Celebrate!

They say time flies when you’re having fun, and I must be having a blast! How is it nearly July already?!

I love July. Independence Day is fun with fireworks and BBQs (when you’re in a place that celebrates that particular day), but the main reason I love July is my birthday. I may be turning 36 in a couple of weeks, but I’m still like a kid when it comes to how excited I get about celebrating every year. It’s a little hard not to be with family to celebrate most years, but I’m grateful for the friends God always brings to celebrate with me wherever I am in the world!

I know some people who hate to celebrate or even acknowledge their birthdays. Others just don’t pay much attention. Maybe I’m weird, or perhaps I just like an excuse to splurge a bit and go out with friends, but I like to think that there is more to it than that. No offense to those who ignore or even dislike their special day, but I believe life is something to celebrate. Sure, we don’t have to wait for one specific day each year, but why not take the chance to mark the occasion and thank God for another year of life? It is a chance to reflect on what has happened in the last year (or over the course of your life), to dream with God about what the next year might bring, and to thank Him for the great things that have come so far and for bringing you through the hard times.

Some of the people I know who do acknowledge and even celebrate their birthdays are hesitant to share their age. I’ve never quite understood why that might be. I know that aging may not be the most enjoyable thing there is, but it certainly beats the alternative! While my life looks nothing like what I thought it would by the time I reached the second half of my 30’s, I have lived a pretty incredible life so far, and I believe that the best is yet to come.

I don’t know exactly how I’m going to celebrate my birthday this year. I know it will include friends, food, and fun. I also know that I intend to make the most of it and celebrate another amazing year of life. It has been a hard and confusing year at times, but I wouldn’t trade it in for an easier one because I am grateful for the growth it brought. There have been a lot of tears, laughs, late night talks, prayers, encouragements, disappointments, surprises, and adventures, and I am so thankful to God, my family, and my friends for being with me through all of it!  

You may not have a birthday coming up in the next couple of weeks, but that doesn’t mean you can’t take some time today to thank God for the years you’ve lived so far and dream about the future too!

Cleaning House

I’ve spent the last couple of days painting a friend’s bathroom. I’ve also been offering to help others clean and do various odd jobs. It sounds crazy to say this, but I actually enjoy it!

Sometimes, I work with the people I’m helping, and I love that. Quality time is my love language, so no matter what activity I’m doing with a person, I’m happy just being with them. Other times, I’m working on my own, and I’m content with that too. I’ve learned to be happy with my own company and having work to do with my hands gives me time to think and pray.

The thing I find interesting tonight is that my house is currently a wreck. I am embarrassed to admit this, but there are dirty clothes on the floor, clean clothes in the basket to be put away, and almost no surface in my kitchen that isn’t covered with stuff to be cleaned or tossed out or put away.

So, why do I find that interesting? Because while I love helping other people with cleaning or painting or whatever, I rarely enjoy doing those things in my own house. I suppose there is something to be said for helping others and making that a priority, but there is also something to be said for being a good steward of what God has given me to care for.

As I arrived home and started to clean the paint off my hands tonight, I started to think about the less visible ways I try to “help” people. How often do I try to help someone clean up an area of their life by pointing out a spot that could use some attention? I know there are times I seek out people who need to talk to someone when, in reality, I should be dealing with some things in my own life. It seems noble to always make myself available to others, but there are times when it is necessary to take a step back and look at the areas in my life that need work.

It can be uncomfortable to focus on the rubbish in our lives. We may be able to put off the work for a while, but at some point it will catch up with us. I have visitors arriving in 36 hours, and my home needs to be ready. I have been intending to get it ready for days, but have managed to convince myself I’m too busy helping (or in some cases just spending time with people) to do it today. After all, there is always tomorrow.

The problem is that I’ve reached the end of the tomorrows before others are affected by my mess. Crunch time has arrived, and I can no longer put off facing the dishes in my sink or the laundry or floors or… It can be that way in other areas of our lives too. If we put off the work, it will eventually affect not only us, but others as well.

