Cibolo Mountain Coffee Drinks, Mocha Flavor: A Mini-Review

Dearest readers, are you seeing something wrong with this picture? First and foremost, I’ve always held to a certain standard when it came to blogging–titles were to reflect either hymns or worship choruses. What am I doing simply entitling this post “Cibolo Mountain Coffee’? And, what is this about a mini-review? Shouldn’t I be posting something like this on Epinions.com/

The fact is, I was once a connoisseur of that consumer review site. It was wonderful, while it lasted. However, both because Epinions has become quite commercialized and because this review is being written for spiritual reasons, I felt that it was best placed here. From time to time, I will continue to write brief reviews of products that may be considered spiritually helpful.

Mocha? Spiritually helpful? You think not!

Or you may think so, if you’ve been in the dilemma my family and I have faced over the past three months. You see, we are no longer patronizing Starbucks anymore. Over the past few years, they have begun supporting practices that we do not endorse, because we find them unBiblical. If you’d like me to elaborate in the comments, feel free to ask and I’ll be happy to do so. Anyway, I’ve found this a bit challenging–not so much so that I would go against my convictions, but difficult nevertheless. Starbucks, it seems, has a monopoly on all beverages even remotely related to coffee or tea. The drive-through establishment closest to our house? Starbucks. The coffee shop strategically placed in the nearest grocery store? Starbucks. Those dark-chocolate frappuccinos I used to buy in bulk? Guess where…

For the most part, I had managed to solve the problem. Chai tea lattes can be made just as easily at home, and often with more flavour. Other brands of coffee have proved delicious, and I’ve even found some local coffee shops for those times when I want a specialty beverage and honeybush hazelnut tea, or hazelnut syrup, or coconut extract, aren’t on hand. The only remaining problem lay with those silly glass-bottled frappuccinos. Somehow, we couldn’t seem to fill the gap they left in our beverage consumption. All you health nuts who claim that they weren’t a necessary part of our diet in the first place should take into account that it isn’t just the body that needs nourishment–it’s the heart. You see, those drinks had sentimental value. Each time my sister and I were together, we argued good-naturedly about how much of the plastic seal should be removed. Her way was more conventional, but left a jagged, needless plastic ring around the bottle. My way was, at least in my own ever-so-humble opinion, much neater but, in Sister-of-Mine’s view, a bit too whimsical. Those frappuccinos accompanied us everywhere: to the school where I got my guide-dog; to university, where they kept me awake through dull French film lessons; to the hospital, where I sipped them while my mother had her monthly infusions… Yes, they were a staple slightly less important than bread, on a par with cheese, and millions of times more important than eggs. Actually, ANYTHING you could buy at a store is more important than eggs! But that’s another rant…

So, no frappuccinos. Oh, I tried. First, I bought some concentrated mocha mix, but it was much too strong and didn’t make very good iced or hot mochas. Next, I tried Bolthouse Farms’ drinks, but the mocha was too akin to chocolate milk–hardly any coffee,–and the chai was made with soy. I can’t drink soy, so all of the iced chai drinks were out. Then, I experimented with some bottled mocha-drink look-alikes, but the best way to describe them is to say that they tasted like divorce in the loneliest sense of the word. Sister-of-Mine agrees, though we can’t put our collective finger on why. Those drinks made me miss the little off-brand ones a local grocery store used to sell, even though the off-brandedness of them infused the drink with a final-exam flavour. Where do I come up with this stuff!? Eventually, we found a generic brand at Safeway, but these were both too sweet and too far away, Safeway not being our primary grocery store and not prevalent in our area.

By this time, my frappuccino-less state was beginning to feel a little like a long fast. I mean that with all possible reverence–I was sacrificing something I was rather fond of in order to glorify God and to refrain from supporting practices I found immoral. It was difficult, but I was more than willing to do it as a service to God.

Is any of this sounding at all familiar? Surely, surely, I cannot be the only one who is no longer buying Starbucks, for spiritual reasons. And surely, I’m not the only one who has been wishing she could find products to fill the beverage-void left by that establishment. Well, I’ve found the solution. To my knowledge, this is from a wholesome and reputable company and is hence good for anyone finding himself in a position similar to mine.

