Monday, May 11, 2015

Weeding: Good for the Garden and the Soul

Weeds have overtaken our planting beds. Just a few weeks ago, our landscaper had 3 guys come out and remove the weeds from all of the beds. But they came back – and fast!

Since I couldn’t think of a single excuse as to why I couldn’t tackle the problem myself this time (and believe me, I tried), I spent several hours pulling weeds last week. It’s a pretty meditative activity; it doesn’t involve any real brain power. So I had time to think.

In order to completely remove a weed so it will never return, you have to pull out all of the roots. We all know it; it’s just not something we look forward to doing. It takes patience and gentleness and ruthlessness. You have to take the weeds one at a time, and gently and slowly pull out the weed, removing the entire plant roots and all. Don’t pull too quickly, or you don’t get the whole thing. Then you have to discard it where those sneaky little roots can’t once again take hold in your yard. If you just toss it back in the bed or onto the lawn, it might find new life and become a problem again.

It occurred to me that negative things in our lives are like that. Bad habits, weaknesses, sins, etc., are like weeds in our souls; if we don’t remove them completely, they will grow back. If we aren’t diligent to keep them under control, they can take over to such an extent that it seems impossible to remove them.

We can be impatient and yank them up or spray them in a hurry. That will remove the visible parts and make the yard look better for a few days. But very soon, the same weeds will just be right back in the same places. No real progress is made, just a temporary cleanup to keep up with the neighbors.

Likewise, we can clean up our personal acts temporarily. If we have a bad habit or sin we don’t want people to know about, we can hide it, sometimes even convincing ourselves. We can remove all evidence so that no one even knows it’s there. For a while.

Eventually, either that issue or something else will pop up in its place. We have to find the root and patiently and gently, but ruthlessly, pull it all out. We have to search our hearts to find out why they are such nice places for those “weeds” to grow. It’s an individual thing.

For me, weed removal and prevention only come with Bible study, prayer, and close friendships with other like-minded people. Scripture is God’s recorded word. It is what most often reveals His truth to me. Through prayer, I can have a relationship with Him. I can praise, complain, rant, plead, confess, wonder, ask, thank, demand and share. Probably more importantly, I can listen. Through scripture and prayer, God’s Holy Spirit can impress His truth on my soul. Really. God chooses to speak to me if I am willing to listen. His Spirit is eager to point out those weeds! And without the blessing of fellow believers, I would feel alone in the struggle.

I wish weed control were a one-time (or even an annual!) thing. But it’s not. It’s a never-ending task requiring diligence and discipline. It calls for patient ruthlessness.

Lord, thank You for choosing to have a relationship with me. Thank you for giving me absolute truth in this relative world. Thank You for giving me love and asking me to share it with those around me. Thank You for pointing out my “weeds” and for giving me the tools to remove them. Thank You.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

The Cruise: Beginning

I'm sitting on the deck of our ship, drinking Darjeeling tea and waiting for the time to meet for today's excursion. The sun is shining and the air is a little cool, on the way to warming up to about 75 degrees.

So far, among the highlights of the trip, are a canal cruise in Amsterdam before boarding the ship; being greeted in our cabin by champagne (ordered ahead by Mark for our anniversary); a really nice anniversary dinner in the French restaurant on board (complete with creme brûlée for dessert!); a visit to Mont St. Michel, which is truly a marvel; and beautiful views of old walled cities as we visit or sail by. Oh! And really good ice cream and little butter-sugar cakes in Concarneau. It might also be helpful for me to remember that bus rides over 20 minutes make me verrrrry sleepy!

I'm also fascinated by the workings of the ports as we sail in or out. Yesterday we docked at a commercial port and as we sailed by we watched a huge crane empty loads of sand from a freighter onto the pier, one bucket-full at the time. We sailed into port at about 11 am and it was still going when we sailed out at about 7 pm.

Two things I want to remember (among lots of others): 1) to go to the French restaurant at home and buy a variety of tiny sweets and offer those as dessert when we have people over, and 2) buy some coffee spoons. I love them!

Today we are off to spend free time in the city of Bordeaux. I don't really know what is there, but I hope it's fun!

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Paris: A Whirlwind

So, because we have to sit in our Amsterdam hotel room and wait for the cruise folks to come get our bags; and because this is the last time we have free wi-fi on the trip; I thought I'd catch you up.

Our time in Paris was not what I would have had imagined, if I had taken the time to imagine much at all. I pictured sitting in a cafe, sipping cappuccino, watching as Parisians strolled by. And walking around, seeing the Eiffel Tower, visible from every point in the entire city, standing alone and regal. And cruising the Seine as the city slowly passed my view. And a wonderful, quiet dinner in a bistro with creme brûlée for dessert, served by a snooty waiter.

