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:

YOLO or YOLOL ~ A Post for the New Year

I admit it. I had to Google YOLO to find out what it means. (I guess I really am almost 40.)

YOLO: You Only Live Once.

True enough. I really don’t want to debate reincarnation in this post, so let’s leave it at that for now.

You Only Live Once. Like many catch phrases, YOLO can inspire us.

Of course, some people just use it as an excuse to act like an idiot.

That’s the way with words. They’re powerful, but the direction of that power depends on the meaning we give them.

After reading the Facebook debates about YOLO – is it about getting drunk or skydiving, making your life count or experiencing everything possible – I began to wonder…is there a better motto to live by? One that captures the essence of YOLO but with more lasting impact?

Not that I’m a big “motto to live by” person. Because, really, most mottos are formulas and most formulas don’t survive the tests of life. If we had formulas, we wouldn’t need God.

Anyway…I was mulling it over (yes, I said “mulling”) and here’s what I got – I mean it literally popped into my head:

YOLOL. You Only Leave One Legacy.

Isn’t that a better perspective? If you’re really going to make this life count, forget about living for the moment, feeding your selfish desires, amassing a fortune or making a name for yourself. And consider your legacy.

I believe that as a culture we’re in danger of forgetting what it means to leave a legacy. We live selfishly, haphazardly blazing a trail that future generations will have to navigate. What are we leaving them? What will be their inheritance?

We spend money in the hopes of getting through the week, the month or the next debt ceiling increase.

We spend time – on the computer, the TV, at the amusement park (umm…guilty!) – because we’re tired and just want a little something for ourselves…right now.

We spend energy, talent and gifts and when we don’t see results, we get discouraged. Because that track plays over and over again in our minds: You’re wasting your time! Life is short! You Only Live Once!

But the thing is, making a difference takes time. Often more time than this life offers us. And that’s where the legacy part comes in.

Our family just spent a week in Disney World.

Have you any idea of the reach, influence and extent of Walt Disney’s legacy? From animation to movies to music to clothing to Broadway to amusement parks to agriculture to technology to philanthropy to I don’t even know what else, Disney is doing it and they’re doing it all over the world.

Walt Disney started out with nothing and every time he found success, he leveraged it to try something new. For a wealthy man, he sure was broke a lot – mortgaging everything he and his family members had multiple times. He could have left his success in the bank, put up his feet and enjoyed the good life. But Walt never stopped dreaming, because he never stopped thinking about the future…and the generations to come.

In 1966, before construction began on Walt Disney World Resort, Walt died. He only lived once. But just look at his legacy.

Recently, a missionary visited our church. He and his family serve a people who are very “closed” to the gospel. And naturally, this family often feels discouraged. They live in a hut in Africa, walk to a well for water, grow vegetables, dig latrines, fight malaria, parasites, cultural challenges and spiritual battles. All for what? The villagers still practice Islam and witchcraft and polygamy and spousal abuse.

But they found encouragement in the sacrifices of other missionaries. Missionaries with stories like Nate Saint, who, in the beginning of his mission to the Waodani people of Ecuador, was brutally murdered by the very ones he longed to reach with the gospel of Christ.

To some, Nate’s life and death may appear futile. But just look at his legacy: Despite their grief, Nate’s family stayed in Ecuador and today, approximately one in six Waodani are believers. Nate’s son, Steve, considers the Waodani his family.

Jesus lived a mere 30 something years on Earth. He was conceived out of wedlock, poor and nothing special to look at. He was tortured, nailed to a tree and mocked by those He came to save. He suffered the agony wrought by all humanity’s sin, endured the rejection of his Father and paid a penalty undeserved. He died a criminal’s death and was buried in a borrowed tomb.

He left behind a handful of confused followers including His mother, a formerly demon-possessed woman and some guys who were so freaked out for their own safety, they locked themselves away in the second floor of someone’s home.

At first glance this doesn’t look like a successful approach to the whole YOLO thing.

But just look at His legacy.

YOLOL.

What’s yours going to be?

