A Lovely Cup Of Tea

I had my plans all set for the day.  I was going to help make life easier for my mother.  I made a list in my mind: wash the clothes, vacuum the floor, run some errands, get the Christmas tree out of the attic, wrap presents.  I knew this would be such a help to her.  So, I set out joyfully checking the items off the list as they were completed.

When I returned from errands my mother said, “How about a cup of tea.”

“Not now, Mom,” I replied, “I just want to get the things done on my list.”

I put a load of clothes into the washing machine.  I got the tree out of the attic along with the decorations.  Tree up – check.  Decorations on – check.  Then I took out the vacuum cleaner to attack the carpets.

I heard my mother call out, “Are you ready for that cup of tea?”

“Not yet, Mom,” I said, “you go ahead.”

“No, I’ll wait to enjoy it with you,” she answered.

I turned on the vacuum but her words, “I’ll wait to enjoy it with you,” echoed in my brain.  It wasn’t the cup of tea that was important to her; she just wanted to spend some time with me, just enjoying being together.  I turned off the vacuum and left it standing in the middle of the living room floor.  The second load of wash could wait.  I had plenty of time to wrap presents.

“I changed my mind, Mom,” I called out.  “I’m ready for that cup of tea.”

“Okay!” she called back joyfully.

As we sat together, sipping tea, talking about everything and nothing, I said a silent prayer of thanks to Father for reminding me of what’s important.  It’s not always doing.  Many times, it’s just being.  As my thoughts continued, I held back a tear that was trying to escape, as I imagined that one day there would come a time when I would long to have a cup of tea with my mother, but she just might not be around for me to do so.

Why do we all get so busy with life that we forget the value of time spent together?  We do the same thing in our walk with God.  With the best of intentions, we list all the things we want to do for God: church attendance – check, contributing to the church fund – check, cooking a meal for the poor – check; the list goes on and on.   It’s all very good things to accomplish, but in the midst of our busyness comes the whisper of God that says, “Come to me, my loved one.  Are you tired?  I’ll give you rest.  Are you troubled?  I’ll ease your burden.  Just come to me.  Soak up peace and strength for the tasks at hand by resting in my presence. Take the time.”

You know what?  After that lovely cup of tea with my mother, I still had plenty of time to do all the things on my list, but it was all the more peaceful for having taken time to sit, enjoy, have a  cup of tea.

“For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven.”  Ecclesiastes 3:1 

 

The Lady On The Train

The past several posts I’ve been walking down memory lane.  I can tell you why.  I’m working on my next book which will be a collection of stories from my travels.  I hope you will enjoy it.  Today I take you with me on a journey that took place nearly 37 years ago.

I was embarking on my first overseas trip as an adult.  I flew from Atlanta to New York; from New York to Iceland, and from Iceland to Germany.  I was met by a couple (whom I had never met) who had instructions to put me on a train bound for Salzburg, Austria.  I was led to a compartment with six seats, three on each side.  I sat in a middle seat and was told that my reservation would take me all the way to my destination.  I was to learn that this was a mistake.

As the train eased forward, my tired body fell in with its rhythm and I dozed off and on.  At times the train would stop at stations along the way, letting off some passengers while taking on others.  At one such stop, a man opened the door to our compartment.  He looked at his ticket, looked at me, and said something in German.  I didn’t know a word of what he said, but I sensed it was not good.  The man left, but returned with the conductor who also said something to me that I couldn’t understand.  “I’m sorry, but I don’t speak German,” I heard my nervous voice speak.  The conductor then pointed to me and the aisle outside.  I understood the gesture and got up to leave.  The conductor took down my two suitcases from the overhead and set them outside.  The man with the ticket took my seat.  The conductor left.  I didn’t know where to go or even how to ask what I should do now, so I sat where I was.  I was balancing atop my suitcases, looking into the compartment with six people looking back at me.  Awkward!

