Thursday, February 25, 2010

And Here's A World Of Beauty

"When Death Comes." By Mary Oliver, New and Selected Poems. Beacon Press, 1992. 10-11.

When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse

to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
when death comes
like the measle-pox;

when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder-blades,

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,

and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth,
tending, as all music does, toward silence,

and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.

WHen it's over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it's over, I don't want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don't want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don't want to end up simply having visited the world.

"Goldenrod." Oliver, 17-18.

On roadsides,
    in fall fields,
        in rumpy bunches,
            saffron and orange and pale gold,

in little towers,
    soft as mash,
        sneeze-bringers and seed-bearers,
            full of bees and yellow beads and perfect flowerlets

and orange butterflies.
    I don't suppose
        much notice comes of it, except for honey,
            and how it heartens the heart with its

blank blaze.
    I don't suppose anything loves it except, perhaps,
        the rocky voids
            filled by its dumb dazzle.

For myself,
    I was just passing by, when the wind flared
         and the blossoms rustled,
             and the glittering pandemonium

leaned on me.
    I was just minding my own business
        when I found myself on their straw hillsides,
            citron and butter-colored,

and I was happy, and why not?
    Are not the difficult labors of our lives
        full of dark hours?
            And what has consciousness come to anyway, so far,

that is better than these light-filled bodies?
    All day
        on their airy backbones
            they toss in the wind,

they bend as though it was natural and godly to bend,
    they rise in a stiff sweetness,
        in the pure peace of giving
            one's gold away.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Paragon Of Animals

obviously. My life is so FULL of angelic action and godlike apprehension. Yes, it is time for another Update, should you be interested in what's going on. Mostly what's going on is in my head, right now. If you don't feel like indulging my self-absorption, check it out -- these crosswords are the best thing ever.

... because he is so diligent and hardworking in his studies. Not to mention intelligent. I was helping him review vocab for a quiz the other night, and I couldn't even pronounce the definitions. DH could supply the definition (and pronounce it!) and he even knew what it meant. And he's making very good grades -- a big deal in medical school!

"As an English lit major, there are two job descriptions for which I qualify: low-paying secretarial position, or even lower-paying secretarial position." -- Probably misquoted line from this amusing but forgettable mystery (couldn't resist the Austen reference!), by Tracy Kiely.

Ms. Kiely, if you are reading, please don't sue me. I returned the book to the library, and it's checked out now, so I can't go back and correct the reference. Truly it wouldn't be worth your time. I have a B.A. in English literature.

In fact, I tried the low-paying secretarial position and even that was too much for me. I see a red polo and a grocery checkout line in my future ... that's After Winter future. I need to gain at least five pounds (probably ten, but ... not going to think about that) and figure out how to stop having emotional freakouts first. Inexplicable, uncontainable fits of weeping or panic or whatever do not fit well in a professional environment.

DH and I are hoping to move nearer to his school this spring, and my plan is to arrive at Reasonably Functional Adulthood by then, and then get another job. I suspect that green and warm will help a lot. Meanwhile I am reading a lot of novels and drawing super-deformed pandabears and robot smily faces.

So that's why, no, I'm not really looking for a job right now.

Although if anyone needs a regular babysitter/nanny, I would make an AWESOME nanny. Just sayin.'

^See above.

I can't quite say "because he keeps me sane" (see above), but ... because he keeps me safe even when I'm not sane. Even when I'm too stuck in the insanity to take a breath and remember that.
Because he saves me from what I deserve. Because he knows me -- all of me. He knows me, and he loves me!
Because he offers me the sure hope of a good world -- a world that will be what it was made to be.
Because he put me in this world that -- snow and all -- can take my breath away with its sheer, unexpected beauty.
Because he has blessed me with the love of so many dear, dear people.
Because he is, completely, in and of Himself, beautiful, lovely, excellent, right in a way that anything else can only shadow.

