Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Christmas Music Memories

I'm supposed to be editing right now, but I made the mistake of playing soft Christmas music in the background, and now I'm daydreaming.....

I remember a quiet Christmas season evening about 17 years ago. Ron and I were dating. It was cold outside, and remnants of a fire glowed in his fireplace. All was dark, except for hundreds of twinkling white lights on the tree. Music played softly as we kissed. He wrapped an arm around me, and we gazed in silence at the tree laden with glinting ornaments.

I remember looking at him and knowing, really knowing.....I want to marry this man. I would be privileged to marry this man.

The moment was magical and romantic. I can still hear the music, see the lights, feel his warm kiss.

And I'm teary-eyed again, daydreaming of a treasured Christmas night.....

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Cranberry Confessions

I have a secret that's shameful for a self-described foodie. I confess.....I like Ocean Spray canned whole berry cranberry sauce. And even worse for a epicurean, I serve it every Thanksgiving.

FoodTV recently aired a segment with celeb chefs mocking the awfulness of canned cranberry sauce. Bobby Flay jokingly said that he slices it, every third can-imprinted ridge.

But to me, the taste is just right.....tangy but not tart, mildly but not sickly sweet. The berries are juicy and fresh, and the texture is firm...neither runny and watery, nor gluey jello-hard. It has the delicious consistency of homemade preserves.

The day after Thanksgiving, I mix leftover cranberry sauce with chopped red onions, to make cranberry salsa....a sparkling spread for post-holiday turkey sandwiches.

And as long as I'm confessing, here goes.....I store a half dozen cans of Ocean Spray cranberry sauce for cakes, muffins, sauces and even gravies during the non-holiday months. When people invariably ask me to identify the secret, tangy ingredient, I just smile and say they'd never believe it.....

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

White Family Thanksgiving Feast Menu

By annual popular demand, the White family Thanksgiving feast menu, which has a Southwestern-citrus flair this year, except for dessert, which is Ron's favorite.

Roast turkey infused with southwestern flavors (lemon, cumin, cilantro and garlic)
Lime cilantro sweet potatoes
Peas in butter sauce
Freshly baked cornbread with chiles and corn
Whole berry cranberry sauce
French apple pie with French vanilla ice cream
We pray that you and your loved ones enjoy the blessings of a
Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 21, 2005

Learning Lessons from Aging Parents

Each new stage of adult life.... independence, work, marriage, children, our first grandchild .... has brought me new understanding of my parents and later, my in-laws.

I remember my father trudging home from work, bulging briefcase in hand, flopping down in his roomy armchair after dinner to work for several more hours. We knew not to disturb him. He had important things to do, and he needed silence. My brother, sister and I wondered if we could be as important as work. Decades later, I appreciated that he labored long and hard to support his young family....and that it wasn't easy.

I learned that a solid marriage takes effort, and it gave me retroactive insight into my parent's sometime-rocky, emotionally volatile marriage. I don't know the specifics of their long-ago marital struggles, and it's none of my business. They worked through tough times, and kept their marriage intact. On November 25, they celebrate their 57th wedding anniversary, and in April, my in-laws marked 53 years of marriage.

I learned that, even with easy-going children, parenting is challenging, puzzling, rewarding, exhausting, exhilirating and infuriating...sometimes all in the same day. From the vantage point of my 40s, I looked back at my parents and not only forgave them their impatience and seeming indifference, but gained new admiration for their steady wisdom and dogged determination to raise a responsible, God-fearing family.

And grandchildren. As a parent, I secretly felt a twinge of jealousy when my parents lavished time, attention and affection on my children....far in excess of what I thought I received from them. But now I have a granddaughter, and I understand that special, overflowing love. I dote on her, in part, to remember the early years of parenting our children. I savor her precious smiles and sweet, clinging hugs, and once again breathe deeply of new, innocent life.
We returned late last night from a brief but intense visit with my in-laws. They live in another state, and we see them infrequently. Too infrequently, and it's our fault.

They're both close to 80, and not healthy, physically or emotionally. They reside in a private cocoon of comfort, and have difficulty dealing with the outside world. Change is close to impossible. They were happy to see us, but overwhelmed with anticipation. It's hard for them to have us visit, and even harder to not see us regularly.

My father-in-law's mood ricochets daily between anger over dozens of small incidents and tiny unintended slights, to a desire to talk and be closer to us. My mother-in-law is tired and weak from recent lung surgery, but worries about the house, the meals, the dishes. By the end of our visit, both were competitvely preoccupied with how much and how long we visit other family members. They were deeply pained that we have plans to spend Christmas elsewhere, even though we have no Christmas tradition with them.

Ron was saddened last night. He feels powerless to help them feel better. They seem unhappy and discontent, except with each other in a world of their making. Today, we understand more clearly than ever that nothing we do will totally please them. We spent every minute being with them, talking, listening, laughing, caring, and let them plan every moment of our visit. Of course, we did all chores they would permit us to perform (and a few extra). Some household tasks they just wouldn't relinquish.

