Monday, September 30, 2013

Hope for Misguided Fanatics

Last week, our son got a huge stack of homework from his violin teacher, Mrs. O. Mostly scales and arpeggios, but also some sheet music, none of them familiar classics.  

Not being a musician myself, every day I am mystified by his ability to look at a piece of paper and convert these dots, squiggles and their particular locations on the lines into anything even remotely resembling music. Going beyond that and playing something that is actually recognizable and enjoyable using four wire strings and a horse tail and  we have moved into a realm of geniuses. Every kid that plays in his orchestra is a genius in my book.

This morning, however, he put his best effort into a particular piece, but what came out of his violin sounded... well certainly not enjoyable and definitely unrecognizable. It was clear to both of us that he was missing something and that he needed help.

So, I went on YouTube and found the same piece played quite decently by a young man who obviously knew what he was doing. I watched my son watch intently  the boy in the video and when the last note was played the light bulb was on:

Mom, I’ve been doing it all wrong! This piece - I’ve been practicing it all wrong.

Apostle Paul found himself in a similar situation when he bumped into Jesus on the road to Damascus.  

All his life he practiced his piece faithfully, diligently, even with passion and zeal. He paid careful attention to every note and every measure. He was convinced that he was right but he got it all wrong! He completely missed the music! He was a meticulous observer of everything set down in God’s law Book, became its strict and devout adherent,  a fiery defender of the purity of his religion, but when he encountered God in human flesh, he saw Him as a heretic?!! He wanted to kill Him!

It took meeting Jesus face-to-face for this zealous musician to recognize that all his effort in studying and practicing his life music, his passion and his determination completely missed the point. The encounter, however, forever changed Paul's life, its chords transcending centuries and reaching our ears today.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Yardsticks Meet Labels

As if measuring up is not enough, we add labels to it.  The other day my daughter came home from school with a question for her brother:

Are you a jock? Or popular? Or geek? Or nerd?

My son proceeded to answer the question by saying,

I know for sure that I am not… which left his selection of labels very limited and not extremely flattering.

The labels continue to follow us all the way into adulthood, describe us, even define us. 

The apostle Paul had an exhaustive array of impressive labels:

…a legitimate birth,…
…circumcised on the eighth day…
… an Israelite from the elite tribe of Benjamin…
…a strict and devout adherent to God’s law…
…a fiery defender of the purity of my religion, even to the point of persecuting the church…
…a meticulous observer of everything set down in God’s law Book. Philippians 3:5-6

What a pedigree! Born in the right family with no skeletons in the closet; studied at  prestigious schools; got his masters and PhD, climbing up the ladder of success…

Paul had everything going for him.  His heritage, his life opportunities, his education, his career… As far as measuring up, he met and exceeded all expectations.  One might call him an… overachiever, perhaps?

But… there comes a but in Paul’s trajectory. 

Friday, September 27, 2013

The Great Dilemma

This week, as if to remind me of the world of yardsticks that we live in, I was shown this video not once but twice. First time at the Open House in our daughter’s elementary and the second time, in our son’s middle school. 'Our children need to get - really get - this message' is what the educators are conveying.

Like it or not, life is full of measuring sticks. How smart we are, how fast we are... how well we can -you know - compete.

Before we jump too hard on our school system, I must give the credit to the creators of the video for being well… you know… honest… perhaps even blunt. For not everyone has the courage to put some of our world's realities in such subtle terms.

My intention is not to make this into a debate about Common Core Standards and public school education. Many parents put their children in private schools or home-school for the very same reason – to increase their children’s competitive edge in a brutally competitive world.

Churches and non-profits are not exempt. In fact, sometimes we are the worst of the bunch, often imposing impossible spiritual standards of perfection in the name of faith in the perfect God.  I admit it, Guilty as charged. 

Incidentally, a couple of days ago, sandwiched between two Open Houses, I come across the following video.  

So, today I am scratching my head. For, this is the dilemma each of us has to wrestle with...

Which message is true?

Which message do I say I believe as true?

Which message do I tell my children to believe?

But, most importantly,

Which message do I broadcast, not just by what I say and write, but by the way I live my life?

Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Impossible Shifting Yardstick

But, for some reason, more often than not, all I see is the footprint.

The mess left on my driveway.

I don’t see a whole person, visible and invisible, body and soul, heart and spirit,  but a depersonalized interruption and disruption to my little life and my little world. 

As if the God of heaven and earth who created both of us, the God who cleans every shore of every ocean, not once but twice a day can not help me clean up this speck of dust left on the sidewalk!

And rather than being in awe at the marvel and the mystery of this human being behind the footprint - the amazingly intricate body which is only a fitting container for the amazingly intricate soul which is just an outer court for the inner room where the Spirit of the living God resides… all I see is a... footprint?

And having lost sight of the beauty and the glory, all that is left is a crooked yardstick to check how we measure up. 

Not enough. 

Too much. 

Too tall.

Too short.

Too fat.  

Too skinny. 

Too organized. 

Too spontaneous.  

Too cynical.  

Too gullible. 

Too spiritual. 

Too carnal. 

Too emotional. Too logical. Too talkative.  Too quiet.  Too lazy.  Too busy.  Too lenient.  Too judgmental.

Too much... not enough... too much... not enough... not enough...

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

What a Pharisee Sees

I stare at the sign for about eight and a half hours.

Master Builder. Master Builder.... The Master Builder.

Then I slowly turn around and look at the footprints.

Prints. Of feet. 

Big feet.

Little feet.

I think of this house that we call our home.

The place where we hang mirrors, and family photos and children’s artwork on the walls. The place where we cook and eat. Sleep and play. Make love and pray. Read and work. Watch America's Funniest Home Videos and 60 minutes, The Avengers and Ratatouille, How to Train Your Dragon and Up.

This is where we grow cabbage, bury pets, grieve our losses, heal our broken bodies and broken hearts.

Where we touch and feel the love of God by tickling the feet and clipping the toenails. Where we learn to listen and wait, ask questions and fight fair; have fun and clean up our messes after we had fun. The place where the multicolored grace of God, the rich texture of God's Word takes on tangible forms through hospitality and solitude, beauty and pain, exhaustion and rest, heartbreak and forgiveness.

The place that on some days is the shelter from the storm, and on others becomes the eye of a hurricane and a center of a tornado and a tsunami all at once.

This house, designed and built by somebody, is so much more than its driveway - dirty, clean and everything in-between.

Just as there is more, so much more to this footprint and the person that left it behind than the speck of dirt left on the sidewalk. 

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Making of a Pharisee - When the Means Become the End

In the days that follow, I notice every splat, speck of dirt, muddy footprint left on the clean surface.  It is impossible to keep up with the steady flow of filth invading our property. I feel quite overwhelmed and must go for a walk to clear my head.  As I go around the neighborhood, I can’t help but notice the checkered condition of the driveways on our street.

This one is clean.



Dirty. Clean.  Dirty.  Dirty. OMG – this one is a health hazard!

Never before have I noticed any of this, and now I am doing it without even trying! It’s coming to me quite naturally. Before I know it I’ve become the self-appointed neighborhood driveway police. The moral judgment attached to the assessment goes without saying. 
Clean – good. 

Dirty – bad.

Health hazard – very, very bad.

I get back home, feeling worse than before I left.

What’s wrong with me?!!! I wonder, my eyes peeled to the ground. I am at my front door, hand on the knob when my eyes meet the seal unearthed several weeks ago from under the decades thick layers of grime. 

Master Builder 

Monday, September 23, 2013

Target Practice

I put away the cleaning gear, relieved that’s behind me.  Now I can sit down and enjoy the clean driveway for the rest of my life. I pull the lawn chair and with a glass of lemonade in hand get ready to relax and soak in the view…

Suddenly a flock of birds flies out of nowhere and uses my driveway for their target practice.

Splat! Splat! Splat!

In horror I watch the rain shower of bird droppings land on my freshly clean concrete.

As if that wasn’t enough, they swoop around and perfect their aim in rapid succession, this time at the flailing woman in the center of the driveway.

Splat, splat, splat, splat, splat!!!!

Not only is my used-to-be-clean driveway covered in bird poop. I myself am positively dripping with damned creatures’ droppings.

