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When the world flips upside down

My parents were young during the Great Depression. It marked them. They learned to save for a rainy day and conserve their resources. They were the original recyclers. My dad threw away little, keeping unusual items in case he might need them some day, like a single flip-flop stored in a cabinet in his garage. And what do you know, one day he did need it.

My step-mother washed and stored fast food containers. She had a stash of unused paper napkins and straws in a drawer in her kitchen. Their generation embodied the motto, “Use it up, wear it out, make it last, or do without.”

It is day twelve of our confinement. The days run together, today looking very much like yesterday. I try to remember what day of the week it is.

I’m realizing I don’t need as much to survive as I may have thought. My breakfast prayer includes thanks for food, shelter, and basic necessities. How often have I taken them for granted because I wanted something shiny and new?

My life is slower. Simple things are a gift, like the young man’s friendly greeting at Kroger as he loaded my groceries in the car’s trunk, and the person who handed me two deliciously prepared blizzards through the take-out window at the oddly-dark Dairy Queen. A blizzard and a refrigerator re-stocked with food are luxuries.

Sweet William helped me sharpen my garden tools yesterday. He knows his way around a file better than I do. It felt good to accomplish something on my list. I need to see some check marks in my bullet journal, some task completed.

The world seems a bit crazy. When we expectantly wrote the year 2020 for the first time in January, who could have predicted this, confinement and uncertainty that would drive us indoors for an undetermined period.

It is interesting that we have been thrust into a time of stillness in a culture that thrives on busy. Being busy is our mantra, the badge we wear. Busy makes us feel necessary. Busy is how we function best. Or maybe not.

I wonder how we will be marked by our days of confinement. Will we look back and recall how strange it was for a while, how toilet paper became a valued commodity, and the time encased in our homes with family was a blessing in disguise?

Will we be changed by our experience in 2020, imprinted like my parents were in 1929?

I believe we will learn things about ourselves, like how we focus on lesser things when what is most valuable is right before us.

When the world returns to a normal status, I hope it won’t be business as usual. I hope we remember what matters. People are the most important treasure. Small irritations are not worth the upset. We really can invent new ways of doing things. Sharing what we have blesses the giver and receiver. Prayers are to be prayed for our leaders. Church is not the building where we gather. Loving one another is still the second greatest commandment.

Maybe we will even keep one flip-flop, just in case we might need it.

Sunday grace

In our confinement, I reach out to friends through text and email. I’m learning to use Zoom and Google Hangout, anticipating doing virtual piano lessons with my students. It will be teaching an old dog a new trick, but I’m game to try it if they are willing.

A confessed introvert, I thought staying at home for two weeks would be easier than it is. I love my people and cherish gathering at the table over coffee, tea, or lunch. Jean Fleming writes, “(T)he human face is a transmitter and a receiver, always sending and picking up messages.” I’m missing those vital signals.

Sweet William and I are reading Max Lucado’s How Happiness Happens in the morning hours, an appropriate title when watching the news too much can suck the happiness right out of me.

We are eating well here at the Wright House, though it seems I spend much of a day cooking and cleaning up. I can get a bit grumbly about it. I caught myself doing it yesterday, a gentle reminder from the Holy Spirit perhaps. I should be thankful for food, plates and pots, dish soap and hot water fresh from the faucet. And Sweet William is here to share a meal with me.

Counting my gifts is a necessary discipline for me, especially now, turning my thoughts away from a perceived lack toward the bounty surrounding me.

While I live in this separateness, this self-distancing, I remember the plan of salvation, how the Creator always wanted to be with His creation. In Eden He walked with the Adam and Eve. His yearning words came through prophets and psalms singers. He tabernacled in the wilderness with twelve tribes of Israel camped around. His glory manifested in a majestic temple in Jerusalem.

His ultimate coming to us was when he wrapped up in humanity, encasing His glory in soft baby skin, a confinement I can’t even imagine. He walked among us, sharing food, intense conversation, long journeys, and voyages on the sea. He touched people and was touched by them.

In the closing chapters of John’s gospel, Jesus promised another, one who would be with us and in us. It must have seemed incomprehensible to the twelve sitting at table with Jesus. Yet, it happened just as He said.

