Sunday, December 2, 2012

Pocket Change

     What does it mean to be rich?  After all, even chocolate milk can be rich.  Christmas season always seems to bring me to these introspective questions.  Am I rich?  When Jesus speaks to the rich, am I included?  Do labels such as, "rich in love" truly have meaning?
Paula pours the wine and we remember Christ's sacrifice
     Surely, I think, a rich person would be someone I would envy; therefore, I have cast about in my mind for someone I envy.  The truth is, I am not certain what it means to envy someone.  I do know that where jealousy denotes ill will, envy denotes a longing.  Yes, there is someone whose life details fill me with longing:  my mother's pastor, Paula.   I find myself intrigued by and drawn to her life.  The details and requirements of her life would keep me from living it, but the longing I feel could be equated to a benign envy, I think.
      You see, Pastor Paula lives a life of intentional poverty, singleness, and devotion to God and His people.  She lives in an impoverished neighborhood close to the church.  She remains single and gives her full attention to her flock of churchgoers and the people God sends her way.  One Sunday, Paula shared that many people come to her during the week, asking for some very small help.  Paula took to keeping five dollar bills on her person to hand to the people for their small needs.  One bill here, two or three there.  Paula lives on a tight budget, and she shared that she always ran out of money before the week was out.
My daughter changes the world $7 at a time.  Her club volunteered to man the
Operation Christmas Child distribution center for a weekend.
     This is how you change the world, five dollars at a time:  my mother was moved deeply by Paula's story.  She took to handing Paula a five dollar bill at the end of each Sunday service.  Soon enough, moved by the Holy Spirit, Mom was restless and wanted to do more.  She asked me what I thought she should do.  I simply suggested that she hand Paula two five dollar bills and see where the Holy Spirit led her from there.  She did so.
     As of this writing, and as far as I know, Mom has significantly increased her regular giving to the church; she has continued to increase her five dollar bill giving; she buys a goodly amount of food for needy children fed by a program through her church; and she is leading a ladies' group in a study of Crazy Love, by Frances Chan.   I see Mom's growing sensitivity to the movement of the Spirit, her desire to make the world more like the Kingdom of God, and I feel envy.  Mom has grown rich.  I want to be rich like that.  The Holy Spirit stirs within me.  I must act.

     Perhaps you will see me grow rich, and you will feel envy.  You may be intrigued by the details of my life.  The Holy Spirit may stir within you, and you may act.  The world will change a little bit.  You will become rich.  Perhaps you will move someone else to feel envy.  They will want to be rich, like you.  That is how we change the world, five dollars at a time.

This Episode's DIY
     I know that making hot cocoa with a mix is incredibly easy and fairly tasty, but have you ever read the ingredients in that stuff?  The small effort and amount of time you will invest in homemade cocoa is definitely worthwhile.  I think you will be as surprised as I was at how easy it is to make.  Here are two recipes I use.

Perfectly Chocolate Hot Cocoa (from Hershey's)
2 tbsp sugar*
2-3 tsp cocoa
dash salt
1 cup milk
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
Mix sugar, cocoa, and salt in a large mug.  Heat milk in microwave at HIGH 1 1/2 minutes or until hot.  Gradually add hot milk to cocoa mixture in mug, stirring until well blended.  Stir in vanilla.  Serves 1.                                                                                                             *I use sweetener, usually stevia.

Hot Cocoa for a Crowd
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/4 cups cocoa
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup hot water
1 gallon milk
1 tbsp vanilla extract
Combine sugar, cocoa and salt in 6-quart saucepan; gradually add water.  Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture boils.  Boil and stir 2 minutes.  Add milk.  Heat to serving temperature, stirring frequently.  Do not boil.  Remove from heat; stir in vanilla.  Serve hot.  Makes about 22 (6-oz) servings.  

