A tale of two restaurants

Watch your step sign

Ben and I were at a restaurant yesterday when a worker spilled two glasses of drink all over the floor.  The liquid followed a path like a bowling ball down the alley between table and booths, making it hard for anyone seated in those areas to get up.

The young man responsible for the mess immediately tried to clean it up.  He tried to wipe up the massive amount of liquid with his foot on a rag.  Occasionally, he bent down to pick up ice chips.  He clearly had not cleaned up many (or any) spills at the restaurant before.

He was gone a while trying to figure out what to do and came back with a rag again.  He kept trying to wipe up a huge amount of liquid with soaking wet rags.  Once he carried the rag away, water was streaming from it, marking his path like something from Hansel and Gretel.

I don’t know where the mop in the restaurant was, or if the young man knew about it, but he kept coming back trying to make up for his mistake.  Embarrassed and not knowing what to do, he kept trying to attack the mess with rags.  Meanwhile, anyone who walked by could have slipped and fallen.

The waitresses who had customers at the tables of course found out about the mess.  The first one walked through it without an offer to help.  The other waitress came around another alley.  No manager came out, and the busser kept bussing tables.  No one even seemed to consider helping the young man.

It took him a painfully long time to clean up the mess, making trip after trip.  All the while, he was completely unable to do his job: seat guests.

As I watched, I wanted to get a rag and help him out.  (I also wanted to find a mop.)  The lack of compassion (and training) didn’t make me want to go back to the restaurant.

Compare this to a time I was at one of our local Village Inn’s a few years back.  One of the waitresses dropped a dish with the huge noise of crashing glass.  She didn’t have to feel flustered or embarrassed long.  The manager of the restaurant immediately came over to help. He acted as if her problem was his problem and that he wasn’t too important to help her clean it up.  With the employees pitching in to help, the mess was cleaned up in no time, and the waitress was able to go back to work.

Let me ask you a question: How do you view God?  Do you think He’s like the uninvolved, perhaps even unaware manager in the first story . . or like the ready, servant-hearted manager in the second story?  Do you feel like God cares about your messes–or that He’s turned His back on you and is leaving you to fix them yourself?

Even though our messes are unimaginably worse than a spilled drink or broken dish, God doesn’t leave us to fix for ourselves what is impossible for us to fix.  Not unless, of course, we refuse His help.

God doesn’t want us to be on our own with sin too devastating for us to handle.  That’s why He came down.  When Jesus was on the cross, He took all of our messes and He fixed them Himself.  He had to do it by Himself.  No one could step up to help.  And He did it so that we wouldn’t have to be stuck with the nightmare of trying to clean up sin.

Only He could do it.  Only He is perfect, and only He is God who has infinite ability to fix the crookedness and wipe away the evil of all who believe.

If you feel you’re standing in the middle of a mountain of broken goodness and spilled righteousness, surrender your mess to God.  Only He can help you and the good news is, He is waiting.

No one who hopes in you will ever be put to shame . . (Psalm 25:3a, NIV)

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Published in: on April 27, 2014 at 7:42 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Empty Seat

God works amazing moments in our lives where one decision that seems small turns into something we could never have imagined.

One of those moments happened for me in a South American restaurant on a rainy night in Guatemala.

We were on the last night of our trip through Compassion International.  About 40 of us had gathered from across the country, across denominations, across age groups, all to visit children we sponsored in Guatemala (or, for one couple, planning to sponsor).

We’d all come together to meet our children, and now we were getting ready to disperse back into ordinary living in the States.  The wake-up alarm for me would be 4:00 a.m. the next morning, and somehow that meant none of us were in a hurry to go to bed.

It was black outside because we were in Guatemala’s winter.  It was warm, but wet.  I don’t remember anyone having umbrellas, or anyone caring how they looked as we entered, single-file, through the separate meeting room in the restaurant.  We went through an outdoor patio, and then seated ourselves in a large, fiesta-decorated room with tables long like giraffe necks.

I was close to the front of the 40 of us.  As we filed in, I was aware of two things:

  • Ben was close behind me.
  • I had two seats to choose from:

1.  Sit next to the wall.  (My friend behind me would be the only one able to sit next to me.)

2.  Sit one seat away from the wall.  (My friend behind me and I would leave an empty seat.)

I remember praying, “God if you want something to happen between Ben and I, then have him sit in the seat next to me.”

