The Companionship of Bread

Now that it’s December, I’m ready for a new challenge. Last month, I gave away everything from books to toothbrushes {unused, of course} to a solitary cookie cutter in my minimalism dare for each day of November.

I need to pursue a new project for this current month. I’m a “project person,” and having some kind of goal–with defined parameters and time frame–motivates and energizes me. In 2011, when I read the book Radical Homemakers:  Reclaiming Domesticity from a Consumer Culture (which I’ve referenced in this post here), I filled several pages with notes from that book, such as…“Prod any happy person, and you will find a project.” {from Richard Layard, Happiness:  Lessons from a New Science, as quoted by the author of Radical Homemakers.} So here I am, devising a new project. Whether it means I AM a happy person or whether I’m ambitious for a new project in order to experience a bit more happiness, I’m not sure. Either way, a project gives opportunity to create.

circus pic

When I succeeded (on my 3rd try) to create a viable homemade sourdough starter in the fall of 2013, I stopped using much of the commercial yeast I’d ordered and stored in our freezer. I actually have a bit of it left; and since it’s been kept in the freezer–and is of a quality brand, Saf-Instant Yeast–it’s still useful.

Therein lies the fodder for my project:  I shall use up the freezer yeast this month. I’ll bake bread for my family (which I already frequently do, only using the sourdough starter that provides its own “wild caught” yeast instead of commercial yeast) and for others, too. It’s the Christmas season–a perfect time to bake and share, first checking on food allergies and sensitivities, of course. I’ve already promised a loaf to the woman who delivers the farm-fresh milk we order every few weeks.

bread on its side

Thus far, I’ve tried a no-knead artisan bread recipe. I don’t find the “no knead” bread recipes all that appealing, actually. I’ve always enjoyed the hands-on, physical act of kneading bread, ever since I began making brioche and braiding together strands of bread dough in my apartment in Starkville, Mississippi, in my mid-twenties. I even made homemade bagels once (they actually do get boiled) in that quiet little kitchen. But this artisan bread recipe yielded a loaf with lots of room in it (open, airy spaces and holes), which Garfield loves.

Next, I’m trying–it’s rising as I type this post–an Amish bread recipe that makes 2 loaves. It does require kneading, along with a bit of sugar, which I never put in my sourdough bread. This recipe is also called “church bread.” According to the blog post where I found the recipe, the Amish usually attend church in one another’s homes. After the service, they stay and eat a meal together. This bread is a typical part of that shared meal. The breaking of bread together, after feasting upon the Bread of Life together…

bread on table

As you can see, I have a special relationship with bread:  its humble, simple sustenance that serves as a symbol of fellowship and community–both with Christ and with others. In fact, I read a few years ago–in a book called Fit to Burst:  Abundance, Mayhem, and the Joys of Motherhoodby Rachel Jankovic–that the word “companion” actually comes from root words meaning “together with” and “bread.”

As I’ve continued using up food stored in the freezer in efforts toward greater frugality (see my post on Faithfully Frugal), I’ve finished the frozen blueberries and blackberries my parents gave us–added to smoothies and cobblers–and I’ll also wring the last bit of usefulness from this yeast. I’ll do so with the hope that those who receive and eat of the bread this yeast produces will experience Jesus during this Advent season–the Bread of Life who came for us and who wants to be with us.

 

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The Best From the Land

This past weekend, I had the house to myself:  Mike and both boys went camping at the much-anticipated Scout Jamboree. Normally, I attend these camp-outs, too, but Mike just returned Friday morning from being away most of the week at a conference. I needed to rest, to be refreshed, and, truly, I desperately needed to spend intentional time abiding  with Jesus. I elected to skip the camp-out.

open sign

I set a priority of spending lavish time with God on Saturday and meditated on this verse:  Psalm 103:5, “…who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.”

In this psalm, shepherd-turned-king David is actually addressing his own soul. “Hey soul?” he seems to say. “You seek to satisfy your good desires with wrong things or with pseudo good things (this movie, that TV show, another chapter from that interesting book, now how about a podcast?). But my Lord satisfies your desires with good things. And when you’re satisfied with what is from Him, your strength is renewed.” [Movies, books, podcasts, TV shows aren’t necessarily bad things. I’m speaking about how I often turn to what I think or hope will fill up the cracks in my heart because it provides distraction or entertainment or just feels like “me” time. They may be ‘good things’ but cannot fill my empty cup.]

