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Monday, November 29, 2010

Girls Night! It’s not an event; it’s a state of mind…

Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers (sisters) dwell in unity! Psalm 133:1

Thanksgiving Friday.  Our house full of people over on Thanksgiving Friday--to share our leftovers along with whatever anybody else brings.  With no pressure to do anything besides sit around, we can eat, chat, and have a good time.  Over the years, the cast has broadened from couples to families, and now groups retreat to separate spaces; men gravitating round the flat screen to watch yet another game, children at the Wii or playing randomly around the house, and women, round the table in the dining room, nibbling and musing about life.  We are having Girl’s Night.
At the movies, in the dark, tense, terrified, not knowing when but certainly what he is going to do.  Beau Willie’s holding those babies, and we are about to experience the pain. Watching the screen adaptation of Ntozake Shange’s choreopoem, For Colored Girls, once again, it’s Girl’s Night. 
Sunday night, following a performance of our liturgical ensemble, at a dinner where we danced but were not fed, we grabbed takeout and invaded a girlfriend’s house.  She hadn’t been  with us earlier in the evening, but we needed her for fellowship, to debrief and unwind, so, once again, Girl’s
Night. 
We don’t do them regularly, but they’re always right on time.  I am thankful for my girlfriends.  For so much of my life I avoided girl packs, not trusting that I could be myself and find genuine camaraderie.  Girl’s can be hard, but I am thankful that I didn’t give up.  I know I had to grow into the person I am to appreciate the kinship and amity found in a circle of women.    This weekend afforded me more than good measure of opportunity to hang with my girls, including spending the holiday weekend hosting my best friend and her family.  We seldom make time to hang out and just be, so given the opportunity to be where they are, I am deeply grateful for the marvelous women I call my friends.
Among my friends are educators, authors, executives, therapists, writers, producers, dancers, poets, mothers, grandmothers, sisters, phenomenal women.  We laugh, share stories about work, husbands, boyfriends, ours and each other’s children, people we’ve met, people we know, dreams we intend to make reality.  We lean on one another.  We laugh at each other.  We pray together.  We pray for each other.  We minister each other through heartaches, illness, death, miscarriages, pregnancies, job loss, new love, divorce, and the never ending succession of crazy people who enter our lives.  We give and receive advice we will expect to need and hear later.  We talk each other onto AND off of ledges all the time.  We are awesome reflections of God’s bounty and redeeming grace.
It is good and pleasant, our many and varied friendships.  We desire each other’s company.  We do network and “hook each other up” pretty often, but we don’t need to be together, not in any transactional sense.  We choose each other. We care about each other.  We are sisters. 
I’m borrowing from an old gospel song as I settle down to rest and recover from my weekend…“What a fellowship, what a joy divine” leaning on and hanging out with my girlfriends.   My wise women are a blessing, and for each of them, what they bring, what they give to the world, what I learn by watching them and simply being in their presence, I am thankful.  Just further evidence that God is good. 

Monday, November 22, 2010

Kicking it (Cooking it) Ol’ Skool—aka my Thanksgiving dinner

…By the time I sit at the table Thursday, I am relaxed knowing everything’s done, and appreciating the fact that I will probably enjoy the experience nearly as much as our guests. 

