Greetings from the bunker on Crosby Road where I hunker down drinking coffee, writing and listening to a message on Youtube. Well, bunker’s admittedly a bit dramatic. But I am aware that for many many people this is a very difficult time of financial insecurity, social isolation, confinement and fear.
My intent in writing is always to encourage and offer hope so this poetic offering may seem a bit off to some of you. I wrote the following poem at a writers’ seminar when the instructor gave each of us a visual prompt – mine being a salmon leaping in a river. And, of course, the end of that arduous journey is death for the salmon.
I did lose a very dear friend this week – a friend whose physical and spiritual life were very much centered around a river – and though I have no doubt we will meet again, the loss is real and painful. The more so as I cannot get together with mutual friends and share our memories, grief and consolation. And I know for her family (who loved her dearly) so much more so. Fortunately the Holy Spirit is in no way limited by quarantine or lockdown but is able to reach people wherever there is a need for his grace and comfort.
There is higher ground to gain
and a purpose to my pain.
There is an end to this hard task,
and quiet pools in which to bask – upstream.
It seems sometimes a futile fight
against the foe, this constant flight.
But for now I only know
a growing urgent need to go – upstream.
For there’s a voice that urges on
when my resolve and strength are gone,
and deep within a powerful force
compels me to complete my course – upstream.
So, on through danger, fear disdained,
the ground that bears my name I’ve gained.
Seed sown, I spent and bloodied lie.
The race secured, I live not die – upstream.
If you listen to the end of this, it moves into Down to the River to Pray. We can’t get together to celebrate her life. This is my small tribute to a life well lived.
It’s hard to believe that it’s been less than 6 weeks since the lockdown began – it feels so much longer. I’ve noticed that several of my friends are using the extra time (if they aren’t working) to attempt things they haven’t done before – sourdough bread, kombucha, cinnamon buns. One of my friends is even doing a FB cooking show from her kitchen.
Much as I love to have friends and family in my home, even before the lockdown I rarely got surprise company – which is sad. I love to have people drop in. When someone arrives unexpectedly the onus is on them to take you as you come rather than the expectation I have of myself, that everything should be just right. There was a time when part of my identity was wrapped up in being a great cook. I have long since given up on the elaborate meals I used to prepare, preferring instead to focus on simple, hearty, healthy food and having the energy to enjoy my guests.
I like having the ingredients on hand for a few quickly thrown together meals – who knows when a blizzard might hit – or a lockdown. I’ll share a few of those over the next week or so.
I help homeschool 2 of my granddaughters and last year we studied Lemony Snickett’s book, “A Series of Unfortunate Events”. The adventure begins as three recently orphaned siblings are forced to live under the abusive guardianship of their dastardly uncle, Count Olaf, (whose intentions alas are not at all exemplary).
One day the Count insists the children prepare dinner for his motley theatre troupe – and gives them a pittance to do so. Twelve year old Klaus does some research and the children are able to prepare Pasta Puttenesca on just such a pittance. While the provenance of this recipe is not quite kid friendly, it is as ‘colorful’ as the dish itself is robust -capers, black olives, anchovies – yowzers!
I substitute a good squirt of anchovy paste, ( which I keep in my freezer) for the anchovies but everything else could be found in most home pantries. ( I prefer the capers packed in salt which I find at a local Mediterranean market.) Though capers are a bit pricey, a little goes a long way and they last a long time in the fridge. This flavorful dish can be on the table in less than 30 minutes – start to finish.
Add a quick salad, a loaf of bread and if you have it, a full bodied ‘bright’ wine to make a memorable, super easy, and thrifty meal. A good just before payday treat. The following recipe for Black Bean Brownies goes together in less than 5 minutes so if you start them before the pasta they can bake while you throw together the pasta.
Black Bean Brownies
Many of my friends are on gluten and or dairy free diets This recipe satisfies both those requirements. It’s another dish you can prepare with on hand ingedients. And because they are so healthy, you don’t have to feel guilty if you happen to over indulge just a little bit. On the other hand, the protein in the beans makes them so satisfying you are less likely to need to. These are so easy to prepare that it’s almost embarrassing to include the recipe.
