When the World Does a Number on Your Faith

What does getting bad news at the dentist office have in common with bad news on the national and world stage? More than you might think! After you have suffered for a little while,
the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ,
will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you.
1 Peter 5:10–11

At her last visit to the dentist my 87-year-old mother learned that the aging process is doing a number on her teeth. After her hygienist suggested a deep cleaning was in order, Mom’s response was less than enthusiastic. “It was a terrible appointment,” Mom said when we met in the waiting room. “I could have gone my whole life without news like that.”

I made suitable, empathetic noises while we scheduled the extra cleaning. I practiced active listening techniques during lunch and tried to cheer her up. “Look at the bright side, Mom. You’re almost 88. You have all your teeth. You have dental insurance that makes the procedure affordable.”

She was inconsolable. “I just wasn’t expecting this kind of news,” she said. “It’s awful.”
“Mom,” I said as my supportive, loving daughter veneer peeled away, “you’re acting as if you’ve got cancer instead of early stage periodontal disease. Try to put this in perspective.” But she couldn’t. At least not until her son visited her and managed to coax her out of her funk by mentioning that had the same procedure done a few years back.

Reflecting on Mom’s situation, I see some similarities between how she responded and how many followers of Christ respond when national and international current events do a number on our faith. First, our reaction focuses on what’s wrong and views past and present blessings as our right. We rarely express gratitude for God’s blessings while we have them, but complain loudly when they cease. Can you think of an election year when Christians expressed gratitude for two qualified presidential candidates with the fervor that this year’s lack of the same is continually bemoaned?

Second, Christians often respond to current events from a purely temporal and earthly perspective. Instead of standing firm on the rock of God’s sovereignty over human history, we grow despondent and fearful when events unfold differently than expected. When the candidate we support isn’t elected, when our cultural shifts away from a Christian worldview, or when terrorism and gun violence rear their ugly heads, we act as though the world is ending–we who claim to stand on the promise of eternal life with Christ when this world ends.

Christians have little to offer the lost when we respond to earthly events with ingratitude, hopelessness, and fear. But how can we avoid those faithless responses in an increasingly dark and painful world? A clue to that question’s answer can be found in Mom’s recovery from her funk. It ended when a visit with her son changed her perspective.

Similarly our perspective and our future responses change when we spend time with God’s Son in His Word. When we consider how Christ’s absolute confidence in God’s sovereignty and an eternal perspective influenced His responses to ungodly rulers in a non-Christian culture where He suffered violence beyond imagining. When we cling to the promise of Jesus to never leave or forsake us. When we gaze upon the risen Christ and anticipate His future resurrection. When our feet are firmly planted on those realities, we can trust Jesus and respond with hope and confidence. Because we know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that what He promises is absolutely certain. God’s eternal and unchanging best is yet to come.

Three Thoughts for Thursday

Giggling with the grandson, Ghostbusters, and fashion statements in this week's three thoughts.

  1. This week our 16-month-old grandson learned to high five. I don’t know who giggles more when our hands meet, him or me.
  2. Want to laugh until your sides ache? Go see the new Ghostbusters movie.
  3. I am now the proud owner of 13 pairs of cheap reading glasses. The red polka dot pair stays in the kitchen to make reading recipes easier. And as a fashion statement since they match the decor.

What’s your latest fashion statement? Leave a comment.

Top Ten Iowa State Fair Tips

Top ten Iowa State Fair survival tips for hot and humid summer days.Our son, his friend, the Man of Steel and I spent an afternoon at the Iowa State Fair. While there, I compiled these top ten tips for fair goers silly enough to schedule their visits when the temperature hovers around 90° and the humidity is nearly 100%.

10.  A ride on the tram lifts passengers high enough to enjoy whatever slight breeze is blowing. However, passengers who are afraid of heights will get hot and bothered enough to cancel out the benefits of a cooling breeze.

9.  Stroll through the Varied Industries Building for two reasons: First, the air conditioning is heavenly. Secondly, you can visit the De Vries Woodcrafting booth and admire their beautiful furniture while testing their chairs and surreptitiously rest your tired feet.

8.  Women are well-advised to wear shorts, a skirt, or sundress when the temperature is near 90° and humidity is high. Capris will be too hot.

7.  You know the people that use big sticks to direct cars to the $5 parking spots on their lawns? I think they do that to keep the air moving. So put a collapsible yard stick in your fanny pack so you can cool down whenever you want. And bonk annoying people if need be. It’s a win-win!

6.  It is perfectly acceptable to join the children cooling off at the spray fountain. Just don’t knock them out of the way or strip down to your underwear. Even if your bra and panties are more generously than the uniforms worn by the women’s beach volleyball teams at the Olympics, you could get arrested for indecent exposure.

