Sunday, June 30, 2013

An Agenda Conflict

How often is it that a day doesn't turn out quite like we expect it to? I awoke yesterday morning at 5:30 AM and listened hard. Thunder and rain on a day that was supposed to be 90 degrees. Thunder and rain on a day that had me at Green Bluff at 7 AM picking strawberries to avoid the heat. Heck, it's a Saturday! If I don't have to get out of bed at 6:30 AM, I won't. I woke up again at 7 AM to make sure it was still raining. It was, so I stayed in bed reading blogs at Her.meneutics on my Kindle for another hour. I was up at Knapp's Farm a little after 9 AM. From the bluff, I had a magnificent view of the surrounding hills as I picked strawberries. Sun occasionally beamed down on us hard-core strawberry pickers, braving the weather's caprice, but on the horizon lightning lit the sky and thunder roared.

Strawberries are hard to pick, so the $20 I had saved of my grocery budget--precious money--was still at $14.50 after I paid for my strawberries. I had a respectable number of strawberries, too, for picking them by myself and often being distracted by the lightning and funny little kids around me. I made a stop at another Green Bluff farm and while I was in the building, it started to rain steadily. I was so thankful I had caught the hour and a half of sun in the day and felt sorry for those who had just arrived at Green Bluff. My flat of strawberries became even more precious.

I drove back into town and took advantage of the cooler weather by fertilizing my garden. It rained lightly while I was out in my garden, and I loved it. The rain was my friend as I got down at eye level with my plants and got to see the emerging green globes of tomatoes, unfurling broad leaves of beans and feathery foliage of seashell cosmos. When I had finished working in my garden, Dottie, ever gracious, unwittingly fed me a lunch of tea, buttermilk muffins with strawberry jam, and shortbread. We sat inside with all the windows open and listened to the merry hum of rain.

How pleasant it is to sit together with no deadline and no agenda but to enjoy conversation and the funny turn of the weather. The conversation--hardly anything more than talking over the week behind us and looking forward to the weeks ahead--was as refreshing to me as the rain is to a thirsty ground. I realized, too, that I had no agenda for my strawberries. My only two goals for them were 1) to crush up two cups for jam, and 2) enjoy them.

Agendas and plans and schedules can only go so far, unlike the control-freak nature of my personality would like me to believe. The weekends are refreshing to me because my time isn't dictated by routine and schedules like it is during the week. I love routine, but the un-ending wake-up, go to work, work, come home from work, unpack lunch, pack lunch, do stuff after work, what-it's-bedtime-already? routine was wearing on me this week in particular. The antidote is a Saturday of flexibility and unconcern for the amount of time it takes me to do a task. I planned to finish picking strawberries by 11 AM. I filled my box by 10:30 AM. Great! I used the extra time to drive the long way through Green Bluff. It's not hot like I thought it would be? Great! I spent time in my garden. It's lunchtime, and I'm eating chocolate covered shortbread? Great! Who needs a well-planned and neatly Tupperwared lunch anyway? I have money left in my grocery budget? Great! I bought expensive New York steaks at Egger's for a meal with my parents in July. I like to take the weekend days as they come, to form the agenda moment by moment.

I think we learn in Scripture that the Kingdom of God is about a different agenda than we humans expect. And because of this, I need to learn something from the mistakes of the stubborn, agenda-pursuing Pharisees and their frequent misunderstanding of Jesus' heavenly agenda. Jesus isn't conquering the Romans. But he is freeing captives from bondage to sin. Jesus isn't exalting the Jewish people. But he is humbly pointing us to the only one who deserves to be exalted. Jesus isn't restoring the temple to its former grandeur. But he is restoring broken humanity to the quiet grandeur of intimacy with God.

So maybe it's not so much that I need to be free from having an agenda. Rather, whether it's a week-day agenda or a weekend lack thereof, I need to be aware of when God's agenda and mine conflict. And when that happens, Lord, give me the grace to abandon my agenda for yours.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

My Garden, Year Two

This is the second year my college mentor has given me space in her vegetable garden for a garden of my own. This year, I was much more savvy in my planning, so I'm expecting (and praying!) to have a better harvest than last year. We're off to a good start! I thought I'd post some pictures of my garden here to get you oriented to what I've planted. It's always fun to have pictures from the beginning of a garden and I'll be sure to post more when the garden is in full production in August/September. Here are two views of my garden:

