To See Grace in All the Things & To Give Thanks

Bird singing in winter like saint who gives thanks in adversity

If you’d enjoy listening to the Spotify podcast of this JoyPrO post, check out Keep On With Abigail Wallace.

The 1621 Project

Fully one half their number was dead. Of the 102 who crossed on the Mayflower, only 50 remained. Of eighteen married couples who embarked together, just three remained intact. In fifteen marriages, one or both partners had died.

This was the group who paused to thank God. This was the thanks giving group.

But as Tracy McKenzie points out in this insightful The Real First Thanksgiving podcast, those 50 wouldn’t have dubbed that autumn week a first anything. The feasting was simply God’s children being the grateful people he had made them to be.

God gave them eyes to see his grace. Then they gave thanks.

Which reminds me of a story.

A Giving Thanks Story

After the Second World War, two seriously ill woman were placed in the same London hospital room.

Marie was blind, and Ginny was assigned the bed next to the room’s only window. The days flew by. Despite her sickness, Ginny’s words were full of good cheer. She inquired about Marie’s friends and family and prayed for those they knew. And always Ginny thanked God for the day.

But there was this other thing she’d do. It started their third afternoon together, when a discouraged Marie needed hope.

“What’s outside the window?” she’d ask.

Ginny by the window described the squirrels and trees, and the park with the little lake just beyond. She’d tell about the kids and their kites, the rowers and long-necked swans. And Ginny could paint a sunset. The sunsets were Marie’s favorite. Her face would glow as Ginny spoke.

Ginny Could See

In fact, Marie began to live for those “paintings” of the world outside the window. They inspired hope and healing even though her eyes could not see. But while Marie’s health improved, Ginny’s rapidly declined.

Shortly after Ginny died, Marie’s new roommate settled in.

“Would you tell me what’s outside the window today? Who’s at the park? Are the swans on the lake? If the sunset is pretty tonight, would you describe it to me, too?”

Silence filled the room.

“The park? A lake? Our window faces a brick wall. And there’ll be no sunsets tonight or any other, for even if the wall weren’t there, this window faces east.”

Now Marie knew. How Ginny could see.

Seeing Grace in All the Things

Ever since I first heard a version of that story decades ago, I wanted to be Ginny. I still want to be Ginny.

But my honest friends and family will tell you I’m a far cry from her. I dwell on my hurt and others’ wrongs and don’t always see through to the sunsets and swans. This bird gets quiet in winter.

But giving thanks is a miracle drug for our souls. It is a silver bullet for spiritual disease. It trumps every ugly that messes with our souls. You can’t sing as you sneeze and you can’t whistle while you yell. You can’t grumble as you give thanks. My friend Shari says: you can’t ride two horses with one heinie.

Thankfulness is a divinely given spiritual ability to see grace.

Sam Crabtree

But you also can’t conjure up a thankful heart. Seeing grace is a gift. Author Sam Crabtree defines thankfulness as a divinely given spiritual ability to see grace. Giving thanks, then, is the corresponding desire to affirm that grace and the Giver of that grace as good. 

This ability to see grace is a God-given gift. And affirming the grace and the Giver is called giving thanks. Crabtree explains, “I can ask God to help me look at my circumstances through a different lens or from a different angle. And He wants to do it, He wants me to be thankful.”

Give us what you command, Augustine prayed. We can echo him and say, You command us to give thanks, so give us eyes to see your grace.

Giving thanks does not depend on our circumstances. A difficult husband, problem child, poor health, unjust boss or a nasty neighbor might make it hard. But we can ask God to give us thankful hearts.

I’m here to tell you, that whenever I pray that prayer, he answers yes.

Singing Birds In Winter

Giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father… Always and for everything is what Paul wrote (Ephesians 5:20). Not just in everything, which is God’s will for us (1 Thessalonians 5:18), but for everything. Everything. All. The. Things.

I want people to see Christ as all that. Giving thanks for everything does that. My Uncle Steve did that.

Uncle Steve has had a year. He was hospitalized, near death and discharged, then came bedsores, hospitalized, and G-tube. His breathing is still not right. A specialist next week may tell him there’s something big wrong. But more than once today Uncle Steve said, “God is good.” He sees grace and he gives thanks.

