Saturday, November 26, 2011


‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favours!’  Luke 2:14


Now, I realize that our media can be driven by the sensational.  I understand that the outlandish will make a far better story than the ordinary.  But even realizing that it will be the most extreme stories of Black Friday that will make the news, I am stunned by what I have seen and heard. 

You have probably heard too.  On Friday, November 26 – a.k.a.  Black Friday – shoppers crowded into stores as soon as the doors were opened.  Many had been camping outside for hours if not days, ready to push, elbow, scratch and heaven knows what else in order to score a great deal on, I presume, Christmas presents.  One woman used pepper spray in order to get an advantage on the crowd.   There are stories of stampedes and even shootings.  One grandfather was arrested for shoplifting after he had put an item he intended to purchase in his pocket.  He had needed his hands free in order to help his grandson off the floor where he had fallen, for fear he would be trampled.

Even in the tamest places, people still feverishly battled their way to what must have seemed like really good deals.  While I am certain the stories that make the news are the most extreme, hearing them makes me feel almost as if I have been trampled by the Black Friday crowd.  The ethos is one of violence, giving us a new reason to call it Black Friday.  It is a dark day indeed.

If we have to lose our humanity in order to gain a cheaper X-box, is it worth it?  If we have to risk injury – or worse, injuring others – in an effort to buy a smart phone at a reduced price, is that cost not already too high?  Is it worth contributing to this kind of chaos, in the name of Christmas, in order to buy a flat screen TV for a loved one?

I realize that some people depend on the deep price reductions of Black Friday in order to purchase items they might not otherwise be able to buy at all.  Not everyone has the budget to make expensive electronics a part of their regular spending.  But if purchasing an item on sale forces you to be a part of this lunacy, then – and here is a really radical notion – don’t buy it!  No one needs a Nintendo DS that badly!  I’ve heard tell there was once a time when no one owned a Kindle or a Nook.  I believe, even in those primitive times, satisfaction could still be gained from life.

I realize I am ranting more than a bit here, but I am just stunned by the state of things that would cause otherwise good people to behave in this senseless way.  And now the mayhem gets started on a day that is set aside for giving thanks.

The biggest question that is running through my mind is: 

Was Jesus born for this?

Well, actually, the answer is yes.  Jesus came to us in the midst of our insanity in order to save us from it.  And maybe it is no surprise, given our sad human condition, that we let this precious birth be another excuse for more mayhem.  But if this is what Jesus’ birthday has come to mean, then we have bigger problems than big box greeters wishing us Happy Holidays rather than Merry Christmas. 

It is not enough to say “Keep the Christ in Christmas.”  Christ isn’t in Christmas.  Christ is Christmas!  There is no other holiday – holy day – outside of the celebration of our savior coming into the world.  If exchanging gifts helps you to honor the occasion, terrific!  If camping outside stores is your thing, more power to you.  But if, for a moment, you are tempted to forget the humanity of your fellow recipients of the saving grace ushered in by this season, forget it!

In considering a recipe to include for this post, I thought about vodka tonic or something similar, just to calm us all down.  Instead, I’m including a traditional “recipe” from my family that helps to remind us that on December 25, we celebrate a miraculous birth – one that was heralded by angels.

May God bless you as you celebrate the season.

Angel Cookies
1 roll sugar cookie dough
Cookie decorations

Refrigerate the cookie dough until just before using.  It is helpful if the roll is firm.

Make ½ inch slices in the cookie dough.  Make 2 diagonal cuts in each slice, starting at the top point then going to the left and the right.  Separate the smaller pieces away from the main body.  This makes the robe and the wings of the angel. 

Cut another slice into fourths.  Roll each piece into a small ball.  Each one will be an angel head.

Assemble wings, robe and head, then decorate as desired.  Cook according to package instructions.   

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
and his courts with praise.
Give thanks to him, bless his name.
                                Psalm 100:4

Today, our Christmas tree went up.  It is a tradition in our family that this happens during the Thanksgiving holiday.  This small act of decoration ushers in the season.  Thanksgiving seems to open the door to the bigger and more celebrated Christmastime.

But it isn’t a good idea to pass through too quickly.  Thanksgiving deserves for us to pause for a moment.  Experience fully the gifts that this day brings, though they don’t come wrapped in shiny paper.  I hope it goes without saying, but it is good to give thanks.

There is much to be thankful for.  We give thanks for the year that is past and for all that it brought to us, blessings and challenges.  We express gratitude for the lovely, spirit-filled season that is to come.  Most of all, we give thanks for the purpose for that season; for the baby whose appearance in the world gave us the greatest reason of all to celebrate.

My personal thanksgiving list is long.  I am grateful for family, friends and church.  For having plenty in the way of food and shelter.  I am deeply thankful for traditions, especially the ones that come around this time of year; the big ones we all share as well the personal ones.  They offer a sense of belonging, of finding my place in our unfathomable universe.  I am profoundly grateful for Grace, for second chances – and third and fourth ones as well.  I am thankful for the spirit that allows us to grow, to be become better, to draw closer to God.  These are indeed gifts.

