Something I miss
My dad’s baby sister lives near me. We might go for months without a call or chat. I try to remember her birthday and Mother’s day since one of her sons lives far away and the other is deceased.
Recently, though, we have had a number of calls about family members who are ill or struggling with something. It makes me remember the days of old and what I miss; of what I miss for myself and what I miss that my children never really knew.
In the old days of my youth, it was common for families to stay geographically close. I lived on the same farm as my grand parents for the first 3 years of my life. It was common for each farm to host 2 houses. Sometimes, the newest off spring to be married inhabited the house and other times, perhaps the hired hand lived there.
We always lived 30 minutes or so from my grandparents. They were as close to me as my parents. It was very common for any grandchild to overnight with a grandparent. It was quite a treat when there were cousins there, too.
When new babies were about to arrive, we went to stay with aunts and uncles while my mother went to the hospital. I don’t know who decided that rhyming names were fun, but I’m the middle cousin of the 13 and a whole string of the ones just older than I have names that rhyme: Larry, Gary, Sheri, Jerry, Mary Jo…The nick names were equally as challenging: Spud, Mud, and Jud. My poor grandmother had her tongue tied trying to get to my name!
The house my grandparents lived in wasn’t very large. We ate in shifts at holiday meals. The men ate at the dining room table; the grand children at card tables in the living room. The women ate in the second shift just before dishes were done.
When my eldest cousin married a career Air Force pilot, the generational geographic closeness changed. She and her family lived around the world and became a kind of celebrity because of the tales they had to tell of shoes that grew mold overnight in Okinawa; or the chimney sweeps of London; or the way her boys laughed at the Japanese cartoons, not understanding one word of the cartoon. She started the travel bug that several of us continued to hone.
All in all, the generations that followed had vaster fields to explore. Technology made it possible for us to live hours away and still see one another; communicate by phone instead of walking across the driveway.
I miss the closeness of my cousins. I miss that my children don’t have the same sense of generations being close. It changes the dynamics of our lives.
As I was contemplating all the changes I’ve seen and what I miss, it occurred to me that many in our church family are in the same boat. And, so the church becomes the family. Our friends take the place of the cousins and aunts and uncles who are weekend game playing companions and best friends.
The work on our facility also reminds me of how family members worked together to accomplish one large goal. Think of the farmers who pitch in to help one another harvest if there is a medical emergency or tragedy. Our idea of ‘vacation’ was a project on the farm. Since my mother’s birthday was near Labor Day, our tradition was to go home and complete whatever project she chose to accomplish that year. We made memories; we laughed and sometimes had injuries; we accomplished something; we served the one who always served the rest of the family.
We are family. We are diverse. We love and laugh together through thick and thin; through building projects; and even as we wait for others to give us permission to occupy the land. Let’s cherish the memories of these days.
Recently, our daughter and son in law came to visit. It was a busy weekend with other family members in town. There were nuclear family members as well as extended family. There were many activities, including a baby shower.
Getting ready for company took extra time, being sure all the rooms were 5 star standard. There was extra food to prepare so we could enjoy the company when they arrived and not spend lots of time cooking. I was ready and prepared to spend time with my children, relatives, and just relax.
I had an agenda. There was a plan and purpose to it. It involved relating to folks I don’t see often. I couldn’t wait.
The time came and went and honestly, it was a fabulous weekend. We had fun, laughter, played games, enjoyed one another’s company. We made memories. It was remarkable.
In the end, though, I felt a twinge of emptiness. I asked God to give me insight on why I my emotional cup wasn’t as full as I anticipated.
His answer was all about Him.
Here is the deal: I put a lot of effort into preparing for the weekend. The return on my investment wasn’t entirely what I had hoped it would be.
The Lord sacrificed His only Son for us. His hope is that we will fall down and worship; live every moment for Jesus. Instead, it’s easy for us to attend church on Sunday; work hard on the new building site; do all the right Christian things. It makes us feel as if we are doing the right thing.
What He wants is dedicated, individual time with us. He wants a rich relationship with us. He wants us to spend time not just in the crowd of Christians; not just doing all the right things for Him. He wants time alone. He wants to share His heart with us. He wants us to listen and grow from what He has to share.
