Ready for Change

autumn GR

The counsel of the LORD stands forever,
The plans of His heart from generation to generation.
Psalm 33:11

On the last Wednesday of October, I took Mom for a little drive. The trees, dressed in fabulous fall colors, put on quite a show. Every so often Mom would point and say, “There’s a pretty one,” or “Look at the color on that one.” The day was lovely and our time together was a delight, but the autumn colors were a reminder that winter, my least favorite season, is coming, and I can’t do a thing about it.

The weather isn’t the only thing changing this fall. Our country will soon have a new president and new members of Congress. State and local governments will welcome new faces, too. Our family faces changes, too, as we prepare to move to a new home in a new town. And our church is preparing for the changes that will accompany the arrival of a new associate pastor.

We all respond differently to change. I dread the arrival of winter’s cold and snow. Hiram looks forward to putting in cross country ski trails after each big snow. Voters who vote for this year’s winning candidates will be pleased on November 9, while those whose candidates lose will be disconcerted. And even though God has made it clear that our upcoming move is part of his plan for our family, Hiram and I vacillate daily between the excitement of watching God’s plan unfold and panic about the downsizing, packing, paperwork, and the million little details that are part of our adventure.

As a church body, we are eager to welcome a new associate pastor. We are ready for the guidance of a godly man who will be a support to Pastor Tim by providing vision and leadership as our church grows. But how will we respond when the changes he recommends are different from the way things have always been done? When we are pushed beyond our comfort zones and complacency? When change is welcomed by some and painful for others?

How can we respond to change in ways that honor God and draw onlookers closer to him? That is a question God wants us to ponder. It’s the question he brings to mind each day while I sort through old family treasures and photographs. When I think of leaving the house where my children grew up, where we made 25 years of family history.

“Your memories are enough, and I am enough,” he whispers gently and insistently. “I will not change, and I will never leave you,” he promises. “I am still good. My ways are good, and I will accomplish my good purposes within you wherever I take you.”

His words give me the power to part with material things and a home I hols dear. His words will be our nation’s source of hope the day after the 2016 election. His words can fill us with grace and confidence to welcome the changes God has planned for our church body through the work of a new associate pastor. His words are the unchanging beacon of truth that allow us to respond to changes, good and bad, in ways that honor God and make him irresistible to a watching world.

His words are enough.
He is enough.

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Three Thoughts for Thursday

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  1. Can someone explain why Mom can spend an afternoon mercilessly teasing me about dropping my phone down the throne, but she can’t remember what she ate for lunch?
  2. During the lunch she can’t remember, she once again offered tastes of her ice cream. “Mmmm,” she said more than once, “it’s good.” When I declined, she feigned surprise. “Oh, that’s right. You’re allergic to dairy. I forgot!”
  3. In other news, I had a haircut yesterday and my annual mammogram today. Mom used to refer to the convergence of those events as being “tressed and pressed.” The woman did and does have a way with words and a bent for teasing. Gotta love her!

Top 10 Signs Your Family Is Full of Tolkien Fans

How do you know your family contains generations of Tolkien fans? Here's how I figured it out.The Man of Steel and I are proud of our kids for many reasons. One of our faves is that we turned them into J.R.R. Tolkien fans before the movies came out and remain so to this day.

10. Our family food fave analogies always follow the same formula: I like _______________ as much as hobbits like mushrooms.

9.  Entirely too many family dinner discussions cite Silmarillion references. In great detail.

8.  Family members look for ways to sneak words like “clad” and “strode” and “smite” or “smote” into every day conversation.

7.  We each can describe the cover art on the first Lord of the Ring trilogy we ever read.

6.  Some of our kids’ favorite childhood memories are of reading Tolkien (not only The Hobbit, but also the trilogy and The Tolkien Reader) out loud as a family.

5.  When a family member swallows loudly at any meal, everyone else at the table calls him or her “Gollum.”

4.  We have a family tradition of watching the entire trilogy at some point during Christmas break to commemorate the original releases and our first viewings of the movies in December of 2001, 2002, and 2003.

3.  The under-the-stairs closet with it’s 3 foot high door was immediately dubbed “the hobbit closet” when we moved here in 1991.

2. We agree that Spock and all other Vulcans are Middle Earth elves in disguise.

1. In this family, the word “precious” is uttered in a reedy voice with long, drawn out hisses.

Is your family comprised of Middle Earth fans? Leave a comment to describe how you know.

Keep Kindness Alive

Are you wondering how to keep kindness alive in this political season? Aibileen Clark has some good advice.

But the fruit of the Spirit is
love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control;
against such things there is no law.
Galatians 5:22–23

You is smart. You is kind. You is important. Aibileen Clark says these powerful words over and over to little Mae Mobley in the 2011 movie The Help. The context in which the words are spoken only make them stronger. The year is 1963. Aibileen is an African American maid in Jacksonville, Mississippi. She works for Mae Mobley’s parents. Though the little girl is a privileged white child, her looks fall far short of her socialite mother’s standards. But Aibileen loves the little girl. Every day she affirms Mae Mobley’s worth by holding her and saying the same three sentences. You is smart. You is kind. You is important.

