Thanksgiving and Pity-parties

Wow. I feel like a terrible human being right now. I think getting my thoughts out might help, but is it right to inflict them on others? I guess I’ll find out.

So, you may be wondering why I feel so terrible, and the answer is that I am in a bad mood. I’m feeling discouraged about several things, and really just want to have a good old-fashioned pity-party. Of course, we all have rough days, so that in itself does not make me such a horrible person. The thing that has solidified that title in my mind is that it is the day before Thanksgiving. How can I be in such a bad mood just when I’m supposed to be grateful? I have SO much to be thankful for, and yet here I am feeling the need for a pity-party about things that are insignificant in the grand scheme of things. I know people suffering far worse circumstances than I can imagine, and I feel guilty for my own discouragement about seemingly trivial stuff.

And yet, the feelings remain. The choice I have, not only today or tomorrow (Thanksgiving Day, here in the United States), but everyday, is to either focus on those things and tell God how discouraged I am, OR to focus on Him and remind myself how awesome He is. It isn’t always easy to keep my eyes focused the right direction, but it is possible. When I doubt that, I think of David. I heard someone refer to the story of David and Goliath once, saying that we should not tell God how big our giants are, but tell our giants how big God is.

I love the story of David. He screwed up royally on several occasions, (even committing two of the sins many people would put at the top of the “bad sins” list – murder and sexual sin), and yet he is still the only person in the Bible referred to as a man after God’s own heart. I think one possible reason for this is his brutal honesty with God. He had no problem telling God exactly how he felt about his circumstances, and he certainly had his share of nasty situations to endure. The Psalms are full of David’s complaints, many of them  legitimate; but those same Psalms are also full of his faith and gratitude for all that God had seen him through.

One chapter that comes to mind is Psalm 13. David basically accuses God of forgetting and forsaking him, and says that if God doesn’t answer he’ll “sleep the sleep of death”. Then, he ends the Psalm with these words in verses 5-6(NASB): “But I have trusted in Your loving kindness; my heart shall rejoice in Your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, because He has dealt bountifully with me.” Psalm 27 finishes with: “I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and let your heart take courage; yes, wait for the Lord.” (verses 13-14, NASB)

David knew that no matter what happened in his life, how bleak the picture seemed to be, that God was still good – and He still cared. We can have the same assurance. Yes, I’m feeling a little down today, and some of the things I’m working toward feel unattainable. So what? Without God, those feelings could be true. The choice I’m making today is to be thankful that, because of Him, those goals can be reached. I will see His goodness in the land of the living – even if the results don’t look like I have imagined. I don’t have to sit and dream of the time when I will finally die and go to heaven so that I can see Him. He is here, at work in our lives, if only we will choose to see and partner with Him.

Thanksgiving is not about ignoring discouragements, sorrows, or disappointments. It’s about choosing to focus on all that we have to be thankful for, even in the midst of those things. I want to live every day (not just the 4th Thursday in November), filled with gratefulness for all of the blessings in my life: family, friends, relationship with God, provision, my “job” and the opportunities it brings, and life itself. Each of those things could be separated into countless other things to be thankful for too.

So, I guess I’m not such a terrible human being, after all. I do have bad days, but today I’m choosing to focus on the positive and thank the Giver of all good things for all His many blessings!

What are you thankful for? Leave your answers in the comment section below…

Stories & Fandoms

Last night was awesome! Hanging out with my roommates, a delicious dinner of corned beef, cabbage, potatoes, carrots, & bread, Tollhouse pie with ice cream, “sonic screwdrivers”, and BBC America airing “The Day of the Doctor” and other shows… (A huge “thank you” goes to my parents for letting us crash at their house and use their cable television to experience this worldwide event!)

As I looked at Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook, and even the increase in traffic on this blog today, I realized again just how fun it is to be part of a “fandom” – a global community united around a common interest. In the case of us Whovians, we may disagree about favorite Doctors and companions, whether Rose or River is really the Doctor’s true love, and which of the monsters is the creepiest, but we are all still Whovians. We remain part of the global community, and we are at least a little invested in the story. (Perhaps some of us more than others.) Many of us are passionate about our love for the Doctor and want to share his story with others every chance we get, (and there is a great sense of victory when we manage to bring another person into the fandom).

This isn’t limited to Whovians either. Others fandoms are built around the stories of Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Sherlock, Narnia, Merlin, Atlantis, the Hunger Games, etc. (There are many others, but these are a few of the ones I am currently a part of…)
There is another fandom, though, that I am a part of, and yet too often I lack the excitement about it that I feel for the others. I get swept up in these epic tales and forget that the reason I love them so much is that they speak to me of His story (and my part in it). The most epic story of all is that of God and His love for us. Everything the human heart longs for – beauty, adventure, romance, significance, and much more – can be found in that story!

