Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Gift of Grace

I’ve been blessed to open more than my share of gifts over the last few days. Friends and family have taken their time and money to find something they feel will be just right.

I’ve noticed gifts are usually in one of three categories: something I need, something I want, or something that will be good for me. Loved ones have taken time to listen over the last few months and then found the perfect gift. The gifts are always as diverse as the people giving them and the ones I seem to love most are the gifts I didn’t know to ask for.

As much as I have loved receiving each gift, I am fully aware that the best gifts come from Father God. As it turns out, He also gives something we need, something we want, or something that is good for us. We can never deserve the gift of His grace, and yet He lavishes it upon us. 

As if it wasn’t enough for Him to create a universe suspended in a delicate balance to support all life, He then sent His own son to Earth to take the punishment for our sin. By Jesus’ birth and death, we now can spend an eternity in Heaven with God. But He didn’t stop there! God knew we had to endure life in the world first, so He gives us His Holy Spirit to encourage and instruct our hearts while we’re here. See what I mean? Something we need, something we want, and something that is good for us.

The thing that amazes me most about God is not just the big picture, it’s the little things. God is in the details. I feel His grace not only in the salvation through His Son, but in the moments when I’m fully aware that I am not enough on my own. He pours out His grace when my heart hurts because I fell into the same stronghold of sin … again. God’s grace appears when I start believing all the lies the world tells me and He reminds me who I am. He provides the perfect gift of grace even when I don’t know what to ask for.

The most amazing thing about grace is that we can never earn it. God’s grace doesn’t appear when we check three boxes and sign on the dotted line. His grace appears when we realize how much we need Him. He generously pours it out again and again, giving us what we need, what we want, or what is good for us. Thankfully, His supply is unending!

Be blessed,
 “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” 2 Corinthians 12:9

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Getting what we deserve

I stared anger straight in the face last week. After taking time to create a speaking presentation, the opportunity fell through at the last minute. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t happy about it. In fact, I allowed myself to marinate in my anger. Ever do that? The longer you stay in it, the stronger it seems to become. While venting my frustration to a girlfriend of mine, she said something that brought me to a screeching halt.

You didn’t deserve that!

You would think a comment like that would only fuel the flame of my anger, confirming what I felt was a complete injustice. But it didn’t. Instead it knocked the wind out of me, immediately causing tears to stream down my face.

Lord, please forgive me for thinking this is something I deserve.

I wasn’t entitled to that opportunity. It was given to me by God’s grace and taken away again by His sovereignty. Who was I to question His plan? Whatever the situation was, my only job was to trust that He had my best interest in mind. He was orchestrating something greater than I could imagine. This was not about what I deserved.

Frankly, I hope God never gives me what I deserve. I know how dark my sin nature is and where I was when I finally cried out to Him. I’m fully aware of how selfish I am in the midst of great need. I wage war with my pride every day and I lose more often than I care to admit. I don’t want to see what I would deserve based on all of that. 

This time of year seems to be overrun with entitlement. Moments spent with friends and family will either fill you to overflowing or sadly disappoint you. What if we approach this time of year without worrying about what we deserve? If we don’t create unrealistic expectations for our loved ones, then we won’t be hurt when they aren’t able to measure up to them. God gives us His mercy, grace, and love when we have done nothing to deserve it. Maybe we should just pass those same gifts onto everyone else...

Be blessed,

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” James 1:17

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Christmas Eve Stew

I write and speak for a living, but I still like writing just for fun. So when I heard about a local Christmas writing contest I thought I’d stretch my creative muscles and give it a shot. My story won 2nd place! While I enjoyed the chance to write about something outside of the norm, God chose to use that time to remind me of a Christmas memory I truly cherish. I hope this story blesses your heart, slows your pace, and helps you to embrace a little of your own history.
Blessings to you!

I stood wide-eyed in front of the Christmas tree. It towered over my seven year old frame and twinkled like a thousand tiny stars. Handmade ornaments and bright shiny balls adorned the tree but my attention was fixed on what lay beneath it - Christmas presents.

It was a tradition in my family to open our presents on Christmas Eve. In hind sight, I'm sure it was a solution my parents came up with to avoid an over-booked Christmas Day. Four kids, two sets of grandparents on opposite sides of town, and tons of presents is a lot to stuff into one day. But none of that mattered to me. I was the envy of all my friends because I didn't have to wait until Christmas morning.

“Dinner time!” my mom called as she walked through the house beckoning everyone to come to the kitchen. My heart sank. It was time for stew.

Every year my mom made oyster stew for Christmas Eve dinner. The stew was a favorite of my dad's parents. Coming from the cold winter of Illinois, Grammie would make it each year before my parents were married. So Mom continued their tradition now that they spent each Christmas with us in Texas. It was the only obstacle standing between me and brightly wrapped bliss.