I’ve been baking Rosemary Bread for the holidays since my husband and I first got married.  I realized that my Thanksgiving menus and the work it takes to get them on the table are a metaphor for elements of who I am…That bread is the first thing I cook Thanksgiving morning; it smells so good.  The aroma as it bakes is the scent signature of our holiday, my burnt offering sacrifice to the effort I am about to undertake. 
I enjoy doing some things the so-called “hard way,” from scratch, with all the steps.  Not everything.  For example, I cannot put together IKEA furniture.  Well, I probably could, but I choose not to…too many steps, too many parts, not interesting to me.  IKEA furniture assembly is a task among many, at which my beloved husband excels.  It is a talent our son joyfully inherited, and therefore one I can live without.  Entertaining with dishes that are unique, lovingly made, taking NO shortcuts, gives me as much pleasure as I hope it gives my guests when they partake. The kitchen is my playroom. 
My daughter graciously typed up the following, which waits obediently for execution on my refrigerator door…
Thanksgiving Menu 2010
Appetizers
Turkey Swedish Meatballs with Gravy
Warm Rosemary Bread with Artichoke Dip
Fruit and Cheese Platter with Crackers
First course options are straight forward, requiring no more than proper shopping and a creative eye for the cheese and fruit platter.  The Swedish meatballs belong entirely to my first born.  I am proud that this is a recipe she discovered, offered to make one year for a holiday gathering which now commands its own audience.  Her dad and little brother have to be threatened NOT TO EAT THEM ALL.  They are tasty, and I am genuinely proud.  We occasionally have them for dinner.  Brava, my not-so-little girl.  The meatballs are my metaphor for letting go.  I can be more than a little territorial about my kitchen, and as in matters of faith, often mistakenly believe I’ve so got it together that I try to handle life’s little challenges without giving them to God.  That never works. My rallying cry, both for Thursday, and for life will be, “Remember the Meatballs.”
Finally, regarding appetizers, this list is final. I will resist the urge to make my mother’s cheese ball and/or a chicken liver pate this year. My menu is sufficient, like God’s Grace.  So I need add nothing else.  I will have either cheese ball or pate or both for Christmas. And for the Karamu.
Main Course
Cranberry and Sage Brined Turkey Roasted with Apricot-Bourbon-White Pepper Glaze
Herbed Spelt and Cornbread Stuffing
Caramelized and Candied Ginger Yams
Sautéed Kale with Smoked Turkey
Macaroni Pie*
Pigeon Peas with Pumpkin*
Beverages
Sorrel*
Ginger Beer*
Sparkling Cider
Assorted Wines
The main course is our trip across the miles, the continents, and the cultures.  We are unified by traditions faithfully honored, evolved, updated, newly adopted.  We go
Southern, Caribbean, full on Gourmet, Ol’ Skool, you name it.  Brining turkey is a lesson in planning and patience, and the yield is a breast so juicy and flavorful that even turkey-haters love it. I make white meal cornbread like my grandmother taught me.  I just hung up with her, because although at 92 she is no longer able to board a plane to be with us on Thanksgiving, over the next several days, I will call her to share the conversations we’d have in my kitchen while cooking.  I never even cooked an entire Thanksgiving meal until after my Grandmother was well into her eighties.  Her excuse for taking over was “giving me a break.” At my age, I cannot believe that my grandmother is still around.  That alone is reason enough to be Thankful.
My yams and my greens are not the ones I grew up with, and neither is my faith.  Both the recipes and my relationship with God have evolved, for the better. 
Anything with an asterisk I don’t even have to make.  Became my husband’s family is geographically close, some of the menu is a collaboration.  It has always been that way, and I really don’t mind.  I don’t even have to remember the meatballs.  Besides, my mother-in-law, whom I genuinely love and respect, is legendary in the kitchen. On more than one Continent. When Ruth said “Your People Shall Be My People,” that wise wife knew what she was talking about.  I don’t have in-laws.  I have family.
Dessert
Drunken Pecan Pie Bars
Sweet Potato Mousse Cheesecake Tarts
Grandma’s Pound Cake

My mommy picks pecans for my pie from her best friend’s tree in the Gulf.  She mails them to me and I drop them in the freezer.  If they have gotten dry, or even if they haven’t, I plump them in a little Kentucky bourbon. The alcohol will cook away, but the flavor will not.  The dessert is complex, distinctive, and killer with coffee and fresh cream.  We never stop counting blessings, so why start counting calories? My grandmother’s pound cake is the only one my husband enjoys.  No glaze, no icing; straight, no chaser. My man likes his dessert the same way he likes his jazz, straight ahead, and from me, that’s the way he gets it.
If I keep sitting here, nothing else will get done on time.  I have a turkey to brine, kale to clean, and a hardwood floor to wax-today.  I paint the kitchen tomorrow.  Being “hostess with the mostest” doesn’t happen on its own. So, while there is always something to do, never enough time, things that will be forgotten, or could be done better, I clearly live an abundant live.  Further evidence that God is good. 

