Christmas or Garbage
Have you seen the ‘tiny house concept’ on your Facebook feed? Little spaces with all the essentials to make it home but no excess square footage. These little abodes remind me of the campers that used to fit on the back of a pick up truck. They are complete with the tiny requirements of a kitchen: a small sink and a 2 burner stove. The table becomes a bed. A mattress rests above the roof of the cab of the pick up for more sleeping. Home on wheels.
It is a step up from the log cabin where one room serves as the furnace and cooking center (the fireplace); the table becomes the entertainment center and the office and the classroom. The bed is the only place to lie down. A trundle pulls out for any children to sleep on. You get the picture.
Now contemplate the home in which you live. It is probably larger than the 500 square foot tiny house. It likely offers more conveniences and certainly more space for living, storing, sleeping, bathing, washing, cleaning than either of the above mentioned options.
Post WWII, our productive economy made goods and services available to us. Women had entered the work force in large numbers and cash was available for more than essential living. Now, luxury could be bought.
Appliances saved time and energy. Plastic made household goods and toys cheap and easily acquired. And, according to a recent Time article, “…we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfactions, our ego satisfactions, in consumptions…We need to have people eat, drink, dress, ride, live with ever more complicated and, therefore, constantly more expensive consumption.”
Most of us aren’t old enough to remember those days. But we understand the concept of more and more and newer and better. Some of our jobs revolve around producing, selling, insuring those items. About 30 years ago, American consumption began using half the annual expenditure to NONNECESSITIES. The advent of credit, big box stores, discount stores decreased prices and profits. This changed our community.
The influx of online shopping and almost immediate availability expanded our view of the market place. Two-day shipping; free shipping and the item could be ours with the click of a mouse and not a retreat from the chair. We no longer have to visit several stores to find the item we want, we just visit several sites to find the desired find and poof, with the wave of the fairy godmother’s wand (the click of that mouse) it can be found at our doorstep in days. Maybe if UPS uses drones, we can decrease the time from days to hours.
And, why? Because we can. Goods are cheap. We are able to buy without a moment’s hesitation; without interruption; without a monitor on whether it is essential to life. We are not spending half our income on food and the other half on taxes as some do. Even if we are struggling to get that food on the table or clothe our children, chances are they are better fed and clothed than many in the world.
Unfortunately, goods have sometimes replaced relationship. We buy to become happy. We buy to make ourselves look good. We buy to keep up with the neighbor or the other kids in school. We buy so we don’t seem to be without. Yet, the thrill of the purchase or the sale or the deal doesn’t last forever and soon, there is a need for the thrill of the purchase again.
How do we know this is true? Look at the businesses that have come into existence because of our consumerism: storage units; Got Junk?; professional cleaners and organizers. Even thrift stores thrive because of our consumerism. So, what is the clue for combatting consumerism for the sake of purchasing power?
How often do we keep things because ‘it belonged to [some relative with whom we have a fond memory]’ or ‘my son would be devastated if I got rid of the gift he gave me.’? I have a pink painted rock that says ‘MOM’ in blue. Turned upside down, it says ‘WOW’. One of my girls made it for me. I don’t know why I keep it. Maybe I think she will miss it if I give it away. What a lie. She probably doesn’t remember making it. But, somehow, it floods me with the emotion of love from her diligent efforts to create the perfect gift for her mother.
We tease my husband about the ‘crepe paper from the 8thgrade dance’. It’s true. It is in one of the boxes of archives stored in the closet no one can reach. He thinks it might be a wonderful remembrance but we wonder by whom.
David has a friend who declared great liberty after he and his wife purged through every drawer, cupboard, closet, and storage cranny, eliminating duplicates, removing excess, and cleaning out space from the unnecessary.
We are often amazed at our home. Built in 1920, it was originally a one bedroom bungalow. The bedroom might have held a single bed, shoved against a wall. When we moved into the house, my 8 month pregnant belly wouldn’t tuck under the lavatory of the original bathroom when I was seated on the throne. Sitting side saddle was equally as difficult because my short legs were pressed against the bathtub. This home might be the expansion of ‘the tiny house’. It was built with every convenience of the time but it was not large. And, why should it be? The homemaker might have had 3 dresses and 2 aprons. The father may have had two sets of work clothes and one church outfit. They probably had little need for much stuff or couldn’t afford it if they needed it. And our home was huge compared to log cabins where the one room served as kitchen, dining room, living room, and bedroom.
