Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Heaven In A Copper Pot

A solid life. That’s what it’s always been about with this house.

Permanence…real materials, reclaimed goods, lasting quality, a search for what’s real amongst the fake. So, soapstone countertops instead of formica, stepback cupboard in place of veneered cabinets. An 1800’s restaurant worktable for dining, battered hardwood floors (well, they are now) and Mom’s cast iron frying pan.

I hear my uncles A.D. and Delmer and Elbert when I cook with that heavy black pan, their voices forever crusted onto the surface, I smell the laughter, their cackles and whoops, feel the humidity of those sticky, summer noontime feasts as the steam rises over my sizzling hot stove. I’m creating/recreating a life that had meaning, or that’s how it seemed to me, though I’m sure that when the price of tobacco fell and the fish weren’t biting, they probably laid awake at night scratching their Brylcreem-oily heads, wondering how they were gong to meet their bills, just like me.

But always that laughter, the adornment and garnishing of the past, high tales of high adventure, when in reality they were scrapping out a calloused, sunburnt life. But those boys chewed the fat, literally and figuratively – fatback greasy and gravy-laden rewards for labor, salvation in a pot of oily collards. Not certain if they knew Jesus but they sure knew how to enjoy his creation. They lived their lives, sucked the marrow out of each moment.

I’ve learned that you’ve got to dig deep to get to the marrow, live a lot closer to the bone than is comfortable. My husband and I have been living bone on bone for the past two years, in limbo, trying to save our house from foreclosure. Yesterday the clerk of courts said, ‘Basta,’ no more extensions, it’s in the hands of the bank. I laid in bed last night, trying to picture that: bank hands, no head, no heart to hear my soul’s silent plea…and a voice, His voice asked, “Whose hands? Your house is in whose hands?

“Your hands, Lord; my house is in your hands.”

My daughter hurt for me, sensed my need for closure and then this morning I woke up to these words in an email from a friend:

“Clarity?…Closure?…Foreclosure? eeek! What is the Lord up to?”

Then she caught my heart when she empathized with “Me, I hate limbo more than decision.”

Yeah, you gotta’ be pretty flexible to bend low enough to go under the limbo stick. “Limbo lower now, how low can you go?”

I see it all differently this morning…my homey house, my vintage stuff, my dusty dreams. I know its all fleeting, temporary, but it helps ground me, a reminder of who/what is the only timeless, ageless thing we have in this world. “We have this treasure in earthen vessels,” heaven in a copper pot, eternity in a pewter plate. You can count on it being there, doing its job, function and beauty, now there’s a marketing philosophy.

So, I guess you could say I’m a nostalgia addict, homesick for a home I’ve never lived in but had glimpses of. Home is a person, not a place and he’s everyplace I go, winking at me through the wisteria wrapped round the pergola, nudging me with the romance of the short-lived scent of gardenias…(I’m over here – inhale me), seducing me with a 150 year-old baker’s cabinet, drawers redolent with cinnamon and vanilla memories of old-timey goodness corn bread and preacher cake, baking for Jesus.

This longing for home only gets stronger, is an ache and a craving and a waiting. Life is the entrée, sometimes meager, often bitter, occasionally succulent but always there waits the sweet dreams of dessert, the last bite, the one morsel that satisfies the years of yearning, o feed me that course, Lord, indulgent bliss of forever with you.

Learning to Bake Bread

God’s been talking to me about bread lately.

Helpful, given that the tag line of The Shared Table is ‘Breaking Bread – Building Relationships.’ For the past month, most of my bread-breaking/relationship building has taken place on the floor, not in the kitchen, or the dining room table. My dining companion? The one who became broken bread for us…

JESUS

Why am I eating my meals on the floor with Jesus? I’m not, at least not in the literal sense. You see, the floor is about the only place where I can find a position that gives me relief from the sciatic pain coursing down my right leg. Amazing how easy it is to talk to God when you’re flat on your back staring at the ceiling.

Floor Time Discoveries:

  • Heat rises…brrrr!
  • Dust settles
  • Restlessness rules

Apparently God’s not too concerned about the room temperature or my housekeeping skills, but He seems quite determined to deal with my restlessness. It’s as if He’s saying, “Why, exactly,  are you thrashing around? Relax; you’re not missing anything. Come, dine with me.”