And I chose to sit with one seat for my friend and one seat empty.

Ben came in and sat next to me.

I didn’t know much about Ben.  I knew he was quiet and didn’t eat breakfast.  I knew he was interested in me–well, he’d been pursuing me from the get-go . . but in shy ways.  He would try to sit next to me on the bus if my seat was empty.  I tried to make sure it wasn’t.

But that afternoon, an older gentleman on the trip had basically asked me, “Have you taken a look at Ben?”  At first, I’d brushed him off.  But now, I was really thinking about it.  What about Ben?  Could he possibly be the man I’d been waiting for the 10 years of my adult life?  Could he possibly be the man God had for me?

Ben slipped into the seat next to me, and, at that point, our lives together began.

I am so very thankful to God for encouraging me to leave that empty seat.

.                     .                     .                     .                     .                     .                     .

Did you know that there is someone waiting for you to leave an empty seat next to you, too?  No, I’m not talking about the love of your life, but the love of your eternity.  God.

God is waiting for you to leave an empty seat next to you.  He wants to talk to you.  He wants you to listen to Him.  And He wants to listen to you.  God wants to be not just a part of your life, but He wants to be your Life.

God is waiting for you to leave an empty seat next to you.

Asking Christ into your heart isn’t just an emotional high or some kind of one-time ticket-to-Heaven.  It’s the beginning of a beautiful relationship, made to last for eternity.

The question is not whether God is waiting.  He is.  The question is, are you ready to leave Him that seat?

Jesus,

I want to know the love of my eternity.  I want to know who You are.  Please forgive me for waiting so long.  I realize now that you’ve been pursuing me my whole life.  I believe in You and what You say in Your Word.  I want you to be the romance of my life.  I want you to be my King of Kings.  You already love me more than I could ever dream.  Now I want to love you more than anything.  Please forgive me of all my sins that have separated me from You, that have taken up Your seat.  I love you.  I want you to be my Savior.

In Jesus’ Name,

Amen.

Pursue love . . (from 1 Corinthians 14:1a, NASB)

Feeling burnt out?

Do you ever feel burnt out?

Gewinner

A little bit concerned that you’re on your last match . . and that you’ve met your match?  🙂

Me too.

Tired, weary, dismayed, discouraged, worried, fatigued, confused, exhausted, done-in?

Yes.

Have you ever noticed it’s easiest to trust in God’s strength and sing about our dependance on Him when we’re relying mostly on our own strength and feeling pretty independent of Him?

There’s something deep in our fallen nature that thinks, If I’m done-in, God can’t work in me.  Or in other words, God needs my strength to fulfill His purposes.

I am sure God deliberately weakens us at times so that we will wake up to our need for Him.

A newborn puppy close to his mother doesn’t have to think about his need for her.  She is simply there for him.  But should she get up an walk away for a few moments, he finds himself utterly dependent on her.  He whimpers and squeaks as he tries to find where his source of everything went.

God can use us even when we have no strength left of our own.  Actually, He can use us best when we realize that strength is outsourced from Him, and not produced in some factory of self-effort.  When our last match is burnt out, we must rely on His Light to fill us with hope and rejuvenation.  And it’s in those times that we realize that every effort we had thought was self-made . . is actually a gift from Him.

When we strike-out our last match, we need to remember nothing from God can be done by our own strength.  Maybe, in that time of burn-out, we will at last begin to surrender to God’s work . . and we will at last begin to actually accomplish something.

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9, KJV)

 

The Chapter of Love I Didn’t Understand

We were only going to be in Guatemala for 4 short days on a mission trip and, at the Miami airport, I made it clear to the new guy I’d met: I didn’t want to see any more of him.

Or I thought I’d made it clear.  As my roommate for the trip talked to him, I held my socially-polite-but-clear distance.  I thought immediately he was interested in me, and I wasn’t interested at all in him.

First, he was waiting for something, and I didn’t understand what.  He was sitting on the wall of the airport, not in a seat, even though there were lots of empty seats.  It was like he was lurking there waiting for me–even though he didn’t yet know me–to come into the airport.

Second, he looked scary to me.  He had eyes that are the color they usually give to serial killers in movies.