Disneyland vs. Disney World

By now you all know how our family loves Disney World. I actually think, that if given the chance, I would visit every year. My dream vacation, aside from this cross country road trip, is to spend 2 (maybe 3) full weeks in Disney, staying inside the park and seeing everything at a reasonable, enjoyable pace. Disney always feels like a genuine escape; a place one can forget everything beyond the borders and just have fun.

Over the years, I have heard much commentary on the difference between Disney World and Disneyland. Mostly I have been told that the Land is nothing comparing the World and that if you are going to go, you should just go to Disney World. After my first visit to the Land, I see the reasoning behind this sentiment. Disneyland is what I would call “Disney Light” – same great taste but a little less filling. Yet for some families, this may not be a bad thing.

First, as most people know, Disneyland is much smaller than Disney World. Disney World has four major theme parks – Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios – and two water parks – Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon. While Disneyland consists of a mere two parks: Disneyland (equivalent to the Magic Kingdom) and California Adventure, a sort of mish-mash of the World’s other three parks.

 A smaller park disappoints in some ways, as there are fewer rides, shows and dining options. Also, because of its sheer magnitude, Disney World possesses an intangible power not present at Disneyland. In Orlando, one feels overcome by and absorbed into a completely new world, a place apart from time and free from the trials. Disneyland does not have this effect.

 The most shocking moment for us was when we entered Disneyland and looked up Main Street toward Sleeping Beauty’s Castle. At first I thought the parks centerpiece was missing! Sleeping Beauty’s castle is a mere dwarf compared to Cinderella’s Castle in Orlando.

Note its height in relation to the trees and Walt Disney's statue!

 Doug and Jacquelyn also mentioned that some of the rides, particularly the roller coasters, were disappointing, slow and less elaborate. Other rides, however, like Pirates and Small World were longer and more detailed. Though some people, like my step dad, would not consider extra time on It’s a Small World a good thing!

 A smaller park does have many advantages, though; and families looking for a “Disney Light” experience may find the Land a little more digestible. While there are still many attractions in Anaheim – too many to see in one day – they all reside closely together. This increases the sense of crowding (which I hate) but also decreases the amount of walking (yay!). A more compact park also means that you can see more in less time, particularly if you approach the park strategically. Another bonus: Disneyland and California Adventure sit directly across the street from one other, making park hopping easy and efficient.

The smaller more condensed layout extends to the area surrounding the park as well. At the Land there are only three hotels within the resort and they are mega-expensive. No value resorts here. But a slew of independent hotels surround the park for relatively reasonable rates. We stayed at a Sheraton outside the park (using mile points) and we were only a 10-15 minute walk from the park entry. All hotels appear to offer a shuttle service as well. For $13/day for the four of us, we used the shuttle service, which ran every 15-20 minutes. Those of you who have been to the World know that whether you are inside or outside that park, travel time is always a minimum of 20 minutes and can be more than 30 minutes if transferring from one mode of transportation to another. (The only exception is when visiting the theme park your hotel is based in; for example if you are staying at a Magic Kingdom resort you have a short ride or walk to that park, but visiting other parks typically takes much longer.)

So if you are interested in Disney but don’t think that you or your children can handle the magnitude of the World, Disneyland may be a good option for you. I think you can see all of both parks in two days at a fast pace, three days at a moderate pace and 4 days at a more leisurely pace.

The shows we saw at the Land were equal in quality to those in the World, and the smaller park enabled closer viewing. For the most part, this made the viewing much better. However, at the Land, “prime viewing” for night time shows must be bought or fast passed. For example, at Fantasmic one must purchase a pricey dessert tray ($59/$49 person) to gain entry to the closest sidewalks. For World of Color, a person must either eat dinner at an expensive restaurant ($40/person), purchase a picnic dinner ($15/person) or wait in a line (up to 90 minutes) for “fast pass” reserved seating. Unfortunately, unless one resigns to watch from the side or back, (which distorts the images projected on the water), viewing for World of Color is entirely reserved. The Land even has reserved seating for parades!!! I think this method is probably the product of limited space combined with L.A. mentality – out here, people seem accustomed to paying for what they want.

