Stuffed with Hope

Macaroni and cheese casserole and a nap. It may be turkey and pumpkin pie for some people, but for me it’s not Thanksgiving without mom’s mac and cheese then falling asleep on the couch in front of a football game. All the other Thanksgiving traditions are just window dressing. I garnish my plate with a little turkey and stuffing, then fill two thirds of it with generous helpings of a macaroni casserole drowned in two kinds of cheese, half a box of Ritz crackers and enough butter to grease the axel of a semi. After dinner, I stay awake for a few rounds of poker or Uno with my wife’s family, but soon my eyelids get heavy. So I excuse myself to go to the bathroom, then sneak off to the couch. I turn on the TV and struggle to stay awake for a game between two teams I care little about. Seven minutes later my eyelids close and unconscious bliss envelopes me for at least two hours.

I wake up stuffed. Not full, but lead-anvil-in-my-stomach-that-hasn’t-even-begun-to-digest stuffed. I should probably feel disgusted with myself but I don’t. I feel good. Binging on carbs and saturated fats and taking a nap are rare events in my life, so I don’t feel at all guilty. In fact, it’s moments like these are nice rewards for living a healthy lifestyle at other times.

A few years ago, one of my therapy clients was talking about what hard work it was to live a holy life, to be a Christian in a fallen world. As he left, he paused at the door and said, “You know, Christians need more feast days, like they used to have in old times.” As I watched him leave, I realized that I agreed with him. We need times of labor and sacrifice followed by times of feasting and celebration.

When it comes to doing God’s work, especially helping the poor, it’s easy to occupy an extreme position. At one end there’s denial. These are the folks who think poverty comes only from laziness or that it’s not their job to aid the less fortunate. At the opposite end there’s perpetual guilt. These are the folks that think super-sizing a McDonald’s extra value meal will not only land you in the ninth circle of hell, but also result in the death of eighteen children in a third world country.

But I think God prefers us to do what Jesus did when he was on earth: work hard and sacrifice for others while taking breaks for celebration and feasting.

Right now, however, having a celebration feast, especially during the holidays, can be tough. It’s been a rough year for a lot of people, to put it mildly. People are dodging shrapnel in Iraq, hurricanes in the American south and political vitriol in Washington D.C. In Africa, the crises are too many to list. I could go on, describing evils and ills in every country in the world. Having a days like Thanksgiving where I stuff myself and pass out on the couch seems gluttonous and absurd.

But we need to do give thanks anyway. Rejoice, even. We can be grateful because God’s been at work. In the midst of all the suffering it’s easy to overlook changes that have come through love, grace and toil. Here are some reasons to celebrate in 2005:

Vacant houses and apartment buildings in the Houston area have been converted into new homes for Katrina evacuees.

World Vision provided 100 permanent houses in the tsunami-affected districts of Kerala and sponsored a project to integrate 20 children with disabilities into kindergarten and first grade in Azerbaijan.

A deal to erase billions of dollars of debt for poor countries was endorsed by the International Monetary Fund’s steering committee.

A new drug prevents women from being infected with HIV, even if their partner doesn’t use a condom. Two major pharmaceutical companies have provided these drugs to some women in Africa, and a bill has recently been introduced in the U.S. Senate that would provide more resources and increased distribution.

The Global Fund approved $382 million in grants that, once funded, will provide AIDS treatment for 229,000 people, voluntary counseling and testing for 10 million people, 17 million long-lasting bed nets, 119 million doses of malaria medication and 1.5 million treatments against tuberculosis.

In Uganda, The Carter Center’s Conflict Resolution program resulted in the return of 300 abducted women and children and the exchange of all prisoners of war.

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A program called Hello Peace provides free phone service for Israelis and Palestinians who wish to talk to each other instead of shoot at each other.

While the Chinese government puts the number of Christians in China at 16 million (members of government sanctioned churches), estimates by church groups in Hong Kong and the United States run from 35 million to 150 million.

Newt Gingrich and Hilary Clinton worked together on new health care legislation.

The number of abortions in the United States has gone down every year since 1990, with a total decrease of more than half a million per year.

This is the stuff that doesn’t make headlines. We seldom pause to reflect and enjoy the gifts of God and the rewards of our work. We need to. In fact, we should do a lot more than “pause.” We need to celebrate and feast. It’s not indulgence—it’s taking pleasure in the fact that faith, hope, love, toil and sacrifice yield rewards. It can renew our strength and give us hope that makes perseverance in the face of pain more bearable.

So have fun this for the rest of this holiday season. Chuck the food pyramid and eat what you want. Be filled with thanks for what God has done and stuffed with hope for what He will do in the future. There will always be horrors in the world and we can never turn away from them, but this is a good time to appreciate the fruit of our labor and the abundance of God’s provision. This is a good time for mac and cheese and a nap.

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