Black Bean Bownies 350F
1 tin black beans drained (this is for the 15oz tin – if I only have 19 oz I add another egg and a bit more of everything else)
1/2cup cocoa powder
1/3 white sugar
2 large eggs
1 tp vanilla
Blend the beans in the food processor till smooth then add the rest of the ingredients and process briefly until combined. Scrape the mixture into a 9” square pan lined with parchment paper.
Sprinkle the surface with ½ cup chocolate chips.
Bake for 20 – 25 minutes
That easy. Try not to consume the whole panful in one sitting.
I’m happy to announce no one in the family was as rude as Count Olaf’s guests and we all enjoyed the meal – not expecting prime rib on a pittance.
None of us have any idea what the future holds for our various countries as we work our way out of this strange situation we find ourselves in. There are people who are hurting fiercely, scared and in great distress. The real or perceived threat we have experienced has required people to distance themselves from each other. But relationship, fresh air and exercise are important to our immune systems and above all to our mental health.
I think many of us have learned some valuable lessons during this enforced down time. The importance of family, friendships and community cannot be overstated. If you aren’t ready to throw your doors open, an extended chat (at an appropriate distance) with a neighbor might lead to coffee together or a walk. But kindness and acceptance are the main ingredients required for healing our fractured world. And they are free and never out of stock.
A dear friend of mine – one who exemplified hospitality – passed away today. I can’t bring myself to say died – not because of denial, but because I seriously don’t believe she did. I believe she is more alive than she has ever been. But we will miss her and remember the many ways she blessed our lives – how her hospitality warmed us physically and spiritually and her love of beauty and her amazing gardens enriched our souls. In Till We Have Faces CS Lewis wrote, “The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing…to find the place where all the beauty came from.” We shall meet again in a yet more beautiful place.
Resurrection Sunday is my favorite holiday and the thing I shall most miss tomorrow morning, will be walking into our gathering and greeting people with, “He is risen,” and receiving in response, “He is risen indeed.” The certainty behind those two stark sentences is the source of our joy, for as Paul said in 1 Cor 15 14 -19 that if Jesus was not risen our faith is in vain. The fact of his resurrection, his defeat of death on our behalf gives rise to worship.
So since we can’t gather tomorrow I’m giving you three of my favorite songs that celebrate the resurrection.
The incredible truth is that not only did Jesus defeat death on the cross, he also overcame the power of sin, and He promised that all those who received Him had right to become chidren of God and to walk in that victory as well. So we have so much to celebrate.
I’ve been part of one community of faith for nearly four decades and as we gather every week to worship I can look around the room and see one life after another that has been transformed by the love and power of Christ. (Wow, I just did the math – that’s over 2,000 times!) I’ve seen people walk through crushing difficulties and pain, the kind of circumstances that can drive you to any one of myriad addictions, and come out victorious, more confident of the God they follow. I’ve seen people shine through chronic debilitating sickness, seen them grow in character through losses, seen them humbly carry success. *
We look back to what Christ did on the cross, we look up to where He is seated in glory and we look foward wholeheartedly to His promised return.
The most delightful surprise I’ve had in writing this blog has been to see readers from countries all over the world – Russia, New Zealand, Mexico, America. If you follow Jesus then we are family – and this morning I greet you, “He is risen.”
* Lest you think I am ridiculously naive or blind to the many who have been hurt by followers of Christ, I am not unaware of that. The church, the body of Christ is made up of a host of imperfect people who are gradually walking out of the darkness into the light, Prov 4:18. As we learn, increasingly, what it means to be recipients of God’s grace, in Christ, we are able to extend that out to a hurting world, without hurting others in the process.
Simple things delight me, a stroll down a busy street in Vancouver in late January would have me exploding in laughter over the buds popping on the trees, while strangers passing by wondered if I were in need of mental health services. Spring comes almost 6 weeks earlier to the coast than it does in the interior of BC and that is the longest stretch of time in the year – I measure the days by the 3 to 4 minutes added light each day. It’s coming.
Eventually it arrives in the Okanagan, (though not this cold week when I’d hoped to be putting plants out ) and I am just as delighted. Every leaf and blade that works its way up from the grave thrills me. The perennials are like old friends and I greet them as they return, “You’re back. You made it! Wonderful. Welcome.” And I shed a small tear for those that perished over the winter- oh no, not the kniphofia.
