It was an ominous task. My brother had been charged with emptying a house built a century ago, inhabited by the same family for as long. A generation gone by, a lone bachelor living in the house decades after his parents who built it were gone. The nieces and nephews came and took a few things. Mostly, they were not interested because they never knew the folks who built the house, cared for it or the farm on which it sat.
For those of us born in the last century, it was a treasure trove. Original (now antique) furniture, mid-century updated items, china, photo albums, and so on. Like everything my mother taught us, this became a family affair. Each of the siblings and our subsequent offspring pitched in to help carry, sort, divide, pitch, load, and destroy what remained. It took more than one trip. Each trip unearthed more things unseen the previous visit.
My children went with me. They were just beginning to establish their own households and items like cookie sheets and blue canning jars seemed to fill in the nooks and crannies of their houses.
I was delighted to bring home a kitchen table and chairs just like the one my aunt and uncle had in their cracker box kitchen. I’d been looking for years for something like it. It was blemished but I knew what had made the mark and it added to the charm of it for me. The ripped chair covers would be a challenge to reupholster but I welcome challenges like that one.
One of the later trips I discovered a floor lamp. It was covered in dust and be-dazzeled with beads, not quite my style for decorating. But, the base was marble. I noticed the crack in the brass top. It didn’t bother me. I sport some scars and cracks, too. It would fit right in. My wonderful spouse took one look at it and declared it a ‘piece of junk’. Undeterred, I decided to send it to my local electrician and have it rewired just to be sure.
Once it came home and the marble and brass were cleaned and polished, I ignored the beads, and put the lamp shade on, turned the multiple lights on. My husband’s tune changed. ‘I like the way it lights that side of the room,’ he declared. I replied, ‘I like it, too.’
I have to move that lamp every day. It gets in the way when we move Matthew into the therapy area of the house. His stander rolls past it and it is often bumped if it isn’t moved. Every day I grab the pole to swing it around the corner, I see the crack. Every day, I consider the beauty we nearly missed because of a blemish.
How often do we fail to see the light in someone’s inner being because of the dust and grime masking it? Do we look deep within the soul to find the gold nugget buried in a heart covered with a scab from a deep wound? Do we quickly pass judgment and think, ‘a piece of junk’ rather than accept the challenge of cleaning off the scum and revealing the glimmer of hope within the essence of the individual?
My lamp is nothing special. But, I do think of Nellie, the owner, and Don, her son who were my grandparent’s friends when I was a little girl; who joined our family as an ‘adopted’ uncle when my own children were tiny babes. And, I am reminded to look beyond the exterior to the beauty hidden beneath a crusty exterior in each person I meet. I don’t know what corners of my life they might illuminate once they are allowed to shine.
Our children loved to sing the Sunday School song, complete with hand motions of ‘The wise man built his house on the rock’. It was great fun, complete with animation and action.
The true to life examples have come to our attention during hurricanes, floods, and more recently in a city on the west coast.
It seems a sky scraper was build, sporting expensive condominiums for the wealthy in the community. One family paid over two million dollars for a two-bedroom condo on the 45th floor. I’m sure the view was great from their windows: perhaps they could see the famous land marks of the city or the ocean from their perspective.
But, it seems the builders made some mistakes, currently noticeable by home owners. They put the foundation eighty feet below the earth’s surface. The foundation is sand. Firm sand. In fact, it is built on the rubble left from an earthquake over 100 years ago.
The interviewer asked some geologist what could be done. He made an interesting comment: they should have built on bedrock. That would have required going 200+ feet to hit solid ground. The expense of the additional 120 feet would have been too great.
Furthermore, the builder decided to use cement for the building rather than steel. So, it seems cost was a contributing factor in creating a building that is sinking about two inches a year and tilting as it sinks. One family sold their apartment and took a seven-figure loss.
Isn’t it interesting that the truth of God is apparent in every avenue of life? The wise man builds his house upon the rock; the foolish man builds his house upon the sand. The reality in California shows us the wisdom of this verse.