The picture above shows all the plants expect my tomatoes and one cucumber. In this main part of the garden, I planted potatoes (front left corner), beans, tomatoes, a cucumber, carrots (which I had to replant once), peas, basil, rosemary, chives and green onions. I also planted marigolds, hollyhocks, cosmos and zinnias because I love having fresh flowers. I have a couple volunteer plants from last year that sprung up, including dill, calendula (a flower), snapdragons, a nasturtium, and parsley. As I was weeding today, I pulled up tons of baby hollyhocks and snapdragons that had re-seeded themselves. :) Here's a couple close-ups from the garden:

Dottie, my college mentor, and I also decided to try experimenting with straw bale gardening this year. Straw bale gardening was invented as a way to garden successfully even with poor soil. The Mohrlangs have an empty lot next to their house that will be the future home of a Whitworth professor when he gets around to building a house on the lot. In the meantime, he let us use his property for our straw bales. I decided to plant tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini and a pepper plant in my straw bales. Here's hoping they thrive! The first picture below is our whole straw bale garden. Dottie's bales have dirt on top of the whole bale while mine just have dirt directly around the plant:

A Romanian Rainbow pepper plant:

This is a view down the row of bales. You can see a Siletz tomato in the foreground, then a Black Krim tomato, a couple zucchini plants, and English cucumbers at the very end. I also planted two Sun Gold tomato plants given to me by a co-worker, and a lemon cucumber plant.

I love having a garden. I like thinking about God giving Adam the job of stewarding the earth in the Garden of Eden. Gardening is labor intensive (if my sore back after weeding is any indication), but it's also freeing to dig my hands into the dirt after a week of sitting at a desk in front of a computer. It's good to use my hands instead of my head and my whole body instead of just my fingers. Pray with me that my garden grows and that I can be generous with the fruit it bears!

Have you planted a garden this summer? What did you plant?

Saturday, June 15, 2013

The Week in Review

Last week, I bought something really cool at Costco:

We had a June birthday celebration at work this week, so I made this (Peanut Butter Ice Cream with Peanut Butter Cups):

With these:

The verdict? Delicious! I can't wait to make more batches of ice cream throughout the summer. It will be my go-to dessert. It was fun to share my first-ever batch with my co-workers, as they all have a hearty appreciation of food. This was the first fun thing of the week that I'm going to share with you.

The second fun thing was "cooking" a meal for 25 people on Friday night. My co-worker Emily has been involved in the start of a new college ministry in town that's being spearheaded by several current Whitworth students. Every Friday night, Thrive (the name of the ministry) meets in a church building downtown for dinner, worship, a message, and small group discussion. Because Thrive is just getting off the ground, they don't have the funds to provide dinner every week, so they've been soliciting help from friends and members of local churches. I had extra tithe money from housesitting in May, so I volunteered to make dinner for this week's Thrive gathering.

The catch is that the church building, which used to be an art gallery, has no sink, stove, or oven, so the meals prepared for Thrive need to be creative. Fortunately, God has provided me with many opportunities to coordinate food for bigger groups, so it didn't take me long to come up with a menu: cold, sliced ham from Egger's Meats, bread from Costco (multigrain and rosemary olive oil), and carrots and sliced cucumbers with Sabra hummus. No dinner would be complete without dessert, so I made vegan/gluten free cookies (made with bananas, peanut butter, and oats for substance) and a chocolate sheet cake with peanut butter frosting. Every day this week, I've been preparing some part of the meal, so packing up and transporting the meal downtown on Friday was a breeze. Here it is all packed up and ready to go:

I was nervous about the evening and how it would all come together, so I asked my parents and several friends to pray about it. The biggest thing was that the two people I knew weren't going to be there. Providentially, Emily connected me with her friend Anneliese, who was going to be leading Thrive that evening. When I was driving downtown looking for parking, I passed the building the first time and when I came back around, a car was leaving the spot right in front of the building. Praise the Lord! The other miraculous thing was that I didn't get a parking ticket, as I only had enough change for an hour of my time. :)
It was a piece of cake (hehe) to set up the meal. Anneliese, her friend Amanda, and I had time to pray for the evening before it started. People trickled in steadily until 6:15, and I enjoyed talking with handful of people. The meal came off splendidly. There was enough for all and a manageable amount of leftovers. Actually, I had almost the whole cake left which was disappointing until I tried it when I was back home. I'm telling you, it is delicious!

