Is Your Church a Safe Place? Mine’s Not

Is your church a safe place? Mine’s not. 

Our doors are open wide. On any given Sunday, you might find yourself sitting next to an adulterer, a drug addict or a murderer.

At my church, people gossip, they get angry and hurt each other, and sometimes they harbor unforgiveness.

At my church, we have people with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression, and anxiety disorder.

There are people who self-harm, cheat on taxes, swear, smoke and watch ‘R’ rated movies.

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Winter’s Coming but Spring is Here II

Winter. A season of painful exchanges: flip-flops for bulky jackets, warm breezes for

cold floors, the sound of crickets for the hum of the furnace, which, let’s face it, is basically the sound of money burning.

But the exchange that weighs on my body like a wet, wool coat, is that of light for darkness. Each autumn day, the coming winter snatches another two or three minutes of sunlight, replacing it with night. We wake in the dark, go to work in the dark, come home in the dark, eat dinner in the dark….

As of today, there are 53 more days of sliding headfirst into the abyss.

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On Being a Girl | Late Night Ramblings

Tough. Sharp. Witty. Snarky. Capable. Independent. Powerful. Like super-powerful, machine gun, taser wielding, ninja powerful. In control. Emotionally guarded. Mysterious. Beautiful…in an average-girl-made-alluring-by-her-mystery-and-inaccessibility kind of way. Likes others, even loves others, but doesn’t need anyone.

That’s the girl I want to be: Ziva David, Sydney Bristow, Kate Austen, Veronica Mars.

Today I read an article in Smithsonian magazine about Amazon women, in which the author, Amanda Foreman, suggests that girls don’t want to be girls unless we have powerful, warrior-like heroes and role models, like Wonder Woman. That ruffled my feathers a bit. Maybe some girls want to be girly girls…soft, submissive, sweet, meek. And that’s OK, right?

 

 

Then I sat down and devoured season three of Veronica Mars and realized – I am that article. I want, have always wanted, to be Sydney, Ziva, Kate, Veronica. I mean, I even dressed up as the Black Widow for our Christmas Card for crying out loud:

Photo by nicholeq.wordpress.com

Photo by nicholeq.wordpress.com

So maybe there’s something to this Amazon woman deal after all. Because apparently I want to be Wonder Woman. (With more clothes on, thank you.)

So what’s that about? Power? Control?

Is it bad? Is it wrong to want to be strong and powerful? Maybe not.

But to want to be always in control? (Eve calling….)

To want to be independent? To need no one else?

There is this part of me that wants to shut out the whole world. To keep my heart all to myself. To keep my love for others wrapped up tightly inside, hidden away.

So that all my love is mine. And all my pain is mine. And all my fear is mine. And all my joy is mine. And all my grief is mine. And all my shame is mine. And all my everything….is mine.

And you can’t have it. You can’t see it or touch it or feel it or know it. You can’t have it. Because you can’t have me.

And there it is.

A cursed and wounded heart, frozen by freedom’s great imposter: independence.

But I want it so badly. Today, more than any other day, I feel it – how strong it is, this idol that rules my heart.

And so I ride fences and seek pleasures that harm me. Always wanting what I can’t get. Pawing, stamping the dusty earth along the rails…butting against walls that hold me in, chasing freedom. Freedom from pain and people and expectations and false hope.

But walking through this world alone is its own sort of prison…with transparent, icy walls that deceive me into believing that love is safer when it can’t touch me, that seeing is enough. Will I ever be able to let someone love me? Tell me, Don Henley, when will it be too late?

This idol…this me wanting me all to myself…it has to go. It has to go.

But how? How do I surrender who I am? The only thing I have…me?

But do I even have me or is it just an illusion, a lie? Because who am I anyway? How did I get here and how will I go?

I am not my own. I didn’t make me. I can’t keep me.

Or more astutely:

It is when I turn to Christ, when I give up myself to His personality, then I first begin to have a real personality of my own…There are no real personalities anywhere else. Until you have given yourself to Him you will not have a real self…Your real, new self will not come as long as you are looking for it. It will come when you are looking for Him. – CS Lewis

Oh the futility of my fight. On my own, I am nothing.

