Sunday, April 21, 2013

An Open Letter to My Daughter

Dear Bridget,
     Today the Holy Spirit revealed something wonderful to me:  I hate my life.  I know that sounds strange.  Please bear with me.
     I have been struggling for a long time now with frustration, anxiety, and bouts of depression.  I was frustrated when I spent days alone in the house;  I was frustrated when I had to take care of company.  I was frustrated if your Dad was home too much; I was frustrated when he was gone a lot.  I was frustrated almost all of the time.  I had anxiety attacks.  I got down and couldn't find any energy or joy.  Yet, through all of this, I loved my life.  I was grateful to God to have such wonderful children and a wonderful husband, a beautiful house and plenty of money.  Most of the time, I was happy with the decisions I had made in life.  So why was I struggling?
     Lately, I have been sinking into another spell of the blues.  I came up with so many excuses:  the recent move, the mysterious stomach pains, your growing up, my need to find a close friend in LaGrange, the chilly spring.  So many, many more.  Still, the confusing thing is that when I actually think about it, I have the things I've really sought:  children, marriage, old house, great church, etc. .  Today, I had one of those fits where I decide all I ever do is clean, and yet the house is never clean.  I began filling the donation boxes, as I usually do during these times.  I think the idea is solid:  if I didn't own so much stuff, I wouldn't have to spend so much time cleaning my stuff.
Love hurts.
     As I was working, I was talking to God.  One of the nice things about being home alone is that I am completely free to talk out loud to God.  I was telling God that I am so SICK of spending all of my time on meaningless labor.  I do dishes, laundry, floors, beds...meaningless, cyclical work.  Please don't try to explain how satisfied I should be.  I finally got so frustrated that I shouted to the Lord, "I HATE MY LIFE!  THERE!  I SAID IT!  I HATE MY LIFE!"
     As soon as the words were out, I felt a bit of peace come to my spirit.  That Still Small Voice said, "Good.  That is the first step.  Now, what did I tell you?"  My mind was immediately filled with scriptures:  Luke 14:26-28, and the story of Mary and Martha.
     In Luke 14, Jesus finds Himself followed by a large crowd.  As usual, Jesus reacts by separating the men from the boys, so to speak.  He says, "If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple.  Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.  For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it?"  Our culture teaches us that to love one's life is a virtue.  If I don't love my life, something is terribly wrong.  Today, the Holy Spirit said to me, "Finally.  You are finally ready to become My disciple."
     The hardest part of coming to this point of realization was coming to terms with my role as a woman.  Ever since I got saved at 18, the loving folks I did church with began teaching me to love being a homemaker, and to find fulfillment there.  I did.  I still love being a homemaker.  Nonetheless, I am not fulfilled by housework; nor do I feel that housework and childcare fulfill my calling as a disciple.  As a youth worker, I have heard countless speakers assure crowds of youth (of both genders) that God has a plan for their lives and a calling on them.  Somehow, I do not believe that that calling is to a sink full of dishes.  Nor even to childrearing.  I believe that, as we fulfill our Christian calling, we set the example for our children.  We also bring them along with us, so they can begin their own good work.  That is how a woman raises the next generation of Christians, not by pampering and protecting them behind the middle-class walls of American suburbs.  Walls which I have sometimes protected and pampered my children behind.
     I think a woman is just as called to discipleship as a man.  Like it or not, Jesus had female disciples who travelled with Him and supported Him financially (typically the job of a rabbi's disciples, see Luke 8:1-3).  Consider, also, the familiar story of Mary and Martha.  In Luke 10:  38-42, we see Martha keeping busy with household work.  Mary, on the other hand, was completely focused on Christ.  Martha complained that Mary wasn't helping with the work.  What did Jesus say?  "There is only one thing worth being concerned about.  Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her."  Boom.
The point of this letter is two-fold:

1.  Don't ever fall for the teaching that women are not as called as men.  Stay in the scriptures and in prayer.  You are an anointed woman,  as were many women in both the Old and New Testaments.  Act 2:18:  "Even on My bondslaves, both men and women, I will in those days pour forth of My Spirit, and they shall prophesy."
2.  Don't be sad that I hate my life.  Be happy for me!  I believe the wind is picking up.  Do you know the wind I am talking about?  I think you do.  And if you ever find yourself thinking, "I hate my life," don't despair.  Brace yourself.

