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Monday, January 31, 2011

Message from the Universe….

Message from the Universe….

I do not believe in luck.  I do not believe in coincidence.  I do not believe in horoscopes.  I do, however, believe that God speaks with many voices, and if you are present and paying attention, you might very well be surprised by from whence a message comes.

This is my time of rediscovery. I am reborn, refined, re-imagined (these are the things one says when she is in the midst of a major seismic shift or career transition over which she has little, if any control).  My husband, who also doesn’t believe in horoscopes, brought one home for me the other day, courtesy of Rob Brezsny at The Village Voice.  While my beloved and I were born under the same astrological sign, he was clear that the message was mine.  He brought it home, after having folded it into his briefcase, and handed it over.  I read the following:
            AQUARIUS [January 20–February 18]You may have no idea of how much power you have right now to start fresh—to escape the muddle of murky old failures. Your imagination might not yet be sufficiently lubricated to glide you into the expansive version of the future you deserve. But I'm hoping that this little horoscope of mine changes all that. I'm praying that you are already registering the pleasant shock I'm trying to jolt you with, and are awakening to the rampant possibilities. On your mark. Get set. Go!

Any wonder why I smiled? Any wonder why I felt encouraged, and absolutely certain that God was reminding me, not only that He loved me, but that He sent my wonderful husband, who is great to have around when things are good but ABSOLUTELY INDESPENSIBLE when things feel scary and dismal and awful, that everything was not just going to be alright, but that there is a promise, and a hope, and that while it might feel like I’m always weeping and it’s always night, the reality is that joy is not only coming in the morning, but that the dawn very quickly approaches.

Remember Jeremiah 29:11? From the NIV, “ For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. “  Very often, this scripture is offered as encouragement and a reminder of the promise that God intends to do good in your life.  I don’t disagree, but I’ve always been interested in context, and I am disinclined to believe that anything is ever that simple. When you look a little bit deeper, the letter from Jeremiah is more like fuel for the journey, and a reminder that there is work for us to do, in order to arrive at the land of “milk and honey.” If you read before and after verse 11, you get that the people of God are subject to judgment at the moment for the purposes of refining, so that they may conform to the plans He has. 

According to a study guide published by “Walk with the Word Church,” when we suffer setbacks, though we have blessings ahead of us, God “is not simply “erasing” everything and pretending nothing happened. Becoming what God intends involves a personal commitment of faithfulness and obedience to His Word and ways on our part.

Okay, before we get TOO heavy, let’s get back to the horoscope. “Awakening to the rampant possibilities?” Do you hear that? How much more of a message of hope from the Universe might that be??? Even more, how special is it that somebody who loves you can bring that kind of message, which they’d be perfectly within their rights to just tack it up on the wall of their own office and keep moving?

When I started writing, I expected this to be a message of encouragement for anybody who’s ever felt desperate, anxious, or scared.  I hope it is.  Reading it again, I now know it’s also a love letter to my beloved, whose birthday is the day after tomorrow.  Love is such a gift from God, and this reminds me that for all I think I may lack, I am abundantly blessed with the love of a good man. 

Finally, I hope this can serve as a reminder that when your eyes are open, God is everywhere; in sunlight breaking through clouds after yet another snow storm, in the deep brown eyes of a puppy way too big to be a lap dog but still adorably my baby, in people you don’t know well, who greet you with genuine warmth just when you’re feeling like a smile would really do you good, or, hidden deep within the newspaper, under the unlikely but surprisingly spiritually uplifting section entitled "horoscopes."  God is everywhere.  And just when you were really struggling to convince yourself, there is it….Further evidence that God is good.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Whoa, this is a lot to live up to….