And I feel tired. And I don’t want Him to love me or comfort me BECAUSE I AM ANGRY. Angry like a 6 year old girl who just realized that someday she will die. That this life – this awesome, beautiful, terrible, wondrous life – will end. Will be snatched out, like a carpet, from under her feet, knocking her hard on the floor and stealing the breath from her lungs. No more blue sky and green trees and grass to tickle the feet and beaches to wander and dreams to dream and futures to plan.

And she lies there thinking, “Who is this God that gives and takes away?”

And the pain and betrayal run deep. So deep that even nail-scarred hands that gave everything burn. Because this place is raw. And the healing hurts.

And I wonder…who am I? Why did You make me? Why did you make me a girl? What does it even mean? Who should I want to be? How should I want to be? Is it safe to want to be anything? Or will you snatch that out from under me too?

Or will you take this broken, wounded, angry girl…and remake me into something beautiful? Something strong? Something good? Something free?

There are so many things I want to be, but Lord, can You make who I am?

 

When My Best Isn’t Good Enough

I hate being weak. I hate that I am not enough. I want to be more. To do more.

God, so much of what I want to do is for You. Why do You keep holding me down beneath Your mighty hand? You say You will lift me up in due time. When will that be? Can You point to a date on a calendar? Or give me a general idea? If it’s a long way off, my iPhone goes ahead like 20 years. And Due Time has got to be within the next 20 years. Right? God? Are you there?

In Jesus Calling, I’m instructed to rejoice in my weakness which, like a lodestone, draws me ever closer to God. Once upon a time those were encouraging words, but lately they sound a lot like this: blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.

What happens when I am aware of my desperate need for the Lord but I don’t feel any closer to Him?

What happens when He doesn’t answer my prayers? When I ask for strength and yet have so little? When I beg to feel Him, plead to hear from Him and yet…nothing?

I go to His word for nourishment but everything tastes like dry grass. Parched, I drag myself across burning sands only to find an empty creek bed. I wrap myself in the love of friends and family but my heart shivers through the sunless night.

And I recollect a truth carved in the walls of my soul…but it’s like recalling the lyrics of a song without remembering the melody.

I know He is with me but I can’t feel Him.

And so I recite the words, even though I can’t remember the tune:

Fear not, for I am with you.
     Be not dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you.
     I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.
Isaiah 41:10

And I believe…even though I don’t feel. And I hope even though I can’t see. And I choose trust instead of fear – trust in the God who promises to uphold me with His right hand.

His right hand – a symbol of strength in the scriptures. Not His left, but His right hand. Because God only gives us His best.

And I keep reading:

For I am the Lord your God
    who takes hold of your right hand
and says to you, Do not fear;
    I will help you. Isaiah 41:13

The Lord my God who takes hold of my right hand. Not my left, but my right hand – my strength. My best.

And I consider what life would be like with God holding my right hand. I imagine cooking without my right hand and typing without my right hand – and the imagining comes pretty easily because with chronic pain and tendonitis, I am sometimes forced to rest my hands, and wow…even in those brief hours, I hate it.

(Did I mention I hate being weak? Because I do. I hate it.)

Honestly, God taking hold of my right hand doesn’t sound particularly helpful. Surely, it would be easier if He held my left hand.

But then…would He even be helping me at all? Or would He just be something I hold onto to make me feel better – like a security blanket or the cross I wear around my neck?

Like an unsteady toddler who cries for help after falling down and then pushes her father away as soon as she’s back on her feet, I want Him to help me do it on my own.

But that’s not quite how it works, is it? God is not raising us to be independent. Rather, He’s calling us back from independence, into the freedom that comes in total dependence on Him.

And that means that sometimes He must take hold of us at our strongest places, limit us, slow us down.

Perhaps it’s the only way He can get me to stop trying to do it all on my own. In taking away the things I rely on – my endurance, my abilities, my intellect, my creativity, my spiritual insight, my energy, my confidence – He reminds me of the one thing that really matters: Him.

And I remember His strength that called light out of darkness, igniting the fire of countless suns and flinging them across space and time.

