devotions from My Father’s World. It’s a rich trove of wisdom from Scripture and God’s amazing creation, with stories and activities that parents and children can enjoy together. https://gailcartee.blogspot.com/

Closing thought for a season of thanksgiving

Whatever our circumstances have been in this oft-maligned year, let’s take this opportunity to make the closing months of 2020 a blessed time of focus on the goodness and the works of God, in our own hearts and lives, and in our nation.

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7 NKJV

Youth Value Veterans - Matheny

Youth Value Veterans

A survey of high-risk teens asked with whom did they feel safe and protected. The options the survey gave were: EMT’s, police officers, lawyers, doctors, and veterans. The troubled youth valued the veterans and said they respected them the most. Thus, mentoring programs began between vets and teens who live in some of the high-crime “war-zones” of America.

Those who have served in our Armed Forces during times of peace and times of war have surely done so with our children in mind. Over the years, our armed forces have served to protect our freedom and our way of life, hoping their actions would enable future generations to experience the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Perhaps as writers of children’s literature, we should consider that many of today’s veterans still care about the next generation.

A few years ago, my family received reminders of that when we attended our first Veterans Day parade.

 

Veterans Day Parade Displays Value

A chilly breeze blew the little American flags we held in our hands. When the parade began, I realized I had not come well-prepared.

It wasn’t the cold air that jolted me. It was the row upon row of fresh-faced JROTC students. Representing various branches of the armed services, they marched with confidence and pride. It was sobering to think this could be our next generation of freedom fighters.

Then, we noticed the adults marching alongside them.

 

Veterans Mentor the Next Generation

The students were led by retired veterans of the armed services. Numerous retired service personnel share their time, knowledge, and skills with the youth in their own communities.

For many of the high-risk teens, the veterans are the only ones who invest time with them. As a result, they have encouraging role-models for self-discipline, hard work, and perseverance.

 

Veterans make history come alive. (Sally Matheny photo).

Veterans Make History Come Alive

For some students, history seems like a bunch of facts and dates to be memorized for a test and nothing more.

However, veterans make history come alive. Their presence stirs thoughts about those who have served in the past. They show students the names in the history books, on the grave markers, and on the memorial walls are not just names. They represent real people—someone’s son, daughter, husband, wife, dad, or mom.

 

Veterans Model Service

Much to my ten-year-old son’s delight, a veteran spoke to him after the parade.

When veterans speak in classrooms or volunteer at events, youth hear and see examples of what it means to serve others.

In addition, veterans present opportunities for further understanding. New insights may occur about the various roles of our armed services. For instance, how the military strives to bring peace in the midst of chaotic situations. Perhaps veterans will inspire the next generation to learn how to work together and resolve conflicts.

 

Best Day Ever

After the parade, our son, who was just beginning to understand the value of freedom and the cost of protecting it, declared it was “one of the best days, ever!”

Usually, he only says that after his birthday or a visit to a theme park. He didn’t receive candy or a souvenir at the parade. So, perhaps the veterans impressed something in his young heart as much as they did mine.

We may never fully grasp the sacrifices some have made.  But we appreciate their service to our country and how they continue to influence lives today.

Veterans are valuable to us all. Perhaps we should remember this when we write for youth.

Has a character, who is a veteran, ever appeared in your writing?

 

 

Youth Value Veterans. (Photo by Sally Matheny)

 

Want to watch a Veterans Day Parade? Check for in-person viewing as well as virtual updates in your area at military.com.

 

 

(Survey Source) Jaafari, Joseph. “An Unlikely Bond Between Chicago Teens And Veterans Is Saving Lives In The City”. Nationswell, 2020, https://nationswell.com/chicago-veterans-teens/.

 

*****

 

Sally MathenyA freelance writer, Sally Matheny’s writing is published in worldwide, national, regional, online and print publications including Appleseeds, Clubhouse Jr., Homeschooling Today, Practical Homeschooling, Keys for Kids, and The Old Schoolhouse. Sally also writes history curriculum and is pounding away on several children’s books.

Blogging at SallyMatheny.com, she encourages people to use the power of story, history, and His Story to tell the next generation wondrous things.

