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!

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Insulted God Lately?

Have you ever done something – painted a picture, sang a song, written a poem, cooked a meal, sculpted something, or anything else – you’re really proud of? Has your creation then looked at you and told you that you messed it up? Think for a moment how that would feel. (Let’s ignore the fact that none of those things could actually speak to you…) If you can’t picture that, think how it felt if someone else has ever told you how badly you screwed something up.

So, when was the last time you did that to God? Have you ever told Him that He made a mistake when He designed and knit you together? Maybe you haven’t told Him that directly, but perhaps you have told yourself how ugly you are or how you are a failure or that you can’t do anything right? Do you realize that in those moments when you talk about all the flaws you see in yourself, you are telling your Creator He messed up?

Growing up in the church, I got the idea that in order to avoid the sin of pride, I had to avoid acknowledging the good things in myself. When someone would compliment me on my singing, I would deflect the comment somehow, feeling awkward at accepting any kind of praise. The same went for comments about my looks, skill with kids, intellect, or any other talent or aspect of myself that a person might bring up. It felt prideful to agree or even to express gratitude at being recognized for anything I did.

Then one day, during a teaching I was listening to, the lecturer briefly mentioned Romans 12:3. “For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.” The teacher highlighted the words “sound judgement” and encouraged us not to sell ourselves short. He said that false humility is as prideful as arrogance.

Recognizing the strengths, gifts and talents God has given you is not equal to being prideful. It is not arrogant to simply say ‘thank you’ when someone remarks how well you do a specific activity. If you can sing, sing loudly and use that gift to glorify the one who gave it to you. The same goes for any talent you have. Don’t bury your talents in fear of falling prey to pride, thank God for them and use them to bring Him praise and glory.

Next time you look in the mirror, instead of looking for flaws and things that must be covered up, thank your Creator for the beauty that He put in you. Look for reasons to thank Him for designing and forming you the way He did. Let’s look at ourselves through the eyes of our Creator, and in all humility, thank Him for making us the way He did.

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… 🙂 (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!) 🙂

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.

Time to Party?

So, tomorrow is kind of a big deal in my world. When it comes to birthdays, I’m still a kid at heart. I still wait with anticipation as my chance to celebrate a new year in my life comes along. If I’m being perfectly honest, I still love  the cards and gifts, the kind words and feeling special.

Some people seem to have outgrown this childlike fascination with their birthday, or they never really celebrated the day to begin with. Others dread the anniversary of their birth because it means they’re getting older, and aging is seen as the worst thing in the world. Um… I’m guessing they haven’t thought through the alternative to having birthdays and getting older.

The countdown to this birthday has been different. I’m torn between wanting to hope that it will be amazing and being afraid that it will be depressing. I’m living in a new country, and I’ve traveled enough during my time here that I don’t have a lot of close friends yet. Many of the friends I have made are currently out of town. I don’t have a permanent address and most people don’t have the temporary one, and with postage being expensive for overseas stuff, I don’t expect many cards or packages. I may end up taking myself to dinner and to a  show of the Irish National Clown Orchestra.

Another layer in my reasons to be wary of hope is that this day marks the passing of another year in which I didn’t accomplish so many things I had hoped to do. Like many others on the planet, my life hasn’t quite worked out the way I expected. Tomorrow, I enter my mid-30s, and I thought I’d be a wife and mom by now. I thought maybe I would know what I’m meant to be doing in ministry and even actually be doing that by this point. I thought life would be different.

Don’t get me wrong on this. I LOVE my life for the most part. If any of those other things had happened before now, chances are I wouldn’t live in Ireland, and I wouldn’t trade this for anything. Most days, I feel fulfilled and truly happy with where God has brought me in life. It’s just that I know there’s more.

Despite my attempts to be content in every circumstance, and give my desires back to God, and all of those other things that well-meaning people “encourage” me with, I know there is more. Just when I reach the place where I feel the contentment we’re taught is the goal, HE begins to whisper to me that there is more, the best is yet to come.

So, despite any indications to the contrary, there is the potential for this birthday and the coming year to be the best so far! I am on the brink of new and BIG things. Most days, I feel it – the expectancy that something is just around the corner.

On the days when I don’t feel it, He reminds me, challenging me to hope beyond the seen, beyond the risk that disappointment is what awaits around that next corner.

I don’t know what’s waiting. I can’t see around the corner yet, but I know someone whose view is far superior to mine. He has whispered to me of the things that are waiting and I am learning to trust His voice.

I am also learning to hope without demands or score-keeping – because, let’s face it, I lose that count every single time. I discovered earlier this week that I was subconsciously beginning to tell God all that I’ve done, the sacrifices I think I’ve made in my (nearly) 34 years of life. I can almost hear Him chuckle. He must think how cute and silly I am to play that game again when all He has to do is remind me of one moment in time that changed everything.

In the moment when Jesus defeated death, paid my debt to sin, and made abundant life possible, He  won forever and always – not only against Satan, Hell and death, but against my selfish attempts to blackmail Him with my supposed “sacrifices” on His behalf. 🙂

Does God love me and want to give me more than I can even imagine? Yes, without a doubt! Do I believe there are huge things ahead of me, and that this year may hold surprises that I haven’t even dreamed of? Most of the time. 🙂 Does God “owe me” for sacrificing or stepping out of the boat to follow Him on this adventure? Nope, not a darn thing!

I am excited about tomorrow. I think it’s going to be a fun day and the beginning of an exciting year. Will it bring along great friendships, ministry direction/opportunities, a place to call home, and maybe even a bit of romance? Who knows! Whatever it brings, though, it’s going to be full of life, laughter, love, tears, pain, uncertainties, and so much more! It won’t be perfect, but it will be abundant and full of Him!

Thankful!

Today I just want to say “Thank You” to God for the blessings He is pouring out on me.
* I’ve been able to sell all of the furniture I need to get rid of before my departure, and made a little cash to help with last-minute expenses.
* After twenty years of wearing glasses/contacts, I was told by the eye doctor that I need only wear them when my eyes feel tired or strained. I purchased a cheap pair of glasses to use for those occasions, but this saved me the cost of a contact exam, prescription sunglasses, contacts and/or better quality glasses that would have been much more expensive.
* I have continued to receive one-time donations that are helping to cover moving expenses.
* I am continuing to see results (in inch loss) of being diligent in working out.
* I have gone through my closet, and there are more clothes that now/still fit than I expected, so I will not have to buy quite as much as I anticipated.
* Perhaps the biggest praise report I have is simply that God loves me enough to not let me stay where I’m at in my relationship with Him.
He has recently pointed out to me that I had painted Him into an image that does not look like Him at all. I had imagined Him as Someone who did not communicate – at least not clearly – with me. And those times I did think I heard Him, I did not necessarily expect Him to follow through with what I heard.
For the last week, I have been spending time with Him in my journal, listening long enough (with no agenda of my own) to let Him speak and fill a page or more with His thoughts alone.
This daily time with Him is my new “hustle” for this month, and I am excited to see what all He will speak with me in the days to come. It has already been so good to practice hearing His voice, and just being with Him without the list of requests and questions that are constant in my mind these days.
No matter what is to come in this month or the next or any after that, I am so happy to be more connected once again with the God that loves to speak to His children! There are good things ahead, and I look forward to hearing His thoughts, and thanking Him for His many blessings (whatever form they take) each step of the way!

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…