His strength that hurled the planets into motion with perfect precision, summoned beings out of the earth and rushed the wind of life into man. His strength that bore the crushing weight of humanity’s doom and under it, through it, forged a new way. His strength that ruptured the tight and binding prison of flesh, birthing new life in a dry and barren wasteland.

His strength. Which has always been….will always be…enough.

And so, confused and frustrated, weak and exhausted, I stop tugging and pulling and fighting and trying to wrench my hand away from His.

And in this moment, I surrender my best – which is never enough – so that He can give me His best. Which has always been….will always be…enough.

———————————————————-

The morning after I completed this post, Leroy Case preached about our God the “Star-breather.” His message was incredibly relevant to me, to this post, and at the end he shared a song with us. And now I am sharing it with you.

Already All I Need by Christy Nockels

 

 

No More How-to-live-a-good-Christian-life Books!

Last week a friend emailed me asking to borrow some books for her vacation. In her note she wrote something like this, “I want good, enjoyable fiction. I don’t want another book on how to live a good Christian life. I already have more of those than I can count.”

I thought, “Preach it, sister!”

Self-improvement books are burdensome. Because somewhere deep inside I know the truth: I can’t improve myself.

I have books stacked on my bay window, books lining the shelves in our basement, books piled on my nightstand, books overflowing onto the floor and books creeping under my bed…oh yeah, and books on my Kindle. And while some of them are fiction and poetry and science geeky kind of stuff, a whole lot of them are “how to live the good Christian life” books.

Which is interesting, because I’ve never liked how-to-be-a-better-kind-of-anything books. Actually, I may be the only parent in the history of modern parenting that hasn’t read a book on how to be a better parent. (“Ah, that explains it,” you remark to yourself. I can hear you!)

Despite my disdain for such books, they’ve still found their way into my home, like sugar ants crawling over the countertops in the springtime.

Sure, books like that can be helpful. Sometimes. But I can only think of two or three that have genuinely impacted my life. (Admittedly, my avoidance of such books may affect the odds.) Most of the time self-improvement books, even the Christian kind, wear me out. With every turn of the page, every latest idea, next step or new plan, I feel a heaviness descend upon me, and I am weighed down by could-haves and should-haves and have-tos and want-tos and before I know it I’m carrying 10 times the weight of the book on my back.

Books weigh a lot – just try moving a box of them – but self-improvement books are burdensome. Because somewhere deep inside I know the truth: I can’t improve myself.

None of us can. We can’t fix the brokenness we inherited nor mend the brokenness we cause. That’s why we need Jesus. Yesterday. Today. Every day.

I know there’s some verses out there on this topic…let’s see:

I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. John 15:5

Unless the LORD builds the house, the builders labor in vain…Psalm 127:1

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness. Matthew 23:27-28

Sadly, many self-improvement books are just instructions on how to whitewash ourselves. No wonder they’re burdensome! Any attempt at righteousness is more than we can bear.

I felt not only burdened but trapped, caught in the sticky web of do this and be that.

I can’t fix myself. I can’t improve myself. And I can’t even pretend very well. Because deep inside, I know…I know what’s deep inside. I know what I’ve done and I know how I think and I know what I fear and I know what I hate and I know that sooner or later, I’m going to screw up again. (And chances are it’ll be sooner.)

I’m not saying that every “how to have a good Christian life” book is worthless or that you should never read them. But if my friend feels this way and I feel this way, well, chances are that some of you feel this way too.

Last week, after reading my friend’s email, I realized just how much this self-improvement mentality was once again weighing me down. I felt not only burdened but trapped, caught in the sticky web of do this and be that. And I wasn’t even in the middle of a self-improvement book.

What does that tell you?

This self-improvement/life-improvement mentality pervades our atmosphere. It’s runs through the veins of our culture. There’s almost no escaping the madness. And yet there’s a way. There’s always a Way. Which leads me to my next point: self-improvement mentality keeps my focus on me and off of Jesus. And “me” is a small, murky, unpredictable place to be.

So while I’m not suggesting you throw out all those books, I do encourage you to throw off the weight of self-improvement, or life-improvement or whatever you call it. Just let it go. (Oh gosh, now I’ll be singing that song all night – by the way, a post on that movie is in the works.)