     With all my heart, I love you, Bridget.  --Moma


What To Do With Grits

     My in-laws ain't from around here.  They live in Iowa.  Every time he has breakfast with us, my father-in-law asks, "What's a grit?"  Well, grits are ground corn.  They began as a cheap way to fill hungry bellies.  Lately, I see them on snooty foodie shows.  The grit has arrived.  Up for your consideration:  2 easy ways to use grits.  Note:  I only use regular grits.  No quick grits.  NO instant grits.
     I frequently serve grits as a quick-and-easy weekday breakfast.  Mix 1/2 cup grits and 2 cups water in a large microwaveable bowl.  The bowl should seem a bit ridiculously large because the water will bubble up while the grits cook.  Throw in some salt, depending on how salty you like your food.  I add pepper, too.  Cook it 10 minutes on power level 6.  You may need to adjust these settings for your microwave and your taste in grits.  I like mine thick, not watery.  While the grits cook, get out an egg, grated cheese, butter, and milk.  Remove the bowl from the microwave when it finishes, and immediately stir in one raw egg, while the grits are still burning hot.  They will cook the egg, but you can micro it a little longer if you are the nervous sort.  Next, add 1-2 tbsp butter, 1/4-1/2 cup grated cheese, and some milk if it gets too thick.  The purpose of these additions is to enrich the grits with nutrition, calories, and flavor.  My boys don't eat much in the morning, so I pump up the calories.  And they are skinny.  When I make grits for myself, I usually leave out the butter, and just add cheese or an egg.  This recipe serves 3 if they aren't big eaters.  2 if they are.
     While grits are wonderful in the morning, they are becoming increasingly popular as a dinner dish.  Shrimp and grits is a classic, and I have my own quick-as-a-flash version to share with you.  First off, I try to put a bag of dried red beans, a chopped onion, and 8 cups water in the crock pot in the morning.  Let it cook all day on low.  Or the first few hours on high if you will be around to change it to low, and you don't get them in till noon.  Otherwise, canned red beans are fine.  You will need:
Red beans, one bag or 3 cans
1 c grits
4 c water
3 tbsp butter.  Accept no substitutes (like margarine) but olive oil is fine.
bag of pre-cooked shrimp.  I used large, tail-on.  You don't need pre-cooked, really.  I used what I had. Thaw if frozen.
3 tbsp paprika, to taste
Jane's crazy mixed-up pepper.  Or any pepper blend you like.
     Combine the grits and water in that big bowl.  Microwave 13-15 min, power level 6.  Meanwhile, melt the butter in a medium frying pan on high heat.  Drain any water from the shrimp and add them to the pan.  Sprinkle on paprika, salt to taste, and pepper to taste.  Heat the beans if they are canned.  Cook the shrimp until the paprika thickens around them.  Remove from heat.
     Put a serving of grits in a shallow bowl, top with a scoop of beans, and top again with shrimp and sauce.  Enjoy.   Makes about 4 servings.

Bridget loves grits.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Only Human

