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!

Salty Conversation

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Colossians 4: 6 Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person. ESV

      Often, the smallest comment can go a long way in helping a friend feel less alone, more normal, and more empowered to love her hubby better.

Here are a few examples of some conversations, seasoned with Salt.

      Head in the Window

    When I was much younger, having a rough time in my love life, my Bible Study leader saw me load up my stroller after a morning class. Her car happened to be parked near me, so she came over to my open window and poked her head in (almost too far for my comfort). With a sparkle and a wink she asked, “Hey, Girl, how’s it goin’?” Glancing back at my year-apart toddlers, she added, “Hey, have you gotten any new ‘nighties’ lately?”

    What!? Did I look deprived, depressed, or debilitated!? I was not particularly happy with her point blank accosting of my love life. I felt a wee bit “buttonholed,” you could say. But I prayed on the way home, asking God why this question bothered me.

    Then I realized it wasn’t the topic. Nor that her words were inappropriate. It was that I inwardly winced at doing the work of forgiving, taking more initiative, and thus improving my marriage relationship. I was put into the position of having to take stock of my attitude. (I had been wearing those Granny Gowns quite often lately…)

    God has used the “head in the window” experience to give me more courage to say something to women, even tho’ I might not say that

     Here are a few more examples of what I mean.

     Sharp-eyed Friend

    My girlfriend came over for lunch and noticed that my bedroom was changed around, spruced up a bit. “Hey, you really fixed up your room! Nice! But what did you do with the TV?”  

    Here was my golden opportunity to reply, “Well, the TV wasn’t much help to our love life, so we took it out. Now we are more “tuned in” to each other at bedtime…”

    Big Tub

     Another time, when some friends showed us around their new home, the bathroom  “centerpiece,” a whirlpool tub, could hardly be ignored. So instead of ignoring it, I said, “Don’t you love the big tub? I hope you guys get good use out of that. Man, we’d sure use it if we had one!!”

    You’re right. She had nothing to say. Quick change of topic. “My, the mashed potatoes are so creamy!” (dinner conversation quote from “While You Were Sleeping.”) But this didn’t spoil the evening. It may have improved the evening for both couples! (Our tub may be smaller, but…)

    Restroom Conversation

    Have you ever overheard a church restroom conversation?  I once heard a woman say to another, “My folks are keeping the kids this weekend, and we’re going to (a romantic place) for his birthday.”

    “Oh, really?”

    “Yup. That’s the only birthday present he wants…. a whole lot of special alone time. And he’s going to get it.”

   The tone I picked up was celebratory and grateful. And, well, I loved overhearing it so much I decided to book a hotel for my husband’s next birthday.

    Our marriages are truly meant to change the world.

    But platitudes don’t work. Pat answers with rote phrases we’ve heard all our lives don’t work, either. People need success stories, or an approach that’s been proven in the here and now, like yesterday. Our complicated, often confusing, up and down love life could actually bless others, simply by our perspective. We are learning and leaning on Christ for help, so we have seeds to sow. Those “salty” out loud seeds may cause a friend to ask,  “How does she have such a good attitude about sex? Hmmm…does God live in even this part of everyday life? Do I really know Him? I guess I should be less selfish in this area…”

   Remember that the value of salt in Bible times wasn’t only for flavoring, but even more for preserving. We are to preserve Truth, and hinder the deterioration of marriage.

    Here’s the Salty Challenge:

1.) LEARN something to improve your own marriage in this area, and then..  

2.) ACT on what you learned.

3.) Then look for an opportunity to SAY something to a friend – appropriately – when the time seems right.

   I can’t tell you how much you girls have encouraged me by your comments!! Have you ever discreetly spoken up on behalf of great love-making in marriage? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

Five Ways Autumn Beauty Enriches the World

How Autumn Beauty Enriches The World

As I tweezed my almost invisible eyebrows the other day, I actually drew blood. Ouch! Why do I submit to magnifying mirrors? It’s only in their larger-than-life perspective those wild hairs even appear. I wondered, why does Vanity still hold me hostage?