Now where were we…yes, let it go. No! Not the surrender to your curse and harm the whole kingdom kind of let it go! Let it go like surrender to God let it go. (Geez, I really need to finish that blog post.) Whoops! Went off the rails there a bit. But seriously….

Surrender to Him your feeble attempts at making yourself better, making your life better. Lay it all down. Again. But not because I say so. After all, this is NOT a self-improvement blog. In case the previous two paragraphs weren’t evidence enough of my questionable methods, let me just say it outright: I can’t make you better. I just happen to know Someone who can, Someone who will. Which is why I write a drive-my-readers-into-the-arms-of-God kind of blog, and hopefully make you smile while doing it. (Contrary to what you may think, my goal is not to drive you into His arms screaming and crying…but hey…if it works…)

So go to the Source. Surrender to Jesus because that’s what He says to do…over and over and over again. (Psalm 46:10Mat. 11:28-30, Prov. 3:5-6Ps. 37:7, Mark 14:35-36, Jer. 10:23)

And feel Him slip the burden off your back and free you from the tangled web of lies and wash you clean. Let Him hold you in his arms and quiet you with his love and rejoice over you with singing. (Zeph. 3:17) And let His song heal you. He’s the only one who can.

The Day I was Done with God

Some days – far more often than I would like to admit – I feel like God has pulled the rug out from under my feet. Or better yet, that I am Charlie Brown and God is Lucy, who’s just swiped the football away from me, again. I try and try and try and no matter what, I miss, I fail, I fall. And there I am, lying flat on my back, staring up at the sky shouting, “Really? Really?!!”

Oooohhh, can I get angry. I mean the breaking-things kind of angry. On my worst days, you can find me shaking my mental fist at God, silent screams reverberating in my gut, “I am doing my best here, God! I am trying! Why…do…you…keep…making…this…so…impossible?! Do you want me to fail?!”

But on the very worst day, I spat out something pretty much exactly like this: “You know what, God? That’s it. I’m done with You.”

Yes, I actually said that. (I shudder every time I tell this story.) And there’s more….

“You and me, God. We’re done. I’ve had it. I’m sick of you bailing on me, on my kids, on my family. So that’s it. No more. No more quiet times. No more prayer. No more me relying on you for anything. We. Are. Done.”

It’s awful, I know. Horrible, dreadful, treacherous. What was I thinking?! Well…I wasn’t.

In mother terminology, I was what we call OUTOFCONTROL. And I knew it. But that’s the thing with being OUTOFCONTROL, you can’t really help yourself.

I immediately braced for the death blow. Any second I would be struck by lightning…or hit by a bus, at least. I mean, you don’t say things like that and get away with it. In more mother terminology, I was cruisin’ for a bruisin’ and the cruise was over. Somebody get the wooden spoon, already!

Well, a few minutes later, still alive and breathing, I realized that my new plan actually had some practical implications. At the time, I was leading a women’s Bible study and co-directing a kids program at church. Oh yeah, kids! What about my kids?! I quickly determined that I would put up a good front; I would take the kids to church and perform all my nice, Christian duties. I would “pretend.” I would “play Christian.”

And so I did. I went on. I went on asking nothing from God. Giving nothing to God. Expecting nothing good because I deserved the worst. And surely the worst would come.

Several days passed without any catastrophic acts of divine retribution and I suddenly understood that such a fate could hardly be God’s worst. No. His worst wouldn’t be a bolt of lightning. His worst would be to just leave. And so I waited for Him to leave – for Him to leave me ALONE.

And so I waited for Him to leave – for Him to leave me ALONE.

What would it be like, I wondered? Would I know He was gone? Would my mind and soul, once awash in Light, suddenly go dark? Would my heart, once warmed by His ever-presence, turn cold and barren? Surely life without Him must be like life without air.

The days turned into weeks and still I waited.

Raging waters from angry clouds beat violently upon the earth, overflowing banks and uprooting trees. But after the storm squeezes dry the clouds and the wind runs out of breath, the waters begin to slow. Smoothing out and away, moving almost imperceptibly, they find their way home, around rocks and through mountains, over fields and through the rush, back into the lap of the ocean.

So too, riven lovers find themselves pulled again, as if by lodestone, into that familiar embrace.