     Occasionally, I am a fantastic success as a mother.  Occasionally, I am a miserable failure as a mother.  Usually, I am somewhere in between those two extremes.  An old friend and I used to phone each other when we screwed up and say, "Well, I guess I'm not up for Mother of the Year this year."  That's ok.  I want my children to know that I am imperfect, and that I still struggle toward the image of Christ.  I want them to know my imperfection because they are also imperfect.  Children need to know that their humanity, and their failures, are ok.  That they are still amazingly loved.
     Bridget, my oldest, had a bit of the perfectionist in her as a child.  My heart broke when I would see her dissatisfaction with her artwork.  I made up a little game we would play to relax her.  I would say, "Who is perfect?" And she would reply, "God."  Then I would say, "And who makes art?"  To which she would reply, "Humans."  I would say, "So, should art be perfect?"  And she would say, "No, ma'am."  Generally, Bridget would be able to enjoy her artistic experience after that reminder.  
     As parents, we need to evaluate modern trends for ourselves.  When I look at the drive to convince every child that he is perfect, a hero, and an extra-special winner, I believe we are failing to be honest with them.  Most people are blissfully average.  How can a society function if everyone believes he was born to be a leader?  When children fail to live up to our lofty and unrealistic expectations, what can they tell themselves?  In real life, not everyone gets a trophy.  Leadership generally falls to those who stand out as hard workers, not to those who believe that being special is their birthright.  A child can always come to her mother for love and admiration.  However, I want my children to leave my home aware of the fact that normalcy is perfectly acceptable, and even enjoyable.  If they want me to be proud, they can be Godly men and women, and unselfish spouses if they marry.   Anything more is gravy.
     All that said, I still struggle with my seemingly incessant failings as a mother.  As Jerry and I go through our foster parenting classes, I find myself occasionally dwelling on how insufficient I am sure I will be.  Today, God gave me a gentle reminder of how little He has demanded of me in the formation of my three astonishing children.  We have been reading a portion of The Book of Three each morning before school, but today we had rushed out of the house slightly late.  As we piled into the car, with Kevin driving, I said, "Since we didn't have time to read before we left the house, we will subject Michael to our reading time this morning."  Michael is a neighbor boy who rides to school with us.  
     Henry, a bit embarrassed, said, "My mom reads to us in the mornings."  There was a moment of silence.  I wondered if I had made a mistake.  Then I heard Michael's quiet voice in the back.
     Perhaps, just perhaps, I am just good enough.  And that is ok.
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How to do Lent (When Your Church Doesn't)

     Although we have never been part of  a church that recognizes the Lenten season, we feel that it is incredibly important for Christians to at least recognize Holy Week.  Why do we devote a month to Christmas, yet only a day to Easter, the holiest day of the year?  In case you would like to make much of this holy time of year, here are some of our practices. 
  • We begin on Ash Wednesday.  Some years, Jerry will anoint our foreheads with oil or ashes, and we will pray together.  Other years, we simply read about Christ's temptation (eg. Luke 4: 1-13) and discuss our lenten sacrifices.  
  • On Sundays, we have special scripture readings.  We choose scriptures which highlight Christ's life and ministry, such as Luke 5:29-32.  This year, we also made a crown of thorns of sorts, using a twig wreath set in the middle of the table with a jar of toothpicks in the middle.  Whenever the Spirit shows us a sin we've committed, we quietly go to the crown and add a thorn.  
  • We make an Easter garden.  I got this idea from Pinterest.  I found two wonderful websites for information:
our garden, pre-sprouts
Ours looks more like the second but is carried out like the first.  We finish with a butterfly and scriptures on the empty (now open) tomb on Easter morn.  

  • Put palm branches on your walkway on Palm Sunday, or just each carry one to church.  Bring some for friends if you'd like!  People love to join a celebration.
  • We have done a family Maundy Thursday celebration for several years now.  Jerry serves us the Lord's Supper (communion), and reads the last supper scriptures to us, where Jesus washes the feet of the disciples.  The Lord's Supper is shared as it goes along with the scripture.  We use pita bread and real wine, but you can use Wonder bread and juice if you want!  We share a large glass, and the whole thing is done by candle light.  It all feels so holy...the kids are mesmerized, even as teenagers.  Last year, some dear friends joined us, making the whole thing that much holier.  What a gift!
  • This year, I will be trying some ideas from Get A Sense of the Resurrection, on this website: .  I am especially excited about the diffusers to illustrate the story of the woman anointing Christ's feet with perfume.
  • On Easter, we go to church in the morning, enjoy a meal with the extended family, and settle in for the day.  That evening, we do Resurrection Eggs.  We use a set I made myself, using ideas I collected online from researching several sets.  I suggest you make a personalized set, too.  However, any set is better than none!  
Why do you search for the Living among the dead?  He is not here, He has risen! (Luke 24:5-6)


Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Christian Bipolarity

     Please don't ridicule me or call me names for what I am about to share.  I feel certain that I cannot be alone in these feelings, yet I am struggling to find the words to express them.  You see, I am caught between two polar positions in my walk with Christ.
     On the one hand, I am yearning to give more.  I want Christ to make me His hands on this earth.  I want to extend myself to change the lives of others, for the better.  I long to sacrifice my own comfort in order to take the good news of Christ to the hurting and needy people of this world.  I am sometimes disgusted by the luxury in which I live.  I am occasionally disappointed in my children's addiction to the comforts of this American life.  Comforts which I have taught them to crave.
     On the other hand, I am terrified to lose my iron grip on those comforts.  I don't want to give up my stuff.  I love my iPhone.  Yes, I said, "love," and I meant it.  I am happy here in my middle-class suburb, confident that the drinking water will not leave parasites in my children's bellies.  Can't I just be grateful that God has chosen to give these good gifts to me?
     So, my dilemma boils down to the following:                 

                   1.  I long to sacrifice my comfort in service to Christ.
        2.  I am terrified of being asked to give up my creature comforts.
     What can I do?  How can I relieve the tension between these desires warring within me?  I have decided on my New Year's resolution.  I am going to keep a journal of all of the services and sacrifices Christ asks of me.  You see, my husband and I try to always be alert and open to opportunities to work for the Lord.  We pick up hitchhikers, replace flat tires, pay overdue bills, support children in other countries, support missionaries, etc.  We do whatever work Jesus puts before us, as much as seems possible.  I'll admit, sometimes we fail to notice opportunities, and sometimes we just get lazy.  I figure, though, that a journal will help me to see more clearly where Jesus is leading me.  And to run fast enough to dog His glorious heels.  
     Oh, Lord, lead me on.

     I have noticed that buying sweet tea is now considered the norm.  Why?  This quick-and-easy-to-make Southern beverage is SO much better homemade.  You can customize it to your tastes and needs.  And, trust me, there is nothing like freshly-brewed sweet tea.  I can give you the basics.  I suggest you make it, see how you like it, and tweak it a bit each time you make it until it is perfect.

Sweet Tea
4 or 5 family size (large) tea bags
small pot (saucepan)
1-2 cups sugar, or equivalent sweetener
1-gallon jar or pitcher

Fill your small saucepan/pot with water.  Bring it to a boil on high heat.  Turn off the burner and add your tea bags.   Leave to steep 5 minutes.  Meanwhile, put the pitcher down in your sink.  Fill about 3" with water and stir in the sugar until it dissolves. 

 Keeping the tea bags in the pot, pour the steeped tea into the pitcher.  Refill the pot with cold water.  More flavor will seep from the tea bags into this fresh water, so keep the tea bags in the pot throughout this process.  Pour the water into the tea.  

Keep refilling the pot and adding the water to the tea until you have a gallon.  Enjoy over ice while it is still warm.  Must be refrigerated after a while.  If you leave it on the counter overnight, it gets sour.  

Tweaks:  How sweet the tea should be is very subjective.  2 cups is very sweet, like a traditional Southern restaurant.  I use two regular and two decaf tea bags, plus 4 green tea bags.  I always use Lipton.  Some people take the water off the burner and wait for all boiling to stop before adding the tea bags.  Some people actually boil the bags.  I take a middle road.  I leave the pot on the hot burner, turn off the burner, and add the bags.  Boiling increases the strength of the flavor but adds a bit of bitterness.  Sugar counteracts bitterness though.  This is a matter of taste.  I suggest you try the middle road and move in whichever direction your tastebuds require.  You can also alter the length of steeping time.  I personally prefer a glass pitcher or jar for storage.  I like drinks in glass.  You may prefer the durability of plastic.  I use stevia to sweeten my tea.  Many people don't like the taste of stevia.  At any rate, I hope you will try and enjoy this traditional beverage, which is filled with antioxidants.  And so much more elegant than soda.  Happy sipping!