Monday, March 31, 2014

idolatry and theft, girlfriend-style

It was gloriously sunny today, and I made my first-ever batch of lip balm.  Despite being ridiculously simple, this minor accomplishment filled me with joy and pride.

My husband, calling to consult on a work issue earlier (before the arrival of the lip balm ingredients from Amazon), asked what I was doing.  "Making Tinker Toy presents for Lil' Snip," I told him.  He asked what I was going to do (as if my activities might possibly become more interesting in the future).  And while I shared his hope for change, I could see no further into my future than "Make more Tinker Toy presents for Lil' Snip."

[Lil' Snip is trying to start a trend:  we make "presents" out of Tinker Toys and wrap them in doll blankets to give each other.  Lil' Snip is pretty much alone in his interest in this new activity.]

The other night my Farmer came home from work a bit early, followed by a large white van, which opened its back doors and disgorged two large bookcases into my kitchen.  We ate supper in their shadow.  Since my Farmer had an evening commitment at church, I was left alone with the deliciously revel-some task of completely re-arranging five of our current bookshelves in order to trade three of them for these two.

The "toy" shelf became the "school" shelf, and our largest bookshelf (made by my Farmer in a long-ago shop class) became the "toy" shelf.  The shelf with the printer on it, the tall corner shelf, and the previous "school" shelf all became null and void, replaced by the splendid new bookshelves and a gloriously comfortable swivel chair recently rescued from Goodwill.

All of that, and the vacuuming besides, took me about three hours.  My back complained a little afterward, but my brain told it to zip it since that kind of fun only comes along once a decade or so.

So what with the sunshine and lip balm and the bookshelves and the Tinker Toys, I should have plenty of exciting things to think about, but my mind keeps returning to a talk I heard the other week on covetousness.

That's right, covetousness.

Specifically, women feeling discontented with who they are and what they have, and coveting the stuff and talents and bodies of friends and strangers.

We focused mainly on why it's wrong (it's idolatry) and how to stop ("set your minds on things above" and be grateful for who we are and what we have).

We all agreed that it's a problem (we easily listed columns of things we covet).  But here's the thing:  it's so easy to say "change your thoughts" and sooooooo hard to actually do.  I know, I know, "take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ" - but what does that even mean, and HOW do I ever begin to do it consistently enough to make a new pattern in my brain?!

And don't even think about telling me anything involving the words "discipline" or "self-control" or even "just let God do the work in you."  Been there, done that.  So far it's not working, that I can see.

I don't know the 12 steps or anything, but it seems to me that sometimes, to kick a habit, you need replace it with something new, so here's a thought or two on beating covetousness:

One time when I was a year or two out from having a baby and had actually lost the weight, a friend, while acknowledging that she herself hadn't gotten back in shape yet, complimented me on how good I looked. I was a little stunned that she was able do that, to be honest, but her admiration was a gift without strings, not covetous or accusatory, and it struck me that perhaps this is a way out of the comparison trap.

I had a friend once who used to remind me, mid-rant, that I do not get to be God, and that life isn't all about me.  I don't get to be good at all the things I'd like to be good at.  I don't get to have all the opportunities I'd like to have.  I don't get to be born with the talents or personality or body type that some of my friends have.

She was dead right.   God made me, me, and my job is to be grateful for what he gave me, and celebrate what he gave my sisters in Christ, whether I got what they have, or not.

The thing is, we're all hungry for approval and admiration.  And yes, it is God's approval that we ultimately seek, but let's face the facts:  he also put us here for each other.  We are His hands and feet to each other, and sometimes we are His smile, too.

Did you ever finally accomplish something that you were proud of - a meal that looks and tastes good after endless days of frozen this or canned that, or a corner of a room that at long last is a thing of beauty instead of a shameful mess, or a child who did something clever instead of just wreaking havoc like usual - and full of the joy of "finally!" you post a photo on your social network of choice.  Ever?  Sure you have.  And why?  Not to boast, not because you really think you're something special, but because you doubt that you are and you'd like a little reassurance from your friends, because you are longing for someone to rejoice with you, to celebrate one of life's scarce little victories, to smile with you and say "good job!"

Now hold that up to another scenario you've surely heard as often as I have:  a friend voices her disgust with facebook or pinterest or someone's blog (please, God, not mine) because of "those braggy people out there who always have to show off their gorgeous perfect homes and their photogenic gourmet food and their fashionable little angel-children."

My sisters, that is theft of the grossest kind.

You may blanch at the thought of going into a store and pocketing merchandise without intending to pay for it, but when you even mentally accuse someone of bragging when they display a success, and covet instead of rejoicing with them, you have stolen what is rightly theirs.