On this day, suffering this “injury” brought back the memory of tweezing my mom’s eyebrows in her fifties and sixties. As a teen, I’d stand behind her chair with her head tilted back on my rib cage, and gingerly pluck microscopic hairs from her translucent skin. Every once in a while I’d grab a bit of flesh and her little squeal would bring me back to concentration. I would think, “Will my skin ever be this loose? This un-elastic, this wafery thin…? Yet she asks for this torture!

Smiling today, I know. Youth slips away slowly. The thick, dark hairs (which once made tweezing almost a matter of forest control) become pale by years, decades, not months. Gradually they turn in all helter skelter directions, and we continue to pluck in spite of both blindness and pain. We don’t succumb easily to any of it- the lines, the loss of muscle tone, the changing complexion. We push against it with the same stiff demeanor of those very hairs, and with all the seriousness a magnifying mirror can muster!

However, I strongly believe that beauty with aging enriches the world.

We should (and I use that word carefully) stand tall, pull back those shoulders, and go out the door knowing we own the wisdom of, well, years of experience. Not just years, decades of it. Decades of perseverance, mess-ups, successes and failures.

So today I offer my top five reasons why autumn women who keep working on beauty make the world a better place.

  1. Our Husbands Appreciate It.

Whether we dress up or wear yoga pants and a t-shirt, the amazing fact remains, husbands see us as the young girl he married… a lovely face, a wonderful body (even with ten extra pounds), a winning smile, charm and wit. What miracle keeps us looking very much the same to him over the years? No one can explain it– it remains a mystery. Now, though they appreciate us most when we’re naked, all the original qualities thrill him year after year after year…and when he’s proud of us, he’s a happier, better man.

  1.  The Young Who Fear Aging Need It.

If we work on replacing youthful color and see ourselves vibrant and alive in the mirror, our health improves overall. It’s an attitude. All the makeup and jewelry in the world can’t overcome a negative attitude, but those things help produce a positive outlook. If you never wore makeup, it’s okay. But if you decide at 50 or 60 to begin, you will likely take off a few of those last ten years, and look perkier.

Why look ten years younger? To feel ten years younger! During my trip to Canada I had the pleasure of meeting a 106 year-old lady in the nursing home. She walks with a walker, wears pearls, pink lipstick, and a stylish outfit. You can find her chatting with those who stop at the coffee shop. She’s proud of being a woman, and causes those who meet her to fear growing old a little bit less.

  1. Our Children and Grandchildren Appreciate It.

Aging parents remind children of their own mortality. They desperately need a model up close and personal. Should we shield them from our aches and pains? Not necessarily. But a smiling, warm, and positive mom or grandmother makes them proud. If we took a reasonable amount of time to be beautiful, they’d love showing us off more. They may even want to be first to run up and introduce us to their friends.

  1. Workplaces Are Transformed by It.

One of my friends worked in an extremely stressful care-giving job. A key requirement for the job was to wear make-up and keep a stylish haircut. These habits didn’t transform the employees into more productive workers, but somehow showed others they felt more up to the pressure. And thus they became more effective.

In any setting, skill, not hair, gets the job done. But beauty helps make the workplace a more pleasant place. Proverbs author Solomon says,  “…beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord will be praised.” Can she be both at the same time? Of course. One just lasts longer. Even while she fears the Lord and honors Him, her radiant appearance puts the icing on the cake. It shows she is aware of her femininity to His glory. She reflects His beauty in her own. What a way to show the world your faith!

  1. Society Sees God’s Design for Sex in It.

Nothing reflects the sexual dynamic of marriage like a couple in love. So what in the world would this have to do with beauty? A few years back, my hubby and I were touring in the Garden of the Gods in Colorado. We saw an older couple, each with white hair, zoom by in a red Chevrolet open convertible. Her scarf blowing in the wind and their smiles gave me a picture I kept in my head. “That’s us in ten years, Honey!” I said. They drove past quickly, so their actions had nothing to do with my impression. It was her beauty sitting beside him.