My challenge to you this week is this: As you create new year’s resolutions, focus on the foundation rather than what’s above ground; look at the internal rather than the external.
After the Christmas goodies have collected on my waist and hips, it’s easy for me to resolve to eat better and exercise more. When, the reality is exercising more self-discipline would be the better resolution. Because self-discipline would prevent the waist and hip dilemma. Let’s look at our resolution through God’s lens and consider what is important to Him in the equation.
As you look back at 2017, think about the important spiritual lessons you have learned. As you look forward, ask Him what areas need to be improved. Regardless of your resolutions, be sure you build on the Rock and not on sand. God bless this new year!
I went to the grocery store tonight. I rarely go in the evening but there is a lot on my ‘to do’ list for the remainder of the week. The children are coming home which means we need a gallon of egg nog rather than a quart; we need poundS of things instead of one pound for the three of us. It was time to up the pantry anty.
Besides that, I’ve been baking. Normally, I enjoy this kind of thing and work a little at a time but the fall weather was nice and I spent as many nice afternoons outside as possible. So, I didn’t do much baking and storing in the fall. Additionally, truthfully, baking gluten free is a bit of a guessing game. One recipe turns out great and then next is less than marginal.
There’s been a lot of sugar around and just the idea of it nauseates me. So, on my grocery list: pounds of cuties, organic apples, and lots of colorful vegetables.
If you are like most of my family, the eating goals of the season are: restraint-- till the buffet line deceives the eyes and soon the plate is overflowing with the bounty and goodness of great cooks and family favorites. It’s the season. I get that. And, yet, let moderation be our goal as we fill our tummies this year.
You’ve heard me say it before and I’ll say it again: eat the rainbow. Eat generously from the vegetables on the relish tray. And, when the eyes were bigger than the stomach capacity, move. Take a walk. Yes, the temperature is going to drop. I read last week that at minutes in the cold air is the same as an hour of aerobic exercise. I don’t remember the source or the credibility of it. A brisk fifteen minute walk will not only soothe the digestion, it will prepare you for the next meal. Great payoff.
Eating well affects everything: your outlook, attitude, your sleep, and your relationships. So do yourself a favor and work hard to enjoy the people around you and just dabble with the food.
And, have yourself a Merry little Christmas. May the love of Christ pervade every morsel of your holiday. God bless you and your family.
Normally, my driving is done during the daytime. I have very few places that I need to go in the evening and I’m content to stay cuddled up in my warm blanket in the evening in winter.
But, recently, I ventured out into the dark of night to attend a play friends of mine invited me to see with them. And, afterwards, they suggested I drive by their home to see the lights on the outside of their house. The wife confided she had purchased the lights after Christmas one year but they had never been used. So, with warm fall weather, this year, her husband agreed to crawl on the roof and attach them to the house.
They were lovely. I was glad I traveled the few extra blocks out of my way to see them. But it wasn’t just their house that surprised me. It was the entire block. And, almost every block in that corner of their suburb till the main thorough fare.
It took me back more years than I want to confess when my dad would dutifully drive us up and down the streets of the small town where we attended school and went to church. I have no clue why the farmers were in town after dark but I do remember the ‘ooh’s’ and ‘aah’s’ from the back seat of the Pontiac. We were enamored with the lights of each home, declaring each one to be prettier than the last.
In Bible study a few weeks ago, we were talking about light and I thought about the afternoon I put a few lights on the two bushes in front of our house. I couldn’t even tell if they were evenly spaced the afternoon I laid them out. It was daylight after all. But when night fell, I walked to the street and looked back and the contrast of the blue lights shining in the midst of darkness was stunning.
That’s what we want. Contrast accentuates. Quilters choose contrast. Decorators look for colors that contrast for ‘pop’. Contrast.