Third, he was doing something I didn’t understand.  He was seated there cross-stitching.  I don’t know guys who cross-stitch and, even though it was a mountain scene, I immediately drew the conclusion that he had to be a weird guy.

Fourth, I thought because of all the other reasons he was not cool.  I lived my whole teenage life in this category, and I didn’t want to associate with the not cool, not this time.  In every day life, sure, God, but not on this mission trip.  (Very logical.)  My roommate was a beautiful, immediately magnetizing young woman and I wanted to be with the in-crowd like her.

The thing I didn’t understand was that she kept talking to Ben.  She made a point to seek him out during our trip.  She would invite him to sit with us, stop to say hello when we walked past him, and just chill out with him.  He was a part of her family group and she just simply got to know him.  She would talk with him and about him casually, and I could tell she was neither afraid of him as a serial killer or for the possibility of making her uncool.

I began to realize something.  I didn’t understand Ben.  And the more time I edged out of my judgmental shell to get to know him, the more I realized how much I didn’t understand him.

He didn’t like to lurk; he just likes to sit places at different angles than most people and contemplate things.

He couldn’t help the color of his eyes and, even though they were frightening to me at first, they became stunningly beautiful the more I began to trust him.

He does do things that most guys don’t do.  He still opens car doors for me; he picks up around the house; he works on projects for me (like this website) for hours at a time without expecting a single thank-you; he’s gentle when he has every right to be angry with me; and he takes care of me when I’m sick in a way that’s more nurturing than I’ve ever known.  He does do things that most guys don’t do.  And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Is he cool or uncool?  I don’t know.  Probably depends on who you ask on what day at what time.  Like me, he’s different than most people.  I wasn’t willing to risk the uncool even though I myself am the queen of uncool (what an irony) to get to know him.  But once I began to see the possibility for love, the quickly-morphing status of whether we are cool or not began to slip from my mind like sand between my fingers.

I didn’t understand Ben, and, in a way, this story reminds me of someone else I didn’t understand: God.

First, God was waiting for something from me, and I didn’t understand what.  I thought maybe I had to do better to earn His love, or find just the right words to please Him, or repeat prayers over and over.  I didn’t really realize that what He wanted was for me to believe in Him.

Second, God looked scary to me.  I didn’t trust His nature.  I didn’t understand who He was, and I based my perceptions of Him more on what people had told me and twistings of Scripture than on what God really says about Himself in Scripture.  I hadn’t read much of the Bible, and as I began to read (especially John and Romans), I began to see the character of who God really is.

Third, he was doing something I didn’t understand.  He was pursuing me, and we have it ingrained in our mind that God does not pursue wretches.  The cross is easy to understand from a factual standpoint, but hard to understand at the heart level.  That God–GOD Himself–would give Himself for us is beyond our understanding.  The more we delve into and contemplate this, the deeper the mystery becomes.

Fourth, I thought God was not cool.  I was afraid of Him, I didn’t understand Him, and I thought the people who have all the fun are unbelievers.  What I came to see is that, when you hear God’s heartbeat, you are astonished you ever worried about anything other than His love.  To have God’s love is to have everything; to miss out on God’s love is to have worse than nothing.  Losing friends, parties, social status, or facebook ‘likes’ because of God is no hardship when you realize that you have gained the love of God.  God’s love is the greatest romance of all and being known by Him is the most unbelievable privilege in the universe.

. . are you unaware of his rich kindness, forbearance, and patience, that it is God’s kindness that is leading you to repent? (from Romans 2:4, ISV)

 

Published in: on April 26, 2014 at 8:24 am  Leave a Comment  
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The Heartbeat of Character

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Do you want to have the highest character you can possibly have?

Do you want the finest jewel of self quality?

Then love.

Yes, love.

1 Corinthians 13 spells it out: the most precious, the best, and the most valuable gift you can have is to love.

Love.

Not a frilly, lacy, doily love that’s set out for Sunday brunches, but a real, in-the-depths-of-need love for breath-to-breath living . . and for eternity.

Love, real love, love that changes the world, love that changes you, is love from God’s heart.

Love is the heartbeat of God.

So if you want to love, you must listen to God’s heartbeat.

And you can, because it’s rhythm is recorded, in EKG calligraphy, in 1 Corinthians 13.

Listen to His heartbeat.

Love.

Listen to it, and you hear its supernatural, only-from-God rhythm.  The only way you can ever have it is if God gives it.  And He does.  Freely.