You might be surprised to know that the vegan/gluten free cookies were also good. The leftovers are in my freezer, ready to emerge at some fortuitous occasion.

Speaking of fortuitous occasions, the third thing I want to share with you about the week is that I finally saw a LIVE MOOSE!

My family has been to all the prime moose spots in the United States--Yellowstone, Vermont, Maine, Yosemite--and we never saw a live moose. My church hosted a bike ride on the Trail of the Coeur d'Alenes today through the beautiful lakes of northern Idaho. As my housemate Pam and I were riding along, we saw the moose chowing down across the lake. It was awesome! The ride itself was also lovely. Here are some pictures from the trail that entirely fail to capture the beauty we witnessed:

And that's a wrap! Have a blessed Father's Day tomorrow!

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Life Around the Table

For a while, I was going through a dry spell with reading. I hardly read anything except cooking blogs and then only scanned through recipe after recipe. Then I house-sat and couldn't get the Wifi password to work. You might call this a saving grace. Besides hosting several groups of people, I also re-discovered my normal hankering for reading. My housemate asked me tonight: "How many books do you normally have checked out from the library?" Without hesitation, I answered, "About 30." Many are fated to only ever sit in stacks on my desk, bookshelf, and nightstand, but, if a book is lucky, I'll actually read it.

Such was the case with a new book called Bread and Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table by Shauna Niequist. I just finished the book today and loved every sentence of it. Shauna, if possible, loves food even more than I do. It was a comfort to read the book and know that I'm not the only one in the world whose love of food veers towards obsessive. (Just ask my friend who went with me to Trader Joe's yesterday.) Better than that, Shauna grounds food and meals solidly in the living out of a faithful Christian life. You don't have to be a foodie to do this. In fact, I have a friend who hates cooking. But when it was her turn to host the Children's Ministry Committee from church, she made us a wonderful waffle, bacon and egg meal. Whether or not she enjoyed putting it together, there's no doubt that the meal unified us and prepared us for the discussion and prayer portion of our meeting.

Bread and Wine is full of stories from Shauna's life. Most of the stories were things I could relate to whole-heartedly and have experienced numerous times in cooking: spontaneity, inconvenience, unexpected mistakes and successes both, meaningful conversation, working-with-what-you-have meals, and simple, memory-evoking pleasures. Shauna also made it clear that it's okay for meals prepared for other people to be flawed. Perfection isn't the goal; fellowship is. I was comforted by this. I've often had friends over for dinner and have been more concerned with how something I cooked turned out than with the people at my table. Besides, what's life without a little imperfection anyway? It's why we try again (and again and again).

I always have cooking experiences from which I can draw useful spiritual lessons. One in particular stands out from recent weeks: making baklava with my friend Janie. She was making two trays of baklava for two different events, and I'd always wanted to make it. I came over to her house one Wednesday evening, and we got to work. After melting something like seven sticks of butter, we unrolled bundles of filo dough, impossibly thin and delicate. Following the complex instructions carefully, we layered the filo dough and brushed it liberally with the melted butter. Every once in a while, we'd spread a pecan-sugar mixture in between the layers. In the middle of the directions, we realized that we were going to run out of filo dough. Fortunately, mishap though it was, no one will ever know that we used 20 sheets of filo instead of 30.

When all the layers were assembled, it took us a good 15 minutes to score the baklava into narrow diamonds, so the honey-sugar syrup could soak into every crevice. By this time, it was nearly 9 PM, and I had to work the next morning, so I didn't get to help Janie complete the baklava. However, at work the next day, I had a visitor stop by with a package:

Biting into the honey-soaked squares of baklava made the work of the night before worth it. Actually, I take that back. Walking around my office and sharing squares of the baklava with my co-workers made it worth it. It was seeing my co-workers' eyes light up and hearing the crackle of the baked filo dough as they took a bite that made the often inconvenient work of making the baklava worth the effort. It's a tactile way of connecting one person to another. It's a blessed sharing and receiving.  
Shauna writes: "This is what I want you to do: I want you to tell someone you love them, and dinner's at six. I want you to throw open your front door and welcome the people you love into the inevitable mess with hugs and laughter. I want you to light a burner on the stove, to chop and stir and season with love and abandon...Gather the people you love around your table and feed them with love and honesty and creativity. Feed them with your hands and the flavors and smells that remind you of home and beauty and the best stories you've ever heard, the best stories you've ever lived."
All I can say to that is: "Amen!" Go and do likewise.