National Chocolate Day

Photo from eofdreams.com

Photo from eofdreams.com

I hit a real low this weekend, getting a wee cold and a touch of flu.  When your sleep deficit stretches into weeks, you get worn down. It accumulates, like fallen leaves in a gutter. Your immune system can’t function at optimal levels.  You catch whatever is lying in wait to ambush unsuspecting human hosts. I say “a touch”, because by yesterday, I felt better. As in, do-all-the-laundry-and-fold-it  feeling better. Nothing like the flu of 2010-11 where I was down for a month.  Nyquil came to my rescue, facilitating peaceful sleep and amazingly vivid dreams.   Today I even managed a little workout besides taking the stairs.

This illness made me push the reset button.  My thoughts and attitudes have been stinky. I need more Jesus. Again. When you’re down with the ick, you have time to think. I reached the end of my  “goodness”.  I saw some – not all – of what’s wrong with me. Folks, it wasn’t pretty.   I’m digging into the Bible.  I’m not following any set plan, but I find I need the Word like a drowning man needs a lifeboat. I want to gain something tangible this time.  I’ve written before about how I’ve never felt like the Bible was for me.  It’s always seemed like it belonged to other people, namely my parents and other spiritual leaders in my life. Most times, I felt like it spoke at me but not to me.

Serendipitously, this is also National Chocolate Day.  Though if you’re anything like me, you eat chocolate regularly, dare I say religiously.  You don’t need a special day to commemorate this hallowed food. Nay, I say! I would eat it in the rain, and I would eat it on a plane…Yeah.  It’s that good. I plan on eating some today, in fact.

Yet even more than that, I want to taste the sweetness of God’s Word. I’ve functioned for a long time at low levels, picking up whatever bad attitude came into my thoughts or activities. My spiritual immune system has suffered for lack of spending time digesting the Bible and in the presence of Jesus.  It satisfies me more than a hunk of dark chocolate on a wet and wild day. I need its truth to go down into my innermost places and heal what’s broken.

Taste and see that the LORD is good. Oh, the joys of those who take refuge in him! – Psalm 34:8

Haikus and True Confessions

I was having a hard time coming up with a topic for today’s blog.  My husband, bless his heart, thought I should write a haiku based on the words in my tagline. But I thought you, dear reader, might need more than that from me today.  Seeing as how it’s Tuesday and all.  Hence the confessions to follow.

My tagline reads Christianity.  Coffee. Chocolate.

Ok.

Christianity
Learning to die daily, we
arise to love now.

Coffee:  black, sweetened,
with cream, iced, blended, strong, mild
How don’t I love thee?

Chocolate, dusky joy
On my tongue. Siren song of
sweet bliss.  Marry me!

Whew!  Hey, I never said they were good. Now that’s out of the way, on to the meat of the matter.

Despite my best intentions, I have not been able to live life sugar-free.  I’m living with less sugar.  But I’m not avidly reading every label anymore. I try to eat with more intention. I don’t want an adversarial relationship with any food, except maybe lima beans.  That being said, I have never, ever forgotten to eat.  I have several friends who tell me they do on a regular basis.

I simply found life much less fun without the occasional cookie, pie or slice of cake.  No, I don’t eat them all the time.  But Cookie Monster is on to something.

The other confession I must make is that I stopped my 8-month Professor Horner Bible reading plan.  It simply made no sense to me.  I started out reading Matthew 1, Joshua 1, Job 1, Proverbs 1, Psalm 1, Acts 1, Matthew 1, 1 Corinthians 1, Romans 1, Genesis 1.  I found myself unable to concentrate reading such a disjointed plan.  I didn’t remember from day to day what happened or what truths lay in the previous chapter. I kept dropping the thread of the story or theme.  I found myself simply going through the motions, making notches on my invisible belt.  Ten chapters a day is nothing to sneeze at.  I think I would have gotten more out of ten contiguous chapters, like in the 3-month Bible reading plan.  Now that I’ve quit, it’s as if a great weight rolled off my shoulders.

