Sunday, November 16, 2014

Man of My Dreams

I remember reading the Anne of Green Gables series, how well it taught the lesson.  Anne turned down a silly farmer who asked her to marry him via his sister.  She said no to Gilbert who’d been her rival all through school.  She was disappointed when her best friend agreed to marry the ordinary local, Fred.  But maybe her friend Diana was onto something.  Maybe Anne’s tall, dark, handsome, charming ideal wasn’t what Anne really needed.  As fiction conveniently wends its way, Anne met with such a man at college.  They courted for months.  And in the final breathless moment when he asked her to be his wife, she realized that she’d been wrong.  Her girlhood husband list had been dreamy and foolish.  There was nothing so wrong with this man.  But her heart wasn’t in it.  The truth was, she had been meant for Gil all along, only her stubborn fantasies had kept her from accepting it. 

Having a list seemed to help me when I was in high school.  It reminded me that love and marriage were about choice, not just feelings.  I still like my lists, even if only for self-knowledge.  In my case I was over 20 years old when I realized that a man doesn’t have to have a career plan for the rest of his life to make a good husband.  Many of the men I have ever respected (including my own dad) have been hard workers, caring for others, but trying different things, or whatever work they could find.  In a changing world, myself even desiring a bit of adventure, how could I demand stability? So my list has been modified.  As I've gained humility about my own certainty of how the world should be, I've grown a bit more relaxed about some of the things.  

Never mind the unforeseen and unknown; what selfish attitude is it that tells me that I can decide what I want and demand that I get that or else?  How was that affecting my relationships with men?  Is that what marriage is about?  Is that what life is about? 

I know lots of examples of people digressing from their lists as they matured:

A friend said she’d never marry someone in the military.  Then she met her husband on a military base in Japan, and she changed her mind. 

Another friend said her husband would have to own a top hat.  Would she really turn down an otherwise perfect match because he didn’t own the ideal accessory?  (The answer was “no”, she wouldn’t turn him down!)

Some friends wrestled with more serious questions.  Could they marry someone who was not a virgin?  What if his views on finances (debt, saving, spending) was different from hers?  If God was calling her to ministry, could she marry someone who didn’t have that same calling? 

I suppose it goes both ways.  No doubt men have their own hang-ups.  One man I know struggled because his family owned many animals and the woman he was interested in had severe allergies.  I’ve heard that many men planning to be missionaries look only for women who are pursuing the same goal. 

Some of these things are generally good wisdom.  A pastor I know counsels people to marry only if they’re physically attracted to one another (successful legacy of arranged marriages notwithstanding).  I know couples who were not attracted at first, but as they proceeded with their relationships, gained such feelings.  I myself would rather not marry someone in the military because of the demands on time and loyalty.  It’s a good idea to be unified about things like money and children and ministry.  But they’re not essential.  And sometimes, especially when we’re young, we don’t know what we need.  One artist friend knew God would provide her with an artist-husband, whose soul could understand hers.  Another artist friend has been married for decades to a man who’s good with numbers instead. 

Still other friends now happily married look back and think their "lists" or ideas were lacking some significant points, like respect for parents.  

In our society we barely know what marriage is really about, let alone what makes for a good one.  Sometimes parents and mentors advise us.  Sometimes they’re just taking a guess and pioneering new territory they never ventured on in their own relationships. Some of it is good advice, general wisdom.  A lot of it is promoting self-interest.  Some of it is universally-useful advice about trusting God and loving others. 

Are there legitimate deal-breakers?  Is it wrong to have a list of things we’re looking for?  What guiding principles are there for deciding to get married?  What is marriage?  What contributes to a good marriage?  If you choose rashly at first, is there hope for a good marriage in the end? 

But the fuss we make about who to choose… 
~ Miss Austen Regrets


To God be all glory.  

Because I Met David

There once was a handsome young man named David.  What happened to me through knowing him probably had something to do with growing up – with turning 20 and getting my own car and being exposed more to the general world than this homeschooler was used to.  He walked into my life when I was 19 years old and I immediately went into such a daze that I didn't even remember his name, but I remembered his smile.  We found ourselves shortly thereafter attending the same Bible study.  I was so thrilled to see him there, and that he gave my elbow a little pinch when he recognized me, that I felt sick the rest of the night...  C'est la vie.