As Christians, we want contrast, as well. We want to stand out. Not just to be noticed but to be lights shining in the darkness. Lights that illuminate the way to go, like luminaries lining a driveway or sidewalk, outlining the way to go. We want the warm glow we radiate to invite folks to join us in God’s ways. We want to stand out be noticed as ambassadors of Christ.
Whether we are wrapping gifts for the community as a service project or packing boxes of food for the needy, we are a contrast to the world in which we live. And, isn’t it nice, at this time of the year to serve others in any way we can?
I will probably take a drive next year at Christmas to the neighborhood where my friends live. I liked the lights. I liked the message the Spirit spoke to my heart about lighting up the darkness with beauty and splendor and uniqueness.
Go, be the light of the world. Let your life shine.
On our little ‘ranch’, there are certain chores each person does in the fall to prepare for winter. The garden and flower beds are my responsibility. The leaves and yard are my husband’s. We each have a system for accomplishing our individual chores.
One task that we each work on is compost. By ‘each work on’, I mean each of us does something with it. His job is to crunch up the leaves and put them in the compost bin. My job involves moving the finished compost to the garden or flower beds. There is more in between but it doesn’t matter for today’s illustration.
Last year’s leaves and grass, household compost from the compost tumbler near the house combine to make the ‘finished’ product for this year’s garden amendment. I move the material by wheel barrow loads to the garden. One wheel barrow covers each of my 4’ square garden spaces about 6 inches deep.
The compost insulates the dirt so it doesn’t blow away in the winter winds. It offers nutrients to the soil, soaked down through layers with rain and snow during the months of rest. The humous it adds makes the soil soft and pliable and receptive to the baby plants and seeds that will reside there next spring. There are a dozen lessons we could learn from this, but I’m going somewhere else with today’s article.
This fall, as I was using my pitchfork to move compost into the wheel barrow, every now and then I would find things neither of us put in the compost piles. Walnuts. More walnuts. Buried in the dirt by the diligent squirrels in my yard. They were whole. The hull was still in place, green as a tennis ball. At first, I wondered if the neighbors had thrown a tennis ball that landed in my compost pile.
Alas, the hull of this walnut was still intact. It had not rotted. It was in fine shape. I wondered how long it would live in the moist and dark environment before the hull would rot and the nut would sprout into a tree. The walnuts laid in the overdrive didn’t fare so well. Most of the hulls turned brown and mushy within a week or ten days. The nut would be able to sprout given the right conditions.
Buried deep in the warm leaves, unscathed. Insulated until the time was right for the nut to sprout. It reminded me of a situation I was facing. My environment seemed dark and there didn’t appear a single ray of light. Yet, I chose to trust the Lord. I chose to sing praises to Him. And, I even confessed that I wanted to believe in the assurance of things hoped for yet not yet seen.
The answer to my dilemma hasn’t arrived. I still don’t know when the light of day will beam into my situation. But, I know I’m insulated by the Hand of God till it is time for the answer to sprout and grow into something lovely in my life. If His answer isn’t what I had envisioned, there will be growth to get me to the next step. Either way, I’m glad to be buried by Him.
‘Twas the day after Thanksgiving as I was preparing roasted turkey and chicken bones. I found the giblets reserved from the Thanksgiving turkey to add to the mix. I submerged all of it in my combination of vegetables and liquid to simmer for some time.
Preparation time for the winter soups and stews. It would be such a welcome addition to the cold nights and cold season. I contemplated my home years ago when we would argue and barter to see who got to eat the organ meats. Before you turn your nose up at that, you should know the organ meats are rich in vitamins and minerals, highly favored in many cultures.
Ancient cultures used organ meats an essential dietary component for a woman who wanted to start her family. The belief was (and we now know why) organ meats enriched her body for the necessity of growing a new individual. It provided her and her growing babe with the nutrients required for such a demanding task.
My mind raced to a couple of guests we had over the weekend. Two families, new to the ‘start a family’ period of their life. Each starting families. Each needing some medical help with that effort. And, I wondered if diet had not given each of these couples what they needed to prepare for parenthood.