Paul exhorts us in Romans 12 to "Rejoice with those who rejoice".

And remember the story Jesus tells about a woman who calls her friends to celebrate with her when she finds a coin she has lost?  Those precious moments when we find the coin, when we are momentarily lifted from our not-enough-ness by something good that we've had a hand in for once, don't completely satisfy in and of themselves.  Solitary joy is never as sweet as joy shared with friends.  We are, together, a body, after all, and when one part suffers, we all suffer; when one part rejoices, we [should] all rejoice.

Maybe instead of focusing on ourselves and our apparent lack, and resenting our sisters for the gifts that God has given them, we could acknowledge their gifts, and build each other up with compliments (or requests for lessons).  A few less assumptions of "what a bragger!" and a few more "good job, girlfriend!!", and we might actually begin to make a dent in the insecurity that fuels covetousness in the first place.  And if you really can't change your perspective on virtual media, then by all means stay away from it - but do compliment and cheer on your sisters in real life!!

Please, try it?

Next time you see a gorgeous snapshot of someone's living room or gourmet supper on facebook, or lavish party decorations on pinterest, don't hate.  Celebrate.  We all have a closet / body part / habit that we're embarrassed by, a seemingly essential skill we lack, and a spiritual discipline we can't seem to get the hang of.  That's part of being human in a fallen world.

But what if we let our imperfections go, and instead of idolizing other women, and stealing their joy, we cheered each other on, and shared in each others' accomplishments, be they frequent or few and far-between . . .

. . . how could we change the world?  Our hearts?!

Now, how about some heavily edited snapshots of that lip balm project ....?  [juuuuust kidding!!]

Monday, February 24, 2014

the couch

We are home.

After nearly a week of sighing longingly over its photo on craigslist, we have viewed the couch in person.  We have sat on the couch.  We have asked probing questions about the couch.  We have smelled the couch and checked its hidden seams for evidence of infestation.

We have purchased the couch.  We have loaded it into a borrowed truck and muscled it into our living room (necessitating the removal of certain door hardware to do so).

And now we are staying up WAY past our bedtimes, trying to get used to the couch.

It is mammoth.

We like it, I hasten to add - although the cushions do seem to tilt forward in a most unwelcoming fashion.  We are hoping to break them in (and we know we're good at that, since our thorough success is the primary reason we're getting rid of our old couch) and help them form new habits.

But ... it's mammoth.

And it's not alone.  It came ("oh, joy!" we thought) with a matching mammoth chair and ottoman, both of which completely redefine the word "overstuffed."

It didn't look big in its old house.  (Of course, there was nothing else in the room to lend a sense of scale, whereas here it has plenty of normal-sized furniture to dwarf.)

I was eager for a new couch.  I just ... didn't realize that it would look like it was trespassing.  How long will this last?  Can I get used to it faster by going in and out of the room several times - say, oh, four dozen?  Or will it take days ... ?  Months?

And yet, I like it.

I just feel sorry for the recliner.  It used to dominate the room.  Now it cowers in the corner, reduced in size like a great-grandmother, shrunken with age.

[pictures, added for Queenie:]



(note the recliner, reduced in the background, and the mammoth matching chair,
together with its ottoman taking up three times the floor space of its predecessor)
(note also the primary use of the ottoman as a Lego table)

Friday, February 21, 2014

a mighty fortress is our God

text by Martin Luther; translated by Frederick H. Hedge

A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing;
Our helper, He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing.
For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and power are great, and armed with cruel hate:
On earth is not his equal.

Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing,
Were not the right man on our side, the man of God's own choosing.
Dost ask who that may be?  Christ Jesus, it is he;
Lord Sabaoth, his name, from age to age the same,
And he must win the battle.

And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed his truth to triumph through us.
The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure;
One little word can fell him.

That word above all earthly powers, no thanks to them, abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours, through him who with us sideth.
Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;
The body they may kill; God's truth abideth still;
His kingdom is forever.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

orange marmalade triple brownie torte

Sugar recently turned twelve, and to celebrate, we invented a cake as sweet and original as she is.  It got so many raves that I thought I'd share it with you .... the recipe, that is, since the cake itself is now just crumbs and a happy memory.


First, work up an appetite.  You're going to need it, along with a high tolerance for sweet things!

Next, set out four large eggs to come to room temperature.  (Or, if you're in a hurry - not that I'm ever in a hurry for brownies or anything - cover them with warmish water to bring them to room temperature.)