5.  If you watch the breeding swine auction in the Hall of Champions, stand directly under the giant ceiling fan. If possible stand next to someone with swine breeding expertise so you have some idea of what’s going on.

4.  If you go to the meat goat judging, repeat #5. But stand next to someone with meat goat expertise because pigs and goats are totally different breeds of cats.

3.  While walking by the butter cow, imagine standing beside Bessie in her 40° cooler just in case the power of suggestion actually works.

2.  Stop by the horse expo arena between shows when you are hot and tired. It’s free, it’s air conditioned, the seats are comfy, and you can watch a tractor go round and round and round watering and preparing the dirt. It’s mesmerizing.

1. When you’re drenched with sweat, a raspberry-cider slushy from the Agriculture Building tastes divine. It also turns your tongue bright red. So you can put in your Dracula teeth and look highly authentic.

Bonus Tip: No matter how hot it is, you must stand in the heat and take pictures for your young grandchildren obsessed with large machinery. Because that’s what’s grandparents do.

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When Your To Do List Doesn’t Get Too Done

What to do when the too do list doesn't get too done? The past week was an exercise in answering that question.Last week was one of those weeks. The kind where I looked at my goals on Sunday and thought, “Piece of cake. I can blaze through this list by Wednesday. Thursday at the latest. Just in time for company.”

Monday reinforced that forecast. I finished a week’s worth of Different Dream posts by noon and spent the afternoon revising See Jane Run! I didn’t get quite as far as I’d hoped, though I worked steadily, but it was only Monday. Not to worry.

Tuesday was when I remembered what I’d forgotten to put on the week’s to do list:

  • The 10:30 AM Tuesday appointment to look at a property.
  • CSA pick up at 4:00 PM the same day.
  • A stop at the Heartland AEA to drop off worksheets for an upcoming Educator’s Guide to PTSD class before visiting Mom on Wednesday.
  • Wednesday grocery stops after visiting Mom at Costco, Baker’s Pantry, and possibly Trader Joe’s if Costco didn’t have their amazing dairy free chocolate chips in stock. (They didn’t.)
  • A Friday afternoon date at the State Fair with our son and a friend.
  • Saturday lunch with the fam at Hickory Park to celebrate my 60th birthday. It was last month but this was when we could all get together.

At which point the mystery novel became the top priority, with peach pie and muffin baking close behind (because food is always high on my list), and cleaning the bathroom in third place. Only because it was getting too fuzzy to be ignored.

The next four days went like this:

  • Wednesday morning at the AEA, followed by being trounced by Mom at Uno, and grocery shopping at Costco, Baker’s Pantry, and Trader Joe’s.
  • Thursday morning working on novel revisions and the afternoon getting ready for and enjoying company.
  • Friday morning novel revisions and a sweltering afternoon at the State Fair.
  • Saturday morning muffin-making, lunch at Hickory Park, and final mystery revisions in the afternoon. Yes, they are done. Happy Dance, Happy Dance, Happy Dance!
  • Peach pie making before church on Sunday, and the new week’s goals already plumped up and in place because last week’s to do list didn’t get too done.

The new to do list? It’s a cinch. Because other than Connection Group, CSA pick up, and a party on Saturday (for which I volunteered to make three pies), absolutely nothing is going on around here this week. Nothing at all.

 

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A Fantastic Friday Salute to Teachers

A new school year is about to begin. Here are 10 ways to show kindness to the teachers who will be part of our kids' lives for the next 9 months.The teacher in our town went back to work this past Monday. So this Fantastic Friday features ten reasons to be kind to educators in the next few weeks and months.

My teacher friends and former co-workers in our school district went back to work yesterday. Speaking from 25 years of personal experience, here are 10 reasons to be kind to teachers for the next few days and weeks.

10.  Contrary to popular opinion, most teachers didn’t sit around the pool eating bon bons all summer. Most teachers spent much of the summer going to school to hone their skills. They even turned in assignments, sat at the other end of the red pencil, and received grades.

9.   During summer school classes, teachers wore flip flops. At home they went barefoot. And now they have to shove their feet into teacher shoes. Remember those teacher shoes? Not a pretty sight.

8.   The first few days back to school, before the kids return, are packed with meetings about exciting topics such as Proper Procedures for Cleaning Up Bodily Fluids (I’m not making this up) and the latest No Child Left Behind government regulations. The powers that be grant these topics higher priority than things allowing teachers preparation time in the classroom.

7.   Teachers know those meetings will eat away their preparation time, so they’ve already donated several unpaid days to get their classrooms ready, plan lessons, and prepare materials. And because of budget cuts, they often pay for materials out of their own pockets.

6.   At some of those meetings before the kids come, teachers learn about newly assigned duties that take away their scheduled planning time and in some cases much of their lunch hour.

