Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Pound Cake, Pimento Cheese and Kryptonite

I grew up as part of the local church.  As an adult I have come to appreciate the incredible amount of support and stabilizing impact that the church provided to me growing up, but I still have had a skewed view of some of the ministries of the church.

I'm a Southerner and church in the South has some unique characteristics, one being food.  The church thinks food is the solution for any and all problems.  Somebody dies and the bereaved family's  house will be over run with gallons of sweet tea, pound cake, creamed corn, fried chicken and homemade pimento cheese sandwiches.  Go to the hospital or have a baby and here they come carrying casseroles and apple pies.  Visiting evangelist, missionaries and college students just home for the weekend have ended up being diagnosed as diabetic or having gall stones from all of the rich food that was thrust upon them.

Another characteristics is visiting the sick and the suffering.  If you end up in the hospital, then some little grey haired couple dressed in polyester will be at your bedside politely chatting and quietly putting pieces of wrapped up homemade pound cake on your night stand.  If a family member is in the ER, having surgery or in ICU, they show up out of the woodwork to come sit with you a spell.  They pat your shoulder and go get cups of hospital coffee for you.

Sending cards is another one of those things.  Cards will show up in your mailbox with the shaky script of some dear old saint who can't visit the hospitals anymore but she can put a card in the mail to just let your know that she has not forgotten you in the midst of the troubles you are experiencing.

The church hugs in all situations.  We hug when there is news of great joy.  We hug when there is grief or troubles.  We hug when we see you in the mall or on the other side of the gas pump at BP.  It is just one of those automatic things that we do.

In a world filled with desperate troubles and evil, I have often wondered how any of these things were of real value.  Were they just a temporary bandaid because we were really just kind of powerless in situations?

I have come to understand that these acts are true kindness and kindness is something that breaks strongholds.  Kindness steps into a situation and in her pocket she brings hope.  When kindness comes she also endues a measure of strength to sustain those that are struggling.  The enemy of our souls wants us to give up and hang it up.  He wants us to abandon our faith in the middle of our troubles so that we never make it past the hump to the joy and victory that our Savior has for us.  Those little ladies with the teased hair, those odd gentle folks that show up to minister and that person from your church that tracks you down in the grocery with the big smile and who is always trying to hug you are in reality super heroes.   Most of them have lived through some serious troubles and they know what it is like to suffer.  They have learned the power of compassion.  If you could see past their disguises, then you would know that sweet tea, homemade pound cake and those pimento cheese sandwiches are the enemy of our soul's kryptonite.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. 

Thursday, July 20, 2017

There's A Storm Blowing In

When I was a child, the front porch was a good place to get a little breeze and cool off a bit in the summer.  We had five huge poplar trees in the front yard.  Four of them were planted just right to work as permanent bases for  rousing games of kick ball.  There was an ancient cedar on the left side of the house and then numerous tall trees around the perimeter of our yard.  Our little house was nestled under those giants making for some great summer shade.

The front porch had Grandma's houseplants hanging from every conceivable place. She had lots of wandering Jew, devil's ivy and pots of mother in law's tongue.  Many of her plants she had kept alive for decades.  Each plant held some kind of memory for her as relatives and friends had passed along a rooting or cutting of each.  No one went to the plant nursery and bought house plants in those days.

We had an ancient metal couch and metal garden chairs on the front porch.  The furniture had been painted and repainted fifty times with every conceivable shade and little bits of color could be seen through the cracks in the paint.  The plethora of random colors always fascinated me.   The wooden slat porch floor was painted blue gray and for some reason it buckled slightly on the side opposite the front steps. The warped wood caused me a lot of consternation as a little girl.  Hydrangeas and snowball bushes grew up next to the porch hemming it in on both sides.

 A couple of pencil cedars stood sentinel in the front growing in hard almost barren soil.