My back muscles gradually start to release and then He hands me my daily portion. Two days ago my ‘portion’ consisted of these words: LEARN TO BAKE BREAD.

Huh? I know how to break bread, I just choose not to: it takes too much time, requires so much patience and attention and (lightbulb moment) …..I’m TOO RESTLESS.

Even though I was pretty sure He wasn’t talking to me about physically baking bread, I headed into the kitchen and baked a beautiful loaf of Irish Soda Bread, with molasses, golden raisins and caraway seeds.

(Notice I chose a quick bread!)

I heard the phrase, Learn to Bake Bread while I was thinking about how I tend to be disappointed because my high expectations of Christian community (friends, neighbors and strangers, gathered together to eat, pray, worship, search the Scriptures, serve, laugh and cry and not just because they were randomly assigned to a home group) don’t happen that often.

Then I heard, “Your expectations are valid, but the only way they will happen is if people are really hungry and up until now, my people haven’t been hungry. But get ready – LEARN TO BAKE BREAD.”

Me, dense as a loaf of 100% whole wheat: “What are you talking about, Lord?”

The answer came in the form of a friend’s Facebook post: “It is vain for you to rise early, to retire late, to eat the BREAD OF SORROW, for he gives to his beloved in his sleep.”

Ohhh… sorrow bread - the kind that the more you chew the more it seems to expand in your mouth and becomes impossible to swallow? If our diets are based on sorrow bread, we’ll never be able to point others to Jesus, to offer them the real bread of life, to experience community.

This scripture verse from Jeremiah 15:16 describes the kind of bread we’re to eat and then share with the hungry:

“Your words were found and I ate them, And Your words became for me a joy and the delight of my heart; For I have been called by Your name, O LORD God of hosts.”

PRAYER

Lord, forgive me for feeding on sorrow bread, when your Word is the bread of life. The world (including me) continues to ‘spend money on what is not bread’ instead of delighting in your abundance, feeding on your faithfulness, dwelling in your presence. That hunger for security and fulfillment can only be found in you.

Please remind me, whenever I’m anxious, or acting out of self-pity and self-interest, every time I reach out for the wrong bread, to “Taste and see that the Lord is good,” and then offer a portion to others.

In Jesus name, amen.

Slow Holidays

Are you already in HOLIDAY OVERDRIVE?

I just read a blog post about the importance of holiday traditions; the headline was, Creating Memorable Moments. My immediate thought was, "Can we actually 'create' memorable moments?"

Being the creator of memorable holiday moments is a pretty daunting responsibility, don't you think? Producing, or making the holidays 'happen' generally falls on the woman. Yes, we love it and yes it makes us crazier than the proverbial fruitcake.

We can ponder and plan and purchase, trim the tree-bake-decorate-wrap-craft our little hearts out but who knows whether there will be any memorable moments? I just want to sit by the fire with a cup of hot tea, enjoy my family and let the memorable moments happen all by themselves. I know for sure they don't happen when I'm running around like a mad woman. 

This year my goal is simply to create some space in our crazy schedules for a memorable moment to occur.

There's a Slow Food Movement, why can't there be a Slow Holiday movement? The by laws could include a sustainable activity schedule, (and sustainable budget) locally handcrafted gifts, valuing community and traditions, reaching out to the poor and making time to celebrate the birth of Jesus with family and friends. That's a movement I could support!

MOM'S FRUITCAKE COOKIES

I didn't appreciate these colorful gems much as a kid, but now they're a taste of home. Feel free to change up the fruit to your liking: raisins, currants, dried apricots, add coconut or a dash of bourbon or rum – yum!

  • 4 cups sifted flour
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 cup unsalted butter
  • 2 cups brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2/3 cup buttermilk
  • 1 cup chopped nuts
  • 1 cup candied cherries, cut in 1/4's
  • 2 cup dates (cut up)
  • 1 cup mixed candied fruit

Sift flour, measure, sift again with soda and salt. Cream butter then add sugar and eggs. Beat until light and fluffy. Add buttermilk and flour, then add remaining ingredients. 