I knew the diet of one family rather well. It was primarily eat out, fast food. It was the result of no culinary experience or training and very busy jobs. I understood the ‘why’ of it. Yet, I wondered if a little time on the weekends cooking food from scratch might have helped them as much to prepare for parenthood.
It isn’t a judgment as much as it is a question on what our diets do to and for our bodies. I’ve been told many times that eating healthy is expensive. My thought is always that hospital bills and pharmaceuticals are more expensive than eating well.
So, while we are beyond the years of creating new life, we are still interested in eating well to preserve and extend our health. Using homemade stock as a base for soups, stir fry, and casseroles seems like a pretty simple and inexpensive effort.
After the bones and pieces of meat were separated from the broth, there were 8 containers of rich poultry broth dished into freezer containers. Subzero temperatures and the hearty dish of chicken (gluten free) noodles danced through my head. In fact, I might even serve some to my adult children when they come home. We don’t have grandchildren yet, but I can always hope and do my best to prepare them for parenthood.
Don’t tell them my ulterior motive. SHHH. They might join me for a service Christmas weekend if the weather cooperates. In the meantime, use the bones to make some healthy broth. Preserve it for the soup season and delight yourself in the flavor of delicious soups and the confidence you are building your health.
This is it. It’s the week we dig deep and serve well. We have raided the grocery stores, buying turkey and all the fixings for a big feast to serve others. Many contribute and prove ‘many hands make light work’. It’s a fun season, underscored by the smells and flavors of this time of year: cinnamon and nutmeg in the pumpkin pies; sage and celery in the turkey. My mouth is watering just thinking of the delectable tastes ahead.
It’s also the week I try to count my blessings. You’ve seen the banner on Facebook asking how you would feel about receiving today what you were thankful for yesterday…It makes me think about how blessed I am and it reminds me to thank the Provider for all He has given.
And, we all know what comes next…the REST of the holidays. Here is the banner that reminds us how misdirected our focus can become during the frenzy of the Christmas rush and alternatives to what our tendency is:
Buy presents vs. Be present
Wrap presents vs. Wrap someone in a hug
Send gifts vs. Send love
Shop for food vs. Donate food
Make cookies vs. Make memories
See the lights vs. Be the light
These are all good reminders of what is important. It’s also my opportunity to encourage you to plan ahead for celebrating Advent. The dedicated time to read scripture or a book about the coming of the Messiah redirects our thoughts and spirit to the reason for the season. It builds in us the focus we need to move through the Christmas programs and self imposed ways we ‘celebrate’ Christmas.
Shopping isn’t my thing. No apologies. I tell my family the mall is the Temple of Materialism. I go there infrequently and hate it when I must. In the past, I have used the little creativity within me to make gifts for my family. It always gives me a deadline and creates some sort of pressure to accomplish the goal by said deadline. It is almost a cultural demand to celebrate Christmas in this fashion.
So, personally, I appreciate opening the Word and slowly reading through the geneology of Jesus to remember that the promise of God took many years before it came to pass. He wasn’t bound by deadlines. He was faithful to fulfill every one of the hundreds of prophecies as Jesus was born. It behooves us to remember the great faithfulness of God during this season and to humble our hearts in thanksgiving for the coming advent season.
It doesn’t hurt as we gather around tables bulging with delicious food to remember the pilgrims who rationed their food stores to 5 kernels of corn per day per person. Think about that as the bounty of your plate requires a stretchy waistband. Happy Thanksgiving, friends. Welcome to the holiday season.
Mix it up
With the holiday season approaching, it seems the grocery stores are busier than ever. Personally, I don’t mind grocery shopping IF there are few peoples in the store. Lots of people are clueless about cart etiquette and though I normally shop the perimeter of the store, it’s easier to navigate with less traffic.