I watch them fly away carefree, their messy burden left behind for me to shovel.

The rest of that afternoon I spend raking the mess, cursing the birds under my breath.  Once the order is restored, I take three consecutive showers and crash too tired and grossed out to have dinner.

Laying awake that night I wonder if my glow-in-the-dark driveway has special attraction for the bird target practices, or has this been going on all along and I just never noticed it before. 

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Don't Be a Mosquito

Mom, why did God make mosquitoes?

Here we go again, I think, as I brace myself for yet another stab at the theological conundrum as it relates to  the purpose for the existence of the blood-sucking insect.

Hmmm… food for the frogs?  I suggest tentatively, sensing that the most obvious, pragmatic answer might not satisfy my pint-size theologian.  

But, frogs can eat flies… they don’t need mosquitoes.

That would be like saying, Well, you don’t need ice-cream – you can eat rice all the time. Perhaps, frogs need tasty snacks and a little variety just like we do.

That’s not helping, Mom!  Scratch, scratch, scratch.

How about this?  Maybe God made mosquitoes to show us how annoying the constant buz-buz-buzzzing of their chattering wings can be… now, that makes sense to me!


Well, that didn't go over too well. 

Suddenly I remember a tiny sting of an unkind word I heard earlier this morning.  It was sooo small.  So seemingly insignificant. But I couldn’t shake it off.  I couldn’t just move on. It kept itching and itching.  And I kept scratching and scratching… until there was a big red welt on my mind and heart.  Just like after a mosquito bite!
And in that moment I realize that sometimes it’s not the big and the earth-shattering things that ruin our days. Sometimes it’s the tiny mosquito bites – a harsh word, an unkind look.  It may seem small and petty to even register it… And when it comes from me, I can easily justify it by a long day, and a stressful week. But, truth is, it can sting and it can hurt. And the itching can last well beyond the momentary bite.

And the little critter becomes a mirror I don't necessarily want to face... but one thing I do know.  I don’t want to be a mosquito!

Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. Ephesians 4:29

Friday, September 20, 2013

Finishing Well

Starting was easy.  It was exciting and instantly rewarding.  I could see the immediate, dramatic results of my labor.  The layers of filth were peeled away and washed out simultaneously under the laser-sharp stream of water. The sparkling clean, glow-in-the-dark driveway was unearthed from underneath the grime. Anyone could see it.  The change was startling and being able to make it happen was fun! Maybe too much fun...

Then the slicing pain put a stop to all the fun. The work was suspended for several weeks, other things taking priority. 

My toe is healed  now – valuable lessons learned, I hope - but I am left without excuse. 

The novelty, however, has worn off and I feel no adrenaline rush at the thought of dragging the hose and the pressure washer and finishing what I started.  Suddenly there seems to be nothing attractive about continuing the work – it’s a chore. The most obvious, the most visible areas are done.  I want to say,

It’s good enough.

Why bother?

Nobody cares.

I find myself in that place often.  My garage testifies that I am good at starting.  But there is a lot of unfinished business littering my life, ignored once the thrill of the new beginning wears off.

Finishing well is hard.

There is a long, exhausting, drudgerious path between the exciting new beginning and the finish line.

Some days it's a major victory just getting out of bed. Placing one foot in front of the other.




But, it is the finish line that matters.

The end of a matter is better than its beginning; Patience of spirit is better than haughtiness of spirit. Ecclesiastes 7:8 

For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised. Hebrews 10:36

... let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. Hebrews 12:1-3

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Your Help is Hurting

It’s not like I didn’t know.  In my head I knew that I could get hurt.  I even warned others about the danger.  But that day, all this wonderful head knowledge sunk down with slicing pain into my toe. So I left off the pressure washing unfinished.  A bleeding toe put an end to it. 

The next day, the bleeding toe turned into an infected toe that required antibiotic treatment. Then I learned that a swollen, twice-enlarged toe is an open invitation for further traumatization. 

I tried to take it easy.  I wasn’t mowing or weed-wacking or using a chain-saw or anything like that.  I just puttered around the house and yard, shuffling my feet because I couldn't simply sit still. 

