Molasses Makin’

Romans 15:16  “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” (ESV)

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     I began my teaching career with a “boat” of a car, a ‘66 Pontiac Catalina, v-8 engine. Designed for the smooth roads of civilization, she seemed to rebel against the bumper-jarring ride to Billy’s house. He’d invited me to see the fall sorghum molasses-making, and it seemed a fun outing for after school on Friday. As the bumps and potholes banged our heads against the windows, I thought surely this “boat” would soon dock in some gravel driveway in a little farming area. Surely.

      What had I gotten myself into? What was “City Girl” doing deep in the Kentucky mountains? I mean, other than a job?  In 1971 the universities pumped out way more teachers than jobs in which to place them, and the U.S. presently suffered a glut of baby boomer teachers. I really should be grateful to have snagged one – in a nice public, albeit rural, school. I guess the children were my “other than a job.” One soap-deprived angel arrived on the first day with a little hop in her step.

      “Look, Teacher! Shoes! Ah got shoes!”

       Once, when the electricity went out, my windowless classroom fell into complete darkness. I asked the children if they’d like to sing.

       “Oh, yes, Teacher! Let’s sing ‘The Old Rugged Cross.’” As the students gathered around my feet, I felt something, or someone stroking my leg.  The red-headed lad probably had never felt silky hose before, either on or off a woman’s leg.

    Though the ruddy, freckled faces of the children had won my heart, I constantly worried.

      How in the world will my $5,500 a year salary continue to support me? There’s no way possible to make it through this first year of teaching. No way. Each payday, two hundred forty-five dollars…

     Suddenly my Pontiac ran completely out of road. Now my worry took a different form. No more road? Maybe I shouldn’t have done this. Billy opened the car door and cheerfully directed me out into the woods.

      “ We wawk the rist o’the way, Teacher. The car’ll be jes’ fine.”

     Walk? With nothing but dense woods in front of us, it looked like the beginning of a hike. I could see my panty hose full of holes and runs after this. Half walking, half hobbling, I inwardly fretted. Why didn’t I change clothes and shoes? A branch flipped into my face as if to force me to pay attention. Then, a clearing.

      As my eyes adjusted to the sunlight I abruptly came back to the moment. A dozen yards in front of us, a horse, harnessed to a long bar, trudged around a muddy circle. His strained push crushed stalks of sugarcane while a bucket under the mill slowly filled with juice. I winced at the smells of mud and manure as they mingled with the woodsy aroma of the fire pit nearby. A huge vat on top of the fire held what seemed like a hundred gallons of boiling liquid. I wondered how those ragged men bent over, sweating and stirring, continuously skimming off the greenish foam. The men neither greeted us nor looked up from their work, but Billy pointed to his dad and said they’d keep at it until late into the night, when that batch would be ready to cool and jar.

    Further into the clearing we reached the house. On the outside it looked bigger than I’d expected. Wood siding, a fairly new door. Billy led me to the side entrance where the kitchen greeted us with a chill. Now, away from the fire, I felt the bite of fall. For through the kitchen blew a draft from the unfinished, cavernous house. Studs framed would-be rooms and almost no furniture graced the plywood floors. The barren kitchen housed few utensils, which make me wonder if meals were prepared at all during molasses-making. On the walls, unpainted shelves held jars, some filled, some waiting. Curtains partitioned off bedrooms.

     Then finally, the big reveal. Billy’s bed. A separate, walled room held the beginnings of a bathroom, and as he showed me he beamed with pride. The glory of the room was his bed, the white clawfoot bathtub. Here he slept, he said, away from the noise and the chilled air in the rest of the house. I stood amazed at what I saw, from the production outside to the provision inside. I saw hope. Hope thrived in Billy’s heart because he had a place to sleep – and his daddy was making molasses!

    My fretful thoughts now shamed me. I had a warm apartment in town. I slept in a nice bed. I drove where I needed to go. How could I worry about my salary?

      As my huge boat of a Catalina drove home so many years ago, I asked the Lord to make me thankful for that day, for that tour of molasses-making. I asked Him to keep me thankful for His care, and for a lasting hope that always lay right in my lap.

Dear Father, Thank you for stopping me in my complaint! You are my hope today and always!

Five Ways Your Marriage Can Change the World

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Genesis 12:3b …in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.

(God to Abraham)  ESV

Many years ago our family participated in a Pro-life rally and march in downtown Charlotte. Our ten year-old daughter, boldly marching with her sign, suddenly found a microphone from the local TV station thrust in front of her face.

“What are you doing here today?”

Without hesitation, our Johnny on the Spot leaned into the mic and said, “I’m changing the world!” Later, while watching this micro-interview on the 6:00 news, I thought her answer a little over the top. My jaded attitude said, Isn’t it a bit arrogant to think my actions matter that much?

In the years since, I’ve tried to hear my daughter’s statement through her young mind. The world needs help. The world needs changing. So if not to change the world, why go up against anything big?

My daughter’s comment on TV got me thinking…

What about marriage? When God said Abraham and Sarah would change the world, did He mean just through their offspring, Isaac? If so, why did He make them wait until they were almost one hundred years old to produce that child? I believe one possible reason for the epic wait was that something big would happen along the way to Isaac.

Their marriage.

The Abraham/Sarah marriage included decades of trusting and not trusting God, of disappointing each other, of misunderstandings and near-death decisions. Bless the world? God emphasized His statement again in I Peter 3:6. Sarah serves as the model for us wives.

“…And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.”