It’s in my nature to create a grocery list as I recognize I need items. I try to keep items I commonly use on the shelf and as I near the end of my supply, add that item to my shopping list. My desire for efficiency means I have a map of the grocery store on my refrigerator (and in my head) so my grocery list is written in the order of the aisles.
Despite all those efforts at keeping my shelves stocked and my menu planned, there are times I need a dish at the last minute. So many quick and easy recipes require pre-packaged mixes. I’ve found the ingredients are normally available in my spice rack and though it takes a few minutes to assemble them, it’s hardly more than opening the packet and walking the empty container to the garbage. It certainly saves a trip to the store.
Here are a couple of mixes that seem to pop up in recipes that appeal to me or my family that can easily be made from scratch. It’s easier to avoid MSG and high sodium if it is made with ingredients kept on the shelf. I try to make a large quantity of each of these and store it in a glass jar, labeled with the amount one packet contains. See if it works for you. Put the ingredients on your grocery list and make a project out of making it…this would even be a clever ‘teacher gift’ if your child helps make it and selects an attractive container. Add your family’s favorite recipe to use it as a personalized present.
Lipton’s Soup Mix
3/4 cup dried minced onions (onion flakes; found in the spice aisle)
1/3 cup beef bouillon powder (see notes)
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon celery seeds (smash with the side of a chef’s knife)
1/4 teaspoon granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/8 teaspoon paprika
One packet is ¼ cup of this mix. Be careful as you choose bouillon powder. Many contain MSG under one of the many other synonyms (autolyzed yeast, etc). Check the sodium content, too.
Taco Seasoning Mix
This entire recipe makes 1 packet. Mix with 2/3 cup water and add to 1 pound ground meat for tacos. Make the recipe and measure the quantity it makes. Then, multiply it and store in a jar with the quantity necessary you would normally use for the crowd for whom you cook.
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder (not garlic salt)
1/4 teaspoon onion powder (not onion salt)
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon cornstarch (see notes)
It’s easier to enjoy friends and family when I’m not frazzled with last minute food preparation.
Hopefully, these hints will help you find peace and joy as you sit back and relax (as much as you can) with a house full of guests with satisfied appetites.
Meek and Gentle
Years ago, before gluten intolerance was identified at our house, I bought wheat berries in 50# sacks. Like many denim clad home schooling mothers, I ground the wheat and made 100% whole wheat bread for my family to consume, believing I was nourishing their bodies and teaching them some skills.
I bought my wheat from a farm family out in the country. I would make the 30 minute journey to their home. They bought palettes of wheat in 50# bags. I would call in advance and ask if they had in stock the variety I needed.
The first time I visited the farm, the wife gave me a tutorial on how to make bread with whole wheat that was lighter than a cement block. All the bran and germ are heavier and harder to get a good rise in whole wheat. She was generous with her knowledge. Her mannerisms mirrored a genuine meekness and gentleness.
I returned home, eager to experiment and try my hand at this new venture. It happened that we had a guest in our home at that time. I was relating to my spouse how ‘beautiful’ this farm wife was. I remember saying, ‘She is the most beautiful woman I have ever seen.’
Our guest declared she would like to ‘see’ her. Immediately, I realized my expression had a dual meaning. I remembered what the farm wife’s features had been: long, brunette hair, pulled back in a bun. Her face beamed with light and she had nicely proportioned features. She wore a simple cotton dress, covered with an apron. Her shoes were sturdy enough for work in the garden and supportive for 10,000 steps. But, when I said ‘beautiful’, I was not describing her outward appearance.
I had seen her generosity, her meekness, her gentle spirit. I had seen inner beauty in this woman. To me, she exemplified a Godly character.
Fast forward decades. On a Sunday morning, recently, I was half- listening to some political commentary as I bathed and clothed our son. I recognized one gentleman’s voice and thought about his track record, his family, the values they sported. And, this thought crossed my mind,
“Oh, yes. I remember. His wife loves jewels: diamonds, rubies, sapphires.” Why would I remember that or why would that even come to my mind?
