Surprises!! This week we have four great posts on the Beauty of Surprise.
In the movie Finding Forrestor, Sean Connery's character, Mr. Forrestor, gives his young prodigy some advice for wooing a girl's heart: give an unexpected gift at an unexpected time.
Perhaps this is not just good advice for wooing hearts; maybe it is good advice for all who want to show their love and care for others. Giving gifts when we are supposed to--at birthdays, Christmas, and life events (wedding, baby showers)--is nice. Giving people the things they ask for and need at these times is also nice. Yet, giving an expected gift at an expected time lacks the power of surprise gift.
The gifts I remember most throughout my life have always been the ones I didn't expect. My dad once gave my his Bible, a totally unexpected Christmas gift. My mom and dad together gave me the first piece of jewlery my dad gave to my mom when I turned 13. I've had two people cancel loans after I borrowed money from them and before I could pay it back to them. Someone else gave me flowers for no reason. My brother cleaned the apartment when I didn't ask him too. And so the list goes . . . both significant and insignificant items. . . but the gifts that shine greatest in my treasure trove of memories are the ones which were unexpected.
Since God's ways are higher than our ways and His thoughts so much better and wiser than ours, life is full of unexpected gifts at unexpected times. My parents were given a son 13 years after their second daughter (and after being told my a doctor they would probably have no more children)! I find myself speaking Chinese and living in Taiwan when 10 years ago I hated foreign languages and I didn't even know where Taiwan was on the globe. My sister recently married a man she met on a crime scene (they both work in law enforcement). And so the list contines. Unexpected gifts. Surprises by the Master.
But God's love and peace and grace and mercy also take me by surprise. There are days when I find myself joyful when there are no material, physical reasons to be happy. At times like this I find myself surprised by joy. There are times in life when by all outward apperances I should be a nervous wreck, yet because of God's grace my heart and mind are at total rest and void of worries. At times like this I am surpised by peace. There are times when I should be loney and bored but instead I am content. At times like this I find myself surprised by His great love for me. At other times, I am surprised by how the Holy Spirit works in me or how He works through me. And so the list contines. Unexpected gifts. Surprises by the Master.
Really, I suppose I should not be surprised by these things. But, in all honesty, I always am. God's goodness and grace are neverending sources of surprises.
So, perhaps the beatuty of a surprise is in it's unexpected nature. For, you see, there is no better way to woo a young woman's heart than with an unexpected gift at an unexpected time.
This post was submitted to the Carnival of Beauty sponsored by Sallie at A Gracious Home. This week the theme is The Beauty of Surprises and is hosted by me right here at Following an Unknown Path. Join us next week for The Beauty of Reaching Out.
I spent my Thanksgiving holiday with a bunch of American friends--all Southern Baptist, all missionaries (either with the IMB or tentmaking)--here in southern Taiwan.
It is an annual gathering. This was my third year to celebrate Thanksgiving with this same group. We eat yummy "Thanksgiving foods" and then fellowship and play games. This year I played Hotels and Spoons with the "younger generation."
I missed my family and being with them, but God has provided a place of belonging away from home. I am very thankful to be a part of such a great group of believers who love and care about each other and have a passion for sharing the Good News with the people of Taiwan.
The above photo is of the view of the sunsetting over downtown Kaohsiung from where we were meeting. How I love this place!!
The Carnival of Beauty has been slowing declining in number of participants. I am one of the many who have quit contribuiting regularly. :(
However, this week the CoB has returned to my blog!! The topic? The Beauty of Surprises!! Yea--surprise!
If you have never participated before, please consider doing so; if you've kinda drifted away like me, please consider participating again! Rules to follow and previous CoBs can be found here.
Regardless, the Carnival will be here this week. Please email me submissions.
When I was depressed, I was numb. I felt nothing--I wasn't sad; I wasn't happy; I wasn't angry. I just had no feelings at all. When I was coming out of depression last spring, thankfulness was the first emotion I felt. I rememeber it very clearly. Some stanger helped me find the room I needed--in fact it was her job (she worked at the help desk)--and thankfulness flooded my heart. I remember thinking, "wow, so this is what thankfulness feels like." I celebrated the fact that I had an emotion--it was a powerful moment.