      You could easily find advice online for mixing up the dry ingredients and keeping them on hand that way, I am certain.  We like to play with these recipes, adding coffee or liqueur or some such things.  The cocoa is incredibly delicious, and with the real milk in it, you are being nourished body and soul.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Waxing and Waning

My Henry, back in 2003.  He wasn't so sure he wanted any part of the night back then!  Now, all 3 of my children are night-owls like their mother.
     My natural tendencies are those of the night-owl.  Left to my own devices, I will stay up later and later, sleeping in later and later the next morning.  Eventually, I will settle at a 2 or 3am bedtime, awakening between 9 and 10am.  The problem, you see, is that the rest of the world refuses to adjust to my schedule.  By the time I have staggered around and gotten some coffee into my system, I am left with the distinct feeling that I have wasted my whole day.  Yes, "I have been one acquainted with the night."  (Click here to read this gorgeous poem by Robert Frost.)  I continue to struggle with my conflicting feelings.  On the one hand, I adore the quiet beauty of the night, the way its blanket of dark air embraces me, the selfish indulgence of the solitude.  On the other hand, I love being with my family and friends, and I prefer the efficiency of the early-to-bed-early-to-rise schedule.  The manager in me loves the day; the poet in me loves the night.
     Why are we humans so given to struggle?  Our entire history is a story of struggle.  God even named His people after struggle.  The Hebrew word Israel is said to mean "He struggles with God."  We struggle between selfishness and our desire to sacrifice for the good of others.  We struggle between our cravings and our desire for good health.  We struggle between our love of sunshine and our need for rain.  We even struggle with our envy of people who seem to have given up struggling.  In the spirit of poetry and struggle, I share with you a poem I have written about my recent struggle.  


by Donna Craig.  August, 2012

She packed up her life
To take it away
Her heart beats with joy
As she waits for the day
And I cry cry cry
I am dying inside.

We load up the car
With parts of my life
My last glimpse of my Bridget as we drove away from her dorm.
I miss her so much!
My heart in my throat
Her glee like a knife
And I dread, dread, dread
The road which lies ahead.

We leave her behind
She waves at the door
My eyes ache with strain
But I see her no more
They are dry, dry, dry
And I can't explain why.

We talk on the phone
The light in her face
My heart is at peace
She has found her own place
And I smile, smile, smile
They're just ours for a while.

     Since we are on the topic of struggle, I would also like to share with you that I have struggled between keeping this blog literary, and offering something practical to you.  I have decided to stop struggling, and to offer you a bit of each.  On the practical side, I would like to say that I have struggled a bit with the fact that we as a culture pay for professional services in an incredible number of areas of life.  Growing up, no one I knew ever paid someone to perform simple tasks such as washing a car (except for fundraisers), bathing a dog, painting your toenails, or making sweet tea.  In the brief time that it took me to reach the age of 44, I suddenly know hardly anyone who does these things for themselves.  Not only do all of my friends have perpetually perfect eyebrows, but also, they pay someone to create them! Then they tell me their budgets are tight.  Well, no wonder.  We have forgotten how to use a boxed cake mix.  
     My contribution to your sense of competence this week:  How to turn 15 minutes (including cleanup) into a pan of  Rice Krispie Treats.  A whole pan of them for less than $3.00.  And you have a better idea of what is in them.  Also, get your children involved, if you have them.  The kitchen is a wonderful place to bond, and they can easily take over this task once they learn and are old enough.  If you are thinking I am foolish for including such a simple and ubiquitous recipe in my blog, I hope you have never paid Keebler to make these treats for you!

Rice Krispie Treats
1/4 cup butter or margarine (I always use butter at home, never margarine)
1 normal bag of marshmallows
6 cups of crisped rice cereal (off-brand is great)
     Prepare a 9X11 pan by spraying pam on the bottom and sides.  Set aside.
     Place the marshmallows and butter (cut up a bit and scattered onto marshmallows) in a large microwave-safe bowl.  Microwave on high in 1-minute bursts.  Stir between bursts.  I usually only go 2 minutes in my powerful microwave, but three is normal.  The marshmallows will puff up, then melt when you stir them.  When they are a thick melty liquid, stir the cereal in quickly.  
My husband, brother, and sister-in-law try to look gangsta while eating
Rice Krispie Treats, with mixed results.  It's no easy feat.
     Dump mixture into pan.  Moisten your hands with cold water and press the cereal lightly into the pan to fill it up and be fairly smooth on top.  Cool and cut into smallish squares.  Wash the pans immediately (it's better to just have it over with).  Try not to eat them all in one sitting.  I put them in  cheap baggies so they are ready to go into lunch boxes.  What?  You don't make lunches?  Well, that is another blog altogether.
     This recipe is incredibly flexible.  You can experiment with different cereals, add frosting to the top, stir in chips (they'll get melty), etc.    Have fun!


