God is good.

Thanking God for the Weekend

God is good.

It was a really rough week.

I got sick and struggled in my preparations for a major portfolio presentation because of it. I had to handle a difficult client, battled with doubt and anger. Reached the end of my patience. Dealt with late and missed deadlines….

All I can say is that I’m glad I survived. As I look into my study journal I notice that when I need God the most he speaks to me the loudest. When my strength is insufficient he helps me to overcome and go beyond my own expectations. There was pain this week, but through it all He was there.

God is good indeed. Wishing you a happy weekend spent with Him 🙂

Devotion, emotions, the kitchen and God

My love of the kitchen goes back to my infancy, back when grandma and grandpa still looked after me while my parents worked. I lived a happy childhood in the big grey family home located on the mountainous, sparsely populated fringe of southern Mexico City. We lived on a very quiet house located on a very quiet street were hardly any cars passed by; getting the mail was the biggest event of the day (the mail was delivered by a guy in a motorcycle), and really—aside from the variations in weather that could go from intensely sunny to oppressively gloomy or even stormy from one day to the next, there was no change or variation in the tenor of life. It was a very gentle time.

My life centered about everything related to the house. Whether it was seeing to the upkeep of the family home, plants, and sundry pets with my grandfather, or “helping” with laundry or the cleaning with grandmother, I learned to love being at home—especially in the kitchen.

I was grandmother’s assistant. I remember the infinity of peas we shelled together, as well as the never-ending rivers of various soups we prepared: vegetable soup, tortilla soup (which we call chilaquiles), potato soup, fideos, coditos, chicken caldos, alphabets, et al. We peeled potatoes and carrots by the truckloads, de-feathered chickens galore, and when I, the humble neophyte, was deemed ready, I was given a knife and taught how to strip a cactus of its thorns. After all the kitchen activities were completed, with kitchen wiped clean and the dishes put away, grandma would make some tea, in preparation for the family to arrive and find the house filled with the delicious aroma of chamomile.

Grandfather was instrumental in fostering in me a love for experimentation the kitchen. When Grandma was not around he would steal in there and make various concoctions using mysterious herbs he’d gathered in the mountain. I witnessed many explosive reactions in the kitchen when he jammed up the blender with fruit for a refreshing mid-day drink. He would leave a mess then just as he did whenever he chopped up an onion and made a giant omelet for the two of us—wrong, the three of us. He always shared his repast with the cat (as did the cat with us now and then: whenever grandfather bought him a can of sardines, grandpa and I ate our share with gusto along with plenty of warm tortillas and pico de gallo). Grandpa taught me that food was meant to be shared.

My formal training in the kitchen began with mother once I was a teen, but by that time I was already aware of the most important rules of the kitchen, besides “safety first” of course:

Cook from the heart. If you’re not happy, your food won’t be good

And the corollaries to that are as follows

  • If you’re angry, eggs will be spoiled, and hot food (as in spicy food) will burn the mouth
  • If you’re feeling lazy or don’t feel like cooking, your rice will not properly cook and will burn on the bottom.
  • If you’re sick, don’t even step foot in the kitchen. Everything will go to the dogs.

* * *

Everything in me was averse to cooking one day last week. I was tired from being in front of the computer working on a design, and trying to communicate with a finicky client on a rush order. I was getting a pounding headache too. I did not want to deal with the kitchen, and cleaning up after cooking on top of that. But I didn’t want to eat tacos from across the street, and besides, my mother who was coming from work deserved more than Del Taco. So on I went to the kitchen and gathered all my ingredients on the countertop.

And then I thought.

How am I gonna cook if I’m feeling like this? The way I’m feeling, my rice is not gonna cook well, my food could go to the dogs (figuratively speaking, for we have no dogs). I can’t do it!

I looked at my ingredients: the finest vegetables and legumes, red-ripe tomatoes, smiling white onions, gentle mounds of rice, tumbling potatoes. Perfectly good ingredients bought with hard-earned money. They deserved my respect.

And so, rather than it being an exercise of fake it (i.e. happiness) ‘till you make it, I began preparing the meal with care. I wasn’t particularly happy, and I was still tired and my head was hurting more and more with the heat of the oven, but I concentrated on doing my best on preparing every dish. The result was food that really tasted good.

I revisited my idea on the attitude of cooking. And I thought that perhaps it could be tweaked a bit, or maybe changed altogether.

* * *

Devotion goes past emotion.

How else can a chef consistently make good food even when his personal life is bleak, and he knows that the woman he loves won’t call him again? Or how can a musician play the performance of her life when she knows that on a hospital room in a far off country a loved one is dying? It’s all about devotion. Giving something the time and care and energy that it deserves in order for it to be done right, even when life is not making it easy for you to do so, is devotion.

* * *

We moved to California, and ever since I’ve never returned to my family home. I was blessed to see my grandparents every few years or so, and the love that I had for them only increased with time and distance.

When my grandma died after struggling with cancer, my world as I knew it seemed to shatter. It was seriously one of the most difficult times of my life, and for a while I thought I could not comprehend God. I could not draw to him. How could he take her away like that? Why did she have to go through such intense suffering, such anguish? Life did not make it easy for me to do the right thing: which was to draw to him and trust him.

When we as humans rely on emotion or on “feeling” a need in order to draw closer to God, we will just drift. Devotion goes past the emotion; it goes past discipline, too. Emotion will mean that you will be led this and that way because your fickle and volatile heart dictates what you do. Discipline often makes it necessary to remove the heart from the equation, because it’s doing what one ought to do for the sake of the better good in the end. But devotion is all about the heart put in its proper place.