Because I met David, I realized I wasn’t 16 anymore.  And not-16-year-old women shouldn’t be looking for the qualities of a 16-year-old boy in a man they’re thinking of dating, or marrying.  I began to remake my list, but I didn’t even know what being a grown-up meant.  What was it to be an adult?  How was it different being an adult, marriage-ready man from an adult, marriage-ready woman? 

Responsibility, a sober view of the world, selflessness – these are some of the traits I came to realize were important.  Discerning them wasn’t as simple as checking off a list like: no, he doesn’t drink; yes, he has a job; yes, he says he’s a Christian.  A drink here or there doesn’t prevent realizing that we get one chance at this life and that everything we do has consequences.  (At the time, I was met with a lot of young men who didn’t take the consequences of alcohol very seriously.  But they were breaking into my mind the possibilities.)  In David’s case, irresponsible men can have jobs.  They use them to fund and further irresponsible lives.  And though true Christianity has to do with imitating Christ, who made Himself nothing, saying we belong to the Church is only a tiny part of participation in that kind of life.  People can lie.  People can be deceived. 

Because I met David, I learned to be patient in developing relationships.  I wanted more, more, more of people whose company I enjoyed.  I wanted to rush, rush, rush to see where it was leading with this man.  But it had to be OK some weeks at Bible study to just see him and ask how he was, waiting for the deeper conversation here and there.  That way I was learning more about him than just my urgent questions.  When you’re friends with someone, you get all of them, not just the parts whose relevance you can foresee. 

Because I met David, I had my first opportunity to really make the choice between going with my feelings and going with my principles.  I had been in a low place spiritually, but this choice began to wake me up. 

Because I met David, I discovered how sick hope could make me.  I hoped the charming bright-eyed conversationalist would line up with my principles – if not right away, then later (*soon* later, but I didn’t know about assuming “soon” back then). 

Because I met David, I began to face some facts about marriage, among others: that it would be two broken people working together, helping each other.  I was still inspired by the idea of matrimony, but I started to realize that I wouldn’t marry a perfect man, that I didn’t deserve one either, and that being good myself didn’t guarantee that the man I married would always have been good. 

Because I met David, I realized that the call God makes on Christians is not, “go be friends with potential husbands and men with no risk to your own heart, but be sure to steer clear of anyone not interested or unworthy” – no, God says, “love your neighbor” and especially to love those in the Church.  So even though David chose not to pursue me seriously, and even though I was disappointed, and even though I was still attracted to him – I couldn’t just run away.  I had to keep being his friend, keep desiring good for him, while also surrendering my plans for him. 

Because I met David, I still kind of believe that I have beautiful eyes and a great smile (particularly when inspired by a man's attention).  I took a break for a while from being on the watch for a potential husband.  I realized that even playing it safe with relationships can hurt.  I stopped believing in fairy tales and started believing in love. 


To God be all glory. 

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Specials of Our Kitchen

My first unusual gadget was a great can opener my mom got for us to help her in the kitchen.  It attached with the blade parallel with the top of the can, and it cut off the whole lid with no sharp edges.  This is the kind I learned to use, and it’s still my favorite.  Oxo makes one, but Pampered Chef also carries one which I’ve seen more often.  I found a website that recommended this version by Kuhn-Rikon.  The one drawback is if the can is *very* full, in which case a little liquid will spill over.

I also like the measuring cups that sit flat on the counter but have a little diagonal ring inside so that you can see how much (liquid, especially) you’ve poured in already.  If you have ever seen a carpenter use a level, you know how not-accurate it is to just guess with your hand.  Same for measuring cups.  I got mine at a hardware store.  Apparently carpenters know how the world should be. 