Thursday, September 6, 2012

The Wayfarer

     Our town is filled with beautiful old architecture.  The houses in the downtown are all different, and rife with old Southern charm.  As I ate lunch yesterday, I gazed out of my window at the windows next door.  My eyes lingered on the antique glass, the peeling paint on the wood frames.  I adored the bricks, the angle of the roof, and the depth of the sills.  Eventually, my eyes caught sight of the vines growing up and around the windows.  The green plants contrasted with the red bricks.  The sight was captivating, but what occurred to me was the juxtaposition of the deliberate, well-planned and measured angles against the casual, ambling curve of the vines.
     There is something in  the eye that loves an angle, especially a well-built right angle (and, unfortunately, something in my knees and elbows that is attracted to them, too).  I will not suggest that we abandon angle-making; however, I do simply suggest that we intentionally practice the art of the free-form curve here and there.  No planning, no pattern, just flow.  Perhaps even allowing yourself to (gasp!) follow the Path of Least Resistance.
     Admit it:  there is something in a creek which feels so incredibly right.  I submit to you that the rightness is due to  an utter lack of stress.  A creek doesn't plow, persist, or assert itself.  A creek meanders, bubbles, and takes its time.  If something gets in its way, the creek goes around.  A creek adopts the temperature that the sun, air, and earth around it suggest.  No worries; no regrets.  Why not occasionally allow the creek to suggest the course of your day?  Make certain you have days when you wake up, meander outside for the paper, and say hi to the neighbors.  When they ask you what you are up to that day, say, "Oh, I don't know.  We'll see what the day brings."  
Niagara Falls, Ontario
     We pride ourselves on being busy.  How foolish!   Look at some pictures of yourself last time you took a real vacation, one where you were at a resort, or at least in a hotel.  One where you had no responsibilities.  Preferably, no kids along.  Look at your face.  I always look younger, happier, and incredibly at ease in those pictures.  I mentioned that fact to a friend, and she said, "Of course:  you were relaxed."  Even more, I was wayfaring.  I was moving in wanton curves, and I was beautiful, green, alive.  Like the vine growing up those deliberately perfect bricks.
     Most days I am the brick.  Some days, I am the vine.  LORD, please help me to be the vine more often.

"There was a man all alone; he had neither son nor brother.
There was no end to his toil,    yet his eyes were not content with his wealth.“For whom am I toiling,” he asked,    “and why am I depriving myself of enjoyment?”This too is meaningless—a miserable business!"  Ecclesiastes 4:8

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Child Support

Excuses to not blog:
1.  I just moved from AL to GA.
2.  We had eight house guests last weekend.
3.  Our new house is an old fixer-upper.
4.  My daughter grew up and moved to a college dorm in VA.

     Well, I could go on and on, but what is the point?  Instead, I will share one of my old writings with you.  I found it while I was unpacking.  (Yep, I'm still unpacking.  I will be for some months yet).  The article seemed appropriate, since I just dropped my oldest baby off at college this past weekend.
     Anyhow, I was unpacking, and I found some old articles I used to write for my church newsletter.  They were aimed at the youth group, and I called the column, "Youth Turn."  This particular article is about my youngest child.  I hope you enjoy the article, dated January 2004.

     Well, today is Henry's third birthday.  My baby is three.  I am all right with it!  Really!  I am!  Oh, dear...
     Henry has grown away from so many of his "baby ways."  He is potty-trained.  He drinks from a regular glass.  He speaks (and speaks, and speaks...) in paragraphs.  Most of all, Henry walks away from Mommy to play with other children.  I feel like a former smoker, standing there wondering what to do with my hands.  You kids don't realize how cruel you  are, walking away from us like that.  You are so focused on the path ahead of you.  
     Ah, but I am rambling.  This process is healthy.  It is called growth.  I remember when Henry was 6 months old; he was an incredibly fat and jolly baby.  At his check-up, the doctor pointed out to me that Henry was not yet supporting any weight on his legs.  She wanted to evaluate him in two weeks.  What fear she instilled in me!  What if Henry were developmentally delayed?  What if he wasn't...normal?  What a relief when, two weeks later, she pronounced him simply lazy!  What a relief to have a lazy but normal child!  She pointed out that supporting his substantial weight was a bigger challenge than most babies face.  We both laughed aloud--she with humor, I with relief.  
     Do I have a point?  Of course.  Check out this little tidbit from the word of God:  " is hard to explain because you are slow to learn.  In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God's word all over again.  You need milk, not solid food! ...solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.  Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity..." (Hebrews 5:11-6:1).  Well, that is a scathing remark.  Have you been in for an evaluation lately?  Be certain that you are supporting weight on those legs!  Get enough milk to grow strong, then move on!  Grow!  And don't worry.  Mama has plenty of other things to do.