Suddenly the woman who had sat opposite me stood and left the compartment.  I watched her disappear down the aisle.  In minutes she returned with the conductor.  She motioned for me to get up.  I did.  The conductor picked up my two cases and we followed the woman.   We passed through several carriages until we came to a particular compartment — in the first class section!  She opened the door and motioned for me to go inside.  I wanted to politely protest, to explain that I couldn’t sit there, but I could not speak the language, so I did as I was gestured to do.  I sat in one seat and the woman sat next me.  She smiled.  I smiled in return.   For hours we sat in companionable silence, me dozing off and on while she browsed through a magazine.  At one point when the train stopped, the woman stood up.  Impulsively I stood, too.  The woman motioned no and gestured for me to sit down again.  I did.  She smiled, waved, and was gone.  The conductor never returned and I sat safely for the rest of my journey.  I can only deduce that the woman purchased first class tickets for both me and herself.  What kindness!

I have experienced many such acts of kindness from strangers coming to my aid in my journeys, and I have had the opportunity of being that stranger to aid someone else.  It’s part of the thrill of traveling to new places, and it provides opportunity to,  “Be kind to one another…”  Ephesians 4:32  The power of kindness cannot be measured.

I was 23, alone, and traveling through a country where I didn’t speak the language, going to a place I had never been, but God had a stranger ready to help.  We never need fear when God leads us to unknown places; after all, it is Him who is in the navigator’s seat and, “He knows the way that I take…”  Job 23:10

 

“I wanted to scream!” she said

Like people across America, yesterday I was taking special time to think of all that I’m thankful for in my life.  The list going through my mind was long.  In the process of the moment, the thought of someone very special to me came to mind.  Her name is Galina.

I met Galina and her husband 25 years ago in a former Soviet Republic.  We became fast friends which quickly moved into being more like family.  The days and weeks I would spend in their home remain some of my sweetest memories.  I don’t recall a day passing that Galina didn’t laugh about something.  She is like that to this day; no matter any difficult circumstances that may take place in her life, she will find a way to smile; she will be laughing at something.

Once she told me the following story which kept me spellbound!  She told of a time when the country was still a part of the USSR.  Galina became very ill and was taken to the hospital where she was diagnosed with appendicitis.  The appendix needed to be removed and quickly, but there was a problem; the hospital had no anesthetic to put her to sleep.  Can you imagine how wide my eyes grew just in hearing that part of the story?

“What happened?” I gasped.

“I clutched the bed rails and lay there while the surgeon took out my appendix,” she replied.

“Did you cry?” I asked, while clutching my right side in empathy.

“I wanted to scream!” she said, “but I knew I had to be still.”

She went on to tell me that she felt the surgeon’s hands inside the incision.  “The best part,” she told me, “was when I could feel the surgeon sewing me up.”  Suddenly I wanted to scream, too, but the story didn’t end there.  She explained that, when the last stitch was done, she was taken into recovery and told she could now let go of the bed rails.  She tried but her fingers were solidly holding on.  A nurse pried free one finger at a time.  Listening to the story, I gasped yet again, when she told me that the intensity of the ordeal was such that, as the nurse loosed her fingers, the skin on the palms of her hands actually peeled off!

“The healing of my hands was the worse part of it all,” she told me.  “It took several weeks before the skin restored and the pain stopped.

Whew!  Does the reading of this story do to you what it did to me?  Gasping, mouth-opened, feeling of horror washing over?  How did Galina react with the retelling of this event to me?  Why, she laughed, of course.

In 25 years of our close and dear relationship, I have watched her and her family face life’s struggles that come to all of us, and with my every observation of Galina, she was and is an example of the power of laughter.  How thankful I am to Galina for her heart, and to God who created each of us with the ability to laugh.

If at all possible, find something everyday to smile at and to laugh about.  There comes healing of the heart with every chuckle.

“A glad heart makes a happy face; a broken heart crushes the spirit.”  Proverbs 15:13

 

 

Just A Rotten Apple

You know how it is when a memory just pops into your mind for no known reason?  Such a memory came to me yesterday.  It took me back to a bumpy bus ride in Central Asia.  I had been to an open air market to purchase some fresh vegetables.  Lugging my heavy bags, I boarded a local bus that would take me back home.  The bus was packed full; standing room only.  I squeezed through several people to make my way down the aisle.  Then, as the bus lurched forward, I grabbed hold of the back of a seat to steady myself.

