Surrender? Really?

I watched The Princess Diaries 2 with my sister last night. The queen is lecturing Mia on the terrible situations she manages to get herself into, telling her how people look up to royalty, therefore, their behavior needs to be worthy of that. She says, “Can you TRY to grasp that concept?” Mia responds in frustration, “The concept IS grasped. The execution is a little elusive.” There’s a different concept that I grasp very well in my brain, but when it comes to real life, the execution of the concept is more than just a little elusive. That concept is surrender. 

It makes so much sense in my head. To follow Jesus, we must be willing to give up everything. After all, when we give Him access to our lives, we are saying that our lives are not our own, but His. Honestly, it’s pretty amazing to consider. He knows me perfectly, because He made me, so of course He knows what is best for me. He also knows exactly how my life should look in order to bring him the most glory, which ultimately, is why we all exist in the first place. 

But I have a problem trusting Him. There was a desire I had as a teenager to invest my life in a certain little person’s life. God had different plans for her (and looking back, I am so grateful, for His plans were way better than mine), but I was devastated for a long time. Also around the same time, another little girl’s family moved, and this little girl, too, had played a vital role in my life. Later, my heart was crushed in a different way when I realized that the love I had hoped for was given to someone else. A relationship unravelled. Some of the things which I’ve longed for and valued most have a history of being taken away from me. How do you trust completely when your life is not what you dreamed of? I dream in a desperate way, yet I fear that my dearest dreams won’t ever come true, because I want them so badly. Too badly. 

This spring, I surrendered a dream of mine to God. Yet was it really surrender? For I have been struggling hard lately, longing for this dream. I’ve been angry and terribly jealous as I see one of the things I long for beginning in someone else’s life. Why can others live my dreams, and I can’t? I don’t want to become a cynical, bitter person, but that is the way I’ve been heading. It is a problem when the happiness of other people makes me so upset. Maybe surrender is like forgiveness. You can’t just forgive a person once and expect that you’ll never be mad again. You have to keep forgiving. It’s work. It’s really hard work, and it takes a long time. I think that’s the way surrender often works as well; surrender isn’t an event as much as it is a process. 

Jesus loves me; He really does, and He is not keeping my dreams from being fulfilled to be cruel. He has something incredible in mind. Can I trust His love and His plan? Really trust? Keep surrendering, as often as it takes? There are so many things He knows that I have no idea of. He is good. 

There’s part of a song by Babbie Mason quoted in a book I read years ago: 

“God is too wise to be mistaken

God is too good to be unkind

So when you don’t understand

When you don’t see His plan

When you can’t trace His hand

Trust His heart. “

Okay, Jesus. You’re in control. I am not. I surrender. I choose to trust Your heart.

Thoughts on Life and Bread

Sourdough. It’s one of my more recent obsessions. I get these from time to time, but we won’t talk about the others here. We’re here to talk about bread today, bread and life. My sourdough starter came from a friend, a diversion during quarantine. 

I think it’s super cool. I don’t like the really sour bread (which happens when you use too much whole wheat flour), so possibly it doesn’t even make sense to do sourdough. But, I love the process, when it works well. Spoiler Alert: it doesn’t always turn out. In fact, I have a loaf of bread in the freezer right now that will probably end up in the trash. Yet, even with a failed project, I still find it fascinating that you can make bread without using regular yeast. A sourdough starter is literally just flour and water that has fermented. Yes, it sounds a little gross, but it’s also really amazing. 

Besides, there’s the whole facet of it being a true homemakerish kind of thing to do to bake bread- any bread. Bread can be so readily bought in today’s world (except during Covid, it seems), but buying bread doesn’t give you the same satisfaction as it does to work through the process yourself. Shortcuts are not always best in the long run. Maybe I should join Anne in her dislike of “modern inconveniences” (a Mr. Harrison phrase from Anne’s House of Dreams, by L.M. Montgomery). They make our lives easier in the moment, but are we really becoming better people by having so much done for us automatically? It’s just a thought, and I confess that I really love dishwashers and cars and hot water. 