I want to be like that. Like Ginny and Uncle Steve. Because that kind of thanks giving is supernatural. In fact, the call to give thanks in Ephesians 5 verse 20 is an expression Paul’s main command to be “filled with the Spirit” in Ephesians 5:18:

Be filled with the Spirit….giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The Spirit is supernatural—he’s God. And I’m supernatural and you’re supernatural if we’re in Christ and his Spirit lives in us.

Giving thanks when you’re healthy and all speak well of you, when your kid is a starter and your business thrives is natural. Most every bird can sing can sing in the spring.

But when we give thanks for illness and hurtful words, for kids who don’t make the team and fails at work—this is supernatural. These are birds singing in the dead of winter.

Which is what happened in 1621.

The 1621 And 2021 Project: Give Thanks

There are only two primary sources detailing the Pilgrim’s 1621 harvest feast. William Bradford’s is less detailed than this one by Edward Winslow.

[O]ur harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together, after we had gathered the fruits of our labors…we exercised our Arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and amongst the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five Deer, which they brought to the Plantation…And although it be not always so plentiful, as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want, that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.

Edward Winslow, Mourt’s Relation

That’s it. Yet by the goodness of God…The harvest feast of 1621 was a decimated, threadbare group who gathered to rejoice together and to celebrate the goodness of God.

That’s my 2021 project. Heading into a cold winter, I want to celebrate the goodness of God as he gives me eyes to see.

I want to be like the Pilgrims in 1621 and like Ginny and Uncle Steve. I want grace to sing in the dead of winter.

We should give thanks for all things; not only for spiritual blessings enjoyed, and eternal ones expected, but for temporal mercies too; not only for our comforts, but also for our sanctified afflictions

It is our duty in every thing to give thanks unto God as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ and our Father in him…

Matthew Henry

Giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ…

Ephesians 5:20

My Apology To You: Please Pardon The Typos

Typos on side of Dept. of Corrections van

Your Pardon For My Typos

I owe you an apology. Yes. I do mean you.

Because you, dear reader, are still reading. And unless this is your very first JoyPrO post— and if it is, a big warm hug of a welcome to you—you’ve suffered your way through an unkind number of typos.

Once upon a time, I wrote “Be Freed From Perfectionism.” Alas, it seems I’m a wee bit too free. It’s not perfectionism that’s plaguing me.

Reader, I’ve treated you with less than my utmost respect. I’ve drug you through the mud of my sometimes sloppy and slapdash ways. I am guilty of overthinking and under-editing. And, if I’m a writer who cares for my readers—indeed, who has readers—that’s a lethal combination.

In short, you’ve endured far too many typos. You deserve better. So I humbly beg your pardon.

To Love Is To Proofread

Some of you are thinking exactly what I’d be thinking right about now. Namely, “The proof is in the pudding.” Because you know that the mark of true repentance is turning from error.

In other words, here now, real repentance means that I must proofread. It means that I must be more patient. I must wait to hit publish longer than it is comfortable to wait.

By the way, the end of all this proofreading and patience is love. And I don’t mean mostly the self-love that knows you’ll stop reading if I keep publishing sloppy posts. I mean the care for my readers that says, “Slow down. Don’t push “publish” until fresh eyes have checked it for typos.”

In other words, I’d best deny myself and wait awhile for your good, dear reader. Because if what I have to say has any encouragement at all, you’ll miss it. It’s just not worth it if you must wade through missing punctuation, misspelled words and fragmentary phrases. It’s just not loving. So I must deny myself and wait.

I love how counselor Ed Welch explains that connection: Self-denial is the just the means to the end. And the end is love. Self-control is the grace that allows us to say no to indulging ourselves for the sake of others. You could call it love…

That Would Be A Good Idea

Abigail, you need a proofreader.

That’s what my sister-writer-friend Kat texted after she read the post. And I was convicted in a painful minute on Saturday morning. She was right.

Within minutes, a wise, insightful friend who reads with a careful eye came to mind. I didn’t waste time.

Her reply?

Yes, I think that’s a good idea. And I’d be proud to help.

I won’t tell you her name in case you spot a mistake. But my proofreader friend is another one who has the precious gift that some of you have. You encourage and correct in one fell swoop. When you correct, it feels like love.

Because, like Lincoln said, he has the right to criticize who has the heart to help. And believe you me, Kat has a heart to help. She told me I needed a proofreader, then she gave up her next half hour to be that proofreader.