Psalm 107:22 says "And let them offer sacrifices of thanksgiving, and tell of his deeds in songs of joy!" Psalm 50:23 says that "The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies [God]." Scripture
even commands us to "offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving." We are
to enter his gates and come into his presense with
thanksgiving; we are commanded to "magnify him with thanksgiving" and "proclaim
thanksgiving aloud, and telling all [His] wondrous deeds." Paul tells us we should be "giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ."
But a thankful heart--one that is always offering the sacrifices of thanksgiving to the Lord for everthing--does not come naturally. It is like the proclaimation signed by Abraham Lincon in 1863 says:
To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God.
I like Thanksgiving. I like that we, as a nation, set apart one whole day "as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens" and offer "up the ascriptions justly due to Him" for "the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy."
But, as I begin to list the things I am thankful for . . . I begin to realize--all over again--that it is a a list that never stops. Everything I have and all that I am is because of God, who He is and all He has done. I have nothing, am nothing, without Him. Tokens of divine grace fill my everyday, and I take them for granted since I am constantly enjoying them. I am prone to forget their source.
I am not going to list here all the things I am thankful for because the list would be OH SO HUGE. I'll keep that list in my paper journal. But, I will be back tomorrow to list the answers to prayers that I have seen in this past year so far.
Happy Thanksgiving (even if I am a day late in telling you on my time)!!
Welcome to a special installment of "where i park," where I also show you how I get home after shopping.
Here is the third installment of my random series about where I park my moped here in Taiwan:
Exhibit C: I park in an outdoor, moped only parking lot.
Actually, I did chose this photo of an outdoor parking lot not because of the parking, but to show you how I get home from Costco with all my purchases.
I have been blessed with the gift of knowing exactly how much will fit into my special Costco bag, so that it can still fit on my moped between my legs. Now, fit in the bag on the moped and be able to be carried by Amanda are not exactly the same thing. :)
Check out Other Installments of Where I Park:
Glasses in Taiwan are CHEAP. I love shopping for glasses here. In fact, for the past 7 years all my glasses have come from Taiwan. But, I have always used a prescription from the States. And, in fact, my prescription hasn't changed in over 10 years--right at -3.50 for both eyes.
(Oh, yeah, just FYI, here in Taiwan--everyone knows their eye glasses prescription. It is often a small talk conversation starter. They are always shocked that I am like "I don't know. I don't care. As long as my Doc knows it's all good.")
Anywho, for a few months now, I've been feeling like things are getting a little blurry in the distance. I've just kinda blinked a few times, then ignored it. But, these past two weeks it's gotten even more noticable. My eyes are constantly adjusting while I am driving. I can't read street signs until I pass them. All neon signs (and trust me there are tons of those here) all have rough, blurry edges around them. It's enough to give one a headache--oh right that's me--have had a headache for two weeks now.
So, Friday I quit ignoring it. I went into an eye glasses shop. The eye doc (we'll call him ED) uses a machine to find out what prescription I might need, then uses another machine to find out the strength of my current glasses. ED puts the new prescription in those funny little eye doc glasses, "Is that more clear?" I, of course, say "yes," but then I add "but still not clear enough."
ED changes a few of the lens, making it more clear. He then proceeds to tell me that my new prescription is only slightly stronger than my old one, implying I am being over sensitive about my sight. I tell him all my vision woes and that I really do think it is time for a new prescription. This is the conversation that follows:
ED: "so, is this more clear?"
Me: "yes. it is."
ED: "so is more clear better?"
Me: (in my head "uhhh . . . duh!" but instead polietly say) "the clearer, the better"
He has me walk around the store and look out the window. I tell him that things down the street are still not so clear in my left eye. He changes a few more things, and we repeat the process two or three more times.
Finally, when I am pleased with the clarity, we sit down to order the new lenses, he tells me something very complicated, and I don't get it. So, I tell ED one of my favorite Chinese phrases "ting bu dong" (which means, "I hear you, but I don't understand you").
ED then tries again, I get the idea better, but am still not completely sure . . . But, I do know that my glasses will have different prescriptions on each lens--I am guessing becuase I have an astigmatism. Anyway, because "[I] like to see clearly" he told me that he will do this for me. I also got the point that ED doesn't usually do three different prescriptions on one lens for someone whose astigmatism is as low/small as mine, but again "since [I] want to see clearly" he is willing to do this for me.