What does this mean? Whether with her husband or alone, shopping, working, an autumn woman’s countenance can show the world the dynamic I admired in the couple above. Of course  women who wear makeup and dress beautifully might be single. Or have no love life. But a woman who cherishes her role as her husband’s lover, (or acts as though available for that), and gives off a pleasant aroma wherever she goes, inadvertently broadcasts the purpose of marriage – to reflect the relationship between Christ and the believer, his Bride. That’s a sermon the world craves. Do you know you preach a sermon about aging?

So I’m not just talking about physical beauty. If a woman’s outward beauty becomes her highest priority, she appears shallow and both “deceitful” and “fleeting.” As John Piper reminds us, “He is most pleased when we find our desires filled in Him.”

Summer Break

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Brutal Wisconsin Winters packed an exhilarating punch around the holidays; but by spring they grated on my nerves. The overcast skies of March and the ever-increasing dirty gray slush made spring seem a figment of our imaginations; and even April could spitefully spew out another snowstorm.

Our high school sat on the other side of a super highway, which ran parallel to our street. School days we’d walk right, to the end of our block, cross over to where on the left a large tunnel took us under the highway to school. As far north as our city, the sky was often dark when entering the lighted tunnel in the morning. It was dark again when we returned in the late afternoon. This darkness marked our winter.

The school, normally part of the view from our living room picture window, hid in winter behind gargantuan heaps of snow. Reliable, persistent snowplows pushed the snow into the wide median month after month until the school disappeared. The snow on our side stayed white, but on the highway side, cars and semi-trucks caused strata-like layers of ugly dirt-  black snow on the bottom gradually turned white about six feet up.

Then, finally, change! Snow piles began to shrink. Almost overnight the longed-for melt formed ponds. Ponds to ford whenever we walked or drove anywhere. A bother? Not at first. Water meant spring!

Would spring really change its mind and come to Wisconsin?

School changed too. Pressure. Life became increasingly serious, and busy, and hard. With theatre rehearsals, projects, and finals, April daylight hung around for the chilly walk home. I would hurry through the parking lot, down the sidewalk, to the tunnel where a month ago my breath would freeze in the scarf over my face, chapping my lips. But now, with the scarf draped under my collar, I would emerge jogging from the tunnel, deftly avoiding the lake in our road.

Then up the driveway, warm house, hot supper, homework, and sleep. Only to begin all over again.

The next day proved warmer and longer. And the next one warmer still. (This week will the wool scarf stay home?) And, finally, Flowers!- the intoxicating aroma of glorious lilacs. Tulips popped up, albeit late for Easter. Hydrangea, rhubarb, with all sorts of flowering bushes, filling my head with perfume akin to- well – a spring day in Wisconsin.

And what in the world now blanketed our yard? A soft green carpet.

Like the bright sun sliding out from behind a cloud, grass signaled the end of school. Finals passed, ceremonies done, good byes said all around, my neighborhood friends came to our yard to celebrate. Tumbling and rolling, leaping and turning cartwheels, we giggled in sheer wonder! Lying on our backs, those snow angels forgotten, grass angels stared up at the sky as if we hadn’t seen it for ages. We hadn’t.

I pushed my face into the grass trying to feel the tickle of its blades in my nostrils. Then I’d sit Indian style and grab the grass under my nails and between my fingers, as if it might disappear.

Spring here, and in a few short weeks we’d have summer— hot, exhilarating summer.

Summer, oh, how I’ve missed you!

Gone are thoughts of papers and tests and grades.

Gone are thoughts of work, and hurry, and push.

It’s time to rest and just be.

So stay, Summer.

Stay just for me…

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.