Then, there was a collision with the rusted leg of a rod iron patio chair.

Immediately after that, a run-in into a door jamb.

Later that day, I tripped over it with my other foot (?!), lost balance and bumped into my son who in turn stepped on it as he was trying to avoid stepping on it.

Avoiding added injury became the hardest part of the healing process. 

Of course, I can’t expect inanimate objects to get out of my way to keep me from injuring myself further.  Nor do I want people in my life to feel like they have to walk on eggshells in fear that something they innocently do may cause aggravated retraumatization.

Day in, day out, however, I could watch  the amazing work of regeneration unfolding before my very eyes, my injured toe  healing from the inside out.  

I couldn’t will it.  

I couldn’t ‘just make it happen’.  

But, I learned that I can assist (mainly by staying out of the way) or hinder (by trying to be useful!) this miraculous process even though I am powerless to effect it.  

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Virtually Real

Mom, did you know that you can make a lot of spiritual connections in MINECRAFT?, announces our resident MINECRAFT addict sporting a perfectly choreographed straight face.

Now, that’s a new angle, I think to myself admiring his persistence.

For years now my children have been trying to convince me of the validity of their single-minded obsession with the popular video game.

EVERYBODY plays it. 

TIME magazine has a story on it.

Popular Science editor recommends it.

World News claims its therapeutic value.

I try to stay open-minded. Honestly I do. I even caved in and bought the MINECRAFT pocket edition app for the iPad. But I still find major loopholes in almost every argument they’ve used to build their case for more playing time. By bringing up ‘spirituality’ they’ve stooped to a new level of manipulation, I didn’t quite expect yet.
Oh, really? I pretend not to see through his contrived innocence. How’s that so?

Well, there are stars, and the Moon, and the Sun...

I glare at him, clearly not impressed.  I decide to bring it up a notch and shorten his misery.

Who’s God then?  I am convinced he overlooked the key element.

Notch, he answers calmly.

Notch?!!! Notch who?!!  It’s my turn to be stumped. I’ve heard of Enderman, and I’ve heard of Steve. I’ve heard of Ocelots and Zombies and Creepers, but I’ve never heard of Notch.

Mo-oom! He is annoyed, as if this is a matter of universal knowledge. He is the CREATOR  of the game. He invented MINECRAFT. He is the real world real person - Markus Alexej Persson but he goes by Notch.  And you know what’s the best part about him?

I have no clue.

The BEST  part is that sometimes he actually enters the world he created and plays right along the rest of us. 

And the Word became flesh and lived among us. John 1:14

Monday, September 16, 2013

The Epilogue

Today there is a mixing bowl on the counter and the cookbook is open to the familiar page. I already know the recipe, but now I realize there is so much more to knowing than the words on the page.  I even acquired the taste for measure and order, timing and balance!  And I don’t think that creativity has been diminished by it in any way. I understand now that there is nothing simple in three simple ingredients and how you mix them together.

Like there is nothing simple in faith… hope… and love.  And how they get mixed together in the mixing bowl of life.

I want to pick up the phone and call my mother-in-law. Make a pie together.

But I know I will never make another peach pie with Mom here again.

For she is ready to enter another kitchen and make heavenly pies with Jesus.  It could be days. Perhaps weeks. We are saying our good-byes.

I think of that summer when our son turned the knob on the stove and incinerated the first peach pie. The memory is sweet.  And the memory is bitter.

Sweet like the peach pie filling.

Bitter like all good-byes are bitter. No matter how inevitable they are.  No matter how expected.  No matter how much we try to prepare for them.

And in each goodbye the ache of emptiness left behind lingers as if to remind us that our reach here indeed exceeds our grasp… that we are made for more… that the best pies here are just a foreshadowing of something so much more infinitely better…

…Do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope… I Thessalonians 4:13-14

Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. John 14:1-3

And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love. I Corinthians 13:13

Friday, September 13, 2013

Never Say Never

Seeing the work of my hands – the BEST work of my hands – go up in flames like that… well, there are no words to describe how it felt.  The waves of nausea morphed into denial which morphed into rage that morphed into grief that finally morphed into deep depression which settled down like a chain around my neck. I resign myself to the terrible reality as my new 'normal'.

