Tuesday, April 28, 2009

First planting and first harvest

The past week was unusually hot for April--in the 90's. The warm weather makes us want to get out and plant the garden. I had to hold my husband back and remind him that Mother's Day is the official planting time for our state, when all danger of frost is over. Some vegetables can be planted early though, so Fred got out the small tiller and stirred up a small area in our big plot of ground for our salad garden. He's already tilled twice with the big tiller, adding in fertilizer and mulch. Arielle said, "I can't wait to get my hands in the dirt!" The girls helped to plant the spinach, lettuce, onions, and radishes--in their swimsuits. Fred promised them he would spray them with the hose after we finished.

I noticed the rhubarb was ripe and ready, so we cut several stalks for everyone's favorite-- Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie. The girls wore the huge leaves for hats and then used them for flamenco dancing (in their swimsuits) before tossing them in the compost heap behind our house. I know, the leaves are poisonous. But no one was eating them. Friends, anyone want some rhubarb? Come on over!

We have been planting our garden for 12 years now. Fred has expanded it, fenced it, then re-fenced it to keep out a variety of critters. We rotate the crops and we replenish the soil. We've had to re-plant several times after flooding and a few times we've slopped through the mud after a thunderstorm and helped the baby plants to stand back up. But our garden rarely disappoints. We never use pesticides or herbicides and we have never had any attack of insects or disease. Why is this?

It's a healthy garden. The sun shines hot and strong on it most of the day. We usually get enough rain to keep it hydrated. We weed and thin to prevent over-crowding. A multitude of birds and bats eat up the pesty insects. We give the garden lots of attention and watch for problems. Maybe this is good advice for humans too. Good nutrition, sunshine, fluids. Keep out what hinders good health--poor diet, inactivity, stress. Stay away from crowds. And then let God do the rest. He provided our bodies with good immune systems to keep the pesky bugs out. If they do happen to get in, they are quickly destroyed.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


I've long battled food. You would never know it as I've always been thin. But weight isn't necessarily an indicator of food issues. I am not alone. I've had many, many conversations with other women about food. I've already discussed my decision to cut down on sugar, and I have. I read years ago that if you crave sugar, you're depressed. If you crave salt, you're angry. Well, I guess I'm both. Though I'm not sure there is really any truth to that. Bottom line: I eat more than I need to eat.

In nursing school, and later chiropractic school, I studied nutrition. I know the basics of a healthy diet and I've since followed all the latest breaking news from the scientists, much of it conflicting. I had every good intention of saving my daughters from the typical American diet, but my grand ideas were quickly sabotaged by my fat/sugar loving husband. So while I could discipline myself to only buy good food, he brings temptation into the house. The girls still eat fairly well though, lots of fruit and vegetables, along with pasta and rice. They eat very little meat, as they don't like it. Maybe genetics has determined that.

I think food can destroy good health, and also it can be medicine. When I was sick with my lung ailment years ago, Fred would bring me fresh strawberries every day. I ate huge quantities of strawberries and I believe they were a part of my healing. I have celiac disease, so wheat is toxic to me. We know diet is very important. If we have children, we owe them our very best effort to give them the right food so they can grow properly. But where does being a good steward of the body God gave us clash with being obsessed with food? No doubt as a culture we spend way too much time thinking about food. (I know I've spent way too much time preparing food!)

I read a fascinating article by Mark Galli in Christianity Today. He discused the numerous studies always being conducted on food and food's impact on health. In particular, we're always warned of the horrors of red meat. He comments, "Now every time I sit down to a polish sausage or hamburger, I will not be able to count it as joy. The steak sitting gloriously before me will not signal a gift from God but a tempation of the Health Devil and the Grim Reaper."