I have been fascinated ever since I heard of Danish dough whisks.  They’re a curly-q wire firmly attached to a wooden handle.  The wire is thick enough that it won’t bend with normal use.  And it moves softer doughs through the successive swirls to get things mixed.  My good friend got me one when I excitedly described one to her.  So far I think their target use is for baked goods like muffins or quick breads.  They would probably work on doughs as stiff as cookies, but I wouldn’t use it for regular breads, at least not once you start adding flour.  The best part about Danish dough whisks?  Clean up.  The wire is easier to clean than hands or spoons.  The next best part? Letting kids help with it.  Dough is harder to fling when there’s no flat surface for it to adhere to the utensil.  Let them get a little crazy!

When the time has come to use a spoon for mixing, our family loves to use wooden-handled “ice cream scoops”.  These don’t make nice round balls to go into cones, but rather islands of frozen yumminess.  Or they are sturdy for all sorts of mixing.  We use them to stir hot things on the stove, too.  But when we make brownies, I’ve come to love the one-utensil strategy of a rubber spoonula – a slightly scoop-shaped spatula that mixes, ladles, and scrapes the sides of the bowl.  Pick one-piece models like this one for easiest cleaning and durability. 

One kitchen appliance my mom thinks no home should be without is a George Foreman electric grill.  It sits on the countertop without melting even cheap plastic surfaces.  In less than ten minutes it is preheated good enough to cook basic things like hamburgers, chicken, or grilled sandwiches.  The grease slides down the grooves into an accompanying tray.  This makes it hard to sear in flavor, but is a plus for those people who are looking to cut out extra fat.  When you’re done, the non-stick surfaces are easy to clean.  If it is still warm, usually just water will work to wipe it clean.  If it has cooled, a little bit of soap and a sponge still make for easy clean-up.  We keep two in our kitchen, and my mom usually has an extra one or two (garage sale and thrift store finds) on hand to replace ours as the non-stick coatings wear off or to gift to friends. 

We’re not so great with knives in our house.  I think my parents wanted everything dull for years because they had small children running around and emptying dishwashers and helping in the kitchen for about 16 years.  Then they just got in the habit.  Anyway, to compensate we have kitchen scissors – 4 pairs, at present.  They’re useful for slicing into plastic packaging (cereal, cheese, boxed brownie mix, bacon).  But they’re also pretty good for cutting up chicken.  I don’t know why we have 4 pairs; surely we aren’t cooking *that* much chicken.  I wonder what else we use them for? 

Do you know what I love?  Collapsible things.  I had a cup made of concentric rings when I was little, that collapsed to about ½ inch height.  It was fun to play with even when not officially in use.  They’re just fascinating things in the category with Slinkys and yo-yos.  I have a collapsible colander that will sit on top of the sink.  It’s pretty great.  Just don’t get a colander with a hinge.  Those are nearly impossible to clean.  I would caution against collapsible measuring cups, though; consistency of shape seems to be necessary to their function. 

In the past few years everyone in my family has become a fan of brownie- and cookie- in-a-mug recipes.  Especially when we crave something warm and gooey, or with ice cream on top for a yummy sundae, the simple recipes available online are perfect for a single-serving dessert.  No left-overs to get hard on the counter or take up space in the freezer.  We use our big cozy microwave-safe mugs for this.  And with the knowledge I’ve gained comparing recipes, I’ve even invented little cobblers as snacks for kids while I was babysitting.  A lot of mugs are even oven-safe.  Be on the look-out for multi-use tableware that can be repurposed as dessert ramekins. 

Since I began culturing yogurt at home, I’ve tried making other things out of it.  I’ve also tried my hand at cottage cheese and ricotta.  Several recipes call for straining these dairy products.  Typically I use an old flour-sack tea towel set inside a regular colander for this.  But recently I ran across a yogurt funnel.  It’s a semi-circle of plastic lined with a fine mesh.  When you curl these up into a cone shape, it snaps together.  Yogurt goes inside, closest to the mesh.  Liquid falls through the mesh, catches on the plastic and is funneled down to the point where there is enough of a hole in the way the solid plastic curves together that it lets the liquid out.  Not only is this kind of thing good for straining curds; it is also the kind of thing you want when brewing loose-leaf tea. 