Chill for several hours. Drop by heaping teaspoon about 2" apart on greased cookie sheet. Top with cherry.

Bake at 375 degrees for 8-10 minutes or until golden brown

Makes 8 dozen

Tradition or Treason?

How will you celebrate the holidays?

Words fascinate me. Hauling out my five pound Webster's 1828 Dictionary and logging on to www.etymonline is a regular part of my writing ritual. In his book "Grace Notes," author Phillip Yancey says, 

“As a writer, I play with words all day long.  I toy with them, listen for their overtones, crack them open, and try to stuff my thoughts inside.”

Crack them open …. I love that! That's really what etymology is all about: studying the origins of words and how they evolved. For example: the word etymology is derived from the Greek eutmos which means real or true. Ology refers to the study of science of something. 

I'm writing an eBook about the holidays so I looked up the origins of the word tradition: its from the late 14th century and has roots from a word that meant to "deliver, surrender or hand over." That made total sense. What I read next about made me fall off my chair:

Tradition is a 'doublet' of the word treason which also means "a handing over, delivery or surrender." 

Whaaat? I'm writing about holiday traditions – such a warm, comfy-cozy, feel good topic and now I find out it has something in common with treason. 

Follow me here as I take a side trip down Santa Claus lane:

Could our unrelenting insistence on observing traditions, both old and new, cause us to somehow commit treason? Yes, if you define treason as 'violation by a subject of his allegiance to his sovereign.' 

If Jesus is our ultimate sovereign then I believe it is possible to commit treason when our traditions get in the way of celebrating his birth. I'm not saying to do away with the Christmas tree, nor am I against traditions. But if we spend the next 5 weeks in holiday overdrive without a thought to our savior and sovereign Lord, we have essentially "handed over" or "surrendered" our allegiance.

I don't know about you, but this sort of puts my 'Bake more, Buy more, Be more' mentality into perspective. This season I plan on making a focused effort to surrender my plans for His. That's a tradition that's worth handing down, don't you think?


Limitless

In the movie, Limitless, Bradley Cooper plays the character of  Eddie Morra, an unsuccessful, totally blocked writer who after ingesting a top-secret 'smart pill' suddenly finds his productivity explodes, depicted onscreen by hundreds of letters of the alphabet which fill the room as he types. In just four days, Eddie manages to write a book, which prior to taking the drug, existed only in his head. 

When I saw that scene, my heart literally leaped in my chest, because I experienced something similar about six years ago during a focused time of prayer. I saw myself  sitting at my desk, pen in hand, while letters of the alphabet floated around the room. Suddenly the letters swirled into a cyclone shape and wrapped themselves around my pen. Pretty strong confirmation that I was to pursue my writing, which I did, although not quite at the same speed as Eddie. I became a freelance writer and in my spare time I wrote about my passion for hospitality and the Shared Table. 

Well, that floating alphabet all but floated away about a year ago – that's how it seemed anyhow, at least when it came to writing. Looking back I realize I was too angry and too perplexed to write. 

There were still plenty of letters running around in my head, but the only thing swirling around my pen (keyboard) was dust. The ABC's in my mind spelled out words like: disappointment, anxiety, loneliness, confusion, and pain.

"Are you blogging?" my husband would ask me.

"I got nuthin'," I responded.

Nothing, as in nothing to say that was encouraging, motivational, inspirational or positive. "Gloom, despair and agony on me- deep, dark depression, excessive misery," became my new theme song. 

Yessiree, I was pure joy to be around. Normally when I'm in that kind of funk I can at least journal and there were times, in a rush of emotion when I did, but never to the level where I could work through my emotions. I did write down my tormented dreams/nightmares, and tried to make sense of them. But WRITE? BLOG?! 

All I can say is there are times in life that are so gut wrenching they're hard to put into words, times that render you speechless. 

Interesting word, 'render'.  It's from an old French word meaning to give back, hand over, give up, or surrender. After a pig is slaughtered, the farmer rends (extracts, melts) the fat. Have you ever seen one of those old cast iron cauldrons at an antique store or flea market? One of their many uses was to render the pig fat to make lard – the process required a really hot fire. I could relate to that poor pig cause I was right there with him. My fat was being rendered and I felt pretty thin. 