What we got was a hotel on a sidewalk crowded with tourists, a sunset view of the Eiffel Tower from atop the Arc de Triomphe, at least 5 miles worth of walking to sights, a ride in a bicycle rickshaw when we just couldn't walk another step, croissants with strawberry jam (yum!), a beautiful stained-glass chapel partially obscured with construction walls (but still amazing), and the conviction that we must come back again when we have more time.

Yesterday, we took a train from Paris to Amsterdam. Today we board the cruise ship for 14 days. Happy anniversary to us!

Hopefully I'll post again before we get home. If not, I'll post then and add pictures as well.

Here we go!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

25th Anniversary Trip: 5 Days Out

Sunday, September 21

We leave in 5 days. I'm so excited! I'm also trying not to be too excited and not to imagine the trip too much, in case we can't go or have to come home early.

It's crazy. It's like I believe I can make it happen or jinx it, just in how I think. As a kid, I used to hope that Jesus wouldn't come back before I got to ... fill in the blank. It was usually something like going to Disney World the next week. I was old enough to feel guilty and to know how ridiculous that was, but I still hoped to get to Disney. Have I grown so little?

Really? Just how important is this trip in the greater scheme of things? Answer: not very.

And yet, I'm doing everything I can to make it happen. I'm giving my family all the important contact information in case they need to reach us. We bought special trip insurance in case we have to cancel or come home early. I'm making lists at work and trying to make sure no one even notices I'm gone. I'm making lists at home to take everything we might need, pay the bills, feed the birds, water the plants, and try to ensure my mother-in-law doesn't worry herself into the hospital and serious, life-threatening illness.

Is this responsible planning, or obsessive, controlling behavior? It really comes down to my heart and motives. Ugh.

And that's the rub. In this thing, it IS all about me. I know that these things don't determine whether or not we go on our trip. Pretty much all we do now is show up on time at the airport with our passports. Everything else can be finessed.

I can pray that we get to go. I can pray that none of my family or friends gets sick, has surgery, goes to prison, goes missing, or dies. I can pray that my house doesn't burn down. I can pray that ISIS doesn't suddenly attack Paris...or Smyrna.

But what matters, for the Kingdom, in the long run, is what I'm doing every day to glorify God and bring others to Him. This life is a blink of the eye compared to an eternity in the presence of Jesus. If the movie of my life is shown on Judgement day, will I be more often embarrassed or content? At this moment I think the balance is much more on the side of embarrassed. I care way too much about what other people think, my comfort, my pleasure, ease, and experience, and way too little about the eternal perspective.

Lord, I am so grateful for the blessings that make this trip possible. Please help me to see things from Your eyes. Put people in my path that need to hear about You. Give  me the eyes, ears, and heart to hear them and to respond to their needs. I really want to take this trip, but I need to want to serve You more.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Sunlight or Makeup Mirror?

Yesterday morning, the power was out when it was time to get ready for work. Ugh!  Fortunately, we had hot water for a shower, but there wasn’t enough light at the bathroom mirror for me to put on my makeup in the usual spot.

I ended up sitting on the kitchen floor in front of the French doors onto the deck.  As I was applying foundation with one hand and holding a mirror with the other, I remembered the lighted makeup mirror I used in my college dorm room. The morning light coming through the doors reminded me of the “Daylight” setting on that old mirror.  I also remembered that my dorm room had windows on three sides. Why hadn’t I used the natural light from the windows all those years ago rather than the simulated light of the makeup mirror?

Remember these?
Well first of all, there’s convenience. As I was reminded this morning, my task would have been easier with two hands and a stationary mirror.  And with my focus fixed on a makeup mirror, there would have been fewer things to distract me from getting the job done.  Then, there’s the little matter of actual sunlight showing more imperfections than I really want to face first thing in the morning!

Of course the point of this entry is not to make you feel sorry for me (or my coworkers) that my power was out for 3 hours and I had to go to work without washing my hair since I couldn’t use the hair dryer.

While I was getting ready I was thinking about how the sunlight, created by God, is infinitely superior to anything we can create to emulate it.

It’s so much more convenient for me to compare myself to other people than to compare myself to the standard God set and Jesus exemplified for me.  A lot of the time I look pretty good compared to my fellow humans.  I don’t murder or steal or kidnap people. I don’t shoot random individuals in a mall or theater.  I try to be nice to people, to help them, to occasionally make a donation.  I know there are those who are better at it than I am, but I can generally avoid comparing myself to them.
What is not so convenient is holding myself up to the light of scripture.  I don’t compare so favorably to the Biblical requirements to “pray without ceasing,” “be kind to one another,” “judge not,” “give thanks in everything,” “love my enemies,” “be slow to anger,” “take up my cross,” “turn the other cheek,” and countless other exhortations I know but choose to ignore, soften, or re-interpret.