What's special in your kitchen?

To God be all glory.  

Saturday, November 08, 2014

Two Mites

The widow gave two mites to the Temple treasury while Jesus was watching. I've always thought about it as a sacrifice. But it's more. How inadequate and pointless must she have felt, dropping pennies into the donation pile? That woman had to have humility, a willingness to let God have the puny bits she could offer. And she had to have faith, that God being mighty and all, He could make good use of her mites. Loving God probably helps with all that, too.

Sometimes I'm tempted to be so ashamed of my own weakness and imperfection that I don't offer them to Jesus.  

And He looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury, and He saw also a certain poor widow putting in two mites.  So He said, "Truly I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all; for all these out of their abundance have put in offerings for God, but she out of her poverty put in all the livelihood that she had."
~ Luke 21:1-4

To God be all glory.

Saturday, November 01, 2014

Place

Tonight I’m thinking about how I'm not sure what my life is accomplishing. But on the bright side, I just made bread without a recipe, and it seems to be working.  I just kind of scooped and sprinkled and dumped, with yeast and oats and whole wheat flour and a handful of bread flour and honey, chia and flax and butter and milk (no yogurt since the stuff I had didn’t smell quite so great).  It was a fun experiment.  Recently I heard someone saying they don’t like baking because you have to be too precise.  I tend to disagree.

How ought one to communicate that they're desperate for affirmation - as in, one cannot, on one's own, perceive how God is making good use of them?

And, having begun asking such questions, how does one communicate need for time, need for physical affection, need to be given things/provided for?

At what point does hunger classify as a need? Or just a desire? "I'd like a snack" vs. "this is getting unhealthy" vs. "if I don't get food soon, I'll probably die"? Because I can tell I’m hungry for those things that communicate love.  I feel the lack, see how I could be a stronger person if I had them.  But if I’m not in dire need, is it right to be so bold as to ask for other people to give me attention?  Is anyone obligated to give attention to my needs?  Is there any point where it would be right to be “demanding”? 

I've also been wondering, how do people keep going, who don't know God? How do they survive the loneliness? Is it possible to be intentionally more numb to it, by being less self-aware and more focused on, say, entertainment?

Or would it solve a lot of these problems if I was more others-aware? But then, can you really give, give, give when you feel starved?

I’ve been focusing on random things.  Is it worthwhile to know things like improvising bread without a recipe? The history of medieval Spain? The way that purple and blue and orange go together? How to teach cube roots?  The work of the Holy Spirit during the pre-Jesus days?  Maybe these things go together.  Maybe they’re good in themselves.  Maybe someday they’ll combine to usefulness for a different stage of my life. 

I read another quote from Anne of Green Gables today, but I can't get myself to agree with it: "I believe that the nicest and sweetest of days are not those which anything very splendid or wonderful or exciting happens, but just those that bring simple little pleasures, following one another softly, like pearls slipping off a string."

While my bread was rising, and earlier in the day, I searched Pinterest making fanciful plans to visit Scotland – or less fanciful ones to do an afternoon trip to Ft. Collins.  I am feeling restless.  I want to be beautiful and in beauty and seeing beauty.  I want to go places I’ve never been, and really soak them in – not just drive through.  I want to see old things, but they might make me cry if they’re abandoned, and so many old things are.  Who abandons *castles*, after all?  If you ever don’t want your castle, give it to me; I’ll see that it’s inhabited! 

What is my place? 

To God be all glory.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Creator Who Gives Being

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.  And the earth was without form, and void…

One of the things I love about how God created the world is that He both created from nothing, spoke things straight into existence, – and also formed things.  This is something true of God.  He is abundantly powerful, and everything has its source in Him.  He is the Alpha.  And also, He is a God of life, of living and growing and progressing and moving.  He is the Omega, both Beginning and End.  He is the eternal I AM, but He created a world of experience - not just existence. 