Yesterday, the world celebrated the 50th anniversary of a television show, making news globally in celebration of a fictional story (albeit a great one). I began to wonder this afternoon how many people would tune in to a global simulcast celebrating the 2000+ year old story of Christ. Christendom is in many ways a fandom. We may disagree about details here and there, but we are all still a part of a global family united by this story that began before time did – the story of the true Lord of time. 🙂

The question I am asking myself today is: why don’t I anticipate the next “episode” of His story the way I anticipated “The Day of the Doctor” over the last 6 months? Do I get as excited when I see God doing something in a neighbor’s life as I do about seeing a new adventure involving the Doctor? Do I try to share my passion for the object of my beliefs as enthusiastically as I share quotes or stories from a favorite episode of Merlin or Atlantis? Do I feel the thrill of gaining a new brother or sister in Christ as much as I enjoy bringing someone into a fandom centered on a fictional story?

Stories….  They awaken dreams, fears and courage; they bring together people from every culture, generation, class, race, etc. Some of them give meaning to events in our lives in a way that nothing else can. They draw us in, teach us, touch us, and move us.  For me, the true power of stories is captured in a quote from G. K. Chesterton, “Fairy tales are more than true — not because they tell us dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten,” – as quoted in Coraline (2004) by Neil Gaiman.

What might happen in the world if we began to share our stories with each other, as passionately as we share our favorite episodes? I know that “dragons” can be beaten because I have seen God defeat the dragons of insignificance, inferiority, and worthlessness in my own life. How might the world be different if others in this global family began to believe those same dragons could be defeated in their lives? How many new members would join the “fandom” of Christ if they connected to that story and realized the truth it contains?

I am, and always will be, a fan of Doctor Who (among many other things). But first and foremost, I am a fan and follower of Christ, one who strives to be a part of His family around the world. His story is the source of all of the truth we find in the other stories we love. We love them, because whether we realize it or not, they point to him! His story is the one that includes each of us, and our stories have meaning, beauty, adventure, and romance because of HIM. After all, “we’re all stories, in the end. Just make it a good one, eh?”

A Change in the Wind, Says I…

Yesterday at church my pastor was sharing about the “Wind of God”, and how it often brings change, movement, and discomfort… Lately, He has been visiting my house with nearly hurricane force winds. I have 2 roommates, who also rank high on the list of my best friends, and these winds of change are blowing through all of our lives and taking us in very different directions. There is a lot of transition, and it is definitely uncomfortable!

As I began to clear out some of my belongings to make it easier to pack up my life and move in the next several months, reality began to hit hard. At times I get so excited about moving forward that I can hardly breath for the anticipation that swells in my chest. However, this past weekend I became aware that for every ounce of excitement and anticipation I feel about this move, I possess an equal amount of fear.

Fear is a strong word, but I have yet to think of better one. Oh, I’m not afraid of traveling by myself, flying, or even having some unexpected adventures along the way. (I’ve been to at least 28 countries, lived in Afghanistan, and have some fun stories I could tell.) And yet, I am afraid. It has taken me a while to figure out why, but I think I have finally found my answer… In my previous travels, I have almost always had a support system wherever I was going, certainly on the extended trips/moves. When I moved to Afghanistan, my brother’s family was there too.

This time is different because I am moving alone. But I’m friendly and outgoing, and I’ll meet people there, so it should be no big deal… Right? And now to my great fear: what if they don’t like me? What if I am not accepted in this place that I am called to? For an extrovert/verbal processor like myself, the options are to either find friends or go insane. Suddenly packing up my life and moving across the pond seems a bit more intimidating, even than moving to Afghanistan once did.

When I moved to Central Asia, I expected the culture shock that comes with learning a foreign language and way of life. The first time someone asked me if I was from the United States, I wondered if it was safe to admit that the answer was yes. (This was about 2 years after 9/11/2001.) And yet, I was welcomed with open arms by everyone I talked to. I was there to help, and they were grateful.

Now, as I look forward to my move to the Republic of Ireland and travels around the UK, I wonder about my response to my new surroundings. I’m going to another western nation, so I expect fewer cultural differences. However, sometimes those places are more difficult because there are the differences you never expect to encounter. I also wonder about the response I will get as I meet people. My roommates and I thoroughly enjoy BBC television and movies, and while I realize that the television/movies of that region probably represent the average residents about as well as Hollywood represents me (read “not at all”), a common portrayal of Americans in their entertainment is the loud, obnoxious, crude, and/or uncultured buffoon. Is that truly the perception I face as I travel there? I hope not.