Enter Cibolo Mountain Coffee drinks from the Corner Store company. And you thought I was going to write about some intellectual, foreign, gourmet beverage! Actually, though, these coffee drinks taste imported. A quick comparison–or, rather, a list of advantages for Cibolo Mountain Coffee Drinks that competing brands don’t share:

Advantage I: Quite simply, Cibolo Mountain Coffee Drinks taste much, much better than any of the flavours Starbucks frappuccinos offered. Sister-of-Mine disagrees, saying they’re merely comparable, but I sincerely feel that these new Cibolo drinks are superior. Starbucks’ beverages were always good but sometimes a bit extroverted, if you know what I mean. What you saw was what you got, with no hidden meaning or extra layer. You got chocolate, and coffee, in somewhat equal proportions, and that was all there was to it. Cibolo’s drinks are different, with intricate and subtle flavours behind every turn and a gentle yet profound aftertaste that exhilarates the palate for the next sip. There’s more to them–but also so much less!

Advantage II: “Much less” in the sense that these drinks contain only a few ingredients. Among these are Dutch chocolate, which probably explains the imported flavour, and a type of coffee that quite obviously differs from Starbucks. A subtler coffee, and one with much more potential.

Advantage III: At least in our area, these beverages are quite a bit less expensive. At the local Corner Store, Cibolo Mountain Coffee mocha drinks cost $1.29. Even at a store offering a slight discount, the dark-chocolate Starbucks frappuccinos cost about $1.89 apiece. Now, because cold mocha beverages comprise breakfast, celebration, reviewing fodder, sentimentality, and snacks for us, we tend to buy in bulk. A dozen 13.7-ounce Cibolo drinks: $15.48 without tax. A dozen 12-ounce Starbucks frappuccinos: $22.68 without tax!

Advantage IV: You get more product! Amazing–more, tastier, and less expensive! A typical case of four Starbucks frappuccinos contains 9.5 oz. per bottle. Each Cibolo drink contains 13.7 oz. per bottle. And, if it’s enjoyed as gracefully as it should be, this could last you about an hour and a half, as opposed to the other frappuccinos, which I always tended to consume within twenty minutes.

Advantage V: Cibolo drinks are more whimsical! Not that you would ever find yourself in this position–you traditional, businesslike reader, you!–but if you should ever get into a discussion with your sister about the correct way to open one of these drinks, you can choose to be either peaceable or extremely silly. In times gone by, you had to choose between jaggedness and neatness–tearing the seal all the way off to make the bottle appear cleaner, which still left the label intact; or removing only a portion of the seal, leaving behind a messy but allegedly “friendly” ring of plastic. Note to Sister: Plastic is never friendly! Cibolo is taking a much higher road, in my opinion. The Peaceable method: There’s a lovely little perforation along which you can tear, leaving behind a neat label and no uneven plastic. The creative method: You can rip the entire label off, so there’s no plastic–or ingredients, or price, or even name–anywhere on the bottle! I generally use the peaceable method, but yesterday I employed the more intriguing method.

A few more personal notes. First, a word about other Cibolo drinks. The mochas are extraordinary, WAH-HU-AH-HEISCHE-worthy endeavors. The vanilla drinks, on the other hand, are somewhat plain. Actually, they taste almost identical to Starbucks’ vanilla drinks–not a bad thing, but compared to Cibolo’s mochas, they just don’t have any umph.

Now, for the spiritual content of this whole review. As soon as I had my first Cibolo Mountain Coffee drink, I felt that my “fast” was over–as though I had been deeply, gloriously blessed, and released from a difficult sacrifice. It’s difficult to explain, but I felt almost renewed, and deeply at peace with the idea that He was pleased with me, with this family. Not because of a silly beverage, but because He put that beverage in my path, and because of the joy that attended it.

A mocha drink? Spiritually helpful? Absolutely–or, if not that, at least sentimental!

“Break Thou the Bread of Life”

NOTE: Slightly-less-cohesive, in-the-moment, spontaneous worship piece coming up!