“I should like to have it kept always just as it was in the dear old years. That’s foolish- and sentimental- and impossible. So I shall immediately become wise and practical and possible.” -Anne in Anne’s House of Dreams, by L.M. Montgomery

Maybe though, it’s not altogether foolish to be skeptical of some of the newer, easier ways of life. It may very well be possible (coming from an idealist, of course) to hang on to more primitive ways of life in some areas, such as, in the instance of baking bread once in a while. Try it. It may just end up feeding your soul as it does mine. 

The first time I made sourdough bread, I used my great-grandmother’s bread bowl. It may not have been the smartest thing I ever did. There is, after all, a crack in it that could potentially hold bacteria. It didn’t kill me; however, I might be wise to consider getting it resealed if I plan on making it a habit to use an antique. At any rate, using the same bread bowl that my great-grandmother used is a start in closing the generational gap that separates us. I was very young when she died and remember her only a little when she then lived with my grandparents. From what I have heard of her, I don’t think she would have approved of me, or even liked me, but possibly she would feel honored (and horrified!) that a great-granddaughter used her bread bowl. 

When you make bread, there’s the mixing. First, with a wooden spoon, and then with your hands once it becomes too difficult to mix with the spoon. Hands in bread dough- really, the practical heartbeat of the homemaker. She is doing her part to provide sustenance for those she loves. It’s a rotten shame it has become a disappearing art among today’s women. It should be a rite of passage to womanhood! Yes, that’s an opinion, not a fact. Still, there is something so metaphorical about women making bread. It’s a tangible picture of her role as a nurturer. 

Then there’s the waiting… waiting for bread to rise. With sourdough especially, the wait time is quite lengthy. Waiting for bread to rise, patient or impatient waiting. There are both. Waiting is a very real thing in the life of this woman, and probably in the lives of all others as well. Waiting for Prince Charming (actually, Prince Charming may be a little stuffy and unapproachable; I prefer someone slightly more real), waiting for marriage, for children, for her own little home… But in the waiting, the starter works in the bread, making it rise light. In my life, the yeast needs to work as well, preparing me, bringing me ever nearer to the woman God wants me to be. The process must not be rushed- not in bread, not in life. The bread dough gets punched down following the first rising, and then it rises a second time. These punches in life, those unexpected kicks in the gut- they will bring good, if we let God work in us as He desires to do. We rise, too. 

Once the bread has risen the second time, there’s a careful cut made in the top of the loaf. This can be a basic and simple step, just a slit with a sharp knife, or it can take the form of elaborate designs made with a bread lame. This is a part of sourdough bread making I want to explore further. I attempted making a heart on my last loaf. The result looked anything but professional. Granted, I only used a paring knife; maybe I should try my craft knife next time! Just imagine what fun it would be to combine art with breadmaking. Breadmaking is an art in itself, true, but to get to make the bread beautiful- now that’s food for the soul!

Finally, after a process which has taken somewhere around six and seven hours (and that’s assuming your starter was fed and ready to use), you can slide the bread into the oven. Sourdough bread is baked at a relatively high temperature, which results in a crusty outside and a soft middle. Like some people perhaps. On the outside, they can appear to be rather unapproachable and distant, not like myself. I wear my heart on my face too much of the time. But inside, their hearts most times are worth getting to know. It may be difficult cutting through that crusty layer, though. 

The bread comes out, and I butter the top to make it shine, then wrap it in a tea towel. I love tea towels. We rarely used them in my home growing up, but I certainly use them now. Once again, they hold a homemakerish charm. Tea towels, crusty bread, sourdough… this is the life. 

Thank you for joining me in my somewhat random meditations on breadmaking. Many things in life are allegory, parable, lessons in ordinary places. Seek them out! And make the bread.