5.   Once the students return, teaches spend much of their lunch hour doing one of the following: running home to let the dog out, eating at their desk while preparing for afternoon classes, or supervising students.

4.   You know how hard it is for your kids to adjust to the school schedule every fall? It’s that hard for teachers, too, because they’re big kids at heart. That’s why they’re teachers.

3.  Teachers would rather help kids succeed than mark assignments with red pencil and fill out report cards. But their job description requires they do both.

2.   Teachers spend all day supervising 25–30 people who are crowded together reading and doing paperwork in a small space without privacy cubicles. Can you think of businesses that ask adults to work in conditions like that?

1.   Your child’s teacher cares about your boy or girl. A lot. Your child’s teacher cares about every student. But teachers know they can’t give students everything they need. Teachers know that no matter how hard they works, at some point they will fail students. They will obsess over every failure and try to do better the next day, knowing they will fail again. But they keeps trying because they believes kids are worth their best effort. And if you tell teachers they’re doing a good job, they’ll remember your kindness and pass it on to a child. Because that’s what teachers do.

What would you add to the list? Leave a comment!

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Three Thoughts for Thursday

Sleeping weather, the public library hold system, and triplets in this week's 3 thoughts.

  1. We’ve had an entire week of sleeping weather in Iowa. In August. Yes, August. What a mercy. What a kindness. What a gift!
  2. I’m listening to a book about a family with triplets, and I’ve regularly seen a doe with triplet fawns on my morning walks. The two events could be interpreted as a synergistic sign were I of childbearing age. Just another perk of turning 60.
  3. The public library automatic hold system is one of the seven wonders of the modern world. I’m not sure what the other six are, though toilet paper makes my short list. You?

Our Latest and Greatest Fake Butter (also known as Futter)

This dairy-free, soy-free butter substitute offers several variations that are perfect for high maintenance dietary needs.A new conundrum has arisen in our Gravel Road kitchen. In addition to having several adults in the house who have dairy allergies or lactose intolerant, the toddler has begun to sprout a terrible diaper rash when he’s fed soy. So the most available version of Earth Balance, our favorite butter substitute known affectionately as “futter,” is off limits to him. (Earth Balance has a soy free version, but it is almost impossible to find where we live.)

Thankfully, my daughter discovered a recipe for a very good vegan butter substitute created by Miyoko Shinner. Her recipe offers variations for baking futter (regular and hard versions), spreading, futter, and unsalted futter. The daughter has fiddled with the recipe and perfected a version that is very good for baking and meets all our high maintenance dietary needs.

Gravel Road Futter

Ingredients

1/2 cup rich, unflavored, unsweetened cashew milk (our recipe for a DYI version is coming soon)
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 3/4 cups refined coconut oil (don’t use extra virgin, or it will taste like coconuts!),
2 teaspoons liquid lecithin

Instructions

  1. Combine all ingredients in blender and process at a medium speed for about one minute.
  2. Pour into a container of your choice*
  3. Set it in the refrigerator for a few hours until hard.

For a Harder Futter substitute ¼ cup of the melted coconut oil with ¼ cup melted cocoa butter. Reduce liquid oil by 1 tablespoon.

For Whipped Futter increase the liquid oil by one tablespoon, and process at high speed in the blender for about 2 minutes to incorporate as much air as possible. (We have tried this version several times without success.)

For Unsalted Futter leave out the salt.

*We use mini-loaf pans that hold 1 cup each. Once the futter is hard, it can be cut into 1/2 cup sticks the same size as regular sticks of butter or margarine.

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Top Ten Lessons Learned from a 16 Month Old

Grammy and Papoo have been learning a lot from the 16 month old who lives at their house. Here are a few recent lessons. Every day is an educational adventure with a sixteen-month-old in the house. Here’s what he’s been teaching us lately.

10.  Clothespins are fascinating, so a wise grammy learn to check for them in her shoes before going for a morning walk.

9.  Grammy’s walking shoes are also fascinating, so when the shoes aren’t on the rug by the door, they are most likely in the empty spot on a low kitchen shelf. With a clothespin cleverly hidden inside one shoe.

8.  There’s nothing better than a rousing game of “I’m gonna get you.”

7.  There’s nothing worse than being told “No!” Even and especially when it’s for your own good.

6.  Baby gates are an invitation to start climbing.

5.  Being allowed in Grammy and Papoo’s bedroom to feel the soft, blue blanket on their bed is enough to make a grown 16-month-old quiver with delight.

4.  All food tastes better after it’s been thrown on the floor and sniffed by the dog.

3.  Making loud noises and screeching is oodles of fun for a baby. But when a grown up makes the same sounds, it’s very scary.