Often, I take Communion privately. I realize that this can be controversial, but I feel qualified to do it for a few reasons: the churches in my area encourage it; my grandfather and uncle are both in the ministry; I have no church and, therefore, few people to join me in Communion; and, most importantly, because the lord told me in 2005 to do this often. So, yes–private Communion is beautiful.

Why am I writing this? Because, this evening, I had a brief yet deeply-moving experience while trying to track down Communion elements. It’s after midnight, and no one can really navigate a cluttered kitchen in the dark–much less, I suspect, a Braille reader whose very sweet but not Einsteinian guide-dog has not been trained to find various types of bread. Ordinarily, I use Communion wafers purchased from the Christian bookstore, but tonight they were somewhat out-of-reach, so I was trying to come up with other solutions. I think you can tell that I believe in this most blessed of gifts as a symbol, not a transubstantiative process… In layman’s terms, I’m a churchless protestant who was simply in search of a symbol. So, back to the question. Saltines? Those were too difficult to find, tucked, as they were, into the back of a cupboard. Bread? It should be on the counter, but family members have a habbit of appropriating bread, then carting it off to the tops of refrigerators or dining-room tables or cereal cupboards without warning their unsuspecting relations. So, then, if I couldn’t find any bread…

Scarcely had these thoughts had any real time to float through my mind than I reached out toward the counter with my left hand, a filled Communion cup already being in my right, and immediately found that hand resting on a full loaf of bread.

The moment was completely unexpected. I stood there for some time, still holding onto that bread and wondering at the lord Who had allowed me to find it there, just when I needed it.

By this time, some of my readers are in one of two camps: either you think that this was all coincidence, or you wonder why it was so deeply important. No, it was not a coincidence. God allows ALL things for a reason, for His purposes, and I am firmly convinced that He guided my hand to that loaf of bread, from the loaf’s perfect placement to the way my fingers simply closed over the little twist-tie on that bag. As for why this was so important…

With the exception of three pleasant days, I had not known God’s presence since 13 September. I shan’t go into it here, but suffice it to say that Joanna Weaver got it wrong–at least, as far as i’m concerned. For those who aren’t familiar with her, she penned a book entitled Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World. My dilemma was just the opposite: “Show me how to have a Martha work ethic in my Mary-like heart!” Translation: I was overwrought, overworked, and overwhelmed by all the little, mundane, apparently-insignificant tasks that were filling each day, and all I wanted was time in jesus! Night after night, I would cross my T’s and dot my I’s, fill out forms in triplicate, remember this tiny detail and that one, and fall into bed exhausted but without rest, after having read only three or four verses of Scripture. Fellow Christians especially, please don’t try to live life this way; it will ware you out. None of this was how I wanted to live; all I wanted was rest in Him, but all I had were endless appointments here and there. Benjamin Franklin got it both right and wrong. For me, “all work and no play” had suddenly and jarringly transformed itself into “all world and no pray”.

If you’ve never experienced this–and I hope that applies–then you can’t know the terror that attends this state of being. Not knowing how long it will last, or whether you will ever receive rest in Him again, or how to combine the necessary tasks of this life with the glorious work of the Father, is so unsettling that it can lead to a miserable existence. I had actually undergone something like this last year, and I was desperately worried that it might happen again. Note to self: Did not the Lord say, “Behold, I do a new thing; shall you not see it” (Isaiah)?

And, I had begun to feel that my life was without prayer, and that I might just languish in that state for a bit. Did the Lord even want to hear my supplications anymore? Why had He not prevented this from happening? How could I rest in Him, anymore? When, oh when? HOW LONG?

Tonight, three things happened to change that: First, I attended a hymn-sing that washed my heart with sound, Biblical doctrine and joyful theology so reminiscent of holiness that words cannot adequately express the glory of it all. Next, I returned home to find a letter from a beautiful woman of God. She wrote of the Holy Spirit–oh! the pure, unalloyed joy! and of staying strong in Jesus, of prayer without ceasing, of prophecy, of prayer in the Spirit, and of ceaseless praise. Marvelous!–and I do not use that word flippantly.

And now, this lovely experience with the bread. As I stood there with my hand on that loaf, my heart was filled with peace, and with a knowledge of the One I serve. Something like this: “I do provide, and I do hear your prayers. “Call upon Me, and I will answer”. “I am the bread of life”.”