Healing From Our Snakebites

Yes, it looks like a snake curled around the top of this tree. No, that’s not actually what it is. It’s simply a unique tree. I go past it on the trail where I’ve been running lately, and it reminds me of a serpent many generations ago. Perhaps you remember the story… 

“Then they journeyed from Mount Hor by the Way of the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; and the soul of the people became very discouraged on the way. And the people spoke against God and against Moses: ‘Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and our soul loathes this worthless bread.’ So the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and many of the people of Israel died.

“Therefore the people came to Moses, and said, ‘We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD and against you; pray to the LORD that He take away the serpents from us.’ So Moses prayed for the people.

“Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and it shall be that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, shall live.’ So Moses made a bronze serpent, and put it on a pole; and so it was, if a serpent had bitten anyone, when he looked at the bronze serpent, he lived.” -Numbers 21:4-9 NKJV

If you’ve grown up with a knowledge of the Bible, you probably know that this is an Old Testament picture of what would happen in the New Testament with Jesus. In fact, just before Jesus’ famous words in John 3:16, He tells Nicodemus, “‘And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.’” -John 3:14-15 NKJV

Put yourself in the shoes of the Israelites for a moment, and recognize a scene that is familiar to all of us in some way. You are walking through a desert- hot, tired, sore, hungry, thirsty… and quite naturally, you begin to look for someone to blame for your misery. Or you are living through a pandemic, followed by serious rioting in response to the cruel death of a fellow human being. The financial state of many Americans is serious, including yours. You need a job. Your car is breaking down. This is your desert, and you are weary of the trek. You open your mouth to complain, and honestly, since everyone else is also complaining, you don’t see any harm in it. 

This desert, this journey through places that are unfamiliar to comfort addicted America, leads us to search for solutions, for people to look up to and to follow. Many are seeking healing for the serpent wounds that have come upon us, quite frankly, many of which have been inflicted through our own folly as a human race. Based on our personal convictions, we search for healing in different places. Some turn to the president, viewing him as a superhuman who can remedy all of our current issues. He can’t. He is only human like the rest of us, not a god to be worshipped. No president is powerful enough to heal this mess. Some turn to revenge. It’s the humanness that rises within us, saying, “Well, they started it. They hurt me, so I’ll hurt them right back.” There is so much hatred going on, so much evil, and so much pain. But we are turning to the wrong things to fix our problems. Trusting fully in human powers isn’t going to work. The problems are too big for mere humans to handle. Revenge isn’t going to work. Neither is hate. 

“It is useless to meet revenge with revenge: it will heal nothing.”

-J.R.R. Tolkien

There is a Way through; there is One who can and does bring healing, but He is the ONLY Way that works. He’s the solid foundation that isn’t going to crumble. If we don’t repent and look upon the Son of God, we will die. There isn’t a bronze serpent that we need to look to now for healing, but a living, breathing, saving Jesus upon the cross. He is God’s provision for our unbelievable mess. Let’s turn to Him and take the unpopular road- the road of forgiveness, the road of prayer, the road of love and truth. 

Lord Jesus, I pray that we, as Your children, would come to You to say we’re sorry, to mean it from the depths of our hearts. Sorry for the blatant sins we have allowed the church to fall into, sorry for the way we’ve neglected the vulnerable, sorry for mishandling Your Word and twisting it to fit our personal preferences, sorry for turning to everything except You. I pray for a revival to sweep over this world, for a return to Truth, for there is only one Truth, and that is You. May we seek You as we have never sought You before. Change our hearts, change us, and help us to become a representation of You here on this earth. Purify us. Save us! Help us to repent! I ask this in the powerful name of Jesus, Amen. 