 

 

During that time I prayed Psalm 18 a lot: "He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters."

I pictured Jesus literally coming to my rescue; "He rescued me because He delighted in me," even though my actions and attitude weren't the least bit delightful. One day I picked up my husband's guitar and strummed the four chords I knew as hard as I could and sang songs to God as loud as I could. Anything to drown out the incessant voices in my head. 

Guess what? Once I stopped fighting the rendering process, and began to praise God in the midst of it, He melted my heart: the anger was gone, the fear began to dissipate and He started to pour new songs into my heart; simple songs of hope and songs of praise, declarations of God's love for me:

"I am a child of the most High God

I am not forsaken, I am not forgotten

I am forgiven and free."

Once I got that back into my head and my heart, I was able to forgive.

Little by little I am learning to live once again in the simple truths of who I am in Christ. And the words are beginning to come back.

My situation hasn't changed all that much, but God is changing me, so there is hope. We talk a LOT, God and I, and even though I tend to monopolize the conversation, He manages to get in a word or two edgewise. HIS WORD, written and spoken, has encouraged me, chastised and strengthened me all these months. I'm excited about my future! It's not me or my words that are Limitless, it's God. 

So here I am writing once more, not nearly as in depth as I'd like, just sticking my toes in the water. I'm still processing everything I've learned, wondering how much of my story I should share. I know some of you, many of you, are in that boiling cauldron of troubles right now, too and I pray you will be able to endure. You have to – for the rest of us! We need to see what you'll look like when the fat is rendered and the new, thinner but stronger you emerges from the flames! Sing while the water's boiling in your pot! Float.

In my original post I invited you to "pull up a chair" and become part of the conversation; your journey is important to me. I really don't want to travel these roads alone, do you?  Let me hear from you and let's continue the conversation. And I'll work on being more real. 

Stray jelly beans

 

Enjoying the rest of that Easter ham?

 

Other than a few stray jelly beans, Easter leftovers aren't an issue at my house, because I never have leftovers. Until this year.

Here's how my usual Easter dinner menu planning goes:

Me: "Johanna, what would you like to have for Easter dinner?"

Johanna: "A small farm animal on the grill." i.e.,  lamb.

Me: "Roger, what would you…  "LAMB!"

Me: Looking at guest list, doing the math… "It's so expensive."

Roger: "It's only once a year. Get a whole leg; I'll butterfly it myself."

Me: "Guess we're having lamb."

I sigh, dreaming of the ham and bean soup I won't be eating later in the week. Sure, I could make lamb and bean soup but I doubt it would be good with cornbread and besides – leftover lamb? Not at the Ely's. If there's lamb on the table, you better guard your plate because certain people aren't above snatching food when you're not looking. You know who you are.

So I priced the 'small farm animal' – pretty much equivalent to buying a small farm.

Not gonna' happen. I put my foot down. They pouted. Then I really irritated everybody by singing, "O LAMB of God" as I cooked the Easter HAM. For BRUNCH. I figured while I was at it I might as well really topple those traditions.

The final menu: Grilled turkey, ham, roasted potatoes, scrambled eggs and grilled asparagus, orzo salad, pancakes with strawberries, lemon cheesecake plus myriads of other dishes my guests contributed. I made the mistake of trying the pancakes first and barely touched the rest of the meal – I make really good pancakes.

Even after sending everyone home with plates of food we had lots of leftovers. I didn't want to let anything go to waste so I spent this afternoon making and prepping meals for the week from all the ham and turkey and scrambled eggs left in the fridge. Did I mention the two dozen Easter eggs no one ate?

Here's what we'll be eating:

  • Breakfast burritos
  • Egg salad
  • Chef salad
  • Scalloped potatoes and ham
  • Gumbo
  • Fried rice
  • Turkey tetrazzini
  • Turkey soup
  • Ham and bean soup.

Total grocery bill for the turkey and ham? $30.  

Like my grandson sang at his Easter program, "I'm so happy, so very happy!"

TALK DOESN’T COOK RICE

The Shared Table has been strangely quiet lately. Not a single invitation to join me at the table, no Dainty Morsels, no recipes, not even a crumb of inspiration from me for the past two months.