The second thought I had was those gemstones will be left behind. The jewels that really matter are those we choose to become. Jewels in the eyes of Christ. A refined character that mirrors His goodness. Meekness. Gentleness. Kindness. Long suffering. Those are the jewels I want in my wardrobe.
I thought back to my guest that day years ago. My guest looked at outward appearance when I used the word beauty. To her, coiffed hair, expertly applied make up, fashionable dress and coordinating jewelry, handbag and shoes were hallmarks of ‘beauty’.
How often do I look at someone or something and make a decision about it based on the outward appearance? Far too often, I suspect. But, I’m working on that. I’m trying to put myself in the position of another and develop mercy and empathy. I’m a work in process. So are the jewels I desire to cultivate in my inner being.
Join me in seeing the inner beauty of people and places. Let’s see the beauty that counts in the eyes of the Lord.
Once upon a time, many years ago, I served family friends as a nanny. The Mom and Dad were headed south for a winter vacation, leaving the infant, toddler, and kindergarten aged children to my care. I stayed at their home and made certain everyone stayed safe, fed, well rested and to school on time. It was a pretty easy gig, actually.
They lived in the big city, just a jaunt from the big supermarket. But, I was struck by how little food was in the house. I assumed by the condition of the pantry (goldfish and a few crackers) Mom shopped daily or perhaps didn’t shop before the trip because she was busy packing. This observation has given me pause many years.
The empty cupboards, the lack of being prepared has continued to haunt me. I’m going to blame my own upbringing, my own paradigm on this memory.
I grew up in the Boondocks. Almost literally. The family farm is close to the Boondocks and my husband and I were married at the little town on the other side of I-35 at the Boondocks exit. The nearest town had grocery stores but not supermarkets. As a child, I ate what my mother grew in the garden and our meat was what my dad raised in the barn. We gathered our own eggs. We preserved food. We were pretty much self sufficient. I was in college before I knew pasta was available in the grocery store. My mother made noodles. Macaroni and cheese and peanut butter and jelly were never on the menu in our home.
Call us deprived. Call us whole food eaters. Whatever, it formed within me a compulsion to be prepared. We didn’t go to the store regularly. There was a saying in those rural communities. On rainy days, the town folk would comment that ‘all the farmers came to town’ because the parking spots in front of stores were occupied. The cost of gas ($.25/gallon) prohibited us from daily trips to the land of conveniences.
The notion of preparedness is part of the warp and woof of my mindset. I try to be prepared mentally, spiritually, economically, in each area of my life. I wasn’t a Scout except for a few after school events as a Brownie, which is one of the little Girl Scouts, I think. I don’t remember the pledge and haven’t a clue what we did except wear brown uniforms and say a pledge with two fingers at our forehead. I don’t recall one word of the pledge but I’m sure I was promising to be a better person. I do know Scouts are prepared…
There were 10 virgins who waited for the Bridegroom. They didn’t know when he was arriving, so they took extra supplies as they waited. They trimmed their lamps and had sufficient oil to make it through that night, or maybe even more nights. Their friends weren’t so wise. They were even called foolish. When their supplies expired, they begged their friends to share their surplus. The wise virgins did not share.
We don’t know when our Bridegroom is coming either. He has promised he will and I believe that it will happen. I hope it will happen in my lifetime. My preparation needs to be spiritual. But there may also be hardship and tribulation between now and then. So, I want to be prepared in every avenue of my life. I’ll grow a garden and preserve the fruits. I’ll study scripture and try to memorize. I will give praise in the midst of difficulty. I will discipline myself to make right choices in preparation for the coming Bridegroom.
While the speculation of the Rapture came and went with the solar eclipse, it does remind us that no one knows the day or hour. Still, we need to be prepared. Be prepared for tribulation by knowing it could happen. Be prepared to speak the truth when asked. Be prepared to share with those who are not in the know.
Be prepared. If the shoe fits, as Pastor Brian says.