Friday, November 25, 2011

November Rose

On Wednesday evening, as we pulled out of our driveway, I noticed that our rose bush had forced out one last bloom.  Unusual.  Our roses usually bloom in June and again in August, but this was the end of November - yet there it was, proud banner at the very top of the otherwise-dormant bush, looking bright and fragrant and summer-y.  I asked for a volunteer to cut it and bring it in from the impending frost, but no one was willing, so when we got home I cut it for myself, placing it in a bud vase by the kitchen sink.

Every Thanksgiving, my husband invites people to our home for dinner.  There are plenty of lonely people around here.  Even though our home is uninvitingly small and I am a poor cook at best, Thanksgiving is all about togetherness, and no one should spend the day alone.  Typical of those without plans, most of them don't let us know if they will come until just before the meal is served.  I am not usually familiar with the people who are invited, and sometimes meet them for the first time when they arrive at my house.

Being a poor cook, I used to be quite sensitive about having people over.  It's hard to prepare foods for special events when there is no hope of the food being special.  However, over the years I've become pretty good at a few dishes:  turkey, gravy, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, and homemade rolls. While I will never make a Thanksgiving Feast cookbook, my versions are passable and sometimes, by chance, tasty.

This year, however, the potatoes were a problem.  First of all I forgot to buy them.  When I realized on Wednesday evening that I didn't have them, I considered skipping them altogether, but they are a favorite with Teen, so off to the crowded supermarket I went (which is when I spied the rose).  On our return home, I scrubbed, cubed, and boiled them.  Something wasn't right, though.  Some of the potato cubes were overdone, while others seemed undercooked.  I drained and mashed them anyway, but the result was a starchy, lumpy concoction that even I was embarrassed to claim.  I decided it was too late to change plans, though, and on Thursday I put them into the oven with the rest of the food to warm.  To add to my embarrassment, the top and sides ended up a bit crusty.  Ah, well.  No one really expects gourmet meals from me, and there would be plenty of gravy.

All of our guests called with regrets, but at the last minute one man, David, decided to come.  My husband introduced us, then Teen and I set the food on the table and we all sat down to the meal.  After a prayer of thanks, I served as we made small talk.  Everything was going well until I began to serve those potatoes. I mentioned that they'd been a bit of a problem to make.  My husband said, "Oh!  Well, David can help you with that.  He's a chef!"


A chef.

At my table.

On Thanksgiving.

And I'm a terrible cook.

And I've ruined the simplest dish on the table.

I heaped everyone's plates Thanksgiving-full, but went very light on the potatoes.  I didn't want the added embarrassment of having six plates full of potatoes to scrape into the garbage.  Gravy, butter, salt, and pepper were passed, and we began to eat.  The usual compliments were passed, as well: turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, and rolls all were duly noted.

Then it started.  "These potatoes are delicious!!"  "Amazing!"  "Wonderful!"  Everyone ate their potatoes.  Most asked for more...and more.  The chef had three helpings, all the while extolling the virtues of the incredible potatoes.

Figures.  The one thing I cook fantastically well is not only an accident, it's also not reproducible!  Still, it felt good to have cooked something that everyone genuinely liked.

We enjoyed the rest of the day, sharing family stories, playing Wii, and discussing Scripture.  The table was cleared and our guest left after a very pleasant time together.

Reflecting on the meal and fellowship as I washed dishes, I sniffed my unlikely rose and called it a good day.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

More on Me 'N' Solomon

One the Bible's great mysteries is Solomon's downfall.  God gave him wisdom - more wisdom than anyone who'd ever walked the earth, before or since.  And Solomon walked away from God.

I know that's a gross oversimplification.  After all, he lived a life between being granted that gift and the end of his days.  As the king of a powerful nation, I'm confident that his life must have been full of more stress and trial than I'll ever imagine.

Still, I wonder.  What was the problem?  He had money, prestige, and power.  And he used it to obtain lands, wives, wealth, and, ultimately, other beliefs.