And even the rebellious, petulant child, once again finds her little arms wrapped around her daddy’s neck, though his strong arms do the holding.

And so weeks later, to my own surprise, I found myself resting quietly in the lap of my heavenly Father. Perhaps because my own father left me so easily – and more than once, too – I wondered at the strangeness of this God who stayed even in the face of my betrayal.

Then He answered the question I dared not ask:

“You see, Nichole, you were done with Me, but I am not done with you.”

Praise the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits– who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s…

The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love…he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. 

As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust…but from everlasting to everlasting the LORD’s love is with those who fear him…Praise the LORD, O my soul! Psalm 103

CHRISTMAS TRADITION DOs & DON’Ts | DO Have Fun!

One of our favorite traditions is our family Christmas Card. For the most part, Christmas cards have been Doug’s responsibility. If it had been left up to me, we would never have sent a single one.  But for years, Doug faithfully picked out the cards, signed, addressed and mailed them.

In 2004, I wrote my first Christmas letter. That was year the Red Sox won the World Series for the first time in 86 years. (You can read part of it here as I resurrected it for the 2013 World Series win.) Every Christmas since then, card creation has been a sort of game where we try, as a family, to come up with something new and different to mail to family and friends.

DO Have Fun!

We have done letters like the one in 2004 and another one titled The Pits from 2010.

One year we purchased beautiful, decorative envelopes and mailed them out empty, but on the envelope flap we printed “What’s missing in your life this Christmas?” (We did, however, send traditional cards to people who’d lost loved ones that year.) Tip: Don’t have fun at the expense of others, especially at Christmas.

We’ve sent family photos. Some traditional:

Traditional for us, I guess | Photo by nicholeq.wordpress.com

Traditional for us, I guess | Photo by nicholeq.wordpress.com

Some not:

Even superheroes need a Savior! (That's what we wrote on the card) | Photo by nicholeq.wordpress.com

Even superheroes need a Savior! (That’s what we wrote on the card) | 2013 Christmas Photo by nicholeq.wordpress.com

And one year, we sent a handmade, paper snowflake to everyone on our list. THAT was interesting.

And some years, just to keep everyone on their toes, we don’t send anything at all.

After a great year, we can feel a bit of Christmas card performance anxiety. It can be hard to live up to the previous year…like the year we dressed up like, well…see for yourself:

This started out as a family photo spoof gift for my mom and ended up being our Christmas card. | Photo by nicholeq.wordpress.com

This started out as a family photo spoof gift for my mom and ended up being our Christmas card. | Photo by nicholeq.wordpress.com

We signed our names “The Usual Suspects.” It took some people days to figure out who we were, especially because my brother and his wife were also in the photo.

The point is, we have fun. Lots of it. Sure, there’s fighting involved and yelling and usually some tears – (Just ask my mom who has been privy to some of our behind the scenes action.) – but mostly, there’s fun. At least, that’s what I choose to remember.

Don’t you love watching your kids enjoy life with some good clean fun? I think that God, our Father, probably feels the same way. So please remember, even at Christmas you are allowed to have fun…so have some!

CHRISTMAS TRADITION DOs & DON’Ts | DON’T Fail to Consider the Consequences

Warning: When starting a new tradition, consider the consequences.

When our first daughter was still our only daughter, I had this grand idea to start an advent calendar. I crafted together (translation: it didn’t involve sewing) a fabric wall hanging with a large cross made of 24 two-inch square pockets.

Then I filled each pocket with a 5¢, 10¢ or 25¢ trinket (a sticker, a plastic car, a bracelet). Every morning in December, my preschooler would wake up, run to the calendar and pull out a surprise. She loved it!

I, however, failed to anticipate that this tradition would morph into something a bit more complex and a lot more expensive when (a) we had more children and (b) those children were no longer interested in stick-on earrings from Party City.

Things started to unravel, quite literally, when the wall-hanging began to fall apart. Just as my glue gun rescue flopped, I found, at the Christmas Tree Shops, a wooden, hand-painted calendar with little compartments and swinging doors for only $25. Which could be a good thing, or not, depending on your perspective.

As the girls got older, the little bitty gifts became harder to find and more expensive too!