4What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?
 5For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour.  6Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet.. 9O LORD our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth!
Psalms 8:4-6, 9

Yesterday was my 47th birthday, which I hadn’t considered a milestone year.  Who knew?? I am thankful to have what I believe to be a genuinely good attitude about my life and my place in the Universe. Really, I try to keep it simple.  I expect good things, but am rarely disappointed that I didn’t get what I wanted, because I never have a wish-list.  I desire to be happy.  I desire to give love, and feel loved.  I desire to make a difference, both in my little world, and in the big world in which we live.  I strive to be the kind of person that’s behaving well whether anyone is looking or not, because if someone were, I could still be proud.  So, not expecting anything but a good day and a great kickoff to yet another year, imagine my surprise when….

My buddy (and honorary godmother to our eldest) calls me from work in early January, before her own birthday, apologizing first for not remembering the date I was born.  I giggle, one because that means I’ve matured somewhat, e.g., I no longer chant my birth date obsessively, counting down the days beginning on Christmas Eve, and two, mildly amused that it’s a big deal to anyone besides me. After her apology, she launches into her idea.  Basically, she’s offering to host a birthday brunch for me with this insane menu, for 4-6 of my friends and family, and our kids.  Any day, date, she just needs a sufficient heads up to get things together in time.  Now, this is my girl, and I am genuinely flattered, but why should she do all the work, I’m thinking, so I offer a counter proposal.  Since it’s OUR birthday month, let’s split the difference, pick a date in the middle, and share hostessing duties? Should be fun, right? Our friends are mutual in some cases, compatible, or at least simpatico in others, or should just be hanging out together, IMHO.  Her response? “yeah, that’s not going to happen.” OK. We settle on a date and a tentative guest list (she would have invited all the people I thought of anyway and I’m starting to look forward to the event.  Wow, I think to myself, this is a lot to live up to.

So, expecting nothing more than a great birthday and the opportunity to try, yet again to get it right, imagine my surprise when….

My daughter disappears to her honorary godmother’s house for about two hours, the evening before the brunch, to help out.  A teenager, she happens also to be annoyed with me over something (could be anything), and upon her return, quietly, sullenly, dispatches to her room.  I ask no leading or prying questions, in fact, hadn’t even thought to do so… The phone rings, it’s my girlfriend, and I call my child to the phone.  Overheard snippets of conversation, “um huh.  I hadn’t planned on talking to her anyway….” OK, it’s time for bed anyway.  I have a big day tomorrow.

Not only is my birthday brunch planned for the next day, but immediately following is our son’s jazz concert. It’s going to be a good day, and my birthday’s still a day away.

I awaken Sunday morning, and after a week without working out, nursing an injury, I’m getting dressed, and for the first time in a week, wearing real shoes, with heels.  I’m feeling like a birthday girl, deeply happy, excited about the prospect of another year. 

So, expecting nothing more than an elegant birthday brunch with friends as a precursor to Jazz in the afternoon, imagine my surprise when….

My daughter comes running across the street from our intended destination, barking strict orders that we are not to look out the windows, or leave the house until she directs us to do so.  Huh? It’s just brunch. I’m just happy with the Universe today, so I’m not inclined to argue. 

So, expecting nothing more than the fabulous time I always have at my buddy’s house and the delightful brunch menu I’m releasing myself from all calorie constraints I might consider to truly and deeply enjoy myself, imagine my surprise when….

We walk across the street and into my girlfriend’s house.  Everything looks marvelous, smells amazing, and she’s insisting on taking pictures of me around the table with guests, and honestly, I am suitably distracted by the bounty that I cannot take it all in.  There’s the omelet bar, where she has labels on everything from the tri-color peppers and shredded and crumbled cheese selections, to diced ham, mushrooms, onions and tomatoes.  Turn slightly, and there is also the elegantly labeled table near the window laden with Crème Brule Brioche French toast, turkey bacon and sausage, blueberry coffee cake, sliced strawberries, chilled sparkling cider, and the makings for fresh mimosas (champagne and orange juice), fresh poinsettias (champagne and cranberry juice) and any possible blend thereof.

So, fighting to hold back the tears because I’m honestly nearly speechless, (which almost NEVER happens to me, like I can honestly count the number of times that has happened, including my wedding day, the day my first child was born, and now?) and knowing I would have the fabulous time I always have at my buddy’s house and a  delightful brunch  but not even imagining it would be this wonderful, imagine my surprise when….