     This article is dedicated to my daughter, Bridget, who has made me proud by needing me a little less with every year of her life.  Now she has left the nest and is doing exactly what I taught her to do:  break my heart by flying on her own.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Me vs Reality

     Ok, so I am 3 days behind on my blog this week.  Forgive me; moving in is hard work, and if I don't have quiet time, I have a hard time listening to the movement of the Spirit.  And I don't write.  Anyhow, I found this poem in my bedside table stuff while I was unpacking boxes.  I wrote it a couple of years ago, when I was feeling Bridget grow away from me, and when I was losing another young person from my life, even if he wasn't (technically) my own child.  It was hard to see him grow and go.  Now, with my daughter, Bridget, teetering on the edge of the nest, this poem feels especially apropos.  Fly, my baby B--fly!

These Ties Don't Bind

The hardest things to let go of
Are the ones I never held
The ones I grasped at
But never really caught.

The ones that I only thought
Truly belonged in my life
They were just shadows behind
The true life I lived.

And now the time has come.
I know you're free.
The hand releases, and
The heart must follow suit.

by Donna Craig

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Restless Leg Syndrome

     "It kinda disturbs me that you've been feeling restless about who you are," he said.  I suppose it would be confusing.  He is 17, and I am 43.  I was his teacher in youth small group.  Surely I should know exactly who Christ wants me to be?
     I used to be so certain of who I was.  I am an academic.  I am a wife and mother.  I am a youth minister.  I am a missionary.  I am...not sure.
     I miss that clarity of vision.  I miss that clarity deep down in a part of my soul which is plagued by a gnawing hunger.  I hunger for the Holy Spirit to speak clearly to me of straight paths and brightly-lit places.  I am 43, and bubbling up inside of me are new longings, new dreams.  These visions are vague, slippery.  I  awaken with them on the tip of my tongue, but they slip away before I can find my glasses and write them down.
     I get up in the mornings, get the kids to school, begin tidying up.  My stomach churns a bit.  I am dissatisfied.  I call an older woman for advice.  She assures me that Christ has called me to be a wife and mother, that its a high calling and pleasing to God.  Trust me, I am not a bored homemaker looking for a career.  I am a voyager seeking the best route.  Although I have no idea where that route may meander, I know its name:  The Footsteps of Christ.
     I want to dog Christ's heels so closely that I risk giving Him a flat tire.  I want to sell everything, take up my cross, and follow Him.  Instead, I fold my children's clean clothes, sigh, and get to making supper.  I indulge myself in small steps, perhaps not right on Jesus' heels, but still within a stone's throw.  I give money to those who ask.  I volunteer at charities.  I love people.  A lot.  I try to treat everyone as if they were more important than I am.  I watch to see where God is working, then I try to join in His work (thank you, Henry Blackaby, for that advice).  Step by step, we can leave our old selves behind.  Step by step, we are building a kingdom.  A kingdom that exists among us.  A beautiful city.
     I look him in the eyes and I say, "Well, restlessness is part of the Christian condition, since we are not of this world.  We should long for home.  If we get too comfortable here, we risk loving this world too much."  He agrees with me.  It's ok if I don't find the perfect place for myself here.  I know where my perfect place is, and I will follow my Leader all the way home.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Outside the Box