A mother and her little girl were sitting in the seat.  The girl looked at me.  I smiled.  She smiled but buried her face in her mother’s shoulder for just a moment before peeking at me again.  We played this little game for several seconds before she decided to eat what she was holding.  I watched her take a bite of an extremely bruised apple.  In fact, I told myself, it was a rotten apple.  I could see no place on the apple’s surface that wasn’t brown and yucky looking.  Even so, the little girl was happy enough and took another bite.

She kept glancing at me and I kept smiling in return.  I watched as she whispered to her mother.  Whatever the girl said, the mother nodded yes.  Then the girl reached into their bag and took out another rotten apple.  Smiling up at me she offered the apple.  My stomach turned a flip.  Ugh!  I did not want a rotten apple!  Even so, I accepted the apple to the girls’s delight.

I thanked her and started to put the apple into my own bag, but the girl’s face dropped.  I realized she wanted me to eat the apple right then and there.  I knew what I had to do.  I turned the apple around and around in my hand looking for the least bruised spot.  There weren’t any.  So, smiling again at the waiting little girl, I put the apple to my mouth and took a bite.  A huge smile lit up her face.

The little girl wanted to give me a gift.  She gave me all she had to give.  It wasn’t the best but it was given with the greatest of good intentions and with much joy.

Do you ever feel like you have nothing worthwhile to offer to God?  Do you look around at others and conclude that they are more talented than you?  Others, you tell yourself, have so much more to offer.  You don’t even compare.  All you have is equivalent to the rotten apple.  Ever feel that way?

Remember the story in John 6?  The crowds of people listening to Jesus had been there a long time.  They had to be hungry but there were no towns close by to get food.  The disciples told Jesus that the only food they could find was a boy’s lunch of a few fish and some bread.  Everybody there knew that this lunch was a pitiful offering to take care of so many needs.  Even so, what happened?  It tells us in verse 11, “Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks to God, and distributed them to the people.”   He did the same with the fish until everybody was fed.  The boy gave what he had, inadequate as it was, and Jesus performed a miracle.

Jesus never changes.  We must not forget that fact.  You and I may feel that our gifts and abilities are inadequate.  We may feel that our finances and material possessions don’t add up to much, but Jesus will always receive what you give.  He can still multiple the loaves and fish of our lives, making them count for His Kingdom.  It’s not what we give that matters but the attitude in which we give it.

No One Can Be Unborn

The other day someone came to me with a question: “Is eternal life really eternal?  What if I do something really bad?  Won’t I lose my salvation?”  Many Christians grapple with the thought that perhaps their particular sin will cancel their entrance into heaven.  They live in fear and dread wondering if they need to get saved over and over again.  Is there a clear answer?  I’m happy to say — yes.  Let’s take a quick peek into the matter.

Sometimes, doubts of the guarantee of eternal life come as a result of misunderstandings of the Old Testament in relation to the New Testament (testament means covenant). Before Jesus came, we see in the Old Testament that there was a probationary life and a conditional life.  Adam and Eve lived a probationary life, meaning that life as they lived it in perfection, was theirs as long as they obeyed God’s command of not eating the forbidden fruit.  They failed to keep that command; thereby, ushering in God’s plan of redemption to save man from his own sin that separated him from a Holy God.  The Israelites lived a conditional life, meaning that their possession of The Promised Land was contingent upon keeping themselves away from idolatry.  They failed to keep that command; thereby, pointing yet again to the need of man for a Savior.

Enter Jesus.  From the moment Jesus took our place on the cross, offering forgiveness of our sin, the probationary life and the conditional life ceased to be.  Now there was only eternal life offered to mankind.  When we ask God’s forgiveness of our sin, He declares us forgiven eternally, washed clean in His sight because of the blood of Jesus.  There is a verse in Romans 11:29 that tells us, “God’s gifts and His call can never be withdrawn.”   Therefore, if God’s gift of eternal life can never be “withdrawn,” then it is a contradiction of terms to say it can come to an end.  Isn’t that the most wonderful news!

