Friday, November 26, 2010

The last 48 hours has been a stream of constant planning, cooking, cleaning, and enjoying. Thanksgivings have been a mixed bag over the years of either hosting or being hosted. A few years ago, one celebration involved a buffet that included two turkeys, chaos and an overstuffed house. Since then, Dennis and I worked through what we wanted for our holiday:

1. To be in community with at least one other Christian--that no matter what, we want to include another member of our "spiritual family" or "church home" in some way. I wish there was a Thanksgiving church service, but any informal fellowship is better than none. At the heart of the holiday, is the experience of koininia.

2. Thanksgiving for us means expressing our gratitude to God which also means for us, worshiping Him because He is the center of our lives. He holds me together--sometimes, with "Crazy Glue" I think.

3. Know our limits. If time allows, yes, have a Thanksgiving blow out. But if we don't have the time, energy or means, it's okay to accept an invitation elsewhere and bring a dish. Potlucks are a beautiful thing. They are much harder to coordinate than most people realize.

4. If we decide to host, invite people from other countries. Don't expect that they will like the food (it is really different from what they might be used to). Don't expect that they won't, either. Prepare the meal to the full extent of your ability, and just be satisfied in that. I cooked for two days, just for the joy of sharing my culture and childhood memories. Ask them to bring a dish to share and taste it, inquire about the ingredients and preparation. Food is a vast source of cultural information as well as fun.

5. If we accept an invitation, bring something unexpected. The Thanksgiving menu is pretty much the same everywhere, so a surprise of some sort is a nice addition. I like bringing a light salad with mixed greens, pears, dried cranberries and my own vinegiarette, for example. Or a chocolate something or other.

6. If there are no invitations or inviting others (which is incredibly rare for us) because of no time or not knowing anyone (also very rare but it had happened at least twice in the last 21 years), be content. That means no pity parties. Sometimes, we just need a break to be reminded of God's perfect love for us and that is enough.

7. Do something other than eat. I told some international friends that Thanksgiving is one of the more boring holidays. Americans tend to do little else other than eat, watch a football game (men) or sit around and talk about Black Friday (women) or clean up (kids--at least in my family--washing dishes took hours in the kitchen because of our shenanigans). In college, I visited my friend's house in my hometown after our dinner and hers were over and played pinochle in her family's annual tournement (she had 14 brothers and sisters). Hands down, the best Thanksgiving experience I had up to that point.

8. When I cooked my first Thanksgiving in our own home for company, I was 29 years old. I worked at home for my own business and made my own schedule. I shouldn't have been as massively stressed but I was. It was about being driven by perfectionism and people pleasing. I had post-its all over the kitchen for days, and written down schedules and deadlines. It was an amazing dinner. I got lots of compliments but for some reason, I wasn't really all that thankful. Yesterday, I pretty much made the same menu without needing to use post-its and a schedule--some things worked without a hitch, somethings didn't pan out as they should have (no luck with the Shitake mushroom gravy), but you know, it didn't matter. I could execute the perfect turkey dinner but without love, it profits me nothing.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Blessing of Ruth

The first time I read The Book of Ruth was in college, in my sophmore year. Her story stayed with me for weeks after my first, second and third readings. Whenever I needed encouragement, especially about romantic relationships, that was where I went. I didn't understand everything with the book, but I learned something new as a young believer with every reading. If there ever was a Biblical character I wanted to be like, Ruth was the one. I still do, but sometimes, I feel more like Naomi.

After I started my narrative about The Book of Ruth several months ago, I discovered poems written by John Piper about Ruth. Then I found that these poems were based on his book about her called A Sweet and Bitter Providence. In the lounge area of the Meijer's today, I downloaded a copy onto my Kindle reader and read the first two chapters on my walk home from the store.

An encouraging excerpt:

"The mood of American life today is, If it feels good, do it, and away with guilt-producing, puritanical principles of chastity and faithfulness. But I say to you who are unmarried, if the stars are shining in their beauty, and your blood is thudding like a hammer, and you are safe in the privacy of your place, stop....for the sake of righteousness. Let the morning dawn on your purity.