Friday, November 19, 2010

Now let us give thanks

For His anger is but for a moment, His favor is for life; Weeping may endure for a night, But joy comes in the morning.  ~Psalms 30:5
Joy and sorrow sleep in the same bed. ~ Czech Proverb

Joy and pain are like sunshine and rain~ Frankie Beverly and Maze

Now let us give thanks.  As I lived it, this seemed like one of the most difficult weeks of my life. I wanted to cry, several times a day, every day.  Here is what I have learned about trying times; it’s all relative. Lesson #2, it is never all bad.  Keep reading, because the lesson continues.  Whether November or July, we can always give thanks. 
Monday morning, life got challenging.  Take a seemingly insurmountable obstacle; difficult choices; a much compressed timeline.  I felt overwhelmed and deeply disappointed.  I prayed.  I did not ask God to make it better, because I’ve stopped “shopping” when I pray, I  rather asked that He would be true to His Word by never leaving me alone, and if possible,  to please give me the courage to stand with grace, knowing it would get better.  Suddenly, I was able to breathe again, and I didn’t cry.  So, when the afternoon came with a plan formulated to assess our options against the morning’s assault I worshipped, thankful that the sky had not fallen after all.  My joy would not last long, but at least I had it while I had it.  You see, we can always give thanks for something.
Tuesday morning brought my joy.  I felt like it might be okay.  I prayed again, thankful that circumstances had not shaken my faith.  I could breathe, until a call came Tuesday afternoon.  Once again, we had an insurmountable obstacle, looming larger than the first; difficult choices; another impossible timeline.  More than just overwhelmed, I felt tired and afraid.  Despite my feelings, I prayed, knowing that God’s Goodness and Mercy would be sufficient to meet my needs.  Somehow, I further knew that my fear was unnecessary, out of step with my faith.  Prayer and a long run brought calm, and a clear sense that since I wasn’t in control, I should probably just let go.  While I have said that many times in my life, this time something was different.  I really did let go. Sometimes the very thing you need to be thankful for is your faith.
Wednesday morning came heavy, oppressive; like joy was coming in the morning but I was stuck in the night before.  I know that You are with me, Lord, but right now I’m walking in a dim cloud.  I follow my daily routine, dispatching the husband, ferrying the children, walking the dog.  I tell myself, “hard times don't build character; they reveal it” wondering what I’ll look like when this is over.  I pray, pleading for enough mercy to get me through this day, knowing where there is life there is hope.  And, despite all my stress, I am feeling alright.  Not only does Wednesday afternoon bring joy, sunshine, and deliverance, it is more that I could have bargained, negotiated, or maneuvered for on my own.  Now, I am bursting with the need to give thanks.  I am thankful that through it all I was able to pray, and to feel that there was One who heard my prayers, accepted my tears, and never let me believe I was alone.  This does not mean that there weren’t two MORE crises to face before sundown, but when you have seen a rainbow during the storm, you simply refuse to believe it will not come again.  There was so much jubilation by nightfall that while I’d promised to give myself the “good cry” I’d been postponing during all the drama, I had no tears.  I was full of joy.  I was full of thanks.  I was deeply moved and deeply filled. 
So now, I prepare for the Thanksgiving extravaganza.  A girl with deeply Southern roots, I will do everything the hard way: Cornbread from scratch for the dressing, a turkey to brine before roasting, cranberries in a bag that will become the relish my husband loves.  A table brimming with family, newly defined by my dear friend whose text this morning made me cry, and I quote,
“family is not just DNA & bloodlines but is made up of those who choose to love us and that is an indescribable feeling.”
And, with that definition, I celebrate the family I was born to, the family I married, and the family God has added to my life over the years.  I am off to a PTA meeting, and then to the grocery, because all that I’ve planned will certainly not get done if I indulge this muse much longer.  And so, even in my times of too much to do and not enough hands or help, I clearly live an abundant life.  Further evidence that God is good. 