I personally missed the freedom of open space and the “first come, first served” mentality at Disney World. There, even the cheapest among us can stake out prime viewing early in the evening. Don’t get me wrong! We have paid for our share of dinners at Epcot’s Rose ‘n Crown, but that was because we chose a nice, leisurely dinner in front of the fireworks; not because we had no other options. Perhaps, if we had another day to spend in Anaheim, we would have waited for the fast passes or bought the $15 dinner; but with such limited time, we opted for the 10:30 showing of Fantasmic. At this time of night, the crowds were thinner and we were ready for a rest. We did not have reserved seating but we were just behind them with a perfect view. Strangely enough, this was our first Fantasmic experience and we loved it!

 The only other difference that stands out to me is the general lack of Disney camaraderie at the Land. At the World one has a sense of being part of something grand, even a sense of community. Don’t expect to do very much pin trading in Anaheim and “cast members” are not nearly as cheerful, magical or “Mickey-fied” as those at Disney World. (Though, our waitress was wonderful!) Basically, the Land has more of a general amusement park feel. As Doug put it, “Disneyland is not quite Six Flags, but it’s definitely not Disney World!”

So here’s my summary of recommendations:

1)If you are going to be in L.A. and you love Disney, go! It’s worth it!

2)If you are looking for a “Disney Light” experience, go! This is the perfect place to get your feet wet.

3)If you want a genuine Disney experience, the whole shebang, go to Orlando. It’s the real thing, baby!

CC Day 8 – Yellowstone Part II

I have decided that Yellowstone is nature’s Disney World. The park is so large (3472 sq miles) that it has been divided into numerous smaller areas, such as Tower Roosevelt and Mammoth Hot Springs, just as Disney (only 40 sq miles) divides its parks into regions like Fantasy Land, Frontier Land, etc. Each area contains themed lodging, dining and gift shops while boasting multiple attractions that people travel to and from throughout the day. Yellowstone and Disney both require tremendous amounts of walking and some waiting, resulting in exhilarated yet exhausted children and adults. Both parks are meticulously maintained (with one exception – more on that later) and beautiful in their own regard – a feast for the eyes, ears, mind and heart.

 You nature enthusiasts out there probably think I have lost my mind so here are some important differences: First and most obviously, Yellowstone features spectacles of nature, not the creativity of man, engendering awe, solemnity, wonder and even humility. Also, while at Disney one may wait for the Spectra Magic Parade but at Yellowstone people stake out a seat in front of Old Faithful an hour in advance of nature’s performance. (That’s what we did! Doug even ran to get us lunch and we all picnicked around the geyser as we waited.)  Transportation at America’s first national park is up to you (unless you sign up for a guided tour) and, due to its vastness, this means lots and lots of driving. Most drives offer beautiful views, which often include wild life, such as buffalo, moose, elk and more. But this is no Animal Kingdom. You’re in their territory, now; no fences between you and that Grizzly Bear so be careful! The facilities at Yellowstone are appropriately rustic but well maintained. I  believe they offer too few bathrooms; and while the restrooms at information centers and gift shops are clean, the bathroom huts at attraction sites are really just glorified – and unclean – outhouses. This is my only complaint 🙂

 As many of you know, Disney World is one of my very favorite places. I laugh at myself as I admit that, because I am typically averse to commercialization and the like. My love for Disney is a mystery, even to me (except that it really may be the happiest place on earth!). NOW I have two favorite parks – man-made and God-made. I feel my life has reached what others might call a “zen-like” balance. Aaahhhh.

 Yesterday we finished up at Yellowstone by visiting the geyser basin, home to hundreds of geysers, colorful hot springs and bubbling mud holes. To describe them in writing would be futile. I have included an aerial picture of the Grand Prismatic Spring. (Just in case you are wondering, we didn’t take it!) The long, thin, tan colored line to the left of the colorful water,  is the boardwalk we walked along. This is just one of the many amazing natural wonders we witnessed. If a trip to Yellowstone is out of the question for you, I recommend a Google image search so you can see more!

On the way to our hotel in Pocotello, Idaho we drove through Grand Teton National Park, ate pizza in Jackson Hole and watched the sunset over the Idaho countryside. One really interesting fact about the land out here is how elevated everything is; even in the valleys we are a mile higher that those of you back home in CT. Just imagine what the mountains would look like from sea level!