When uncaring souls calls out our faults, our souls deflate. I call that “dish and dash.” But criticism tethered to a helpful heart is how the world is changed.

Criticism tethered to a helpful heart is how the world is changed.

Christopher Abel

Back to you, reader: I ask your forgiveness and I promise to do better. You see, I am taking steps.

Listen In: Onward & Upward With Abigail Wallace

This has been a sort of DTR (Define The Relationship) post. DTR talks are dangerous. Sometimes couples and friends get too meta and that can get messy. But I hope this DTR has been less messy and more clarifying. I will do a better job proofreading, and in turn, I pray you will read with greater joy, and ease.

Because I want to serve my readers better. I want to write words that help build you up in your most holy faith as we become stronger, softer saints who embrace God’s sometimes uncomfortable grace. For the record, if there’s a question or topic you’d like to see me address, please send it my way. I want to scratch where you itch. Odds are, others itch there too.

One final note. A few readers have said they’d prefer to listen than to read. I get that. If you’re one of those readers, you’ll be happy to know that future posts will include a link to the brand new Onward & Upward With Abigail Wallace podcast, which for now, is simply me reading these posts.

I hope the podcast format helps you redeem your time. Plus, if typos sneak into a post, you won’t even know.

Enthusiasm without knowledge is no good; haste makes mistakes.

Proverbs 19:2, NLT

No Knocks on Adoption: A Follow-up on the Duck

adoption text on brown surface
Photo by Pavel Danilyuk on Pexels.com

“Listen to what I mean, not what I say.”

My husband knows those words well as they come from his external-processor wife. My best friends know how to “take and sift my words,” as the poet wrote.

To keep what is worth keeping

And with the breath of kindness

Blow the rest away.

But I don’t have that luxury, that “inexpressible comfort,” when I write.

I Failed And I’m Sorry

No writer does. Because readers can’t see writers’ hearts. You can’t hear my happy sighs or see my messy tears. You don’t know what happened last night or how he hugged me this morning. It’s up to me, the writer, to convey what I mean. And I fear I failed you, dear reader, last week. I failed to express my heart.

My last post, Don’t Force The Duck: 16 Years After Adoption Day, struck a chord. Actually it struck two very dissonant chords in readers. One group expressed gratitude for my candor with hope, the other near outrage that I would be so critical of adoption.

For each person who responded, there are dozens of you who made comments in your minds and left them there. I suspect The Duck ruffled more feathers than I know. 

What I Meant

While my goal for this blog is to build stronger, softer saints who embrace God’s uncomfortable grace, I don’t want you to be uncomfortable because of my inability to write what I mean.

So here’s what I meant when I took the twin occasions of the 16th anniversary of our A#1 son’s adoption day and National Adoption Month to share a few pages of our unfolding, unfinished story. 

I wanted to be the voice that I wish I had heard 20 years ago when I scoured the internet for adoption stories and studied all the “adoptive families” I knew. I wanted to be the voice that was neither the adoption-grim voice of our friend Jo, nor the blissful, glib voice I heard in those glossy adoption magazines. But I may not have been. So here’s take two.

What did I mean by that adoption post?

  1. I meant to say that any decision we make to love – whether it be to marry, to conceive, foster or adopt children, or to be a loyal friend— brings with it the very real risk that the results of our commitment will be harder than we thought. That is par for the course with earthly love. When the hard comes, we are not to lose heart and think we made a mistake. Rather, it probably means we are starting to love like God.
  2. I meant to say that I am not giving up. Not for a second. In fact, in the week since that post, God has softened my heart to help me better love A#1. A caramel macchiato with extra caramel delivered late to the high school is exhibit A.
  3. I meant to say that no heart change, including a decision to love a person or to love God, can be forced. God alone gives new, soft hearts (Ezekiel 36:26). I didn’t force the duck and the duck stuck is my reminder that God can soften hearts without my help. 

What I Didn’t Mean

What didn’t I mean to convey?