I will never make another pie ever again. I know it.

Figuring out what caused the oven to turn into pie incinerator helps a little. And it doesn’t. 

The feeling, of course, eventually begins to wear off. I realize I must learn to live in a world that sometimes incinerates your best work without becoming paranoid of every toaster oven. This is a lot more difficult than I could ever have anticipated. But  jumping out of your seat every time somebody lights a scented candle is no way to live either. 

By the time my husband’s birthday rolls around, I decide that he is worth going out on a limb again.

Back in Florida, I make a long-distance call to my mother-in-law in California and put her on the speaker phone. She guides me step by step by step.

That evening I pull out an unprecedented surprise for our small family.

You made this?!!! My children’s eyes are about to pop out of their sockets. Did you cheat? Did you cheat at all?

Nope. No cheating. I don’t think the call quite qualifies as cheating. All from scratch.

When the last of the crumbs are licked along with melted vanilla ice cream, I get the best compliment I could ever dream of.

Not bad. Not bad.  Of course, not quite like Mom’s but pretty darn close. Perhaps now you can try to make her famous Swiss cheese souffle...

Cheese soufflee?!!! Not the cheese soufflee!!!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Up in Flames

The dough in my hand is soft and stretchy. It miraculously stays together when I fold it in half and slip it inside the pie pan. The peaches are ripe and juicy. The smell of cinnamon fills the air.  As we slide the pan inside the preheated oven I feel like I want to cry and laugh at the same time.

The cookbook is covered with a layer of flour, the words barely visible.  But what I clearly see now is that there is more to cooking than reading or even memorizing the recipe, attending the cooking workshops and frequenting the seminars. There is a mystery in blending three simple ingredients together, an art and a science which must be practiced alongside an undaunted master cook. I know I've changed.  I may not be a Paganini but I am not a Frankenstein with a bludgeon any more.

My mother-in-law looks like a snowman. This is so unlike everything I used to think of her, namely Miss Manners meets Martha Stewart meets Betty Crocker meets Mother Goose. I had no idea how spunky, tenacious, fun, funny, creative… and yes, even crazy (for only a crazy person would even think of trying to teach me to bake) she is. Blend it all together and you get…

 Shoot!  My ears tingle from sheer shock, for I never heard my mother-in-law swear like that before.  This must be really really bad.

Shoot! Shoot! She says it again and again as she opens the oven door and thick, billowing smoke pours into the kitchen.  She yanks the incinerated pie out and throws it on the counter at the same time as the fire alarm kicks in.

I guess we’ll have to call this one “The Burnt Offering By Fire to the Lord!” she shouts over the noise and runs to open the windows.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Key Step - When You Stop Counting

We are enveloped in the cloud of flour I can hardly see the tip of my nose. The knee-deep drifts have moved out of the kitchen and spread through the rest of the house, some spilling into the sidewalk and the driveway.  Dad is on the phone with a NSA agent, trying to explain that it’s only his wife teaching his daughter-in-law how to make a pie. That’s all.  No international conspiracy. No subversive activities aimed at creating artificial shortages and price gouging.  

In the midst of the chaos, my mother-in-law doesn’t seem to be phased at all by the colossal mess we created.  In fact, she appears to be completely deaf and blind to it. This is very strange, because anyone who knows her is fully aware of her impeccable housekeeping habits.  Polished silver, glistening crystal, the works.  

As I look at her through the thick flour fog, a thought suddenly occurs to me, something I never thought of before.  The thought is so preposterous, I dismiss it right away.  And yet, I can’t get rid of it… the harder I try, the faster it comes back to me.

What if… what if this is not about…  making the pie… at all? What if the whole point is...?

I think we are finally getting somewhere, she wipes the flour off her face with her elbow, beaming. 