Connect with Sally:

Website: https://www.sallymatheny.com

Facebook page: Sally Matheny – Encourager, Writer, Speaker

 

 

The Power of Repetition

I hadn’t been to church since February, and I was starting to feel disconnected from God. During my first week back in a sanctuary, God spoke to me through a literary device — repetition. 

My church stopped hosting in-person services at the beginning of March because of COVID-19, and I’d missed a few weeks before then because of a bronchitis diagnosis.

Last week, I was visiting my parents in Upstate, South Carolina, and had the opportunity to attend church with them. The crowd was sparse, and each family unit was spaced 6 feet apart, but it was communal worship — something I hadn’t experienced in more than 12 weeks. 

I’d seen my parents cry in the church from time to time, but I’d never really had a strong emotional response during a service.

The band began playing a song by Elevation Worship called “The Blessing,” which is straight from scripture. It shares a blessing from Numbers 6:24–26:

The Lord bless you 

and keep you; 

the Lord make his face shine on you 

and be gracious to you; 

the Lord turn his face toward you 

and give you peace.

I didn’t feel blessed that weekend, despite my safe travels to South Carolina from Central Virginia. I didn’t feel blessed because I was (and still am) working from home with no idea of when I’d be back in the office. I didn’t feel blessed because my husband, a police officer, was working the night shift during a weekend filled with violent protests.

But when the song climaxed, one of the worship leaders began repeating the words “He is for you” over and over again — and something happened. 

Repetition is a powerful literary device that can be used in poetry and prose.

As a writer, I know that repetition is a powerful way to make a point. As a person who has attended counseling for anxiety, I know that repeatedly speaking truth to yourself is a powerful way to change your thought process. 

It felt like God was speaking to me through that song, trying to get a point across, to reshape my thinking. He was telling me that He is for me, that His blessings aren’t always extravagant. More often than not, they will be quiet reminders of His presence. How fitting it is that God, the author of all things, spoke to me, a writer, through a literary device.

The song continued:

May His presence go before you

And behind you, and beside you

All around you, and within you

He is with you, He is with you

In the morning, in the evening

In your coming, and your going

In your weeping, and rejoicing

He is for you, He is for you

The repetition continued, with the singer repeating the word “you” throughout the bridge, reminding me that I am a recipient of God’s blessings. My impression of blessings has always been that they are an extravagant act from God. Yet in scripture, we learn that blessings are small acts of love from God — from the gift of a child to the provision of food and safety. 

This song challenged me to look at God’s blessings in a new way. God blessed me that weekend by giving me the opportunity to worship with other Christians, and he blessed me by protecting me from harm during my travels from Central Virginia to South Carolina.

God’s blessings aren’t always extravagant. They are often displayed through friendships, safety, and provision.

He protected my husband who served on the frontline of a riot on May 31 and brought him home safe to me the next morning. And he blessed me with the companionship of my sweet sister-in-law the night I had to send my husband back to work, despite continuing protests in our city. 

God spoke to me through a literary device, which is a powerful writing tool. While this instance of repetition was used in poetry (a song), repetition can be a particularly useful tool for writing children’s literature. 

Take this passage from Dr. Seuss’ One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish  for example:

One fish, Two fish, Red fish, Blue fish,

Black fish, Blue fish, Old fish, New fish.

This one has a little car.

This one has a little star. 

Say! What a lot of fish there are.

 

Yes, some are red, and some are blue.

Some are old and some are new.

Some are sad, and some are glad,

And are very, very bad.

 

Dr. Seuss is well known for his whimsical, rhythmic writing. He uses a combination of rhyming and repetition in his work to create memorable writing that delights children of all ages. 

Repetition is also used in literature, such as Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two of Cities, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness…” Dickens adds stress and emphasis to the positives and negatives, bringing attention to the polarity present in his time. 

God used the repetition in “The Blessing” to touch my heart and draw me back to him. I believe he can use your writing to touch others, and repetition is just one way you can emphasize your message of hope through Jesus Christ.

Emily is a member of the Write2Ignite planning team and works full time as a promotional writer for Liberty University Marketing. Learn more about Emily here.

Punctuation: Spice Up Your Writing

spice up your writing with punctuation

Understanding how and why to use different punctuation marks adds personality and readability to your writing.