But our lives remain a thousand miles apart, ours in Southern California, theirs in Northern Nevada. And family is nearby.....their other son, a sister and brother-in-law, nieces and nephews, and oodles of adorable great- nieces and nephews. They have good healthcare, plenty of money and a lovely home. They no longer have a mission, though, or interests. They've stopped traveling; they've stopped visiting old friends; they no longer attend church.

We feel guilty, I suppose, and so we're selfishly making this about our feelings. We tried this weekend, though, and we truly hope they enjoyed our visit. We want to do more, have more, be more for them. But it's beyond our control......they're in God's hands, not ours.

I just wonder....when I'm 80, will I have a new appreciation for my aging in-laws and parents? Will I learn lessons from their experiences? Will it take me walking in their shoes before I feel 100% loving toward them in their struggles with aging?

Lord, please help me to see and love them with Your grace, and not my judgmental eyes.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Thanksgiving, the Fast-Food Way

The National Restaurant Association reports....

"One in 10 Americans opts for a Thanksgiving feast without the work by celebrating Thanksgiving Day dining out, according to National Restaurant Association research.

Those seeking an escape from cooking without sacrificing tradition also have the option to complement their at-home meals with restaurant-prepared turkeys and side dishes for takeout. In fact, more than half of all Americans supplement their meals with ready-to-eat takeout items."

My grandmother is rolling over in her grave at this modern turn of events.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Happy Birthday to Me!

Today is my birthday, and I am 54 years old. I will be spending it in the most delightful way....relaxing, drinking coffee and reading alone this morning, spending the afternoon with my six-month-old granddaughter, and enjoying a favorite dinner tonight with family.

My health is good, although I need to lose weight. My work is satisfying, although I'm certainly not compensated enough for it. My family is a treasure, although we don't often see many members who live at a distance. My walk with God is strong and ever-growing, but we're in the midst of a church change.

Like all people, I used to think that birthdays were about receiving.....presents, meals, being feted. And don't get me wrong.....I love those things. Rituals and celebrations are important to the joyful human existence.

But as I get older, I realize that the riches of life are found in small moments and simple joys, and that fulfillment comes in loving and giving, not just in being loved. I recently realized that, except for the physical twinges and pains of growing older, I love being 54. Age brings the blessings of wisdom and peaceful contentment, and the realization that life, by Design, is never perfect.

Happy birthday to me!

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Of Seductive Trappings

I had a dream last night that a darkly magnetic, thirtyish man wanted to court me. (I assume I was 20 years younger...age wasn't an issue.) He was quiet and subtly caring, with smoldering chemistry. I liked him, and was attracted to him. He felt trustworthy, although not warm. We courted for months, and I fell a bit more under his spell with each chaste date.

We were sitting in different corners of a room one day. He rose and looking into my eyes. asked if he could kiss me. Yes, I said. He bent down, and kissed me lightly, sensuously, seriously. His soulful kisses were seductive and emotional for me.

My heart fluttered, my mind swooned. I was reeling with attraction to him.

He stood up and pulled out a shrink-wrapped black book. He solemnly handed it to me,and left the room.

I looked down at the book. The front cover said, in rich gold letters, "The Book of Mormon."

I knew I could not be his.
This is not a dream about wanting to date or leave my marriage. and it is not specifically about the Mormon church.

It's a dream about knowing who I am not, religiously, regardless of the seductive trappings.

(And yes, I really had this dream last night, and I have faithfully recounted it.)

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Musings and a Question on Changing Churches

We've been thinking about changing churches. For the past six months we've been attending an evangelical Lutheran (ELCA) church a few miles from our home. We were attracted to it by its lively worship, welcoming programs for high schoolers, and the many opportunities to serve others.

The people are welcoming and warm, but thankfully, they won't chase you to your car to recruit you or breathlessly ask if you've yet accepted Jesus.

It's a down-to-earth,comfortable bunch. On Sundays at the second service, the church is filled with people dressed in "business casual" as well as t-shirts and shorts. (It's rare at most churches these days to see men in suits and women dressed to the "nines," as was the case in my youth.)

The pews are filled with young and old, middle aged and middle schoolers. There are twentysomething couples with hair I personally don't understand, and a subtle tattoo or two I don't want to understand. There are thirtysomethings in trendy attire, freshly brewed Starbucks in hand. There are families with squirmy young children, and empty-nesters beaming in their childlessness. The pews are filled with the pretty and not-so-pretty.....attractiveness and style of dress are not a prerequisite for belonging. There's one rumpled, elderly man with a frizzy crown of white-gray hair who serves as usher. It gives him purpose, and everyone knows him.

The two middle-aged pastors are likewise warm and friendly, and seem to recognize all faces and names. They preach of service and helping others, of health and moderation in all things, of building a medical clinic in Africa and of a summer mission trip to Brazil, of faithfulness in worship and Bible study. They preach of peacemaking and social justice, and at all times, express their personal imperfections and frailties.

There is no bureaucratic kingdom teeming with assistants and associates, fancy program designers and singles/recreation/recovery/divorce/young married/seniors/small group ministry specialists. Just two experienced, hands-on pastors, a couple administrative employees and an empty high school pastor slot being filled by two local seminary students. And hundreds of "partners in ministry" (not the archaic "members") teaching Sunday School, leading Bible study, serving coffee and donuts, greeting at the Welcome Center and much more.

