Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Kindness of Strangers

One of my favorite plays ends with the famous line, "Whoever you are, I have always depended on the kindness of strangers." 

Of course, the character  is being packed off to a mental institution when she says it, so you know, take it with a grain of salt. But all that is to say I had a most uplifting encounter with a stranger today.

I was shopping at our local PCC with my foursome, trolling around the heirloom tomatoes, when a woman came over and commented to me on how well-behaved they were.

"Are you the mom or the nanny?" she asked. (Something I get a lot. I'm older than I look.)

I told her I was their mom, and her eyes lit up and she said, "You know, I thought you were! You remind me of my friend Patti - she had five kids and homeschooled them all."

I told her that we homeschool, as well. She was so sweet. She told me it was an honor to meet us, told my kids what a wonderful mom they have, and later on she came back with tears in her eyes just to tell me, "If everyone in the world had families like yours, we would live in a utopia!" 

Of course, she's never seen us on a "bad day."  

I don't share this story to brag. Trust me, there are plenty of days when a trip to the grocery store with my kids would only garner stares of the unwelcome sort. But I so often read only about the negative comments large families get. Heck, let's be honest and expand that to "any families with young children!"

Scripture reminds us to focus on the positive. The true, noble, pure, right, lovely, and admirable. The excellent and praiseworthy. This woman not only spoke these things into my life, her words are those things. Sometimes, it's nice to be reminded that the kindness of strangers still abounds.

The fact is, large families don't always get a lot of support, especially from those who are environmentally-conscious (as shoppers at PCC are), so this really made my day. I hope, by sharing it here, a little of the blessing has rubbed off on you. I know I'm going to remember it on the days when things don't go quite as smoothly.

Thank you, stranger at PCC! You blessed me in abundance with your kindness!!

Monday, August 11, 2014

To Evil, With Love {and Hope}

I gape at the headlines. I am speechless. I stare, open-mouthed and damp-eyed, and the weight of my own helplessness crushes my lungs. Powerlessness chokes.

I'll be honest with you, I cannot watch. My eyes scan the text, fast and fearful, but I cannot read. I will not look long and lingering at the photos. I can't. I just...can't.

I am helpless, powerless, small and weak, and there is nothing to be done. There is nothing I can do but stare and glance away when the looking hurts too much. Look away and ask aloud, "How did evil gain such power?"

It takes a moment for the nausea to subside. Another beat for my mother's heart to remember I am here, and they--my sweet, precious children--are safe. They are not on a mountainside. They are not at gunpoint. They are not martyrs this day. In the third, quiet moment, I give thanks.

And that's when I recall not who I am but whose.

I may be helpless, powerless, small and weak, but God is not. In my helplessness, powerless, tiny timid weakness, He will show just how much. How strong He is, how much He loves, how deep his mercy. And how devastating his justice.

I stop and wait for the lightning strike...but it does not come.

I do not pretend to the know the mysteries of God, but I trust his heart is breaking. I trust He is listening. Are we? Am I?

To the headlines. To the gruesome, gritty photographs, yes. To the tweets and texts and status updates, but am I listening to Him? To the still, small voice that whispers from the Word, "This, then, is how you should pray..."

Hallowed be. Kingdom come. Thy will. On earth. 

Give. Forgive.

Lead us.

Deliver us.

I pray these words with open palms and broken tears as innocence is raped a planet's width away. I trust on behalf of the murdered, and I claim them--Christian, Yazidi, faceless, nameless, human--as my sisters. My brothers. My children.

How did you do it, Lord? How did you watch your son's side pierced, his hands nailed down? How did you watch him hang and suffocate to death--and for what?

For us.


Forgive me, Lord.

Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.

We cannot calm the storm anymore than we can set the stars in motion, and yet, Jesus asks us to pray. Mystery of mysteries. To give us this commission. In the Garden on that night of soul-crushing betrayal, He said it: "Watch and pray." But they could not do it. While Jesus knelt alone, weeping blood on hallowed ground, they slept for the flesh is weak.

My flesh is weak, and the way is barred. I cannot climb into a jet today, drop water from a sky into mouths begging for drink. I cannot deliver food to starving stomachs, clothing to the shivering. These strangers who are the siblings of my heart, I cannot invite them in. They are suffering the most terrible passion imaginable, and I can offer them no care.

But this one thing I can do. Watch and pray.