How many times do I have to be disappointed in a situation and then realize, this is how the Lord feels when I fail to spend uninterrupted time with Him because I’m distracted? This is how He feels in our relationship when I’m not focused on Him.
I’m a slow learner in some aspects of my life. I have to be reminded. It’s easy to be distracted by the people and things around me. It’s easy to be distracted by the good and right things. The distraction is a tool of the enemy to make me less effective in God’s kingdom.
I don’t know if you experience this or not. Maybe I’m the only one. I suspect there are others of you who sit down to read the Word and let your eyes pass over each word while your mind is really thinking about the ‘to do’ list. Or you kneel in prayer and your mind wanders. Suddenly, the realization hits that you are not praying but lost in day dreaming.
It pulls me up short when these things happen. I have to put the brakes on my tendency to ‘do’ and become intentional in ‘being’. I’ve written before about my tendency to be Martha instead of Mary. It rears its head regularly enough in my life that I know God wants me to make changes.
Join me in being intentionally focused on the Face of the Living God who wants to meet individually with us in our prayer closet or as we focus on what the Word is saying to us.
We are counting down. Weeks to this date and now weeks till an important event. We don’t know when, exactly. We know approximately: the date we become grandparents.
Our youngest made a trip home last fall with a book holding this inscription: Dear G'pa and G'ma, Please read this to me when I come to visit. Baby N. We have been excited since.
We don’t see them often. They live the closest of our three out of state children, but it is 6 hours and travel isn’t easy either direction. They are busy with normal lives working with the church youth program and juggling jobs and sometimes, school. From our end of the journey, we can travel only one parent at a time.
So, in preparation for what I hope will be a trip south and east of here sometime this summer, I’ve been preparing. There have been knitting projects galore. Today, I want to talk about another kind of preparation.
My husband doesn’t cook. In fact, I’ve advised my children to buy stock in Lean Cuisine, gluten free, frozen dinners if I die. Because a lot will be purchased. It isn’t that he CANNOT cook as much as he chooses NOT to cook.
When I’m absent, some other family member comes to stay to help him with the jobs requiring two people with Matthew. Usually the person who comes to stay is the one who isn’t keen on kitchen duty either.
So, I prepare food in advance. I noticed a list on the side of my refrigerator one afternoon. It lists what has been prepared in advance and which freezer the items can be found. Enchiladas, mushroom covered minute steak, chili, beef stew, lasagna, etc. I’ll move them to one area of the freezer before I leave. All they will need to do is look at the list and decide what they want to eat the next day, pull it out of the freezer and defrost it overnight in the refrigerator and then crock pot or microwave or bake the day they want to eat it. I’ll try to make a plethora of salads the day before I depart, too. And, there is always ice cream for dessert.
It’s been an easy thing to do. With a keen eye on the future, I’ve been making full (rather than half) recipes recently. I bake half for our dinner and freeze the other portion for future use. It takes me less time to make a full recipe than to divide the ingredients in half as I plug through the recipe.
It's a nice thing to do if you are cooking for more than one. There are lots of ‘make ahead’ recipes, cookbooks, etc. on the market and on line. Not all recipes freeze well, so that is something to keep in mind. Sometimes, just freezing a portion of a recipe makes throwing the final thing together a breeze.
During summer time, when we are all busy with games, pool, walks, work in the yard and garden, having food made in advance is a great benefit.
As for me and my house, we are just looking forward to the steep learning curve of grandparenting.
Bits and Pieces
This is a busy week at our house. There is a birthday that ends in zero. It’s always a cause for celebration. Especially this one, because death has come knocking at the door more than once. We celebrate life every day but especially on birthdays.
Then, there are guests arriving. I feel like a hospitality flood is coming because two by two we have guests arriving nearly every day of the week. I love entertaining. It gives me opportunity to plan and prepare and be sure I’m on the top of my housekeeping agenda. (Some days, I need motivation to keep the house pristine during gardening season.)
Every grey hair on my head seems to slow me down a little more. I’ve learned to attack projects a smaller bite at a time. I planted my garden last week. It took me 3 days this year to get it all done and there are things that are still in the greenhouse because I wait till mid-May to plant some species. I used to do it in one frenzied afternoon. Doing bite sized pieces has helped me enjoy the process a little more and it means I can sleep at night and walk the next day.