And now, I am reminded of something I had been clinging to over the past few days. “Come unto Me,” Jesus proclaimed in Matthew 11:28, “and I will give you rest.” I had pleaded for rest, sought it, but seemed unable to find it. And now, now!–I know without any shadow of doubt that He was willing to answer that prayer for rest all along, that He will never leave me nor forsake me, as His Word has promised, and that He is with me always. Hallelujah!

Tonight, I will get about four hours of sleep before I have to be up in the morning. No matter; I will have gotten more rest than I did during the past two weeks combined. Sleep differs so markedly from true rest, you know.

And now, because it is time to make the very most of this wondrous, restful night, ’tis off I go to pray, to sing songs of praise, to journal-worship, to seek Him where He may be found, to reread that precious passage about Mary and Martha in my heart, and to rejoice in a psalm or two or twenty-five. Oh, yes–and to partake in a certain small piece of bread.

“I’m So Glad I’m a Part of the Family of God”

“I don’t have a church!” I lament almost daily. To some extent, this is true. For one thing, I can’t always get transportation to a church. For another, a movement whose doctrine and practices I can only describe as cultic has been sweeping through most of the churches in my area and leading even the pastors astray. Its teachings are so far removed from historical Christianity that I can’t bring myself to attend any church even slightly affiliated with this new sect. But that’s not what I’m here to write about…

The fact is, I have no church. While other Christians across the world wake up with joy in their hearts every Sunday because they know that they will soon be uniting with other believers, I wake up every Sunday wishing it were a day more sanctified, longing for it not to feel like any other day, but knowing in my heart that it does. I don’t dress up; I don’t sing joyful hymns and praise choruses, blending my voice with tens or hundreds or thousands of others; I don’t stay standing for the first part of worship, but then kneel before Him or remain seated during the second part so that His love can just wash over me; I don’t tithe because I don’t have a church to tithe to; I don’t join with others in opening our Bibles to this passage or that one; I don’t experience the collective sounds of those pages turning or of bread being broken in Communion; I don’t stand and pray with others at the close of the service; I don’t go up for prayer afterword when the pastor asks for those who need healing of heart, body, or relationships to come to the front of the church; I don’t approach the pastor afterword and tell him that God gave him a powerful sermon; and I don’t linger in the fellowship hall for coffee and doughnuts. I used to–oh, yes!–I used to. But things have changed. Now, I don’t have a church.

Then, last night, the Lord helped me remember:

My dear sister in Christ, whom I shall simply refer to as Seamstress, has been hard at work for the last two weeks–making velvet bags for anointing oil and other precious things. The Lord gave her this ministry, and she has been blessing others with it for some time. Each time she begins a project, she prays over it and asks God to bless the work of her hands. If she knows the people for whom she’s making each velvet item, she prays for their specific needs–in my case, for healing in various areas. She remembers worship choruses from the 1980s. She knows how to write such beautiful words of encouragement that she brings some of us to tears. She is a servant of God and of others, and the way she worships Him is unique and precious in its own right.

Then, there’s Sincere Sister. Not biologically, of course, but her heart is close enough! She is the least conforming, least socially-conscious person I know–and it’s beautiful! Case in point: On Commencement Day several years ago, she and I found ourselves standing together. We hadn’t seen each other in over two years, but some of her first words to me didn’t involve how classes had gone for us, or what we planned to do with the rest of our lives. Instead, she said, “Hi, this is–[insert name here, for she doesn’t call herself Sincere Sister!]. Are you still in the Lord?” She picked up on what would matter most, and she chose to discuss that first. As our friendship has deepened, I find that she has made some of the same specific commitments to God that I have. She, too, finds immeasurable comfort in the Word–particularly a very special passage in I Corinthians. Unlike me, she does have a church and frequently asks her congregation to pray for the needs of my family. So, in a way, I get to share the blessings of her Sunday worship.