But she had issues! Yes. Most of our biblical heroes stumbled big. As with their lapses in judgement and obedience, God still uses cracked pots to hold and distribute his message. That includes us. Sarah called her husband Lord because in the Eastern nations this title served as a model for proper respect. We wouldn’t call our husband Lord, but the respect without fear part sure challenges me! Respect without fear is no small order. It will take a lifetime to learn what that kind of respect, the world changing kind, looks like.

Your marriage, too, though imperfect, is meant to change the world. Here are five ways.

1. A good, working marriage increases the productivity and creativity of each partner. Couples who resolve conflict, avoid resentment and misunderstanding, cause energy to flow into the workplace. When times of crises and desert come, both at work and in the home, the habits of kindness and forgiveness help get them through. These relational habits spill out at work, along with new ideas and fresh ways to solve problems. The world does change when energy flows from loving relationships.

2. A good, working marriage marriage makes a peaceful home. Children thrive at school and play when Mom and Dad like each other as well as love each other. They feel secure when they see their parents apologize, hug, and kiss. This sense of well-being and security changes the atmosphere wherever those happy people are. All the other kids want to be at that house. Peace, fun, and contentment change the world.

3. A good, working marriage gets noticed out in public. Everyone loves to see couples who make eye contact and laugh together. Onlookers smile. We get the message. We wish we had that- and we think we know what “that” is. Parks, tour buses, hiking trails, museums, resort lobbies, and restaurants attract more users, at the very least, and may even be transformed, when loving couples fill the spaces with their enjoyment.

4. A good, working marriage reproduces itself. True, children from happy homes sometimes divorce. Marriage is complicated at best, miserable at worst. However, many studies show that homes where kindness and passion live produce children more likely to stay married, just by their good modeling. Don’t we all pick up relational habits from the home in which we grew up? Commitment and love are caught as much as taught.

5. A good, working marriage spreads the Gospel. God designed marriage to be a reflection of His great love. He’s the One Who drew the blueprint and planned to change the world through our marriages. Since the gospel is the greatest love story ever told, we spread it knowingly or not, as we love each other in the most intimate of relationships.

Our marriage is meant to change the world. Doesn’t knowing that put all its difficulties in a different light?  For, although it can be the most hurtful, the most demanding, and the most complicated of relationships, something really, really big must be in all the hard work.

Assumptions Matter

Call the Midwife

Assumptions or beliefs form the foundation of what we think, and therefore what we do. Assumptions based on something firm, real, and lasting bring ultimate peace. Assume God is real, that He means exactly what He says, and amazing things happen.

Enter stage right, epic assumptions on a current TV show! Yes, PBS’s “Call the Midwife” sort of sneaks up on you and won’t let you go. One might wonder, how did a “savvy” viewing public get so caught off-guard? Maybe it’s the more or less off-putting name. Many still refuse to give it a chance. Even I skepticised with assumptions. A reality show about birthing babies, on PBS? 

But my assumptions were dead wrong. The program is neither a reality show nor about birthing babies. It’s a story about hope – written in the poignant journal of a young nurse, Jenny Lee. In her ink, transformed now on screen, we stare unwittingly close up, face to grimy face, in the poorest section of post-war London in the 1950s.

The central figures, a handful of Anglican nuns find daily strength in worship, prayers and contemplative songs. They live in the neighborhood in a combination convent and clinic. With one resident doctor, they dedicate their lives completely to the people they serve, souls they find precious simply because they live.

The nuns also house a small group of young nurse midwives in every stage (or non-stage) of spiritual interest. The nuns model for the younger women a love of humanity that defies understanding. How? Sacrifice, no judgement. The result? Heavy, exhausting days made lighter and shorter by that very love. These women assume their work not only important, but of cosmic proportion.

Now to be clear, in most episodes, babies do emerge from the wombs of their indigent mothers at the skillful urging of these “helpers.” The arrival of the midwife always brings hope, just as the arrival of the baby does. It’s as if each one rasps out in his first cry, “You can make it through another day. It will be tough, but I am here.” The assumption? Each new life is priceless.

Season Three continued the transient human drama with a love story of Jenny Lee. One episode impacted me on so many levels that I felt compelled to write about the irony of the story’s assumptions. Especially the irony of today’s society, how our assumptions changed with affluence and an entitlement mindset.

The episode begins with Jenny enjoying the attentions of a young man, Alec, who cherishes and respects her, including her dedication to midwifery. When he invites her to a weekend event out of town, she accepts, assuming he would reserve two rooms in their lodging.

To be sure, though, she pops in unannounced at his place of business. Not finding him there, she strikes up a conversation with his work associate who, in the twinkling of an eye, alters her assumption. He jokes about Alec “looking so forward” to their weekend away. Plants a seed of doubt about his intentions. When Alec walks into the room, sparks fly. She walks out.

Alec: You are making assumptions! (about my assumptions.)

Jenny: No, you are. (making assumptions about what I think is good and acceptable.)

Even though Jenny’s spiritual “jury” remained out, certain assumptions, rock solid under her feet, spoke to her of love. Such things as mutual respect, commitment, cherishing the “other” over self. From where did these assumptions come? In time maybe she would give credit where credit is due.

As for the outcome of the episode, you’ll just have to see it. But do yourself a favor and start at the beginning of Season One. Bask in the tender beauty these women build out of the rubble of poverty and heartbreak.

What do you think?

What assumptions (beliefs based on faith) have generally changed in our society over the past decades?

What about those of us who claim Christ’s name? Have we inwardly, secretly assumed He doesn’t notice us doing things our own way?

As for assumptions about sex, do you agree it used to be assumed more special? Back then, “normal” meant that Sex and Love form a “team” in marriage, though difficult and costly at times. It seems we’ve tossed the formidable “team” aside.

And who cares? For the shallow pleasure we condone today makes no assumptions at all.