Ask Him to touch your heart, to change its dead pulse to His thunderous beat of everlasting love.

And you will have the heartbeat of character.

Love.

Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:13, NLT)

 

 

 

 

Published in: on April 26, 2014 at 7:24 am  Leave a Comment  
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Love is as love does.

Heart.

There’s a famous saying from Forrest Gump: “Stupid is as stupid does.”

Agreed, and, more importantly, Love is as love does.

Love is as love does.

Do you want to know what real love is?  Look to God.

John tells us,

God is love.  (1 John 4:16a)

Read 1 Corinthians 13 and substitute God’s name for love each time you come to it.  To make it more personal, substitute different names for God,

Jesus.  The Great I AM.  The King of Kings.  The Prince of Peace.  God the Father.

And so on.

Love is all that is lined out in 1 Corinthians 13, but best of all, all the things love is are things love does.

Now read the Gospel of Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John.  And now you see.

Love does.

This is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. (1 John 4:10, ISV)

 

 

 

 

Published in: on April 24, 2014 at 7:57 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Pepsi

In Guatemala, we got soda for free with meals, and saying no became a lot harder.  But, I had to pick the bottled water.  See, I can’t drink high fructose corn syrup and, as tempting as it is, I’ve said no to mainstream soda for years.

The last night of our stay–the night I began to fall in love with Ben–I learned something.  South America is known for its soda, because they use real sugar, not high fructose corn syrup.  All the drinks I had turned down . . I could have had.

And now the waiters were coming around with trays of sodas for all of us, as many as we wanted.

Sometimes we feel like, if we’ve missed something for so long, we might as well not try to have it anymore.

But than night I splurged.  It was the first time in years I’d had Pepsi and what a thrill!

I was 28 years old–almost 29–that night.  That night I had the choice to sit in the chair against the wall, with a friend blocking any chance of Ben sitting next to me . . or I had the choice to sit one down from the wall and see what God would unfold.

I could have looked at the years gone by, the impossibility of ever finding the right man, and passed up the opportunity to leave an empty chair beside me.

Sometimes we feel like, if we’ve missed something for so long, we might as well not try to have it anymore.

But that night I left the chair open.  And Ben sat down beside me.

And so it began.

.               .               .               .               .               .               .               .               .

Sometimes we feel like, if we’ve missed something for so long, we might as well not try to have it anymore, and sometimes the things we pass up are way more important that Pepsi . . and even more important than finding the love of your life.

Like eternal love.  Everlasting peace.  True joy.  Real forgiveness.

When we discover that God is holding these gifts out to us, we feel such a surge of regret that we haven’t received them before . . that we can actually miss receiving them now.

But I have opened my heart to Christ.  I receive His gift.  And no matter how many years were wasted, or how deep the sorrows made, I am ready and willing to receive His grace for me that He holds out . . right now.

It’s amazing what a Pepsi can remind you of.

For the sin of this one man, Adam, caused death to rule over many. But even greater is God’s wonderful grace and his gift of righteousness, for all who receive it will live in triumph over sin and death through this one man, Jesus Christ. (Romans 5:17, NLT)

 

 

 

Crummy

I am one of those people who, 8 times out of 10–or maybe 9–when I feel crummy, I look crummy.

As a bonus, other times, when I don’t feel crummy, but just tired or preoccupied, I have the uncanny ability to look crummy then, too.

It wasn’t long into my relationship with Ben that he got to see one of my crummy days.  I’m not very good at hiding things like that and, if I’d had to wait until we were married to show him what I look like on those kind of days, he would have had to propose to me, well, actually about two days after he met me.

Guatemala.  4 a.m.

The funny thing is, I hadn’t planned to take a shower.  Walking around looking crummy stopped bothering me years ago.  But I’d had my first “date” with Ben the night before at a restaurant with everyone else on the mission trip, and I was afraid of what he would think if he saw just how crummy I looked at 4 a.m. without a shower.  So I did take a shower.  I even put on minimal makeup.  I was pretty proud of myself.  4 a.m. is pretty early to do this kind of thing.

I still remember the fateful moment when we all met up in the hotel lobby and I said something to Ben like, “Would you take a picture of me, even though I look sort of crummy?”  (Yes, I was flirting pathetically, but that’s another story.)