The rhubarb has been teasing us for some time. I’ve been measuring the length of the leaves each time I walk by, watching and waiting to see if it is time to test new rhubarb recipes. Sunday, it seemed close to 10” which is the recommended length to cut. I harvested as many stems as seemed appropriate.
In the house, I washed and cleaned the leaves and cut it up. I measured what I would need for the new strawberry rhubarb cheese cake recipe I’d saved. I had taken more than the recipe needed, so I quickly put the remainder in a freezer container. This is an easy method of saving for the future. The cheesecake recipe was more decadent the second day than the first. It will be a ‘make again’, I’m sure. I’ll share my recipe if you are interested and request it.
One thing I learned when all the children were growing up in our home was that menu planning was fine and good but what really helped keep the tummies full and everyone happy was having a variety of sides to fill out the skeleton of a menu I made. My menu usually consisted of an entrée, side, vegetable. So, making 2-3 salads on the weekend would add rotation and variety through the week with little to no additional effort.
In preparation for our impending hospitality needs, I embarked on salad making. I’m fortunate that my husband loves vegetable salads. He’s not keen on tossed salads but he loves coleslaw, tomatoes with onion, pepper, and cucumbers; shoepeg salad, etc. In fact, I’m sometimes fortunate if I can get a serving because he will snack on raw vegetable salads.
After the snap pea, radish and cucumber salad, I thought I’d make some coleslaw. It’s a colorful, economic salad to make. The difficulty is that one of us likes the creamy dressing while the other prefers sweet and sour dressing. Often, I rotate: one time I make one dressing and the next round, I switch it up. It keeps us both happy.
To accommodate both palates and offer whatever our guests would prefer, I pulled out my oversized food processor. I sliced each cabbage in half, dug out my two extra-large mixing bowls and set about slicing and dicing. By dividing the ingredients in half, I could process each thing in equal portions and contribute each vegetable to the appropriate bowl as it was processed. There was no need to clean my equipment between vegetables because it all landed in one bowl or the other anyway.
The dressings are a quick fix to make, requiring only a small pan to cook the sweet and sour dressing and an equally small bowl to mix the creamy dressing. The new dilemma will be containers to store such vast quantities of coleslaw in the refrigerator.
The moral of the story is to work smarter rather than harder. I’m still working on it, decades from when I started. I’m still learning new ways to be efficient and have more time to enjoy my guests and the celebrations of life without stressing over the details. Working ahead helps me do that.
In the glory days of spring, I want as much time outside as I can inhale to exercise my muscles and invigorate my lungs. I hope you can also work ahead so you can bask in the glory of the season.
Now that the weather is tolerable and there is no longer snow on the ground, I’ve been making the rounds in my yard and garden to see what survived the long hard winter. It’s a great time to pull the weeds that emerged before they go to seed and engulf the things I want to live in the flower beds. And, it’s a good time to think about what we will soon be eating.
The fall planted garlic peeked through the last snow. It’s about 4 inches tall, waiting for some companions to join it in the garden. The seed potatoes and onion sets have been waiting a month for the garden soil temperature and moisture to be just right for their burial services. They will renew life next summer and we will enjoy the fruit they bear.
There is something to be said about seasonal eating. I’ve noticed the farmer’s markets will soon be starting. The Des Moines Farmer’s market has some locally produced food and produce. There will be honey, baked goods, food from vendors and food trucks. But what is really worth the trip is the asparagus and rhubarb that are seasonal to Iowa at this time.
There are some folks who have studied foods available in season and they believe seasonal food serves specific biological functions. Some foods purify the liver after months of sedentary lifestyle (winter). Others prepare us for the next season. The spring fruits and vegetables are supposed to refresh our systems.
My rhubarb and asparagus have decided to peek out and I’m certain I know exactly where the recipes are for those two ingredients. We have been able to purchase asparagus for 2 months at reasonable prices. Soon the green onions and spring spinach and lettuce will be available to make delicious salads.
One of my daughters gave me a book about an Iowa lady, who with her family, settled in the southeastern part of the United States with the goal of eating seasonally with whatever their garden produced or what they could purchase locally from neighbors. Their efforts required great creativity the first year.
As the garden produced, it was possible for them to preserve food for the coming seasons by fermenting, canning, dehydrating, and possibly freezing. But the first year, with no previous efforts at saving food, they needed to be resourceful.