My alternative is to read as I feel led.  Doing it this way feels like free-falling to me; I’m excited and wee bit terrified at the same time.  Won’t you join me?

 

 

That’s What It’s All About

Ted

So, I’ve been getting the feeling it’s never been about sugar, or fat, or salt.  Giving those things up can be helpful.  My waistline thanked me for eating less sugar.

But God didn’t care.I know!  Here I am, willing to lay down the beautiful, tantalizing sugar.  It sparkles so beautifully in the bowl!  Makes everything taste just a bit better.

But God didn’t care.

He has always wanted my heart.  Sugar, like other good things, can get in the way.  If I spend more time lusting after the chocolate than desiring to spend time with Jesus and hear his voice, guess what?  I have a new idol.  What is an idol anyway?

An idol, according to the Free Online Dictionary is “an image used as an object of worship; a false god”, or, my personal favorite “one that is adored, often blindly or excessively.”  Yes.  That’s it, in a peanut M&M shell.

I’m willing to extend this a bit further.  The idols offer good things, at first.  They make us feel good.  Running does it for me.  Chocolate numbs the pain.  Coffee can improve my mood. Coffee + chocolate…well, need I say more?

Let me make this clear:  None of these things are bad in and of themselves.  It’s what we do with them that counts.  Like people who say money is the root of all evil, when money is only a tool.  Money can’t be inherently bad or good.  It simply is.  What we use it for matters.  When we choose it above people or conscience and everything else, it becomes elevated to a place of reverence in our lives.  For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the true faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows. – 1 Timothy 6:10

When I turn *to* any one of these things – money, chocolate, running – instead of God first, it becomes an idol to me.  In that moment, I am worshiping a different god.  I am committing idolatry.  Money, chocolate and running exist in this world.  They can each be enjoyed, savored even, but they can’t take God’s place in our lives.  Ever.  They will forever play second fiddle to the love of God burning in our hearts.  Take it from someone who has made running and working out, fitness and weight loss very significant idols in her past.

As the rays of the sun fade away, I am reminded anew of how I need to be vigilant with guarding my heart and letting Jesus be first.

I realize this is not a fun-loving post. But hey – I hit Christianity, coffee and chocolate all in one post!  And please know I am telling myself this at the same time. I know some of you may disagree with me and buck at my strong conviction. Where is God’s grace? you may ask.  This may prove controversial to some.  All I ask is that you consider what I’m saying.  His grace remains, as does his His love.  But He is a jealous God.  He wants all of us.

The Chocolate Cross

Jesus didn't die on this.

Jesus didn’t die on this.

Cotton candy trees
Cherry blossoms, pink and white
Lacy, pale and soft

Today is Good Friday.  And it’s *really* good here.  It’s sunny.  It’s pushing 60 degrees.  The cherry trees, all of a sudden, have fully bloomed.  They’re uptown and downtown and all around and yet they all open at the same time.  It’s sort of miraculous.  Are they all interlinked in a sort of flowering-tree underground network?  I want to know.

The kids got out 3 hours early again today, a decent headstart on spring break.  I picked Ruby up and we headed to the dollar store.  I was looking for something very specific, which they didn’t have.  Ruby, consummate saver, had money to burn.  She wanted to buy “toys”.  Generally, dollar store toys are crap.  Pardon my French.  Actually, that particular word sounds much better in French, but I digress.  I tried to steer her away from buying anything she might like to touch repeatedly, since these plastic items tend to break upon contact.  No dice.

She bought a bunch of stuff:  scotch tape 2-packs(one for her and one for us), two pudding packs, a butterfly pen, a wind-up yellow chick, a stick-bird-thing with bright blue feathers and a beak (quickly passed to her friend), a plastic bag full of multicolored plastic Easter eggs.  In all, she spent just over $9.  Not a princely sum, but  a lot for a 7-year-old.

We got home, after picking up Zac from school.  He stayed after to finish up an essay and the consequent bibliography.  He devoured his lunch in the car while we finished our errands.  Finally, we headed home.

