Patience, Trust, and a Watchful Eye

The man I met in high school and married six years later is 100% Greek. During our first Thanksgiving together, Steve’s mom graciously spent the weekend teaching me to cook the ethnic delicacies of his childhood. I still make a mean avgolemono soup and a terrific pan of spanakopita, but the dish we’ve eaten the most over the years is rice pudding. I made it again this morning, partly because it’s one of the only foods my very pregnant daughter finds appealing right now.

But Greek rice pudding is a bit tricky. It requires patience, trust, and a watchful eye.

First, according to the recipe, you have to simmer (and stir frequently) a rice, milk and sugar combination for about 20 minutes. Simmer, not boil. Boil it, and you’ll have a milky mess flowing over the edges of your pot and onto your stove. Forget to stir it, and some of the rice will stick to the bottom of the pot and scorch. And as for that 20 minute cooking time, it’s not to be trusted. At about the 19 minute mark, you’ll have to start dipping into the pot to test the rice, looking for that moment when it’s just soft enough, not too firm, and not too mushy.

Next comes the adding of the eggs. This is not a cake you’re making. If you just dump in a couple of eggs and stir them around, you’ll get a disappointing mess of creamy rice shot through with hard little lumps of scrambled eggs. Instead, you must do what my old Betty Crocker cookbook calls “tempering the eggs.”

  • First beat the eggs in a bowl.
  • Then slowly, slowly add a small stream of hot milk and rice to the eggs, continuing to beat them.
  • When half of the hot liquid has been added to the eggs, slowly pour the pudding back into the pot, still stirring and simmering for another couple of minutes.

Then, finally, you can sprinkle on a little cinnamon and eat it, right? Nope. Not unless you want to burn your tongue. After all that, you still have to wait for it to cool. And, truth be told, before it cools it won’t look done. It will look like a sloppy mess. You’ll be pretty sure you did something wrong. But it thickens into creamy goodness as it cools.

As I made my most recent batch of rice pudding, I thought about how our spiritual lives also require a great deal of patience, trust, and a watchful eye.

We set out to make something of our day, or of our lives, seeking to do as our Lord leads us. Much of the time it seems to take forever to get where we think we’re supposed to go. Rushing almost always makes a mess of things. Patient, prayerful attention goes against our hurried natures, but it really is the only way to go. And so we wait. We pray. We attend to our tasks, following the instructions he gives us along the way. We trust, as things simmer, that God is turning them into something wonderful (no matter how they may look at the start).

Photo credit: @rasmusgs via unsplash.com

Syllabi

I can still see my seventeen-year-old self standing in a college bookstore, a stack of syllabi in hand. I expect the prep-for-class process has changed, but back then it worked like this:

  1. Register for classes. (In a gym full of card tables!)
  2. Pick up a syllabus for each class.
  3. Read through each one to see what will be required throughout the semester.
  4. Buy all the books needed for every class. (In person. At an actual bookstore.)

Hauling all those textbooks back to the dorm was no easy task. Talk about a beast of burden! The real burden, though, and the real beast, was in my own brain. I would inevitably look at a whole semester’s worth of assignments and wonder—with a good bit of worry—how I would ever be able to do all that work. Some part of me disregarded the long timeline, the months stretching out before me to offer the gift of ample time, as if it was all due TODAY.

Of course, I did have enough time, and did finish the assignments, and graduate and find employment and…But it took me a long time to learn this lesson:

When life looms large and its demands seem overwhelming, JUST DO TODAY!

Those early weeks of college were tainted by my insistence on mentally tackling way too much before the real time to do so. Life presents plenty of challenge, and when we try to take it all on at once, or even wonder how we will handle tomorrow while we are embroiled in today, we wreck any possibility of peace. Why do we do that? I think it has something to do with that old enemy of ours who seeks to steal, kill and destroy. It may also have something to do with our demented idea that we can control and handle all things on our own. Taking things one day at a time is much easier to do when we remember Who holds our future.

Jesus taught this lesson long ago. The sooner we learn it, the better!

“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:34).

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14: 27).

Slow to Learn

January 2021.