Friday, February 19, 2010

For My Mother

Some verses that remind me that my justification before God is completely secure -- because it is completely in Christ's perfect merit:

From Isaiah 47:
 15Truly, you are a God who hides himself,
   O God of Israel, the Savior.
16All of them are put to shame and confounded;
   the makers of idols go in confusion together.
17But Israel is saved by the LORD
   with everlasting salvation;
you shall not be put to shame or confounded
   to all eternity.

 18For thus says the LORD,who created the heavens
   (he is God!),
who formed the earth and made it
   (he established it;
he did not create it empty,
    he formed it to be inhabited!):
"I am the LORD, and there is no other.
19 I did not speak in secret,
   in a land of darkness;
I did not say to the offspring of Jacob, 'Seek me in vain.'
I the LORD speak the truth;
   I declare what is right.
 20"Assemble yourselves and come;
   draw near together,
   you survivors of the nations!
They have no knowledge
   who carry about their wooden idols,
 and keep on praying to a god
   that cannot save.
21Declare and present your case;
   let them take counsel together!
Who told this long ago?
   Who declared it of old?
Was it not I, the LORD?
   And there is no other god besides me,
a righteous God and a Savior;
   there is none besides me.
 22"Turn to me and be saved,
 all the ends of the earth!
   For I am God, and there is no other.
23By myself I have sworn;
   from my mouth has gone out in righteousness
   a word that shall not return:
'To me every knee shall bow,
   every tongue shall swear allegiance.'
 24"Only in the LORD, it shall be said of me,
   are righteousness and strength;

to him shall come and be ashamed
  all who were incensed against him.

25In the LORD all the offspring of Israel
   shall be justified and shall glory.

From Romans 8:
31What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?  
32He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?  
33Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.
34Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us

35Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Book Recommendation

Salvage, by Jane Kotapish.

We meet two sisters in the novel's first chapter: the protagonist, and her sister, whom she names Nancy, and who talks to her unnamed sister in her bedroom closet. Nancy, miscarried by their mother, is full of persistent questions about the world she never saw; rejected by her mother's womb, she is obsessed with finding a home.

Nearly 30 years later, transplanted to New York and far away from her childhood home and Nancy, the protagonist takes part in a tragic, pointless accident. In an attempt to salvage what she can of her sanity, she moves back to Virginia and buys a house of her own. Makes a friend of the harried housewife next door. Tries to figure out how to relate with her quirky (probably delusional) mother. Tries to remember, and tries to forget.

Salvage doesn't offer solutions to the difficulty that is living in this world. What it does offer is a sometimes humorous, always haunting exploration of the puzzle. Kotapish's prose reads like a poem -- the novel is sheer joy to read -- and she wisely crafts a protagonist who does not take herself too seriously. This is a book worth remembering.


Find it here on

Monday, February 15, 2010

Church Cookbook, Part III

I love potlucks. Mostly because I like sitting around and visiting. I seem to have gifted my new family with the Kendall tendency to being the last ones out the door at any church function!

It's interesting the kind of food people bring to potlucks. For a lot of church members, potluck is a place for special dishes. Not the sliced sirloin with mushroom cream sauce, or the fancy genoise with raspberry-chocolate ganache filling -- but the kind of dishes that are fairly simple to prepare, will survive a morning in Tupperware or the crock pot -- and that taste so delicious that, at the end of the meal, the cook hardly has to clean out the casserole dish. People bring to potlucks the kind of food they like to eat.

Where I come from (the South, y'all!), that means gooey, for the desserts and the meal. The potluck table would always have two or three hashbrown casseroles (frozen potatoes -- cream soup -- Cheddar cheese -- cracker topping), at least that many pots of macaroni and cheese (every church lady had her own recipe!), chicken and dressing casserole, chicken and noodle casserole, vegetable casserole -- anything that you could slap in a casserole dish with cream soup, cheese, and cracker crumb topping, it was pretty much guaranteed to be there. There might be a vegetable casserole -- a dish of corn -- maybe some green beans or blackeye peas, or a salad.

Here in Des Moines -- not so much. I've only been to potlucks at our new church, Redeemer PCA, so I don't know if our church is typical of the region. But at the monthly potluck dinner, DH and I are likely to find curry (!), pasta salad, green salad, meatballs, roasted carrots. Maybe one dish of macaroni and cheese or spaghetti casserole. If anyone wants to speculate on why, let me know!