The English language has many interesting components to work with, and one of my favorite ways to add personality to my writing is through punctuation! In grade school, you learned about the different end marks: periods, exclamation marks, and question marks. You probably also learned about commas, colons, semicolons, and hyphens. 

There is a whole world of punctuation that adds personality and readability to your writing.

Difficult Times — Tips For Working Through the Tough Parts of Life

Sometimes life isn’t kind, and it’s hard to focus on your job or your personal projects. Here are some tips to help you work through difficult times.

Just a few weeks ago, my husband and I were involved in a hit-and-run accident with an 18-wheeler. It brushed the side of my Honda Civic and sent us spinning across the highway and flipped us onto the grassy shoulder.

Thankfully, we sustained only minor injuries, but our vehicle was declared an “obvious total loss” by our insurance company.

I’m looking forward to freeing up the space in my brain that has been occupied by this accident. It puts pressure on everything else I have to think about: my personal life, full-time job, freelance projects, and graduate work. I don’t have enough mental energy to give the needed attention to each of these things because the accident keeps overshadowing and crowding them out.

But even when this accident blows over, I know something else will be thrown my way. It seems like life is always trying to trip me up, trip you up, trip us all up. However, I’m learning to change my perspectives, and the first thing I’m choosing to do is replace the worries with gratitude

Count Your Blessings (Instead of Sheep)

Difficult times can be combated by counting your blessings instead of sheep.I’ve been struggling with anxiety since the accident, and my husband’s night-shift job has exacerbated the situation. It’s difficult for me to sleep, let alone focus on work right now.

I was telling my parents about my struggle, and my dad suggested focusing on the miracle of safety and fostering gratitude toward God for protecting me and my husband during the accident.

So that’s what I’ve been trying to do — foster gratitude for the miracle of safety. 

When people ask me about the accident, I praise God for protection. There is something shocking about being the recipient of a miracle, and it isn’t a great feeling. It feels like an out-of-body experience. I shouldn’t be walking or writing or speaking or laughing.

Yet I’m here because of God’s protection, writing with just a slight ache in my back. It isn’t that I’m not thankful or feel undeserving. I just feel shocked and slightly awed. 

The conversation with my parents made me think of the song “Count Your Blessings (Instead of Sheep)” by Irving Berlin.

When I’m worried, and I can’t sleep
I count my blessings instead of sheep
And I fall asleep counting my blessings

I think those lyrics are going to be my motto for this year. I’m going to count my blessings before I go to sleep instead of recounting my worries from the day, and I hope each day will get a little easier as a result. 

Practically, counting your blessings looks like keeping a gratitude journal or speaking prayers of gratitude. Personally, I found that keeping a journal was a good way for me to keep the blessings of each day at the front of my mind. Writing things down really solidifies the good in my mind and gives me a way to go back and recount blessings from the Lord.

Adjust Your Expectations

Difficult times do not mean you have to stop working. Start by adjusting your expectations for yourself.Over the past six weeks, I’ve found that the best way to focus on work is to lower my expectations for myself. Usually, I’m a very quick and efficient worker. I write and edit quickly. I always make sure to make edits and keep projects moving as fast as possible because I know deadlines always close in quickly. 

So I’ve been showing myself some grace and adjusting my expectations. I’ve been intentionally communicating with my supervisor and letting her know I might need help with some things or may not have things done by the end of the day. And guess what? It’s okay. 

Sometimes, the expectations I have for myself aren’t the expectations others have for me. If I need to slow down, it isn’t going to inconvenience anyone terribly or change their opinion of my work. I’m still producing quality work, but I’m taking my time and allowing myself to think and feel and draw my attention back to the task at hand if my mind wanders. 

It’s been difficult getting back to work after the accident and the holidays, but I’m slowly hitting my stride.

I’m not sure what life has for you at the moment but know there is a season for everything. While many of us want to experience uninhibited creativity, that isn’t always an option. It’s okay to be run down. It’s okay to experience both the good and bad parts of life.

I hope you’re able to adjust your expectations and find reasons to express gratitude to God through difficult times. What are you thankful for today?

Learn more about Emily here.

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