Every child needs an Aibileen. I certainly did, and I the memories of my Aibileens are dear to me–Dad watching TV with me when I was sick, an uncle and aunt who took me camping, a second grade teacher who encouraged my creativity, a neighbor who helped me with 4-H projects. Not only did those precious people affirm my worth, they showed that kindness has a greater impact than being smart or important.

If your childhood was blessed by an Aibileen, you know the value of kindness, too. You know isn’t taught through books or lectures. It can’t be mandated. It is taught and caught by example. One reason Jesus came to earth was to demonstrate the power of kindness. His example was and is crucial. Because when kindness isn’t passed down from the faithful of one generation to the next, it dies. And our world suffers.

Politics and kindness are rarely bedfellows. But this political season has been marked by an appalling lack of kindness. Maybe it’s because technology makes it too easy to pass along crude sound bites and disparaging images. Maybe it’s because our presidential candidates value being important and smart more than being kind. Maybe it’s because cruelty gets better ratings than kindness.

The reason for the lack of kindness doesn’t really matter. What matters is the effect the dearth of kindness is having on the next generation. When we rip into people who venture opinions different from ours, when we pass along Facebook memes and articles that destroy people instead of confronting issues, when we use language we scold our children for using, the world is observing what we say and do. Our example shows the world that feeling important and sounding smart is of greater value than kindness. Our example teaches them how to kill kindness. Worse yet, when we call ourselves Christians while our behaviors and words are devoid of kindness, we crucify Christ and put him to open shame (Hebrews 6:6). Such examples increase the likelihood that those watching us will turn away from a faith so lacking in kindness.

So when we are tempted to wade into the political fray, let’s honor our Aibileens by asking ourselves a few questions before we speak or act. Is what I want to say or do kind? Will my words and actions make me look smart and important by making someone else look stupid and worthless?

If your answer isn’t worthy of your Aibileens or the Lord Jesus Christ, abandon your plan. Pause and ask the Lord to plant the seeds of kindness in your heart. Ask Him to make you into an Aibileen who passes the precious harvest of kindness along to a new generation.

Three Thoughts for Thursday

Unusual color combinations, seeding grass, and monsoon autumn rains in this week's 3 thoughts.

  1. An unusual combination: Brightly colored autumn leaves landing on spring green grass. That’s what happens when September in Iowa includes monsoon rain one day and chilly temperatures the next.
  2. A reason to be thankful: All the recent rain means the grass seed planted two weeks ago is coming up without much extra watering.
  3. A reason to cheer: The monsoon moisture has stayed in the ground and out of the basement. Which means the Man of Steel’s basement project is a success. (Insert crowd cheering noises here.)

What are you thankful for this week? Leave a comment.

Clean Out the Vegetable Drawer Bolognese Sauce

Whip up this bolognese sauce during late summer when the tomatoes are threatening to take over the kitchen. It's so tasty!Once again, this recipe comes to you courtesy of multi-generational living, via my daughter. During July and August she prepared this bolognese sauce whenever the tomatoes threatened to take the kitchen hostage. The wide variety of vegetables make the sauce a banquet of flavors mingling together. And it’s a good way to clean out the vegetables languishing in the fridge. Just remember that the secret of good sauce is to let it simmer for several hours. So you’ll be wise to start it right after lunch. But be warned–smelling the sauce all afternoon will work up a big appetite. So make plenty!

Clean Out the Vegetable Drawer Bolognese Sauce

1 pound ground beef
1 onion, diced very fine
2 carrots, diced very fine
2 stalks celery, diced very fine
2 cloves garlic
1/2 small head of cauliflower, chopped into small pieces
4 or 5 fresh tomatoes, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons or more olive oil
2 teaspoons salt or more to taste
1/4 cup red or white wine
balsamic vinegar (optional)

In deep, heavy pot heat the olive oil over medium high heat. Sauté onions, carrots and celery until onions are translucent. While sautéing the vegetables, add the salt. Add the cauliflower, chopped into small pieces, roughly the size of cooked ground beef.

When the vegetables begin to brown, add the ground beef. Cook until the beef is browned. Add in the garlic, pressed or chopped finely. Add the tomatoes. Stir and let the mixture come to a simmer. Simmer the sauce until the tomatoes and the juice reduce and thicken, 2–3 hours.

Once reduced, add wine. Simmer for a bit and taste. Add more salt if needed. Keep in mind that favors will be stronger in the end. Let the sauce simmer and reduce for about an hour more. The end product shouldn’t be chunky but not watery, rather than saucy like marinara. The tomato and red wine should stick to the meat and vegetables much like stir fry sauce does. Taste again. The flavor should be rich and savory. If it’s a little weak ,add 1 tsp balsamic vinegar, stir and let cook for 10 more minutes. Serve over spaghetti noodles.