  1. I did not mean to disparage adoption in any way. Because in the end, adoption is the way every single Christian becomes a child of God. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves (Ephesians 1:5-6). God loves adoption. It’s how he builds his family. I’m glad we could adopt. 
  2. I did not mean to convey that the hardship in our relationship is one person’s fault. No way. I am a sinful mother—a sometimes proud and impatient, harsh and unkind mother. Jim is a sinful father, and we have two sinful sons. Our sins affect each other. We are all sufferers and sinners. I wish I’d been more clear on that.
  3. Finally, in no sense did I mean to convey that our story is over. Not a chance. While there is life there is hope. If can’t help myself, I am a prisoner of hope

Comfort Is Overrated

Maybe, if the duck post was your first, you wondered how it could possibly be written by a mother who is joyfully pressing on, by a mother who hopes against hope. Well, one of the themes of this blog is that comfort is overrated. Could I beg two minutes more to explain that?

By comfort, I mean being comfortable. Believe me, if I could find it in Scripture that God’s plan and will for his children during their time on earth was to go through unscathed, unchallenged, untested, untried, uncorrected, undisciplined—in other words, comfortable—I’d be the first to proclaim it.

But the longer I seek my Savior and Lord—and so far it’s been about 25 cycles through his Word— I can’t seem to find comfortable among God’s goals for us. I don’t see it listed as a Spirit fruit or a mark of the mature Christian. In vain I search for verses that say God’s children will be known by their comfortable lives. 

Mostly what I find is that Christians will be marked by their love.

For the Love of God

I read of a God who loved so much that he spared not his own Son, but freely gave him up for us all. I see a maligned and misunderstood Jesus who, in the span of one chapter of Matthew, is called a blasphemer and prince of demons. Then I hear the crowds laugh at him when he announced he’d raise a daughter back to life. Later, in the Upper Room, he would tell his disciples, if they hated me they will hate you, and in this world you will have trouble.

Now I hear old Simeon tell mother Mary that a sword would pierce her heart. I read that two of his three closest friends, Peter and James, were murdered. I see his servant Paul stoned, whipped, and left for dead. But I don’t find smooth and easy lives mentioned as evidence of God’s love.

Rather, from Genesis to Revelation, I meet a God who suffers with us, who calls us to come to him and share his yoke. I see the One by whom all things were made and in whom was life, indignant and weeping at the grave of his beloved friend Lazarus. I see Jesus who loved Mary and her sister Martha wait four days when he heard Lazarus was sick. He didn’t rush in to make them comfortable. He shows his love by giving us what we need most—a view of his glory. Suffering can give us that view. It can show us His glory. The stars are brightest in the darkest nights.

Adoption does that that for me. It shows me God’s glory.

Adoption, Parenting, Loving: All Uncomfortable Grace

This sometimes uncomfortable grace and lavish love of God is manifest in adoption every single day. Every single day. After all, He adopted me.

As I end, please know that your comments are most welcome. I love hearing from my readers. Whether your comment is critical or thankful or something in between, I am grateful to you for investing your precious time reading my words.

I pray that they will equip us to embrace God’s uncomfortable grace, and to grow more strong and meek—like Jesus.

Even as sometimes we groan.

And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body.

Romans 8:23

Don’t Force The Duck: 16 Years After Adoption Day

A mom and dad awaiting baby on adoption day.
Before: Adoption Day Wait At O’Hare Airport

There are good reasons people choose not to adopt. I heard a lot of them. But this week, we celebrate adoption day.

Don’t Force The Duck

Think he’ll like the duck? I wondered aloud.

No idea. We’d never done this before. Jim was as clueless as I.

But I had followed the agency directions and all the pick-up-your-baby rules. The Britax car seat was firmly strapped in the back seat and the paperwork was in hand. Bottle, formula, blanket—check, check, check. My sister met us at O’Hare with the orange-beaked, yellow fella to mark adoption day.

The experts said it would be best to let him wear the clothes he was in and use the bottles they sent and slowly ease American formula into a blend with Korean. They said all the new sights and sounds and smells would be jarring to this six-month young sensory system. They said, Ease in.

No. I wouldn’t force the duck.

They Broke Her Heart

But let me back up. Before we met A#1 at the airport, we heard lots of reasons why we shouldn’t adopt.

The one I remember best came two summers before adoption day. My husband and a good friend, Jo, sat around me on the cafe veranda. I’m not sure how we landed on the topic of adoption. But suddenly here we were.

My friend Caroline’s adopted children both went bad. They rebelled in their teens and never did seem to accept her and Tom as their parents. They broke her heart. Even though they were treated like their own flesh and blood children, it just didn’t work out.