But from the way she said it I am not quite sure if she is referring to the dough in my hands or she just read my mind.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Step Five Through 368 - The Mastery of the Mystery

By the end of the afternoon we run out of flour and send Dad to the store.  He hauls a 50 pound bag on his shoulder and mutters something about General Mills stock. We run out of Crisco the following morning and are again low on flour. That evening, The Nightly Business Report has a story on sudden, inexplicable increase in demand of flour on world market which sent General Mills stock skyrocketing.  The U.S. blames the artificial shortage on China. China blames the U.S. on price gouging of Crisco. Russians remain uninvolved fearing they might tip the scale. The United Nations calls for an emergency session to discuss the crisis.  Al Gore says it’s all because of the global warming.

In meanwhile, my mother-in-law and I are snowed in, wading through three feet of flour in her kitchen. Not only is she not deterred.  She seems positively energized by all the ways I've taught her how NOT to work the pie dough.  When the 34th batch got thrown into the garbage, she started taking notes. I think she is planning on publishing a book titled 368 Ways to Ruin a Perfect Batch of Dough. I don’t know if I should be proud or embarrassed that my name will be in the credits. I hope we recuperate some of the cost from the sales of the book.  She laughs at me and says that I worry too much and that it's all worth it. 

My mother-in-law is not the only one learning. I too am discovering a lot. Even I am amazed that the mastery of basics – three simple ingredients in all – can contain so many screw-ups.  But, with every failure I feel like I am making progress... I feel I am an inch… well, a fraction of a millimeter – closer to something borderline edible.  

I can’t explain it, but it seems like the more I fail, the more hope I receive. It's really weird. And have no idea where it’s all coming from. 

Monday, September 09, 2013

Step Four - Quitting is NOT an Option

Undeterred by my whining, she slips the apron over my head and ties the bow behind. I get the flour, she gets the large container of CRISCO.

Two cups. She says, as I dip the measuring cup in the dinged enamel pot.

See, that’s what I don’t like about cookbooks and recipes – use this much of this and that much of that. Mix this together but don’t mix that together. It’s too limiting.  I am a spontaneous, creative type.  All this measuring and weighing, order and procedure -  it drives me crazy!

Oh, there will be ample opportunity to be creative, dear. In fact, once you master the basics, you can be as creative as you wish… But, let’s do the dough. I’ll watch as you do it. It’s only three ingredients.  What could possibly go wrong?

A trillion things, I think to myself as I bludgeon the fat and the flower together. After unsuccessfully trying to roll the crumbling ball for what feels like hours, I plead that she takes over, which she mercifully does. But whatever damage I managed to incur to the dough has already been done, and the sticky mess ends up in the garbage can.
I hate to admit it, but I feel a huge sense of relief and something akin to sick, perverted pleasure for having proven her wrong. I push the gloating down and put the lid of fatalistic resignation over it. I wash my hands and start putting away the flour, ready to call it quits.

I guess we are done. Well, at least we tried…

She takes her stand between me and the cupboard, effectively blocking my way.

Ooooh, NO, not even close.  We hardly even started! Get another two cups of flour…

Saturday, September 07, 2013

Step Three - Face the Worst Fear

Oh dear!  Don't say such a thing! My mother-in-law yelps. I would be happy to help you... it's not as difficult as you may think.

Oh yes it is!  I mutter under my breath. It's quantum physics marries rocket science. And it's certainly more difficult than YOU think. 

You must understand here that my mother-in-law may not be a rocket scientist but she is a wonderful wonderful lady.  She is neither ignorant nor arrogant. Insufficiently informed, perhaps, I conclude inside my head, as I search for the right phrase to describe the intersection of her naive optimism and the depth of my dismal incompetence.

How about if we make something from the cookbook together today?

Today?!! I feel positively trapped. We are on vacation, and there is nothing else on my schedule I could use as a convenient excuse.

Not today.  Not tomorrow.  Not even next week! Not in my lifetime. I can't.  I won't. I wouldn't be able to even if Betty Crocker herself showed up in her apron in the middle of the kitchen right now.

She stands up and unhooks her apron and hands me the other one.

Mmmmm... I think a peach pie would be perfect? It's been a while since I made one....

A peach pie?!!! I gasp as if I've seen a ghost.  Not a peach pie!!!

... and I know that D - D is my poor peach-pie-deprived husband - loves peach pie. Plus, we have these delicious fresh peaches Dad got at the farmers' market this morning...

