This year a lot has happened and unfortunately in all that’s gone on a lot of projects have fallen behind or been forgotten.  One which I started at the beginning of the year but failed to finish was a devotional book that I want to share with teams.  (I’m still short about 15 devotions in case anyone would like to write a few for me.)  One of the devotions that was sent to me was by a young woman who grew up on the mission field.

I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. 

-Philippians 1:3-6.

In Alifokpa, the village in Nigeria where my dad grew up, they had very little. They lived in mud huts with no running water or air conditioning or any other such luxury. Many of the women would spend the majority of the day cooking on an outdoor fire. Many of the men would spend most of the day farming.

We have had people come to Nigeria for short term mission trips and complain nonstop about their housing conditions which did not measure up to their standards or wants.

That lifestyle is not easy, but what do you hear when you ask a person in Alifokpa how they are doing? A smile and “We thank God.” They have plenty of reasons to complain about their life. “I want a better house.” “I want air conditioning during the hot months of the year.” “I want running water so that I don’t have to walk all the way to the well to get water.” “I want a car that doesn’t break down every couple weeks.” They have plenty of things that they could want, but they don’t have that attitude. Instead, they thank God for what He gives them.

I know that, as Americans, we don’t really think about our simple one word “Fine”, “Good”, “Ok” or “Pretty good” answers, but I think that we should. What if, as Christians, we tried to change our attitude and consciously try to think about our thankfulness to God for what He has given us every time we are asked “How are you”? What if, when people back home ask us that simple question, we reply with “We thank God!”

This change would probably draw quite a few strange looks since it’s not the standard answer that they were expecting, but it might inspire them to change as well and consciously remember to thank God for the many things that He has given us to be thankful for throughout our day.

2015 has been a strange and tough year, and in being honest I’ve definitely not taken enough time to stop and just thank God for what He has given me.  I’ve been so consumed with trying to figure out what’s going on and how to get things under control that I keep finding myself focusing on what’s not going well or wishing I just had a little more money, a little more time, a few more resources, etc.  This has been very much the case in my postings online where in an effort to be open and honest about what goes on over here I have let my stress get the better of me.  When we let stress become our focus sometimes we can become bitter in our hearts and in things we might say to others.  In that bitterness we keep finding more stress and in that whole cycle we forget to stop and thank God.  I’ve let complaints slip through and the way I’ve written some posts didn’t convey what I wanted it to.  Some things I intended to be an encouragement and a harmless thought had the opposite effect.  I haven’t taken enough time in my communications to express my thanks to God.  A number of people have called me out on this in the past month.

Thursday started out as a day where I was about to let the bitterness get the better of me and become my focus again, but that morning a very good friend was there to listen to me and give me a hug when I really needed it.  I thought, “Thank you God for giving me a friend who understands what is going on.”

And then in the afternoon I drove to Siem Reap to pick up my sister and nephew, who have come to visit, and the whole way there my wife kept talking to me about what she felt I was doing right and she kept reminding me about scriptures about our relationships and about how God has everything in hand.  I kept thinking in the back of my mind, “Thank you God for this amazing woman you have given me.”  When my whole world seems to be a mess, I thank God for this wonderful rock in my life that is always there.  And then I was reminded of this devotion.

I thank God.

And when I get into it, there is far more for me to be thankful for than for me to complain about.

I thank God that even though so much has happened with my family this year my wife has shown astonishing resilience and for all the friends and people from church God has surrounded us with to sustain us.

I thank God that I get to spend two weeks with my eldest sister and nephew.  That I get to be refreshed by having fun with someone so important to me.  That my children will know their family from so far away and that my wife will be able to have a sister in her life and in her home for a short while.

I thank God that when I’ve wrestled with how to best manage teams and lead volunteers He keeps sending us people with loving hearts and a desire to serve.  That there are opportunities to learn and make things work better.  That our kids and staff are so amazing and uniquely able to touch people’s hearts even when I feel lost about what to do.

I thank God that even when things get tough and money gets tight that He continually provides enough right when we need it.  That He opens up new doors and opportunities to keep doing what we are called to do.

I thank God for the Ross family who helped me work on business plans for developing small businesses.  Who helped Sinuon and I set up a Bed & Breakfast in our home.  Not only can we rent the space out, but we have a space where we can finally have our friends and family stay with us.  So many people have given us a room or place to stay when we travel, and finally we have the ability to do the same.  Thank you God.

I thank God for possible tent making opportunities.  Hopefully the ministry and my family will be secure here a long time.

I thank God for Isabelle Carriere who volunteers with Crossing Cambodia.  For being there to listen when I feel frustrated and lost and who is ready to give me a hug right when I need it most.  I thank God for the abilities He has equipped her with.  Abilities that as Crossing Cambodia grows she will be able use to rescue me from the mountain of administrative work I often feel buried under.  I thank God because Izzy gives me hope that God still has more for me to do.

I thank God for Joe

I thank God for Sarah and RJ

I thank God for Jen

I thank God for Susan

I thank God for Michael

I thank God for Sokly, who makes the whole ministry of Crossing Cambodia work.

I thank God for Viya, who has been with us three years, who continues to learn more and more.  I thank God that He has given her Joe, that together they find joy.

I thank God for Visal, that God has given him a heart that loves children, that he is there daily for the kids.

I thank God for Sotra, who God sent to us at just the right time to care for our newest students and for her servant’s heart.

I thank God for Hoeurp, who has such love for the preschool children and so readily steps up to any task that needs to be filled.

I thank God for Sopheap, who I’ve watched grow in wonderful ways to become an amazing preschool teacher, who is beloved by all her students.

I thank God for Ming Puon, who takes care of all the little things that we may take for granted.

I wish I had time to keep writing all the things and people for whom I ought to be thankful.  But at some point I do need to actually sleep.  The point is however that I personally need to learn to stop and take more time to thank God for what He continually does in my life.  To stop focusing on what’s not right or what stresses me out.  To thank God and ask Him to take away the bitterness that so often fills my heart.

Now we are starting a new school year, a new season in my life, a new season for the staff at Crossing Cambodia, a new season for the kids we serve.  I hope that in this new season when I tell people how I’m doing, that first I stop and thank God.

How about you?  Are you stressed or tired?  Are you struggling with something in your life?

What do you thank God for?  It might seem like a silly or even cliche thing to do, but get on your computer or take out a paper and pen and start writing what you ought to be thankful for.  It’s not to shame you for the things you complain about, but to remind you in those difficult moments that God surrounds you and has everything in hand.

Let’s all take a few moments to thank God and let’s see what kinds of changes God can make in our hearts and those around us.

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