Room for Cream

Hot Tea Anita Austvika UnsplashIt was a crisp but comfortable winter day in Austin. Steve and I were still Houstonians at the time, but had come for a visit and were doing the requisite South Congress walk. We passed all sorts of gift shops and food trucks, none of which merited much of a stop for either of us. Then we saw it—Tom’s Coffee Shop. Tom’s looks like an old but well-loved house, complete with two porch swings and a basket of blankets. Inside, there’s all sorts of coffee and tea from which to choose and a decent array of tempting snacks. Steve saved a spot for us on one of those cozy swings while I placed our order. Remembering that we were on vacation, I asked the barista to leave plenty of room for cream. Then, heading over to the “fix up your cup” table, I added a healthy dose of dairy and agave to each steaming treat and headed outside. We sat. We sipped. We watched the people go by.

I’ve lived in Austin for over a year now. I’ve only gone to Tom’s once since our move, and for a rather quick stop at that. Life fills up. We’ve had other great adventures in lieu of tea on Tom’s porch. But now we’re heading into the holidays and I’m reminded that it’s okay—maybe even very important—to leave “room for cream” more often than not.

Of course, I’m not really talking about half and half. I’m talking about the little extras in life, the non-essentials that actually add a great deal of pleasure to the basics. If you’ve already conquered your type A tendencies, you may not need to read any further. If you’re like me, though, you need these reminders:

Yes, God made us to glorify him, and that often means putting in a great deal of effort as we seek to do his will and follow his lead.

But, he also created us to enjoy him, and I think that includes enjoying the world he made and the pleasant moments he puts within our grasp. We don’t need to stay in constant accomplishment mode. Otherwise, he never would have said, “Be still…”

As the holidays come calling, there’s certainly value in answering with gusto the opportunities to bless others and spread the word that Christ the Savior is born.

But maybe this is the year to remember that celebration is meant to be a gift, not a challenge. A few quiet moments here and there (with tea, perhaps?) may be more important than planning or attending a perfect party.

And so, as we move from Thanksgiving to Christmas, I’m wishing you a wonderful holiday season and plenty of moments with room for cream!

 

Photo by Anita Austvika  via Unsplash.com

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Old Journals

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Do you journal? If so, I hope that once in a while you pull an old one down and read what you wrote years ago. I’ve been doing that lately, remembering God’s moments of grace through happy times and sad, seeing where I’ve (finally!) learned a lesson that once befuddled me and, truth be told, discovering places where I’m still struggling with the same challenges about which I filled pages a decade ago.

Here are a few quotes from the Brenda of  2005:

“There is only panic when I set my own agenda.” (That’s right, folks, I’ve been working on letting God be in control for a long, long time!)

“The people who watch us notice the ‘little things’—the daily habits, etc., more than the big events of our lives.” (Just last week, a perfect stranger passed Steve and me on the sidewalk and said, “Oh, keep holding hands!”)

“One effective tool of forgiveness is to pray blessings on those I need to forgive.” (Ever have to work, really work, on letting go of an offense? This does help!)

And then, there’s this for all you romantics out there:

“Elizabeth and I are in Colorado to enjoy the preliminaries of a wedding. When asked to write advice on a card, I found there was so much I wanted to say!

I wrote:

  • Believe the best of one another always.
  • Take walks together often; they open up special opportunities for communication.
  • Say “yes” and “I love you” many times every day.
  • Tithe, and spend less than you make.

But I also wanted to say:

  • Expect and encourage the best of each other.
  • Follow all of God’s rules, but don’t put much stock in the ones man makes up.
  • Don’t buy a TV for at least a year. Discover better ways to rest and play together.
  • Be generous to one another.
  • Don’t “keep score’ of anything in your relationship.
  • Make all significant decisions as a team.
  • Point out each other’s strengths. Make up for each other’s faults.

What do your journals say? Or if you had one, what would you have written about your lessons of long ago? I’d love to hear, so please share!

 

photo by Debby Hudson
@dhudson_creative via Unsplash.com

Kicked Forward by Beth Smith

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We all have troubles in our lives, but take a look at the life of the Apostle Paul:

  1. Given thirty-nine lashes five different times
  2. Beaten with rods on three occasions
  3. Stoned once
  4. Shipwrecked three times
  5. Adrift on the open sea for a whole night and a day
  6. Exposed to danger from flooded rivers, robbers and those who hated him
  7. Imprisoned
  8. Denied needed sleep
  9. Plagued by hunger and thirst
  10. Cold because he lacked proper clothing

Pretty horrible, right? Yet here was Paul’s response:

I have strength for all things in Christ who empowers me. (I am ready for anything and equal to anything through Him who infuses inner strength into me. I am self-sufficient in Christ’s sufficiency)” (Philippians 4:13 AMP).

If Paul had quit, had lost his faith in God’s power because of his difficulties, we would be missing ten books of the New Testament. But Paul knew a secret about his strength. He had a “thorn in the flesh.” No one knows for sure what it was. He begged God to take it away, but God’s response was, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” Then Paul said, “So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10 NLT).

We all have problems, and plenty of weaknesses, but we can be strong in the Lord. God never tells us to do something without giving us the power to do it. And he uses our hard times.

  • Four of Paul’s letters were written when Paul was a prisoner in Rome.
  • Martin Luther translated the Bible while forced to hide in a German castle.
  • John Bunyan wrote Pilgrim’s Progress while in prison in Belford, England.
  • Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote monumental Christian literature from a concentration camp.

What might God do with us if we use our misfortunes to draw close to him?