Today, we live in mansions. Seriously. Even my home, which has had some additions and enclosures to enlarge bedrooms, is a mansion by the standards of many in the world outside America. There seems to be a principle of expansion: we fill the space we have and then get a bigger space.
What if we each took one room or one closet, removed everything, returned only the few things we NEED or even USE and recycled the rest? It could be donated to one of many groups or organizations. It could be put on a garage sale to raise money for a missionary family. It could be reused in a new way. What if we spent fifteen minutes sorting out a drawer and removing the extraneous tools or utensils that are duplicates? What if we made space that allowed us to breathe and move without clutter in our midst?
So during this season, as we anticipate gift giving, perhaps instead of more ‘stuff’ for our homes, we can make memories. We can cancel activities for a night and have dinner by candle light; we can skate at the ice rink; we can cut and decorate a Christmas tree; we can be intentional about being with family and making positive memories rather than adding to our already crowded households. Take a picture and file it in a special place so the memory lasts but takes up less space. Make the season count with the folks who matter.
Though the wish lists have been made for this season; some shopping started; occasional wrapping concluded; Amazon sites bookmarked, ready to decide on which gifts to ‘arrive in 48 hours’, consider taking some time this year to plan memories. As the many gifts are being relocated from under the tree to the toy room or bedroom closet, remove as many as you store. It will be good for your mental health!
I don’t know what incites it, but it seems to happen just before the holidays. I go on a rampage. I recognize that it is sometimes irrational but there is something within me that insists I do it. Clean, from the inside out.
This year, I knew the cause. After my mother in law’s death, her apartment had to be cleaned out. Lots of things came to our house for sorting, keeping, donating. And, that began the avalanche of closet, drawer, shelf cleaning, sorting, reorganizing, and donating.
Additionally, we were preparing for holiday guests. My propensity is to deep clean the rooms or areas of the house they would be occupying. We had just played bed dominoes to better accommodate the sleeping preferences of each guest. It had taken weeks to make decisions and act on them. Deep cleaning for me means inside out cleaning: cleaning drawers, shelves, closets and after all that, dusting, vacuuming, etc. Anything less is superficial.
During the growing up years of our children, the boys shared a bedroom and the girls shared another. Each room sported bunk beds. The bunk beds found new homes, replaced by something to better accommodate adults, some married with children. And, the basement classroom from our homeschooling days morphed into a family room with a hide a bed for one of the three ‘family’ units. We decide which rooms/beds to use based on who is coming and when; what overlap and what sleep preferences each has.
And, so it began. My rampage of sorting, cleaning. In the process of cleaning a shelf of toys, I decided I needed to store 2 children’s toys together for our new granddaughter’s benefit. Of course, I was certain I knew where one of them was (in storage). It wasn’t there, so my progress on one shelf was diverted to sorting through the ENTIRE storage room of our basement till I found it (with the games, not in the storage room where it once was). This a huge pile of things my husband needed to evaluate before anything could return to the storage room. Let’s just say we ‘store’ things differently. And, I don’t pitch anything unless he gives the nod. This was the avalanche.
Our basement is the old fashioned, no finish on the ceiling kind of basement. It’s not very deep and tall people notice how low the floor joists are. Between the joists, run air ducts, pipes, electric things. When we were in the basement every day home schooling, I noticed any cob webs that arrived. They didn’t live long. These days, my time in the basement is usually to rotate loads of laundry or find some ingredient in the pantry. Few minutes are spent searching for cobwebs.
After feeling pretty smug about all the organizing and sorting work done in the basement, I decided to take a lantern to shine into the recesses of the floor joists, just to be sure there were no dust particles, hanging out together. Oh. My. Goodness. The light revealed more than I imagined. My heart sank. I had not observed those lingering cob webs. They were as fine as fishing line, invisible to the naked eye till the light illuminated them.
I knew the perfect weapon against those critters: my grandmother’s Fuller brush broom. This is not an ordinary broom. It’s a triangular shaped device on a pole. The bristles extend 360* around each of the three sides and the respective corners. I suspect she used it to clean corners and the joint between ceiling and wall. Though my basement ceiling isn’t very tall, neither am I and the handle was just the extension I needed to conquer the dust above and beyond the air ducts and other utilities.