He had an amazing father.  King David was no spiritual slouch.  He was exuberant for the Lord.  His praise was lively.  His repentance was deep.  His reliance on God was exemplary.  And the more I think about it, the more I wonder if this was part of Solomon's problem.

My husband's faith is exuberant, lively, deep, exemplary.  He makes no bones about loving his Lord.  Most of the time it's beautiful and outstanding and worthy of emulation.  It can also be perplexing, dismaying, and even embarrassing.  I'm sure some in David's day found him the same, though I'm certain that few had the platform to say so.  Naturally, the Bible would not report such near-blasphemous thoughts.

If David were alive today, would he sit in his car, in his own driveway, blasting the worship music and weeping?  Would he jump and kick before the podium while strumming his lyre?  Would his amplified voice crack with emotion as he pronounces words of redemption?  Would he shake hands with strangers and look deeply into their souls as he shares his savior with them?  Would others' discomfort in these situations even admit itself to his perception?

Men of great passion are hard to live with on a daily basis, particularly for the cerebral.  Those of us who are also spiritual face an internal dissonance.  The man of passion lives all the external ideals of the faith. To disdain his passion is to seem to disdain his faith, as well.  The dissonance must be even greater for an adult child than it is for a wife.

There are few choices in such a situation.  To embrace the passion is to slap one's own intellect in the face.  Living alongside it, without participating, causes the dissonance to crescendo to an unavoidable din.  Outright rejection, the option that perhaps Solomon eventually chose, is unacceptable, at least to the faithful.

There is another option, one that doesn't particularly appeal to me as an all-or-nothing kind of person.  And that is to step in slowly, toe first, as if timidly entering a pool.  A sprinkle baptism of sorts, if you will, with the intention of becoming a dunk...eventually.  The hard part is that it must be intentional.  Rather than waiting for the Holy Spirit to come and shove me into the tank, I've got to bare my own sole and begin the ponderous plunge myself.

If I maintain my gradual immersion, perhaps my kids, who are  guided by my actions far more than by my words, will find their balance better than Solomon did.


Some of my earlier thoughts on Solomon.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Picking at Scabs

Why do we do this? When we were kids, we'd peek under the band-aid until it fell off, then pry up the edge of the crusted blood. It hurt hurt hurt, but for some reason we just had to look.

I was on Facebook today, and decided to look over the list of folks Facebook thought would be good friends for me. I was very surprised to see the name of a person with whom we'd had a significant disagreement this past summer. It wasn't your normal relationship thing, either. There were very serious allegations involved, and the outcome was the splitting of a beautiful group of people and a lot of very hurtful finger-pointing.

So did I scroll past the suggestion? Did I close the page? Did I shut down my browser and find something else to do? Of course not. I clicked on the name.

Despite only recently joining Facebook, this person had hundreds of friends. Of the top few, several were former friends of ours who'd judged us, harshly, based on accusations that were fabricated to sway opinion. These former friends never even sought our side of the story - just cut us off.

This person had also set up a brand spankin' new website for the group that had so painfully been split. Naturally, pathetically, I followed the link to view the site. It was very welcoming. It warmly invited all who were interested to join (except those of us who'd been asked to leave, but of course that was not mentioned).


What happens when we pick at scabs? Well, our curiosity is sated. At what cost? Pain. Prolonged time for recovery. And, if we're not careful, infection. The wound now requires more time and attention to heal properly, and is more likely to leave a lasting scar.

Of course I realize that there is no way this wound was going to heal completely to begin with. The laceration was jagged, rough and deep. Those who would have offered aid and relief were the ones who caused the injury. And infection set in very quickly. (Should I admit that I derived a very tiny amount of pleasure from the grammar and spelling errors I saw on the website? Probably not.)

But there was no good reason for me to entertain my curiosity this way. I might just as well have poured salt right into that gaping gash. And not the good, "salt of the earth" kind of salt, either.