On the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit roared like fierce wind, like He was rushing to get here to indwell the believers.

And so it is, He is with us in an unexplainable, truly mystifying, and completely unreasonable way. Because God wants to be with His people.

We are like clay jars in which this treasure is stored. The real power comes from God and not from us.
2 Corinthians 4:7

He is truly God with us, and that is immeasurable comfort to me. I can endure this seclusion while I remember He is always with me and in me. No one is closer than that.

Sunday grace.

Changing seasons

I gladly admit that Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.

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That does not negate the fact that Christmas is designated as the date for the birth of Jesus, and Easter is the day I celebrate His resurrection. But those holidays have morphed into something different, something other than the sacredness of the original. Thanksgiving, however,  still calls us to give thanks, to gather with our family and friends, to enjoy the bounty of a God who gives good gifts.

As the day approaches, I ponder how we will celebrate this year. Our menu remains relatively the same, each of us cooking our special recipes, but there will be differences in us. Because families change.

When I was young I celebrated with my parents and extended family. Me being an only child and my mother and aunt being sisters/best friends, the family units combined to make one big happy one.  As my cousins and I became adults and added spouses and children to the mix, place settings were added and the house got a little louder.

I recall the first emotional change for me. It was the year of my mother’s death. Thanksgiving approached and I could not wrap my mind around doing it without her. She had been a vital part of the day, cooking with my aunt, her voice and laughter ringing in the kitchen where steam rose from the stove and aromas led us to ask, “Is it time to eat?”

I asked Sweet William to take me away that year. I could not act like everything was the same, because it wasn’t.

Through the decades, members of our family have been added and subtracted. More often our circle grew, but sometimes it diminished due to death, divorce, travel or a move.

An open invitation policy meant we might have new neighbors, a pastor’s family, or friends needing a place of welcome. It was interesting to see who was at our Thanksgiving table.

This year, once again, I long for my dear ones in a distant state. I miss my dad, gone from us five years now, and remember how his birthday often fell on Thanksgiving day. I miss others who have not been at our table for many years. We have adjusted to their absence. But we don’t forget their faces, their laughter, and the richness they brought to our lives.

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Friends come to mind who face the struggle of a loved one gone this year. My heart hurts with them. The first year is the hardest people say. But grief is not on a timetable. We must give place to the heartache, allow the tears to come and vent the sorrow. We need to be patient with ourselves as we work our way through the loss. Because joy will come in the morning.

Thanksgiving will always be my best family holiday. There will be hugs and laughter, deep discussions and funny stories, memories and questions.  After dinner, the older men will meander to the couch to watch football and maybe take a nap. The women will browse Black Friday ads, whether we intend to go out or not. We’ll talk, circling around one subject and then another, never missing a beat. The young parents will discuss politics, careers, home, and children. The kids will be on an adventure of fun.

We will look around and be glad for those near. We will give thanks for those who have come and gone, remembering how they impacted our lives.  We will wish for days when the entire family will be together once more.100_2694

We will remember God’s faithfulness through all the years of our lives. And we will give thanks to the One who blessed us with all of this.

blessings

 

Sunday grace

The sun shines in the afternoon, and I feel it in my bones. Cold dark days are hard to navigate sometimes.

Thanksgiving anticipation looms in my view. Most of the shopping is finished except for broccoli that needs to be crisp and fresh. Recipes have been pulled from books and boxes. They are old and spattered with years of memories. I recognize my mother’s handwriting on one of the folded papers.

I remember other Thanksgivings. Some are full of wonder, like last year when my dear ones drove long to be here around the table. Others years found me with an ache in my heart, like the year when my mother first became sick or when there was one less person at the table.

Holidays are a mixed menu of sweetness and salty tears. It is the stuff of real life. The rain and the clouds can suddenly turn into rays of brilliant sunshine. And vice versa.

When we gather at the table this year, let us give thanks for those who are there. Whoever they are, whether relatives, long-time friends, or new acquaintances, they are gifts God has given us for a time, this very moment.

