Thursday, December 31, 2015

Goodbye 2015

Year’s End

Thou art good when thou givest,
       when thou takest away,
       when the sun shines upon me,
       when night gathers over me.
Thou hast loved me before the foundation of the world,
       and in love didst redeem my soul;
Thou dost love me still,
       in spite of my hard heart, ingratitude, distrust.
Thy goodness has been with me another year,
       leading me through a twisting wilderness,
       in retreat helping me to advance,
       when beaten back making sure headway.
Thy goodness will be with me in the year ahead;
I hoist sail and draw up anchor,
With thee as the blessed pilot of my future as of my past.
I bless thee that thou hast veiled my eyes to the waters ahead.
If thou hast appointed storms of tribulation,
       thou wilt be with me in them;
If I have to pass through tempests of persecution and tempation,
       I shall not drown;
If I am to die,
       I shall see thy face the sooner;
If a painful end is to be my lot,
       grant me grace that my faith fail not;
If I am to be cast aside from the service I love,
       I can make no stipulation;
Only glorify thyself in me whether in comfort or trial,
       as a chosen vessel meet always for thy use.
–From The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Strength Training

In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world —John 16:33

God does not give us overcoming life— He gives us life as we overcome. The strain of life is what builds our strength. If there is no strain, there will be no strength. Are you asking God to give you life, liberty, and joy? He cannot, unless you are willing to accept the strain. And once you face the strain, you will immediately get the strength. 
Oswald Chambers~My Utmost for His Highest

I have a confession to make.  I am a big complainer. When I encounter tribulation, I am not of good cheer; I am of bad mood.  This is a choice I make, and continue to make every time something seems too hard or too unfair to me.  This needs to change. 

Oswald Chambers says that the strain of life is what builds our strength, but because I choose to complain about the strain, I stay weak.  I don’t want to be weak and I don’t want to complain.  Complaining shows the true state of my heart and teaches my children that when things get tough they can turn their eyes to themselves.  In reality, though, it’s especially when times get tough that we need to fix our eyes on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith.  When I complain, I have chosen to fix my eyes of Tori instead of Jesus.  This does not bring God glory and it doesn’t flatter me, so I’m not even sure why it is appealing. 

God doesn’t want me to complain.  He wants me to be grateful for the undeserved grace I receive from Him and He wants me to keep my mouth shut when I feel my life is just too hard.  Much sin can be avoided if I choose to stay silent.  So in 2016, when I feel tempted to play the victim and feel sorry for myself, I will remember what Jesus has done for me  (He did it without complaining) and I will choose to praise instead.

And all the people said “Amen!”

LORD, set up a guard for my mouth; keep watch at the door of my lips.   
Psalm 141:3

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Four Truths My Puppy Taught Me About God

So I got a new pup, y’all, and his name is Jet; partially because he is all black and partially because my husband is a pilot.  Clever, eh?  I know I said I WOULD NOT get a puppy again because puppies are SO MUCH WORK.  But I did.  And I like him even though he always bites me with his sharp little teeth. Jet and I have been taking long sunrise walks in the morning and he has been teaching me some things about God.  Let me share them with you this Christmas.

1.  When Jet and I starting walking together, he was unsure of his surroundings and when I would let him off leash, he would stay so close to me that when I looked around I couldn’t find him.  He would be so near my legs that he was almost an extension of myself. And I started to think that that’s how we should be in our own lives.  Lesson Learned:  We should walk so closely with our Father that we “hide in Him”.  Our steps should so closely match our Father’s that when people look at us, they see Him. "For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God."  Colossians 3:3