Like the Chinese proverb says, "Talk doesn't cook rice." The truth is, there are times to write about hospitality and times to do hospitality. I’ve been doing hospitality (cooking rice) full time for two months. My youngest daughter and her family of five stayed with us for five weeks and now my twelve year old granddaughter is living with me. You’d think that would equate to plenty of blog material, and you’d be right, so why the silence?

I’m sure I’ll eventually write a motivating post filled with lots of practical advice about how to successfully host groups of people for an extended period, but I’m still recovering from the mountains of laundry, dishes, boots and mac n’ cheese. And the noise. You forget how noisy a family can be when you’re an empty nester.

It takes me a while to process things. My friend Kerry Graham would say I'm a 'post processor." In the meantime, some things I'm reading have helped me to begin:

 "Hospitality challenges us to work through our attitudes toward property and possessions.”

Indeed. It’s hard to see Jesus in a child who just smashed scrambled eggs into the sofa. And how, exactly did the apple juice get on the ceiling? It's just stuff. Breathe, Sue; breathe.

 "We are often encouraged to be careful about our financial security but practicing hospitality involves a certain recklessness.”

It’s tempting to wait until we have “all our ducks in a row” before we fling open the doors to hospitality. By the time our guests arrived, our ducks had already flown south for the winter. The needs exceeded both our financial and emotional resources, but every time the supply ran low, God opened his storehouse for us. 

"A life of hospitality means a more continual interaction with others, and fewer opportunities to carefully project a “perfect image.”

The real me manifested every day around 5:30. With blood sugar crashing, the TV blaring, the dog chasing the cats (did I mention they brought two cats?)and kids practicing MMA in the kitchen while I tried to do a magic act on a pound of hamburger, June Cleaver made a hasty exit and the real me came out. She’s not pretty. 

"For introverts especially (i.e., me) homes can be a sanctuary providing respite and relief from a tiring world.”

So what happens when you open the door and invite the world in? And they stay? Where is the respite when there’s very little time or place for my precious (read legalistic) “quiet time?” At such times one becomes acutely appreciative of even a minute spent with Jesus.

The bottom line, of course, is that it's much easier to write about hospitality than it is to practice it. I tend to do the "woulda', coulda' shoulda" routine on myself. Perfectionism is a harsh task-master. There’s another quote that comforts me at such times:

“Even the crudest hospitality can work miracles.”  

THE LAST BITE:

Do you struggle with expectations when it comes to practicing hospitality? Stay tuned for an upcoming post about dealing with expectations!

*Quotes from "Making Room" by Christine Pohl and a blog post by Adam S. McHugh, author of "Introverts in the Church"

Comment and it shall be given unto you

I've chosen a winner to The Shared Table's first Giveaway! Congratulations to Brian Adornetto, whose winning comment to the question "How do you plan to share your table in 2011?" has earned him a copy of "Breaking Bread, the Spiritual Significance of Food."

 

Brian definitely knows his way around the kitchen: he's a Chef Instructor at Wake Tech Community College as well as a Chef Instructor at A Southern Season in Chapel Hill; he also serves as Food Editor of the Raleigh Downtowner. Read his comment here to see how he plans to share his table this coming year. I love how Brian wants to shift his focus and hope he will consider doing a guest blog about it in the future and perhaps share a few of his fabulous recipes!

Hope you will take the time to read Timothy LeCornue's comment, too! Here's a single guy who wants to learn how to cook so he can open up his home to guests and take dinners to his community group – now that's a New Year's goal, for sure! Timothy, being that you're a close neighbor, I will lend you my copy of Breaking Bread, and offer to give you a few cooking lessons, although I'm sure you'd learn more from one of Brian's classes!

Stay tuned for more giveaways coming up soon! I mean, its all about sharing, right?!

 

You say you want a resolution?

THE SHARED TABLE is celebrating the New Year with a GIVEAWAY – the first ever! And yes, of course it's a book – but it's not a cookbook; I'm pretty sure you already have plenty of those. Read on to see what it is and how it can be yours!

We're already one week into the year 2011; that's plenty of time to have broken some or all of your New Year's resolutions…so, how are you doing with that?