Psalm 103:5 reminded me of Isaiah 1:19…If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land…” 

open door to field

If we satisfy our hunger with what truly brings peace and rest, we will feast–we’ll be nourished, strengthened, renewed. Here’s a little story I wrote almost 2 decades ago based on that hope. Perhaps these words will remind you of the good that God has for you.

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The lush, green grass looked too good to resist; I slipped off my shoes and left them by a fence post. Picking up my basket, I skipped and danced toward the majestic apple tree in the middle of my field. I expected an abundant supply of fruit today, a basket full of the ripe red fruit that the tree offered. The tree’s bounty invited me, lured me; I always stood in awe of its grandeur and provision.

Every day, I brought my empty basket to this tree. Every day, I ventured to it in order to fill my basket with the fruit that I needed. As I ate my fill over and over, I came to desire these apples more and more. I needed them, yes—I needed their nourishment, the  sustenance that they provided. Yet, more than that, I had acquired a taste for them. I had grown to crave them, to long for their sweet, satisfying taste. Over time, I came to want nothing else; no other fruit in any surrounding field tasted as good as my apples.

jar of strawberry drink

In the past, I thought that other fruit might be what I wanted, might be exactly the taste that I craved. So, leaving the safe boundaries of my own thriving field, I slipped through the fence to sample the fruit of another field. Nervous yet excited about this new jaunt, I stole out of my pasture at twilight. In the waning light, I cut myself on the barbed wire—on my hands, my back, my calves. The barbs snagged my hair. When I reached the tree in the nearby field, I was bleeding and scared. All light had faded; stars were invisible in the cloudy sky. This field was not like mine:  It was dry, dusty; its fruit tree yielded sickly, poor fruit. The fruit hanging from the tree was too green to eat, so I picked up a piece from the ground. Feeling around for rotten spots on it, I found none and bit into it. It tasted sour, and, looking more closely, I found worm-eaten holes in the fruit. I dropped it in disgust and began to run back toward the fence. In my haste, I received more scratches from the barbs. Crying and panting, I vowed never to leave my beautiful pasture again.

front door

Since that time, my happiness in my own field has grown and grown. Every day, I pick my apples—just enough for that day’s need. There are always more the next morning; my tree provides fresh fruit each day. And every day I enjoy my field:  I run, turn cartwheels, take naps in the sun, pick great bunches of flowers. Yesterday, I had a picnic. My contentment finds its home in my own field. As I consider the feast that awaits me each day, I munch a juicy red apply and wiggle my toes in the grass.

Psalm 16:5-6…LORD, you alone are my portion and my cup; you make my lot secure. 
The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance.

 

465 Things

Today–November 30–concludes my month of the minimalism dare. I’ve completed the daily donations (or returns of borrowed items or throwing out what could go in the recycle bin) for each day…1 on the first, 2 on the 2nd, 3 on the 3rd, etc. In case you’re wondering, that amounts to 465 items tossed or given or removed from our home in some fashion.

trains

Some things I discarded–marbles, ponytail holders, notepads–didn’t take up much space in our home. Others, though, such as the 4 garment bags my husband willingly surrendered, did free up more room in the closet.

I got rid of my high school graduation cap and tassel during this month of clarifying, although I’ve held onto them for decades. But I don’t think I’m going to forget I graduated from high school, so it felt unnecessary to keep those things.

Best of all, we sent several bags of boys’ clothing to a woman who works with at-risk children in Tennessee. In addition to clearing out excess stuff in our own home, we were also able to pass along things that might truly serve others.

house and path

One of the things I liked best about seeing homes for sale over 2 years ago when we planned to move was gazing upon the empty spaces in these houses. I’d like to create a bit more open space in our own home, so I’m planning to take this dare again next year–probably in February (another short month). I’ll be sure and keep you in the loop.

Tomorrow we enter a new month:  December, the month of Advent and Christmas and New Year’s. So much to look forward to, and I hope you look forward to this new month as well–and to the news that is always good news. From our family’s favorite line from The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, “Hey! Unto you a child is born.”