Uh, yeah. Seeing clearly is important!
**Addendum: Picked up my old glasses with my new lenses tonight! Wow! The world just looks better--crisp, shiny, and CLEAR!!!! I love it. Now, for my headaches and tired eyes to go away!
this morning, as I did a quick once over--just looking one last time to make sure everything looked ok before I walked out the door--I noticed something. One of my hairs in the front was sticking out. It didn't even look like my hair really--maybe it was a string. So, I pulled.
Ouch! It was a hair. It was grey. It was straight!!!
I know I've got lots of grey hair sprinkled thoughout--at least that is what my kind younger sister likes to
taunt me with tell me. But, please, oh please . . . I hope they all aren't straight!
I don't know what I'd do if all my curls went straight as they greyed.
I haven't shown off the cutest puppy in the world--that just happens to follow me everywhere I go--in a while, so I thought I would.
Isn't he just too cute?
I am very, very thankful for Gilby being a part of my life. He makes me smile, gives me company, and is always happy to see me.
(Check out things that others are thankful for over at Rebecca's.)
20 years ago, I was 8 years old.
I was in third grade; Mrs. Robinson was my teacher. It was the first time, I had to sit in desks that were in straight rows and keep all my books on the rack underneath my chair. She was strict, and I was always scared of her. She was the only teacher that ever put my name on the board. The crime? My papers were not signed by a parent.
I lived in a little farming town in Arkansas--called Hazen. Mom taught me and Sarah the words "perpendicular" and "parallel" from the relationship of the rows of rice to the road we were driving on. High school football was a big deal. All classes from kindergarten to 12th grade were in one location. We walked to school.
I had a great little dog named Candie. She often
followed us to school.
We lived in the parsonage just steps from the front door of the church plant. The church building had a fire escape slide from the second floor--this two-story slide was little girl's dream come true.
I enjoyed riding my bike all over our side of town. Sometimes, my mom would let me ride it to the little store. For a special treat, if I had enough money, I would buy a Hersey's bar and let each little square of milk chocolate melt one by one in my mouth.
Sometimes I'd buy a root beer. One of the ladies at our church always teased me about drinking beer. I never understood what she was joking about nor why it was funny.
I wore great big bows in my hair--that my mom made for me. We'd only just discovered the extent of my natual curls. I wore lots of shirts to my knees with strechy stirrup-pants of many colors. I started wearing glasses that year. My mom didn't like the ones I choose, but let me have them anyway since I insisted. I wanted them because they were similar to my best friend's glasses.
My best friends were Tracey Foot, Julie Sims, Kim Baliey, and Loulette. We were going to be best friends forever. (I've not spoken to any of them since 1988.)
My sister was in first grade. We played with our Barbies and My Little Ponys for hours on end. The only TV I can remember watching was the Cosby show on Thursday nights--if we were already ready for bed before the show started at 8:00pm. Oh, and we also watched cartoons till 10 on Saturdays.
I loved life. I loved my family and my dog. I loved learning, being creative, and making people happy. I think that little naive girl full of hope and wonder still lives somewhere deep inside me.
But, most importantly, 20 years ago, in 1986, I confessed Jesus as Lord for the first time and followed him in believer's baptism.
I am thankful for such a fun, peaceful, structured, sheltered childhood. I am thankful for happy memories. But, I am even more thankful for salvation, for a gracious Savior who forgives the sins of little girls who are not as innocent as they appear.
I teach one evening class--Listening Practice for two hours on Monday nights.
At the end of class tonight, I was calling roll. Last-last week I gave a quiz and used the quiz to take roll. Last week, I returned the quiz and used it, plus my powers of observation, to take roll.
So, tonight I called roll for the first time in two weeks . . .
Me: "Ken, here. LiLi, here. Ben, here. Jerry?"
Students (in Chinese): "He dropped."
Me as I cross out his name: "Buh-Bye Jerry. Peggy, here. Anna, here. Karen?"
Students (in Chinese): "She is taking the semester off."