He said,

and I quote,

“Sure.”

WRONG ANSWER, Ben.

Because I’m me :), I did tell him that was the ‘wrong’ answer.  I told him the socially apropos  answer was to say, “Teej, you don’t look crummy!  You look great!”  That joke became the icebreaker in our relationship, and the beginning of a beautiful realization that Ben could see me–even when I didn’t look (let’s be honest) great–and love me anyway.

Back in the states, when we started long-distance dating (he in Pennsylvania and I in Missouri) I realized I had a big weight already lifted off my shoulders.  Ben had already seen me on a mission trip.  He already knew what at least somewhat crummy looked like.  And he still wanted to date me.  What a relief!

Over the next several months, I gave him ample opportunity to see what really crummy me looks like.  He even got to see what my hair looks like after snowflakes fall on it.  (Not like it does in the movie, girls, let me just tell you.)  And it seems totally fitting that, just a couple weeks after our honeymoon, I caught the flu and he got to see an even worser, really very crummy version of me.

You know what?  I am so relieved that Ben sees the crummy me and still loves me.  If I had to hide when I was tired, sick, or just too preoccupied with writing to look beautiful, I’d be in real trouble.  As he can tell you, I’d have to do a lot of hiding.

You know what?  I am so relieved that God sees the crummy me, too.  It’s the most terrifying thought in the world at first–but when I realized His grace for me, it became such a relief.  No need to hide the pieces of me I’d never want Him to see–He already knows.  No need to run for the hills anytime He comes near–He’s already seen.  No need for vicious anxiety attacks in the turmoil of wondering if He loves me–He already does.

This is grace, and it is grace at it’s best: while we were still crummy, God loved us.  And this isn’t the kind of crummy that comes from not showering or having the flu.  This is the kind of crummy that’s the very filth of our souls–the very truths about ourselves that we know would drag us into the pit of Hell.  It’s those things that God knew–and He loved us still.

If you have been hiding from God, the time to hide is over.  If you have been running from God, the time to run is over.  God already knows you.  And, most importantly, He already loves you.

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8, NIV)

Thanks to Max Lucado and his story about Salty in He Chose the Nails.  See it here.

A Carebear Necklace and Giving Homemade Gifts (that really look homemade)

Do you remember those gifts you used to make as a child for family?

little girl with  cutter make a christmas tree cookie

There was the endless supply of far-too-tiny potholders.  The gingerbread Christmas tree ornament.  The clay dog I made that I was told (allegedly) looked like a pig.  The paper rug.  The snowman out of a soup can.  The yo-yo mini-quilt.  (Really, I didn’t make that for anybody because I didn’t like it–home economics project–but my mom paid me $50 for it because she said it was like a $50 yo-yo vest in a boutique.  Ah, moms.).

And then there was the Care Bear necklace.

One day at my grandmother’s house when I was about five or six, she helped me make a necklace for my mother out of gold pipe cleaner and magazine pictures of Care Bears.  It really did turn out extraordinary, if I say so myself.  My mother wore it to church the next Sunday, which is further proof.  (Remembering that this is the same mom who paid me the $50 for the yo-yos.)

When we grow up, I think we forget a lot of times what a little homemade gift can mean–even if it doesn’t look like something that came out of a magazine, and even if it isn’t exactly what our family or friends would have made for themselves.

My father kept my embroidered blue-bunny-in-a-wagon pillow in his office for as long as he had an office–even though that little pillow looked like something that belonged in a nursery or nursing home (and even though the thread started to unravel).

Among my most treasured belongings are sketches my father did–I wish I’d saved every napkin and paper he ever drew on.

Homemade gifts don’t have to be snapshot-worthy or take the next 6 months to make.  But they can say, with childhood fervor, I love you (a lot).

. . love is kind . . (1 Corinthians 13:4b, NASB)

 

Published in: on April 23, 2014 at 6:38 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Highest Thought of All

Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. (Philippians 4:8b, NLT)

There can be no thought more true or so honorable, more right or so pure, or anything so lovely or admirable, as to think about the gift of Christ Jesus.

In him lie hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
 (Colossians 2:3, NLT)

If we would but embed our hearts in this truth, we would fulfill the life Christ wants us to have.

Crown of Thorns and the Holy Bible

Published in: on April 20, 2014 at 7:28 am  Leave a Comment  
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