 

 

Of Walls, Interviews, and Freedom

Last week I finished reading a book I’ve had on my “need to read” list for months:  Forty Autumns:  A Family’s Story of Courage and Survival on Both Sides of the Berlin Wall. Absorbing these words about the history of the Iron Curtain and the Cold War and how Communism came to Eastern Europe was eye-opening. The lengths that people went to in order to escape being controlled by the State–digging a tunnel under the Wall; building a hot air balloon to float over to the West zone–humbled me. Having grown up with freedom, I can only imagine that hunger, that drive, to find liberty.

man on suitcase

This story also reminded me of a young woman I knew when Mike and I lived in New Zealand. Antje–originally from Germany–and I first met as I talked with students at the University of Auckland, where she was a graduate student studying film. We discussed matters of faith, belief, God…and she indicated that she was an atheist. We had a thoughtful, polite conversation, although we agreed on very little regarding our beliefs. Antje shared about her German heritage and about her grandparents who had lived in East Germany, where they had run a small flower shop.

Then Antje asked if I would be her subject for an interview she needed to produce for one of her classes. The assignment was to film an interview and then write up the transcript. I happily agreed, unsure exactly what she hoped to cover in the interview.

But I gamely went into it, and Antje asked many questions about what I did as a missionary–what I told people about the Bible; why I chose to come to New Zealand to talk with people about faith; how I raised funds to support my mission work. She’d really done her research on Cru (the organization with which my husband and I work), and she asked significant questions. We concluded the interview; she took some extra footage of me with a few other students. She thanked me graciously, and we said good-bye.

kiwi

Then she called me a few days later to explain that something had gone wrong with the video; Antje asked if I’d be willing to give it another try. I agreed, and for this interview, I invited her and her project partner over to the little flat my husband and I shared. I offered to make tea, then realized we were out of milk. (Apparently some people like milk in their tea. I am NOT one of them.) I shooed Mike out the door to go buy milk for our guests and then got set up for the interview.

Antje asked some of the same questions as before, along with a few original ones, too. One of which was along the lines of whether I, in my ministry, am “selling heaven.” If, by raising funds as a missionary to spend my time interacting with college students about the topics of Jesus and how to have a relationship with God, I am selling heaven…

statue

The question caught me off guard, but I did my best to explain that my answer to that question was “no.” People who donate financially so that Mike and I can do what we do as missionaries do so because their lives have been so transformed by knowing Jesus that they want to give others the opportunity to know Him, too. But we don’t “buy heaven” for ourselves by giving money to support mission work, I stressed. Or by doing mission work, either.

We wrapped up the interview, and Antje and her classmate, Kat, complimented me on my lack of “uhms” and “uhs.” It would make it easier to transcribe, they said. Antje and I didn’t have any follow-up conversations after that interview. She had no interest in looking into the claims of Christ, so we both moved on.

But I thought about her grandparents behind the Iron Curtain, about others living in fear under Communism, about their desires for freedom…and I pondered, too, that one of the ways in which those of us who know Jesus have been transformed is that we’ve been brought into freedom. “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free,” we read in Galatians 5:1. Not a political freedom, not freedom of speech or even freedom of religion. But a lasting, never-ending freedom. A freedom that one of the students I knew in Romania, who grew up under Communism and witnessed the revolution in that country in 1989, expressed this way:  “Freedom to choose to do what is right–that is real freedom.”

girl in the sky

Freedom from the penalty and punishment of sin; freedom to rest in the Father’s love without striving and straining to make ourselves lovable; and, yes, the freedom to choose to do what is right–this is the freedom for which Christ has set His people free.

 

Minimalism Dare Update: The Story of the Calendars

So far, I’ve set aside 276 things to give away during this November minimalism dare. We dropped off several bags of items at Goodwill this week. I’ve been scouring the house (and finding no small amount of satisfaction doing it) and getting rid of everything from garment bags that once held my husband’s old suits to marbles. (Yes, marbles. They somehow show up in the junk drawer on occasion.)

I also dug out several old calendars, all from 2010, that I recycled this week. I made these calendars–designed them and then had them printed–in hopes of selling them as a fundraiser for the scholarship program with which I used to volunteer. We always needed to raise money, as non-profits do, so as to provide more scholarships to our participants. So I created a small desk calendar using photos of clotheslines (just like the one at the top of this page) that we’d taken all over Florida and Mississippi, too. The ones I’d kept were leftovers that hadn’t sold.

calendar for blog

We actually didn’t make much money on the calendar sales–probably just broke even. In order to come up with the funds to pay for the printing of the calendars, I didn’t take money from our scholarship fund coffers. Instead, I sold my hair. Sort of.