But seeds. Well, what can I say? I am awe stuck, over and over. Everytime I see a hint of green poking above the soil in the seed tray, I feel like a toddler shouting, “Do it again, Daddy.” This morning I noticed that several of the calendula have sprouted, one sporting a small chunk of dirt as well as the seed cap – like that same toddler, in morning disarray, with tousled hair.
I wonder how many of you, like me, have every available surface covered in seed trays, juggling them between the best sources of light. I’ve had a small grow-light for years and this spring added another.
When it comes to starting seeds I am reminded every year of the wonderful Frog and Toad series by Arnold Lobel. I enjoyed it as much as my kids did. And this story, The Garden, was my favorite.
I identify so much with Toad – now seeds start growing. I confess to being an impatient gardener and have been known to carefully dig around some seeds to find out if anything is happening. Last year the armor coated castor beans seeds (an amazing but poisonous ornamental that grows to an astounding 8 feet x 6 feet) took over a month to germinate. This year, I both soaked and nicked them and they were up in a matter of days, leaving me to wonder how much living space I’ll have in four weeks.
Because I love gardening so much it’s no surprise that one of my favorite images of God is as gardener. “A sower went forth sowing seeds,” says the parable of the sower – ( I’m sure many of us made imago deo feel that way). Every farmer sows with the expectation of a harvest of some sort, food or beauty. The father/farmer as well. He has given us so much and I believe His heart for us is to bear both spiritual fruit and beauty.
I am thinking of the seeds that have been sown into my own heart. My father, though long gone, looms large in my life. There are things you absorb by osmosis in a family without a word being uttered.
The first thing I was consciously aware of was my father’s compassion. He cared for the oppressed and was ready to help with whatever was needed. Our doors were always open to neighbors and though that often looked like chaos, I was proud of my dad’s tenderness.
The next seed he sowed – again unwittingly – was forgiveness (and I am so grateful for this one). Someone close to him had embezzled a large amount of money while my dad was overseas for 3 years during the war. Not once did I hear my dad defame this man; not one negative word escaped his lips. (It remained for another family member to do that. ) He simply, as Rudyard Kipling says in the poem “If”, stooped to rebuild.
Finally, industriuosness and integrity. He worked hard to support us and was scrupulously honest in his dealings. I had much respect for him.
I wish I could say all of the seeds he sowed took off and germinated as soon as they’d been sown. That would be a lie. But one of the incredible facts about seeds is that they can lay dormant for a long while. Some seeds won’t sprout until a fire has passed by, wreaking destruction, others need to be submerged in water – and the odd ones thrive having passed through a birds digestive tract. Hmmm. It took a serious fire in my life to force some seeds to grow.
I know that God is patient and is not standing over me, drumming His fingers, like Toad, shouting, “Now seeds grow.” He is the great gardener and know when the appropriate rain, drought, fire or passing bird is going to be helpful in getting those seeds growing.
Oh – all this written before I came home yesterday to find a quarter of my home under an inch of water. That’s not good – at least it doesn’t feel good. But a couple of generous neighbors, (one who I hardly knew), vacuumed up the mess, attempted to clean every backed up orifice and ran a snake down the drain – all the while maintaining strict social distancing, sarcasm intended.
But possibly, just possibly, there are a few seeds lying dormant that need, that require a flood to germinate. I have known God’s goodness and help over and over in my life and today I am choosing life, choosing trust.
Although I am a word person and not especially visual, sometimes a word picture grips me and touches me where the words themselves may have just floated by without my noticing their import.
That happened recently when I heard a teaching on Hebrews 4:16. “Let us draw near…so that we may find mercy and grace to help in time of need.” The word help in Greek is translated boetheia and has a powerful, rich meaning. In the era of wooden ships, when a vessel was at risk, perhaps not considered strong enough to withstand the storms that might threaten it, 4 or 5 turns of cable wrapped rope would be wound around its hull to ensure its safety. It was bound up, strengthened, able to survive the storms.
