Archive for April, 2012

April Foolery, Octoberish Surprises

My daughter-in-law, Esther, grew up in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico – a preserved 16th century colonial hill town and World Heritage Site.  She and my stepson have lived part of their married life in that quaint city, with its large population of American retirees and its international arts community.  The town’s “foreign settlers” are lured by an enriched yet small town atmosphere, the reduced cost of living, and a temperateness of climate that is almost impossible for this northern girl to wrap her head around.

To convince my brain, I checked out a Weather Channel chart which shows a gentle arch of evening-low to daytime-high temperatures spanning the year.  Temperatures range from 44 to 78 in January, February, and March; from 53 to 85 in April, May, and June; from 56 to 79 in July, August, and September; and from 46 to 76 in October, November, and December.  That confirmation brings the  place dangerously close to a fantasy ideal that has been brewing in the imagination of the two Minnesota-weary Baby Boomers who live in my household.

But back to the Real World that comprises our Midwestern existence: It was a mere three weeks ago in mid-March that our bullishly high temperatures of 80-something were breaking old records like so many china shop tea cups.  People were wearing shorts and pulling out the flip flops.  Ahem; did somebody mention “flip-flops”?  Here we are in the second week of April, and it dips to 27 degrees overnight. I had to dig the pup’s fake shearling jacket out of mothballs and zip the liner back into my two-season coat.

Things are warming up a bit as the week progresses, but last night I heard a sheepish weather guy whispering the word “snow” in conjunction with next Monday’s forecast.  I feel bad for the farmers and those people who have plants in their tender care, but I have to put sympathies aside and try to make cider of this shriveled apple we’ve been handed.  Time to haul out the soup kettle and bake up some bread, as my husband settles in front of the computer to lose himself in a virtual tour of real estate offerings in ol’ San Miguel.

The soup is a cinch.  With inspiration from over a hundred recipes in my nifty little all-color, all-soup cookbook, I settle on Corn, Chili, and Chorizo Soup and a stew-like Turkey and Lentil concoction, then set about adapting them to my own self-imposed nutritional mandates.  Now for some hearty bread.  If I had it to do over, I would opt for the Walnut and Seed Bread recipe tucked in at the end of the Love Food Soup collection, but I had a few ingredients I wanted to use up and a different recipe I’d been wanting to fiddle with, so I whipped up my version of Prune and Walnut Bread – and then managed to over-bake it to just a few strides short of burnt offering territory.  So much for fiddling.

There is a story passed down about my husband’s grandmother, as a 22-year-old newlywed, baking a cake that didn’t meet her standards for serving to others.  Embarrassed over the mishap, she stashed it in her hope chest and ate away at it, one slice a day for as long as it took to consume the entire thing on her own.  Family lore has it that she was reluctant to throw it on the trash heap out of fear that her failure would become public knowledge.  I prefer to think that, like me, she couldn’t stand the idea of wasting all those good ingredients.

Whatever the case, having trimmed the darkened top off of my own imperfect creation, I have now been eating away at a slightly dry White Wheat, Prune, Walnut, Applesauce yeast bread for five days running.  And the recipe made two 9” round pans-full, so there is one in the freezer that I’ll have to deal with.  Later.  Meanwhile, for the non-martyrs among us, whole grain tortilla quesadillas made with Monterey Jack cheese go beautifully with either of these chill-chasing soups. (more…)

April 13, 2012 at 5:52 pm Leave a comment

An Easter Confession

I am a Christian. I don’t often just flat-out say those four simple words, in an unequivocal declarative statement.  I do attend church on Sunday mornings with like-minded believers.  And I would hope that my writing reflects my beliefs, that my words and deeds suggest a faith with roots deep enough to deflect the buffeting that worldly snares and my own frailties of character subject it to.

I once complimented a young woman driver on her courageous personalized license plate that reads:  JHN315.  (“That whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.”)  Her only regret, she responded, was that the designation JHN316 was already taken.  (“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son.”)  I couldn’t help but reflect on how easily the frustrations of driving can bring out the worst in us. Displaying an emblem of faith that identifies you, that ties your actions  directly to the name of the Lord you love and serve, should inhibit one in a good way.  Should.  But would it, in the tightly-wound emotional package that is me?