In 2009, the economy wasn’t so strong, but it seemed people were still buying and selling human hair. I knew this because I looked at various sites where people do that sort of thing–maybe to make wigs, I’m not totally sure. So I took pictures of my hair (almost waist length at that point) and posted it for sale on the site. That summer, I received an email from the hair-selling website:  Somebody actually wanted to buy my hair for $200. (People with hair much longer than mine were selling theirs for upwards of $600.) But instead of buying the hair outright, this individual wanted to do the cutting and take pictures of the new haircut to post on a site advertising hair trends. I checked out the website where the person wanted to post the haircut photos, and it seemed legitimate.

sparkler

Then I started to hesitate–it seemed so strange, and this person admitted to having had little (if any) hair dressing experience. And I wasn’t sure where the haircut was even to take place–at my house, maybe? So I backed out. Later, this would-be haircut trendsetter agreed to let me get the haircut at Great Clips (and would pick up the cost of the cut) and then take photos for the hairstyle website. And, of course, the haircut would be chosen by the person paying. Then the hair itself would be donated to Locks of Love. Only now, under the new plan, my payment would be only $50. When I questioned the change in price, the person said his “boss” wouldn’t agree to pay $200. He never told me the boss of what–in fact, this person explained that he worked at a grocery store. But I happily decided to accept the $50. Bird in the hand, bird in the bush, all that.

So…Mike and the boys (I wanted the moral support) and I trudged up to Great Clips one fall Saturday, met a stranger, and then I submitted to a very, very short hair cut. It was trendy, though, and actually I did like it. At church the following Sunday, a young girl pointed out that my hair cut looked a lot like Kate Gosselin’s. (Remember, it was 2009.)

I had a couple photos snapped of my new hair-do after the cut and then left Great Clips with $50. I never saw my hair photos posted online–although I’m not sure I ever looked for them–but was glad for the money and glad that the hair ultimately got donated. The whole experience was weird, for sure, and I don’t plan on trying to sell my hair again–even for a good cause. I’ll just stick with straight-up donations.

rubber ducks

I’m not sure why I held onto those old calendars for so long. But the time had come to get rid of them, and I’m glad I did.

Purging sure gives an opportunity for a walk down memory lane, I suppose.

The Brave Phone Call

Last month, while my husband was traveling, I took the boys to a birthday party for a friend of ours. On the way out the door, I glanced in the mirror and made sure to wipe away any blush I may have put on my cheeks for church earlier that morning. Why? Because I remembered who one of the guests at the party might be. A friend of a friend, this person only ever crossed paths with me at events at this particular friend’s house. It had been a few years since I’d seen her, but I distinctly recalled a hurtful comment she’d made to me at the last party that we’d both attended. And by smearing away any traces of make-up, I felt I’d removed any ammunition she might have for additional remarks about my face.

cacti

Here’s what went down back in 2014:  Although I’d been sick for over a week, I felt better on the day our friends had planned to host a party for their little boy. I thought my face looked gray and wan from having been sick, so I put on some make-up in hopes of perking up my appearance.

During the party, I met the friend of a friend (let’s call her Harriet, because it’s not even close to her name), and we talked a bit. Later, as we circulated through the backyard party, Harriet and I intersected again. She explained how she’d recently begun selling a skin care line. Then she declared with alacrity, “And you have rosacea!” In case you don’t know, rosacea is, according to dictionary.com, “a chronic form of acne affecting the nose, forehead, and cheeks, characterized by red pustular lesions.” Wow. Apart from some wrinkles and a few freckles, there was nothing on my face–except the inexpertly applied blush. Maybe the pinkish-red shade of the make-up led her to this on-the-spot diagnosis.

My response? “No, I don’t. I’ve been to dermatologists before–concerned about getting checked for signs of skin cancer–and I’ve never heard that.” A moment later, I walked away.

Fast forward almost 3 years later to the party of last month…Remembering that Harriet would probably attend this party, too, I scrubbed at the blush–and hoped I could avoid conversations with her.

bunting

God must have heard my inner chatter about those plans to avoid Harriet, because He said, Nothing doing. She and her family arrived about the same time my boys and I did. And we were some of the first comers. So…not really feasible to avoid her. Buffered by our mutual friend (although neither of these women knew of my wish to avoid interaction with Harriet), we 3 women talked a little. Harriet asked me a question; I answered. Then her next comment felt a bit challenging, and it rubbed me the wrong way. Plus, I was T.I.R.E.D. and flying solo as a mama for 11 days straight. And my next response to her was more reactionary, a little more intense than I’d intended.