A fun challenge would be to try to eat only locally grown foods. Many of us don’t have the space or inclination to garden or make food. That doesn’t discount the ability to procure locally grown items. Experiment with one meal a week using only ingredients locally available. No blueberries from Chili or avocados from Mexico at those meals.
See what you can do and be aware of the source of your ingredients. It will make you more aware of living in the heart of the breadbasket of America. Eat the rainbow. It does a body good.
Ordering my steps
My life is sometimes like the sound of a train. There is a pattern and a rhythm to it. I go to Bible study on Friday morning and then do errands in that corner of town. The grocery store, bank and library are near one another.
I clean the refrigerator the day before so I know what I need. I plan my menu and make a grocery list. My list is made according to the aisles in the store. I put books to return to the library by my purse so I remember to make the library stop. There is a pattern and a rhythm to the preparation.
Then one day, the Bible study was cancelled. The leader’s husband is in hospice and life is precarious for her at the moment. The weather was not nice and I decided I’d wait till Saturday to do my errands.
I hate to shop on Sat. All the poor souls who work hard Monday through Friday are out doing all their errands. I want nothing more than to be out of their way. I’d rather shop when the traffic is little and the folks who don’t have a list and meander around forgetting shopping cart etiquette aren’t there. (I realize I’m grumpy and crotchety about this.)
I’ve started what I hope is a forever habit. As my feet hit the floor in the morning, I ask the Lord to order my steps and tell me what order to do the tasks before me.
This Sat., as I backed out of the driveway, I had 4 stops to make. I asked the Lord which direction I should head. I felt he told me. Surprisingly, there was little traffic for middle of the morning. I commented to the first grocery store clerk that I was surprised at how few people were in the store. He agreed.
My next stop was the library. There was a parking spot near the walk way. The grocery store had a spot near the door, too. What luck! I was in and out of the library in 5 minutes. The next grocery store was a repeat of the first. A parking spot near the door; few people in the store; answers to my questions from the clerk. I found everything I needed. I was out of there in minutes.
Library #2 for the last item on my to do list. Green lights most of the way. Little traffic. In and out. Now I had a goal: I wanted to be home within an hour of my departure. One minute to spare. I took that minute to thank the Lord for ordering my steps. Because there have been many days that I forgot to ask for that order and chaos and delays plagued my walk.
If every day went so smoothly, life would be a lot easier. Maybe if I prayed more and listened better, every day could be so defined. It was calm and smooth. It was balm to my soul.
We have each experienced disappointment in our lives. Learning to cope with outcomes different from what we hoped is one way we learn to mature and depend on the Lord for understanding.
Recently, someone sent this article my way. I’d like to give credit to someone but it came with no author and no source attached. It uncovers some of the internal physical changes our bodies experience with heart break.
Heart break is different from disappointment. It’s that ‘punch in the stomach’ that doesn’t seem to evaporate with time. We hear time heals all wounds but the length of time to rebound will vary with the intensity of the hit and the ramifications and how they affect each of our lives.
Maybe one of you will benefit from this material. It is not original to me though I can certainly relate to it. I’ve experienced some of these things and observed others in my children during their own heartbreaking situations.
1. Hormone Changes
When you have your heart broken your body will experience a hormone craze. Your hormones fly into a state that is anything but normal, flooding your brain with stress hormones and confusing synapses. It’s comparable to drug withdrawals, as love is more addicting than drugs.
2 Weight Changes
Your weight can dramatically change after a heartbreak. Some people gain lots of weight, and some people lose lots of weight. It just depends on the person. Some people eat their feelings while others can’t gain an appetite under the stress.
3. Your Brain Thinks You’re Physically Hurt
Heartbreak confuses your brain to the point of where it thinks it is physically hurt. It can feel like being pushed or stabbed. Like your whole body is frozen and you feel nothing but negativity spreading amongst every inch of your body. Naomi Eisenberger, Ph.D. an assistant professor of psychology at the University of California at Los Angeles told Women’s Health Magazine, the area of your brain that lights up when you’re hurt physically is the same area that lights up when you suffer “social rejection.”