“When I shut up heaven and there is no rain, or command the locusts to devour the land, or send pestilence among My people, if My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” -2 Chronicles 7:13-14 NKJV 

Willing, but Weak

“Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” -Matthew 26:41 NKJV

This is so true- these words Jesus spoke to the disciples in the garden. In our spirits, we are willing. We purpose in our hearts to pray more, to read the Bible more, to do what Jesus has  called us to do. Our desire is to be world-changing people. In our dreams, whether spoken or unspoken, we can see ourselves serving on the foreign mission field; we want to be like those heroes of the faith that have gone before. We crave revival, masses of people turning to God in repentance and surrender. 

There is willingness in our hearts to make change happen in other ways, too. It’s easy to see that in making New Year’s Resolutions. People want to exercise more and to make better choices in what they eat, among sundry other things. I have lofty ideas of someday running a 5k, even though I’m so not athletic. I also aspire in my heart to be more organized, to be productive, to learn Spanish, to not procrastinate so much. My intentions are great. It probably is actually more so for an idealist like myself, because as idealists, we are very skilled at seeing things the way they should be rather than accepting things the way they are. 

There’s a Youtube channel I watch sometimes, and the woman is several things I would like to be. She’s intentional about exercising, she makes good food choices, she goes to bed early and gets up early, she accomplishes a lot… She is an inspiration to other people to make these kinds of changes in their lives as well. For her to live this way, though, comes down to the choices she makes on a daily basis as to how she will live her life. It’s not an effortless thing. She has formed good habits.

There is a quote hanging in the lunchroom at one of the places where I have worked that says, 

“You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your habits.” 

It is completely true. I can have the best intentions in the world- whether it comes to praying for revival on Tuesday nights, or running, or being more organized. But when it actually comes down to doing little things that could lead to big things, I fail so often. It’s easier to waste time on social media or watch a movie. I can make excuses: “I’m too tired. It’s too cold outside…” My spirit is willing, yes, but my flesh is weak- so weak. In our spirits, we believe that we will do world-changing things. However, when it comes right down to it: when the conference is over, and we go back to daily life… When our prayer time is finished, and we are confronted with a situation that makes us angry… When the Sunday church service is over and Monday comes… 

We were so willing in our hearts in those moments of inspiration and aspiration, but in the daily monotony and busyness and distractions, we don’t do the little things that will eventually enable us to do the big things. We give in to bad habits. There is a verse in Luke that says:

“He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much; and he who is unjust in what is least is unjust also in much.” -Luke 16:10 NKJV

Think of Lionel in The Princess Diaries who told the queen, “Your Majesty, I would gladly take a bullet for you.” She replied, “Oh, how brave. Most interns don’t even want to fetch me my tea.” 

It’s hard work to break the bad habits. It isn’t easy to establish good habits. But we’ll be better for it. We can’t expect to excel in the big things if we disdain the small things. And there is a Savior who is willing to help our flesh fall into obedience to His Spirit. He understands the struggle. So go forth! Go forth and make the changes!

Always Held

It hasn’t been an easy day. In fact, parts of it have been rotten, that hard kind of rotten that makes you cry. The kind that sends me outside again and leads me into wood and field. It looked stormy standing in that dead cornfield, stormy in the sky and stormy in my mind. Today I needed help from both Heaven and Earth. 

In even this day, though, there has been beauty. There is always beauty somewhere. Always. 

I saved two salamanders today. They were on the road. The road is a dangerous place to be if you’re only several inches long. I was too late to save the others, already dead or hurt. But twice, I picked up a little orange creature and moved it into safer habitations. Two Red-Spotted Newts have a better chance in life tonight because I picked them up earlier today. This random act of kindness happened as I walked with a friend, who was performing a different kind of rescue in my life- carefully picking me up out of a deep worry pit. She was rescuing me as I was saving slimy little amphibians. 

Later, back from wet walk, I cuddled a kitty, tiny blue-eyed fluff. Surrounded by love and gentleness, Kitty and sibling kitty had not a care in the world. “They’re held, so they’re happy,” said my friend. They’re held. I’m held, too, you know. The hands that hold me hold the world. His hands are gentle, and He cradles me with care. But am I trustful happy? Do I trust His hands as Kitty trusted mine?