With that monster lead-in, how about another Southern Church Cookbook special? This is actually (gasp) a SALAD.

Of sorts.


1 can English peas, drained
2 boiled eggs, chopped
1/2 small onion, chopped
3-4 dill pickles, chopped
4 oz Velveeta, cubed
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 tablespoons sour cream
Combine all ingredients. Chill and serve.

This might not be so bad if you actually LIKE mayonnaise and American cheese (I don't!).

Thursday, February 11, 2010

I'm Not Short! I'm Just On the Short Side of Average!

It's true, y'all. Anyway I was trying to come up with a clever pun to introduce a recipe and that was the best I could come up with. FAIL.

This SHRIMP recipe was first prepared for my family by my Great-Aunt Jean, when we visited her and my Uncle Whit in Pensacola. I don't remember if we had it on the trip when I was 4-ish, or the trip when I was 11-ish. We did not prepare it often growing up (shrimp is expensive if you don't live next to the ocean!), but it was always a favourite. Now that I think of it, it's around Mardi Gras time, so something Creole should be appropriate, right?

This is pretty close to Aunt Jean's recipe, but I've made a few changes to suit our taste. Actually, I googled Shrimp Creole recipes, and people put ALL kinds of stuff in this. Chicken broth -- interesting. Mustard and bay -- might actually be worth a try. Bacon -- sure, if you want Shrimp Creole that tastes like bacon. I don't. Heavy cream -- s c a r y. This is a simple, fast, very fresh and clean-tasting version. It's not even really hot, unless you add lots of hot sauce. Which I did.

Serves: 4 (large helpings)
Preparation time: 35 - 45 minutes

1 tablespoon olive oil (or vegetable oil)
1 medium onion, chopped 
2 stalks celery, chopped (you can totally leave this out if you don't have any)
1 large green bell pepper, chopped
2 - 3 cloves garlic, minced
Salt to taste
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
Good shake or two (or three, or four) Tabasco sauce -- to taste
1 can (28 oz) diced tomatoes, with juice
1 can (8 oz) tomato sauce -- or use tomato paste and a little water
Large or jumbo frozen, peeled and deveined shrimp -- however much you think four people will eat (I always use less than the recipe calls for, because shrimp is freaking expensive). 
1/2 cup good red wine

Heat oil in a big old pot. (If you have been married for less than a year, a big new pot is acceptable.) Add onion, celery, and bell pepper and cook until soft (about 7 minutes). Add garlic and cook another few seconds, till fragrant. Stir in sugar, chili powder, Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco, and tomatoes. Bring to a boil; simmer, uncovered, 15 - 25 minutes, or until it gets thick and saucy. (My aunt's recipe calls for thickening with cornstarch. I haven't bothered the past few times I've made this. Dinner survived beautifully.)

At this point, if you've forgotten to get your shrimp out of the freezer, you might want to run them under cold water until they don't stick together anymore.

Stir in thawed (or close enough) shrimp and wine. Up the heat a bit and cook another few minutes. That's another FEW minutes -- as in, 3 - 5 max. Any longer and you'll get Shrimp-Flavoured Chewing Gum Creole.

Serve over hot white rice, with plenty of Tabasco.
Fresh or frozen green beans -- not canned -- are a great accompaniment. Cornbread is also awesome.
This makes a beautiful dinner. Save the heavy cream for an awesome dessert!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

How Do You Pray?

We were in Matthew 14 Sunday -- the passage where Jesus walks out on the water to a boatful of seriously freaked-out disciples. By the time their master approaches them, the disciples are in a bad state. Stormy weather, scary sea, and on top of everything, it's "the fourth watch of the night" -- between 3 and 6 am. It's the darkest part of the night, and the disciples are exhausted from hours of rowing.

It's also, as Pastor Larson pointed out, the time of night right before dawn.

