A Day for Thanks

In two days, millions of people around the globe will celebrate the day known in the USA as Thanksgiving. I’m not in the States for the celebrations, but that isn’t stopping me from making 10 kg of mashed potatoes and some gravy to share with nearly 60 friends… ūüôā (The first on my list of things to be thankful for this year is that the rest of the feast will be provided by other cooks!) ūüôā

Instead of actually giving thanks, Thanksgiving is so often just equated with eating way too much, napping, “American” football, and plotting the route¬†to various stores for Black Friday deals. I must admit that I am not sad to be missing out on those things this year… Well, okay, maybe just the nap. I will miss being with my family, but I will be surrounded by friends that have become like family during¬†the year and a half¬†I’ve called Ireland home.

I thought, as Thanksgiving Day is coming so quickly, I would be rather unoriginal this week and make a list of a few of the things I am most thankful for. This will be only a small sample because trying to list all, or even most, of the things¬† I’m grateful for would take far too much of my time and yours…

  1. My infinitely powerful God who loves me intimately enough to care about the details of my life. He is a God who creates new realities with a few spoken words, and yet He cares enough to speak to me daily. That is something to be truly grateful for!
  2. My family. We are spread across the globe, and I miss them all! I am so grateful for the part they have each played in shaping who I am, and that I can count them as not only family but friends as well!
  3. My friends. I have friends on nearly every continent, and I am thankful for all of them. God has blessed me so much with the people I get to do life with on a daily basis!
  4. My life. It doesn’t look anything like I thought it would by the time I reached this age, but I wouldn’t trade it. The opportunities I’ve been given, places I’ve visited and lived, people I’ve met, and things I’ve learned have brought me to a place in my relationship with God I never dreamed of and given me a story to tell that can change lives.
  5. My hopes and dreams. Perhaps more than ever before, God is pouring hope into me for the days that are still to come. Dreams that have seemed far away for so long suddenly seem closer than ever, and the hope that accompanies the anticipation of fulfillment is something that I cannot put into words, nor can I adequately say thank you to the Author of that hope and the Giver of the dreams.

That is just a fraction of what I am thankful for this year. I don’t believe that once a year is often enough to say “Thank You” to the Giver of all good things, but I’m glad for the reminder to stop and count my blessings. May you have much to thank God for on this Thanksgiving Day (whether it is a holiday in your home country or not), and may we all remember to recognize and be grateful for all the good things in our lives more than just once a year.

Trust on Guard?

I’ve been wrestling during the last week. A couple of situations have been on my mind that¬†call for seemingly contradictory responses: guarding and trusting…

* I’ve probably mentioned before that I am working on a book. I believe God has asked me to share my story with others in the hopes that they can learn about God’s designs and intentions in their own lives. As the book gets nearer the point where I am sharing it with people beyond the very safe group that have seen it so far, it gets easier to fear what response it will bring. Within the last few weeks, I have¬†shared it with a couple of people a bit further outside my comfort zone, and even with just¬†those couple of people, the feelings of vulnerability and exposure have grown as I await their responses.

* A close friend is in a situation where she believes God is finally bringing about the¬†fulfillment of¬†her long-held dream for a man to share her life with. She has shared with me (and given me the okay to write) that while she wants to wholeheartedly trust what God is saying, others (and even her own heart) remind her often of the risk of letting her heart get involved… Especially¬†when there isn’t concrete evidence yet that the fulfillment of that dream is imminent or even guaranteed.

Proverbs 4:23 tells us to guard our hearts above all else because all that we do flows out of it. And yet we are asked to trust God completely. Trust nearly always involves risk. Synonyms for trust include faith, hope, and confidence. If we are to confidently hope in promises God has spoken, what do we do with those times when that hope opens our hearts to hurt? How can we both guard our hearts and trust simultaneously?

As I wrestled with this last week, I heard about the bombings in Lebanon and then the attacks in Paris. I have friends living in both of those places, called there to share with people the Love that casts out fear – now more important than ever in so many places around the world.

In thinking¬†about my friends in these places, I remembered¬†the¬†years I spent¬†in Afghanistan and the questions of well meaning friends about why I would move to such an obviously dangerous place. My answer was always the same. “The safest place for me to be is the center of God’s will.”

If God calls me to go and care for people in a war-torn country, I trust that He will take care of me. If God calls me to live in a seemingly safe place and care for the “least of these” there, He will take care of me there too. If He calls me to share all that I have¬†with those fleeing the terror of the place they left, He will take care of me. Even if following His lead¬†costs me all that I have, He will still take care of me.

As I thought about the physical danger that God has called some people to face in order to love others in His name, my wrestling ceased. I could, in the words of Psalm 46:10 (NSAB), “cease striving and know that [He] is God. [He] will be exalted among the nations…” The principle holds true for emotional risk as well. If God is calling me to put the depths of my heart on display for others to read, He will take care of it no matter what others¬†choose¬†to think of me when they have read it- whether friends or strangers.

Philippians 4:6-7 says, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

As we submit everything we face to Jesus, no matter how scary it may seem, we can be confident in the hope that Christ gives us. It is His peace that guards our hearts and minds in the midst of any risk He calls us into, as long as we keep our focus on Him.

I don’t know what people will say when they read my story. I don’t know if my friend will see her hopes fulfilled in this relationship. I don’t know if loving and accepting others into my life,¬†my city, or my country will leave an opening for danger to me or those I care about. I don’t know what situations God might be asking you to trust Him in the midst of today.