Maybe because I’m always asking the Lord for revelation of Him in my life, this came to me. Each of us has some cobwebs that are invisible to our own eyes: dirt and dust that clings together, forming lines of imperfection. When His light shines on it, even the smallest of disgusting particles are seen for what they are: dirt, maybe even sin. And, only the work of the Trinity, an extension of His grace cleans it up. The Holy Spirit shows us; the Son cleanses us; the Father instructs us.
If you come to my house, there is no guarantee you would find my basement rafters dust free. The cobwebs I discovered yesterday are gone but new ones will find their way and I must remain diligent to keep them from accumulating. It requires maintenance rather than an annual rampage.
Perhaps the Lord wants to remind me that daily maintenance of the cobwebs in my spiritual life are most effective. Letting my sin mount for a period of time before attacking it creates more difficulty than I want to face. It could become an avalanche.
Especially during the holiday season, we have more to juggle with extra events, time with extended family or loneliness enlarged; financial restraints or lack thereof, there is more need to focus on His ways and to hear His voice so we don’t move in the wrong direction and have a lot of cleanup to do post celebration. Food for thought, at least.
There might be more to say about rampages. For the moment, I have a few more drawers to sort and organize; a little more dusting of some shelves; and some additional sweeping to do before my company comes. Happy Holidays!
‘Tis the Season
It’s time for a reminder. It’s advent season. You may own an advent calendar that offers candies or scripture or a new decoration for the Christmas tree as you open each little number to count the days till Christmas and the inevitable GIFT EXCHANGE. It’s an important element of the season and holiday.
There are lots of ways to celebrate the season. We didn’t do it perfectly. But every year, we made some kind of effort to focus on the Reason for the Season: Jesus. Some years, we did special readings. Sometimes, we didn’t get up from the dinner table till specific scriptures for each day had been read. It didn’t matter how we did it. We tried to focus on Jesus rather than gift giving.
We did other pre-Christmas things as well: Operation Christmas Child with Samaritan’s purse. Each child got to select a gender and age range and select gifts for a child in another part of the world by filling a shoe box with necessary and special items. Tooth brushes, soap, toys, colors, paper, coloring books, and any extras that would fit in the boxes thrilled our children as each one imagined the joy of the child receiving it.
We Christmas caroled for care centers and OWL. It brought joy to the residents and reminded us why we do special things.
We made a tradition of decorating the tree and our home with specific things to remind us of Jesus and the gifts we have from him. When it was all complete, we would turn the light on the Christmas tree, sit on the fireplace hearth and enjoy the first of the Christmas cookies and hot chocolate.
However you celebrate the season with your family, focus on the why of gift giving; the One who came as the best gift for our souls. In our world of consumerism and the importance of ‘getting’ vs. giving, it’s the least we can do. Mark the season with things that build memories.
Empty and Full
Void. Echoes filled my living room. What was wrong? My husband made the same comment: ‘something was missing.’ Our house seemed as if its soul was gone. And it was.
Matthew was not in the house. He developed one of those jerky things that might be a seizure that might continue on and on until all the energy in his brain had been expended and then no one knew what the outcome would be.
He donated blood to prove he was healthy, except for his traumatic brain injury, which had stolen his voice and his persistent motion. We had taken him to the emergency room, where his arms no longer accepted needles with the intent of taking even more blood. So, the nurse went to his feet. She warned us. It would be painful. His dad held his leg on the table as she poked. It hurt. I could see it on his face. I held the hand that had not stopped trembling for nearly a week. Hand holding during needle sticks began with childhood shots and have continued many years. Nurses stuck him with needles as I held his left hand for whatever comfort he could gain from this simple act.
After the second trip to emergency, he was transferred to the hospital for observation and hopefully some positive outcome. That’s where he was when I came home to an empty house. Even though our youngest child is 26, we have never really experienced being empty nesters so our home felt a void I had rarely experienced. It was eerie.
I thought about why the presence of a non-verbal young man in a wheel chair, or resting in his bed for a change of posture, made a house feel warm and cozy and full of love. It took days to ponder.
It was the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit in him. The Holy Spirit around him. The Holy Spirit that kept him alive and surrounded him. It was with him in the hospital. I am certain of it because the nurses and aides who only tend to the IV’s attached to his foot, flock to the room to be with us. We tend to his cares as if he were home, except for the machines that dispense IV fluids. We engage the staff in conversation and interest in their lives and families. Their countenance changes over the days: from just doing their job, to being open about the challenges of what they do. We say ‘thank you’ for Matt a dozen times a day.