I know, I know, Christmas isn’t about the gifts or having fun or keeping traditions. Yes, yes, Advent Conspiracy and radical living and turn your Christmas upside down and all that. But toss it! We really like this tradition and we are keeping it, so there!!!

My first compromise was to offset the cost of more expensive trinkets by filling half of the compartments with candy. (If you get on my case about sugar and trading one evil for another, I will hurt you. So just stop. Desperate times, my friend. Desperate times!) Not only does this save money, but grabbing a bag of Hershey Kisses takes far less time than tracking down 12 miniature presents.

I also make a point to include things the girls actually need (that is “need” in the first world sense, of course), like sticky notes and hair ties; thus not wasting money on useless junk that just ends up in the trash.

I know some of you are squirming in your seats and you want to know: Do I ever worry about obscuring Christmas’s big message? Or that I’m encouraging a consumer mindset? Sure I do, sometimes.

Actually, back when I worried about, well, everything, I added a Bible verse to each calendar pocket.

Scripture I found still  tucked away in one of the pockets Photo by nicholeq.wordpress.com

Scripture I found still tucked away in one of the pockets | Photo by nicholeq.wordpress.com

This assuaged my guilt for a short time…a really short time…like the first night. Because when morning came around, well…Silly Puddy or Bible verse? Chocolate or reading? I wanted to make the advent calendar more spiritual but instead I made the Bible less fun. As if the Bible doesn’t already have enough competition.

All because I had this irrational fear that my kids would grow up not knowing the true meaning of Christmas. I say irrational because what child who attends an evangelical church each Sunday, learns about baby Jesus in Sunday school, visits the local live nativity and bakes Jesus a birthday cake every year, turns to their parents at the age of maturity and asks with wide eyes, “What?! Christmas is about Jesus?!

(Well, besides the Skit Guys.)

I got over that the day I asked my seven year old, for the 400th time, what Christmas is really about and she answered with a “Puh-leeez Mom” eye-roll while grumbling the name Jesus. Doesn’t that just warm a mother’s heart?

My kids aren’t perfect but they love Jesus and I don’t want to smother that fragile fire with my wet blanket.

Believe it or not, I didn’t give up the advent calendar. Sometimes, we Christians can be a little uptight (shocker), getting so wrapped up in “doing it right” that we suck the fun out of everything. Heaven forbid our kids start to associate our stuffiness with God!

My kids aren’t perfect but they love Jesus and I don’t want to smother that fragile fire with my wet blanket. Besides, even people who grow up with very little can develop greedy, selfish attitudes. And if that doesn’t answer your question satisfactorily, please reread paragraph six.

Now back to my point. If you want to start a new tradition, learn from my mistakes and consider the consequences. What will it look like in two, five or 15 years? Traditions are difficult to give up, especially when involving children.

Remember that one time you made potato pancakes for your kid’s birthday and the next year he was like “But you always make me potato pancakes on my birthday!” and he was like 3 and couldn’t even remember his last birthday? You get the picture.

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Thankfulness | Searching for God as for Hidden Mickeys…er…Treasure

Wall art in Morocco, EPCOT | Photo by nicholeq.wordpress.com

During a recent trip to Disney World, our family hunted day and night for Hidden Mickeys – symbolic representations of Mickey Mouse in the iconic three-circle shape, inserted subtly in the design of rides, attractions and artwork throughout the park. And we found them: created by white paint stains on a desk in Spaceship Earth, in the paintings along the Maharajah Jungle Trek in Animal Kingdom, as a three-dimensional object formed out of metal bands in a Living with the Land water tank, in the mosaic walls of The Coral Reef restaurant and more.

At The Coral Reef | Photo by nicholeq.wordpress.com

The only reward for discovering a Hidden Mickey is the excitement and satisfaction you experience upon finding one. And yet, in a park that offers some of the best entertainment in the world, our family couldn’t get enough of this game. We’d be zipping along on some ride and one of us would point and shout, “Hidden Mickey!” while the others craned their necks, trying to catch a glimpse of the shape before being whisked away. We were treasure hunting.