So, the question may come to you, “why do I feel so bad when some sin overtakes me?” Feelings of remorse come, not because you’ve lost your salvation, but because you have grieved the Holy Spirit. We are told in Ephesians 4:30, “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit by the way you live.  Remember, He has identified you as His own, guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption.”   What is meant by grieving the Holy Spirit?  It means that sin makes Him sorrowful.  God loves us with absolute pure love.  That love causes Him to desire the very best for each of us.  He doesn’t want sin to damage our faithfulness, to make dull our joy, to eradicate our peace.  Sin does all of those things; therefore, the Holy Spirit is terribly saddened when we allow sin to come into our lives and to stay there.

Sin destroys our joy and peace. Living in the ways of God builds up our joy and peace; it makes strong our faith in Him to bring us through any situation we find ourselves in.  Nothing is too hard for God.  His joy keeps us remembering that, while sin dulls our senses, bringing fear and dismay,  we don’t have to live that way.  Whenever we sin, we need not wallow in the darkness of it; we can confess, rejoice in His eternal forgiveness, and move on with resolved determination to walk in His ways.

We don’t have to live weakened, fearful lives.  We don’t have to live in uncertainty of eternal life when we sin.  We can always live in the wonder of His love and forgiveness.  Always take care upon what you focus.  Satan will lie and whisper that your sin has forfeited your entrance into heaven.  God promises in Colossians 1:13 that He has “rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of His dear Son.”  

You and I break our promises.  Satan lies.  Our loving Heavenly Father does neither.  So, do not fear — ever!  Instead, rejoice — always!  When you receive His gift of salvation, you are born anew.  No one can be unborn.

 

It Was In Her Pocket

Yesterday my mother couldn’t find her watch.  She remembered putting it on her bedside table before going to bed the night before.  Now she couldn’t find it.  I joined in the search.  We retraced her steps.  We looked in the bathroom, on the little table by the chair in the den where she most often sits.  No watch was to be found.

She wanted this watch, needed this watch, but it was gone.  Oh wait, no!  At last she found it!  It was in her pocket!  Haven’t we all done this, spending minutes or even hours looking for something we think we’ve lost, only to discover it was near us all the time.

We do the same thing in our spiritual worlds.  We go through some difficulty, a sorrow, feelings of failure, inability to cope with demands of life, despondency.  We want peace, need peace, but it’s gone.  Oh wait, no!  It’s with us always; so near, and yet it seems lost to us.  We look and look but we just can’t find it.

Like my mother and I looking for her watch, you and I can so easily search in all the wrong places, too.  We convince ourselves that peace is lost to us forever, when in reality, it’s so near.  It’s ours for the taking.

We are told that in Matthew 11:28 when Jesus says, Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”  We can be our own worst enemy when we believe that we have lost peace and can’t find it, when really, it’s always within our reach because Jesus is always there, waiting, longing to give us all that we need.  We only need to go to Him and take the peace He always offers.   He will give us rest.

 

The Lost Goose

A few days ago I was doing some work outside when I heard a familiar honking noise.  Immediately I knew it was a goose.  I love watching the Canadian Geese as they fly overhead in perfect V formation, honking happily as they go.  This time, however, there was no communal honking; it was just one lone goose.  Strange.  Going back to my work it was only a minute later when the honking returned.  Looking up I saw the goose flying back from where it had just come.  On three occasions, minutes apart, this goose flew back and forth.  To my heart’s relief, on the fourth flyover, there came an entire flock of those beautiful geese, honking away.  I never saw the lone goose again so I can only surmise it found the flock and joined in.

Do you know why they fly in V formation?  Do you know there is a purpose in the continual honking?  The head goose flaps and flaps, leading the others.  Of course, facing the winds head-on gets tiring.  When the head goose needs to rest, it drops back and one of the others takes its turn at the lead.  They all honk sporadically to let those at the front know that, “we’re right here behind you.”  It’s a way of encouraging the whole group.  I find nature fascinating just as I find it full of life’s lessons for us all.