This is the work of the Holy Spirit. The boy who cannot say words speaks volumes because of the love that surrounds him. The boy who cannot move independently, moves the hearts of those who work with him and care for him. The boy who is ill touches the souls of those who enter his room.
My living room hosts this same spirit. And I miss it when it is absent. This same spirit goes with us as we live and move in the love of Christ. It fills the space around us. It touches those with whom we come in contact. It changes lives. Breathe in this Holy Spirit. Breathe it out and fill the space you occupy, for there is a fragrance of joy and peace and love within it. And its absence is noticeable.
Decades ago, a little book flourished in the Christian Community. Many folks read it and recited the words within it. It was about 4”x4” in size. I was one of the folks who prayed what the book described in the few chapters it held before I got out of bed each morning.
I was a stay at home, home schooling mom with 4 littles romping around. My circle of influence was small. I often wondered how God could ever use me in this little area of my basement classroom. It seemed impossible. I kept praying and wondering and reminding Him that I was just willing. That was all there was to offer.
Even today, my sphere is small. Our house is comfortably cozy for the three of us and stuffed when the other 5 come home. We don’t mind because those days are fleeting and we know they soon evaporate.
But recently, someone said something to us that made me realize our influence extends beyond the walls of our house. During Matt’s recent hospitalization, we had a day nurse whose demeanor was guarded. She was very nice and a capable nurse but I could tell there was a protective shell over her heart.
Eventually, she revealed she was a single mom of five children. She grew up with a single, deaf mom, which made her the target of bullying as a child. We mostly listened but I was certain to thank her for helping us every time she left the room. She was training a new nurse that day. And at the end of the day, an hour past the end of their shift, she was in the room. I remarked that New Nurse had survived the first day. And her reply surprised me.
Then, I watched over the next few days the heart change of our veteran day nurse. We didn’t do or say anything extraordinary to her. We just cared for our son. We transitioned in and out of Matthew’s room. His older siblings had extended their stay a few days and were available to break up our normal 12 hour shift into more manageable segments. So she watched the dynamics of our diverse family operate the way we have learned to capitalize on each person’s strengths.
I watched her countenance as the doctors with the train of residents came in and we spoke with the neurologist. I caught her eye as I challenged this wonderful doctor on some of the things he said and reminded him that we needed a better plan so we didn’t land in the hospital for the same thing every 2 years.
Then, I noticed this nurse would come to our room for no reason and she would linger. We didn’t need anything but she needed something from us. She needed what the New Nurse had observed.
New Nurse had told us that our room was her ‘high point’ of the day. Please be sure that you understand it was NOT US. It was the presence of Jesus in that room that drew those nurses back for no reason except His peace and calm.
So if you are not familiar with the little prayer that has changed our lives over and over in the many, many years since I prayed it every morning, you might want to pray it as well. It’s called the prayer of Jabez:
"And Jabez called on the God of Israel saying, 'Oh, that You would bless me indeed, and enlarge my territory, that Your hand would be with me, and that You would keep me from evil, that I may not cause pain.' So God granted him what he requested."
Often our sphere of influence has been because of Matthew’s traumatic brain injury. It’s been in Emergency Rooms; in the fight for care for the vulnerable; in the hospital rooms where we could bring a moment of healing to the injured heart of a wounded nurse; in places we never really planned to travel.
So, think hard about whether you are really WILLING to go where He asks you to go. The journey may be challenging and harder than you anticipate. I promise you, if you go as the ambassador of Christ, He will give you what you need to minister in the way He needs. And along the way, there will be sharp corners sanded off and deep character germinating within your soul because you realize the only source is Him. Your hopes and desires and ideas of how this prayer can be fulfilled will look different than your wildest imagination. And it will be so much better.
I challenge you to ask God to enlarge your territory. Then watch to see what doors open before you. And see the peace of Christ develop new rooms in your heart.
It’s That Time of Year
If you are thinking of a song, or the extra hour of sleep soon to come as we roll back the clocks, or pumpkin anything, or Halloween or the impending Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, you are right. But that is not what I’m going to talk about today.
Many of you know our family has just experienced the month of unbelievable events. David’s mom had a massive heart attack. She was in the hospital for a week, the health center for a week, died, and was buried. And, the day before her funeral and the day after it, our son made 2 trips to the Emergency Room, followed by a 3 day stay in the hospital.