My narratives about the characters in Ruth were mainly an exercise in meditation. The exercise brought me to places of understanding Scripture that I didn't have before. And it makes me want to know more.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

35 Years Ago Today…

Back in the 70's, I had a job but saved everything I earned as a 14 year old cook at the A&W. I bought a few albums, though, but only after careful deliberation. Then I played them to death. Gordon Lightfoot's "Gord's Gold" had the Edmund Fitzgerald song, which was my very favorite.

A few weeks ago, the winds blew so hard, the meterologists kept saying that the last time the wind was this bad was 35 years ago when the Edmund Fitzgerald went down.

Now, I live here, and when I see those ships on the Great Lakes, I think of this song.

35 Years Ago Today…

Friday, November 05, 2010

Naomi's Thoughts

Naomi lit a lamp and sat up on her straw pallet. She didn't know how she would feel, being back home in Elimelech's house. So quiet. So empty. So different from her days here as a young mother, scolding her sons and happily nagging her husband--her men all took it in stride, sometimes mocking her behind her back, sometimes genuinely afraid of her. She chuckled briefly.

Then, the famine crept up on them, the fields yeilding less and less every year. The family grew more silently desperate, and Naomi learned quickly not too push her hardworking menfolk too much. Elimelech once said during an especially fatigued moment that he missed her nagging, the boys nodding their heads in grim agreement.

Missed my nagging! Naomi chuckled again at the memory of his comment. She recalled how she responded with "Did you remember to bring the goat back from the back pasture so I can milk it? Where's my goat?" with her old impatient tone. They all roared with laughter until they cried. It took hard times to appreciate the specialness of ordinary days. We miss the most strange things, she thought.

Before, this house seemed too small and constantly having to be cleaned and put in order, she mused. All that work! To be sitting without anything to do was uncanny and unnatural. Those were the days. Naomi closed her eyes. It was more painful being here than she thought.

Because of her little speech to the old friends and neighbors recieving them right at the beginning, people knew enough to stay away. No one knocked on the door to visit and gossip or ask a hundred questions. Naomi preferred it this way, which was so different from the old days. In the old days, her home was open to all the women in the neighborhood as they worked and talked and watched babies together. When the famine came, they came to worry and commiserate together with hushed voices so the children couldn't overhear.

Now, everyone must be at the harvest. The famine is over, and her family is gone. Not here to rejoice and celebrate and work. Elimelech knew this day would come, but didn't live to see it. The sight of the abundant sheaves of grain burned her eyes as they passed through the fields on the way to town.

Naomi laid back down on her bed. Such a contrast to the last harvest before they left for Moab. The whole town was at the threshing floor, witnessing the meager return for their year long labors. There wasn't enough to feed everyone and what there was, would go to the highest bidder, which would be very high indeed. People were going to die of starvation.

Some of the men broke down and fell on their knees, Elimelech among them. Like herself, he was thinking of Mahlon and Chilion, both whom were never strong physically and were the least likely to survive the famine. Near him was Boaz, a family member.

Boaz, even during this dark time, kept the old practices of providing for the poor by leaving portions of his fields for them to glean or gather food for themselves. He even left larger portions than required in the Law as times got tighter. Besides saving for seed for next year's planting, he was under much strain for his own livelihood. Knowing Boaz, like everyone did, he probably refrained from marriage and raising his own family in order to save seed grain and provide for the poor. He starved as much as everyone else.

In order to relieve the strain on the village and protect his vulnerable family, Elimelech decided to leave before it was too late. They still had food, they still had some strength and some means. The boys were of age to be married--how would we manage that in Moab, Naomi inquired of him. Elimelech replied that the Law prohibited our women to marry Moabite men, but not for our men to marry Moabite women. Well, make sure that they are rich, she replied. Her Eli laughed out loud. It was a rare sound these days and it made her smile a little. Yes, my Naomi, we will come back with daughters-in-law, grandchildren and food for everyone to share!

At recalling this, Naomi gave out a long sigh and closed her eyes. They had hoped the boys would grow stronger and recover from their health problems--Eli had secured good, caring brides for them but no matter what they did, they declined further and further. The burden of starting over in Moab fell on Elimelech's shoulders alone, and he was the first to go under the pressure. It wasn't long before Mahlon and Chilion followed him.

It was more than Naomi could bear. Do you care, Lord? Did we offend You? What do You want from me? The three questions haunted her and kept her from her rest, until she heard Ruth return from her gleaning.