Also, as I was putting on makeup overlooking the deck, I kept seeing the birds at the feeders.  In my bathroom, with the large window etched (for obvious reasons), I can’t see what’s going on outside. I can complete my morning tasks with minimal distractions from the outside world.  I can focus on my agenda, my plans, my little world, and ignore the activities, dreams and tragedies going on around me.  Don’t get me wrong.  I try to be a good wife, friend, daughter, sister, aunt, church member, and coworker.  I just prefer, in general, to pass over the extremes and things that require too much of me, things that are distractions to the plans I have made for the day, for my life.

This God-created light tends to show me for who I really am.  It reminds me that God sees me, sees my heart, sees the truth.  He knows what He created me for, who He created me to be. 

Sometimes I can fool those around me into thinking I have it all together.  I can say the right words, do the right things, look organized, listen sympathetically. 

But God’s light sees my heart. If I do all the right things for selfish reasons, they don’t benefit me in eternity.  God doesn’t count what I do in my own strength as righteousness.  He counts my faith in Christ as righteousness.  And that faith, and my knowledge of the unbelievable grace and mercy He has shown me in spite of my incredible shortcomings, should motivate me to obey Him and to forgive others.  He’d rather have my obedience than my self-determined good deeds.  That’s what is meant by, “to obey is better than sacrifice.”

I want to be better about choosing to look at myself by God’s light rather than by light man created. Oftentimes God’s light is not very flattering; it shows my selfishness, fears, and flaws.  But it’s also the only source of truth here on earth.  It holds all the answers to the questions I have.  It holds everything I need. 

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Farmer's Pie: One More Way to Use Leftovers

Lately I've been trying to do a better job of using leftovers without just reheating the same meal over again. I had some pork tenderloin and mashed potatoes from a meal earlier this week. Since I went with stir-fry to repurpose the leftovers last week, I decided on a combo of pot pie and shepherd's pie for this week, using only things I already had on hand.

First of all, technically shepherd's pie is made with lamb, and if you use beef instead it's called cottage pie. I decided mine should be called "farmer's pie" since it was made with pig!

I added a teaspoon or two of olive oil to a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. I diced up half an onion and a stalk of celery I had in the refrigerator.

When I went to get a clove of garlic to mince, I realized I was out - exactly the reason I like having this minced garlic on hand in the fridge. Just a half teaspoon and we're in business!  

While the onions and celery got tender, I cut the pork into small bite-sized pieces. When I cooked it earlier in the week, I left it a little pink in the center so it was perfect for adding to another dish now without getting overcooked. I set the pork aside for the moment.

Next I found some mixed vegetables in the freezer. I added about a cup to the pan and let them cook to warm up, just a couple of minutes. 

Then I added a couple of tablespoons of flour to the veggies, stirring and cooking for another couple of minutes.

 At this point I would normally have added 2 cups of box chicken broth but I didn't have any on hand. I added 2 teaspoons of chicken base to 2 cups of hot water and added that instead. I turned the heat up to bring it to a boil so it would thicken.

Once the mixture had thickened, I added the pork so it could get heated through. While that happened, I sprayed a couple of dishes with nonstick spray.

I also chopped up a couple of pieces of bacon I spotted when I looked in the freezer for the vegetables, and added it to the pan as well.

I rarely need more than a piece or two of bacon for a recipe. The last time I needed bacon, I cooked up the whole package and just popped what I didn't need into a storage bag and stored it in the freezer. It works well any time I need crumbled bacon for a recipe.

I tasted the mixture for seasoning. Because I used the chicken base instead of broth, I didn't need any more salt. I added a good amount of pepper and thyme for a little more flavor.

Once everything was warm, I poured the mixture evenly into the two dishes.

Then I took the leftover mashed potatoes, divided them evenly in two, and pressed each half into a thin patty to "float" on top of the mixture in the dishes.

 I placed them on the dishes and sprinkled them with paprika to add a little color. (This is pronounced with an extra syllable "pap-a-REEK-a" if you're from parts of the south)

I put the dishes on a baking sheet and baked at 350 degrees for 20 minutes until they started to bubble around the edges.

I forgot to take a picture of them when they came out of the oven, but they looked essentially the same as this, just a little more golden.

We really liked it and I think this method will come in handy in the winter months.  It would work with leftover chicken, beef or pork and you could also throw in small amounts of whatever veggies are in the fridge or freezer that otherwise would get thrown away.

This particular dish also happens to be healthy, since the meat is lean and there is very little added fat. If I'd used my usual low sodium chicken broth instead of the chicken base it would be even better for you.