I sat down here, intending to write about Good Friday and the great gift of Jesus’ suffering that set us free.  I intended to wax eloquent about His humanity and how he felt our pain and separation while He hung on the cross.

Ruby came up to me.  I stifled a sigh.  Foiled again.

“Mom, I want to give this to Zac,” she said.  She held up a yellow rectangular package.  In the package was a cross, embellished with lilies and flourishes, made out of milk chocolate.  I didn’t even remember her buying it.  And I’m not certain they’re sanctioned by the church.  So don’t tell anyone.

My heart melted, much like chocolate.

“I need a bag,” she finished.

I kissed her little head and we hunted up a gift bag.

Again, I am reminded of Jesus’ gift of salvation.  We didn’t even know we wanted it, needed it desperately – but He gave it anyway.

Zac doesn’t “need” the chocolate, but it’s a tangible reminder of a little sister’s love for her big brother.  Zac will remember Ruby’s gift  long after it’s gone.  Just like every Easter, we remember Christ’s love for us.

Serendipity

zinnias

It was an early release day. That means three extra hours of freedom for the schoolchildren in our district.  Both kids are home.  Zac is on the computer.  His visiting neighbor friend is on the x-box.  They’re playing the same game, chatting across their made-up worlds.  Zac, the known master of the game, offers help to his friend now and then.  They discuss strategy and school.

The girls are outside – Ruby and her friend.  They’re making a bird bath.  I hear their voices, bossing each other and laughing.  They pretend all kinds of games, with princesses and babies and animals.  They dig in the dirt, making tunnels or possibly mock graves.  I can’t quite make out the stories, only the joyful treble voices.

Sometimes, the best days have no plans in them.  I’ve gotten all my work done so I could enjoy the kids and just be available.  Miraculously, they’ve found their own entertainment.

Today, the clouds parted.  Lo, the sun appeared.  The temperature soared into the 50s.  It’s a beautiful day.

But it wasn’t on the schedule.  I find myself lazing in a chair by the window, looking outside every few minutes.  It’s like I’ve somehow gotten ensconced inside a bright blue Easter egg.  It’s Susan through the Looking Glass or somesuch. If so, I never want to leave.  Especially if there’s chocolate in here somewhere.

I look at a glossy magazine, reading the stories or not.  Rex lounges in a blue wing chair next to me, dozing and stretching. Occasionally, he peers at me out of one golden eye.  He’s making sure I’m behaving. I am his meal ticket, after all.  Chloe, no dummy, is hiding someplace where the girls can’t find her

I had anticipated a long afternoon of dress-up (girls) and video games (boys), filled with a bit of quarreling due to staying indoors due to the weather.  Instead, I’ve found a feast for the eyes, both indoors and out.  Bliss.

Love is a Many Splendored Thing

I have never heard the song.  But here.

Okay, not that I listen to it, I recognize the tune.  But that’s it.  I think perhaps I had a windup toy that played it as a child.  Go figure.

True confession:  I had to turn it off, even with Nat King Cole singing it.  Sad.  Perhaps if they did a ska version…

Our all-purpose English word, love, makes many applications of it possible. I love a lot of things.  On this high holy day of all things pink and heart-y, chocolate comes to mind.  Dark chocolate.  With or without mix-ins, I’m in.  I love coffee*.  I’m not sure how I would function without that lovely brew. I love roses and lilies and cats and music.  Sometimes, I love them all at once.

Jonathon and I have discussed the nature of love in friendships many times.  Each of us have friends of the opposite sex.  He works with pretty much all women and they’ve become good friends to him.  Sometimes, he even buys them treats to cheer them up.  Not flowers, people.  Candy, or a soda or something.  He appreciates who they are and how hard they work.  They get discouraged by the bureaucracy and frustrated with process.  He wants them to know their efforts matter.  And also…in some cases, he’s their boss.  No, not directly, but he’s in charge of online learning.  So when it’s his project they’re working on, what they contribute directly impacts his success.  The fact that they’re female does not inhibit his friendship towards them.  He doesn’t want to sleep with them.

