Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Ins and the Outs

Happy New Year!  I hope you had as wonderful a holiday as we did and are ready for the adventure of 2011. 

Our Christmas didn’t offer much in the way of rest, but it was made up for in fun and meaning as our families gathered.  Ours was an experience of staying in and going out, of inviting guests and being guests ourselves, of offering and receiving hospitality.  But mostly it was about feasting.

On Christmas, we enjoyed watching Roland practically running laps around the tree following the toy Monorail we bought for him at Disney World.  Vivian handled her presents differently.  She silently gazed at the toy version of Cinderella’s Castle, also from “The World,” taking in its perfection.  It was quite a while before she picked up the toy princesses and other accoutrements to play with them.  Her silence wasn’t the sort of thing a video camera catches well, but it was precious all the same.

My husband’s family came for lunch.  There were 16 of us in all which is a number of guests we rarely reach.  Needless to say there was a lot of food.  Everyone provided something.  My assignment was appetizers.  I liked this job because appetizers can be fun and creative – and they are also finished early.  I made a bread and cheese plate, with thin slices of homemade white bread along with all of my varieties of Christmas cheddar. (Later, when Roland pulled the gummy worms out of his stocking, we had fun placing them disgustingly around the wedges of cheese.)  I baked brie with almonds and brown sugar.  The combination of mildly savory brie with the melted sugar in one mouthful is almost good enough to knock you unconscious.  Rounding out the appetizers was the Chocolate Chip Cheese Ball from the Bass Family Cookbook.  Because I didn’t allow for enough refrigeration time, it became chocolate chip cheese dip.  But it was still good.  We had few leftovers to worry about.

Add it all together – the good food, the family and the snow that started early and fell all afternoon – and we had the makings for the kind of Christmas you only see on the front of cards.  We were all of us tucked away together for a while.  We had no need to go anywhere until the ice threatened to take our mobility entirely.  Till then, we just enjoyed the decorations, the food, the fire and the company.

After a few days of Christmas recovery, we went out.  We loaded up the car and drove to Florida to visit cousins and the Gulf of Mexico.  The beach was gorgeous as ever though we could do little more than watch the cold waves roll in.  Needless to say, food was involved in our visit.  We noshed on Christmas leftovers much of the time, but on New Year’s Eve we had our feast.  We cooked the traditional shrimp, simmered along with low country potatoes and corn on the cob.  We made bread, had pies and casseroles and, of course, all the requisite snacks for watching Bowl games.
Cousins Adele, John and Christopher helping Vivian
and Roland with New Years sparklers

This trip to Florida was more than just a getaway.  Family was our primary motivation.  Our cousins, who owned the condo we stayed in, are probably the closest relatives we have on my side of the family, and also closest to us in age.  While we have connected often over the course of our lives, our relationship has long been mediated through my parents.  Mom and Dad always made the calls and shared the news.  They were the ones who would set up the visits.  Generally, we would just tag along.  This year, we decided to take the bull by the horns ourselves.  While my parents were cruising through the Panama Canal over Christmas and New Year, we got ourselves together with our dear cousins.  Our intention wasn’t just to make a visit in their absence, but to actually build a relationship that is our own, not just proxy.  Lives change, children grow up and parents age.  We decided we wanted to draw closer to our family now before an opportunity was missed.  I’m glad we did.

Our drive home was an adventure, though not a culinary one.  We took a different route than usual and stopped in historic Dothan, Alabama, where murals are painted on downtown buildings representing important events and people in Southern history.  We also discovered Landmark Park, a historical and agricultural learning center.  At the park, an old farm house was surrounded by a syrup press, corn house, smoke house, gardens, and wooden fences that enclosed pigs and horses.  While little was happening on this early January day, it was clear that all of these things were used in season.

In the park was also a small village of historic buildings.  They included a general store, a one-room schoolhouse and a church.  The church was a lovely white building that was completed in 1908, owing “no man anything except to love one another.”  The 35 x 35 sanctuary housed a Presbyterian congregation for 60 years in a neighboring community.  Its lovely white walls were well kept, and the decorative iron fence surrounding it made it very picturesque.  I could just imagine years of Sundays as the faithful went in and out to worship.

As I stood back and looked at the village, however, I had to wonder what it means when the only fenced-in building was the church.  It was a charming picture to be sure, but what purpose did the enclosure serve?  Did it keep Christians safely tucked inside?  Sinners out?

In the church, we spend much of our time and energy arguing over questions of in and out.  Do we focus our attentions inward on Bible Study?  Worship?  Children’s programming?  Or do we leave our walls and our fences to go to a needy world?  Are we to “be” or to “do”?  Do we grow our own faith or work to implant it in others?  Like so many dichotomies, this one is false.

We will spend our lives both in and out.  “In” for rest and prayer, “out” in service and evangelism.  The rest of our lives – our meals, our recreation, our time with family – will be spent in a constant movement from one to the other.  The only danger is stopping; deciding that one location is necessary and the other is not.

What will you do with your new year?  I hope you will spend some of your time “in.”  Go to your closet and pray as scripture tells us to do.  Shut out the world for a while.  Just be you, with God, and see what that process teaches you.

Then take your new self, with all that you have learned in your time in the dark, out to change the world.  Go out to share your transformation, because it is yours alone and sharing it is something that can’t be done by proxy.  Wherever your journey takes you – wherever your ins and outs may be - it will be your journey.  And your journey is your gift to the world.

Blessed Eating!

Chocolate Chip Cheese Ball
8 oz. pkg. cream cheese                                2 T brown sugar
½ c. butter, softened (no substitutes)      ¼ t. vanilla
¾ c. mini semi-sweet choc. chips               ¾ c. finely ch. Pecans
¾ c. conf. sugar                                                 graham crackers
In a mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese, butter, and vanilla until fluffy.  Gradually add sugars; beat just until combined.  Stir in chocolate chips.  Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours.  Place cream cheese mixture on a large piece of plastic wrap; shape into a ball.  Refrigerate for at least 1 hour.  Just before serving, roll cheese ball in pecans.  Serve with graham crackers. – Charlotte Smith


  1. Still loving your blog, Nancy. I like the themes you're covering and the artful way in which you're doing it.

  2. You're the best, Brent. I'm not as prolific as you yet!