The Best…

I mentioned last week I’m working on a new website. I hope to launch it in the near future, and I’ll be sure to let you know when it’s ready.

My goal is to have a page on the website where I can share my story and travels through photos, so the project this afternoon has been looking through photos from various trips I’ve done over the last several years. As I looked at photos from Afghanistan, Turkey, Tajikistan, China, Jordan, Holland, Germany, Czech Republic, the UK, Ireland, and more, I realized just how much God has allowed me to see and do in the last thirty-six years.

Yes, there are things I haven’t gotten to do, promises made that weren’t kept, disappointments in abundance at times. During this past week, I have learned that without God’s intervention, another disappointment (with the potential to alter my future in major ways) may be waiting just around the corner.

Even still, God has been faithful. I have lived a pretty remarkable life so far, and I get the feeling it is still just getting to the good part. The best is yet to come!

I don’t know what story you have lived so far. I would imagine there have been some difficult chapters and some good ones too. Maybe you’ve seen the world, or maybe you’ve seen just around your own neighborhood. Perhaps you’re living your dream, or maybe you’re currently living a nightmare. Whatever your story is right now, I believe the best is still yet to come.

The God we serve is full of so much more than we can imagine, and He longs for us to open ourselves to receive more of Him all the time. He is faithful to show up in the midst of our stories and bring His best to us if we will allow Him, and His supply is limitless. No matter how many good gifts He has already poured into your life, there are always more available.

I don’t know what will happen in my life during the next few months. I don’t even know what will happen tomorrow. None of us know how the current events in our lives will turn out, but that’s okay. As we put our trust in God and allow Him to work in and through us, the best is always ahead of us! Let’s run into the days ahead with our eyes fixed on Him and our faith firmly rooted in His goodness.

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Spoilers…

Spoilers… A word hated by most fans of fiction, whether in print or on screen.

I have been taking a break from television during the past few weeks, and during this period of time I have missed a number of episodes of two of my favorite shows: Doctor Who and Once Upon A Time. I have had to be careful about visiting certain websites or even looking at Facebook to keep from having my future enjoyment of the episodes spoiled with knowledge of what happens.

Today, I am aware of the opposite reaction when it comes to real life. All too often, I find myself asking God for spoilers instead of trying to avoid them… When will a new main character enter my story? Will any of the current characters play a major role in a future plot twist? How many chapters until this or that takes place? Will the setting of my story change again, or can I feel settled here? Are any others leaving the story soon? My mind and heart are filled with questions I tend to believe I want answered.

Why is it that spoilers for fictional stories are to be avoided at all costs while I long to have questions about my own future answered yesterday? Why is it so difficult to enjoy the story of today without wondering about the plot twists of tomorrow?

In reality, if God gave me a view into future chapters of my story, I would likely run the other way. His story tends to be much bigger than I feel capable of living in, and spoilers might prevent me from fully engaging in the story – perhaps even altering the plot as I run from the big things coming in the pages that I have not yet lived.

God, in His wisdom, rarely gives me spoilers. Even during those rare times when I get miniscule glimpses of my story, I have to remind myself that one word here or there does not make a story. When God speaks a word or gives me a glimpse or a dream for my story, I cannot paint a full picture of my future around that one piece.

I have tried to write my own version of the story around a picture or phrase I believe God has spoken, and it has never been as good as His story would have been if I’d left the writing to Him alone. I would like to say that I have learned my lesson, but I’m afraid I continue to pick up my pen and try to write the story I think I want to live.

So, once again, I am choosing to put down the pen and allow God to write His best story for my life. I don’t have a clue what it will bring my way, and I don’t always enjoy not knowing… And yet, I do know the Author, and I know I can trust His story to be far better than any I could write for myself.

My Cereal Box Sign…

A few days ago, I posted on Facebook about my first experience ever of standing on the street with a cardboard sign. I was asked for the whole story, so I thought it was about time for a new blog post. 🙂

I have mentioned previously that I am currently traveling around the UK looking at sites that have significance in Christian history. During the past 3 weeks, I have visited Armagh, Downpatrick, Saul, and Belfast in Northern Ireland, Paisley, Glasgow, Oban, the Isle of Mull, the Isle of Iona, Edinburgh, St. Andrews, Melrose, and Roslin in Scotland, and Holy Island and York in England. (Not all of these places held significance for my research, but they are places I have traveled.)

Last Thursday was the day I had planned to leave Scotland and travel to Holy Island. I had been given the names of a couple living there whom I should contact for help both with my research and with getting to the island (which is a tidal island). When I called them a couple of days prior to this portion of the trip, I was told there may or may not be a bus running to the island that day (which I already knew there wasn’t), so my best option for travel was to take a bus from the train station in Berwick-Upon-Tweed to a place called Beal. From there it is 2-3 miles across the causeway and then another 1-2 into the town on Holy Island, so the recommendation was to make a sign that said “Holy Island, please?”