Whatever the case, I know that God has opened this door for me to go to this part of the world that I love (though I’ve only ever visited the region once before). I also know that when He opens a door, He will take care of the details. It’s true that I don’t have family or friends in Ireland yet, but I trust that they are there and it will be fun to meet them when the time comes. 🙂

Thanks for reading about my (most likely irrational) fear. Sharing it with you has lessened the weight of it, and I am now feeling a rise in excitement again for the things that God has in store for me during the months to come!

Fire!

I am extremely excited about the coming of the 23rd of November! Many won’t understand my excitement,  but a few die-hard Whovians out there may already know the reason and feel the anticipation with me… The Day of the Doctor is coming! After a six month absence, Matt Smith, (along with David Tennant, John Hurt, and others) will try to  save the universe once again.

Now is not the time to discuss my love of Doctor Who, and I will likely never attempt the impossible feat of trying to explain the show to those readers that aren’t familiar with it. The reason I brought it up tonight is that the trailer for the coming episode is the source of a quote that struck me today:

“Great men are forged in fire.  It is the privilege of lesser men to light the flame.”

As I heard these words, I thought immediately of the purifying work of fire. Precious metals are put through fire to bring impurities to the surface so they can be taken out. If we want to be great men & women, we must surrender to the Refiner’s Fire and be cleansed of anything less than His standard of purity.

While it is true that God is a Consuming Fire as it says in Hebrews, I find that He often uses other people to increase the temperature. I would not refer to others as “lesser men”, but it is true that friends, family, co-workers, etc. often “light the flame” in my life. There is nothing that brings my imperfections to the surface faster than those of others. The question is whether or not I will allow God to remove those things from my life when they surface.

I want to be a great woman of God and impact this world for Him. In order for that to happen, I must be willing to face the Fire and let Him do His work in me. I must also embrace the men and women in my life that “light the flame” and even thank God for them – and realize that I am most likely a match in their lives at times too.

The “Carrot Factor” – Too Good To Be True?

It’s been an interesting few years… At times I’ve felt like God is right next to me, whispering in my ear wonderful things He has in store for me. Other times, not so much… I’ve lost count of the times I’ve been moving toward something I was excited about, only to have everything change just when I felt like I was nearing the goal. Ministry opportunities, relationships, adventures, and more have been on my radar, and yet very few of them have materialized into reality. It seems like this incredible prize is dangled in front of my nose, and yet it’s kept out of my reach no matter how hard or fast I pursue it. In recent months, I have come to call this phenomenon the “carrot factor”.

Don’t get me wrong, God is faithful even when I am faithless. And I have certainly had my moments where it felt like my faith was nearly non-existent. That’s not true; I had faith that God exists and He is good, I just lacked faith that my dreams were worth His time.

As I have buried one dream after another in the past 5 years or so (sometimes seeing them resurrected only to be buried again), I have built walls in my heart to block out those portions that are in pain. As new dreams have come to life or old ones are resurrected, it has been difficult to let them live. Sometimes it seems easier to live without hope for specific things in this life than to have those hopes disappointed repeatedly. Proverb 13:12 says, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but desire fulfilled is a tree of life.” My heart has become sick, and it has been easy to let it languish while trying to push forward in the things that really matter, like pleasing God and spreading His Kingdom. Unfortunately, the main thing He has asked of us is to love Him with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength. It is impossible to love Him with all of my heart if I have portions quarantined and closed off.

Recently, an opportunity was presented for me to move “across the pond”, to the Emerald Isle, for at least 9 months to a year. A large part of my heart and mind wanted so badly to believe it was a God-thing and would become reality. The other part remembered the pain of disappointment at having yet another carrot yanked away, and struggled to trust that God was truly saying what I was hearing. As I identified “the carrot factor” for the first time, I was struck by the thought that this possibility was simply too good to be true.

In the weeks since that thought first crossed my mind, I have discovered a huge problem with that phrase. The God that I love and serve is the ultimate Good. There is nothing good outside of Him. Then again, He is ultimate Truth. It is impossible for something to be “too good to be true” because He is the Source of everything in both categories. He IS both categories.

I don’t understand all that happened in the past. I don’t know what will happen in the future, but I’m sure it will involve disappointment at times. I’m also more certain than ever before that my God is trustworthy no matter what dreams are born or buried in my heart. He is always good, true, faithful, and so much more! I pray that wherever you find yourself today, whether your heart is thriving in hope or languishing in a place of broken dreams, that you are met by the God who is proof that there is no such thing as “too good to be true”.

As for me, at this moment, I have plans (and a ticket) to arrive in Dublin, Ireland on the 14th of March. I have no idea what will happen between now and then, or once I arrive there, but I know that whatever comes, I will walk this journey with the only One who never disappoints.