When God created the world, He began a story.  When God created Adam, Adam was fully formed and when God breathed into him the breath of life, that is when Adam became a living being.  But God started with Adam a dominion, a mandate, a command, a purpose.  That purpose is being unfurled still, across the generations, covenant to covenant.  Each life is like this, too.  God forms us in our mothers’ wombs.  He begins our stories, and we don’t come into this life “finished” or complete.  Our purposes are yet unfulfilled. 

I don’t always like it, that God takes time.  That God begins with seeds that must sprout and grow and blossom before they bear fruit – that is hard for me to wait on.  But it is beautiful.  It is glorious in that we get to partake of imitating God, of acting and producing. 

These thoughts coalesced as I thought about Pope Francis’s recent comments about the nature of evolution.  I don’t know the intent of his comments; I’m pretty sure I disagree with some parts of them.  Maybe he was pointing out that even evolution and the big bang don’t have an explanation for the beginning of things.  But the concept of evolution: that things once started do tend to develop – this is not inconsistent with what we know of God.  He starts things that change.  “He created beings and allowed them to develop according to the internal laws that He gave to each one, so that they were able to develop and to arrive and [sic] their fullness of being,” said Pope Francis, “… [God is] the Creator who gives being to all things.” 

I don’t believe God started the world with the Big Bang.  I don’t believe He started humanity from a single-celled organism in a primal soup.  Maybe, though, the appeal is for all of us, evolutionist or creationist, to recognize this truth about our world as God has set us in it: that we’re progressing towards the end of the story.  And, as Pope Francis went on to say, “Therefore the scientist, and above all the Christian scientist*, must adopt the approach of posing questions regarding the future of humanity and of the earth, and, of being free and responsible, helping to prepare it and preserve it, to eliminate risks to the environment of both a natural and human nature. But, at the same time, the scientist must be motivated by the confidence that nature hides, in her evolutionary** mechanisms, potentialities for intelligence and freedom to discover and realise, to achieve the development that is in the plan of the Creator. So, while limited, the action of humanity is part of God's power and is able to build a world suited to his dual corporal and spiritual life; to build a human world for all human beings and not for a group or a class of privileged persons. This hope and trust in God, the Creator of nature, and in the capacity of the human spirit can offer the researcher a new energy and profound serenity…”

To God be all glory.

*I suggest this applies to humans, to Christians, and to Christian scientists; it is not exclusive to researchers (see Genesis 1:28)


**I am not sure whether in the context, the term “evolutionary” is exclusively referring to the scientific theory of evolution.  I am inspired only by the aspect of evolution in this definition: “any process of formation or growth; development”.

Monday, September 29, 2014

What Is Not the Boss

My little friend Prudence is 3 years old.  She's in the process of being potty-trained.  So the other night her mom told her to go use the bathroom.  She objected that, "My body isn't telling me I have to."  First, this is a necessary thing to teach children to recognize, when their bodies are telling them to use the toilet - and to get them to act on that and go, on their own initiative.  However, a much more important lesson came in my friend Amie's reply to her daughter, "Who's the boss?  Your body or Mommy?  Your body is not the boss of you."

Your body is not the boss of you.  We should absolutely be teaching children this.  And then, maybe when they're adults, they'll know it, too.

Interestingly enough, it rather aligned with the article by GK Chesterton that Prudence's dad read to us the same night.  In it, the author was responding to a critic who insisted that since his bodily impulses for pleasure were natural, they were legitimate.  The critic was also interested in pursuing these pleasures while preventing natural consequences of the actions.  Yet another valuable lesson.

Consequences are natural (and therefore legitimate?).

To God be all glory.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Retold for the Modern Reader

In a world where (aggressively shifting) vocabularies rule our comprehension and communication is often compressed into a “tweet” or a “text”, the elegant structure of grammar as an aid in clearly passing thoughts and information from one person to another may be a lost art.  How can we withstand it?  Maybe language ought to be more poetic, about the images it gives us, the feelings with which we respond, the ways we wish to interpret what we hear.  In which case, all those little in-between words aren’t so necessary anymore…

I once had an experience with a young woman who believed God wished all people to be vegetarians.  We read together from Genesis 9: “Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. I have given you all things, even as the green herbs. But you shall not eat flesh with its life, [that is], its blood.”  She picked out a few words on which to base her application: “not eat flesh” and she said this was because of the “blood” and respect for “life”. 