If I were my mom I'd have a Deep, Encouraging Yet Also Somehow Hilarious Message about what the gospel means to the really, really dark times in life. Instead, I'm going to talk about how much I hate winter. Y'all, it is definitely the Fourth Watch of the Winter here. And it is not pretty. I'm holding out hope for spring, because I know it's coming, but meanwhile I crawl around the apartment like a lethargic snake. I avoid looking out the window. And I snarl at my poor, patient husband.

Because I have the soul of a poet (at least I use that as my excuse for being messy), I get depressed pretty easily. I've always prayed a lot. I'm pretty good about praying for the people I love, because I think about them a lot. But this winter, God has really convicted me that WAY too much of my praying is nothing but self-indulgence.

We probably all have a friend who will call and talk for hours about how she's doing, and somehow never gets around to asking what's going on in our life. Well, a lot of the time, that's me talking to God. My days are filled with "Lord, I feel awful, please help me, please remind me of your goodness, please help me trust you and hang on here," et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

That, my friends, is LAME.

So my latest strategy is not just to stand in the living room moaning to Jesus about how unhappy I am, and how awful I feel because I'm such a worthless, ungrateful, whiny human being. Instead, I go into the bedroom, and I take out my current Black Book, and I start by writing a page of things that I am genuinely grateful for. Not things I should be grateful for, things I am grateful for. And then I pray. First I thank God for all his gifts, and then I confess my stinky attitude, and then just talk about whatever I need to.

So I still am mildly depressed a lot of the time, but I find myself with a lot more peace, and so much, much, much gratitude. I know being more deliberate about my prayers is really a no-brainer. This post isn't a How-To -- it's a Thank You.

Because after filling a lot of pages in my Black Book with "grateful lists," I am overwhelmed by the people God has put into my life. Family, friends, church family -- even the people I am only beginning to know. I have been so surrounded by love.

Sure, I'm grateful for all the stuff, but mostly I'm grateful for the people. If you're reading this, that probably means you.

So I just wanted to let you know. Thank you.

God is very good.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Jesus is the Real Chocolate

Happy birthday to my Dear Husband!

Growing up, there was always an index card taped to the door of a kitchen cabinet -- the one my Mom looked at every day as she prepared meals, wiped down the counter, picked up (AGAIN) all the toys and papers and miscellaneous junk that we kids somehow never got around to putting away. Over time the ink on the index card faded until you could hardly read it, but I had seen the card so often that I remembered the words without even looking at them:

"But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ.

"More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ." (Philippians 3:7-8, NASB)

I don't presume to say anything about what these verses meant to my Mom. That is her story. But to me -- let's just say that I am a perfectionist, and a legalist. For a long time I thought that being righteous meant giving things up for God. You saved me -- I owe you -- I don't really have anything I can give you -- but I can suffer loss for you. Everything that I want or enjoy, that I give up, is paying you back a little bit. Somehow, everything that is taken from me adds to my virtue. If you asked me, I could tell you that this mindset was not the truth -- but in my heart, it's what I believed.

That is NOT what God says. That is NOT the Gospel. The Gospel is not about suffering loss, or giving things up -- it is about gaining Christ. And what pleases God is not that I take satisfaction in my own sacrifice or loss, but that I be overwhelmed with delight in the amazing thing I have been given -- that I rejoice with "a joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory."

From the prophecies of Isaiah (read 35, 51, 55), to the angels' message to the shepherds in Bethlehem, to the teachings of Jesus Himself, the message of all the ages of God's interactions with His people is that Christ Himself is our joy. He brings us back into a relationship with the Father. He loves us with an unshakeable love. Christ is how we can adore God as our hearts long to.

When you find a treasure so beautiful it gives you that kind of joy, it isn't loss to sell everything you had before

Imagine you spent your whole life craving chocolate. You buy Hersheys kisses and M&Ms. You have one of those instant pudding cup-things after every meal. You drink hot chocolate by the bucketful. You even clip pictures of death-by-chocolate cakes from magazines and tape them to your wall. Somehow, it's never quite good enough.

Then someone gives you a bar of this stuff:
and you realize why none of your magazine pictures or Hershey's milk chocolate ever satisfied you.

Should this cake happen?