Thursday, September 8, 2011

Learning to Give Thanks at the Waters of Marah {Part 2}

{by Katrina Rebsch}

As the days continued to pass, as wise counsel was shared by my parents, and the Word of God proved itself beautifully alive to speak to the depths of my soul, my feelings of utter despondency turned to feelings of utter conviction.  Yes, it’s true that I had walked into challenging circumstances and probably faced enemy opposition as well.  But I was also being just plain selfish.  I realized I had an attitude that seemed to say, “Oh, well, I’ll go to a foreign country to serve the least of these children but only if there’s running water at all times, and if the kids are well behaved, and if living conditions are acceptable to my standards.”

Patiently, lovingly, God began to show me that the poured-out life means being like Jesus Christ who “made Himself of no reputation but took upon Him the form of a servant.” 

It means showing love for Him by “feeding His lambs.” 

It means, in a practical sense, cleaning filthy bathrooms and vomit and diarrhea, patiently administering discipline to a stubborn six-year-old for the better part of an afternoon, and living cheerfully with clutter and disorder until organization can be given. 

It means heating buckets of water and lugging them upstairs to give baths to a dozen children when the water tank runs out, even if it takes four hours to get the job done. 

It means getting up at the crack of dawn to help children get ready for school and working until late at night when one is sick and needs a comforting mommy. 

It means patiently laboring with a seven-year-old over her homework when she is frustrated and both of you want to throw the book out the window. 

It means giving thanks for rice and potatoes for the 127th time because it is economic and filling. 

It means doing laundry and washing dishes with joy all day everyday because you know such actions are contributing to the health and well-being of 14 precious children. 

It means taking time to push a little one on the swing in the backyard when you have thirty other chores clamoring for your attention but you are working hard to be relationship-oriented vs. task oriented. 

It means letting them kiss you with sloppy, wet kisses and hug you till the air leaves because “the greatest of these is love.” 

Yes, the poured out life is not easy - and sometimes looks rosier in the pages of missionary biographies than in the nitty-gritty of real life - but as I am learning like so many others who have gone before, it IS worth every hardship. 

Now, two months later, I can honestly say that as God has been “proving” me at my own waters of Marah (Exodus 15), the bitter has turned to sweet.  Have my circumstances changed?  A few.  By God’s grace, I have been able to bring about some positive changes in the house I am living in that have contributed to better sanitary conditions and much-needed orderliness.  And with time, as relationships have been built, authority established, and routine re-implemented, the children’s behavior has greatly improved from those first few days I was here when many factors in their lives were rather topsy-turvy.  But more than a change in circumstances, there has been a change in me.  Gently, and with the strength and dignity so characteristic of His nature, God has been doing a work, shaping, molding, refining.

One of the most significant lessons He has been teaching me can be summed up in the word thanksgiving.  A sacrifice the Bible calls it (Psalm 107:22).  And now I better understand what that means.  It’s a sacrifice to give thanks when you just want to give up.  To look for beauty when all you can see is mess.  To count your blessings when you just want to count the reasons people should pity you. 

I began reading a book called One Thousand Gifts, and as its artfully-crafted words poignantly captured the very sentiments of my own heart and inspired me to live fully in the moment, so, too, did the Word of God suddenly come alive with proclamations about the thankfulness I was learning to cultivate.  “Serve the Lord with gladness...enter His gates with thankful unto Him.”  (Psalm 100:2, 4)  “Praise ye the Lord.  O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good: for His mercy endureth forever.” (Psalm 106:1)  “Strengthened with all might , according to His glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness; giving thanks unto the Father.” (Colossians 1:11-12)