And how can I forget Little Sister? I’m not sure whether she would appreciate me calling her that, but in a way, I don’t think she would mind. She’s a bit younger than I am, but has been a very special friend since 2010. She’s a song-writer and a poet, and she loves to write about the Lord. Just stream-of-consciousness–anything and everything, so long as it glorifies God. She is a graceful young gazelle, or a frolicking lamb, running about hither and thither, eager to explore as much of the truth of Scripture as she possibly can–and just as enthusiastic about applying it.

Mr. and Mrs. Maple are just that–trees planted by living waters, filled with a profound sense of God’s grace. Their daughter, Prayer Warrior, says little but communicates much as she prays for everyone she encounters, asking the Lord to fill each one with His most precious peace. When she does, the presence of the lord fills the room. I have prayed with her only once, but it is an experience I will never forget.

What can I possibly say to describe the strength of Pianist? Seldom in my life have I experienced such solidarity of character and faith. Several years ago, Pianist lost her ninety-five-year-old mother. Her reaction was one of understandable grief, but also of joy that her mother was “Safe in the Arms of Jesus”. A few years after that, she experienced a health difficulty that turned out to be minor but that likely would have caused me panic had I been any closer to it. Pianist’s response: To continue “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms”. Shortly after that, Pianist and her husband lost a dear friend of theirs. What did Pianist do? Did she get angry, or wonder if the Lord had forsaken them, or stop reading her Bible? No. Her plea from that point forward was, “Nearer, My God, to Thee”. And she played these things! One of Pianist’s chief delights is to sit down on that wooden bench, touch those old keys, and sing hymn after hymn unto the Lord. Sometimes, she even invites me to join her in that proverbial prayer closet. Some of my most joyous memories over the years have involved the two of us attending hymn-sings held in various churches. See a post entitled, “There Is Sunshine in My Soul Today”.

Spirit-Filled Nurse has known my family since I was an infant. She it was who offered to keep praying throughout a difficult surgery I underwent. Now, she telephones regularly–usually with something from the Lord that one of us desperately needed to hear. Sometimes, she shares a psalm in whole new light, or sings with such radiant beauty that it just about brings us to our knees. And always, always, her message is the same: “Trust Him. You know what the Bible says–by His stripes we are healed. Rem ember it! And keep focusing on Him…” I love it!

Seminarian Sister… What can I possibly say about her? For one thing, she has a delightful, exhaustive knowledge of Scripture and is always studying more. I wouldn’t be surprised if she had read the entire Matthew Henry commentary, with many more besides. And when she feels that the Lord wants to use her to bless others, in whatever way, she listens. From 2006-2007, I underwent such spiritual trials that I actually began to question my salvation. One day, Seminarian Sister felt that the Lord was shoiing her that she should talk to me about all of this. That was some of the most straightforward, spiritual chastisement I ever received–and some of the very most blessed. Two days later, I was free from all the anguish that had so afflicted me during the previous six months.

Holy-Hands is just that–constantly in prayer, lifting holy hands to the Lord, always sustained by Him, and sanctified through and through. Her daughter, Passionate-Joy, is drawing closer to God each day, but is often ill. Holy-Hands is grieved by her daughter’s condition, but never once stops praying or relying fully on God. If we all had a good, hearty dose of her faith, then every bird would have his own mustard-seed shrub to nest in! She has imparted so many lessons on prayer that I cannot begin to express them. Oh, Holy-Hands, precious sister in Christ, “Oh, how He loves me and you!”

Sunday School Teacher is just that. However, she was also my teacher at one time–many, many years ago in seventh and eighth grades. Now, she and I had a secret at that time. Aware that I was going through some difficult times, she contrived to bind the book of Acts and some other Scriptures in such a way that they resembled a wall calendar. She then proceeded to hang them on the classroom wall. They were in Braille–who besides me would know what they were? So, she kept her public-school standing, and I kept some of God’s Word hidden in my heart. Today, she is so much more. She is a friend and a mentor, someone for whom I have the privilege of praying, and someone who is a beautiful prayer partner in the Lord.

