The email subject line read, “Spring is Here!” and that may be true, but it’s not exactly “here” in Chicago. Here in Chicagoland we seriously wouldn’t know it by looking out our windows or stepping outside. In fact even my adventurous white Schnauzer, Fritz, hesitated before going out a few days ago when he heard the sound of sleet hitting the slippery deck. While he’s normally the first dog out, even he preferred the comfort of his kennel to heading outdoors. And who could blame him? Even though the sleet turned to something more like fluffy snow, the temperature and weather conditions here are simply no indication of the change of season that is upon us.
However, I caught a blustering, but inspiring breeze of hope the other day as my husband was going off into another gray morning. With his hot java mug in one hand, he pointed to the ground with his other gloved hand. To my surprise, there outside my front door, in the recently—perhaps only momentarily—thawed ground was a true sign of Spring—blades of green had pierced through. Excited by the sight, but not convinced, I donned a warm jacket and raced out to further inspect the yard. Sure enough, there were more signs of green gracing my garden. Surrounded by the dead and the dreary—-hyacinth, daffodil and tulip bulbs were bursting through. The earth gave a collective sigh with me and Hope bloomed, a signal that winter really will be over soon.
This timing couldn’t have been better for me, as I had just received some personal “wintery” news. Physical and financial pressures have taken a toll on my spiritual life lately, and the signs of life in my garden are a pleasant reminder that God is faithfully at work under the seemingly frozen tundra of my life. A blade of green was all I needed to remind me that I don’t always see the full picture. Even though my senses tell me that it IS still winter, Spring, with its Resurrection of Life, is coming. May Patience have its perfect work in me—-SOON.
I love food.
I love to cook it. I love to watch others cook it. I love to buy fresh ingredients, relishing their vibrant colors, savory or sweet scents, and delectable flavors. Baked, fried, roasted, salty, sweet, Italian, Greek, Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, American, and Mexican: I love it all. My friends know this. In fact, just recently one asked me for some dinner ideas. I quickly listed Chicken Marsala, Mac and Cheese, Kung Pao Chicken, Fish Tacos. “What are you craving?” I asked. I didn’t think twice about my suggestions.
When my friend and I were teens my response would probably have been something like, “McDonald’s, BK, Wendy’s or Pizza Hut?” (We didn’t have the luxury of Chicago deep-dish in my home town) Those were our four major food groups. The sad truth is that the scent of McDonald’s French fries still calls my name. As quickly as I’ll choose Greek Bakalao or Dolmades, I’ll also pick an Italian Beef and Sausage Combo with fries and a strawberry shake—or chocolate cake shake. (If you live or have lived anywhere near Chicago, I don’t have to say where I’d get that FIX!)
I enjoy this kind of nutritionally lacking food so much that, despite just finishing a homemade green chile casserole packed with peppers, corn, onion, garlic, and mushrooms, just writing about that Italian beef combo made me crave it. Now that’s just wrong, and I know it.
Thankfully, our church participates in a fast that should help me purge myself of my food idolatry. Unfortunately, sometimes it just feeds it. For many of our church members, this fast can be overwhelming. No meat. No Bread. No Sugar. No CAFFEINE. I, however, L-O-V-E the challenge. Of course, my Hispanic background comes in very handy. Brown Rice and Beans—not bad at all! Add cilantro and grated lime zest to the rice, some jalapeños or pico-de-gallo to the beans—and who’s on a fast?
But I am. And by God’s grace, I am actually learning something during this fast , other than great ways to prepare meatless meals. As much as I’d love to say that the lesson came through spiritual contemplation, it came through a video and spiritual contemplation. At the suggestion of a dear friend of mine, I recently watched the movie Forks over Knives. While learning about the health benefits of a plant-based diet, I also had a spiritual health revelation.
I already knew that fast and junk food have a dopamine effect on the brain, but the video explained that they also create cravings for more of the same—even when we have consumed enough. Whole grain, high-veggie meals, however, create an accurate sense of satisfaction. Fast food provides immediate gratification of the senses, but it has little nutritional value and it deceives me into thinking I’m not satisfied and need to eat more.
Not only does a junk food diet make me think I need more, it actually even dulls my taste buds. Just one sugar-free week proved it for me. This sounds trite, but I really can taste pure unadulterated sweetness in vegetables if I skip on refined sugars.
What’s the spiritual lesson? Well, it’s an easy connect. I often try to satisfy my soul with all kinds of junk and fast food (of either the literal or figurative kind), but these things only send my brain messages that I need more. Not only do I not need more of that nutrition-less fare, the truth is that it has no capacity to satisfy me. Only the wholesome Bread of Life, the Manna from Heaven, my sweet Savior can satisfy me. When I spend time with Him, I can verily “taste and see that the Lord is good.”
He, alone, can satisfy the deep need in me.
Now that is food for thought.
