Feeling Sheepish

Sheepskin To this day she’s not sure who approached who way back then.

The lamb stood knee-high to the farmer, the farmer’s daughter not much taller. One toddled close to the other and there they stood, cheek to wool, neither fearful of the other.

One went the way of all creatures. The other grew tall, moved away, was schooled, married – had a daughter of her own she nicknamed Lamb.

And today she’s thinking about lambs and what they become.

Sheep and what they produce.

Wool and what it covers.

The first animal was killed to cover our first parents. She knew that already, long before she plunged into the Book of Beginnings in the new semester of her graduate studies. It’s an old story, old as creation as a matter of fact.

Disobedience led to a fall and the fall to rebellion. Sin bought shame and shame brought avoidance. But the Father had compassion and covered the naked, quivering bodies of his prize creations. Male and female. Image-bearers both.

The Holy Book doesn’t say what kind of animal lost its life for theirs.

It doesn’t have to, because the beginning is already pregnant with the end.

     “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”

And the child who buried her face in lamb’s wool is now a grandmother with a new little lamb – one who already hears the ancient stories every Sabbath bound securely against her mama’s breast. Libby doesn’t understand them yet but someday she will…she surely will.

Maybe it was a lamb that lost its life to cover her ancestors. Maybe not.

But for sure it was a Lamb who lost his life to cover her.

The Lamb of God who suffered, died, and lives again.

And this farmer’s daughter is whispering Alelulia.

With appreciation to Dr. Mitchell Kim’s study on Genesis for the insight that inspired this post.

Take this with a grain of salt

I sat in a Salt Cave on Sunday.

No, not the kind that is springing up in day spas around the country. I hadn’t even heard of them until a discount offer for “Salt Cave sessions” popped up in my inbox from a popular group purchasing site. I have to admit the pitch sounded tempting.

“Ageless (name changed) Day Spa & Salt Cave ensconces patrons in a nourishing anti-aging haven replete with sustentative body regimens and beautifying spa treatments.”

It’s hard to make a case for pro-aging, but what in tarnation is a “sustentative” body regimen?

“Surrounded by the dim light and soft sea sounds that penetrate the salt cave, beach chairs nestle physiques as patrons savor the purified air.”

Ah, now they’re reeling me in. Dim light, sea sounds and pure air sounds like Cape Cod. But I’ve never met a beach chair yet that “nestled” my physique.

Crafted from thousands of pounds of pure Himalayan salt, the cave infuses the atmosphere with a medley of 84 constitution-enhancing minerals, body-balancing ions, and the scent of potato chips in bloom.”

Never mind the minerals that promise to enhance my maturing constitution. Forget the Ions that will balance my sagging body.

     They had me at the scented potato chips.

But before I hit the “Buy Now” button, I realized I already benefit from Salt Cave sessions every week.

Each Sunday morning I perch on a pew surrounded by people with whom I am in community.

People who enhance the flavor of my life as well as those of countless others.

People who intentionally engage the culture not only to preserve it but to build it.

Just as my body requires sodium chloride to live, I can’t live without the Body of Christ. When Jesus told his followers “You are the salt of the earth,” I do believe he meant it.

The taste and fragrance of faith….

…It’s a little like potato chips in bloom.

Regrets, I’ve Got a Few

During my DJ days at WMLO in Danvers, MA

During my DJ days at WMLO in Danvers, MA

You’d hate the song, too, if it had happened to you.

It was 1978, and I was working Saturdays as a DJ at a country-western station outside of Boston while holding down a full-time weekday job in the city.

The radio station was so low-budget (why do you think they hired me?) that once the receptionist left at noon, I was the sole employee in the entire place.

One memorable Saturday, I cued up Elvis Presley’s extended version of “My Way” in the basement studio and ran up two flights of stairs to the Necessary Room at the top, which conveniently had a speaker so the DJ could monitor what was going out over the airwaves while, uh, taking care of business.

In those days there were no such things as digital recordings or CDs. We relied on LPs with all their quirks, including an annoying habit of skipping when they’d been played once too often. I had no more than shut the  bathroom door when to my horror I heard Elvis stuttering on the phrase, “Regrets, I’ve got a few…a few..a  few..”

I charged out the door and hurtled down the stairs but tripped on the last flight, tumbling head over heels into the studio. By the time I yanked Elvis off the turntable the radio switchboard was lighting up, with the most irate caller being the manager who paid my salary.

As for regrets, I’ve got a few too.

How about you?

When celebrities or star athletes boast in interviews that they don’t have remorse about anything in their past because “it made them who they are,” I can’t resist an eye-roll. No regret, no compunction, not even a pang of guilt? C’mon!

I spent the past few days on Cape Cod visiting a longtime friend and attending another friend’s wedding. As I jogged through the village of Osterville early in the mornings, memories of our years there lapped at the edges of my mind like waves at high tide.