I am grateful for you.  Yes, you.  That you spend some of your valuable time reading the words that I post here is a gift beyond measure.  I pray that Grace will abound in your heart in the form of gratitude this season.

Making a list is a great thing.  It reminds us to be thankful when we all too easily forget.  The longer I practice it, though, the more I realize that gratitude is as much a necessity as breathing, and not just for the items in my inventory.  In gratefulness, we are reminded that difficulty is fleeting; that situations can change.  The good ultimately lasts if we make friends with it and invite it to stick around.  When we remember all that is good, the good becomes a part of who we are and it lingers through each day.  That is a blessed way to live.

May you enjoy the blessings of gratitude this Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight.  In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.                Proverbs 3:5-6

Trust is an active verb.  I don’t mean this in the grammatical sense of active versus passive.  I mean that it requires action on the part of the trust-er.  Here’s how I found out.

My new experiment this year was canning.  Every year, I try to do something in the realm of food that I haven’t done before.  I have experimented with a lot of different ways to preserve food; freezing and drying it to keep it around.  Canning was something that I had wanted to try, had been meaning to try, until I finally had a reason to actually purchase the equipment and get started. To be honest I was more than a little intimidated. 

There is a lot of risk in canning (or so it appears to me).  It seems rather perilous to let food sit on a shelf with no refrigeration, only to eat it heaven knows how far down the road!  I balk at the idea that nothing more than my own paltry skill might stand between my family and heaven knows what bacteria or spore.  Still, I have heard that there are people in the world who have actually done this thing called canning.  They actually preserved food and did it safely!  In fact, many people have!  My own ancestors did this and our family line has made it to the present day. 

So I worked up the courage.  I even decided that if all went well, some of the preserved food might make good Christmas presents.  Last year, you may remember, I spent two weeks in a cheese marathon, making various kinds of cheddar to give away.  This year, it will be chutney, sauce and relish.  I found the recipe for all three in Barbara Kingsolver’s book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.  A printable copy can be found here, though I’ll also print it below.  I made this recipe last year and stored it in the freezer.  Our family really loves it, so it seemed like a good idea to share.

But sharing will only come after testing.  Here is where the trust comes in.  I have no intention of giving any of these pretty little jars away without first examining and tasting some samples.  If there is something unfortunate in them, I want to be the one to find that out, not my kids’ Sunday School teachers.  So testing season has begun.

I open the jars cautiously.  Look and smell carefully.  So far so good.  But the inevitable moment comes when the contents of the jar have to land on my tongue.  For someone who likes to try new things, I can be remarkably squeamish and whiney.  Trust was required.  Action had to be taken in order to move forward. 

Faith is a sweet thing to talk about.  Living it is much more gritty.  There are times when we have to step past the mere words of belief and take on the hazardous work that leads to conviction.  We climb out on that rickety limb or step out in the dark to see if the road really will rise to meet us.  We risk dirt under nails, abrasions on skin, icky things on the tongue.  We may be required to put literal skin in the game, or possibly just our easily bruised hopes.  

But our trust in God is inevitably rewarded.  When we take that dangerous step, we find more than solid ground beneath our boots.  We gain a new acre of firm foundation in a world that has just expanded.  We acquire something sturdy, a place where we can stand. 

My chutney is fine.  So is the tomato sauce, and even the plums that I canned as a practice round.  Everything that was cooked and put in the glass jars has remained food without transforming into biology research.  We haven’t once had to rush to the emergency room.  It even tasted pretty good.   BBQ relish and Sweet and Sour Sauce are still to come, but I am feeling better and better about Christmas. 

These gifts may not be gold, frankincense or myrrh, but I hope they share the love of Christ by filling a few stomachs and a few hearts. 

Blessed eating!



Thanks to Janet Chadwick,
The Busy Person’s Guide to Preserving Food

If you don’t have a garden, you can stock up on tomatoes, peaches, apples and onions at the end of summer, when your farmers’ market will have these at the year’s best quality and price. Then, schedule a whole afternoon and a friend for this interesting project that gives you three different, delicious products to eat all winter. 

Canning jars and lids: 14 pint jars, 7 half-pint jars 

Start with a very large, heavy kettle. You will be adding different ingredients and canning different sauces as you go.  

4 quarts tomato puree
24 large apples
7 cups chopped onions
2 quarts cider vinegar
6 cups sugar
2/3 cup salt
3 tsp. ground cloves
3 tsp. cinnamon
2 tsp. red pepper
2 tsp. mustard

Puree tomatoes; core and coarsely chop apples; coarsely chop onions. Combine in large pot along with the vinegar, sugar and seasonings. Bring to a boil and simmer for about 2 hours or until thick. Meanwhile, preheat water in a canner bath and sterilize jars and lids (in boiling water or dishwasher) and keep them hot until use. Fill 7 pint jars with some of the thickened Barbecue Relish, leaving ½ inch headspace in each jar. Put filled jars in canner with lids screwed on tightly and boil for ten minutes. Remove and cool.