So my attitude was, I’m angry at you God, I don’t understand you, or your motives, and perhaps I never will. But don’t let this be a matter to break us apart. Please give me solace, and continue to anchor my life, continue to give it purpose. Continue to guide me as I open your word and try to learn your will for me today…

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice…do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard you hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Phil 4:4-7

What is that? You guessed it–Devotion! Despite what life throws at you, your heart and mind is kept safe in Christ. That is a promise we can’t do without.

* * *

Grandma has passed away.

I miss her, but I have placed my hope in heaven. My heart too. One day Grandma and I will be reunited, and I’m sure that my mansion in heaven will have a HUGE kitchen (or an equivalent of such). And guess what I’ll be doin’?

That’s right. Cooking.

Oh, and by the way…

You’re invited.

Return to Me–My Testimony

Say you have appendicitis.

Your suffering is intense. You are sick, feverish, you are groaning and whimpering in your bed as your body is raked by sharp pains (Ok, so symptoms vary by person, but just bear with me).  You know that if you are not treated you could risk your appendix rupturing inside you, leading to internal infection and inflammation. You shiver in horror. You know that, should this happen, the infection will spread inside you, pollute your internal organs, and you will die after having suffered untold agony.

You reach out for a Tylenol, and hope that it does the trick. After all, you have decided to wait until you are little better—maybe even healed—before betaking yourself to the ER.

* * *

You understand my little analogy. It’s ridiculous to wait until you are better to turn to God, because the only hope of a cure lies in him and not in us. And yet, it’s an issue that needs to be addressed: Why do people think that they have to be better (and holier) before they can return to God?

Why did I?

About a year-and-a-half ago I was a specter Christian. I haunted the halls of the Church without actually having a real experience with Christ. I was (what people might call) a good—excellent!—Christian. Little did people suspect that I was spiritually dead.

I’d struggled since my teenage years, trying to come to terms with a way of life and a way of thinking I hated but couldn’t give up. Sadly, however, once my twenties rolled around I had come to a point of resignation. While I was convinced that I had to clean up my act, I simply had no overwhelming desire to give it up. I did not feel disgust and horror at my sin.

It goes without saying that I did not like to pray—really pray, much less study the Bible. I wish I had done so, then I would have been able to read Isaiah. I would have found several gems in it; passages that describe a loving God who is just but who longs for the restoration of his people:

15This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel says: Only in returning to me and resting in me will you be saved. In quietness and confidence is your strength…18So the Lord must wait for you to come to him so he can show you his love and compassion. For the Lord is a faithful God. Blessed are those who wait for his help. 19You will weep no more. He will be gracious if you ask for help. He will surely respond to the sound of your cries21Your own ears will hear him. Right behind you a voice will say, “This is the way you should go.” Whether to the right or to the left. 22Then you will destroy all your silver idols and your precious gold images. You will throw them out like filthy rags, saying to them, “Good riddance!” (Isaiah 30:15,18-22 NLT)

And summarized a little later:

 Though you are such wicked rebels, my people, come and return to the Lord. I know the glorious day will come when each of you will throw away the gold idols and silver images your hands have made. (Isaiah 31:6-7 NLT)

* * *

What makes these passages so wonderful?

It describes in clear detail the transforming process of a human heart when we turn to God.

The Holy one of Israel is calling his children (wicked rebels though they may be) to return to him and rest in him. It’s not saying anything (yet) about abandoning sins. He is just saying “Turn to me just as you are. Seek me, wait on me, and trust me. I will give you strength to overcome” (30:15).

Our faith is exercised in this process of waiting. Waiting is relying on God DAY BY DAY. It’s baby steps, and sadly here is where most give up. They think that by seeking God they shouldn’t fall, and when they do they say “forget it.” Imagine if babies gave up just as they are starting to walk because they fell? You might say at this point, “I can’t feel or hear God” or “What happened to that exhilarating experience from before?” Well, you can’t hear him clearly yet because you have for years shut out the voice of the Holy Spirit. And you can’t rely on feelings or emotions. Have faith, and live it. How? Seek him in his word daily—it will be hard some times. It will be hard most times. Your inclinations and desires will rebel against you and the monster of self will scream in protest—but God is always reaching out to you and in the moment of weakness he will be with you and hold you (30:19,21). And even if you fall, it’s still ok, as long as you get up and once again take grasp of his hand.

God guides you in the path of righteousness, and the more you behold him, the easier it is to know his will and which way to go (30:20). Then comes that day—you may or may not be able to pinpoint it out—that you see your life and sins for what they really are, because you have gazed upon the holy purity of Jesus, and you now eschew everything that could ever mar joy of his salvation. Here is where the whole-hearted repentance comes in, and it is at this point where you willingly and gladly get rid of your idols, and every thing that you used to cherish and be addicted to (30:22)

So to return to my question, Why do people think that they have to be better before they can return to God? The answer is because they simply don’t know any better! I mean it! I, at least, did not understand it at all, and I’d been hearing at least 52 sermons a year for more than 20 years! Some churches preach only fire and brimstone sermons, while others preach only Grace. Is it any wonder that you can’t find truth if you see things from the point of view of one or another extreme? Someone had to break it down for me, and I will never forget the moment I understood that it was okay if I went to God even if only a hundredth of my heart was in it.

So this is my testimony. I’m still a work in progress. God is winning back the rest of my heart, and has much more of it than simply a hundredth. And while I’m not fully there yet, this can’t stop me from telling you—return to him. Today. Just as you are.

God bless you.