  • Weather: Changing by the hour.
  • Quarantine: Still in place for my parents.
  • Schedule: Grandchildren here from 8-4.
  • My agenda: Have my grandchildren in the car to go visit their great-grandparents by 3 pm. (By visit, I mean stand in the parking lot and dance and wave while Meemee and Deedah lower treats down from their balcony by a rope and bag contraption.)

Before I go on with this story, here’s a quote from the Brenda of 2005, found in an old journal. “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. And, as I’m about to show you, I am not there yet.

Those of you with small children know that an agenda like I described above can require hours of planning and preparation. (If you don’t get it, borrow a three-year-old for a couple of days.) Play time, lunchtime, and an early naptime must all align if one wants to be out of the door by 3. At about noon, things were looking pretty good. But then…

I asked Steve to play with Nick for a few minutes while I settled Kate in her bedroom. They wrestled and then built a fort for him to “take his nap in.” This is a gender thing folks, but for those of you who just don’t get it (meaning about half of the population), it’s a whole lot easier to get a kid to sleep if you do something calm and quiet right before the moment of naptime comes. See Steve having a great time doing nothing wrong, but see Brenda’s silent fuming.

I was frustrated and a bit too terse with Kate (who, of course, heard the wrestling and wouldn’t stay in bed.) Eventually she fell asleep, adorable with a big stuffed tiger as her pillow. Nick finally fell asleep about an hour later than I had planned, buried under that fort. Of course, most of the cuteness was lost on me, because my agenda had been ruined. It would be far too late to go anywhere by the time they reached full consciousness. I would have to settle for plan B, and I did not like plan B.

Halfway through rest time, I managed to let go of my agenda and my frustration, praying for a return to my usual delight in these “NanaPop Days.”  Guess what, plan B was great! They slept. I rested. Then we read books and ate snacks for a few short moments until their parents arrived to take them home. I visited my parents alone later in the day, only to discover that the weather was too cold for Mom and Dad to spend much time on their balcony anyway. The whole day would have been so much better if I’d stayed flexible instead of trying so hard to get my way.

We are still in a very uncertain time. But, really, every time is an uncertain time. We won’t always get what we expect or what we plan for. Relax. Trust. And smile. God has a way of improving on your plans. 

The Thaw, Or Emergency Preparedness

Last week, a good friend urged me to write about the Great Texas Freeze. Now, though, as I look out at our sunny skies, I realize my topic of choice is actually The Thaw.

We had inches and inches of beautiful snow. It’s gone now. Did I gaze often enough, enjoy deeply enough, a sight I might never see again?

We had 36 electricity-free hours. In our house, the temperature dropped and the population rose as neighbors and loved ones without fireplaces gathered around ours. My living room is warm now, and empty. I hope I noticed enough, valued deeply enough, the chance to be close to those who graced our home.

Our neighborhood nearly ran out of propane, but didn’t because of a radical effort to conserve. We have plenty now, and I’ll never look at turning on our heat the same way again. Was I at peace enough through the uncertainty? ‘Not so sure,

My grocery order was cancelled as shelves emptied at the local HEB, yet we never ran out of fresh food. When I watched my refrigerator become emptier by the day, I toggled between the delight of seeing how we always had what we needed, and wondering if we’d be eating dry cereal and canned beans for a while. As soon as stores re-opened, neighbors resupplied me although I never asked.

Then, of course, there was the week-long threat of pipes freezing. Some did. Ours didn’t. We own property in another city now, and there wasn’t any way to check on it until the roads cleared. It was fine. Most of the time, so was I.

When the thaw was complete and our lives back to normal, I had plenty of praising to do. I also found myself wondering how much goodness I missed by forgetting lessons I try to teach.

How much did I practice the verbs of these verses?

  • Cast your cares on Him.
  • Let not your heart be troubled.
  • Rejoice always.
  • Trust in the Lord.

When I did those things, the freeze and the resulting thaw brought joy to my heart. Peace held. When I let the maybe’s and might’s and what if’s assail me, forgetting to bat them away with the Word of God, then my smile faded and my energy waned.