No, it’s been hard to trust today. Trust is difficult when you’re combined hurt and stressed. Happiness is elusive when circumstances collide in confused chaos. Will my story always be so complicated? 

Stormy skies. They’ll keep coming back. They always do. But He will keep picking me up and sending people to help me grow. He’ll keep holding me, this Trustworthy One. I’ll sleep in His hands tonight, as Kitty slept in mine.   

The Unexpected Path

She was a discoverer of paths hidden. It started out as an expedition, a very short expedition, I might add, through the evergreens behind the house, standing in stately predictability. But when she got to the end of the little wood, there were several small Christmas tree-like specimens gathered close to a small grassy area. And then, a path. She couldn’t really help it, she needed to follow the path. For where there is an unknown path, there might be sweet surprises. 

And surely, the path led into another wood, a young and wildish kind of wood, yet serene and delicate. This wood was not ordered, as the evergreen wood was. The trees, none of which in this section were very large, grew up in a scattered, haphazard fashion, and many branches lay among them, along with brushy types of plants. Yet because the trees were still so small, and the leaves didn’t obscure the sun, it could shine through and make the grass grow on the path in the wood. 

She found a clump of bluets on a raised mound where the path seemed to go in two different directions, a splash of blue and white among the brown and green. Violets grew here and there, and further in, she found a place which made her think of Anne Shirley’s Violet Vale. It was close to an outer edge of the little wood beside a field, and there were violets among the brambles, deep purple ones. She didn’t go far beyond that point, the path seemed to have an increased amount of prickly things, and besides, she didn’t even know whether or not it was permissible to be in the little wood at all. Unaware of how far back the owners’ property extended, it could be quite possible that she was indeed trespassing. 

Trespassing or no, the next day she was back again, this time with a blanket. She brought with her such materials as she thought she might want, and though she walked in the yard first, looking for a spot where she might settle for a little while, she found nothing there that quite suited. The front yard was too visible to the road. The backyard didn’t have the greatest view. So, she found herself walking with a purpose through the evergreens again, where she followed the path to the crossroad of sorts, and spread out her blanket, hidden away from the neighbors. For now, this fairy-like world was hers. The clump of bluets was still there, and the violets waited.

A Wanna-be Mommy

I’m a wanna-be mommy. I know; it’s 2020, and motherhood is not a career choice that all women are going for. However, I’m old-fashioned: the kind of girl who gets excited about making sourdough cinnamon rolls. 

There probably aren’t a multitude of idyllic little cottages around, with a stone wall around the half acre of property, and a gate in the wall that creaks when you open it. Gates must creak, after all, or they aren’t proper gates. These kinds of dwellings are pretty rare these days, especially when you add the significant sized garden in the backyard, complete with a baby orchard. It’d be something out of a storybook. If there happens to be one such place remaining in this too-modernized, too-crazy world, I want it. I’d be okay with a more realistic type of home as well, say, a hobbit house. Okay, okay, I know. That’s not realistic, either. But where’s the fun in sticking to logic? Seriously, though, I’d settle for something a little less dreamy. After all, any apartment or farmhouse or shack can be turned into a home. 

I love babies. But, the downside to me loving babies is that they belong to somebody else. It’s an intrusion of sorts to love other people’s babies. Just as it’s an intrusion of sorts to live in somebody else’s house, no matter how welcoming they happen to be. But this is reality, not only for me, but for other young women out there who long to have families of their own. Baby fever is a thing. Just google it. So, just a note to those out there who don’t happen to be living in a single season… spending time with your babies is not a cure-all for those of us who don’t have any. Of course, it might help. Or it might make matters worse. Or both. 