About 18 years ago I cared for my granddaughter one night a week while my daughter was taking a night school course. I remember walking, rocking and singing – mostly singing a lullaby I had first heard on a Disney tape.
I loved the words to this song and was delighted to find it today on Youtube. The lines, ‘faith is keeping her afloat, and ‘the law of the ocean is that you shall never fail,’ held great meaning for me. There were long stretches of time where I felt I might not hold together. I wish I’d known then the picture of that word boetheia then – though even without it, I was held together.
And who knows what gets embedded during those times because some years later that same granddaughter, in turn, painted this picture for me.
Being raised on the prairies, I never saw the ocean until I was almost twenty, and I did not like it. The shoreline was littered with all manner of weird creatures, the water was salty, and you could not trust it not to knock you off your feet. Not at all well mannered like the lakes on the prairies.
I wrote this poem at a time when my life felt particularly out of my control.
The ocean is a single-minded beast
and powerful like rivers rarely are.
I am most respectful of its nature;
you cannot push the ocean very far.
I was content to paddle in the shallows.
I thought it wise to wade close to the shore.
I could not plumb the ocean, I was careful
to go so far and not a fathom more.
But though I never gave it half a chance,
and only tip-toed till I reached my knees,
an undertow of violent foreboding,
sucked me out and carried me to sea.
How am I to live in this environment?
A flounder on the shore would do as well
as I, when all I touch and see is foreign,
and I am captive to its every swell.
I used to pick my way and live with caution,
careful not to put my faith to test.
Now that I am carried by the ocean
I’m doing what the ocean thinks is best.
We are still in the middle of this storm brought on by Covid 19, we have no idea of the long range impact it may have on our country, its economy, culture and freedom. There are times when I feel a small shudder of fear. And then I remember I am being carried by God and that I don’t see the whole picture.
I miss gathering together with my church family where I was regularly strengthened by worship, word, prayer and the care of my friends. We are doing that as best we can, but virtual fellowship is not quite the same.
Yet, much as the fellowship of believers strengthens and encourages us, ultimately our fellowship must be with God Himself, 1 John 1:3 “…truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his son Jesus Christ.” Not bad company in the midst of a lockdown. There’s wisdom, strength, direction and boetheia available – enough for all.
Something wasn’t quite right when I woke this AM at 5:30. There was light where there shouldn’t be – a bright light pouring in my kitchen window from the west. It took me a few seconds to sort it out – ah the moon – full and glorious in a cloudfree sky. I grabbed my binoculars to enjoy the last of it before it set behind the hills above me.
Now, an hour later, the hills to the east are thrown into relief with an apricot glow behind them. A beautiful start to a week where many things may be brought into sharper relief. Light has a way of doing that.
Because I prefer being outside to in, I’ve spent a good amount of time observing the heavens – and someday I may share a very funny story about just that. But not today. Today I give you –
She is by nature drab and dull,
(and yet tonight she glows),
barren, dry and desolate
– but look at her tonight.
Streetlights pale in brilliance
to her borrowed beauty.
She lifts her face to her source,
unveiled and unprotected,
– who dare not or be blind –
can gaze on her in wonder.
If she, like I am,
made of dust,
can manifest such beauty,
then we made in His image
shall shatter dark with glory.
The NT verse Matt. 27:51 has always struck me with awe; I tremble when I read it. The significance of this one verse can hardly be overstated. A huge heavy tapestry veil woven of twisted linen hung in the temple in Jerusalem to separate the Holy of Holies, the earthly place of God’s dwelling, from the rest of the temple – where animal sacrifices were made daily for sin. I won’t go into great detail, here’s a link if you are interested. https://www.gotquestions.org/temple-veil-torn.html
But what actually shakes me, and is perhaps the screenshot of history I most wish I could have seen, was that the moment Christ died on the cross, when he uttered the words, “It is finished” – that veil was rent in twain from top to bottom. The significance of that moment – that a mere mortal could walk into the presence of God, through Christ’s sacrifice (2 Cor 3:16) is breathtaking. And so, with that veil removed, we – you and I -and all mankind, anyone who chooses to draw near to that light, ‘unveiled and unprotected’ may go out into wherever we are in April 2020, reflecting God’s glory, shattering the darkness, bringing His light.