Anyway, I count this as a success and look forward to more "pies" this fall and winter!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Aunt Shirley and the Dees Women

Last weekend, my mom and I joined two of my aunts (Peggy and Patt) and a cousin (Susie) to spend a day cleaning my Aunt Shirley's house. As a child, I never imagined my feisty, sharp-tongued, hardworking aunt would ever need my help.

Here she is about three years ago along with my Uncle Bully.  (Yep, that's his name, and well-deserved!)

Now she suffers from a form of dementia. She has a lost look in her eyes. When my Mom told her I was along for the day, she asked me who I belonged to, though I spent many weeks at her home through the years. (The "who do you belong to" question is a common one among us cousins, but I've never been asked that by an aunt or uncle.)

But that's recent history.

Way, way, back, in rural south Georgia, there was a young woman who was one child of ten. She grew up in various places, mostly in and near Worth County. Her father was a sharecropper, and later worked on dairy farms.

There were lots of kids at home and not much - if any - money. But they always had clothes to wear and food to eat. My mom says she never felt deprived since they were like most everyone else around them. They were taught (mostly by example...and switches they selected themselves) fear God, work hard, and take care of family.

Aunt Shirley is the one on the back row, second from the left. Aunt Peggy is in the front on the left. My mom is in the front, far right. If you know my family, you'll see how much my niece looks like my mom here. (I love that about family: the resemblances pop up everywhere!)

I love this picture. I love that my older aunts (married, with kids of their own by then) are dressed as if for church, and my uncles look a little more casual, including the baby, Uncle Robert. All of them are fun, friendly people, which does NOT show up here. I guess having your picture taken was serious business in 1953!

Later, apparently bouffant hairdos were all the rage.

My Grandma Dees is seated, and from left to right are Mom, Aunt Shirley, Aunt Margaret, and Aunt Peggy.  I'm going to guess this is the late 60's since my Mom looked like this when I was born. I don't actually remember it, of course....I've seen pictures. ;-)

These women have had a lot of influence on my life and who I am today. A LOT!  Among a million other things....Grandma taught me to show hospitality and love through food; Mom taught me to value family; Aunt Shirley taught me to work hard; Aunt Margaret taught me to sacrifice for family; Aunt Peggy taught me the value of having someone who will always think you're perfect just the way you are.

That was the 50s and 60s. Here they are in the late 90s!

In the background is Aunt Shirley's house. I've always loved it.  It's sad to see it in disrepair now. I used to imagine how I would live in it someday.

That, of course, was before I realized that I'm not the fixer-upper type. Well, and that pesky little detail of actual ownership....

OK, one more picture. Here are Aunt Patt (a voluntary Dees by virtue of marrying my Uncle Wallace), Aunt Shirley, and my cousin Susie. This is at a baby shower for my sister. Since Grayson is almost 12 now, you can do the math.

It was Susie's idea for us to get together at Aunt Shirley's last weekend. She's a super hardworking wife and mom who has, by necessity, learned patience through life's challenges. And the woman is a cleaning machine! 

Many summers, my sister and I spent a week at Aunt Shirley's house. We helped pick vegetables from the huge garden (while whining), clean the house (while whining), hang laundry out on the line (while whining), shell peas (at least we got to sit down), and shuck corn (you guessed it - while whining). OK, before you judge, let me tell you there was no air conditioning in the house, and when you shuck fresh corn outside, the silks stick all over your sweaty self and there are WORMS!

A couple of those years, Susie came too. (I think she now goes by Susan, but she's still Susie to me!) Those were the special years, when we had someone else to help come up with new things to do. And as it turns out, when three little girls whine about shucking an entire truck bed full of corn, something magical happens and your uncle tells you to JUST GO AWAY! And, because you are little girls, you DO! And without one bit of guilt.

Anyway, although last Saturday at Aunt Shirley's was hard, it was also wonderful. I spent a whole day with some of my extended family. We worked together, laughed together, were sad together.  We shared a few meaningful glances and found that it's still hard to get much past Aunt Shirley. We remembered our times together, and worried about the future together. And that's the key; we were together

These days, when we are so busy just getting from one day to the next, we don't always take time to just be together. Cleaning and organizing is physical work, but we are quite capable of talking and catching up at the same time. And somehow, even if we aren't talking about deep, personal issues, we're still bonding. My Aunt Shirley didn't always know who I was throughout the day. But she knew that I was family. And that she is loved. 

Maybe that's the secret of Aunt Shirley and the Dees women. They aren't touchy-feely. They might not sit around and share their deepest thoughts, fears, and triumphs. They probably won't ask you, "How do you feel about that?" when you mention your latest struggle. But they will pray for you. They will come alongside you and will often offer practical help. Just know, if they offer advice, it's likely to be of the "buck up" variety. 

I'm glad I went to Aunt Shirley's last weekend. I hope I remember its lessons.