Is there any “dirt” in your life you’ve been avoiding? It might be time for you to do some cleaning too…  

On Faith and Doubt

I’ve shared a couple of times in recent weeks that God has asked me to have faith for some things that seem highly improbable. In a number of verses in the Bible (James 1:6-7, for example), it says to ask in faith, without doubt, and you will have what you ask for. I have been doing my best to live up to those instructions.

However, it seems no matter how hard I try, little questions often sneak into my mind. “Did God really promise…? What if you got it wrong? Do you seriously believe God can/will do THAT? For YOU?” Each time these thoughts come, they bring guilt and condemnation with them. The one thing God has asked me to do is to believe without doubting, and I can’t even get that right!

This past Sunday at church, we had a guest speaker. There were a lot of great points in the sermon, but one thing has been stuck in my mind for the past three days. He made the comment that faith is not the absence of doubts, but confidence in the face of them. He went on to say that uncertainty of the outcome of a given situation is what makes faith possible. If we were completely certain that what we hope for would happen, there would be no need for faith.

What a freeing thought! I am not a failure because questions come to mind on occasion. I only fail to have faith if I entertain those questions and dwell on them. If I give them more room in my mind than I give to the confidence that God “will accomplish what concerns me,” then I give in to doubt.

Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” Confidence and assurance in the face of uncertainty. We don’t see the fulfillment of God’s promises yet, and it is normal that questions will arise. Every person mentioned in Hebrews 11 – the “Hall of Faith” – asked God questions on numerous occasions. Questions don’t equal sin or disqualify us from receiving the fulfillment of God’s promises.

Some teachers might tell you that if you only had enough faith, life would be easy and God would have answered your prayers by now. That is a load of rubbish. God never promised an easy life to anyone who chose to follow Him. In fact, in many cases, it was the opposite. What He did promise was that He would be with us, that He would never stop loving us, and that His words are true no matter what! (There are many other promises in His Word, so go read the Bible to find more.)

Whatever it is you’re hoping and praying for today, have faith. Don’t choose to live with the doubts that try to fill your mind. Acknowledge them, remind them of the awesome power of the God Who loves you, and send them on their way.

Where’s God When I’m Scared?

I love Veggie Tales. I’ll admit it. When I was a teenager, I used babysitting as an excuse to own each new VHS/DVD as it was released. One of the first videos released was Where’s God When I’m S-Scared? I still get songs from that episode in my head. Once, I even rewrote the lyrics to “God is Bigger” to say “God is bigger than my bank account” instead of the “than the boogie-man.”

As I mentioned in the post last week, I’m doing some “foolish” things lately. If I let myself dwell on them or the potential for them to cause pain or make a fool out of me, I get scared. Thankfully, I know the answer to the question that the Veggie Tales title asked. When I’m scared, God is right there with me – and He is bigger than what scares me.

Today, as I was thinking about God’s faithfulness in times when I’ve been scared before, I remembered one of the scarier times I had while living in Central Asia. I had just crossed the border back into Afghanistan after a visit to Uzbekistan. Normally, women did not travel alone, but for some reason or other, I was not met at the border on this occasion. I had to hire a taxi for the (normally) four-hour trip back to my town.

I didn’t speak the language fluently, but knew enough to tell the driver where I wanted to go and arrange a price. Once I was settled in the back seat and we were under way, the driver started talking. From what I understood, we would be taking a slight detour to pick up his son along the way.

Okay, no reason to panic there. We go through part of that town anyway, so we’ll just take a different route through the city… No big deal.

Once the son was in the car, we were off again. Then, the driver began to tell me of the need for another detour. Apparently, a bridge on the road had been washed out and we would have to find another way around to the village where I lived.

At that point, he left the road and started making his way through the desert. What should have taken another two hours turned into approximately six hours of driving through the desert with no road, no other cars, no phone signal to text my team that I was alive, or anything else.

I will admit that as the hours wore on, I began to get anxious. I spent some quality time talking to God on that drive, and I’m not sure I’ve ever been so happy to reach “home.” But God was with me. He didn’t take the day off, and He wasn’t swept away with the bridge.

That was true then, and it is still the case with the things that scare me today. I don’t know what seems scary to you today, but God is with you right there in the middle of it.