They are more important than the food or the table settings. More important than the football game or the black Friday ads. More important than the Christmas gifts we are hoping to get at a bargain.  More important than Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

We will set across the table from one another, face to face with daughters of Eve and sons of Adam, God’s image breathed into human form.

Let us give thanks for each one and love them with all of our hearts.

Sunday grace.

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At the table

There is something delightful about creating in the kitchen, sugar, flour, and spices floating in the air.

My mother was a good cook. She learned from her mother. I was invited into her expetise when I was young, and I enjoyed the whole process. I tried to grasp her technique and how mother’s dishes always tasted so delicious.

Sugar, butter and bacon grease.

I like fixing a pot of soup in the crock pot. Usually what is currently in the refrigerator and freezer is what goes in the pot. The chopping of vegetables and seasoning with herbs from my garden patch in the early morning is a promise of deliciousness as the aroma fills the house.

I’ve been very domestic since my recovery. I guess I’ve missed the creativity of the kitchen. I made Irish soda bread for the first time, to go with the leftover soup. Hot from the oven and slathered with butter, it was scrumptious.

Mother was right about the butter.

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The act of cooking and eating is about sustenance of course. We have to eat to live. It can become mundane and habitual as we fix three meals a day and then clean up the resulting mess of pots and pans. I often feel as if my life is being lived out in the kitchen.

Some of us live to eat and relish finding a new restaurant or trying Pinterest recipes. I admit to having an old fashioned recipe box containing index-sized cards, spattered and stained from my concoctions. They are the tried and true. I have tested them and found them good, worthy of returning to regularly.

I baked a pie last week and invited the neighbors who live in the house next door. Our quiet dwelling was soon filled with the noise, the talking and laughter, of people we love. Add cups of steaming coffee rich with cream and it was a party.

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The littlest neighbor, just two-year-old, was not so interested in the food. He was content with the gently-used matchbox cars, the ones collected years ago and loved by two generations of boys.

Food brings people together. It offers a welcome of friendship. It brings comfort and fills us in more ways than just the physical.

The taste of soup and fresh bread, of an apple pie fresh from the oven embodies the warmth of hearts joined in fellowship.

Around the table we talk about the weather, the latest news, and our current projects. At times we go deeper into what concerns us, the decisions we must make, and how life is challenging.

And maybe, just maybe we open our hearts and reveal our true selves. We laugh and we cry. We listen deeply and we carefully craft our words to encourage rather than instruct. It becomes more than mere conversation. It becomes communion.

At the table we are enriched and fed.

Scripture records Jesus feeding people and being fed by them. His humanity was revealed by the mere fact that he also needed nourishment for his body. It was at the Passover table where he shared bread and wine with the disciples and opened his heart with final words before his death on the cross.

After his resurrection, he prepared fish over coals of fire on the shores of Galilee, inviting his friends once again. It was a time of restoration and healing for them.

There is something to the idea of comfort food. Because sometimes the present trial is hard and the future is unsure. We wonder how we are going to face the days ahead or endure our disappointments today. The taste of something delicious, especially when it is shared, brings us back to this moment. Right here. Right now.

This moment is what we have. This day, this hour. And when we gather at the table, we can eat and be filled. We are refreshed, revived, and strengthened for the journey.

Gather at the table. It only takes a loaf of bread. Or maybe a freshly baked pie.

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Sacred ordinary

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Twinkling lights on the tree.

Old house transformed into new home.

Moments with dear friends, sweet communion, heart to heart.

Deliciously prepared food that melts in the mouth.

Love filling the rooms, the halls, the corners.

Hot strong coffee with whipping cream.

Comforting conversation.

Tender gestures that speak love.

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And long, long ago, a Baby was born and a mother nestled Him.

The ordinary becomes sacred and all of it a gift.

Christmas gifts.

Life becomes sacred.   Ordinary moments becoming holy.

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Notice the sacred ordinary.  Treasure the moments.

With grateful heart

I really did not intend to blog today.  It’s the day before Thanksgiving and my Marathon Cooking day. Not that my preparation is so monumental because tomorrow Sweet William and I will joyfully drive just a quarter of a mile to my cousin’s house where family will gather with a wealth of food.