Melt 3/4 cup butter in a small saucepan, and stir into it 3/4 cup cocoa (Wilbur's is best, if you can get it).  Remove from heat and allow to cool at least somewhat.

Rub the sides of three 9" round cake pans with shortening, cut out parchment paper (wax paper will do in a pinch) in circles to fit inside the bottoms, and turn the oven on to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.

Into a large bowl, break the four eggs and sprinkle with 1/4 tsp. salt.  Beat until eggs are frothy and lemon-colored.  Gradually cream 2 cups of raw sugar and 1 tsp. of real vanilla into the beaten eggs.  Quickly fold in the butter-and-cocoa, then a cup of whole wheat flour and a half cup of chocolate chips (or more chocolate chips, if you have a death-by-chocolate wish), just till evenly blended.

Scrape it into the three cake pans somewhat evenly (I didn't spread the batter out, and so got uneven sides) and bake 10-15 minutes, or until the edges begin to look just a bit dry, and the center is no longer wet.  Cool in the pans on cooling racks.

Now make the icing!

[Caveat:  I kind of wing it on icing.  Sometimes - say, for instance, this time - I've forgotten to buy a new bag of confectioners' sugar, so I have to adjust the recipe a bit for the amount I have.  Or maybe I want the orange-flavored buttercream icing but I think cream cheese would taste good, too, so ... I tinker.  And then I don't always remember what all I added, or how much.  So the recipe I give you is an approximation, at best.]

Cream a couple of tablespoons of butter with a few ounces of cream cheese and a tablespoon of orange juice.  Add confectioners' sugar (say, 2-3 cups) until the consistency is right.  Then, freelance!  I added about 20 drops of sweet orange oil, and the chopped zest* of one orange.  We wanted an orange tint to the icing, too, so added a few drops of yellow food coloring and one drop of red.

Taste test, to see if you need to add more sweet orange oil (probably - can't get enough of that), or orange juice, or zest, or who knows - maybe vanilla?

Now, take your cooled brownie layers.  Spread marmalade on the biggest one for your bottom layer. Actually, learn from my mistake, and spread the marmalade on all three layers.  Next spread a layer of icing over the marmalade - yes, it will be messy, and no, it won't necessarily look pretty.  Doesn't matter.  You and your lucky guests will be so enraptured by the flavor that no one will notice messy icing incidents.  Ice all three layers before stacking.  That's what I didn't do, and ended up with a slightly leaning tower of brownie, as a result.  If you marmalade and ice them all on solid ground, you can stack them up the way you want, and (I'm guessing) they are more likely to stay in place!

And voila!  You have created your Orange Marmalade Triple Brownie Torte!  Slice thinly (although the zest and the chocolate chips can make that tricky), because not everyone can finish a standard-size slice.

Brownie Layers
4 large eggs
3/4 cup butter
3/4 cup cocoa
2 cups raw sugar
1 tsp. real vanilla
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup chocolate chips


cream cheese
orange juice
confectioners' sugar
sweet orange oil
orange zest
food coloring

* I don't own a zester.  Well, actually, I might have one somewhere in that drawer, but I don't use it.  I guess I'm not fancy enough to figure out how it works, or maybe I just bought a lemon.  ;)  I use my vegetable peeler, instead, and then chop it.  So, no cute spirals of zest for me, boo-hoo.  If you know how to do that, I think they'd look nice on top, maybe with some chocolate chips sprinkled artfully about.

** Those are not peas on Sugar's cake.  They look just like peas, but they're actually fondant balls.  She thought it would look festive to make little green balls and put them around the edge, and I blush to confess that it did not occur to her mother, either, that they would look just like peas.  It wasn't until they were on, and presented for admiration to Spice and Nice, that these helpful sisters pointed out how just like peas small green balls can look.  Some tears were shed, but all three girls really like fondant (notice that I am not included in that list), so the "peas" stayed.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

O Love that wilt not let me go ...

  1. O Love that wilt not let me go,
    I rest my weary soul in thee;
    I give thee back the life I owe,
    That in thine ocean depths its flow
    May richer, fuller be.
  2. O light that foll’west all my way,
    I yield my flick’ring torch to thee;
    My heart restores its borrowed ray,
    That in thy sunshine’s blaze its day
    May brighter, fairer be.
  3. O Joy that seekest me through pain,
    I cannot close my heart to thee;
    I trace the rainbow through the rain,
    And feel the promise is not vain,
    That morn shall tearless be.
  4. O Cross that liftest up my head,
    I dare not ask to fly from thee;
    I lay in dust life’s glory dead,
    And from the ground there blossoms red
    Life that shall endless be.

George Mattheson, 1882

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