And there's the point: we can't enjoy the food God has provided for us because food brings guilt! We can't be thankful for it. How can you thank God when you are giving in to "temptation"? Galli goes on to say, "The bottom line is that food of all sorts--but especially food that we have traditionally enjoyed the most, the lusty foods dripping with sweetness and fat--is now seen as a threat. A threat to what? Well, longevity. Most of these studies are about discovering the relationship of a food or nutrient to death...the goal of the scientific health community seems to be to flag foods that cut life short, because, as we all know, the idea is to live as long as possible."

Is this Biblical? How liberating this thought is to me! Can we leave the length of our days to God and stop obsessing about every bite of food? Let's end the guilt and be grateful to God for the nourishment and yes, the pleasure food gives. Can you tell me where the scriptures say our goal is to live as long as possible? That the pursuit of the fountain of youth should be our goal? Galli says, "This fixation on food's relationship to death is but another sign of our culture's deep fear of death." As Christians, what do we really believe?

I think I'll ENJOY a dish of Breyer's strawberry ice cream right now while I plan tomorrow's lessons for my girls, my very healthy girls, raised on the bounty of our organic vegetable garden but allowed the occasional treats their father takes joy in giving them. Scripture tells us "all things in moderation." (Oh, if we would just do that!) We press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. The goal is not longevity and food is not our god.

Mark Galli sums up his article with these wise words: "The point of our sojourn on this planet is not to live long but to live well."

Monday, April 13, 2009

Cooking for Alpha

Fred and I have cooked the dinners for all the Alpha attendees for as long as Alpha has been offered to the community at our church. It's been three years now, two sessions each year. For those who don't know, Alpha is an international, inter-denominational, 10-week program designed to explore the Christian faith over a meal, friendly conversation in small groups, and a short video presentation. It is supported by most all Christian churches. At our church alone, hundreds of people have attended, many of them new to the faith or questioning what it's all about.

We have had our struggles in the kitchen. In the beginning, we couldn't find anyone to help us cook for the 40-70 people who attend each week, except for one woman who makes the dessert. But now, Fred and I easily do most of the work alone. We've had many frustrating encounters with the Awana cooking crew, with which we share the kitchen on the same night. But now, Fred and I have made peace with them, and they have reluctantly accepted the fact that we have a right to the kitchen too. We've had complaints about the menu, but that doesn't bother us anymore. It is what it is. Fred and I often used to be short with each other after we got home at night, both of us exhausted after standing for 4 hours staight without a break. But now we're stronger and tougher.

People ask us, why do we continue to do this? First of all, we believe each person should give back to their home church. We receive so much from our church, so we need to contribute what we can of our time, treasure and talent. We don't have much treasure to tithe, so it's our time we give. Maybe talent too--I have been cooking for a big family since I was a young woman, so that experience is being put to good use.

Second, we want to be part of God's work in this world. Many people ask, "How can I find out what God's will is for my life?" I heard an answer to that question that made sense. "Find out what God is doing and join in." A friend first told me about Alpha years ago. She had attended the program at her church and she said it changed her whole life for the better. Then one year at the end of one of our Alpha sessions, several people gave testimonies on how it had helped them. Fred and I are glad to be a small part of that.

Also, every now and then we get positive feedback and it warms our hearts and makes us want to continue. In this last session especially, several people have let us know how much they enjoy the food and tell us they appreciate us cooking their dinner each week. Tomorrow another 10-week course ends. Each time, Fred and I re-evaluate. Will we continue? And if we don't, who will do it? It is very hard to get anyone to volunteer for this job.

On Good Friday I attended a service with a friend at another church. Some words spoken by a woman there stuck with me these last few days. On the night before Jesus died, he washed his disciples' feet. This was a job no one else wanted to do. Then Jesus said, "Go and do likewise." Sometimes we are looking for a big, important, glorious ministry in the church. But maybe we just need to do the job no one else wants to do. We need to be a servant in the house of our God.
Last month we were asked to assist at a special event. People involved in Alpha programs from churches all across the metropolitan area were invited to come to an information-sharing night at our church. Also, pastors and priests from churches that do not currently have the Alpha program were invited to find out about it. There were over 100 people there, all gathered in our gym for music, a meal, and fellowship. We had many helpers from many churches. In the kitchen with us were women from two local Catholic churches and also an elderly couple from the Presbyterian church across the street from our house. I stood at the stove and cooked all the chicken cutlets and let others hustle around setting up and preparing the other food. It was great to have help! And I was privileged to see the diverse, colorful groups walk in. Members of black and Asian churches from the inner city, Catholic priests, Methodists, and Baptists poured through our doors.