Me as I cross out her name: "Buh-bye, Karen. Mick, not here. DaDa, here. Barbie?"
Students (in Chinese): "She died."
Me: "She is dead?!?"
My students then pantomimed a car accident and showed me the nonverbal Taiwanese hand gesture for death.
Me (as my heart sank deep into my stomach): "Really?!? No one told me."
Students: "Yes; two weeks ago."
It felt weird finishing the roll call. It seemed so trivial compared to the news that one of my students has passed away. Three weeks ago she sat right over there in that seat--happy, healthy, and turning in homework. Now, gone. I will never see her again.
I knew her ten hours at most, but still her death has impacted me.
I actually read on a fellow Christian co-workers blog about the death of a student and about her and her husband visiting a student. But, since I don't know my student's Chinese names, I didn't realize that this student she was talking about was also my student. I am thankful that Teresa and Mark were able to visit Barbie (小君) and pray for her before she passed away.
BUT, this does not change the fact that not once in the five weeks that she came to my classes did I tell her about Jesus. We just had classes as normal.
We never know who will and who will not have a tomorrow.
O Lord, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am! Behold, you have made my days a few handbreadths, and my lifetime is as nothing before you. Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath! Selah Surely a man goes about as a shadow! (Psalm 39)
[God] knows us inside and out, keeps in mind that we're made of mud.
Men and women don't live very long; like wildflowers they spring up and
blossom, but a storm snuffs them out just as quickly, leaving nothing
to show they were here. (Psalm 103).
Tears trace paths down my cheeks.
Did she know about Jesus? Had she ever heard his name before? Did she know that there was a God who loved her? A God who is gracious, kind and just? A Holy Creator God who is the Most High God? Have I messed up royally? Why am I here? If I could die on my way home, I want to be doing what matters most. I want to be home with my family with the people I love most--No, that's not right. That's not what truly matters most. I want to be here proclaiming Jesus to people who don't know about You.
But how are they to call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? (Romans 10:14)
Oh Father, make me bold. Open doors for Your message, so that I may proclaim the mystery of Christ clearly, as I should. Help me to be wise in the way I act toward others; help me to make the most of every opportunity. May my conversation be always full of grace and effective; help me know how to answer everyone. Lord, help me to always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks me to give the reason for the hope that I have. Oh Father, my humble plea is this: please make me bold.
Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me
so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel . . .
Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should. (Ephesians 6: 19,
Carolyn McCulley from Solo Femininity hits the nail on the head once again. She was able to put into words something I've been experiencing, but hadn't been able to express in words.
As the holidays approach, it's time to prepare our hearts for many
similar year-end conversations. I've been thinking about this
conversation a lot lately, and about why it's so hard to have it. And I
think it comes down to this: We can't boast. We can't boast in a ring.
Or boast in a faithful husband. Or--for most of us--boast in our
offspring. Others may have "braggin' rights," but we have to endure
awkward, too-personal questions.
"This conversation" = basically any conversation that includes something to the effect of "oh, so you're still single."
But, this idea of having nothing to brag about does not just pertain to those "so you're still single" conversations. Often times it includes many conversations I have with a married (usually newly married) friend. Especially when they say things (often times without realizing it) about how great their life is because of their husband, children, two cars in the garage--and oh don't forget about the prefect new table cloth. Oh, what a happy life! Or when they tell me they are so glad the timing of their marriage works out so that they are not too old (usually my age or my age +2 is stated) to have the perfect life plan for marriage and kids.
You know . . . it is really hard to rejoice for others when their good news feels like a slap in the face. I try, I try really hard, to be happy for them. And, it is not that I am not happy for them. It is just that their hapiness stings a little. So, I need time to recover from the sting of the slap before I can honestly express my happiness for them.
AND, what makes it even harder . . . is that the person did NOT mean to give me (nor even realizes she has given me) a slap in the face by sharing with me good news. She is simply sharing happy news with a friend.
Oh, but let's go back to Carolyn and her post. Instead of telling me I was justified in being miffed by these conversations . . . instead of telling me I could sulk a little while I nursed the red mark left from the sting . . . instead of telling me I was ok to have stonger longings after these conversations . . . instead of telling me that what I was feeling was what every single woman feels and it's just my internal clock ticking . . . instead of making me feel better about the fact that I have to have these conversations . . .