4. You Experience Depression
The sadness and loss of hope can cause you to lose all sense of productivity, initiative, or drive in general. Heartbreak can make you fall into a deep depression. According to Psychology Today, researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University found that heartbreak on those with low self-esteem can be similar to that of people who suffered traumatic experiences in their lives.
5. You Have Withdrawals
One study reported that love is more addicting than drugs, and just like them, you experience withdrawals when you are deprived of your love. The loss of that person can be so traumatic that you physically ache, throw up, and run a fever. Withdrawal effects that are the same as the effects of serious drugs.
6. Your Immune System Crashes
After experiencing a heart break you might notice that you get sicker than you used to. You might catch a common cold when you didn’t use to, and it might even turn into the flu. This is because heartbreak weakens your immune system. The stress hormones, like cortisol, are released causing your immune system to weaken.
We know the source of true love is in our Maker. Yet, our bodies experience physical manifestations from our human relationships. So if you are experiencing heartbreak over some matter or someone in your family is, patience and understanding can provide healing balm to the heart and soul of the suffering individual.
We have had several friends lose spouses recently. My heart aches for their loss and the trauma of it. Knowing these six signs will help me be more empathetic to what they might be experiencing. Observation will assist me in knowing how best to offer condolences.
Whatever the situation, being armed with information can help us be more compassionate individuals.
We live in an old house. There are some advantages to that. It’s little. There is less to clean. There are mature trees whose canopy shades us from the scorching sun in the summer time and keeps us cool.
There are disadvantages. The storage wasn’t made for today’s lifestyle. The rooms are little and though it keeps our needs minimal, sometimes, I’d like to stretch out my arms and push each wall a few inches in each dimension. And, the trees, well, they need work to maintain that lovely canopy.
Every year, we try to have the tree trimmers come. The trees shed fewer branches and sticks and limbs and are healthier when they are regularly trimmed. It’s a process I enjoy watching. I’m a little envious of the man in the harness who gets to go to the top of the tree and clean up the dead wood. I really like the end product when the tree seems unencumbered by the unnecessary branches. There is a liberation of sorts for the tree. Maybe it’s like the shedding of a skin for a snake.
The worker in the tree has amazing skills. He has a harness that is anchored to a limb in the tree that is secure and will not give way under his weight. He has an additional tether, near whatever branch he is working on to keep him from plummeting should the first fall. He carefully works his way along the branch, checking each twig for life or death. If it is diseased or weak, it leaves the limb, reducing bulk and weight.
If it is pliable and healthy, he lets it stay anchored to the branch to leaf out and absorb sunshine to manufacture life for the tree.
It’s an amazing analogy for the spiritual walk. Jesus told us he was the vine and we are the branches. If we are dead, we get to be pruned so our lack of production isn’t an issue for the healthy part of the plant. Even if we are healthy, sometimes our growth becomes gangly and unsightly and doesn’t benefit the plant so it is pruned to be more productive.
Ever have something in your life that you liked and wanted to hang onto be taken away? It might have been painful and yet looking back you can see that you became more productive in the very area where the pruning occurred.
I’m brutal with the raspberry plants in the patch at the back of the yard. The side branches grow in a tangle of bramble. Offshoots make the patch unmanageable. There were days I let it go and needed a machete to remedy my failure to manage. Yet, the raspberries produce big, succulent juicy berries if I am diligent to prune and keep the raspberries in check.
My spiritual life is like the berries. I can go off on a tangent thinking I’m growing and sprouting. If it isn’t the direction the Lord wants, He is sure to come and hack it off. Sometimes, the abruptness of the cut shocks me. It always pulls me back into alignment.
For, when I anchor myself to the One who is secure and solid, like the tree trimmer, I never get too far away from the security of Christ. Even if I walk far on the branch, I have a tether that keeps me close to Him. He is my security blanket. May He also be yours.
I feel like a rabbit and it is more than the spring weather. I feel easily distracted and jump from one thing to another. I’ve been on a circuitous route recently from knitting to quilting to reading and purging magazines and back again.
My neighbor gave me some quilting fabric and I worked diligently on several projects. I’m not done with the biggest one. But, then, I took a gander at our daughter’s wish list for our first grandchild and spotted a knitting item.
That lead me to the internet and a knitting site with patterns and ideas. One of the ideas named a book with the best pattern available. I went to the library and picked up the book and promptly took it to the yarn shop to get enough yarn to make projects.