Yes, our going out is somewhat restricted these days, but there are many ways to shine and one of the joys of this lockdown/shutdown has been discovering the myriad ways people are lifting their torches and swords high. So shine my friends, there is no veil.
I have a confession: I don’t watch the news, even now, especially now. But somehow last week, after a Youtube program finished, the NBC barged in, all elbows and shouting. Good grief. Not to diminish what is happening but stranger things are happening yet.
I will comply, keep my distance, wash and wipe as decreed. But, as the punch line in the anecdote about the child ordered to sit down by an exasperated parent concludes, “I will sit, but I’m standing on the inside.”
Enough with fear and dread -
leave off the constant sorrow of the world.
This cannot be submerged.
It bubbles to the surface
persistent as a spring.
The evenings’ news
is solemn stuff indeed
and all man's woes.
But the giddy trill of brook on stone
cannot be stilled
while all creation fiddles.
Collapse and contagion are real,
not to mention global warming.
But the melody rings louder yet
and must not denied.
So I follow,
so I dance.
You must descend.
I shall plunge from the cliff
– laughing and jubilant -
into the welcoming arms of my lover.
My addiction to reading novels, escaping reality into another’s story, began benignly enough. What parent decries a child bringing home stacks of books from the library? Like all addictions though it began to exert control – why study when beauty, nobility, peace, and love – everything my hungry heart cried out for, could be found so easily between the covers of a book? Why take on any challenge? Why leave my room when there were whole worlds to discover safe in my cocoon?
I had not yet learned discernment so I consumed much chaff along with the wheat. But a scene from Elizabeth Goudge’s, Green Dolphin Country (which I read when I was 16), stayed with me.
There were several worthy themes in that novel, which is set in the late 1800’s in both the Channel Islands and New Zealand. The scene that had such impact on me, the sentence that intrigued me, took place during one of the Maori uprisings when Samuel, a loving and gentle pastor/missionary was dragged to the top of a cliff to be thrown off it. The native men respected him enough to allow his one request. He disdained to be thrown but “…ran from the cliff like a bride going to meet her groom…” – the line which inspired this poem.
That’s probably not an exact quote – I loaned my copy to a friend. And I never understood why that scene gripped me so until I re-read the book years later, after I had decided to follow Jesus. Then, the book’s strong theme of sacrifice fell into place for me, like the tumblers in a complex lock.
This poem is part of the series I named The Difficult Years, of which there were more than a few. Much of this revolves around two major life issues: first my lack of the character qualities and maturity that would allow for a relationship, as interdependant as marriage, to be a healthy one. Second, my tendancy to idolatry, by which I mean bowing down to my need for security, worth and approval by refusing to be the person I was created to be. It took a long time for me to recognize that fact.
All my writing about that time was a reflection of where I was at and may not be a picture of the reality. Much as I hate the term, my truth, this is how it seemed to me.
I found a blade of grass grown through the concrete path.
You could crush it if you wanted.
Thus, I have made a niche within your heart.
Tenuous? Not really.
The soil is thin there, gravelly and porous.
Water seeps through quickly.
I am like the native grass
that survives the lengthy drought,
falls fell winds and winters frigid fingers:
Withered brown and stiff.
My source secure,
I will be green again with April’s rain.
If this poem is about anything other than poetic devices, it is found in the solidity of the last two lines, my source secure… And that is what my whole journey has been about, finding that source of life that allowed me to weather the uncontrollable vicissitudes of life.
Those were challenging but ultimately the most rewarding years. If you have read the Narnia series, and I hope you have, I’m sure you will remember Eustace from the Voyage of the Dawn Treader, “There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb and he almost deserved it.” Such a delicious line.
There is a time when the unpleasant Eustace, through a series of events, awakes one day to find he has become a dragon, the logical consequence of his choices. Which, at first, has its upside – he can now exercise more power than he has ever known, but he soon enough experiences the downside and wants to be human again. He tries and tries and tries to rid himself of his dragon skin and finds himself powerless to escape – himself. And then Lewis paints this incredible picture in Chapter Seven.
“Then the lion said – but I don’t know if it spoke – ‘You will have to let me undress you.’ I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back to let him do it.