2 quarts sliced peaches
6 cups sugar
½ cup water
2 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. Tabasco sauce

In a separate pan, cook peaches and water for 10 minutes, until soft. Add sugar and bring slowly to boil, stirring until sugar dissolves. Boil until thick (15 min.), stirring to prevent scorching.

Add peach mixture to the remaining tomato mixture in the kettle and bring back up to a boil to make Sweet and Sour Sauce. Fill 7 pint jars leaving ½ inch headspace, boil in canner for ten minutes. Remove and cool.

1 cup raisins
1 cup walnuts

Add these to the kettle, mix well and bring it back to a boil to make Chutney. Fill 7 ½-pint jars leaving ½ inch headspace. Boil in canner for ten minutes. Remove.

As all the jars cool, make sure the jar lids pop their seals by creating a vacuum as contents cool. You’ll hear them go “ping.” To double check, after they’re entirely cooled, push down on each lid’s center – it should feel firmly sucked down, not loose. (If a jar didn’t seal, refrigerate and use the contents soon.) The ring portion of the lid can be removed before storing; when processed properly, the dome lids will stay securely sealed until you open the jar with a can opener. 

Label each product before you forget what’s what, and share with the friend who helped. The Barbeque Relish is great on broiled or grilled fish or chicken. The Sweet and Sour Sauce gives an Asian flavor to rice dishes. Chutney can perk up anything.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011


Who has gone up to heaven and come down? Whose hands have gathered up the wind?    Proverb 30:4

I finally found the book I had been looking for.  I supposed it’s no surprise that I found it at Disney World, the ultimate granter of wishes.  Feed Our Small World: A Cookbook for Kids has recipes that children are not only meant to enjoy, but to prepare.  For ages, I have looked for this kind of book, with cooking ideas made for children’s participation.  The recipes in Feed Our Small World are heavy on measuring and mixing, light on sharp objects.  Its language is directed toward the children, though it encourages them to get help from adults where appropriate.  The book is published in partnership with FEED Projects, whose mission is to help feed the world.

We have thus far made Sensational Sesame-Soy Noodles and Buttery Shortbread.  The noodles were easy.  I cooked the pasta and chopped the veggies, then let the kids stir them together.  Hand over hand, we measured the sesame oil, the rice vinegar, the honey, and soy sauce.  I was pleased that they found it interesting and were willing to stick around for more.

The Buttery Shortbread (a piece of which I just finished chewing) was even more fun because it required machinery.  The kids helped pour the ingredients – butter, cocoa, confectioners’ sugar and flour – into the mixer.  We watched, mesmerized, as the beater spun round and round, and each element became part of the chocolatey, buttery whole.  When the dough was well mixed, the kids helped as we rolled it up in waxed paper and put it in the refrigerator to cool overnight.

As eager and enthusiastic as I may be, it isn’t always easy to involve my children in cooking.  They have limited attention spans (as does their mother) and they don’t easily take to new things.  But I don’t give up, and this time around, they stuck with it.  From the measuring to the wrapping to the refrigeration, they hung around.  I’m the proud and sentimental parent.  I love watching them take to this new adventure.  Their laughter will make me melt as they splash soy sauce over noodles.  I adore their small hands as they work the dough and earnestly try to roll it up for chilling.  Watching them pour the oil is almost sacramental.

As I watch these little hands at work, I think about all that they can’t do, and all that they can.  Their limitations will yoke them throughout their lives; this is a reality that can only be accepted.  But like everyone’s realities, theirs will also include gifts which remain uniquely their own.  These gifts will make them who they are, and will bring depth and meaning to their lives and to those around them.  I suppose we are all given at birth a similar mixed bag of blessing.  What they do with it will not be in my hands, but theirs.

My own hands have more years behind them than I like to count.  They have been given – and have taken – plenty of opportunities for both good and iniquity.  These hands have written essays, played the piano, dug in the dirt, twirled a flag in a marching band, even thrown a few punches during my brief American Karate days.  Have they done enough?  Will their contribution be all that it was meant to be when their deep lines are finally measured?

There is only One who can know that: the God who gives us hands to work.  Work is what we do.  We show up in the field every day and curl our fingers around the plow.  The Spirit will have to pull and direct.  I didn’t always know this.  I used to sit, hands immobile over the keyboard, trying to wring out the next word in an overwrought sermon.  I remember helplessly fingering the soil around an ailing tomato plant, skeptical of my meager attempts to keep it alive.  I have spent too much time wondering if my efforts would be good enough.  Now I quit wringing these hands and simply put them back to the task.  I have offered my best, and continue to do so in each moment.  That best may soar to great heights or just as likely fall flat.  Either way, it is mine.  Really, it is God’s.  What will come from the work of my hands lies ultimately in those of the divine.  I am happy to hand it over.

However deeply I long to know that my hands, or those of my children, will be of a use I feel good about, I will be satisfied to know that they will be of use at all.  They just work.  The rest belongs to God.