It's actually not a small church. Sunday attendance at the three services may reach 800 or more, and the membership roster lists 1,500 to 2,000 names.

Akin to dating, we're taking our time to get to know the church. Truthfully, we're pondering joining this congregation as a "partner in ministry," but we're not so sure about joining a big denomination again, and don't know much about committing to be a Lutheran.
You see, until four and a half years ago, I had been a Presbyterian for all my almost-50 years. In the past 15 years, I became an ordained elder and ordained deacon in the Presbyterian Church (PCUSA). What I learned about denominational politics wasn't pretty. In fact at times and over many subjects, it was ugly, mean-spirited and cruel. Anything but loving and kind. ( Love is patient and kind....") Rolls for this 110-year-old church rapidly dwindled, and the music and style of worship were straight out of the 1950s. (All of the music.)

So the Holy Spirit led us to seek a new church in which to joyfully worship in the 21st century. Our then-elementary age daughter enjoyed a local evangelical semi-mega church, so we jumped in and joined.

But times have changed over the past four-plus years. As that semi-mega church became more politically active in quite conservative realms, it also also morphed in other ways.....it became uninvolved in and detached from local community affairs, and actually serves no local health or welfare (hunger, homeless, etc.) organizations in any meaningful, substantial or helpful way.

The millions in annual tithes go to three main areas: building maintenance, salaries for a growing multiplicity of staff, and overseas missions to evangelize, but not to provide assistance.

The church atmosphere is decidedly emotional, and church lay leaders emote during praise songs, and shout amen after salient sermon points. And to be deeply respected, you need to know the Bible very, very well. And vote Republican.

Here's the rub....campus facilities are lovely, the people are nice, and the music is divinely touching. And we have friends there. It's a community unto itself, and it takes care of its own. It's a very comfortable place...if you pass judgment.

But....it feels like delicious candy-coating around a center of air. There's no spiritual growth. There's no loving every neighbor as we love ourselves; it's about loving only neighbors who might become church members. There's little serving others outside the church "family." Pastors and church leaders will even state that their first goal is to build community within the church.

Our daughter is now a high school freshman, and in need of a creative, challenging church group. But the semi-mega church's high school group emphasizes parties, coolness, emotional logic, sports, fluff and lots of emotion. In the spirit of attracting numbers and "accepting" everyone, young women attendees dress and flirt provocatively, and young men attendees seem perpetually obsessed with horseplay and sports. Intellectual scholarship is shunned, and almost all attend local Christian colleges or junior college. High school leadership is generally limited to the children of staff.
So we made the difficult decision to look around elsewhere. Difficult to leave because we love some people there.....but difficult to stay because the spiritual meal is unsatisfying; difficult to stay because we often have to hide our views and perspectives, which don't always toe the church "family" line of acceptability.

We've remained active in a weekly small group, though, to keep in frequent touch with a handful of semi-mega churchers.

Last night, the small group met at our home. In preparation, we took days to clean and spruce up the house. (I confess...it was holiday cleaning, too.) I carefully prepared a lesson, and even distributed helpful read-aheads the week before. I made a yummy lemon dessert, and set a pretty table to serve all.

One family lost the read-aheads and never told us, and another hurriedly skimmed it in the car to our home. I discovered later that considerable tension exists between two couples, a state made palpably clear during the lesson. In consideration for all viewpoints, I attempted to serve as facilitator for discussion, but they just wanted to sit and be taught. Some members of the feuding families rushed out to their cars after the lesson, and never said thank you or good-bye. The evening was not a success, all things considered.

People behaving melodramatically, based on their feelings...it's a pattern at this semi-mega church. Frankly, it's tiresome and self-absorbed, and it gets in the way of spirituality and worship.

So I feel sad today, and at a loss. Inevitably, I guess we will lose touch with most of our semi-mega church friends. Yes, the semi-mega church environment is myopic and emotionally dysfunctional. And no, we don't fit in with the preferred model of a member.

Our daughter, a bright girl who can go to college wherever she chooses, needs and wants to be in an intellectually supportive and emotionally stable church group environment.

We desire to be in a church where the theology reflects the loving, serving Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace. And deep down, we know that God's plan is not about us being comfortable, hearing delightful music, and hanging with our friends.....God also planted in us a hunger to study, grow and serve.

But we're afraid to jump in again and "join" another church. How do we know that all is as it seems? I think we'll keep dating for a while, but perhaps take a more serious look at our date, with an eye to possible commitment. We're just not yet ready for marriage....

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Rosa Parks: Never Doubted the Presence of the Lord

"I can't think of any time when I actually doubted the presence of the Lord. There were times, of course, when I felt somewhat discouraged, but I don't dwell on anything negative when it comes to my life. I think negative attitudes are very destructive, so I think positively and have hope in the future and in those people who are willing to live good lives and do the very best that they can to help themselves and other people."

- Rosa Parks, as quoted by Christianity Today in April of 1995