I....I... I'd rather if we just eat them fresh... m-m-m-ore nutritional value... I protest feebly, fighting the panic inside.

Friday, September 06, 2013

Step Two - Expect the Unexpected

During one visit to my in-laws I stumbled across a copy of Betty Crocker’s Cookbook in my mother-in-law’s cupboard, wedged between to the dinged enamel pot containing flour, the bent sifter and extra utensils. A very old copy.

 You too have one of these! I exclaimed.

Oh, yes! It’s by far my favorite. I’ve had it ever since we were married. First edition. Got it as a wedding  gift from my mother… Of course, she was such a marvelous cook, she could have written it herself. I still use it all the time.

First edition… a wedding gift… my mother… great cook…

Her words ring inside my ears like fire alarm bells… I can’t help but recognize the similarities in our cooking trajectory, at least at the launch pad of life. And yet, there is such a vast difference between us  - or rather, an unbridgeable gap. For, like her own mother,  my mother-in-law herself is an amazing cook.  I know that from personal experience as do countless family members, friends and neighbors.  I, on the other hand, am nothing like my mom. Enough said.

I pick up the ancient cookbook and begin to gently flip through its sections. It’s still in a very good condition considering the age, but I can’t help but notice the evidence of frequent use on just about every yellowed page. Specks of oil. Splatters of dried up batter. Asterisks and notes in my mother-in-law’s neat handwriting. Many a wonderful family meal has been carefully guided by the words written by the famous pro. 

In the Cakes and Pies section, I come across the peach pie recipe page, and a bitter memory of crumbling fiasco upon crumbling fiasco bubbles up inside me.

Unfortunately, I don’t do cookbooks. I slam the cookbook shut and start putting it away. I tried  and it just doesn’t work for me. And as if to permanently punctuate it, I add, And I know it  never will. 

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Step One - Admit Failure

About twenty years ago, we (I?) received the 40th Anniversary Edition of Betty Crocker’s Cookbook at one of our wedding showers.  It was lovingly marked and signed by several new friends-in-law, their favorite, tried and tested recipes asterisked in permanent ink. Clearly, the givers of this gift didn’t intend it to become a nice addition to our library. They meant it to be used so all those mouth-watering flat pictures can magically come to life, become delicious meals and desserts in my own kitchen  - a daily celebration of life in all its goodness though feasting with family and friends.

I guess, that was the idea. 

Reality, however, was that I am not a Betty Crocker. Nor am I Martha Stewart, nor Rachel Ray, nor even my own mother who always loved all things kitchen.  The fun of eating is about the only thing I picked up along the way.

I can’t say that I haven’t tried the cooking part.  Honestly I did. But the level of order and all the measurements, precision and detail, timing and planning eventually proved to be too much for me.

And, after setting the fire alarm in our house while making chicken soup (don’t even ask!), I finally decided it’s time for me to admit defeat.

And so, year in year out, the Cookbook languished on a shelf inside a kitchen cabinet largely ignored, its pristine condition a silent testament to the colossal cooking incompetence of its owner.

With my whole heart I agree with the Law of God. But in every part of me I discover something fighting against my mind, and it makes me a prisoner of sin that controls everything I do. Romans 7:22-23

For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did Romans 8:3

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Danger! Proceed With Caution!

Getting a brand new, glow-in-the-dark driveway made me think that our back patio could use the same extreme makeover.  So, I dragged the pressure washer and begun cleaning away, too eager to unearth the original beauty under the decades-thick layers of grime to put my shoes on. The satisfaction of receiving instant reward from my labor was positively addictive.

It’s not like I haven’t known. It’s not like I haven’t been warned.  I knew the danger of the power tool.  I was warned several times that I must be extremely careful.  That I must use it with utmost caution.

But, I was having so much fun.  Plus, I was becoming a pro in this pressure washing business.  I had an entire day of work under my belt! All that shiny, glowing concrete must have gotten into my head, and I got a bit careless.  A bit overconfident. A bit cocky.

And then it happened.