In 1984 Pontiac came out with an amazing little sports car, the FIERO. Fiery and red it was the object of one of my many obsessions as a teen. In 1984, my family was attending what has come to be known as a Word of Faith church. “Name it and Claim It” theology, some people call it. I can humbly say that I sure was “naming and claiming” my desire for a Fiero—so much so that I can still see the look on my Consumer Education teacher’s face, Ms. Hanna, as she grimaced-I think just about every time-I opened my “claiming” mouth. I was convinced that God was going to give me a red, of course, Fiero! It was mine to be had and I could envision myself driving it about. In my youth, I was also convinced that I was sharing my faith as I fearlessly proclaimed that I was going to have that very car. People needed to know that God would “give you the desires of your heart”, right? Sadly, I doubt many—no—ANY—people came to the knowledge of Christ’s love through my faith-filled proclamations. Could it be that God doesn’t give us the desires of our hearts? I’m glad to say, that I never took that as the case. Although, I never did get that Fiero, I did eventually learn that while God does often give us the desires of our hearts, He more importantly places His desires in our hearts and then when we are selfless in our desires, He does fulfill His Word. His purpose isn’t to give us EVERYTHING we want—when we want it, it is to fulfill His purposes in our lives.
I can say that He did eventually give me the guitar I always wanted and has blessed me with many of the material things I’ve wanted, but I know that it wasn’t because I “claimed” those things. At the core of the verse, “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen” isn’t my Fiero or my even the Mini Cooper I’m currently desirous of, but a much greater spiritual good that is “unseen’ to us most of the time.
Faith is really the opposing force of fear. It, along with love, drives out our fears which are at times more real than anything we can hope for. Just as most of our fears are unseen, faith is unseen and it is itself the substance—that which makes up the things for which we hope. It isn’t something that I can tangibly claim to have—or to have more of than others, it is simply a gift that we either choose to accept, or to reject.
When my youngest son was just about 2 years old, he had a severe allergic reaction to the “smell” of peanuts. A good friend and neighbor was watching him for me while I embarked on my teaching career. We were aware that he couldn’t eat peanuts or peanut products, but had no idea that his allergy was actually air born. My friend, who had been a Home Economics (now known as Food Science) teacher, had given her daughter a peanut butter sandwich—and just the scent of peanut butter caused my son to have a reaction that was so severe his face became swollen to the point he was unrecognizable. Some have made light of such reactions on the Hollywood screen, but for me, there is no humor in these almost comical depictions of people whose faces and lips swell. The exterior appearance was far less frightening than the fact that his air passages would have swollen shut had my friend not arrived at the hospital when she did. This allergy ALMOST took my son’s life at 2.
I recall the day as vividly as if it were yesterday and my heart still palpitates when I recall the moment when I opened her mini-van door and saw my sweet boy sitting in his car seat with his face two times its normal size. “Do you want to drive him to the hospital?” she asked. “No” was my response. My initial instinct was to take him and drive him there myself, but I knew we didn’t have the time to swith seats and I also knew that what I wanted to see and what was, were two different things. The substance of what I hoped for was my son looking the way I knew he really was—not in this life-threatening swollen state. I didn’t want to have that view in my rear-view mirror. I wanted to visualize him the way I knew him to be. Thankfully, my son is now 16 and the applications for this life lesson are endless—but key for me was that sometimes we NEED to see things the way they ought to be, instead of the way they are.
All theology set aside, I’ve learned that His love for us is so great that He starts us off with tangibles and then releases us to the intangibles. We spend so much time dreaming up the worst and contemplating on the sometimes unpleasant present, that we forget that faith is the substance of the things we hope for—the evidence of the things we don’t see.
At this stage in life, my worries tend to revolve around things that are much greater than whether or not God gives me a Fiero (or a Mini-Cooper—please God?)—my concerns are about my children and their future, reparation of broken family relationships, the well being of friends and family members who are going through diffiicult times, transitions and are dealing with loss, financial stress, the “c” word and even war. Through these stressful times, it is most difficult to focus on the unseen answered prayers—on peace—on perpetual rapture—where we are caught up in what He is doing, rather than what has been done and is going on at the moment. Yet, it is these times we must recall the times when God did answer simple material needs to show us that He does care and will provide for our spiritual needs of strength and faith when it seems there is no hope.
(By the way, the Fiero turned out to be somewhat of a lemon—Who knows? Maybe they’ll come out with a new and improved Fiero—then God will give it to me!—nah-I’ll take the Cooper!)
Even as the thunder rolls and the wind blows and the rain falls, I’m reminded that sometimes along with the blessings that rain brings, there is destruction in this world. We know the pain of death, only because we know life. Today I mourn the loss of a life that was stolen.
My life loving, laughter inspiring cousin was taken from us yesterday. His earthly life having been cut short, we have been left with a seemingly inconsolable pain, an emptiness and a longing for just one more conversation, one more laugh, one more hug or even just one more smile. With a quick look, he could bring laughter and that is how I choose to remember my Cousin Jerry.