Like the goose, there are times in our own lives when we are alone, but we never need face things on our own.  God made us a family, with Him as our Father.  When one of us gets tired, those around us rally with encouraging words and prayers as if honking in encouragements like, “you can do this,”  “your Heavenly Father leads the way so don’t give up,” “we share your grief,”  “we share your joy.”  Yes, as God created the goose to need another, so He created us to be a part of each other, too.  That’s why it’s vitally important to join together in worship and learning and sharing.

Solomon Wrote in Proverbs 27:17, “As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend.”  I am thankful for all the “geese” in my life, both past and present.  You lift me up when I am down, you laugh when I laugh, and cry with me in sorrow.  You encourage me onwards and upwards; therefore, I fly.

A Most Wonderful Opportunity

Just over 2000 years ago an incident took place that gives us a clear look into the heart of mankind.  There are different types of people; those who accuse others, rarely looking at their own shortcomings, and those who accuse themselves, unable to recognize or receive forgiveness.  Both need a revelation of love, an understanding of grace.

Many of you will already be recalling the story I’m referring to that is recorded in John 8.  The story tells of a woman who was caught in an illegal act.  She was reported to the town’s authorities; those whose duty it was to uphold the law of the land.  They made a decision that would prove to be a life changing opportunity for everyone involved.  They brought her to Jesus.

Standing before Him with the woman in tow, they revealed what she had done and asked what punishment He would recommend.  They already knew the law of the land.  They knew what the law required – death.  What would Jesus say?  It is most interesting to note that Jesus gave everyone present a glimpse into redemption.  He forced them all to take an honest look at themselves; an opportunity to reach out from a sea of darkness to a lifeboat of light that would save them from themselves.  In other words, Jesus was able to help them all realize that one was no better than the other.  They were all floundering in the same sea of darkness.  They all needed the same light to rescue them from the paths on which they were traveling through life.

Jesus did not refute the law but he required that the accusers look into their own hearts.  He did not accuse the woman but he required that she recognize the path she was on and change course.  He required that everyone present see their own darkened hearts.  He offered a way to be forgiven and to walk in the light of truth and love and freedom.  He offered Himself.  He would pay for everything that all of them had ever done.  It didn’t matter the depth of wrongdoing; it only mattered the height of love that would cover them all.

Nothing has changed all these years later.  Some of us accuse others while some of us wallow in self degradation.  No one has to live with a darkened heart.  Each person, without exception, has opportunity to reach out and receive eternal forgiveness for everything they have ever done.  Each person can receive love that is so pure and vast that it can’t be measured.  Each person can receive hope that will sustain them through all their days on earth; an abiding hope that promises a future world where no wrongdoing or self degradation exists.  Each person can receive Jesus.  Just ask Him to come into your life, to forgive you, to give you the strength to walk the path of life, leaving all darkness behind – forever!

The Love Gauge

Have you ever wished you could measure love?  Often in life we wonder how much we are loved by certain others in our lives.  We even question God’s love for us, making statements like, “If God really loves me, why does He allow difficulties in my life?  Why does He allow things that hurt me so much?”  In our relationship with God we can become consumed with questioning and wondering how much does God really love us?  Our gauge seems to depend on the ease with which we glide through life’s troubles.

There is a flip side to this question of how much we are loved by God; which is, how much do we love Him?  Seldom do we ask ourselves such a question.  We want God to do as we think best for our lives, giving us what we determine we need, when we determine we need it.  It’s not often that we take time to meditate upon the motives of our own hearts, daring to question, how much do we truly love God?

As far as that goes, is there even a gauge to measure one’s own love for God?  After all, we are an imperfect people.  We are in constant need of being molded into maturity as we go through life’s challenges, daily allowing the hands of God to hold us and shape us into His image.  Only as we permit God access into our existence are we then able to walk in His own courage and wisdom as we travel through the moments of our lives.