Maranatha Missionary was another teacher years ago. The epitome of a gentle grandmother, she has a soft voice and a gentle, lilting South African accent. Throughout my year in her company, she imparted math and English lessons, studied to get her Braille certification, and taught me the rudiments of ballet and knitting on the side. She was soft, lovely elegance personified, back then. Now, she is so very much more–for I see that all her efforts came from a desire to show me the love of Jesus. We continue to keep in contact. Why “Maranatha Missionary”? Because her work, humble though it was, was mission work for the Master, and because she often signs her correspondence with the word “Maranatha”–“Lord, come!”.

Man of God… What can I say? I realize that so many today could be considered men of God, but this particular man fits that description most vividly for me. His voice is nearly identical to that of Don Moen, a Spirit-filled worship leader. He receives visions from God, has the gift of prophesy, prays for healing, has the most magnificent way of praying, sings as the Holy Spirit leads him, writes about Jesus and then humbly discards his writing when it is no longer needed, speaks boldly of every aspect of the Lord Jesus and the Holy Spirit, evangelizes the lost, and pastors a church. His most recent deed of love: He and a group of other worshipers penned a lengthy discourse describing the attributes and names of our Lord Jesus. They missed a few, as there are over three hundred to be found in Scripture–but they came close! Man of God read this to me as we sat in my grandfather’s living room. The whole room was so filled with the presence of the Lord that I was instantly set at peace concerning many things that had hitherto troubled me.

Man of God has been married for over thirty years to Quick-to-Listen. She reflects her name beautifully, always rejoicing in the things the Lord has given to others and so willing to learn God’s ways. For the record, Quick-to-Listen has a Bible worn and torn in so many places that I’m afraid to touch it, lest she suddenly find Romans ch. 5 floating and fluttering to the floor. It’s been taped, it’s probably been glued–but constant reading and rereading of beloved passages, underlining and highlighting, taking that Bible everywhere she goes, traveling miles across the United States with that copy of Scripture, and treating it as the daily Bread it is have taken their toll on this copy of the Word. I’d buy her a new one, but then where would all that highlighting, all those carefully-written study notes, be?

Man of God is closely affiliated with a man I shall simply call Pastor. True, his church is now his family, for he retired several years ago. However, he is and always will be a pastor at heart. He does not have a worn, torn, with-time-adorned Bible. He has twenty or more Bibles, some in the original Greek and Hebrew. He has every conceivable version but prefers the KJV and, ironically, the Message paraphrase. He does not write “notes” in his Bibles, for “notes” are mere ideas. No, he writes sermons–portions of sermons, ideas for sermons, sermon topics God has given him, sometimes the sermons themselves! He was ordained in a cessationist denomination, but received the baptism of the Holy Spirit and came to believe in the continuation of the active charismatic gifts over fifty years ago. “Be Still, My Soul”, Pastor, “Be Still, My Soul”. Hopefully, you still remember what that meant those many years ago.

His wife, Patience, is just that–merciful, as her Father is merciful. She is quiet and gentle, and knows how to bless others–particularly those who are struggling. I recently had the honor of staying with Pastor and Patience. Now, Patience knows that I want–no, I feel I need–for my time in worship to be kept as private as possible. She is also aware that I’m a bit idiosyncratic and prefer solitude in general–closed doors, possessions where I can reach them at all times, all the things that typically go with having once lost a lot and feeling the need to grasp what one has. She surely knows that it would be better for all parties–myself included–if I relinquished these quirks to the Lord, worshiped Him in boldness, and surrendered the need to be in control of my personal space and my belongings. But what did Patience do about it? She prepared a haven of a guest room, complete with the most precious quilt in the house, a Bible on the nightstand, a cross on a bureau, and a heat pack to soothe aching muscles. She knows I’m a flawed vessel, weak at times and not perfect in Him–but she seems to believe that correcting me is not her calling. She’ll let God do that.

Pastor and Patience have an Irish missionary friend, Stand Fast. Yes, that’s a Pilgrim’s Progress reference, and so not very creative on my part, but I feel it’s justified here. Stand Fast first evangelized his own Ireland, then came to the United States to establish several Good News Clubs in public elementary schools. Yes, this is Constitutional–but it would take too much time to get into all of that. For a time, Stand Fast did mission work in Kenya. The last I heard, he was back in Ireland. Along the way, Stand Fast met and befriended our family. He taught me several songs I had never heard before, recounted in vivid detail the way in which a parishioner received the Holy Spirit, offered Bible commentary on everything from the fall of man to the feeding of the five thousand, and allowed the Lord to use him to fill my heart with prayer and praise. We don’t keep in contact as much as we used to, but, Stand Fast, if you’re reading this, know that you are a wonderful brother in Christ.