My journal began to fill up with these nuggets, these valuable reminders to live thankful.  It also began to fill up with lists of the daily gifts I was learning to notice that beautified my days and pointed my focus to the Giver of such wonders. 
Snow on the mountains
Soothing music
Running water
Echinacea cough drops
Soft lamplight
Bedtime prayers
Juicy apples
Encouraging emails from friends and family far away
The smell of roses
A nail through the shoe of one little boy that did not penetrate his foot
Delicious meat-filled empanadas
Sweet baby smiles
Just enough yogurt to go around for breakfast
Dancing in a circle with happy children
The privilege of washing dishes and scrubbing bathrooms
Socks that match
A warm welcome amongst the Bolivian women with whom I work
Fluffy white clouds against a blue sky
Precious kiddo hugs and kisses
Simple things really.  But so very big in the scope of daily life.  Ann Voskamp, the author of One Thousand Gifts states, 
“I had never really learned the language of 'thanks in all things'!  Though pastors preached it, I still came home and griped on.  I had never practiced.  Practiced until it became second nature...Practice is the hardest part of learning, and training is the essence of transformation...Do not disdain the small.  The whole of life - even the hard - is made up of the minute parts, and if I miss the infinitesimals, I miss the whole...There is a way to live the big of giving thanks in all things.  It is this: to give thanks in this one small thing.  The moments will add up.  I, too, had read it often, the oft-quoted verse: 'And give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ' (Ephesians 5:20).  And I, too, would nod and say straight-faced, 'I’m thankful for everything.'  But in this counting gifts, to one thousand, more, I discover that slapping a sloppy brush of thanksgiving over everything in my life leaves me deeply thankful for very few things in my life...Life-changing gratitude does not fasten to a life unless nailed through with one very specific nail at a time.”
As I try to picture those of you reading this article, I wonder if you, too, feel like you are standing on the banks of Marah, tasting bitterness in your life and longing instead for sweetness.  I do not know what kind of trials, challenges, or broken dreams you might be experiencing.  But I do know this: no matter how tough life may seem right now, there are always things for which to give thanks, gifts of beauty from the hand of the Lord that fill each day...if we will just take the time to see them.  And in the process of being obedient, of making the sacrifice of thanksgiving, miracles happen.  Sweetness comes.

May the Word of God fill you up as you live poured out for Him...with a heart that gives thanks.


  1. Katrina, the Lord uses you in amazing ways. This is just what I needed to hear, and I am so uplifted by your article. What a wonderful perspective! You really have a gift, I wish you'd write a book :)

  2. Ellery, you are very sweet and your comment today has blessed my heart! As for writing a book, I have always wanted to do so...just waiting for leading from the Lord on subject matter and timing. Thank you for being an encouragement! May all the glory go to Him for whatever good you see in me.

  3. sooo what would your advice be to someone who feels like they are "standign on the banks of marah"? and your storys really cool btw.

  4. Recently, as I was making decisions for this school year, now that I'm graduated, my parents believed that I should do one thing while I wanted to do another. I continued to feel anxious and confused and upset, until I let my plans down and decided to do what God wanted. Immediately He gave me peace and excitement about what my parents were encouraging me to pursue for this year. Now He's teaching me to embrace it and give it my all while finding Him in everything.
    Katrina, I love your writing style. It is so beautiful, warm and inviting. Thank you for sharing.

  5. Thank you so much for sharing, Katrina! I am so inspired and encouraged by your testimony. These past few days I have been struggling with frustrations that seem so petty compared to what you face in Bolivia but I am encouraged to bring even the little trials in my life to Jesus and keep pressing on for more of Him! I also love reading your story because during the past month the Lord has really laid foreign missions on my heart in a new way; I have been studying and praying about unreached peoples like I never have before and wondering if that might be part of my future. Thank you for serving the Lord on those front lines -- I'm praying for you today!

  6. Thank you for the encouraging comments! It's always good to hear from those of you who read this blog to know how these articles touch your lives!

    To answer the question of the anonymous person above, my advice when you feel like you're standing on the banks of Marah, is exactly what I wrote about in the article. Learn to give thanks for the little and big blessings God pours forth on you each day. Practice giving thanks! Offer the sacrifice of thanks even when you don't feel like it! Start a list of 1,000 gifts you are grateful for. And then let God work miracles in your life. :)