This girl had a subjective interpretation that served her preconceptions.  The last words had more impact on her, too, I believe, because she remembered them better than the first sentence.  She seemed unable to grasp the relationship between one thought and the next, though she used cause and effect words (not rationale, only the vocabulary) in defense of her own position.  People like her know what words sound persuasive, what words make people feel good.  I wonder how often more intelligent speakers are condemned for being judgmental simply because our vocabulary made people feel bad, made them feel that we were dealing in stark absolutes. 

And I am encountering this phenomenon in lesser degrees more and more.  A word in a sentence might just as easily suggest its opposite as its traditional meaning.  A word may or may not be modified by other words in context.  My interpretation of what you say or write is just as valid, just as likely to guide my decisions, as the interpretation you intended.  Ideas cannot be comprehended if they take more than three sentences to build and capstone. 

What is our obligation to combat these trends?  How much are we the communicators responsible to mind our audience and deliver our messages in ways that will have the effect we desire? 


These are the questions I wish to explore with my new blog, “Retold for the Modern Reader” at www.LanguageDeconstruction.blogspot.com

To God be all glory. 

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

"You wore blue."

"I remember every detail. The Germans wore grey. You wore blue."

"Yes. I put that dress away. When the Germans march out, I'll wear it again."


~ Casablanca

One of the things I love about Ilsa is that she is a character.  We see only these few glimpses, and it seems like she is always dependent and following, but what kind of woman captures Rick’s heart and inspires Laszlo?  It’s the woman who wears blue the day the Germans march into Paris.  She isn’t mourning, isn’t hiding.  We know she was afraid.  But she is celebrating hope, I think – a confidence that the city-conquering Nazis will not be victorious in the end – not if brave, faithful men and women stand against them. 

But.  She has put that dress away.  She will wear it again when the Germans leave.  That will be a day also for celebrating hope – hope fulfilled, hope overcoming. 

It would not be right for her to get the dress out early, before the Nazis are defeated.  Doing so would turn the original defiant hope into an image of how naïve she had been – despairing retrospection. 

It would not be right for her to get rid of the dress.  That would be like throwing hope away, or like saying hope has nothing to do with the outcome. 

Do you have anything you have “put away”?  Do you laugh when you promise that you will wear it again? 


To God be all glory.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Asking

Several of my friends are learning about asking for help.  And when such dear friends are learning something, so am I.  They pose challenging questions, and as I meditate on my experience, my personality, I see where I also need to grow.  I’m on the watch, as are they, for opportunities to humble myself and ask for what I need. 

I practice gratitude, like a tight fist on the last rope holding me from slipping from trust.  I choose to see the ways that God provides and blesses.  I struggle to understand how grace is abundant and need still stands, inviting God, inviting His people, to invest.  I have been gifted many friends, time to hold children, nearness of God as I read Scripture, job to earn money, good food, moments to pray with God’s Church. 

But I am thirsty, needy.  I feel this restlessness for days.  When I take time finally to examine, I find that being with people is not enough.  That though giving is a blessing, sometimes receiving is all I can do; sometimes I am on my knees too weak to even hold myself up.  I need attention.  I need a hug, given to me.  I need some other to be strong.  And though God is the supplier of all, and though even without nourishment I would still have life eternal because of Jesus, there are some things that I need in this life that are not God.  I need food and water and air.  I need people to speak truth specifically relevant to the problems I face and the doubts that assail.  I need to be heard.  I need to not just be known, like the perfect God knows His children, but discovered, like a daughter, like a friend.  Discovered and not rejected.  Vulnerable and embraced and even delighted in. 

I ask my brother, confidante, “How do you ask for [attention]?  And then someone says ‘yes’ and what – stares at you awkwardly?”  So how do I confess my need?  What exactly do I expect from whomever I ask?  And when it is my turn, how do I meet needs that are this profound, this tender?   


To God be all glory.