My best friend walks around the corner from the basement and hugs me from behind.  I start to cry. This is the woman I’ve called my best friend for nearly 30 years.  This is the woman that stood up beside me at the wedding where I lost my capacity for words, but only for a moment. This is the woman with whom I have laughed and cried, and shared all my secrets, since before I was really a grown up.  This woman has driven 4 and a half hours to eat breakfast with me for my birthday. She wasn’t even invited, because although she is the closest friend I have, I would never have thought to impose such a burden upon her as to ask if she might join us. 

Apparently, and this I discovered only later, I mentioned the brunch in passing as we were talked Friday afternoon.  We chat most every day, sharing the trials and tribulations of marriage, motherhood, and chasing the myth of the Supermom.  We always share the wonderful things that happen in our lives, and it wouldn’t have been the same without telling her everything.  Not only is this friend a remarkable wife and mother, she is a senior officer in the USAF about to retire with more than 20 years service UNDER THE AGE OF 45.  Yeah, she’s all that, and she’s my friend.  I am told by my husband, grand co-conspirator, that she reached out after we talked and made all this happen.  Our husbands consulted on highway conditions, safe routes, and the die was cast.  She jumped in the car, leaving her husband and two young sons, with his blessing, to get on the snowy roads, to come surprise me. 

Whoa, this is a lot to live up to.  And that’s why I ended up thinking of Psalms 8, which happens to be among my favorites.  Richard Smallwood, gifted modern-day psalmist, sets the psalm to music in a way that simply articulates the amazement that a God so big could care so much for mere mortals as we. 

What is man that thou art mindful of Him?
And the Son of man that thou visitest Him?
For thou has made him... A little lower than the angels..
And crowned him with glory and honor 
Whoa, this is a lot to live up to.  So, expecting nothing more than another year when I can try harder, love more fiercely, do better, and be nicer,  imagine my surprise when…
I sent an email to the guests who joined me for brunch on Sunday, and to the gracious host who was already sharing recipes which garnered rave reviews.  In thanking them, I said, as simply as I could, “F…. said something deeply profound last night that amongst my blessings is the ability to draw remarkable people into my life. There are simply not words to express how honored and humbled I was by yesterday. I pray that God grants me the opportunity to make each of you feel equally treasured, sometime very soon.” I soon received the following one-liner….“Too late.... You do that almost everyday :)”

Whoa, this is a lot to live up to.  I am reminded, over, and over, how very full my life is.  I am again reminded, that even when life gets particularly rough, there is comfort in that in an imperfect world, a perfect God loves us, and abides with us, through all things.  And despite all the toughest things I have to face and all the answers to all the questions I never have in time, I clearly have been granted an abundant life.  Further evidence that God is good.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Buzzed Fruit Mimosas and a house full of friends (yes, there will be a recipe…)