A couple of guys from our church played guitars and led the group in praise songs. Everyone stood and lifted their voices in worship! How pleased God must have been to see a fulfillment of Jesus' prayer to his father in John 17, "that they may be one as we are one." We celebrated our common belief in the gospel of Jesus Christ, and at least for one night, we forgot all about our differences.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Journey stories

I was asked to speak at the annual women's conference at our church. Several people would be sharing their individual life journeys and the attendees would be encouraged to begin writing their own stories. The event would serve as a mini-writing workshop. We all have stories to tell and our lives are so different. I was asked to talk about our decision to adopt our children from China.

My initial response was to say no to the request. I do not like speaking in front of a group, especially a crowd as large as this one would be. It is stressful and uncomfortable for me. I had little time to prepare. There were plenty of reasons why I couldn't do it. Then the thought came to me that maybe I had something important to share, something that would be beneficial to others. Maybe a child somewhere would have a home because I told of my wonderful daughters and how they have blessed my life. Maybe someone struggling with defeat would be encouraged by my story of God's forgiveness. My adoption story is really a story of forgiveness--too long to tell here now. Bottom line--God was nudging me to speak, and in reluctant obedience I said I would participate.

What an incredible morning it was! I realized how much I missed the women of my church. Since I began homeschooling, I let go of a lot of church activities that used to be so important to my life. I spent much time through the years with so many of the women who were here this day. Many were close at one time and I was so glad to see them and catch up on our lives.

Each of the very different speakers gave testimony to God's hand on her life as each traveled a very different journey. An older woman spoke first. She was one of the founding members of our church, a girl from Kentucky who, with her husband, began one of the largest churches in this suburban area. I was second to speak. Maybe I will have the courage to post my story here someday. It was hard to tell that morning and it would be hard to tell here. In summary, my story is about a woman who loved Jesus but decided at one point to pursue her own interests and rebel against God's ways. It is the story of my way back and how God forgave me when I didn't deserve it and then abundantly blessed me with these two precious daughters.

Next, to my amazement, was my "angel" K.! Yes, the same woman who shared her wisdom with me on Christmas Eve. She spoke first about her difficulties with family members afflicted with mental illness. She said she heard a sermon once and the pastor quoted Philippians 1:21: "For to me, to live is "____." He invited people to fill in the blank. K. said, "For to me, to live is suffering." Later she realized that throughout her life she had been such a joyful person, and that God had given her a gift of joy from childhood. She saw she had lost that joy and with God's help, reclaimed it. Later she could honestly say, "For to me, to live is Christ." She then told about her diagnosis of stage 3 ovarian cancer a year ago. Through her testimony, we saw that even now she has not lost that joy. She told her story with great humor and no sign of self-pity. She ended her story with the next line of the scripture, "For to me, to live is Christ, to die is gain."

The next speaker unexpectedly lost her husband last year. She honestly told of the excruciating pain she's endured. She revealed how God has ministered to her through the Word that keeps coming to her mind. All the scriptures she's memorized throughout her lifetime now comfort her. God continually reassures her of his presence and that keeps her going forward each day.

Jesus said, "In me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world." I've told some sad tales lately on this blog and I need to remember these words myself. God will sustain us through whatever life brings. He's given us his Word to comfort us by promising he will always be with us. His Word is living! He has also given us the sisterhood of other women to console and affirm and encourage each other. When we are strong, we uphold others who have lost their strength. We weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice.

What would your journey story be?