The sturdy ornate screen door that led out to the porch had a brass handle and door knob and a spring that caused it to make a distinctive slamming noise as we went in and out of the house.  From the front porch one could see the Sutton's woods across the road and the two big mill stones that stood upright on each side of their driveway.  Our mailbox lurched slightly by the left side of the graveled driveway and a tall lone black walnut tree stood on the right by the road.

Nothing much changed in our house and yard.  The same shrubbery, black walnut tree, screen door, and mailbox were still there when we finally cleaned out the house to sell after my dad passed away in his 90's.  The metal couch and chairs were stolen from the front porch when he had to go to assisted living in the last few years of his life.  That furniture probably brought a couple of hundred bucks to the thieves but it contained the invaluable collective memories of thousands of days in our family history.

Some hot afternoons we would all be sitting on the porch listening to the crickets and cicadas when the sky would grow dark with storm clouds.  The wind would pick up and a sweet cool breeze would blow across that front porch.  The first big drops of rain would splatter hard against the ground and sometimes onto the porch, but we would linger smelling that musty good smell that a summer rain brings.  The winds would grow higher causing the trees to creak and bend. Sheets of rain would beat down hard until the summer green was barely visible through the gray of the rain.  Mama said it was time to go in when the thunder clapped loud and hard and the lightening strikes were close by.

Mama or Daddy would kill the breaker to the water heater for fear as they said  "that the lightening would run in on it." Often the power would be knocked off causing Mama and Grandma to light the kerosene lamps.  Storms were exciting and just a bit scary.  We unplugged everything electric in the house and we were weren't allowed to use the faucets for fear we would be electrocuted.  We were even admonished by an uncle not to use the toilet for the same reason.  We had a lightening rod beside the house.  My parents took storms seriously, maybe a bit too seriously.

The storm would rage but we would be snug and dry as we waited for the storm to pass.  We felt safe though.  We were with our parents and our grandma.  In our little white frame house we believed nothing could touch us.  The storms would howl and rage outside and the big trees around our house moved in tune with the wind.  Finally the storm would pass and the sun would shine again sparkling on the rivulets of water as gravity pulled them to the lowest spots.

Life has its storms as well.  They are coming no matter what we do to try and prevent them. We can do some damage control just like my parents did by seeking shelter and looking for ways to minimize the impact.   The storms of life do not have to destroy us.  They can cause us to seek shelter and find fellowship and help from our Father.  They can help us to gain the right perspective that we are not the ones in control.  They can even reveal something of beauty that we would never behold apart from the storm. One thing about a physical storm is that it comes in fast and hard threatening to undo us.  Usually within a short time, it has expended all of its fury and peace will return.  It is the same way with the storms of life, they will soon blow out their energy and be past as well. Until that happens we have an anchor, His name is Jesus.

This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls. It leads us through the curtain into God's inner sanctuary.

Be sober-minded and alert. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in your faith and in the knowledge that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering.
And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself restore you, secure you, strengthen you, and establish you. To Him be the power forever and ever. Amen.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Dirt Clods, Green Beans, and Potatoes

Daddy always had a big garden.  He really had two gardens.  The small one was around 50 feet long and 15 feet wide.  It was near the house on the other side of the cherry trees.  The big garden was several times bigger and was down past the barn and pasture.  In the big garden  he grew corn mostly but also lots of rows green beans, potatoes, field peas and whatever else struck his fancy.

Daddy was a hard worker but he could not keep up when it came time to plant or harvest.  That meant that everyone helped. My sisters and our grandma were the farm hands. Mama seldom worked in the garden although she was kept busy putting the produce up for the winter.  In the spring we walked along the rows dropping bean seeds, okra, butter peas and pieces of potato and then going back with a hoe to cover whatever we were planting. Cucumbers, squash and melons were planted in little hills.   We set out tomato plants, green peppers, and cabbages. We put little newspaper tents on the transplants to shield them from the sun until they were able to get established.  It was hard to water anything way down in the big garden.  Daddy put old milk cans full of water on the back of the wagon and we dipped the water out  of them to give each little plant a drink.  My granddaddy had at some point in his farming career sold milk to a local dairy and there were still several of the old metal milk cans on our property.  Daddy seldom threw anything away.  He just knew it would come in handy one day.  Later on Daddy would collect plastic milk jugs and fill them with water.  He would put a small hole in the bottom of the jug  to slowly water his tender young plants until they established a strong enough root system to make it.