The same idea applies to my favorite bumper sticker:  “If tomorrow you were put on trial for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?”  Evidence.  That trail of proof that lends credence to verbalized claims.  Many “declare faith in or adherence to” Christian doctrine.  For some that means a sincere dedication to enlightenment via the inspired word of God, unadulterated by man’s efforts to update His timeless  message to suit modern sensibilities.  For others, it is a vague reference to trying to be kind, do good works, and seek physical peace among the earth’s multitudes.

My own conscious efforts to adhere seem paltry to me at times.  I try to work the language of faith into my casual conversations; to plant the seed that all good things come to us from the Lord as blessings; to dangle before others the concept of a loving Creator God whom they may not have felt any need to consider in their immersion in earthly pursuits.  I always attach a note referencing the Heavenly Father to plates of cookies brought to new neighbors or ailing acquaintances. But would there be enough hard evidence

I am reminded of the real-life cases documented in weekly television newsmagazines like 48 Hours Mystery or Dateline NBC. Quite often, a spouse on trial for murdering their partner has complicated their own defense with infidelity, sometimes serial infidelities.  The physical evidence may be sparse, the circumstantial evidence refutable, but the scale is tipped heavily against them by the weight of their own indiscretions.  Is my scale tipping in a God-pleasing balance, or do my lapses outweigh my more warm-hearted inclinations?  Fortunately, the Triune God anticipated this dilemma.

Which brings us back to defining what it means to confess Christian faith.  To avoid any confusion, perhaps I should have opened this piece by saying, “I am a Christ-believer” – a term coined by a venerable pastor and biblical scholar to differentiate the concrete from the wispy.  If Christ confirmed it, I have no reason to question it.  He said, “It is finished.”  He stood trial in our stead.  He bore the unfathomably difficult burden of taking on all of our insufficiencies, even down to the most blatantly self-serving and reprehensible acts imaginable.  He became the author of our eternal salvation in history’s only demonstration of love perfected.

I was walking the dog a few days ago and encountered some sweet neighborhood children I hadn’t seen in some time.  They called out to little Muñeca, and I approached to let them pet her.  After we exchanged basic information – our dogs’ names; how many siblings were in their household; their names – the oldest brother, Joshua, a poised and gracious nine-year-old, said, “Have a nice day.” And as I walked down their driveway toward the street, he called out, unselfconsciously, “God bless you!”

I almost cried.  “Thank you, and the same to you,” I called back. From the mouth of this babe had come my most treasured moment of the day.  God’s influence is like that, unpredictable and inexplicable. Only exposure to His Word can convey an understanding of what it means to be moved by the Holy Spirit.  The ultimate in mysteries.

What is not a mystery in the peace that comes to the Christ-believer in accepting the Gift that has no equal.  Some hymns come close to describing that peace, and some lay out in gruesome detail the price that was extracted to purchase it.  When I came upon these verses on Palm Sunday, my throat clamped tight with emotion and I could not continue:

“By thine hour of dire despair

By thine agony of prayer

By the cross, the nail, the thorn

Piercing spear and torturing scorn

By the gloom that veiled the skies

O’er the dreadful sacrifice…” 

Last Christmas I read the statement of an accomplished Christian journalist, who confessed to having lived a life of blatant, unrepentant sin in his early years.  As I’ve revealed in the past, I can identify.  My rediscovered faith gives me much comfort, but the singular message I would hope to witness to is this:  I know that my sins are forgiven.  I gratefully accept that I receive everlasting life through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, and I will not knowingly tarnish that golden offering by clinging to my guilt, yet the knowledge of my past actions will be with me as long as my memory holds.  And on occasion, when my weak flesh succumbs to fatigue or depressive thoughts, that memory, that shadow of shame,  can begin to feel like an immobilizing encumbrance.

Imagine then, I say to myself in moments of calmer reflection, the truly smothering weight of that burden multiplied a million-fold.  A trillion-fold.  Yet, He stepped willingly into being “wounded for our transgressions [and] crushed for our iniquities” and “upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His stripes we are healed.”  Isaiah 53:5

I once composed a hymn verse while walking under the crystal-blue dome of a perfect summer day.  On this Easter eve, I pray for the courage to follow the inspiration that led me to put the words to paper:

Stand up, stand up for Jesus

Your savior and your friend

Stand up, stand up for Jesus

Whose mercy has no end

He lived on earth to serve us

He died to set us free

Stand up, stand up for Jesus

He stood for you and me.

April 7, 2012 at 6:56 pm Leave a comment

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