But this is my day to cook, people.  And sample. {smile}

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Yet, on this very busy day my heart is full of thanksgiving, even from the early hours of the morning as I wrote my Joy List, the annual numbering of blessings from the past year.  It is a habit that started years ago, and the list just grows longer.

With my grateful thoughts, tears are the special ingredient all day.  Tears of joy.  Tears of hope.  Tears of longing.  Tears of heartbreak.  They are a wellspring in me today.  They are cleansing my soul.  And my Lord understands each one.

I thank God for the gifts that have come brightly wrapped, all cheerful and joyous.  I thank Him for the gifts that came shrouded in dark mystery for they sent me running to His safe and everlasting arms.

So I lift my heart in praise and enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise.  I will give Him thanks and I will bless His name.  Because He is good.  His love lasts forever.  His faithfulness extends to my children and my children’s children.

How can I not give Him the honor due His name?  He has been good to me.

 

 

Merry Christmas Eve

Speaking of interruptions, (see yesterday’s blog post) I burned the ham I was planning to serve our family for our Christmas Eve dinner. My Sweet William said, ‘Don’t worry about the money. Just go get another ham.” Interruption.

Bill struggled in the bathroom (he’s just had knee surgery) and knocked several things onto the floor. Nothing was broken, but water from a vase went on the floor. Interruption.

After bowls of oatmeal and raisins (the last good-for-us-food we will probably eat today), I donned my Neiman Marcus green felt fedora (a cast off from my cousin – a find for me), hoping to cover the bed-head hair, threw my cape over my PJ’s (actually sweat pants and an old shirt of Bill’s), put on my sunglasses, and set off for Kroger, hoping to see no one I knew.

I quietly asked the Lord for a close parking spot. He gave me one, bless Him! I rattled my memory for the four items I was going to get: ham, a package of dry yeast, whipped cream, and a replacement soap dispenser for the one in the bathroom that quit working this morning. Interruption.

I only saw one person I knew at Kroger. She looked at me with her head slightly turned, smiled and wished me a Merry Christmas. It was the hat, I’m sure.

I grabbed my items quick as I could, trying to be pleasant to other last-minute shoppers like myself. I bought chocolate cream puffs from the frozen section, a substitute for homemade cookies this year.

I went through the self-serve check-out and wished the young man stationed there a “Merry Christmas.” The car trunk popped open with the press of a button, and I deposited my purchases. I took two bascarts back to the store, and a Kroger employee smiled sweetly and said a genuine ‘thank you.’ I smiled as I walked to the car.

At home, I put the new ham in the oven, careful to follow the instructions this time. I went into a food preparation frenzy. In between recipes, I grabbed stockings and stuffed them, put gifts in bags and added some tissue paper hoping they would look OK. It’s been such a busy few days with quite a number of interruptions.

Before the family came, I managed a quick shower and change of clothes, fixed my hair and make-up. Soon the house was full of my loved ones, lots of smiles and laughter, hugs and hearts filled with thankfulness that we have each other. And after all, isn’t that the best Christmas gift of all?

Merry Christmas everyone. Joy to the world, the Lord has come!

Interruptions

A sweet friend sends a daily message over the internet.  She said she gets them from different places.  They are meant to be uplifting, thought-provoking, and turn our eyes heavenward.  I enjoy reading them each day, and sometimes they hit me right where I live.

Recently she sent this one:

“Christ comes to us in the unexpected, in the interruption and not necessarily on our schedule.”

Life’s interruptions come often, don’t they?  The question is ‘what to do with them?’  You can’t go around them; can’t go over them’ can’t go under them; gotta’ go through them.  Wisdom sometimes comes from a child’s game.

My Sweet William and I had an interruption this week.  He went to the hospital for another knee surgery.  Neither of us really knew how the day would turn out.  As it turned, he spent two nights in the hospital.  Definitely an interruption and not on my holiday schedule. 

I am a planner, not very spontaneous.  Bill helps me be a little more spur-or-the-moment than my personality tends to be.  It is not natural for me to drop what I’m doing and go on an adventure.

So an interruption such as surgery the week before Christmas and two nights in the hospital really turned over my apple cart.