After that phone call, I also began looking online for accommodation on the island. Without knowing it, I had chosen to arrive on the island for the first half of a bank holiday weekend… I called nearly every hotel and B&B on the island, but there wasn’t a single vacancy. To be honest, I wasn’t even sure a wanted a vacancy because I wasn’t convinced I could afford a room. Prices for a single room ranged from 50-85£ per night – which, with the exchange rate, is nearly $100-170!

I finally found a place with a vacancy the night before I was leaving. It would cost 60£ a night, and it was across the causeway from the island. So, I began asking God if I should take that room. It would mean less time on the island because I would only cross on the Friday morning and then have to be back across that evening before the tides came in. I wanted to experience the quiet of the island during the evenings when the tourists had gone, rushing to beat the tides, but maybe that wasn’t necessary after all.

In the end, I decided to step out on a limb with God. The worst that could happen was that I would have to find a bench to spend the night on, or that I would have to leave the island and hope that room on the mainland was still available – provided I could get a lift)… Right? I felt like God was asking me to stop planning for a bit and just let Him show up for me, whatever that looked like.

Of course, when I woke on Thursday, it was to the sound of a downpour. The weather had gone from sunny and very warm on Wednesday to cold, windy, and pouring. However, I continued with my plan, so as I finished my cereal, I saved the box for a later part of my journey and off I went. 🙂

The train trip was fairly uneventful, and after about an hour the bus which would drop me at Beal arrived. Unfortunately, the bus was having some issues, and it kept stalling. Eventually we arrived at my stop, and I do hope that the bus made it through the rest of its route.

Because of the tide times, I had a bit of a wait until the causeway opened, so I bought lunch and enjoyed it while standing inside the convenience store. As my current host would say, it was raining cats, dogs, gerbils and a number of other things.

Finally, it was time to try out my sign. I had borrowed a pen at the train station, and my cereal box was now a cry for help. 🙂 The cry was heard, and after only about 10-15 minutes, I was in a car with a lovely couple headed for Holy Island.

After a pause in a cafe to warm up with some hot cocoa, I made my way to the home of my contacts. There, I was treated to tea and a very enjoyable and informative chat about the history of some of those who were part of spreading the gospel throughout this land during the centuries following the fall of the Roman empire in Britain.

Before I left the house, with one phone call, arrangements had been made for me to have accommodation in a house with the most beautiful view of Lindisfarne Castle, a short walk from every place a needed to visit, and a lovely lady who provided breakfast each morning. All of this for less than half the price of the hotel I nearly settled for on the mainland.

Would God have provided the money if I had made a reservation to be safe? Of course, but where is the fun in that? If I learn nothing else on this journey, I have more proof than ever, that God is faithful. Using wisdom is a must, and I highly doubt you’d find me hitching a lift into London or some place like that. However, planning too much and leaving no room for God to show up and surprise you can be dangerous too. I’m sure I would have enjoyed a day on Holy Island with the comfort of a room to go back to, but I would have missed out on the adventure of stepping out of the boat and seeing Jesus show Himself faithful again… Always.

That One Time in Uzbekistan

On the road from Termez to Tashkent. (The way back was uneventful.)

Somewhere in Uzbekistan

Having been to nearly 30 countries in the last 20 years, I’ve got a fair number of fun stories I can tell. Who knows, maybe my next book will be a book of fun stories – assuming I write another one… When I think of crazy overseas stories, though, there is one that always comes to mind first: The trip from Tashkent to Termez, Uzbekistan during my first trip to Afghanistan.

It was just before Christmas in 2002, and I was part of a team of 7 heading into Northern Afghanistan to work with a development organization for 2 months. Since the town we would be going to was only 3-4 hours from the border of Uzbekistan, we flew into Tashkent, spent a couple of days there, traveled in taxis to Termez (the border town), spent the night, and crossed the border the next day before getting taxis to our temporary home… Sounds easy, right?

Depending on how much you’ve traveled in Central Asia – or anywhere in the third world – you may see several steps in that process that could go terribly wrong. Flights were delayed, we were stranded for a day in Seoul, S. Korea on the way to Tashkent, and extra fees were charged in airports because of the delays, but finally we arrived in Tashkent. I had been there for a couple of months earlier in the year, so we found our housing and met up with our hosts fairly easily. The time in Tashkent went well, and surely the worst was behind us.

WRONG!

Our Uzbek host in Tashkent arranged our transportation to Termez. He would meet us and the driver, send us on our way, and then we would meet up with someone else at the guesthouse. It seemed simple enough, but then again we were in the part of the world where things are rarely “simple”.

Though he was asked SEVERAL times, our host would not give us the address of our destination in Termez. Instead, he assured us repeatedly that our drivers knew where they were going. And yes, I said drivers… Instead of the van we had asked for, we would be traveling in 3 taxis. Don’t worry, though; the drivers know to stay to together. No problem.