Yeah, instead of any of these she tells me this:
We all compare ourselves to each other and measure ourselves by each other. But that's pride at work. Whatever
we've received is all of grace. That perspective is what C.J. taught us
so well on Sunday. His two sermon points were that grace produces
humility and grace prepares us for suffering. As I've said before,
prolonged, unwanted singleness is a form of suffering. But here's the
good news: The sanctifying grace that is at work in our singleness
prepares us for this suffering and it produces the humility not to
react in pride (self-pity, defensiveness, sarcastic responses) to
unthinking conversations like the one above.
Ouch! That stings. She once again makes me feel like I have a buddy who understands my pain and suffering only to tell me--"yeah, its true it hurts, but in reality you greatest need ain't a husband, ain't a car-load of kids to love, ain't that you need something to brag about . . . it is that you need a Savior. He gave you that. He has given you grace. He has met your greatest need. See that right there, Amanda? Yep, over there trying to hide in that dark corner--that, my friend, is Mr. Pride."
Oh and how silly my heart is that it lets Mr. Pride in! Read this powerful quote from January 22 from Morning and Evening by Charles Spurgeon:
O believer, learn to reject pride, seeing that you have no ground for it. Whatever you are, you have nothing to make you proud. The more you have, the more you are in debt to God; and you should not be proud of that which renders you a debtor. . . . O you who are valiant for truth, you would have been as valiant for error if grace had not laid hold upon you. Therefore, do not be proud, though you have a large influence—a wide domain of grace, for once you did not have a single thing to call your own except your sin and misery. Oh, strange infatuation that you, who has borrowed everything, should think of exalting yourself—a poor, dependent pensioner upon the bounty of your Savior, one who has a life that dies without fresh streams of life from Jesus, and yet is proud! Fie on you, O silly heart!
Hmm . . .that stings too. But in a good way. Thanks, Carolyn for the slap--I needed it.
I can't tell you why, but all day long I kept singing and humming this chorus:
Isn't He good; Isn't He kind;
Hasn't He blessed us time after time!
I just kept humming and singing, singing and humming. At one point, I thought to myself that I wasn't just making this song up (which I do sometimes)--that it was a real song I had heard before.
I started thinking about it and finally concluded that it was a Sovereign Grace Music song. So, as soon as I got home tonight, I looked it up and . . . . sure enough it is!!
Isn't He Good is a praise song written by Stephen Altrogge and part of the Worship God Live cd that I bought online this spring. I've not listened to it since this summer, so I have no idea why the song played on neverending repeat in my heart and mind today.
But, I am thankful it did. This is going to be a busy week (midterms), and I am honestly not looking forward to it. It was nice to be constantly thinking about the goodness of God's grace and mercy while I was working today instead of focusing on the stresses before me that pale in comparison.
Isn't He good, all of our days
With endless mercies and ceaseless grace!!
Oh let us sing . . . Isn't He good!!!
By "fall" I mean it is cool enough outside I don't have to use my A/C during the afternoon anymore. :) Taiwan stays green year round, so there are no trees with leaves changing colors before they blanket the ground. Other than it being cooler there is (will be) no real difference.
But, boy, am I THANKFUL for it being cooler this week!!
You just have to trust me on that: room temperature really can be defined as cool! Cool enough I even wore a jacket yesterday. I think it is official--I'm off my rocker.
Happy Fall, Yall!!
P.S. I'm joining Rebecca in a month long thankfulness-fest.
I found these hanging outside the preschool near my home.
American holiday + Taiwanese culture = a new kind of Halloween lantern.
I'm guessing that perhaps they interpreted the word "lantern" in "jack-o-lantern" in a very Asian way.
I've been to 6 weddings (so far) in 2006. Wedding number 6 was last night. One of my former students, the groom, tied the knot with one of his junior high classmates.
In Taiwan it is common for the bride to change dresses throughout the wedding banquet. Like many wedding banquets in Taiwan, this banquet was also outside under big tarps right in front of the groom's home. There were probably about 300-400 people present for the huge 12 course meal. And no Taiwanese wedding would be complete without Karoke and fireworks.