In this time of mourning, I choose to believe that my dad and Jerry are going to be enjoying quite a few laughs at our expense. Both of these fun loving guys now have their own Candid Camera show with a Heavenly-sized lens. Those times when I almost slip while trying to act cool—when I think no one is looking—I’m thinking those two will be sharing a laugh—looking down, saying “Gotcha!”
Even as I weep for his loss, the loss that my entire family feels—as I grieve with and for his young children, I’m also angry. I’m angry that another life was unjustly cut short—stolen. I’m angry that all the “Why’s?” will not bring him back—that the “What if’s” don’t matter. Knowing this makes me even more angry, but I pray that we can somehow channel the grief and anger that we feel, to embrace our loved ones present and those who have gone on—with love. I pray that we realize that we have an obligation to each other to love-through our hurt and pain, to love. To cast out the negative things in our lives that can daily steal our joy. I don’t know how or why his life was taken, or why the evil in this present world sometimes seems to win, but I pray that we can guard our hearts with love by choosing to be caught up in perpetual rapture.
1 Corinthians 15:52-57
New International Version (NIV)
52 in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. 54 When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”[a]
55 “Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”[b]
56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
As Cousin Jerry, would say, “Chetos!”—No me toco verte, Primo, pero te amo! Saludame a mi papa y le tallas la pelona!
While I love gardening, there’s one aspect of gardening that I find difficult. No. It’s not weeding; it’s not watering; it’s not being out there on hot, humid days. In fact, while I prefer gardening in the cool of the morning, I can’t say that I really mind being out in my little flower garden even on the stickiest, yickiest of days. I can stay out there for hours and am usually only drawn back inside by some duty that calls—potentially named Andrew, Stephen or Rick—my family.
What I mind most is….pruning…cutting flowers back..reducing. I don’t mind dead heading, because, well those flowers are already dead. I just find it challenging to cut back what appear to be otherwise very healthy plants and their flowers. Whether it be hostas that need to be divided or invasive spearmint that often overpowers one of my favorite flowers—lavender, I hate cutting them back! Even that lacy, fragrant flower which not only needs cutting back, but fills my home with its wonderful, soothing scent when I do cut—-I really hate cutting.
While I completely understand that pruning promotes healthy growth and even offers the potential reblooming of flowers—even my wildly overgrown wisteria— there’s just something about cutting back that I find distasteful. I surmise that it is nothing other than fear. Afterall, I wait for months to see the tiniest signs of life. So after a l-o-n-g winter, I dread losing the life I’ve been waiting for—for months.
Come late April, I’m out there watching for the sprouting of the peony….Then I’m amazed as I watch it come out of nothing…One by one the flowers fill the beds I’ve managed to lay. Daffodils, hyacinth, tulips, azaleas, rhodendendrons, hydrangea—all beautiful in my yard and equally beautiful as cut flowers in vases in my house. Yet, for fear of losing what I’ve cultivated, I hesitate.
That same hesitation overflows from my yard to my heart. There are times when I allow that same type of fear to prevent me from siezing the opportunities for growth God has given me. I lay paralyzed in bed thinking of all the “What if’s?” of life. That same fear causes irritability and instability even as only the tossing of the wind can cause. Doubt and dread come in like a weed to choke whatever faith remains.
Fortunately, I only need that mustard seed sized faith to wiggle out of that state….so in come the pruning shears…love which casts out fear for I know my Heavenly Father loves me and I know I can trust His steady hand to prune what needs to be pruned to bring forth good fruit in my life.
One of my earliest recollections is not my recollection at all. It is actually one of those stories my relatives recanted about me. The story, as it goes, begins with the shattering of one of my grandmother’s clay pots. I have been placed at the scene of the shattering, with me chattering, “Corrío ye corrío y se cayó.” (It ran and it ran and then fell down.) The story is told in Spanish because it took place in Spanish, so to speak. You see, every summer we would vacation at my grandmother’s home in Chihuahua, Chihuahua, Mexico. Apparently, one of my Abuela Chole’s pots had taken a tumble at my hands. I must have stood there wide-eyed in her courtyard garden as the inquiry began, “Qué paso?” (What happened?) My response was a fantastic fable about how I’d watched the whole event unfold, “The pot ran and ran and then fell.” Thankfully, my tall tale was just ridiculous enough to make everyone laugh and I was off the hook—until the next time the story was told.
While I only really recall the story being told and not the actual event itself, what I do recall is my grandmother’s, saltillo tiled courtyard filled with potted geraniums. I go back there every time I release the oils of a geranium leaf by gently rubbing a leaf, or when it rains and the breeze is just right and the light scent of my geraniums in their clay pots fills the air. Of all the flowers I’m now able to grow in my garden, the simple geranium is absolutely one of my favorites. I owe my love of flower gardens to my Grandmother Chole who assigned us the task of watering her plants and flowers. It wasn’t a chore to do so; it was an honor to be entrusted with that task, especially after that one pot got away from me.