I felt slicing pain as the laser sharp stream crossed over my toe.  At first I was in so much denial, I didn’t even recognize what had happened.  Then I saw a flap of skin hanging and bright red bubbling up.  I stared at my foot not believing my eyes. But, there it was. My poor toe, split in half to the bone, the blood now dripping onto the clean patio.

The throbbing pain put the rest of the cleaning on indefinite hold.

As much as I hate to admit it, the gory experience might have been exactly what I needed. 

In my head I knew that the power tools are a dangerous business.  That exercising extreme caution is a non-negotiable. Well, yesterday that head knowledge went down from my head and is now forever carved onto my toe.  And when the pain is gone, I’ll have a nice scar as a permanent reminder.

As useful, helpful and effective as the power tool is, it must be handled with extreme care and caution.

(God's) powerful Word is sharp as a surgeon’s scalpel, cutting through everything, whether doubt or defense, laying us open to listen and obey. Nothing and no one is impervious to God’s Word. We can’t get away from it—no matter what. Hebrews 4:12

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

The Forgotten Master Builder

Soon after we bought our house almost twenty years ago I vaguely remember pressure-washing our driveway. There is no recollection of doing the chore ever since.  In meanwhile, day after day, year after year, imperceptible to us, layer upon layer of dirt, mold and crud accumulated, permeating the concrete, becoming one with it.  We got so accustomed to the dark gray and green, we assumed that’s what the driveways are supposed to look like!

Inspired by commemoration of work during the Labor Day weekend, we decided to actually get some much neglected stuff done. So, we dragged the pressure washer out, connected it to the garden hose, and started cleaning.  The difference was startling.  We could use the laser sharp stream to write love messages, play tick-tack-toe as if our driveway was a giant black board. Bit by bit, work and play, we reclaimed the dirty concrete which became almost unrecognizable. We took turns, feeling strangely empowered by the process.

Suddenly I noticed a metal plate embedded near the doorstep.  I never knew there was a metal plate embedded in front of our house! As I cleaned it, the words became obvious:

Master Builder

The small oval plate was embedded in the fresh concrete by the builder of the house. It was both a reminder and a guarantee of superior quality.  Over the years, however, it has been covered up with dirt and grime, practically invisible, stepped on and ignored not only by all who came to our house but by us as well! I was stunned. The self-evident truth of the existence of the builder became obliterated and forgotten. We still enjoyed the house well-built, but without a thought of its maker. The oval seal left behind near the front door served as a humble reminder that there was – there is – a Master Builder indeed.

...for He has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses, by just so much as the builder of the house has more honor than the house. For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God. Hebrews 3:3-4

... for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. Hebrews 11:10

Monday, September 02, 2013

Help, I Need Somebody!

For years our son has been able to get by in his violin playing ‘career’ by coasting along on his natural ability, random practice and hiding behind the group (or so he thought) during the weekly orchestra rehearsals.

Last season it seemed that his ears were suddenly opened to the fact that there might be more to playing music than just ‘getting by’, by endlessly regurgitating what he already knew.  He begun with daily scales and arpeggios and worked on an audition piece he hoped to get him to the next, more challenging level of playing. 

If there was any pride and self-satisfaction for his recent upward movement success, it quickly evaporated during the first rehearsal of the new season. 

What in the world did I get myself into?!!!  I could read behind the thin veneer of coolness as he mingled with the hardworking, gifted geniuses of the string family during the rehearsal break.  The ride home was uncommonly quiet. We were almost there when he peeped:

Mom, could you please call Mrs. O and arrange for the lessons?
His lackadaisical approach to his instrument wasn’t sufficient to carry him on any further. The complexity of the music played made it clear to him that he can’t figure it out on his own. He knew he needed the teacher’s help. And needed it desperately.

I find myself in that place in my own life. For a time, I may believe that I can manage just fine on my own, but there comes a day when all self-sufficiency crumbles, when the sheer will power, the natural ability and skill, the talent and the experience are simply not enough to meet the complexity and challenges of what I am facing. I know I can't make it on my own. I need help and need it desperately. I need the Teacher.

...He, your Teacher will no longer hide Himself, but your eyes will behold your Teacher. Your ears will hear a word behind you, “This is the way, walk in it,” whenever you turn to the right or to the left. Isaiah 30:20-21