“for as he thinketh in his heart, so is he..”
Proverbs 23:7

“Traditionally, it was thought that one could affect the luck they would have throughout the coming year by what they did or ate on the first day of the year. For that reason, it has become common for folks to celebrate the first few minutes of a brand new year in the company of family and friends.
            From an online article on New Year’s traditions
Buzzed Fruit Mimosas and a house full of friends (yes, there will be a recipe…)
For the last 18 years, we have hosted a Kwanzaa party.  About.com defines Kwanzaa as a week-long celebration “developed by Dr. Maulana Karenga in 1966 as a way to celebrate and promote the African American culture. Kwanzaa focuses on seven principles namely unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith.” It’s an excuse for us to spend the last/first of the holiday season with family and friends we don’t see at Christmas, to give modest or homemade gifts (Kwanzaa’s scheduling deliberately benefits from post-Christmas sales), to laugh, share our traditional menu, and look forward to what’s next.
I am proud of and humbled by the interactions that come out of our annual Karamu (Karamu is the name for a Kwanzaa dinner).  It brings friends from different segments of our lives together, and new friendships are generally forged. We borrow from a variety of traditions.  Breakfast, a la Trinidad, is Codfish Buljol with Pepper sauce and Zaboca (avocado), served alongside New York staple Bagels, Cream Cheese, and Lox (not smoked salmon….there IS a difference).  We drink mimosas by the pitcher, with a case or two of sparkling cider for non-tipplers and the children.  This year’s mimosas got buzzed because I recycled left-over fruit that had macerated in apricot brandy since a day or two before I made the Christmas Eve White Sangria.  It was a happy accident.  By unanimous consent, it’s the recipe for next year, and so on.
We sit, and fellowship, enjoying one another’s company and talking about everything and nothing.  Some years, the women migrate to the dining room while the men dispatch themselves to the day’s football games.  This year, we crowded around the dining room table, laughing, eating, drinking, changing courses without ever changing locations, except to shift seats and take a KP duty. (Everybody helps out)  Lunch is straight out of the African-American New Year’s Day playbook; Black-Eyed Peas. Rice, Greens (this year I rediscovered Collards, which were a hit), and the most scrumptious roast turkey any guest ever brought to a party (can you imagine?) I told you I have good friends. 
I hadn’t realized that this cast of characters featured all Caribbean husbands and their American (yankee) wives, at least until the last guests arrived. Add in my Jamaican to the core BFF and it made for lively conversation.  Even when the last guests arrived, it was still All American wives with our International Men of Mystery (LOL). We talked life, love, growing up, family traditions, and then it hit me…we have always had the mechanism in place to ensure happiness, joy, and prosperity in the New Year, if you believe that what you do is what you are.  Proverbs 23:7(NKJV) advises in part, “for as he thinketh in his heart, so is he.” On the first day of the year, we have consciously spent time with people we love, establishing and nurturing traditions that are benchmarks for our lives, setting the expectation that we will laugh, share food and fellowship not only throughout the year, but will look forward expectantly to the first of every year intending to do the same. 
Distance is irrelevant when it comes to our traditions.  At some point during the middle of the day (time is also irrelevant to me on NYD), my husband called a dear friend whose annual responsibility it used to be to bring and mix the mimosas every year who now lives out of state.  He put him on speaker so we all could talk, and it was a poignant reminder, we may not all be together, but this is still what we do. 
I’m not really given to New Year’s resolutions, but now I understand that I’ve been living the best one, and sharing it, for almost 20 years.  I start the year right, in the words of James Taylor, by showering the people I love with love, showing the way that I feel. 
I’m going to need more chairs, since a couple folks didn’t make it, including the righteous sistah who brings sweet potato cheesecake for dessert annually (TC, wherever you are, you were SORELY missed) AND since the newest additions to our merry band of revelers were advised (not by me, but by two of our guests), that once they get invited to the party, they are obligated to come each year.  They did not demure, already agreeing to bring food, so heaven only knows what delights await us next year.   I am living in expectation of an even better New Year’s Day party next year.  I know that no matter what challenges and opportunities await us in the next 12 months, we WILL be partying with purpose on 1/01/12, in my house, in my dining room, with dear friends.  We are planning for and expecting success.  Further evidence that God is good.
New Year’s Day Menu
Codfish Buljol with Zaboca
Bagels, Cream Cheese and Lox
Black-Eyed Peas with Smoked Turkey
Sautéed Collards with Carmelized Onions
Roast Turkey and Gravy
Sweet Potato Pie
Almond Pound Cake
Buzzed Mimosas
Cut up a variety of fruits, according to your taste, e.g., strawberries, citrus, melon, kiwi, raspberries.  Cover the fruit with Apricot brandy, and set aside for at least a week.  When you’re ready, pour the buzzed fruit into a glass pitcher, to just above one-third full.  Fill to two-thirds full with the best quality fresh orange juice you can find, and fill to the top of the pitcher with a dry Champagne or Prosecco.   We used the same fruit all day, and filled each glass to include a bite or two of fruit.  Enjoy!
(Trinidad-style Hibiscus Punch)

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