We are in The Thaw! I am thankful. A freeze like the one barely over may not ever come again. But something else will—to you and to me.  Get ready!

  • Sure, store a bit of extra food and water and medicine and paper goods.
  • Keep your gas tank at least half full.
  • But, most importantly, keep practicing these verbs of the Bible: Cast. Let not. Rejoice. Trust.

Then you’ll be ready for anything.

America

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

I asked friends what they’d like for me to write about in the coming year. (It’s not too late for you to weigh in on that!) Here’s what one dear friend told me,

Brenda, I’d love to get encouragement on the situation in America. As believers we know God is in control but at the same time it can be disheartening.

Of course, she made the most important point right there in her comment: God is in control. Some have dubbed 2020 the worst year in history. I have to question that. What about world wars? Bombs dropping overhead so often that adults headed for bomb shelters on a regular basis, having already sent their kids off to a safer place? What about illness before antibiotics, or surgery before antiseptic? What about living—right now—in a place where your only source of water is a three mile walk away, and full of deadly contamination at that? (And if you Google “Worst Year in History,” you’ll get all sorts of depressing descriptions of the past.)

We have not just lived through the worst year in history. And, if Steve were writing this, I expect he could convince you, far better than I, that there have been many worse years, politically and otherwise, in America’s history.

So, my first point of encouragement is this: God has gotten us through worse.

Ah, but you might say, “People died in those bombings, and from the lack of clean water and good medical care.” Yes, that’s true. It is a fallen and painful world. I hate that. And I hate the hate I’m seeing, something also far from new. Did you go to a high school like mine where race wars began under the bleachers at the football games?

But, my second point is this: This is not our home, and there is little hope for any of us who forget that. (Cue Steven Curtis Chapman, a man who knows what heartache is, here). In pain or in comfort, we have to remember that we are not home yet. We are here to glorify God and to serve those he puts in our path. Sometimes we’re better at that in times of hardship.

Better in times of hardship. Don’t you wish we could ignore that fact? I’ll bet plenty of Bible heroes would have preferred a different path than the one God gave them. But not in retrospect. Paul and Esther and Joseph and Jesus knew God used what they would not have chosen. Ditto Corrie Ten Boom and Jim Elliot and, well, you get the picture. Even if our lives were to change into something awful, we might well be right where we belong.

Malbie Davenport Babcock wrote, “This is my Father’s world. Oh, let me ne’er forget that though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the Ruler yet.”

Samuel Rutherford (1600-1661), said “Believe God’s Word and power more than you believe your own feelings and experiences. Your Rock is Christ, and it isn’t that Rock that ebbs and flows—but your sea.”

Our sea may look pretty stormy right now, but we stand on the Solid Rock, our only source of encouragement. Truth be told, that is enough.

The Heirloom

Decades ago, on the eve of our wedding, Steve’s oldest brother presented us with a beautiful hand-hewn three-shelf cabinet. It held a place of honor in each of our homes—until we moved to Austin.

Somehow, having been in the same Houston home for 30 years, we adopted the mistaken notion that the cabinet, firmly affixed to the breakfast nook wall, was considered part of the home and had to be left behind. So, leave it behind we did (along with a whole lot of other household goods, but none as precious as that heirloom cabinet.)

We settled into our new house, Hurricane Harvey came and went (just barely sparing the home we’d left one month earlier), and we nearly forgot about that cabinet. A short while later, we headed back to our old haunt for a visit and, like most of you would probably do, took a drive past our former home. There, sitting on our–or rather their–front porch, was our cabinet. We called the new owners and discovered they were about to get rid of that precious piece. A friend of theirs was due to come by and take it away, but they graciously granted us permission to snag it for ourselves. It hangs in Steve’s office now, displaying a growing collection of handmade grandchild art.

Why am I telling you this sappy story? Because it reminds me that:

  • God cars about little things.
  • He knows how to cover our goofs and oversights.
  • And if he cared enough to orchestrate the unlikely return of our heirloom cabinet, I’m pretty sure he’s on top of whatever else concerns me—or you—today.

Go forth with confidence. The King of Kings is on your side!