As I listened to the news with Bill lying in the hospital bed, I saw people in California dealing with flooding, mud slides, and houses drowning in the river of waters.  I heard about someone’s sister and her husband who were hit while driving to another state to visit family.  I got an email informing me a sweet elderly member of Little Flock died as a result of a fall on the ice.  Another friend’s wife underwent back surgery though she didn’t know she needed until this week.

Interruptions are the stuff of life.  All the planning we can possibly do will not stop the unexpected.  Sometimes it is an irritation, sometimes it’s a tragedy.  And sometimes it comes as a pleasant surprise and a blessing from above.  Like the pre-op nurse handling Bill’s surgery preparation reminding me she had been in one of my Bible studies.  Her presence gave us comfort in a stress-filled situation.  Like the sweet choir member who brought lunch for the Little Flock staff on Tuesday, and there was enough left for me to eat on Wednesday.  What nice interruptions.

The good news in all of this is that our God knows the end from the beginning.  He is from everlasting to everlasting.  What we face tomorrow, He has gone before and knows what we will need.

Proverbs holds wisdom about life’s interruptions.  Chapter 16: 9 says:

“In his heart man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.”

Another gem is written in chapter 19:21:

“Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.”

Bill’s two days in the hospital were spent with a fellow patient who had just had knee replacement surgery.   He and Bill had quite a time talking, joking, laughing, and making the week before Christmas quite interesting for the orthopedic staff on duty.  The nursing staff actually said these two men made their job  easier with their positive attitude in spite of their pain.

Jeremiah 29:11 says:  “I know the plans I have for you” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and future.”

Even with all the interruptions I must accept and endure, God is sovereignly planning my life for my good, for a hopeful future.   I have a little card on my desk that I look at and pray, “Lord, I want to be part of Your plan today.”  And I really mean it.

God interruped the world and sent His only Son in a most unexpected way.  And I say, “Thank You, Lord!” 

 Merry Christmas everyone.

Christmas fun – December 8

After an early morning appointment, I went to Little Flock to help set up chairs, music stands, and lights for the orchestra.  The music department and media are gearing up for the annual  Christmas Choir concert.  This year’s “Gloria” promises to be glorious.  I can’t wait to hear the drum line march in and play during “The Little Drummer Boy.”

Afterward, I picked up the three grandchildren to help me with a little Christmas decorating.  Pulling the multiple boxes from their storage area, I was amazed again at how much there is.  The children and I looked at some of the items and remembered them from years before.  I told them the story of the ceramic carolers I painted before I was married and the small village their daddy gave me to go with the carolers when he was old enough to buy a gift himself.  They carefully placed them on the piano.

Celeste found one small box and exclaimed, “The Snow Man Tea Set!  I love the Snow Man Tea Set.”  She took it immediately and set it up in their room.  Later, Celeste took a thow-away box and created a stable.  She set up a manger scene in it.    

Ethan pretended to be a puppy, dressed up like an egyptian sheik, then became Robin Hood with a mask I made him from an old Christmas card.

Elyse got on line to search for a Christmas tree for our house.  No, I don’t have a tall tree this year for all the beautiful ornaments I’ve collected through the years.  But Elyse and I are still looking for the perfect one.

All of us decorated the Jesus tree.  Only two feet tall, it holds small ornaments like a lamb wrapped in a red ribbon, a star, a heart, a tiny Bible, a cross, and other things that remind us of Jesus and tell his life’s story.

We took a break with hot Tazo Apple Red tea steeped in a pretty new green teapot given to me by one of my piano students.

I unpacked the Candy Cane mugs my mother gave me the last Christmas she was with us.  The children already know that story.  The mugs are treasures to me, and I think of her when I look at them.  It just isn’t Christmas until those mugs are hung on the little rack and sitting on the kitchen counter.

After the children left, there were boxes and greenery strewn about.  Dishes needed washing.  Stuff was in stacks here and there.  The house was rather a shambles.  I had to rush off to church for work, piano lessons, and choir practice.  No time to pick up and put things in order.

Back home, I looked at the mess that still waited for me.  I thought about the good time we had today, the memories we had made, the food and laughter we had shared.  This mess represents a little Christmas joy.   And I am so glad for it.