2.  When we first got Jet, he was so new and small that I was very protective of him and kept him inside, catering to his every need.  But as he has gotten older and more destructive, we have moved him to his outdoor kennel and he has adjusted well.  Sometimes, when I have to leave him for hours, I worry that he will be unhappy and say to himself, “I have been in this kennel for soooo long and no one has come to visit me!” But that thinking is not accurate because dogs are not people.  People can reason and worry.  Dogs mostly just chew and sleep. Dogs accept their situation and are happy when someone shows up.  They don’t wear watches nor think of the future because dogs are not people.  Often, I make this same mistake with God.  Lesson Learned: Sometimes I expect God to do things in a certain order, or work out situations the way that I believe best because I suspect that God thinks like a person.  But God is not a person and He does not get anxious or tired. His mind is limitless and infinite; and when I limit God to my intellectual understanding of how he “should” act, I perceive Him wrongly. "God is not human, that he should lie, not a human being, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?" Numbers 23:19

3.   Jet bites me—a bunch!—with his little razor sharp puppy teeth.  No matter what I do to tell him that this is a bad (and painful) action, he continues to bite and bite and bite.  He does this because he hasn’t learned to control himself or his impulses.  He also does it because he wants to do what he wants to do.  He thinks he is the Alpha. I make him submit to me every day, several times a day, and I hold his little furry snout shut and say, “You are not the Alpha.  I am the Alpha.”  And then when I let him go, he bites me again.  What Jet doesn’t seem to comprehend is that I am much bigger and stronger and powerful than he is—at least for now—and I feed him, or I don’t.  He has no idea of the power I actually wield and choose not to display.  Do we not show the same disrespect to God?  Lesson Learned:  God is the all-powerful Creator of the Universe, but often I forget His pre-eminence and “bite and nip” and complain about my life.  I do what I want to do, and I treat Him like a glorious vending machine.  God holds the power in his hands to sustain me or drop me, and yet, I keep on pretending that I am stronger.  How foolish to bite the hand that feeds me! "See now that I myself am he! There is no god besides me. I put to death and I bring to life, I have wounded and I will heal, and no one can deliver out of my hand."  Deuteronomy 32:39

4.  I really like Jet.  And Jet has made me so happy amidst my grief about losing Neo.  I find joy and purpose in taking care of him and having him trust me.  My life is better because I have a puppy.  I am truly fulfilled.  Lesson Learned:  What’s to say that Jet couldn’t disappear out of my life tomorrow unexpectedly just as my last dog did?  Nothing.  I have no guarantee of his existence.  My hope cannot be in this dog, or any dog, or any thing for that matter, except in Jesus Christ who chose to break through our time and space and be born as a baby at Christmas.  This same Lord is the one who surrendered Himself to a cross so my sins could be removed and grace could be given unabashedly. If I put my hope in Jet, I will be saddened, but my hope in my God will last. "This hope will not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us."   Romans 5:5

Merry Christmas to all of you from Jet and all of us!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

5 Reasons Coffee Has Made Me a Better Person

Ok.  This has absolutely nothing to do with Christmas (other than the fact that I adore the white chocolate peppermint coffee blend that I purchased for myself as a pre-holiday treat), but seeing that I only wrote in my blog eight times this whole year, I thought I would do what any respectable blogger would do and write at least four more times before year’s end to make it look as if I had written at least once a month.  And, try as I might to come up with something poignant about the real meaning of Christmas, I kept getting stuck on things that sounded like they came from a 1980s Hallmark made-for-TV movie and not from the depths of my heart.  So…I decided to write about coffee.  Make sense?

First, the back-story:  I started drinking coffee a year and a half ago while in Spain.  Previous to that, the last coffee I had tasted was something my mom offered me in a Styrofoam cup with lipstick stains after we had helped some friends move when I was seven.  That experience left me with a disgusting aftertaste—actually and figuratively.  I never wanted to drink the demon liquid again; I couldn’t believe people actually craved it.  In fact, when I grocery shopped, I would often skip the coffee aisle because I hated the smell. 