“The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off. You know – if you’ve ever picked the scab off a sore place. It hurts like billy-oh but it is such fun to see it coming away.”
Here’s an excerpt if you don’t have a copy nearby.
Day 17? Day 18? It’s all a bit of a blur. While that’s not too unusual for me these days, as my ever-so- patient-friends will attest to missed dates, excursions or confused locations, I am glad in the midst of all this that there are several anchors for my days, concrete things that must be done that keep me from floating off into oblivion. (Hmm, concrete anchors – perhaps cut out mystery novels.)
While my daughter is homeschooling 3 kids upstairs, with every surface covered in books, or art and science projects, I have taken on the task of preparing lunch for us all. Which brings me to the empty shelves at the grocery store. No Kraft Dinner – no problem. Fret not, surely one of the blessings of this time must be the internet.
Thanks to the wonder of the www I was able recently, to solve a small problem, itself the result of a large victory. My first attempt at growing butternut squash last year produced a bumper crop. I hovered over the plants all summer, and even pollinated the blossoms by hand when I didn’t see enough bees – having learned how to sex squash blossoms (which is not as racy as it sounds). At the end of the season I had 13 glorious, good sized squash. And no takers. Seems the kids – usually good eaters – were not fond of squash. So I gave several to friends.
Not wanting to prejudice my case, I did the prep of the squash under cover. Alas an errant squash seed in the final product gave it away. But I’ve repeated the recipe several times now and the kids have grown to love it. Today the youngest, Henry, ate 3 helpings.
This is admittedly more work than packaged mac and cheese, but it is also healthier, tastier and much more attractive with the vivid orange of the squash. (If you happened to have frozen squash on hand you could whip this together in no time.) Today I had a nice knob of Gruyere that I sacrificed to the cause but you could add whatever cheese you have on hand. I have used about half that milk so maybe add it gradually to see how much you need. Also I skipped the sage bit as I didn’t have any and I added a tsp of oregano to the sauce instead.
I like to top mac and cheese with a bread crumb topping. I freeze all the heels of bread and when I have a bag full, I pop them in the food processor with (ahem) a goodly pat of butter. I use them for toppings for desserts as well and they can be added to a soup to thicken it – and stretch it if you must.
You don’t need to bake this but I like to give it 15 minutes at about 325F just to brown the topping.
And that’s it from my bunker where I am hunkering down waiting for the storm to pass. Just had a funny phone call from my grandson Jesse on Skype, where they apparently think phone calls are improved by adding an app that morphs your face into all manner of hideous shapes. My face, on Skype, is quite scary enough, thank you.
Bless you all to find peace and comfort in the middle of uncertain times.
It is inevitible that my writing reflects my love of relationship, with first and most importantly the God who loves and sustains me, and then with people, nature and words themselves. If I could, I would cover my walls and ceiling with the words that have stretched, delighted, comforted and shaped me. (Which could explain my unique decorating style, Buried In Books.)
My own writing is accesible and a reflection of the hope I cherish. Some is written tongue in cheek; I like humor – even slightly dark, but always pointing towards the light that I have experienced. I just found this lovely rendition of a song I heard sung at a funeral recently. The lyrics in the second verse capture my goal in writing. While my writing is nowhere near as distilled as Mr. Leheman’s, I hope it reflects something of the vast scope of God’s character – though perhaps still more like a carnival mirror* than the Hubble Telescope.
The Love Of God
Could we with ink the ocean fill,
and were the skies of parchment made,
were every stalk on earth a quill,
and every man a scribe by trade,
to write the love of God above
would drain the ocean dry;
nor could the scroll
contain the whole,
though stretched from sky to sky.
I just discovered this group, Eli Eli, and I love the simplicity and purity of their music.
*I’ve never used an asterisk before and I don’t have a category for fashion tips. But here’s a freebie. The full length mirror in my bedroom has a happy flaw, a slight concave curve. So that, although the Lord saw fit to give me legs that barely reach the floor, the mirror sends back a lovely leggy image subtracting at least ten pounds in the process – a great advantage if your self worth still depends on your appearance and if you just happen to be stress eating during the lockdown.