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:

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 15 ~ Disneyland!!!!!

Day 15 Disneyland!!! Many of you are probably wondering why we chose Disney over Universal Studios. Well, we love Disney and with limited time we decided we would rather spend our day at the happiest and most magical place on earth. We also had nearly $500.00 of Disney cash – so the visit was basically free! Fellow Disney fans out there are, no doubt, waiting for my comparison of Land vs. World. Don’t worry, I’ll get there.

We began our day by hopping on the shuttle at 7:00 am. We were at the Disneyland park by 7:15 and it opened at 8:00. We attacked our day by visiting attractions not available at Disney World, that we hadn’t experienced before and/or have long waits. Then we hit some of our faves. After riding Finding Nemo, Matterhorn Bobsleds, Alice in Wonderland, Pinocchio’s Daring Adventure, Mr. Toads Wild Ride and Indiana Jones, we went across the street to the only other park, California Adventure. There we rode Toy Story, Mickey’s Fun Wheel, California Screamin’, Soarin’ and Monster’s Inc.; after which we went back to Disneyland, got fast passes for Buzz Lightyear and rode Winnie the Pooh.

 Finally, it was time for lunch! We ate in New Orleans Square at the Blue Bayou Restaurant. Here the atmosphere is that of a dinner along the river in New Orleans at night. Paper lanterns and candles light the room, while the boats from Pirates of the Caribbean ride sail by. This was one of the day’s highlights for sure!

After a spin on Buzz Lightyear, we got fast passes for Splash Mountain and returned to our hotel room for a much needed nap. Had we not set the alarm for 5:30, we most certainly would have slept through the rest of our night! After dinner in the hotel lounge (also free!) we returned to California Adventure to catch the stage musical, Aladdin, which was fantastic. We especially enjoyed Genie (hilarious) and when the characters rode the flying carpet up to the balcony and mezzanine levels.

We then returned to Disneyland for Storybook Land (which we found is best seen at night, when all lit up!) and It’s A Small World. Here Christina found a hidden Mickey which was formed by the shadow cast by a light shining on three balloons that were part of the set. So cool!

We then rode Splash Mountain and Pirates before settling down for a great view of Fantasmic on the Rivers of America. We warmed up with hot cocoa and popcorn while waiting for the show to begin. Believe or not, we have never seen Fantasmic – we loved it! We completed our evening by riding the train to Tommorowland, taking one last spin on Buzz and doing a little shopping. We left the park at midnight and crashed as soon as we hit the beds! I think that’s everything but maybe not. This is a really long post so my Land vs. World comparison will have to come later. But if you’re a Disney fan and you’re considering a trip to the Land, don’t miss my review!