Top Ten Reasons Working With Teachers Is a Delight

After spending a day working with educators, coming up with 10 delightful things about working with them was easy.This past Saturday, I spent the day with 14 educators. They were there to complete the first half of a teacher’s licensure recertification class. I was there as their teacher. Here are the top 10 reasons I’m looking forward to working with those 14 teachers again this coming Saturday for the second half of the class.

10.  Teachers are very prompt. They were on time or early with the exception of 1 class member who got lost on the way.

9.  Teachers practice self-control. They have no trouble keeping their hands and feet to themselves.

8.  Teachers are generous. When the dollar their instructor tries to use in the vending machine won’t work because it was taped together, they give you quarters to use instead.

7.  Teachers are inclusive. They will actually invite the instructor to join them for lunch. And one of them may offer to drive so you can have a break.

6.  Teachers are conscientious. They willingly use their expertise to do extra research for the good of the larger group. When you email to say they’re are excused from their homework because of the extra work they did, they email back to say they already completed the homework.

5.  They are readers. When you assign them a few pages, they read the entire chapter.

4.  They take lots of notes about what they read. Reams of notes. But that’s not all.

3.  Teachers also ask good questions. Some of their questions are based on what they read or what they wrote in their notes. And some based on what you say because…

2.  Teachers love to learn. About all sorts of things. But they are extra-passionate about learning that enables them to work more effectively with children because…

1.  Teachers care about their students. They really do. And they are willing to do more than you can imagine to help their children learn and make them feel safe at school.

Do you work with teachers? What would you add to this list?

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Three Thoughts for Thursday

Walking under a harvest moon, why I'm a nervous Nellie, and the breakthrough toddler toy of the century in this week's 3 thoughts.

  1. When your day begins with a sunrise walk under a harvest moon so bright it makes a dusty gravel road into a shimmering silver pathway, you know it will be a very good day indeed.
  2. For the next two Saturdays I’ll be teaching teachers. Teachers who know their stuff. And their stuff is teaching. I am extremely nervous. Prayers appreciated!
  3. My grandson has spent many hours during the past week trying to place clothespins on the rim of a cardboard box. I’ve spent many hours during the past week trying to come up with a way to disguise clothespins and cardboard boxes, market them as the breakthrough toddler toy of the century, and get them on the shelves before Christmas. Can you guess which one of us has been more successful?

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No Futter Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies

This recipe replaces butter or shortening with oil to make the most delicious chocolate chip oatmeal cookies ever.Along our gravel road, cookies are considered an art form. Within that art form, chocolate chip oatmeal cookies sit at its summit. I thought I had scaled that particular peak with a wonderful dairy-free recipe that uses “futter,” Gravel Road’s affectionate term for all non-dairy shortenings. However, my daughter found a no shortening recipe from the Half-Baked Harvest website. The daughter’s version cuts the sugar and chocolate chips by half and uses dairy-free chocolate chips (this time from Trader Joe’s) so it is really, truly a non-dairy delight.

No Futter Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies

2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 1/2 cups rolled oats
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup canola oil
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup dairy-free chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350°. Put eggs, sugar, oats, flour, soda, salt, canola oil, and vanilla in a large bowl. Mix them well by hand. Mixture will be crumbly. If it is too dry, add a few tablespoons of rice milk, cashew milk, or some other milk substitute. Add the chocolate chips and mix well.

Use your hands to make balls of dough and place them on heated baking stones. Press the balls down with your hand. Bake 10-12 minutes. Let them sit on the baking stone a few moments before removing them from the baking stone.

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Young Frankenstein Top Ten Quotes

The Gravel Road Gene Wilder retrospective wraps up the memories with a tidy bow made of 10 favorite Young Frankenstein quotes.Gravel Road’s Gene Wilder memorial screening of Young Frankenstein was a great success this weekend. The movie was as funny in 2016 as it was in 1974, thanks to these top ten quotes, at least in my humble opinion.

10. Inspector Kemp: Need a hand?
Dr. Frankenstein: No, I have one. Thanks.

9.  Inga: Dear, what is it exactly that you do do?

8.  Dr. Frankenstein: Yes, I did read something of that incident when I was a student, but you have to remember that a worm… with very few exceptions… is not a human being.

7.  Dr. Frankenstein: Perhaps I can help you with that hump?
Igor: What hump?

6.  Almost Everyone in the Cast at Some Time in the Movie: …Frau Blucher.
Horses: Neigh

5.  Igor: Wait, Master, it may be dangerous…you go first.

4.  Dr. Frankenstein: What knockers!
Inga: Thank you, Doctor.

3.  Igor: Walk this way.

2.  Elizabeth and Inga: (when in the throes of passion) Oh, sweet mystery of life, at last I’ve found you!

1.  Igor: It could be worse.
Dr. Frankenstein: How?
Igor: It could be raining. (Insert downpour here.)

What’s your favorite Young Frankenstein quote? Leave a comment.

 

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