2.  The days when Papoo uses big machines right outside the living room window are very good days.

1.  Receiving a big hug and a slobbery kiss from a sixteen-month-old is a precious gift from God.

What lessons have you learned from a wee one lately? Leave a message.

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Exciting Times on Our Gravel Road

This summer's adventure has been our dive into multi-generational living. We're still figuring things out, but these four ideas have made a difference so far.The Summer of 2016 will go down in history as a most exciting one. The Man of Steel’s basement project, with its main components being large dirt piles, big holes, and large equipment, has been an ongoing source of wonder for our three young grandchildren. (The above action shot, the action being the dirt pouring out of the bucket, was highly appreciated by the 3 1/2-year-old.) The Wonderfully Made Family Camp (WMFC) at Hidden Acres, the trip to Latvia to be part of a special needs camp, and family camp in Idaho each had their own exciting elements.

But, as the summer winds down I have to say that our adventures in multi-generational living, which began on May 20 when our daughter, our son-in-law, and grandson moved into our upstairs, leave all others in the dust.* All in all, the transition has gone well. The fact that the upstairs consists of three large rooms and a full bath that is completely their space, makes the arrangement easier. But, we’ve learned, and are still learning, much about how to live together in shared spaces: the kitchen, the laundry room, the dining room, and sometimes the living room.

Over the next few months, the daughter and I will be sharing our perspectives about what has worked, what hasn’t, and how we’ve resolved what doesn’t. To start things off, here are four systems we’ve put in place that make multi-generational living much easier.

First, a command center is a must. Ours is a giant whiteboard in the kitchen. It’s a monthly calendar where everyone posts their work and travel schedules. Once that’s in place, we decide who’s going to cook each night and plan menus. We also record financial reminders about what’s owed for groceries and utilities and payment due to the daughter and son-in-law for projects we’ve hired them to complete. Honestly, without this system, we couldn’t function.

Second, compile grocery lists. This one took a couple months to get in place, mainly because I was gone so much it was hard to plan menus. We now have 2 lists, 1 for our local grocery store and 1 for Costco, Trader Joe’s and a Mennonite market where we purchase hard-to-find baking ingredients. Everyone knows where the grocery lists are and they are encouraged to add items that are running low or used up. We visit the local grocery store weekly. I make the Costco/Trader Joe’s/Mennonite market run about once a month, usually after a visit to Dorothy since those stores are 45 minutes from our Gravel Road, but only 20 minutes from her.

Third, get a joint credit card for groceries. This card is used only for what’s on the menu and each family pays half the bill. This simplifies finances immensely.

Fourth, only one joint meal is served per day. That meal is usually supper, though depending on schedules, it is sometimes lunch. The freezer, fridge, and pantry are stocked with breakfast items and everyone serves themselves. The same is true for lunch, at which leftovers are also fair game.

From my point of view, these four systems are life savers. We’ll see what the daughter has to say at a future date. It could be interesting!

*Please note: The use of this idiom was deliberate in light of the name of this blog.

Do you have a multi-generational living arrangement? How do you make it work? Leave a comment.

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Geranium Whispers on a Fantastic Friday

Change, rain-kissed geraniums, and the sorrow of Alzheimer's in this week's Fantastic Friday offering.This Friday’s post from July of 2009 was selected for two reasons. First, it shows how much life has changed in the last 7 years. Second, I love this picture. Rarely does this geranium plant produce such a perfect bloom and even more rarely are the blossoms so beautifully rain-kissed. Enjoy!

Geranium Whispers

On this rainy Friday morning, I bustled around the house, opening window shades. The clouds were thick and the house was gloomy, so I eagerly coaxed the weak light that penetrated the clouds inside for a visit.

When I opened the shades to the patio, the blossoms of an heirloom geranium took my breath away. Mom gave me the plant over a year ago, when she still lived in her own home and had no idea she would soon break up housekeeping. Decades before her mother, Josephine Newell Hess, had given her a slip from the plant her mother, Cora Rose Newell, had given her a slip from in the 1940s.

Had Mom waited one more winter, it might have been too late to pass on the plant and the history behind it. In the past twelve months, Alzheimer’s has taken its relentless toll on her memory, stamina, and abilities. Our daily phone calls get shorter and shorter as she finds it increasingly difficult to hold up her end of a conversation. She still loves to read and do crossword puzzles, but has no interest in visiting friends or going new places. Quilting and jigsaw puzzles confuse her. She can’t make decisions.

Slowly but surely, Alzheimer’s is turning my steely, determined mother into a soft, hesitant whisper of a woman. But this morning, when I opened the shade and those bright red blossoms waved at me, they comforted me and reminded me that all is not lost.

“She’s with you,” they whispered. “She’s right here.”

“Thanks,” I said, and then I waved back.