One More Look at Elijah

Last week, when I shared thoughts from Forgotten God by Francis Chan. I left out one of the most powerful quotes in the book, particularly appropriate for those of you who read last year’s essays about the miracles of Elijah and Elisha.

“My favorite verse is quite possibly James 5:17, which reads, ‘Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently.’ Don’t keep yourself from praying desperately and courageously for the Spirit to work in your life simply because you are not the prophet Elijah. As this verse says, Elijah was a human being with a nature like ours. He was just like us. The key thing about him? He prayed fervently.”

Have you ever said, “There’s nothing I can do but pray?” That only feels like a helpless position when we forget that prayer is powerful, that everything else we do to help in any situation is actually secondary to our prayers.

Of course, powerful prayers don’t promise us a yes from God every time. As Francis Chan said, “There is a huge difference between believing what God has promised and praying for things you’d like to be true…Do you trust God that when He says no or “not in this way” to you, you still believe He is good and doing what is best?”

Now in my grandparenting years, I’m often put in the position of having to say no—to climbing on the furniture or eating too much ice cream or going out in the cold without a sweater. I marvel at how toddlers can insist that they know better—until I realize that sometimes I do that to God.

The possibility of a “no” answer should never keep us from praying big prayers. Why wouldn’t we ask? My grandchildren will ask me for anything they want, even though they know by now that I won’t always grant their request. We can trust God to give us the right answer every time. Friends, let’s make this the year of asking and accepting, of looking for miraculous answers and praising God in everything he does. Elijah had nothing on us. Rather, just like us, he had God.

Giving Up the Table

Paul Harvey was famous for telling “the rest of the story.” I posted a blog called “Secret Shopper” back in March of 2018. That story challenged all of us to offer compassion to those with unseen needs.  You can reread it (and see a photo of it in use) here. I described the hard time I had giving up a well-worn and much loved kitchen table. Here, though is the rest of the story.

I mourned the loss of that table until I realized it had served me well, but had to go. The memories it evoked were still with me after all. Steve and I replaced it with a table that was nearly the same except for one important difference—the new one has two additional leaves, one for each end. Little did we know at the time how much we’d need those extra slabs of wood. Since the day my old table was hauled away, my tribe of immediate Austinite family members has grown from six to thirteen. Almost weekly, I set up my expanded kitchen table for some sort of celebration. That old table was perfect in its former time and place. It wouldn’t fit us now.

So, yet again, I’ve learned the lesson of relinquishment, of letting go of what we love so that God can replace it with what we need.

I am not alone in needing that lesson. Neither are you.

C.S. Lewis, in The Problem of Pain, wrote, “God wants to give us something, but cannot, because our hands are full – there’s simply no place for Him to put it.” 

Catherine Marshall, after being stuck in bed for six months with a lung infection, finally prayed, “I’m beaten God. You decide what you want for me.

When we hold on to our own ways, our own stuff, our own plans, we may miss something God has planned for us. Christ’s words, “Not my will, but yours,” need to be a part of our daily prayers. Relinquishment allows us to surrender our lives with an open hand, ready to receive what God has in store.

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.