The etymology of the word "resolution" comes from a word that means to "to loosen, dissolve, untie," which makes sense if you consider that before you initiate new habits, you have to "loosen" the bad ones that have kept you in bondage. What things keep you in bondage? For many people, it's food.

The significance of food in our lives is pretty obvious when you consider New Year's Resolutions; food and our relationship with it generally ranks pretty high on the Top Ten list. What if we decided to think about food in a different way?  What might happen if rather than studying every morsel of food we put in our mouths we studied food itself? Specifically, the spiritual significance of food?

Author Sara Covin Juengst took on that project back in 1992 when she wrote "Breaking Bread, the Spiritual Significance of Food." In the foreward of the book, author Parker J. Palmer notes that the author shows "how food is woven as intricately as faith into the entire fabric of our lives." Of Juengst's work, Walter Brueggemann says, "The book lets us retaste and renotice and reswallow our life from God."

Among others, the author covers topics such as:

  • Stewardship: Food as God's Good Gift
  • Hospitality: Expression of Grace
  • Bonding: Strangers No Longer

In the chapter titled Compassion: The Great Inasmuch, Juengst includes a poem she wrote after coming home from hunger-stricken Africa to affluent America:

I hear these words about “the poor”
and brush them into the corners of my mind.
I cannot think about them now
I am too preoccupied
     with the choice of hors d’oeuvres for my party
     and the color of my new shoes.
I am too anxious
     about the impression I make
     to decide for diminishing
     or to question the givens.
I am too cautious
     to risk the highway
     that leads away from safe places.
Convenience blankets me,
 stifles the clamor of a hungry world.           
 

The fact that I own a copy of this book is pretty amazing; prior to launching THE SHARED TABLE, I read everything I could get my hands on about the connection between food and hospitality – there's not much out there, by the way.

One day after futilely combing through the more than 500,000 used books at Steven's Book Store, I literally stumbled over a pile of books blocking an aisle, glanced down and there on top was the out of print "Breaking Bread."  At $1.95, it was a steal, being that I'd searched for months without finding a copy for less than $100.

Here's my well-loved copy:

This book has become one of my most prized possessions and now I've come up with a way for you to have one of your own. Recently I came across another copy, only this one is just like new, so I've decided to give it away to one of my subscribers as part of The Shared Table's First Giveaway. To enter for a chance to win:

STEP 1: Enter your email in the RSVP box in the upper right hand corner & click submit.  (If you've already subscribed to "The Shared Table", skip this step)

STEP 2: In the comment section, let me know how you plan to share YOUR table in 2011. 

One lucky winner will be chosen Monday night!

THE LAST BITE:

A little Google Search Trivia on the above subjects:

"FOOD" …762,000,000 results. Apparently people are interested in the subject.

"SPIRITUALITY" …40,800,000 results. Hmmm….

"NEW YEAR'S RESOLUTIONS" …43,500,000

Maybe we could start a "RESOLUTION REVOLUTION" by changing the way we think about food. Who's in?

Christmas Present

 

Things I've learned from Christmas Present:

I'm too old to sit on the floor and wrap presents.

I'm perfectly happy to let my daughter "DO" Christmas this year.

Giving away a personal treasure to bless someone else is totally different from "re-gifting."

Shrimp and Grits is (are?) the perfect Christmas Eve dinner.

Don't forget to turn off your car lights – unless you really WANT to give your automobile the gift of a new battery.

Be careful not to let the broom handle knock a sharp, heavy wall decoration down on your head. Ow.

Children and grandchildren make it all worthwhile.

I do not like a Acapella Christmas CD's.

If I'm careful, I might be able to make this last roll of my mom's Christmas wrapping paper last another year.

……Miss you, mom……

If you let them, unrealistic expectations can really mess you up this time of year. Don't go there.

Not everyone likes to play word games. Or maybe they're just tired of me beating their pants off every year.

Cherish a man who cuts down trees and saws them into logs for the fire. AND keeps it going all day and night.

It's not necessary to use every decoration in your arsenal. Nor every cookie recipe.

Embrace your inner Italian.

Stock up on the basics cause you never know when a big snow storm is coming. (Do they have eggs at CVS?)

Being present is the best present of all.

Merry Christmas to all of you wonderful guests who have graced my Shared Table this year!