Monday, December 15, 2008

40 to 40 (Gratitude 40)

This my last 40 to 40 post. (Though I may have to modify the button and throw in the idea of practicing gratitude every now and then.) I apologize upfront if it is on the long side, but there is so much to say.

Forty years ago today (11:09 EST to be exact), I made my way into this world with my sister close on my heels 5 minutes later. We were born several weeks early. I weighed in at 3lbs 4oz and she weighed in at 4lbs 3 oz. We were scrawny, tiny things. Though it's not the cutest picture of me, this is the earliest picture that I have of me:

But we grew. I think we were fairly cute by the time we were toddlers:

And here is a picture from elementary school which includes my younger sister, Cathy. Can you believe that long blond hair when we had very short, curly, black hair? She took after my father. We took after our mother.

And then the gangliness of the teen age years:

And then came the college years. Here I am with some of the crew from my School of Leadership Training family group:

And here I am just a few days ago with my friend Jill at the surprise party my community group through for me.

Doing 40 to 40 over the past month and a half has been good for me. The first few were easy. Then I hit a patch and it became harder. I didn't want to "cheat" and just start naming people or items, though there were people I mentioned as well as groups of people. I wanted each one to have some memory or really thought out gratitude to it.

My life is nothing like what I imagined as a child growing up. It's nothing like I thought it would be when I was in college. And it is definitely not what I've craved over the last few years. But doing 40 to 40- practicing gratitude- has helped my focus on the positives over the years with things ranging from an elementary school teacher to the church I am in now to an attribute of God. 40 to 40 has kept me focused on the vast amount of things that I have to be thankful for. Does it take away some of my heart's desires? No, but it does put into perspective all that God has done and is doing over the course of the last forty years.

Today's gratitude is that I am thankful that I know a living, personal God who holds me in the palm of his hand. There are several pieces to this:

He knit me together in my mother's womb. I struggle with knowing this deep down in my heart, but I am claiming that God knit me together without dropping a single stitch:

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderly made; (Psalm 139:13-14 NIV)

Not only am I created by God, He has called me by name and I am His. Names are so important. Just think of how good it feels when someone you've met knows your name. As a twin, I was always just one of the twins and always got asked, "Which one are you?" But God has never -- even as only one among billions and billions of people -- had to scratch His head and say, "Which one are you?"

But now, this is what the Lord says -- he who created you O Jacob, he who formed you O Israel: "Fear not, for I have redeemed you: I have called you by name and you are mine. (Isaiah 43:1)
I am a person riddled with fears. Very slowly God is helping to rid me of those fears. Scripture is clear even in the verse above that we should not fear because we have been redeemed by God. Psalm 23:4 puts it this way:

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
I can hope because God is transforming me. I may sometimes wish it could be quicker, but I am not who I was yesterday or who I will be today. Colossians 1:27 says

To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.
More than anything, I can be grateful because God loves me. J. I Packer wrote the book Knowing God. One of my favorite passages in the book says this:

. . . There is tremendous relief in knowing that His love to me is utterly realistic, based at every point on a prior knowledge of the worst about me, so that no discovery now can disillusion him about me, in the way I am so often disillusioned about myself, and quench His determination to bless me.
God's love is utterly realistic. He knows all the bad things I've done, the thoughts I've had, the times when I knew He wanted me to respond one way and I did something totally other. God knows all that and He still loves me.

Even in knowing all of that Zephaniah 3:17 gives a picture of how great His love for me is:

The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.

It's hard to imagine that God loves me enough that he rejoices over me with singing. His love, despite all of the the things He knows about me, His utterly realistic love wraps around me day and night. It is for this love from a singing God that makes me stand in awe. I do not fully understand it. I do not think it has fully penetrated the depths of my heart and soul, but it is this tenderness and love for which I am most grateful.

And He cares enough to respond to the little details of my heart. I had thought that for this birthday I really wanted a cake. But I couldn't imagine a whole cake just for me and I didn't want to buy one and was unsure about making what I imagined. I imagined a round two layer cake with icing in between. On Friday my small group surprised me for my birthday. Here is the cake:

It was three layers rather than two. And God threw in some raspberry filling to top it all off. I hadn't told anyone about that desire. So, in my mind it shows God's great care even over something as small as birthday cake.

If you didn't see enough of my growing up pictures click here.



Anonymous said...

Dear Amy,
I hope you have a wonderful birthday. I am grateful for your gratitude posts. They have helped remind me of things I am grateful for. I am thankful that the series i am doing is only 25 total... because i find myself trying to think of what to write, and what scriptures to use. Sometimes it gets hard, but when I had writer's block last night, I was praying and reading the scripture, and suddenly ran across something in Acts that I just suddenly felt... "this is it!" and guess what? Suddenly I was able to write! :)
Funny how that works!
May God bless you today, and always. I am so grateful for you! You have been a huge encouragement to me, and I feel so privileged to call you my friend!
Love you,

Laura said...

Happy birthday, Amy!I loved watching you grow up through the pictures! The only problem? Which twin is you? :) You guys were as cute as could be!

I'm getting ready to turn 40 in March, and I think I understand a little bit of what you say when you say that life isn't what you thought it would be. I love that you focus on the blessings, Amy.

You are an inspiration!

Happy Four said...

Happy 40th Birthday Amy. On today, your special day, I received the book I won as part of your winter giveaway. Thank you so much!

I will be 40 in 2009...just running behind you sister!

Very happy birthday to you.

Love, Caroline

Paula (SweetPea) said...

I haven't been here in awhile but I can tell that 40 to 40 has been a wonderful thing for you. I can relate to you on some of the desires and hopes you have for your life and thought those desires would be fulfilled by this time. Yet, you grace God with such a beautiful heart of thanksgiving despite those longings because of His great blessings to you! He is well pleased, I'm sure.

And the cake...boy did that give me goose bumps...for you to secretly desire and He fulfill to a T (plus a bonus layer!!!). Oh my, that's just amazing...He never ceases to amaze me to see His hand at work right before our eyes.

Sweet blessings!!!

Amy L Brooke said...

FYI: We were always situated in alphabetical order. I am the one on the left when looking at the picture.

Joyful said...


I enjoyed seeing all your pictures. And yes, I clicked back and saw them all. Reminded me of pictures of me and my twin sister. You are very identical. Do you still look a lot alike? How long did you dress the same?

Loved the verses you shared here. What special gifts to me tonight - and it's not even my birthday! Praying the Lord will give you a wonderful year and that you'll continue growing closer and closer to Him.

Love & prayers,

ThreeGirlyGirls said...

I'm so sorry i missed your birthday!! Happy belated day! I've been so busy I've hardly been able to jump on everyone's blogs, but I've spent time catching up today! Hope you are blessed beyond meausre this year!!