Jer retires from the USAF.  Aug. 2011
downtown Prattville.  Christmas 2006
     I am surrounded by boxes and the sound of packing tape.  "One last time, Lord.  One last time."  I am very tired.  I am not tired so much in my body, but in my spirit.  I am tired of leaving friends that I love, church families with whom I have bonded, neighbors I have befriended, schools which know and accept my children.  I am tired of learning my way around and wondering where to shop.  I am tired of leaving people and places which are a part of my life.
     "It's not very far; you can always come back and visit," they say with a sad smile.  Don't get me wrong; I can't resist that hopeful thought.  On the other hand, I am a seasoned mover.  I know that the day-to-day sharing of life with these people is over.  It cannot be recovered.  A visit will not make me feel better.  I know, with a sad sinking in my heart, that I am surrendering something which I will suffer without.  I am surrendering my happy life.  I will have to find another one.
     Once, in another place where I had found happiness, Jerry and I pulled up some old holly bushes.  We learned about taproots.  You see, the bushes had a large root from their centers which went straight down into the earth.  I believe they went to China.  Try as we might, we could neither dig up these roots nor pull them out.  I have no idea how far down they went because, eventually, we were forced to give up and just break them off.  It was the only way to remove them.  It is the only way I will leave Prattville.  Break me, Lord.  I cannot let go.
Christmas 2011, Autauga Creek and its
bridge in the background
     Oh, Prattville--how amazed I am at the happiness I have found here.  Once upon a time, I thought I could not surrender my life in Athens and learn to love Prattville.  Six years later, I cannot surrender Prattville.  Six years is a long time in a military life.  Until now, neither Jerry nor I had ever even lived in one place for five years.  When I moved here, my youngest child was starting kindergarden.  As I leave, my oldest child has graduated  high school and is leaving for college.  So much water under that bridge over Autauga Creek.  So much living.  Such a thick root.  We will have to break it, Lord.
Here we grew our own food,
Bridget, 2009
     The tape guns keep firing, straight into my soul.  So far, there are no exit wounds.  The pain keeps bouncing around inside of me, and I cry easily.  Bridget's friends keep stopping by to say good-bye, and the phone rings off the hook.  I remember that taproot, and the way the earth packed in around it.  The ground held to that root just as tightly as the root held to the ground.  Prattville will not let us go quietly.  Sometimes I think it would be easier for me if no one cared, if no one held onto me.  Just release me, and I will float away.  The truth is, I need to be clung to.  I need to know that somehow, for some people, Prattville just won't be the same without us.  There will be a big cavernous hole, with loose dirt falling and settling.  For a while, that empty hole will maintain its place, stubbornly clinging to its emptiness.  Perhaps, by the time the dirt settles and the earth fills in that hole, I will have found another happy life.  One last time, Lord.  One last time.

Some happy life moments from our 6 years in Prattville.
Henry and Jer check out our new house, May 2006

Henry eats dots at the Montgomery Biscuits game, July 06

Henry starts kindergarden.  Aug 06
my brother becomes a father Sept 2007
Henry ain't nothin' but a hound dog, Oct 2007
Henry rides his bike Jan 08
Bridget becomes a young woman.
Homecoming, 2008
we become part of a community-minded church,
and a new way of following Christ begins for us, 2008.
Below, the original members of our small group:  Groupski.
We bound our lives up in these people, and then they moved
away, breaking our hearts.  A bit of a turning of the tables for
military types!
Jer and I have lunch dates on Tues., since all of our kids
are in school.  2008

My mom marries Eddie 2009
We LOVE the parades in downtown Prattville!
Henry gets his bird, Sherbert 2009

We lead a youth small group in our home2009-2011
We fall in love with and "adopt" Willis, even though he has a
perfectly wonderful home!  Everyone loves the extra big
brother.  He's the 4th child we never had.
Snow after church, 2010.  Snow causes great excitement in AL!
Watching our children grow.  Here is Henry in a church Christmas
program, 2010

The Pride of Prattville Marching Band.  About 260 kids,
tons and tons of great fun.
We've been hosting and loving 4th of July celebrations here,
since Prattville really puts on a great show.

We host the Thanksgiving gathering of the clan,
which includes the annual football game
we enjoy simple family moments in our super-cool kitchen

                   Bridget gets accepted to Liberty University, her dream
              Sept 2011
Kevin rocks the percussion section 2012
Jer baptizes Henry.  Now all 3 of my children profess
Christ.  God is good.  2012

Bridget and Kevin are both in high school and ride to
school together.  2011-2012
Having two children in the band is twice the fun!
Kevin plays cymbals, 2011
Bridget and her Seekers run the Operation Christmas Child
distribution center for a whole weekend, after impressing the
lady in charge the year before.  2011

Seekers, B's Bible Study, is a screaming success (as many as 50 students
in attendance!)