Dr. E. Stanley Jones wrote this about the Apostle Paul: “If Satan was to kick him, then Paul would determine the direction in which the blows would take him—forward!”

It’s during the difficult times of life that we get kicked forward. Those are the times we draw closer to God.

When Paul wrote that he had the strength for all things through Christ, he was in prison. Still he knew that God was using him and empowering him. Nothing can happen to us that won’t “kick us forward,” if we are determined to depend on and trust in our loving, heavenly Father. I can just see us as making the devil cringe when we say, “Go ahead! Make my day! Kick me forward!”

 

Photo by Jason Briscoe @Unsplash

 

 

Even If…

forest-1529055__480 fear pixa 7 9 18I used to struggle with fear. A month or so ago my sister challenged me to put into words the change God has wrought in me. It’s taken awhile for me to find a way to do that, but now I realize the heart of the matter comes from switching just one word for another.

What if?” has become “Even if!”

Recognition of all the hard things life can bring is now enveloped in the realization that I’ll never face any of those things without the surrounding love of our Lord. My fear of what might happen has been overcome by my assurance that, while most of the things my imagination drums up will never occur, even those that do will be managed by my King.

And I am not alone in this understanding.

  • Daniel 3:16-18 tells us, “Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, ‘King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.’”
  • Esther 4:15-16 says, “Then Esther sent this reply to Mordecai: ‘Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my attendants will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.’”
  • And in Matthew 26: 39-42, you can read this about Jesus: “Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will’…He went away a second time and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.’”

We’ve all been plagued by imaginary horrors, by the “What if?” that marches across the brain, pushing out peace. I hope you’ll take up the weapon of “Even if!” to join Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, Esther, and our Lord in defeating the enemy in his fearful ploys, finding the peace that passes understanding once again!

What’s in Your Cup?

teacup pixa 5 16 18Last Saturday I went to a ladies’ tea at church. My church. Do you know what a big deal it is feel at home in a church here already? A quarter century at NorthWest Bible Church was a tough act to follow. (Stop doing the math. I’m older, but not old yet!)

My friend Lea Castillo gave the devotional Saturday. I loved it and asked her to allow me to turn her notes into a blog. She kindly agreed, so all you read today comes from her heart and her story.

Do you have a cup of tea (or coffee, or…) by your side as you’re reading this? I hope so, but if not, just conjure one up in your imagination. Now look inside.

Is it half full? Half empty? Maybe it’s nearly dry or overflowing. You’ve already heard that familiar lesson before about perspective and positive attitude, so let’s take a look at your cup in a different light…

Your cup of tea is enough.

Today, whatever God provides you will be enough. You may be clueless as to what’s heading your way, but our Lord knows, and he will always provide what you need to live this day.

Sadly, we do this awful thing, you and I. We oh-so-often evaluate our “enoughness.” We ask ourselves, are we

  • good looking enough?
  • strong enough?
  • smart enough?

Then we evaluate the sufficiency of our situation, wondering if we have enough

  • money.
  • time.
  • opportunity.

One morning, when I finally had a chance to sleep late, my “not enoughs” badgered me into an unwelcome consciousness. I was losing my battle for peace and rest when, to make matters worse, a bunch of birds started making a racket outside my window. They just wouldn’t stop. And then, they spoke to me. Okay, not exactly, but God used them to get my attention and to remind me of this verse:

Look at the birds in the sky. They do not plant seeds. They do not gather grain. They do not put grain into a building to keep. Yet your Father in heaven feeds them! Are you not more important than the birds?(Matthew 6:26 NLV).

That’s when divine logic kicked in:

  • The birds always have enough.
  • I’m more important to God than the birds.
  • So I will always have enough!

And with God’s enoughness, I can face anything that life brings. On some days, the “tea in my cup” may not be as sweet as I’d like. It might not taste the way I was expecting, but God is still giving me enough.

We who question our enoughness are in great spiritual company. Even Moses did it. God’s answer?

“I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you'” (Exodus 3:13-14, NIV).

Our Lord is with us! The next time your cup looks empty, remember:

God always fills it—fills you—with enough, because he is enough.

Turn Your Eyes upon Jesus

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Now and then, when I was a teenager back at St. Andrews Presbyterian Church, I was given the honor of turning down the lights in the sanctuary just as the congregation got to the last line of this great hymn. Picture this: The pews are filled at the Sunday night service. It’s dark outside, but bright inside, as the final hymn begins. Then the lights go down just as all in attendance sing, “And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of his glory and grace.” The backlit cross at the front of the church now stands out in stark focus as a hush falls over the room. A little dramatic? Maybe, except that I still see that cross in my mind’s eye and feel that hush in my heart, often just when I’m about to forget about God’s glory and grace.

We can’t dim the lights on the rest of life as easily as I could turn that rheostat back then. Would that we could! Maybe instead, we need to shine greater light on the glory and grace that surrounds us. He is everything. Our full supply. That’s what Helen Lemmel was trying to convey when she penned these lyrics.

O soul, are you weary and troubled? No light in the darkness you see? There’s light for a look at the Savior, and life more abundant and free.

Turn your eyes upon Jesus.Look full in His wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace.

Are you, like so many of us, troubled by “the things of earth” today? Is your heavenly vision a bit blurred? Take a breath. Take a moment. Remember whose you are and who He is. Enjoy the right you have as a child of God to fellowship with the Creator of the universe. And let those things that trouble you fade in the light of his glory, with the realization that, while you may not be able to see how right now, his grace is and always will be enough.