What I do know, however, is that He is trustworthy. No matter what the outcome is, He can and will work in every circumstance to bring about His best – for His glory and our good. So today, I’m choosing to trust Him and let Him do the guarding of my heart. I will leave¬†all that I have¬†in His care and step into the “dangerous” unknown with Him, trusting ‚Äúwithout borders.‚ÄĚ

Now, I think it’s time¬†I work on a book…

 

I Lift My Eyes

“I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” Psalm 121:1-2

I’ve been thinking lately about prayer. More specifically, I’ve been thinking about where my focus is during prayer. Even as I wrote¬†a couple of¬†weeks ago¬†about Peter walking on the water with Jesus, this thought crossed my mind. Peter lost sight of Jesus and started looking at the waves instead. How often do I do the same thing even in my prayer times?

Recently, I have¬†noticed that my “prayers” sound more like complaints or worry voiced in God’s direction. I¬†attempt to tell¬†God how big my problems are instead of declaring over my problems how BIG my God is. Instead of lifting my eyes up to gaze on the God of the universe and remembering that He cares about me enough to bend His ear to my cries, I allow miniscule worries to drag me down and affect my attitudes about life, God, myself, and those around me. How easily I forget to keep my gaze fixed on the One who is infinitely greater than anything I might face, than any longing I might feel, than any sorrow that might¬†threaten to overwhelm me!

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” Ephesians 3:20-21

I don’t know what you’re going through today.¬†I know that my heart aches for my loved ones and that unknowns about the future threaten to drive me crazy. I also know, however, that God is able to do more than I can imagine and that He is for me. The days ahead may be uncertain, but His promises – and His ability to fulfill them – are not. Nor is His faithfulness to walk with me through whatever storm may lie ahead on my journey with Him. The same is true for you!

You might be staring¬†at¬†the spear of a giant today, holding tight to a little sling and some rocks. Know though, that like David when he faced Goliath, you can stand there with confidence, knowing that “the battle is the Lord’s.” (1 Samuel 17:47) When¬†we see the giants¬†we face in the light of who¬†we are, they can be overwhelming to look at, but in the light of who God is, they are merely specks on the horizon of all that God has in store for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.

As you pray today, don’t voice your worries toward heaven. Invite the God of the universe –¬†the infinitely intimate One who loves you –¬†into your circumstances to bring about His best in your life for His glory and your good.

Fruit in Season

Last week was a fun week in the training program I’m working with – Angels and Mortals week. Each of the 19 people¬†involved (staff and students) drew¬†the name of the person (mortal) that they (the angel) would secretly bless throughout the week. I love things like this because I love praying for words of encouragement and getting little gifts that I think will bless others… And who doesn’t love to receive those things as well?

My angel had the brilliant idea to show me God’s goodness over the five days through each of the five senses. For taste, there were chocolate chip muffins. Smell brought the most wonderfully aromatic tea and a beautiful note about how my worship delights God and releases his goodness into lives as a pleasing aroma. A scarf, soft and warm, accompanied the¬†note for touch, and¬†beautiful, soothing music reminded me of God’s goodness in hearing.

Perhaps that day that impacted me the most though, was the day of seeing. There was no gift to open in the way that¬†so many other days offered; it was just a simple note and an assignment. “Read and meditate on Psalm 104 and then ask God to reveal His beauty and goodness to you personally through His creation as you take a walk around.”¬†I happened to have the afternoon free that day, so I went to one of my favorite spots, a bench overlooking the river with¬†the city on the other side. The sun was out, the weather was cool and crisp, and it was¬†a nearly perfect afternoon to sit on the bench with my Bible, worship music,¬†and Jesus. ūüôā

Psalm 104 is a beautiful passage talking of the goodness of God in creation to all that¬†He has made.¬†It says in verses 27-28, “They all wait for You to give them their¬†food in due season¬†[its appointed time]. You give to them, they gather it up; You open Your hand, they are satisfied with good.” It was with this reminder of God’s faithfulness and goodness¬†in mind that I set off for a long walk.

Along the way, I gathered a handful of sweet, juicy blackberries growing along the footpath. In the midst of enjoying the sun, the lovely temperatures, and the beauty of this place I am privileged to live in, I was also surprised to find so much good fruit left  on the bushes so late in the season. I felt God assuring me through the discovery that my own season of fruitfulness has not passed.

I know I’m not old, but sometimes I look at my life and wonder how much I have really accomplished. I have loved most of my life, and I know that I am blessed beyond measure with all that I have been able to do. There are moments though, as I’ve mentioned before, where I wonder how much fruit has really come from all of those awesome adventures. The experiences are great, but the goal isn’t to have a cool story to tell. I want to bear fruit that glorifies God through my life and experiences. I think about the book I’m writing, the dream of writing songs, my goal of teaching, and even the dream of having my own family, and I wonder about the years that have passed with what seems like so little fruit in my own eyes. Sometimes it seems like the season for bearing fruit is flying by, and I must be a late bloomer.

Through a handful of blackberries, God has spoken truth to my heart. It doesn’t matter how late in the season it appears to my eyes, there is still much good fruit to be had. God has shown me His goodness and beauty throughout my life, and hope and expectancy are¬†building for the season to come. I have seen only glimpses of the fruit that God has in store, and I have no doubt that the best is yet to come!