Which is why I’m writing this article today. If you are sick, don’t come to church. If you have a cough or sneezes, or bodily fluid exiting your body, stay home. PLEASE don’t expose the rest of the world to whatever you have. Our children are vulnerable (they should stay home, too, if they exhibit any of the above symptoms); the elderly’s immune system may not be strong enough to fight it off. And no one wants to miss work because someone else HAD to attend church. (We always want you to attend if you are healthy)
PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE teach your children to bury their coughs and sneezes in their elbow rather than the hands that touch light switches, door knobs, chairs, paper that is passed to others, chairs, and everything within their reach.
We aren’t certain what came into our home or how it arrived to change Matthew’s brain chemistry, causing seizure like symptoms. The doctors cannot pinpoint a cause. But, a viral infection can do this. He sneezed twice and had a runny nose for a minute. That’s enough to send us on a journey we prefer to avoid. It’s why we quarantine our home for the respiratory illness months. I hate going to the grocery store. We are fastidious about hand washing and masking up. You may not see me for months if I suspect there is anything at schools and church that can be air born and contagious.
This is a personal issue for my family but it is important for everyone to take a minute and think about the health and safety of others. It’s the “good Samaritan” thing to do.
That’s the lecture for today. Now you can continue to ponder the sweet dreams an extra hour of sleep will give you or how you are going to decorate for the holidays or what new dish can be pumpkin flavored. Enjoy the season and keep yourself and the rest of us healthy!
Life Marches On
In July, we welcomed new life into our family. She is our first grandchild and I’ve written about how she brought me to my knees as her mother labored to deliver her. We have visited her, cared for her ill mommy, and welcomed her to our home.
Her visit to our house was brief and unexpected. It was so welcome, to meet her grandfather and uncle for the very first time. She smiles and loves to snuggle, so it’s the perfect age and stage to be introduced to new family members.
Her first long trip (6 hours) came because her great grandmother was about to exit this life. She was on her ‘last lap of 90 years’ as my husband aptly described. It was our daughter’s desire to make the introduction of the new generation to the passing generation. She was successful in achieving that goal. They made a visit to the hospital where the Great grandmother was receiving care in time for Little Lady to meet and greet. The Great grandmother was thrilled to have the opportunity to hold and meet this treasure. She never thought it would really happen.
This is a bittersweet season in the lives of our children. It is also a wake-up call for them to realize with experience the passing of the baton from one generation to another. For me, it is the opportunity to watch the fruit of the spirit evidenced in a reverse.
This woman, about to leave life as we know it, has spent her life serving others. She abandoned what she loved doing to devote her energies to rearing four amazing individuals and serve their father. Her natural talents and love were for radio broadcasting. If you have met her, you know her distinct voice clearly qualified her. But in small town Iowa, few were the opportunities for her to use her skills.
Instead, she used the skills her mother modeled as a homemaker. She cleaned, cooked, organized, and served for the many years her babes grew into adults. She never complained though I know weariness often overwhelmed her. She was the epitome of submitting what she wanted for what was required.
When her children were grown, she returned to the university where she earned her degree before her marriage and to the radio work for which she was so perfectly suited. In her last years, she has learned the skills of electronic media to maintain contact with children and grandchildren spread across the country, traveling in and out of the USA. It has broadened her skill set and kept her active.
Now she faces graduation. She has earned her degree in living well, loving deeply, and serving long and hard. She is about to be birthed into eternity. She will soon be held in the arms of her Savior, beaming from ear to ear. There will be no more pain from holding twin boys on each hip, carrying them to keep them out of trouble. The pain and suffering of enduring divorce, watching her only daughter survive cancer several times, and seeing a grandson’s life changed in a heartbeat will seem like a fog compared to the glory and grandeur of heaven.
And I get to watch her children suddenly turn into the care takers, who administer gentleness, kindness, long suffering. They rise up and call her blessed for they look around them and suddenly see the sacrifices their mother made were the very essence of their existence. She is the reason they have been successful. For she is the one who taught them moral courage, to laugh at themselves, to give up one’s life to benefit another.
We should all be so fortunate to have an example like my mother in law, Frances. She is one in a million. If you met her, you know. If you have met my husband, you can see a glimmer of all that was good and kind in this woman.
Frances Leone Whisler Hudson Nathanson: December 3, 1927-October 8, 2018.