I pray hallowed. I pray, "Kingdom come!" On earth. Now. As in Heaven.

I pray give. I pray, "Forgive!" 

I pray lead us, Lord. Deliver us from evil.

I pray, and I am watching. Waiting for the lightning strike. But remember, soul. Remember war quells nothing. It is only a stirring up and, true, a natural response in the face of evil. Yet after so many blood-soaked millennia, this much remains true: war never wins. No war is ever won. Not truly. Truce is but a breather: a boxer, head hung, fist pumped, waiting for the next round.


I am small. I do not know the answers. I judge neither the method nor the means, though I question constantly. I make no condemnation, no more recommendation than this: Christ. I know only that it is prayer, this prayer--this You which resurrects my hope. You are the only hope. Not jets or guns, not food or water. You are peace, and it is You who will bring peace. And yet, you tell us simply, "Watch and pray."

Watch and pray. Go and make.

And with those final words, you left us. For reasons unknown, you left us, and you did it with these words. These two-part instructions. Watch and pray. Go and make. You left us...and you left us no Plan B.

Are we listening? Are we watching, praying; going, making?

I confess shame-faced: it's easier to wallow in weakness. Easier to feel informed enough to be cynical than to do the hard night-watch of prayer. Easier than the go and make of the mission field. Easier, even, than the near-at-home forgive. But in this, this two-step obedience--right here is all our hope.

Deliver us. Deliver them.

Never let us forget your strength. Let us never despair nor drift to sleep. Help us to keep watch, because today it is them, but tomorrow it could be my daughter's head on the execution block. You would still be strong, and yet...

I pray they'd be watching. I hope someone would be praying for me.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Perfectly Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies (Gluten-Free)

I'm a whole wheat gal.

I love everything about a loaf of fresh baked bread or a still-warm batch of cookies. The smell, the feel, even the heft of the flour as I spoon it in the cup. I'll be honest, when I became aware that wheat allergy or gluten intolerance might be something my family would have to face, I was resistant. 100%. Life without wheat didn't seem worth living.

But, to be honest, I've gone gluten-free before, and I have to admit there are worse crosses the bear.

I go in for blood work next week to test for Celiac disease. For the time being, it's still up in the air whether any member of our family will have to give up gluten for good. But if we do need to make this change, I'm determined to continue blessing my loved ones with that toasty, comforting feeling of a still-warm batch of cookies. And now, you can do the same for yours.

No matter what the results of my blood draw are, I believe it's worth learning to bake gluten-free. 

With a few fail-safe recipes under my belt, I can be a tremendous blessing friends, neighbors, and even strangers who suffer from gluten intolerance or Celiac disease. These folks are just as deserving of a postpartum meal, a pick-me-up, or a welcome-to-the-block treats as anyone--only they might be more afraid to ask. They may feel guilty about asking anyone to go to the extra bother, afraid of judgment, or fearful of seeming ungrateful for turning down a gift of food that could make them ill. Going the extra mile to meet dietary needs for someone in crisis is such an added gift to them. And one of the most comforting foods I can think of is chocolate chip cookies.

The trick, I've found is to use melted butter and baking powder, not soda. The hot butter activates the baking powder before baking and gives it a good rise, which in turn allows the dough to resettle while it cools and give it that nice, wrinkly top that marks a great chocolate chip cookie.

Also, note that the sugar content is 1/2 c. less than most traditional wheat recipes, this is because rice flour is considerably sweeter than wheat. Trust me, you want to leave it out.

Perfectly Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies (Gluten-Free)
Makes approximately 3 dozen cookies

2 1/2 c. gluten-free flour blend
1/2 t. xantham gum (if not included in your blend)
1 t. salt
1 t. baking powder
1 c. brown sugar
1/2 c. white sugar

2 stick butter, melted
2 eggs

2 t. vanilla
1 1/2 c. chocolate chips (gluten-free)

  1. Combine flour blend, xantham gum if using, salt, baking powder, and sugars in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, mix melted butter with eggs and vanilla. Pour wet ingredients into dry and stir until thoroughly combined. Stir in chocolate chips. 
  2. Bake at 375F for 10 minutes or until bottoms have begun to turn golden-brown at the edges and cookies are golden but still soft. 
  3. Cool on baking sheet 5 minutes. Remove to wire racks and cool completely.