Then, there’s Woman of Wisdom. She has no idea how precious she is in the eyes of the Lord. I met her in a writing forum and instantly knew that she was special, but wasn’t sure what to do about it. Send her a personal E-mail and say, “The Lord laid you on my heart; do you know that He loves you”? In hindsight, I probably should have done just that… Anyway, Woman of Wisdom would tell me she really isn’t as Biblically literate as she would like to be. She would say that she doesn’t know the sorts of things she wants to know. But there is a joy in her, and an undeniable love for the Word of God, and a devotion to trusting Him, that surpasses any flaws she may see in herself. Although she is physically not well at this time, she is standing strong, continuing to learn about prayer and fixing her eyes on Jesus. I once had the privilege of sharing a song with her–“My Eyes Are Fixed on You” by Bob Fitts. Woman of Wisdom, thank you for that opportunity; you say it blessed you, but I was the one who came away with joy in my heart.

And how could I fail to write of Songwriter? Actually, she’s more than that–a prayer warrior, a pastor’s daughter, a volunteer–but I know her for the song she sent one evening. Sleep had forsaken me, and I was simply lying awake, mulling over the myriad things I needed to do the next morning. Then, I discovered that she had sent a song about the Lord’s amazing, wonderful, glorious nature–how He answers prayer and sends healing, peace, joy, and too many blessings to name. It was too beautiful–too beautiful not to rest after that, and far too beautiful to explain or even grasp, save to thank God for it.

One of these days, I will write of Good Samaritan, who would be the first to say that she doesn’t believe most of the things I do but who has surprised me by delivering pitch-perfect theology in moments when I least expected it. I’ll also write about Eloquence, Ready-Writer, Hope-of-Heaven, and Seeking-Christian–all people I met in an online writing community. While I’m at it, I’ll write about Servant-Hearted Waitress, Worshiping Driver, Devout Student, Doctor Under the Great Physician, and Sufficient-Grace. And then there are the people who are so precious to me that they can’t be given allegorical names, only Biblical ones–Martha, Jedediah, Naomi, and Hannah. But for now, the Lord has filled my heart until I now know:

I do have a church. We worship in many different ways, at diverse times, and without the added benefit of coffee and doughnuts after the “services”. But we do have worship, and prayer, and even sermons to some extent–teachings by the Holy Spirit, and in His Word, that we share with each other and that flow directly into our hearts. This is the Body of Christ. This, not a building or a set of pews or nondenominational-church-style folding chairs, is my church. Denomination: Christian. And that is what counts.

“Jesus, Thank You”

I’ll never forget the day the Lord taught me a beautiful lesson about His grace–a tangible, glorious lesson so simple that I should have understood it by the time I was four, yet so profound that it almost escaped me altogether.

The setting was simple enough: me turning from the oven, out of which I had just taken a pan of corn muffins. Moving slowly toward the kitchen counter. Hearing my dog, Natasha, come to investigate. She’s capable of quite a bit of stretching and sniffing when the moment suits–just enough to qualify as investigation, but not enough to count as outright jumping or gobbling. Even so, I was concerned for her poor snoot and automatically put out my left hand to push her gently away. In the process, I grazed my bare fingers on the pan I had been holding in my oven-mitt-clad right hand.

“Ouch!” I cried. Admittedly, I was overreacting to the situation, but I was annoyed. Frustrated. Agitated. Irritated. All right–why bother to clean up my semantics? I was angry–plain and simple.

Hearing the over-inflated distress in my voice, my sister came into the room. “What happened?” she asked.