Maybe you have watched one of the two versions of Master Chef on television: the adult and junior division. They fascinate me. I’m introduced to techniques and ingredients which baffle my mind. Children as young as seven compete against other youth with skills and culinary abilities far beyond me.
Each one seems to have an innate sense of what ingredients work together, balance one another, compliment, contrast and work well together. Via the television or computer screen, the scents and flavors escape the viewer. But, I trust the main chef, Gordon Ramsay to judge whether his palate is delighted.
Some of the culinary tricks of the trade are unveiled in a book I recently read. On one of my recent trips south to visit my New Mama daughter, she showed it to me. I could not read more than a paragraph at time between baby snuggles, so I just wrote the title of the book in my mind and procured a copy at the local library.
If becoming a better chef with a few simple techniques interest you, it might be worth a visit to the library for you, too. SALT, FAT, ACID, HEAT by Samin Nosrat is the name of the book. The author details minute changes one might make to bring balance and contract to dishes. She takes each of the title elements one at a time to discuss how it affects the outcome of a recipe; when one should consider adding it; how to determine the variety to use.
It's fascinating to me. It’s scientific but not so overwhelming the layman cannot comprehend it. As an example, she discusses WHEN to add salt. Short beef ribs should be salted 24 hours before cooking. Chicken breasts need to be salted 10 minutes before cooking. She explains why. Likewise, she dictates differences in fat and how and why they affect the outcome of the recipe. From balsamic vinegar to lemon juice, she addresses what acids bring ‘brightness’ to foods, enhancing and clarifying the blend of flavors. I thought the HEAT would be spicy, though she addresses heat as the temperature and duration to which foods should be cooked.
At our daughter’s wedding, our niece, the dietetics major, commented that the reception food had the right balance of sweet, salty, sour. I thought about it often after the fact. It wasn’t intentional on our part, but it made me think of the combinations of food we often find pleasing.
Lemonade: a combination of sweet and sour; peanuts and raisins: the combination of salty and sweet; salt on rhubarb: the sour and salt blend sure to pucker your lips. You can think of different combinations that satisfy your taste buds, too. A meal that combines the 5 senses of sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami delight and please.
If burgers and fries please your palate, you don’t need this book but if higher culinary achievements interest you, it’s worth a read. You might even want to try some of the recipes in the last half of the book.
Not from the South
I am a born and bred Iowa farm girl. I have visited the southern USA several times but I’ve never developed a flavor for some of their favorite vegetables. Maybe I didn’t stay long enough or maybe what I ate wasn’t prepared in a mouthwatering manner. I’ve heard about these delectable vegetables and decided I would give it a try. My first attempt created slime. I was not a fan. So, I never tried it again. Though I’m fond of fried foods, we generally avoid frying most of our foods. The rave reviews I had were of the fried version of this vegetable and I have to say I cannot even imagine it.
When I was in elementary school we had several kinds of ‘make it stick’ products: jar paste the teacher scooped out of gallon jugs and put on a plate in the center of square tables that eight children shared. The other ‘glue’ was mucilage. It came in a brown bottle with a rubber ‘cap’. The cap had a slit in it so when one pushed on the tip, the slit opened and the sticky, liquid came out a drop or many at a time. It was slimy and sticky and brown as the bottle that held it. It was like rubber cement without the odor.
So, the slime in the vegetable applauded all over the south and the slime in the bottle have something in common: mucilaginous qualities. It’s gel-like. It’s sticky. It’s slimey. So, vegetables with that texture have never ranked high on my ‘appealing’ list of veggies.
But as I began to cook through this new cookbook that came highly recommended, over and over, said vegetable was recommended. The interesting part of it, though, was the author always indicated her children hate this vegetable but LOVE the dishes made with it. Sound like a contrast? I thought so, too.
The key for using this ingredient is to blend it into a liquid. This masquerades what the vegetable is but takes advantage of its ability to hold all the ingredients together. It’s like starch without the carbs and calories. In fact, I’ve become a big fan of using this vegetable. It’s not available in all stores, but I’ve found a store near me where it is in the freezer section. And, I might even try my hand at growing it in my garden next summer. Might as well…I use plenty of it these days!
What is this mystery vegetable? Okra. Little green pods full of seeds. Cutting it open gives a liquid similar to the aloe that comes from the leaf and is recommended for burns. The health benefits of okra are being lauded and applauded. It seems to soothe the digestive tract: moving things along because it is rich in fiber and yet binding together what needs to be bound.