Amazingly, Daddy seldom lost any of his plants regardless of the weather.  He didn't appear to be a master gardener and he seldom discussed his way of doing things.  He was incredibly knowledgeable about gardening but he had such an off hand way of handling himself that it just seemed natural that he produced huge crops without a lot of fanfare.  Someone with his skill today would be on You Tube giving tips on gardening success.  Daddy grew up farming as did so many of the people of his day.  Knowledge of the "dirt" came as natural as breathing to them.

 It was fun to find a ripe cantaloupe or a juicy watermelon. The watermelons were put in a big round tin wash tub that was filled with the cold well water.  When the melon cooled, it was cut into sections for us to eat.  We ate watermelon outside without utensils.  Juice dripped down our faces and arms and we spit seeds as we dug into the melon.  There was nothing civilized about it.

I liked gathering the tomatoes, peppers, and squash.   Most of it to had to be tended to every day. That kind of picking was fast and it didn't require a lot of tedious work.  Homegrown sun ripened  red tomatoes that are cut thick and made into sandwiches on fresh soft white bread are one of the world's best delicacies.

Pulling corn could be scratchy but there was always fun to be had in a stand of corn.  My sisters and I played a kind of tactical warfare in the cornfield.  We threw small hard dirt clods at each other and hid between the rows trying to keep from being clobbered.  I would still enjoy a good game of "dirt clods in the cornfield".  Nothing was better than corn on the cob that was shucked and thrown in the hot water while it was still fresh.  It was quite a feast salted and slathered in butter. Corn turns starchy the longer it is left.  Fresh from the stalk it is sugar sweet and tender.

Daddy planted long multiple rows of green beans.  Mama canned hundreds of jars of green beans and it seemed that we had them at every meal. It would not have surprised me to find them on the breakfast table next to the scrambled eggs and grits.  When it came time to pick, everyone was given the privilege.  It was a sweaty and back breaking chore to bend over a row of beans even as a child.  It was my least favorite gardening chore, probably because Daddy did not practice moderation in his planting of green beans.  We each got our own extremely long row and a brown paper sack.  The brown paper grocery sack was filled up and completely maxed out by the time we finished our row.  Then after picking, we had a party.  It was a green bean stringing and breaking party.

One of my favorite chores was picking up new potatoes.  After the vines had died, Daddy would take the tractor down the rows and dig up the potatoes.  Sometimes the tractor plow would slice through some of the potatoes.  Those we separated and used first.  The plow turned over the dirt and it gave off a wonderful aroma.  I love the smell of good dirt.  The dirt was slightly moist and cool.  We would walk barefoot in it and pick up the potatoes in bushel baskets.  When our basket was full, we dumped it in the back of the wagon.  We would work until almost dark and then Daddy would pull the wagon to the house with his Allis Chalmers tractor.  We would sit on the wagon as it bumped its way back to the house with our red clay streaked legs and feet swinging from the sides of the wagon.

Daddy grew food so that we could survive.  I don't think he knew that he was teaching us to work hard and to persevere.  Daddy didn't know what kind of troubles we would face as adults.  He didn't know that all of that sweat, slapping bugs and coming up from the fields dead tired was really building a backbone in us.   We learned to find small pleasures and fun in our work.  The only time we were ever paid was on rare occasions when our grandma would give us a dollar that she pulled out of her apron pocket but  mostly we experienced the reward of our work  giving us great tasting food.  Our work was meaningful. Mama and Daddy really needed our help to bring in the produce.

Those days were good.  We weren't always overjoyed when we were told that we needed to go work in the field, but it is still rewarding me today with a thousand life lessons and a good home ripened tomato is still way up there on the list as being one of the best foods in the world.