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

NOTHING is too hard for you, Lord. I however, need serious help!

Sovereign Lord, you have made the heavens and the Earth by your great power and outstretched arm. NOTHING is too hard for you!!! Jeremiah 32:17
I however, need serious help!

This had to be one of the most challenging weeks I’ve had in a very long time.  Friday night was not only our 5th grader’s final elementary school talent show, but also the inaugural fundraising event for our 8th grader’s middle school, which I’d agreed to co-chair (I’ve never done THAT before, but that’s never stopped me …)
The week began with standard fare, lessons for one on Monday, lessons for two on Tuesday, talent show rehearsal both Tuesday AND Wednesday, swimming lessons on Thursday, and a daytime talent show performance Friday morning at 9:00 am.  I’d planned to attend, since the evening performance conflicted with the fundraising event, but forgot that we had to start setting up and dressing the event location at 9:30 am.  I explained this to my patient son, including that I’d be leaving the fundraising event in time to see his performance, before returning to my hosting duties.  Thank God, as always, for his easy going nature.  The plan was that my husband would attend the evening event and meet me for the balance of the night at the fundraiser as my “plus one.” Remember, I said that was the plan. 
Cervantes famously said that “man appoints, God disappoints,” and though I’ve experienced this many times, it’s a lesson I clearly need to repeat at least once yearly.  My darling husband aka “Plus One” not only became ill mid-week, but also had a critical meeting at the office rendering it virtually impossible that he’d be able to attend the evening performance OR my event.  Since he was feeling ill anyway, he took a late morning and saw the early show.  We are famously a couple, so there was little risk of social stigma by appearing at the event solo, but I was a little bummed that we wouldn’t get a date night.  Soldier on, baby, soldier on.
Friday morning, I rise, start breakfast and get ready to start the day.  “No Longer Plus One” runs some errands and we agree to meet at the elementary school so I can at least get a glimpse of the talent show before dashing off to set-up. I am optimistic because our principal is a stickler for time, and I think I may at least get to see something before sneaking out the back way. Cue Cervantes.  When we get to school, children are running about, people are still settling in, and there is no way this is getting going before 9:25 earliest. ARGH!
Before arriving at the location, we agreed to meet at the event planner’s home to load up the raffle and auction baskets.  As people were generous, it takes us about 5 cars to get everything in.  We are a jovial and excited bunch, and I expect it is going to be a good day.  I am not disappointed.  We work until nearly 1:30, when I have to rush home to tend to the dog before circling back to pick up the kids at 2:35.  I’d already planned a meal that was easy to execute, because it would be really nice to rest a sec before nightfall.  It is already clear to me that I am NOT the subject of Jeremiah 32:17.
I collect children, finish dinner, get children fed, prep my clothes and have about 45 minutes to chill before it’s time to go.  Though the first volunteer shift, including your humble servant, is due to arrive at 6:00 pm, I have a performer to deliver elsewhere at 6:30, including kisses and a promise to be back for showtime. I park at the fundraiser at 6:40.  While I try to relax and get focused, there are several calls from my daughter expressing concern about one thing or another at the talent show.  Although they publicly claim to despise each other, our children are remarkably close and fiercely loyal and protective. Finally things settle down.  While I have never launched a military offensive, our planning that night bordered on an invasion strategy.  If my son’s act was #21 on the run sheet, I needed to leave no later than #14 to get across town in time to catch everything.  Thanks to a timely text message from my eldest, I dashed out of my chair and into my car in time to get where I needed to be in good time.  I even got to say a few hellos before settling into my seat.  Then, there it was, his performance.  The best thing about the talent shows at this school is that every performance is limited to 90 seconds.  Trust me, ever child can be engaging for 90 seconds.  At 95, however, all bets may be off.  I enjoyed his performance, kissed him when he came offstage, and got back in the car.
Back to the event.  Did I mention I was desperately trying to be cute in high heeled boots? I looked the part, but let’s just say that the timer on my shoes expired 90 minutes at best before the end of the night.  While I’d been alighting onto and out of conversation groups all night, I sought out and found a well placed chair where I could survey things and catch a breather. And rest my dogs.   Boy, did I miss my “No Longer Plus One.”  He makes everything better.  He ensures that I properly work the room, moving,  not staying too long, greeting all folks whom I should be greeting, holding all the right hands, hitting all the right notes.  Oh yeah, and when I’ve told him that my toes are numb, he even holds me up.  Add those to the innumerable list of reasons why I love him, which gets longer all the time, and you see why, after 17 years, I’m going NOWHERE.
The events were a runaway success (both the talent show AND the fundraiser), but the lesson was clear.  By midday, I’d said repeatedly, “if I make it though this day and this night, it will only be because of God’s Grace.” God sent grace many times that day, including a text from a dear friend reminding me to breathe.  You see, His Grace was sufficient.  I was never supposed to be able to manage things on my own, to have my plan proceed without a flaw.  Looking back, with still tired eyes, I am deeply grateful.  If all had happened according to my plan, I’d have thought I did it on my own.  You see, not only is His Grace sufficient, His power is perfected in our weakness. And, with that understanding, I celebrate my human frailty, all the times I intended to, but didn’t quite get it right.  My humanity brings me closer to God. And so, even in my times of frustration, I clearly live an abundant life.  Further evidence that God is good.