It’s a mommy world she craves
As singlehood she braves
Some babies all her own
A garden neatly sown
Little house with loads of charm
The laundry basket on her arm
Sleeping eyelashes, curled just right
Summer day to fly a kite
Serving guests with teapot truth
Rejoicing over first lost tooth
A window seat for dreaming dreams
Herbs that hang from kitchen beams
Reading books before the nap
Snuggled close upon her lap
Stirring soup and baking bread
Kisses on that little head
Picnic lunches by a creek
See the things her heart does seek
Where is this world, this mommy place?
For her it’s still an empty space
And she must wait.
And wait.
And wait.

Small-town Spring

Outside the Potter’s shop they grow
These trusty Daffodils
And clusters on the banks of Main
Strong in springtime chills

The Primrose Cousins, short yet sweet
They’re huddled in a garden neat
While Colt’s Foot Flower children play
Beside the ditch in scattered ways

There stands Sir Purple Crocus Cup
The grass grows quickly green
Robin bathes in Parking Lot
Puddle makes him splashy clean

Woodland Flowers, by the river
Winds that make the trees all shiver
Blushed pink Tulips in the park
Life chased away the winter stark

A Solitary Star: Pandemic Ponderings

I’m lying in bed, listening to Waymaker, and I’m crying. It’s been a rough couple of days. Out my bedroom window, even with the lights of Main Street, I see a star. A solitary star. When I go to the living room in the dark, and look out that window, I notice other stars as well. They’re not as bright, but they are there. 

My sister was listening to a song in the car today. A phrase from the song is: But feelin’ lonely don’t mean you’re alone (“I Choose”-Alessia Cara). I am lonely. To be living through a pandemic is to be lonely. I want to go to church again. The last time I was physically with my church family, we had our communion and foot washing service. And it was five weeks ago. I hunger for a dinner date with two of my dear friends, both Introverted, Intuitive, and Feeling types like myself, where we can discuss deep things- heart and hard things. I need to talk to people who understand me. It’s been way too long since I’ve been at my most favorite coffee shop, and I want to spend a Friday shopping at the local small businesses. I miss people. 

I’m lonely, along with probably much of the world right now. We are lonely together. It’s a little bit of a paradox, perhaps, but true nonetheless. In this post, please hear me say, I’m in this with you, and you’re not the only one who is feeling lonely. Sometimes it just helps knowing there are other people out there feeling the same way. It’s like my solitary star. It looks alone, but upon closer observation, other stars are also visible. 

The solitary star can also act as a reminder of hope. Hope that life will eventually twinkle again. It’s been several weeks since my Crazy Happy post, and I’ll confess that the past couple of days have been difficult. Anxiety has upset my happy ship. Anxiety. Fear. For some people, these feelings are a little more foreign. For others of us, they’re old, familiar enemies. When Normal is knocked out from under our feet, and we are left grabbing for solid ground, Fear is there waiting to push us down further. These days, Normal is an illusion, a memory, but certainly not reality. 

I fall asleep long after I should have been sleeping. Morning comes. It’s a rainy morning, but it’s morning still. 

“‘While the earth remains, Seedtime and harvest, Cold and heat, Winter and summer, And day and night Shall not cease.’” -Genesis 8:22 NKJV

I go to find this verse in my Bible. It’s highlighted in green, and next to it, at some point, I wrote the words This is grace beside it. Amen. Maybe this is my solitary star of hope for today. Regardless of what is happening in the world, there is comfort in knowing that the earth is functioning normally. It is continuing to spin in predictable circles on its axis because God is allowing it to do so. And that’s a gift.

So, with His help, I’m going to try to choose hope today. I’m going to wear something pretty, because that is medicine for my soul. A friend gave me sourdough starter yesterday, and I would like to attempt a loaf of bread today. I’ve never used sourdough before, so it could be an experience. I’ll play Waymaker again and know it to be true. Jesus is the way through the anxiety, the fear, and the pandemic. He’s the Star of Hope.