She’s probably sorry she did. As soon as I caught the slightest trace of sympathy in her voice, I launched into a diatribe that would have caused most people to make a hasty retreat. “I burned myself, just to protect Natasha! And you know, she shouldn’t even have been in the kitchen! She knows better! And we don’t have any aloe in the house, just when it would be handy! And, really, I’m not sure it was worth it. Is burning my hand worth it, when Natasha would have gotten out of the way just in time? And–”

Just then, the Lord impressed on me what I was doing, what I was saying… In an instant, I knew that a tiny burn on my hand was nothing compared to what Jesus Christ did for all mankind when He gave His life for us–and that He had given it as a gracious gift, without anger and not out of obligation but out of love.

I had forgotten this. Somewhere along the way, a grievous idea had taken root in my heart–the notion that, while Christ’s sacrifice was a gift, it was somehow given out of a combination of love and anger/obligation–“if humanity is going to be this sinful and disobedient, I’m going to have to help them, even at a price…” Somewhere in my heart, I thought God was thinking of me: “Why did Nicole lose her temper and say that horrible, heinous, hateful thing? Why can’t she ever keep the peace? Why doesn’t she ever learn? Why doesn’t she think before she speaks? If she read my Word more thoroughly, she would be slower to wrath! She should know better! I’ll forgive, and save, but…”

To think, that’s who I thought I was serving!

Please note: the lack of pronoun capitalization in the previous two paragraphs was entirely intentional. Since those thoughts are not Biblical, the one to whom they pertain is not the One I serve, and therefore should not be capitalized lest I be glorifying ideas of my own making rather than magnifying the one true God. I hope this makes sense…

Anyway, my way of thinking at that time was not even close to being reflective of the Father, the Son of God, or the Holy Spirit. It is an idea found nowhere in Scripture, and I suddenly realized that day with those corn muffins that I had been thinking of God’s most precious, wondrous gift in very human terms. In that moment, I saw that I had been upset at the idea of protecting Natasha because I had lost sight of how God sees me, and the rest of His creation. I assumed that God must be angry with me–even at the same time that He sent His Son–and my own fear trickled down to Natasha and my family in the shape of anger.

Readers, may you understand the heart of God more quickly than I did. His perspective when He sent Jesus to die for the sins of mankind two thousand years ago was never one of displeasure and obligation–“let’s-get-humanity-out-of-this-mess”. That perspective is nowhere in Scripture. Instead, He is indeed the Good Shepherd, willingly giving His life for the sheep, though we go astray and turn aside to our own ways (see John 10, and the book of Isaiah). “Greater LOVE hath no man than this, that He lay down His life for His friends” (John 14, emphasis added). “For God so LOVED the world that He gave His only begotten Son…” (John 3:16, emphasis added.) Throughout His ministry on earth, Jesus spoke of the gift He would give, the work He would finish, in terms of how much He loved us–in terms of grace and mercy and cleansing from sin, of freedom for the captives and good news for the poor and recovery of sight to the spiritually blind and of healing for the brokenhearted. And, aren’t nail-pierced hands and feet (Psalm 22, John 19)–isn’t the weight of the sin of all people, and His willingness to bear our infirmities and carry our diseases (Isaiah 53)–is not all of this so very, very much more sacrificial than a silly little act intended to protect my dog?

Ever since I discovered it in 2009, a glorious worship song has saturated my soul. If you don’t already have it, add Sovereign Grace Music’s “Jesus, Thank You” to your collection–a live version, if you please. Never have I heard something so theologically accurate or so tender:

Your blood has washed away my sin–
Jesus, thank You.
The Father’s wrath completely satisfied–
Jesus, thank You.
Once your enemy, now seated at Your table–
Jesus, thank You!

Now, does that sort of Ephesians-II spiritual reconciliation represent mercy or judgment? Grace, certainly, for “mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13). How can I wonder about God’s great gift in the light of that rich and abundant grace? And if Jesus gave His life so freely, if and because God sent His only begotten Son into the world, should I not be willing to serve? “No student is greater than his teacher, and no servant greater than his master”, but seeing what I do of the Trinity’s love, should I not strive to be like my Master? Yes, I should–I should, and I will. Next time I’m called upon to do something unpleasant for someone else–be he dog or human–may I see His love for me, His grace poured upon and into and around my heart, enough to show that same love and mercy to others. “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36). Yes, Lord, by your grace, I will try.