It's highly recommended to even out blood sugars and diabetics are encouraged to include it in their diets. It is supposed to be heart healthy, guarding against clots and atherosclerosis, relaxing arteries and blood vessels. It’s good for eye health preventing macular degeneration and cataracts.
Okra does increase oxalates, so it should be avoided if one is prone to kidney or gall stones. Oxalates are like magnets for these maladies.
You might be surprised to hear that my favorite recipe and the one that convinced me to love okra is my ‘Cry no more brownies.’ They are like fudge and decadent. I kid you not. Healthy brownies. That is an oxymoron! I might not eat okra as a vegetable served with my meal, or even fried, but I’m consuming plenty in casseroles, soups, and desserts. It’s not detectable but I feel fortified and energized knowing I’m eating what is good for me so painlessly.
When I cannot make it to church because of work, I often ‘tune in’ to the sermons online. When I’m caught up on those, I go to my daughter’s church and listen. Sometimes, my son in law has the opportunity to preach, which is a real treat for us.
One of those sermons recently told an amazing story of an experiment in Arizona. It was an eco-system that had been built under a dome. It was expansive and there were many climates, controlled and sustained by specialists: everything from deserts to rain forests. In one area, a particular tree would grow to mature height and then just fall over. It puzzled everyone. In the outside world, this variety of tree withstood strong winds and was anchored by a deep root system. What was the difference?
As scientists explored the differences in the man-made environment vs. the ‘real world’, the only difference was the wind. Outside the controlled environment, the wind whipped the small sapling, forcing the roots to anchor the tree by growing deep and wide. In the absence of the wind, the root system was unable to develop. The foundation of the tree (the root system) was faulty and unable to balance upright growth of the tree, causing it to topple at a particular height.
On to another example, found in my kitchen. Late on Friday night, I looked at the 3 gallon bucket full of ripe tomatoes and realized that the best approach to them was to ‘get ‘er done’. Years of food preservation have taught me to divide the steps over two days to avoid fatigue. So, after dinner, that Friday evening, I turned on the boiling water and submerged tomatoes one steamer basket at a time. I skinned the tomatoes and put them in my trusty roaster, where they would simmer all night with the warm peppers which had abundantly grown in the garden.
The next morning, I awoke earlier than usual and realized I could get the canning started and be done before the football games began. Motivated by the impending ‘rest’, I hopped out of bed and jarred the Ro-tel tomatoes into lots of little jars and submerged those jars into boiling water.
The heat of the boiling water in the canning process drives the air out of the jar, creating a vacuum or ‘seal’. This preserves the food for later use. If the water around the jars isn’t boiling or if the jar isn’t left in the boiling water for enough time, the jar doesn’t seal and the food spoils. Because we feel as if we have been in ‘boiling water’ circumstances through the last year, I was keen to relate these two examples to our spiritual growth and development.
We have had a few storms at our house over the last decade or so. The winds were about to blow us over on many occasions as we faced elements we had never imagine nor planned to see. The water has seemed turbulent and hot to us. We have sweat more than we wanted over things we could not control. Each storm; every kettle of hot water into which we were submerged gave us a choice.
Would we fret and try to find safe shelter far from the storm? Would we clamor to higher ground to avoid the tempest? Would we scamper far away from the boiling water or would we sit and steep in it? We had to choose our attitude. We had to decide if we were about to trust a wise God to see us through.
We did not do this on our own and we have made sufficient mistakes in the trek. But, I do think the windy weather and the boiling water have sent our roots deep and forced a new level of trust. We have needed to humble ourselves over and over to develop deeper roots. We have had the air taken away from us to preserve us from the contamination of bad attitudes.
This is not us. Because WE would have run to a cave to avoid the storm. WE would have moved from the hot springs to the cool shade of the beach. But HE has seen us through. He has held us in the storm and driven our roots deep. He has turned the temperature on high and put a lid over us so we have no choice except to bubble in the adversities of life to be preserved despite the circumstances.
Without the storms of life, we are weak. This is why we are to rejoice in all our struggles. The struggles: the winds and waves of life; the heat and boiling in which we find ourselves develop strong character and bear the fruit of the spirit. This is not an individual application: this is a corporate application. Each of us within the body of Christ must learn to withstand the difficulties which come before us. And, united, we stand together to withstand the elements of our culture and make a difference.