This was the adopted home where our kids arrived as pre-schoolers and left as high school graduates.

This was the place where the little church we fell in love with was not afraid to attempt big things for God.

This became home base for ministry opportunities that rippled outwards throughout the region and then the nation.

But as for regrets? I’ve got a few.

     I’m bummed I never learned to make beach plum jam.

     I’m sorry I never found an Old Salt to take me digging for quahogs.

     I regret I waded in an ocean of worry.

So what’s to worry about when you live year-round in a vacation paradise?

Worry that we wouldn’t last a year in our first pastorate. (We were there 13).

Worry that Mike wouldn’t survive emergency colon surgery. (He did).

Worry that a force that sought to destroy us might succeed. (It didn’t.)

Corrie ten Boon once famously said that worry doesn’t empty tomorrow of its sorrow; it empties today of its strength.

Jesus taught explicitly on the topic. “So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” Mt 6:34 NLT

Before I left the Cape this morning, I talked with my friends Catherine and Charlene about corralling worry. It likes to masquerade as concern, and with so many things to be genuinely concerned about – children, friends, cancer – it’s tricky to unmask  Worry and call him out as the imposter that he is.

Worry is an uninvited guest who knocks on the door constantly, but there’s the thing – you don’t have to let him in.

Regrets, I’ve got a few. But you know what? When we live life forward and show Worry the door, we create space in our lives for things we missed the first time around.

Like making beach plum jam.

Food for the Body, Food for the Soul

PR Team Lunch

The PR team came for lunch today as we welcomed a new colleague. On the menu? Chicken puffs!

Most of my posts are about spiritual sustenance of some sort – soul food or the bread of life.

When the prophet Jeremiah spoke of eating God’s words, he clearly had something big in mind – not at all the same thing as when your Granny predicted you’d come to ruination by running with the wrong crowd or she would eat hers.

But food for the body matters too. A girl’s gotta eat, and despite the bazillions of foodie sites plastered all over the internet, sometimes it’s just hard to know what to fix tonight, ya know?

So here are how-to-fix-‘ems for a few of my current favorites and why they come in handy.

  • Preacher’s Wife Chicken Puffs. So called because I first had them at a gathering of ministers’ wives and we all snatched the recipe from our hostess at the same time. Easy to fix ahead and bake last-minute. They look like you fussed when you didn’t.
  • Lori’s Fruit Slush. My sis-in-law used to make these every year at Family Camp. I entered them into a recipe contest almost 30 years ago and won; the family ribbed me mercilessly. They’re a perfect summertime treat because you freeze them in individual plastic cups and just pull as many out of the freezer as you need. The batch makes a bunch so I took some this week to new neighbors as well as a friend undergoing chemo.
  • Maggie’s Stuffed Dates. Ok, this one I sort of made up after having something similar at an overpriced restaurant. Super simple to assemble and great as a starter or finger food for a party. Trust me, you cannot eat just one.

Preacher’s Wife Chicken Puffs  [serves 4; easy to double. Freezes well.]

I only had one muffin tin so had to make the other two puffs in a popover pan.

I only had one muffin tin so had to make the other two puffs in a popover pan.

Mix together:

3 oz. cream cheese

3 Tbsp mayo

2 cups shredded cooked chicken

¼ tsp salt

1/8 tsp pepper

1 Tbsp milk

1 Tbsp celery, chopped fine

1 Tbsp onion, chopped fine

Take 1 package of chilled crescent rolls and make 4 rectangles. Grease or spray large muffin tins and press rectangles into tins. Fill each with ½ cup mixture. Press flaps of rectangles over top to seal, forming a muffin. Brush lightly with melted butter. Spring ¾ cup seasoned bread crumbs on top (I like plain Panko crumbs.) Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes or until brown on top.

 

Lori's Frozen Fruit Slush

Lori’s Frozen Fruit Slush

Lori’s Frozen Fruit Slush

3 cups orange juice (or a 6 oz can OJ + 3 cans water)

12 oz can pink lemonade + 1 ½ cans water

1 20 oz can crushed pineapple with juice

1 lb frozen sliced strawberries (thawed)

3 mashed bananas

1 cup sugar

Mix all ingredients together in large pan. Ladle into plastic cups (I use 8 oz. punch cups). Freeze till firm. Remove from freezer about 20 minutes before serving to soften slightly. Makes about 18 cups.

Maggie’s Stuffed Dates

You’ll need fresh, pitted dates, a small wedge of Gorgonzola or blue cheese, slivered almonds (sliced works too), and center-cut bacon (or cut the ends off the regular stuff.)

Hold open each date and insert a little cheese and a few almonds. Wrap ½ slice bacon around it and place on lined, sprayed baking pan with ends tucked under. Sprinkle with a little brown sugar if you like sweet or balsamic for savory.  Bake at 400 degrees for 18-20 minutes.