Lunch with my girl...

He Treats Me to a Feast; Notes from my Abundant Life
I had lunch with a very good friend yesterday.  We don’t see each other regularly, but I am convinced that she is pivotal in my life; we run into each other at times that, while seeming random, never are.
We met years ago, when she was on staff at our children’s private school.  She got my sense of humor, which can be quirky and obscure at best, and always caught my random references.  I guess we have similar pop culture context.  What I found even more powerful, however, was her spirit.  I would describe her as almost childlike in her transparency, and utter devotion to her faith.  With her, there is no pretense.  And while I would certainly NOT describe myself in this manner, I was drawn to her.
In matters of faith, I have always envisioned the Kingdom as those who watch and those who pray.  Now I know we are admonished to do both, but in discerning spiritual gifts, we are variously equipped.  I think in this friend, I found my balance; she prays, and I keep watch, allowing her to do what she has been gifted to do so well. 
How do I watch? Well, we generally run into each other when she’s walking somewhere (and could use a lift), and I am usually traveling in the opposite direction.  It is for me another indication of God’s presence in the world as well as the notion of free will that I have to see her, and then decide, by way of illegal u-turn, that I’m supposed to pick her up and carry her on her way.  In the manner of an itinerant preacher she always has a blessing to lay upon us, my children, my family, and always says just what I need to have my own spirit lifted.  There are no random accidents.  I always need to see her when I do, and I am always so much better for the experience.  God is always glorified, and I am always humbled and so filled.
So, lunch yesterday. Once again, my children and I were driving in the other direction when my daughter saw my friend walking alongside the road.  It was chilly, and at least 2.5 miles to her supposed destination from that point; I don’t know how long she’d been walking when we passed.  I made my u-turn, and we drove alongside.  Without saying hello, as we rolled down the windows, she began to bless and pray over my children, and then me.  Although we were interrupting her prayer walk, she accepted the lift and jumped in. 
In the few minutes it took to ferry her to her destination, we caught up on everything, as we usually do.  We also made plans for lunch, which we kept.  In one hour, we laughed, fellowshipped, conspired, and really enjoyed each other’s company.  I can be my authentic self with her. She gets the humanity in my Christian walk.  I giggle, even in church.  In prayer, I expose everything, since He knows it all already.  I believe God has a sense of humor, and I often feel like a source of His amusement.  It’s okay, because it gives me a Redeemer I can actually relate to, understanding that He made us in His image.  That means that the piece of Him that looks like me is silly, passionate, profane, seeking, intuitive, tenacious, and forgiven.  And, even in my times of want, I clearly live an abundant life.  Further evidence that God is good.

OneWord 2015

OneWord 2015

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