I walked to the stove and peeked into the large black roasting pot. Canned oysters floating in a pond of milk and melted butter...yuck! All of the kids hated it. Pulverizing Saltine crackers into our bowl to thicken the soup was the only way to make the meal palatable.

We gathered around the table as Dad said grace. Then all of the kids slumped down into their seats and the complaining began.

“Do we have to eat this?”

“This is gross. Can I have peanut butter and jelly instead?”

“Why do we have to have this every year?”

My grandparents never said a word. I was too young to notice that our lack of subtlety was hurtful to them. We didn’t want any part of their much loved tradition and had no reservations about sharing our disdain. One look from Mom told us to stop talking and eat. Resigned to the fact that I had to eat the stew, I reluctantly drowned my crackers in the milky broth and looked forward to the presents ahead.

By the next year, Grammie had passed away and Mom had grown tired of the endless complaining about the oyster stew. She decided to incorporate a family favorite into the menu - pizza. The smell of the pepperoni pizza cooking in the oven whipped us kids into frenzy. Not only did we get to open presents on Christmas Eve, we didn't have to eat the stew! In the midst of my excitement, I failed to notice that Grandpa ate the stew in silence, longing to spend just one more Christmas with his true love.

Our unique tradition always remained the same. We ate pizza and oyster stew and then exchanged gifts. As I got older, I finally realized the stew wasn’t important to Grandpa, the memories were. Instead of racing through my meal and running to the Christmas tree to distribute presents, I lingered at the dinner table and listened to Grandpa’s stories of Christmas’ past. We were not just choking down milky oysters, we were revisiting days gone by. Only then did I learn that Grandpa’s mother used to make the stew when he was a boy and Grammie never cared for it either. But she loved him and that was a small way to show that love. The small piece of their history had become precious to me.

The Christmas after Grandpa passed away we decided to try a new recipe for the traditional oyster stew. The Golden Oyster Stew recipe included potato soup, onions, mushrooms and even bacon! The new flavors blended beautifully with the oysters creating a rich and hearty chowder. Topped with a sprinkle of cheddar cheese, it was heavenly!

The Golden Oyster Stew became the new version of the old classic. Now everyone enjoys the pizza and a bowl of stew together. My parents, siblings, children, nieces and nephews all gather together on Christmas Eve. Our ‘have to’ has become a ‘want to' as a little piece of my grandparents' legacy lives on through our Christmas Eve stew.

Golden Oyster Stew

3 bacon strips
1/2 cup onion, chopped
1/2 cup celery, chopped
2 cups mushrooms, sliced
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
2 cups skim milk
1 can (10.5 oz.) condensed cream of potato soup
1 1/2 cups low fat sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
1 can (12 oz.) oysters, drained
1 jar (2oz.) pimentos, drained
1/4 tsp. bottled hot pepper sauce (I use more) 

Brown bacon in pot: remove most of the grease.  Crumble bacon: add onion and celery and cook, stirring constantly. 1 minute or until tender.
Combine flour, salt, and pepper.  Add to vegetable mixture, stirring well; cook 1 minute.  Gradually add milk, stirring until smooth; cook, stirring often, until mixture starts to  thicken.
Add soup and cheese, stirring until cheese melts.  Add oysters, pimentos and hot sauce; continue cooking over medium heat, stirring often, until oysters begin to curl.  (About 5-10 minutes)  Serve immediately.  Serve with a crusty French bread, if desired.  Serves 6.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Do the Right Thing

You know the happy feeling you get deep in your heart when you pull up in the crowded store parking lot and see a great spot available just for you? Has it ever been followed closely by the crushing blow of seeing someone else zip in at the last minute and take it before you do? Ya, that happened today.

As I made my mandatory stop at the stop sign, I spotted the open space. It was close to where I needed to go and was eagerly waiting my arrival. I noticed out of the corner of my eye that a woman was approaching the crossing.

I still have time to make it to the space. She’s several steps away from the crossing. Go!

But something told me to wait. I waved the woman through with a forced smile and then waited for what seemed like an eternity for her to cross. As I drove forward, someone took the open parking spot.

Okay, I see how it is! You do the right thing and then…

I drove to the other side of the store where I found an even better space waiting for me. A mixture of joy and guilt caused me to praise God out loud.

Ever been there?  Being in awe of God’s blessing while ashamed of your own selfishness? I was frustrated that I missed out on what I wanted because I was doing the right thing for someone else, but all the while God had something even better in mind for me.

God never fails to go before us! When He calls us to do something, we can have full confidence that He is there to work it out. Will it always be perfect? No. Will it be easy? Not usually. Will it bring Him glory? Yes. Will He bless your effort? Absolutely.

Are you wondering which way to go? Trying to pick between doing the right thing and doing the thing you want to do? Believer, trust that God is leading you where HE wants you to go. He knows your heart and His rewards are far better than we can ever imagine!

Be blessed,

“No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him.” 1 Corinthians 2:9