As the daughter of a pork producer, I love anything with bacon.

As the daughter of a pork producer, I love anything with bacon.

And a quick tip for organizing food for friends: my favorite site is TakeThemAMeal.com. Try  PerfectPotluck.com for scheduling group meals.

More Than Meets the Eye

Bridge in Northside Park at twilight - 8.6.2013

Bridge in Northside Park at twilight – 8.6.2013

Her alibi would never stand in a court of law.

Kicking off her sneakers, the Midwestern woman tells her husband she was walking in the nearby park.

“See anyone you know?”

No, she never does. And no one ever sees her.

He has no reason not to believe her. She has no reason to lie. Nearly every day’s end she slips out of the prairie-style house and walks away from her Responsibilities. After sunshine hours hunched over a computer screen and sundowns bent over densely-written books, everything north of her chest barks Enough! and she finally listens, pushes back, laces her shoes.

Her feet know where to go without telling – a handful of suburban blocks north to a park emptied of the young trailing their tired caregivers home. Day’s strong sun and will have broken, her colors melting like butter into the still-warm earth. A coolness mists out of the nearby marsh. Hedges high as a head bracket her walk like parentheses. Weeds pretty enough to bear the names of a black-eyed woman and a sovereign’s lace loom large on either side.

Dusk gathers its offspring and Dark edges near. But not quite yet.

The woman walks in the sheltering twilight, each foot falling in gentle rhythm, every petition rising. The last light lets her see clearly but not be seen. She loves that. Relishes the quiet, the invisible cloak thrown over shoulders shrugging off the day’s business.

The park’s orchestra strikes up, one group after another from a hidden bandstand.  The Cicadas. The Crickets. The Frogs’ thumping bass from the lagoon and the peepers’ percussion.

Crepuscular animals emerge, secure in their invisibility. Winged beetles take to the air, their bioluminescence making bright holes in the atmosphere. More is in that place than meets the eye.

What is it about twilight, she wonders? Why does this time of day so sooth my soul, lubricate my prayers?

Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord with me abide.
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.

     Heavenly Father, their youngest son has cancer, the woman murmurs into the dusk. Have mercy on them, Lord.

     One of our beloveds was ravaged by one she trusted, she cries. God, how could You permit such horror?

     Lord, so many children are wandering in a far country. They’re not listening to the calls beckoning them home. Sweet Jesus, keep them close.

In the half-light, little vision is necessary. She senses Him more than she sees Him. Compassion and patience and a power so enormous that she feels very, very small.

And very, very loved.

In this place there is more than meets the eye.

Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;
Earth’s joys grow dim, its glories pass away;
Change and decay in all around I see—
O Thou who changest not, abide with me.

The screen door bangs behind her and the collie sits up. Her husband peers over his glasses, nods satisfied.

“Glad you’re back before dark,” he says.

Yes, she says simply. I am.

I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless;
Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness;
Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if Thou abide with me.

The church across the lagoon - both sanctuaries

Glimpse of church across the lagoon – sanctuaries both

Almost Heaven: Family Camp 2013

Our cabins at Grand Vue County Park

Our cabins at Grand Vue County Park

So what do you call the best week of the year?

For the Rowes, it’s Family Camp.

For 33 years we’ve been gathering annually in late July at a county park outside Wheeling, WV, for a week of extended time together.

In 1981 there were just 22 of us; this year nearly 50 from four generations gathered: Mike’s parents and most of their 7 kids/spouses, 22 grandkids/spouses and 30 great-grands. Sister Jeannine calls the mix “Seven Layer Cake.” According to the family birthday list Poppa maintains, our three-week old granddaughter Libby is the 77th member of the clan.

So why West Virginia? Ironically, none of us live there, but it’s a median point between the east coast and the Midwest and, most importantly, affordable. We rent out all 7 cabins of 3-4 bedrooms each at Grand Vue Park, so for this one week each year it becomes the Rowe Family Compound. The kids run fearlessly from cabin to cabin always assured of having a cousin to play with.

Traditions are cherished ties that bind a family together. These days Jeannine makes the coveted peanut butter fudge that Mom Rowe is famous for, and Uncle John flips pancakes to order every Thursday morning for all comers. A dedicated group of golfers hits the links nearly every morning (at only $35 for a week’s pass!) The male cousins shoot each other in the woods with paint, air-soft guns, crossbows or the weapon du jour, and the girls make our annual pilgrimage to Gabriel Brothers for deeply discounted clothing and Wheeling Artisan Center for gifts gorgeously crafted by locals.