Still, how do we know that we  really love God?  Is there some meter to measure our own hearts?  This week a dear friend sent a book to me titled, Lord, Could You Hurry A Little?  This  collection of poems is written by Ruth Harms Calkin.   She writes the following in a poem called, The Infallible Test.

“Lord, often I have wondered if my love for you is genuine,  Or do I flippantly mouth it like a small child saying grace at the table?  But today as I read your Word I discovered the one infallible test: ‘The one who loves me is the one who obeys me.’  Lord, never again need I wonder.  You have made it plain enough.”

Yes, God has indeed made it plain enough.  Jesus was instructing His disciples when He said to them in John 14:15, “If you love me, obey my commandments.”  His disciple, John, wrote in I John 5:3, “Loving God means keeping His commandments, and His commandments are not burdensome.”

We must not forget that God’s instruction to us to obey Him is not Him being some control freak.  It’s God displaying His vast love for us.  You see, our ways are imperfect; His ways are without mistake; they are good and loving.  For us to walk in His ways is not to boost the ego of God, but to keep us safe through all our days, to keep us living in peace, behaving in wisdom, shielded from consequences of walking in our own foolish ways.

So the question comes:  How much do we love God?

The Eye Of A Storm

Like many of you, I have been keeping track of Hurricane Matthew, praying for the residents of Florida as they batten down the hatches to face the storm’s wrath.  It’s always interesting to me to note that in the middle of every hurricane, there is the center of the storm where everything is calm and peaceful.  The mighty winds, often full of destruction, circle around the eye of the storm.

Do you remember the story of Jesus walking on the water?  It’s recorded in Matthew 14 and also in Mark and John.  Can you imagine the scene?  The disciples, the men who Jesus was investing time in, teaching and showing them great lessons on earth that would help them through all their days, were in the boat.  Most of these men were fishermen.  Their fathers had been fishermen.  They grew up knowing the water and the weather.  Therefore, because of their knowledge, we know that the storm that swept upon them had to be potentially deadly, because they were frantic.

Imagine them on deck.  Waves are washing over the bow.  Wild water is spraying in their faces.  The wind is lashing against their efforts to pull in the sails.  The roar of the storm complicates their efforts to hear each other call out instructions.  They are soaked and cold and scared; this storm is a bad one.

In the midst of their desperate attempts to save the boat and their lives, something unimaginable happens.  Look!  Someone must have called out.  What’s that?  They peer across the darkness of the water.  The lightening cracks and a flash of light reveals something that takes their breath away.  Each of them grabs hold of something to steady them against the force of wind.  It’s, it’s…Jesus!  NO!  It’s a ghost!  Poor men.  There they are fighting with diminishing hopes to get back to shore, when another fear overcomes them. Of all things to deal with, they don’t need a ghost!  Suddenly, they hear something they recognize.  “Don’t be afraid!  Take courage; I am here.”  Can it be?  Is it really Jesus?  Did He just do the impossible, walking on water to get to them in the storm?

Yes, they would find out for certain in the moments to follow, that it was indeed Jesus.  Can you imagine the wonder and the thrill that must have come over them?  Jesus was a master teacher and what a visual aid He used to capture their attention. They would never forget that incident.

The good news for all of us is that Jesus still walks through the storms of our lives to come to us. Remember the times in life when perhaps you were in a difficult situation and you saw no way out?  Have you ever felt like you were failing in all areas of your life, so tired of hoping you could get a grip on things, only to fail in your own eyes time and time again?  Do storms of grief take hold of all your senses when your relationships rock with turmoil?  Does fear of job loss or financial uncertainty sweep over you like a hurricane churning up the water?  Does poor health take its toll on peace, ripping away courage like destructive winds exploding onto unsuspecting shores?

Never forget, just as every hurricane has a peaceful eye in its core, Jesus is always in our midst, too.  He still walks on water into our storm-filled lives, calling out to us, “Don’t be afraid!  Take courage; I am here!”  Storms only persist in our personal worlds when we try to battle the winds of discontent in our own strength.  No matter your personal pain, strain your ears to hear because His voice is always there, His love is ever present, His hope and courage never cease as He calls out to you, “Don’t be afraid!  I am here!”