Am I jealous of this?  No.  Jonathon brings me flowers.  He comes home to me every night.  I’m blessed enough to be married to him for 20 years now. We started out as friends and now we’re friends with benefits and a covenant.  Woot!

I have male friends, too.  I enjoy them very much.  I hesitate to tell them I love them because of how it would be construed. Love can be a confusing word as well, implying commitment, and all sorts of other attachments. I’ve written a sort of homage to men friends already, anyway.  Besides, talking about feelings is icky!  Jonathon asserts our culture has redefined love as sex.  So, if I show affection, it’s easily misconstrued as “let’s get it on”.  I believe our Christian subculture has done the same.  “Women are fer mating, matey!  Not for friends.” This is not always the case, but enough that it makes me wary.  It makes men wary, too, I reckon.

Today, I’m looking around at the love in my life and I’m grateful. I am glad for family and friends and all their kindness and insight brings to me.  Love does not have to be romantic or flowery.  It just is. I Corinthians 13 sums it up marvelously.  I may not tell you directly how I feel because we simply don’t have a good word for meaningful platonic affection towards someone of the opposite sex, but it’s there all the same.  Alas, I can’t use bromance.  Happy Valentine’s Day!

*Today’s post was fueled by a second cup of coffee.  All hail!

Mystery Ingredients!

I’m reading a lot of mystery novels lately.  Namely, ones my mom brought me by a Diane Mott Davidson.  They feature a caterer named Goldy Schulz who seems to have a knack for solving crimes by snooping and ruminating on the clues while cooking delectable dishes. Along the way, she asks and gets answers from all kinds of normal-seeming and unsavory types.  She also seems to get physically injured pretty badly each time – concussions, falls, hit-and-runs and nasty gashes. All this, plus loads of espresso and chocolate delights, too!  She believes that imbibing caffeinated beverages (always loaded with heavy cream) and ingesting chocolate in some form give her increased mental abilities.  I’m inclined to agree.  Bring on the truffles!

I also like that she’s got a teenage son who gives her heck all the time.  His character, Arch, seems very real and close to home, since I have an almost-teen myself.  He’s no angel. He struggles to find his place in the world with a hardworking, clueless mom, new policeman stepdad (who also cooks, huzzah!), and a felonious father.  I only say Goldy is clueless from his perspective.  Let’s just say if Zac talked to me the way Arch does to his mom…Well…you get the picture.

She has a successful catering business called Goldilocks Catering, Where Everything is Just Right!, serving the wealthy clientele of Aspen Meadows and beyond, a fictional town set in the Colorado high country.  Sure, they treat her badly, due to class differences and their own, it seems, rampant self-centeredness; Goldy is used to that.  The part that bugs me is how often and how badly Goldy gets injured. It’s a bit unnerving, because only her best friend, husband and son seem to care.  I’m thinking, Anybody see a pattern here?!  She soldiers on, never taking anything stronger than ibuprofen for bruised ribs or back spasms.  Really?!  Doctor visits?  Anyone? Doesn’t Goldy ever get tired of being used as a punching bag?  Ever read Boundaries?

Because of Goldy’s love affair with coffee and chocolate, unruly curly hair and a few extra pounds that make her, in her own words “pudgy”, she is a likeable character.  She gets in over her head trying to help people, even her abusive ex-husband who was framed for murder. She tries to “do it all”, like so many of us women.  We love her for it.

And what of Tom, her policeman husband?  He’s steady, reliable, kind, and protective.  He warns her repeatedly to leave the investigating to him.  But does she?  Oh no.  He realizes he’s like a broken record (if any of you young ‘uns get that analogy) but loves her anyway.  He can be tough and assertive when he needs to be but has a few foibles of his own.  Like going to the hardware store for an entire day and spending only a dollar.  It’s a gift, my friends.

All of these characters are key ingredients in a good story.  I like to cook, too, though I’m no sleuth. I’m going to make one of the featured recipes in her book Chopping Spree today. It’s my last book.  Good thing Mom arrives today.  She’s my book-pusher.  She will  provide another fix.  And if the new books are anything like this one, I’ll be drooling in no time.