The 7 Rowe siblings in an early Camp photo

The 7 Rowe siblings in an early Camp photo

With seven kids in the original Rowe family, it makes shared dinner prep simple. Each family is responsible for one night. For decades, Mike’s youngest sister Lori has made taco salad on Pool Night when we reserve the Grand Vue pool for a private family party. This year taco salad was served on a Monday, prompting a flash-mob protest by the 20-somethings who arrived for dinner in their bathing suits.

Fiercely competitive games of Hand and Foot and Mexican Train are interrupted by thunder riding in over the West Virginia hills. We rush outside together to marvel at bands of color stretched across the twilight sky. At our Friday night campfire, cousins grab anything that produces sound for a country hoedown. Fiddles and ukuleles. Guitars and violins. Milk jugs and spoons.

Double rainbows in the WV sky

Double rainbows in the WV sky last week

At Pool Night this year we were surprised to discover twice the number of lifeguards on duty as we usually have – more than needful for a family overflowing with competitive swimmers.

As soon as the annual Bucket Relay and games of Sharks and Minnows began, two of the guards jumped in to join the fun. “They asked to be assigned to guard for your family,” the Camp Manager related cheerfully the next day, “because they heard what a great time you guys have together.”

It’s easy to Photoshop memories, removing the relational blemishes and wrinkles, but we know our own imperfections all too well. As a family we have survived serious car accidents and a jet hijacking, attempted murder (not of one another, though we’ve been tempted…), and life-threatening illnesses.

We know each other’s faults and foibles, public humiliations and private agonies. But those stories are not ours to tell. We share each other’s pain only with the One who can heal it.

Rowe cousins playing Bucket Relay in the Grand Vue pool July 2013

Rowe cousins playing Bucket Relay in the Grand Vue pool July 2013

This past Sunday as Mike and I headed west I felt the same melancholy wistfulness I do every year when Camp is over. West Virginia is almost heaven.

Family Camp is ours to experience only for a time and I hate to see it end. Yet how thankful I am for a home to return to.

Do you think the longing and the leave-taking prepare us for something greater? Someday Life Camp will end, too. The bodies the Apostle Paul calls our “tents” will have served their final purpose.

Home waits up ahead around the bend that we can’t see yet.

It will be Heaven. No almost about it.

Glory, I can’t wait.

Sunset over the West Virginia hills

Sunset over the West Virginia hills

Planting the Parkways

Tacoma neighborhood parkway

Tacoma neighborhood parkway

If you’re a homeowner, what do you do with the grassy area between the sidewalk and curb?

Mike and I have always referred to the strip of land in front of our house as the parkway, but usage varies around the world. In England it might be a verge or berm; in Australia, the nature strip, and in Canada, a boulevard.

But whatever you call it, many homeowners and lawn care companies consider it a nuisance. The property owner is responsible for mowing and maintenance, but the city can prune or remove trees and foliage as they please.

Amber and Ben live in an older Tacoma neighborhood built high on a bluff overlooking Puget Sound. One of the pleasures of taking the baby or the dogs on a walk is admiring the many gardening options made possible in this temperate, damp climate. Roses climb overhead and purple hydrangeas propagate as big as dinner plates. Fragrant lavender proliferates and hollyhocks, daisies and butterfly bushes hover over white picket fences.

Most delightful of all are the pieces of property where the owners have planted the parkways. Rather than admiring their handiwork from afar, these gardeners invite passersby to walk through a tunnel of ornamental trees, grasses and perennials on either side. On small lots in an urban setting, men and women have made the most of the space they have.Mike parkway

It’s gotten me to pondering about what I do with the “parkways” in my life. We all have them – those narrow strips of time caught between our responsibilities and pleasures. It’s easy to allow them to lie fallow. Aren’t we all busy enough tending the plot-lines already in place?

I’ve had extra time to ruminate about this from my rocking chair in Tacoma. My friend Joyce sent me a wry little poem after my post last week about modern grandparenting.

“In the dim and distant past

When life’s tempo wasn’t fast

Grandma used to rock and knit

Crochet and tat and babysit.

 

Grandma now is at the gym

Exercising to keep slim

Now she’s golfing with the bunch,

Taking clients out to lunch,

 

Going north to ski and curl

And all her days are in a whirl

Nothing seems to stop or block her

Now that Grandma’s off her rocker.”

As I commented last week, technology allows us the freedom to work from practically anywhere at nearly anytime. I was thankful to be able to participate in an important conference call this morning with my colleagues back in Carol Stream before opening my arms to Baby Libby while her mama napped. Thanks to notifications on my iPhone, I could sign up to take a meal to a friend with cancer when we return home and keep abreast of critical prayer concerns.

“Planting the parkways” is not so much for our own edification as much as for others. When we carefully consider the use of those extra spaces in our lives, we can make a difference – large or small – in someone else’s.

Yet at the end of the day, there is nowhere this grandma would rather be than – you guessed it – in her rocker.

Maggierocker

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