So, off we went. Thankfully, we had 3 men on the team, and so each car had a man to accompany us ladies. Because there were only 2 of us in my car, the rest of the back seat was loaded with luggage. (Remember that bit of info for later in the story.) The ride was meant to be about 9 hours, plus time to stop for lunch along the way, so even with the fact that we left about an hour after our scheduled departure time, we were in decent shape.

As you may imagine, our cars were separated before we even got out of the city. For the rest of the drive we kept our eyes peeled for cars that looked like those carrying our team mates. And we did see them once. It was at the top of the mountain pass we had to cross, and there were many cars there. Several were stuck, and several (including ours) had to be pushed to move over a particularly nasty patch of ice. I still look back at that and thank the Lord we didn’t slide off the mountain. 🙂 By the time we traversed that bit of craziness, the other cars were long gone, not to be seen again for far too many hours.

There were a couple of stops along the way. One, a brief stop in Samarkand so our driver could buy bread, (which he was kind enough to share bits of with us since we had no money to buy our own). Another was at a tea/coffee shop where our driver bought the 3 of us coffee. I choked down the bitter but sweet concoction very aware that I was the only female in the building that wasn’t serving the drinks. (Aside from the piece of bread and the cup of coffee, my friend and I shared a 1.5 litre bottle of water and a snickers bar during the trip.)

After approximately 12 hours in the car, thanks to the snowy mountain pass traffic jam and extremely dense fog for many miles, we finally arrive on the outskirts of Termez. Praise the Lord! Unfortunately, this is the moment where our situation goes from bad to worse. Our taxi driver, who speaks only Russian, looks at the guy on my team and asks “Where to?” (I recognized the question only because of my previous visit to Uzbekistan.)

We showed our driver the paper we had with the name of the organization we were to work with hoping that he would know where the guesthouse was they typically used. He was unfamiliar with the group, and so he took us to the Red Crescent Society – the equivalent of the Red Cross in that part of the world. By this time it was after 9pm, and they could not help us. We drove around the town for quite sometime, everyone in the car becoming more desperate as time wore on.

Finally, he drove us outside of town to the UN compound. At least there would be someone there who could speak English, and so a spark of hope was kindled. We were invited in, given tea, and a call was made to the police. All vehicles coming into town were stopped at checkpoints, and the idea was that perhaps we could track down the other cars through that avenue – especially if they had given an address.

The head of the UN offered us beds (for a price, of course), but I couldn’t leave the rest of the team with no word of our whereabouts – especially since the occupants of one of the other cars were my parents and I knew they were freaking out! 🙂 And so, off we went again, this time with a new passenger, a young Uzbek UN worker with a crush on me… Thankfully I didn’t find that out until later in our adventures. (This is where it becomes important to remember that 1/2 to 2/3 of the backseat was filled with stuff. The car was now quite crowded!)

We drove around town a while longer, stopping occasionally at various locations to check one thing or another. Honestly, I’m not really sure what happened during these stops because as a girl, I was told to stay in the car at all times. I do know that, at each place with a telephone, a call was made to the sister of our young UN friend, who spoke English. During these calls, the phone would be passed back and forth between my friend, the driver, and the young man so that the sister could translate conversations for them.

Finally, we ended up at the home of our young friend. We met his sister, and were given some small snacks and probably some more tea while he called back to the UN to see if there had been any new information discovered. Lo and behold, they had tracked down the other cars, and we had an address! As we began to make our way outside to pile into the car one last time, the young lady who had been so helpful began to ask if I was married or had a boyfriend because her brother… I made my apologies that I really needed to be on my way, and while I am very grateful for all of their help, I didn’t think it would work out. I must find and talk to my parents, after all!

At long last, we were reunited with the rest of the team at midnight! 15 hours, very little food or drink, a LOT of praying, and quite an adventure later, we were where we were supposed to be.

Come to find out, the other cars, though they had been separated most of the day, arrived in town at about the same time. They connected at the checkpoint and were able to figure out fairly quickly where to take their passengers – though they had not been given the address either. They arrive at the guesthouse not too long before we pulled into town and began the craziness. They stood outside for a while, hoping that we might happen by. (They assumed that since their drivers didn’t know where to go, that ours would not either.)

Unfortunately, they had moved inside to wait, worry, and pray mere minutes before we pulled up at the Red Crescent Society, ACROSS THE STREET from the guesthouse!

Though not the most fun I had ever had at the time, this will probably always be one of my favorite stories. God was good, and protected us, not to mention the lessons I learned in the process. Lessons such as, if possible, never get into a taxi without knowing the destination, always make sure you have at least a small amount of currency for wherever you are, always have the personal contact number of SOMEONE, and always find the fun in every situation, even the unscheduled adventures! 🙂

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?”