I knit a couple of things that week. Then, the stack of gardening and food magazines snagged my attention and I detoured to sorting, reading, and purging. I said the knitting would be my reward for finishing that project.
When I finally got back to my knitting, there was a problem. I wanted to do something that had a design in it. That would be new for me. I can knit socks and scarves and dish cloths or afghans with hardly a thought, but a lacey pattern would be a challenge.
I experimented with patterns. I was distracted by a baby sweater I found in a box while looking for something else. Suddenly, I realized there would be 4 baby showers in my life soon and I needed to make the needles clack. But, what pattern would I choose?
I settled on the 4-row design by the author of the book I found at the library. It would be a new experience for me. The pattern I really wanted was infinitely more complicated. I decided I should start small and work my way into harder territory later.
Generally, I can tell what I need to knit based on the row I previously knitted. This was different. I was going to have to pay attention. The sweater started with a simple knitting stitch, row after row, starting with the collar and increasing stitches for a yoke. Then the pattern began. I couldn’t make it work. My work didn’t look like the illustration.
Suddenly, I decided to count the number of stitches on my needles. There were supposed to be 148. I had 146. No wonder it didn’t work. In the end, I took the pattern out several times. The nice thing about knitting, is that it unravels easily if there is a mistake.
The pattern in each row is a 7-stitch repeat. Each row has a different sequence. After the third or fourth failed attempt at getting the pattern correct, I decided to put little knitting markers every 21 stitches. If my pattern didn’t end correctly after 21 stitches, it would be a short repeat to find the mistake. That helped.
It reminded me of the scripture. First, reading and following directions (reading the Word and doing what it says is like using the right number of stitches). It makes life turn out a lot better. Not worrying about tomorrow while in the middle of today made sense. I’d have to wait till the next stitch marker to see if I’d navigated this pattern correctly.
Count my blessings. I have a roof over my head and a warm place to sleep. There are clothes in my closet and food in my pantry. I love my family and they reciprocate.
Then, there was ‘number my days’ and I realized how easily distracted I can be in my daily walk with the Lord. It’s easy to get so engrossed in the busy schedule of my own agenda, I forget to ask Him where I’m supposed to be and who I’m supposed to see and what steps He wants me to take and in which direction. What things should I be dropping or adding to my life to create the pattern He wants to weave in my life. When I get absent minded about asking the Lord where to go and what to do, that’s when my life begins to unravel. He is the one that puts the stitches in the right place at the right time.
Tell me I’m not alone in this. You are right beside me trying to figure out what He wants of you. Are you also distracted with the demands of life and the schedule of the day? I thought so.
Knitting is good for me. There are health benefits. I’ve written about that before. It’s an opportunity to be creative. It allows me to give a gift that shows effort on my part. The Lord teaches me stitch by stitch that He wants to build my life one step at a time. I’m not a finished product.
The sweater I was working on is done. It turned out pretty well, though I’m a novice at lacey patterns. The best part of the project: the lessons I learned while doing it.
Recently I read an article about relationships. It was specific to parent-baby relationships.
It seems relationship develops with eye to eye contact. Gazing into one another’s eyes does something to the developing baby’s brain that allows it to create relationships.
Without this skill initiated in the brain of an infant, reactive attachment disorders occur. Relationships don’t develop the intended way.
Today, I was thinking about how this relates to my relationship with Jesus. If my relationship with him looks like a drive-by grab and go, a read 5 Psalms and a Proverb, it’s not much of a relationship. (I’ve done that as a daily discipline and it can be a rich opportunity.) It’s a duty. It’s a good duty because if I’m paying attention to what is in those five Psalms and Proverb, I’ll be fed.
It isn’t the same as a gourmet meal, served with finesse and art. The flavors aren’t developed. The balance between sweet and sour are missing. The enjoyment factor doesn’t extend beyond the immediate. There is no lingering over and making it last. It’s an eat and run.
But, if I sit at the feet of Jesus and gaze into His eyes, seeing what He sees; hearing His message for me, I develop a relationship. With practice I can hear what He wants me to do and say.
As we approach Holy Week, let us be intentional about sitting at the foot of the cross and recognizing the relationship forged because He was willing to go to the cross. Let’s gaze into His eyes and see what He sees and hear His message for our individual lives.