But the summer before last, when we had traveled to Europe to hike the Camino de Santiago (wanna know more about that?  Start here), the rest of the family would hit up little coffee “bars” in the morning and order a café con leche and a giant chocolate croissant, and I would just sit, soberly, eating my giant chocolate croissant by itself.  I felt left out of the common experience.  And occasionally, I needed some unmentionable digestive processes to occur before I put in a 20 mile day of hiking and before civilized bathrooms were no longer available (I know what you are saying, “She never seemed to mind going in the woods before,” and you are right. But what you don’t understand about the Camino is that it is a very urban trail, highly traveled by other “pilgrims” who don’t take kindly to seeing someone squatting behind a building in the quaint villages along the way. In my ignorance, I didn’t know that coffee did that sort of thing, but, by golly, it does!) So, seeing that 40 years had passed since my last sip of Joe, and deciding that my taste buds had probably matured by now, I chose to be a certified grown-up and try it. On my first foray into the caffeinated world, I bravely loaded up my very own café con leche with lots of sugar and sipped…cautiously.  And because I had decided to change my mind about its abhorrence, it now seemed to have this mystical quality about it that made me feel mature and free and clean (if you know what I mean).  And I didn’t hate it…that much.  Now, upon ingestion, my chocolate croissant had a friend, my colon was rejoicing, and I had started to feel like part of the gang.  I even told my family, “ Coffee is going to transform my life!” That was just the beginning of a beautiful friendship.  And like any friendship of value, coffee has made me better.  Here are five reasons why:
5 Reasons Coffee Has Made Me a Better Person

1.  Coffee has made me more fun.  Because I am now a real adult, I can confidently walk into any coffee shop and order a Cappuccino or a Latte or an Americano with room for cream without fear.  I understand most of the lingo—the blends and beans and brewing methods and steamed milk and espresso—not EXpresso—and I can sit across from anyone, holding my warm drink in my cold hands and chat about light-hearted things instead of lamely drinking an iced tea in the dead of winter.  I now smile as I walk through the coffee aisle and I don’t plug my nose quite as much.  And I let myself get fun coffee drinks on Fridays because Fridays make me happy.  In general, I am less stuffy and more cheerful because I have found a warm, gentle friend in coffee.

2.  Coffee has allowed me to form an alliance with a new drink.  Diet Coke used to be my beverage of choice (read about my guilty conscience), but no longer does this tumor-enhancing drink—the name given it by my darling children—captivate me.  Now that I have discovered the miraculous qualities of this natural substance, the fake stuff doesn’t stand a chance.  Coffee seems to line up with the rest of my life since I can pronounce everything in the ingredients list: /ˈkɑː.fi/ bins/.

3.  Coffee has made me appreciate my morning-by-fireplace-posting-sunrise-pictures-on-Instagram routine.  I can now sit happily in my polka-dotted chair admiring my just-taken-that-morning pictures while sipping on a soul-warming beverage.  I look forward to my coffee/chocolate animal cracker routine daily.  It gives me joy.  Joy makes me more fun (see point #1 above). 

4.  Coffee has given me a fondness for beautiful, ergonomically correct mugs.  Lately, I have been sipping my morning brew out of a lovely, purple-flowered china cup that fits my hand perfectly.  Sometimes mugs are too heavy or too masculine, but this cup is like baby bear’s bed…it is just right.  I wash it out each morning and put it by the sink so I can look forward to the next morning when we can enjoy each other’s company.

5.  Coffee has allowed me to enter into a whole new subculture.  Although I still don’t love the taste of coffee, I really like the idea of coffee.  And a lot of half and half helps with that.  I delight in all of the names and cute little pictures on the coffee packages, and all the creative, very caloric ways one can dress up a decidedly boring drink. I think it is fun that I can make this little treat in the comfort of my own home at any time of the day.  Sometimes, when I make it at three in the afternoon, and I put a little chocolate syrup in the bottom, I feel like maybe I am getting away with something.  And sometimes feeling sneaky is good.  Sometimes feeling sneaky makes me more fun and less pragmatic.  Because, really, I am pretty boring.  But now, not so much because I have found a friend in coffee.  Can I hear an “Amen”?!

So that’s it folks.  Coffee has lots of perks. Here’s to the java for jump-starting my joy in the daily grind of life. 

No beans about it, the brew just makes me better.