So why do we do this? I have no answer. I'd love to be able to say it filled my heart with forgiveness and love toward the people who hurt us. I'd love to say that I wished them well with their new group and rejoiced that they seem to be off to a good start. I'd love to, but I'd be lying.

Time for a fresh band-aid. Maybe some antibiotic ointment - I'll find it in prayer. And maybe my Father will hold me again, despite my foolish picking, and reassure me that it will be all right.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Hotdog Lady

Since I was young, I've always wanted a nickname.  When others give you a moniker, it indicates a kind of intimacy.  It must feel good to have those you belong with confirm that belonging by choosing an endearing quality about you and dubbing you with a special name.  Even silly names often reflect a fun event in the history of a relationship.  In fact, one of my favorite Bible promises has long been Revelation 2:17, which says "I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it."  A sort of a nickname straight from God, in my mind.

That's not to say that I didn't have a nickname growing up.  My first name, unfortunately, rhymes with the name of a particularly odious canned meat product made, nominally, of spiced ham.  The coincidence was not lost on the average American schoolchild, so rather than my given name, I was often called by the name of the "food" item, instead.

Nickname - good.  Processed meat - bad.

When I first became a Christian, I felt strongly about not participating in Halloween.  It just seemed wrong, given its history and its spiritual significance, which continues even to the present.  For many years, my husband and I would purposely go out to dinner rather than stay home during trick or treat time.  However, about four years ago I was very touched by a post I read on a homeschooling forum.  A mom much like myself shared that she'd felt the same way, and even had a good excuse not to join in - her family lived on a house at the top of a solitary hill.  It would be quite a hike for little ghouls and goblins to reach their home, not that she desired to participate, anyhow.  But one day a Bible verse touched her: the passage in Matthew 5 that says that a city on a hill can not be hid, and to let your light shine before men.  From that time, she has thrown on the lights and made her home on a hill bright, welcoming those who would come and hoping to shine a spiritual light in her neighborhood.  She really got me thinking.

A little further in the conversation, another mom related how they handed out hotdogs every year.  "Huh?" I thought. "Hotdogs?  That's a little nuts."  But the more I thought about it, the more I loved the idea.  Once per year the whole neighborhood comes right to my door.  What better way to meet people than to give them something they would value?  They'll surely stay a few minutes and chat.  I shared the idea with my husband, and after some prayer, he agreed that we would try it.

October 31, 2008, we brought our barbecue onto our front walk and began grilling our Halloweenies.  Even though it's an urban neighborhood (or perhaps because of it), we don't get a whole lot of folks trick or treating.  But what fun it was to ask a group of costume-clad travelers if they wanted hotdogs.  None of them had ever heard of such a thing!  The idea took a few seconds to process.  Sometimes they asked how much we would charge them.  Sometimes they appeared distrustful.  But for the most part, they came, enjoyed a hotdog, and spent a few minutes talking.  We had a wonderful time!  We met neighbors, shook hands, and even prayed with a few people.  We had tracts available because they were stamped with the church address (and often, when people hear that my husband is a pastor, they want to know which church he leads).

We've given out hotdogs every year since, and this was our fourth year.  Once we also gave out juice boxes, but that got a little messy.  The next year we changed it to hot apple cider, which most parents welcome as the chilly day draws to an end.

This year was extra special.  Really, really special.  You see, right around 5:30 we saw two families traveling together.  While they were still across the street and nearly a block down, one little girl began to jump up and down.  "It's the hotdog lady!  The hotdog lady!" she yelled.  The group walked a bit faster - one family of kids were eager to have a quick meal, and the other were excited to see who on earth would hand out hotdogs for free.

I was chatting with another mom, whom I'd met the year before, when her husband called.  He wanted to know where to meet her.  "I'm at the hotdog lady's house," she told him, and he needed no further description.

Ah.  At long last.  My dream has come true!

Nickname - good.  Processed meat - good!