More people had arrived by that time, and I wandered off. For the rest of the party, Harriet and I didn’t cross paths again. By the end of the evening, I’d been contemplating approaching her to explain–why I wanted to duck when I saw her coming, why I’d been testy with her. But in the busy-ness of getting children ready to leave, I didn’t pursue it. I planned to text my friend who hosted the party for Harriet’s information and then call her in the coming week.

After getting Harriet’s contact info, I called her. I apologized for my abrupt comments during our conversation at the party (that I’d recognized had startled her while we were talking). I told her that her question sounded a bit confrontational–but that I probably read into that question of hers because of what had happened a few years before. I apologized for having tried to avoid her. She explained that, after the conversation at the party 2 days before, she’d then tried to avoid me. She’d assumed I was exhausted, knowing my husband was out of town, but she also wasn’t sure about wanting to talk with me anymore. When I explained about her rosacea comment, she actually remembered the conversation. I knew back then that she’d probably gotten caught up in excitement about her new side business; I willingly gave her the benefit of the doubt, believing she hadn’t intended to be hurtful. She apologized sincerely for the offense of the comment and accepted my apology, too.

rotary phone

It’s unlikely that I’ll see Harriet again anytime soon. But that truly doesn’t matter. God’s Spirit impressed on me both the need to apologize for my own brusque words to Harriet as well as to be vulnerable enough to acknowledge how I’d been hurt years before. My honesty gave her the opportunity to understand more about the situation. If I’d never shared this with Harriet, she’d have had no way of knowing that those words of hers had bothered me, had even stirred up insecurity. I couldn’t have held her responsible for information she didn’t have. But having the information meant she could then deal with the impact of her words.

I didn’t approach this phone call with the expectation of receiving an apology from Harriet–although I figured she might offer one. And I certainly wouldn’t have demanded one. What I did hope for, though, was mightily fulfilled–that 2 sisters in Christ could wade through a potentially messy conversation with humility and compassion and, in the end, arrive at a unity rooted in authenticity.

The next time I see Harriet, I’ll be the first one at our friend’s party to greet her.

 

Update on my Minimalist Challenge

Today my to-do list included, among other activities, to toss an old tennis ball back and forth with Woodrow in the backyard (which he likes to do and asked me about this afternoon) and to finish browsing through a book of fighter planes with Woodrow (that he’d also asked me to do–we started it Monday night and finished it this afternoon). This is a large part of what I do as a “professional mother,” investing time in my  children. And that makes it to the to-do list.

dry erase board with markers

Spending these moments together with him, doing activities that he’d chosen, confirmed something for me:  My first born’s love language is quality time. My own love languages are words of affirmation and physical touch; I think Garfield’s are receiving gifts and also physical touch. Knowing what speaks love to my children helps me to pursue them intentionally, offering what I know will bless them.

Have you heard about the 5 love languages? You can discover more about those at this site.  The book of the same name (The Five Love Languages) has been around for decades, but I find it’s helpful to know this kind of information about yourself and about the ones you love.

wreath with garland

Other items on my to-do list today:  bake bread, make smoothies, and–of course–since it’s November 8, to organize my 8 things to purge in my November Minimalism Dare. I’ve been faithful with this practice each day this month, and it’s giving me the gift of anticipation. Each morning, I wake up eager to toss something else into the give-away bag. Part of me wants to rush through it and dump everything into the container headed to Goodwill all at once (I’ve pulled out a pile of stuff that I will eventually get rid of and am so far picking through that for each day’s give away). But I’m heeding my internal reminders to pace myself, to enjoy the ride, and to value having something to anticipate each day.

Here’s a sampling of what I’ve purged so far in November:

Day 3:  1 glass jar with lid + 1 fabric swatch + 1 piece of clothing

Day 6:  1 tent (an extra one we’d been trying to sell–it finally sold!) + 1 luggage tag + 1 two-minute timer from an old Boggle game (we lost some of the letter cubes) + 1 ribbon + 1 piece of fabric + 1 cord with tassels

Day 8:  1 garment bag + 7 make-up samples

chalk spilling from tin bucket

On day 2, we gave away a box of macadamia nut milk that we’d won at a grocery store event (random, I know). We didn’t need it, so we passed it along to a family who did. The make-up samples went to a women’s Bible study via a friend, hopefully blessing some women there who might enjoy these items. On day 7, I FINALLY returned 2 books I’d borrowed from my team leader with Cru–I’d had them more than 2 years.

So, this project isn’t only satisfying to me; it’s actually giving me the means to bless others, too. I can’t wait to discover what else I can share, toss, sell, or donate this month!