I’m not Pollyanna now and I wasn’t then. Nor were all my hopes of happiness hitched to the adoption cart. All the sessions with our adoption social worker guaranteed some measure of realism. Still, this was a bitter pill.

It happened to my college roommate Pat too. Her adopted son John never seemed to bond, even though he was with her from day one. He said vile things to them, left home at 18 and never came back. Pat said he’s only called a handful of times in all the years since. And then, only to ask for money.

Sobering isn’t strong enough to describe the effect of her words.

No, adoption just doesn’t seem to work out.

No Illusions Of Adoption Grandeur

That bubble-bursting conversation wasn’t the only one. We can’t say we weren’t warned. Our social worker, our friends, and our own knowledge of adoptions gone sour insured we were under no illusions of adoption grandeur.

But no illusions does not mean no hope. Not living life like I wrote it frees me to take part in a far grander story. The hard and heartache in this chapter does not mean adoption wasn’t part of God’s plan for our family.

Still, a grand story with a hope and a plan don’t make living it easy. A#1 tests my mettle and I test his. This National Adoption Month, I admit, it’s been harder than I ever imagined.

Mom and dad with baby on adoption day
After: First Day as a Family of Three

Make No Mistake

Do heartache and pain mean we made a mistake? Do conflict and strife mean we misread God? Does trying and hard mean we’d all be better off if we’d chosen not to adopt?

Absolutely not.

Because adoption is forcing us to trust, causing us to hope and teaching us to love. And last I knew, those three were the only lasting things: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

This is the adoption month message that came.

But it’s not just for those directly impacted by adoption. It’s for all of us who second guess decisions made in good faith whose results are far harder than we imagined. Maybe it was a decision to get married, to bear children or to remain a faithful friend. The message is for all of us who, for Christ’s sake, love right on.

For us sinful, disobedient people who keep on loving and, as we do, come to know and love our Father better. Our heavenly Father had a chosen, child named Israel who spurned him. It was I who taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by the hand, but they never knew that I healed them (Hosea 11:3). And, All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people (Romans 10:21). To love this way, those who do not repay, is the love that God rewards (Matthew 5:46).

So my adoption month message for us is a question:

Could it be that the love you give with no earthly return

is the most godlike thing you will ever do?

Don’t Force. Trust.

I didn’t force the duck on November 2, 2005. And 16 years later, on November 2, 2021, I didn’t force a hug.

I can’t force golf, chess, or good friends and I can’t force dental floss, haircuts or good books. I can’t even force the veg. Once I was a royal tastemaker, but now I’m a short order quesadilla chef.

In all these things, I must trust that my God will meet all of this son’s needs without me pushing my way. In other words, this adoption, this son, and this God—his way is perfect—are forcing my force-it, control issues.

Could it be that one big reason God formed our family is so that that I’d quit thinking I can force my way? So that I’d trust that the perfect Father—whose own children resist and rebel, who spurn his love and break his rules—is completely able to lay hold of a heart?

A#1 wasn’t much of a snuggly, stuffed animal guy. But this beloved son is fond of the duck. Sixteen years after we met our stoic, six month-old A#1 at the airport, I snuck into his room to take a picture of Duck

I didn’t force the duck and the duck stuck.

Don’t force the duck has become my reminder to trust. The duck is my reminder that God can lay hold of hearts without me.

Stuffed animal yellow given on adoption day
“The Duck” 16 Years Later

Afterward: Two Quotes from Two Articles About the Good and Hard of Adoption

  1. There is no such thing in God’s economy as an “adopted child,” only a child who was adopted into the family. “Adopted” defines how you came into the household, but it doesn’t define you as some other sort of family member. In the Book of Romans, Paul defines all Christians, both Jew and Gentile, as having received a common “spirit of adoption” (Rom. 8:15; 9:4). -Russell Moore, Adopted For Life, Ten Years Later
  2. Some adoptions cause quite a bit of pain and grief in the lives of moms, dads, sisters, brothers, and other relatives. But just because there’s conflict, it doesn’t mean that the adoption wasn’t meant to be…God uses all things, especially conflict and struggle, to work together.. and bring about a good “end.” -Mark Gregston, Pitfalls Of Adoption