Maybe, like me, you love treasure hunting: searching for something hidden, something hard to find, or maybe even something that’s right before your eyes but if you really pay attention you realize it’s more than you thought…more than a paint stain…more than a few random pieces of metal.

Some of you may insist this desire stems from our need to hunt for food or what-not. Snore. Treasure hunting is about more than survival. It’s about finding something valuable, precious, unique or rare.

A couple of years ago, I read the book One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp. (Check out her blog aholyexperience.com.) In her book, she writes, rather poetically, about the power of thankfulness – but not in a trite “count your blessings and be happy” kind of way. By sharing from her own life journey and study of the Word, she illustrates that even in the face of great difficulty, we can find things for which to be thankful. And that in gratitude, there lies great power…power to release, heal, transform…because “thanksgiving…always precedes the miracle.” (p.35)

Her book inspired me to begin my own gratitude journal, writing down things for which I am thankful. First came the obvious, like family, God, shelter, food; then came crocuses in spring, warm pajamas, books, strawberries, hot showers, sunsets in Cape Breton, finding sea glass with the girls, eating popsicles with the family during a break from yard work, licorice tea, butterflies migrating through our yard, lemonade, thunderstorms, the root canal that brought relief, a spontaneous hike with a friend, a full night’s sleep, medicine for a sick daughter away at college and caught in a blizzard, Anne of Green Gables, and on and on and on.

When practicing thankfulness and gratitude, life itself becomes a treasure hunt, a search for the valuable, precious, unique and rare.

One sunny spring day, as I stood in the driveway with hundreds of little helicopter seeds from our maple tree swirling in the air around me, I thanked God for the beauty of his creation. A sense of childlike wonder filled my being and I smiled with inexplicable joy…

Hidden Mickey - Thunder Mountain

Hidden Mickey, Thunder Mountain Railroad | Photo from Wikipedia

On some days, I feel like life is mostly about losing…losing everything…losing everyone. And in some ways, that’s true. Life is loss. And I hurt. My girls grow up and out and away from me. And my grandparents pass away. And family gets busy and sometimes pain divides us. Even my body and mind betray me and I can’t stand the skin I’m in. How can I escape myself? The pain is painful and the emptiness feels like a black hole and I think, Why? Why God? Why so much loss? So much letting go?

And then I remember that every loss, every emptiness, is space for Him to enter, so that what was once barren can be filled again. Thankfulness lets Him in and I am filled. 

Not because I made a list. Not because I’ve had good experiences. Not even because, as most Americans, I have more than many ever will.

I am content because God has everything. Or more importantly, because God is everything. At least, He is everything that matters.

I am not saying that God and His gifts are one and the same. Rather, His gifts are an expression of who He is. By giving, He opens a doorway to the greater gift: Himself. Our gratitude lets Him in.

And then, with our thanksgiving, we give Him ourselves. It’s all we really have to offer Him anyway. And it’s exactly what He came for.

Maharajah Jungle Trek Mural, Animal Kingdom | Photo by nicholeq.wordpress.com

So what if every day we hunted for God’s hidden treasures like hunting for Hidden Mickeys? Could we find ourselves driving down the road with our family, pointing and shouting, “Look at the sun on the river!” …or opening the windows on a rainy night and whispering, “Shhh….can you hear the rain on the tree tops?” and savoring the scent of wet pavement…or hearing a baby wailing in the store and thinking, “The sound of new life.” …or holding the door for an elderly man, even though you’re in a hurry, and remembering that he is worth your time…could we?

Could we stop to ponder what those gifts tell us about our Father God? Could we thank Him and be filled, not with stuff or feelings, but with Him, very God Himself?

As I stood in my driveway, caught in a whirlwind of helicopters and giddy with joy, I marveled at God’s handiwork, how he designed the seeds to fly and the wind to carry them and the soil to nourish them. I wondered at His ability and desire to create such varied and complex life. I soaked in the warmth of a sun that burns at His command. And in that moment, I knew Him.

He gave and opened the way. My gratitude let Him in. With thanksgiving, I gave Him myself.

And then a miracle happened.

I knew Him.

I know Him.

And knowing Him is the greatest treasure of all.

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I think the following song, 10,000 Reasons by Matt Redman, (one of my favorites) beautifully captures the joy of thankfulness: