Posted in musings

Pentecost thoughts (a day late)

I learned this year (from Wikipedia, of all places) that the Jewish holiday corresponding to Pentecost commemorates the giving of the law on Mt. Sinai. (See Acts 2 for the Christian Pentecost story if you’re unfamiliar with it – it is when the Spirit first comes down upon the new church.) This makes sense, of course, since Easter corresponds to Passover and the deliverance of Israel from Egypt!

But it struck me as very fitting that the Holy Spirit should come down to indwell the church on the same day that God had given His law to His people, in light of the prophet Jeremiah:

 “Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant which they broke, though I was their husband,” says the LORD. “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” says the LORD: “I will put my law within them, and I will write it upon their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”

– Jeremiah 31:31-33

The external law, which was the binding condition of the old covenant, has been replaced in the new covenant by an internal law: by the direction and transforming power of the Holy Spirit living within God’s people – and so while the old covenant was broken by Israel’s disobedience, the new covenant can be fulfilled through the grace and power of God Himself, since He is now on both sides of the relationship. We no longer need to follow a list of rules, but rather to abide in Christ (which is not less, but more, than mere obedience), and it is the Spirit abiding within us that renders it possible.

And that great new hope, the beginning of the fulfillment of the wild promises of God to a wayward people, is why we celebrate Pentecost.

Posted in family life, phfr

{pretty, happy, funny, real} – easter 2016

Christmas is a relatively easy holiday to explain to small children, because it involves the birth of a baby, and little kids immediately relate to that and get excited about that. Easter, with its requisite understanding of death, is a bit harder. I didn’t try to heavy-handedly force the story down my kids’ throats this year; I just introduced the people and the events, and began to populate Holy Week with church and family traditions that will hopefully give them a sense of the importance of the holiday even when they can’t really understand it yet.

So on Good Friday we made our hot cross buns, read together, and went to the service that evening. On Saturday we made Easter cookies (much easier to handle with two little boys than Easter egg coloring, and tastier in the end since none of us really care for hard boiled eggs) and had a low-key meal with my parents; I don’t know if it carried over for the kids, but for me the day was filled with a sense of hushed anticipation that I really hadn’t felt on this Saturday in the past. And on Easter I tried to fill every part of the day with a specialness, an excitement, a celebration! We went to church in the morning of course, after letting the boys enjoy some Easter treats at home, and then drove up to my in laws’ house to celebrate with the extended family.

{pretty} and {happy}

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My FIL set up an Easter egg hunt for all the little cousins in their backyard, and it was quite a success 🙂 Honestly, I think my boys would have been excited to find just one egg and discover it to be full of chocolate or goldfish crackers – finding 4 or 5 each was extraordinary happiness. They didn’t quite have the knack for spotting and collecting the eggs that their cousins did, but they took such delight in each egg that they didn’t even notice, much less care, that they’d found fewer eggs overall. It made me wonder how many times I’ve lost my enjoyment in something completely gratuitous and fun, like these eggs, just because someone else did “better” than me… I hope that in future I can have the same innocent joy in the experience that my boys showed me here.

{happy}

This has to be one of the best simple “grandma’s house” kind of toys out there:

Both boys climbed on it over and over again. Rondel figured out how to go up one side and down the other; Limerick managed to get up to the top but then would come back down the same way he went up. He ended up finding out he could slide down in between two of the rungs, which was apparently fun, but then he would be stuck and cry for someone to pull him back up and out of the ladder. And then he would climb back and do it all again…

{funny}

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This is Limerick’s suspicious look (with a mouth full of crackers) as he eyes my in-laws’ dog, who had been sneaking goldfish whenever Limerick looked away. I don’t think he really grasped what was happening, but he knew something was up… we eventually persuaded him to move his eggs off the ground so the dog wouldn’t be able to steal it so easily.

{real}

I didn’t really get a picture of this, but the reality of the day was that the boys didn’t get good naps, and were worn out by the excitement and lack of routine. Something I’ve learned in the past couple years, with Rondel, is that all the best plans and fun activities are pointless if I don’t factor in enough time to let my kids acclimate to the changes of the holiday and process all the different stimuli coming at them. With this in mind, we had planned to arrive at my in-laws house early so that the boys could nap there before the rest of the family arrived, and be comfortable in the environment before it was filled with people – but when we got there, we discovered that they had changed the locks and forgotten to give us a copy of the new key. Not the best thing to find with two tired boys who were very much looking forward to going inside their grandparents’ house…

I think it was by God’s grace that I was able to stay calm and help the boys (Rondel especially) adjust and relax, and it wasn’t too long before they were able to enjoy the time and the family despite their tiredness and the challenges of the day. Knowing my own propensity towards anxiety and worst-case-scenario thinking, I really am thankful that we were able to have a great time celebrating the Resurrection together as a family and overcome the logistical issues along the way.

Head on over to the link-up at Like Mother, Like Daughter and share your Easter as well!

Posted in family life, recipes

hot cross buns: the Good Friday story and a recipe

One of my challenges this Easter was explaining the story of Jesus’s death to my toddlers. Death isn’t really a concept that they understand, and violent, painful death isn’t exactly something I want to describe to them in detail. I’d like them to retain their innocence until life demands otherwise!

We read some of the stories from the Jesus Storybook Bible, but they were honestly still a few years beyond Rondel, and I could tell that though he was listening, the words weren’t making much sense to him. So I ended up making it pretty short and simple, just saying that Jesus was hurt and died on a cross so that He could rescue us and make us able to know and love God.

And my best teaching tool ended up being these:

Throughout the day-long process of mixing, rising, shaping, baking, and glazing the hot cross buns, Rondel would keep asking me, in his toddler vernacular, what we would be drawing on top of the buns (answer: a cross) and what Jesus did for us on the cross (answer: see above). It gave him an interest in the story and something tangible to latch on to in the midst of a lot of things he didn’t quite understand.

So maybe that is part of the reason why these buns, which have always felt distinctly non-fasting to me, are a traditional Good Friday food – they help to teach the story to the youngest of us, and remind the rest of us of the truths we either lose sight of or over-complicate.

Bread making is something I do as much by feel as by measurements, but here’s the basic recipe I use for these buns, adapted from America’s Bread Book by Mary Gubser, if you want to make them next year. They are consistently one of my favorite sweet yeast breads.

First, you’ll need to make a sponge. This lets your yeast get active and happy, and if you’re using some whole wheat flour (as I normally do – I was totally out this year though), it gives the flour additional time to absorb the liquid and soften into the dough, allowing the gluten to develop while blunting some of the wheat’s sharp edges that can damage the gluten strands. It also means that your dough will rise a bit faster later on, since the yeast will already have had a chance to feed and multiply.

For a single batch, about 32-36 comfortably large buns, I start with 2 cups warm milk, 1/4 cup melted butter, 2 tablespoons of yeast, 1/2 cup brown sugar, and 2 cups whole wheat flour. (My general rule of thumb for a sponge is equal volumes of liquid and flour. If you’re doubling the recipe, you shouldn’t need to double the yeast as well, although I would still increase it to 3 tablespoons.) This gets all stirred up and then gets to sit, loosely covered, in a warmish, non-drafty place for about 30-60 minutes. Really, 30 minutes is as much as you need, but it can go quite a bit longer if you get distracted with your kids while it’s sponging 🙂

To the lovely, bubbly, slightly risen sponge (releasing that most wonderful yeasty scent into the air), you’ll need to add an egg and 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt. Both of these things can inhibit the development of the yeast, so I like to let the yeast get a good headstart with the sponge before adding them!

At this point you have a good basic sweet bread starter that you could take in a variety of directions. For hot cross buns, I add a heaping teaspoon of cinnamon and about 3/4 teaspoons each of cloves and nutmeg. My additions to the buns vary slightly from year to year depending on what I have on hand, but basically you’ll need something citrusy and some sort of dried fruit. You could use 1/2-3/4 cup diced candied lemon or orange rind or the zest and juice of two oranges for the citrus, and 3/4-1 cup currants, raisins, or golden raisins (or a mix) for the dried fruit, and I’m pretty sure any combination of the above would be excellent. I do like the added texture of the larger golden raisins vs. the currants, and of the candied rind vs. the zest and juice, but if you want a smoother roll without those extra juicy bites, both zest and currants will melt into the batter and give you flavor without changing the texture. This year I used half currants and half golden raisins, and the zest and juice option for my citrus – it was what I had, and it was good.

Once the spices and fruits are added in, you’ll want to add white (unbleached, of course) flour to the dough, slowly, until the dough is workable but still soft and definitely not dry. You don’t want it as wet as a baguette dough, for example, because you’ll need to shape it into little rolls and it’ll have to hold that shape, but you don’t want it so dry that the end result is also dry and dense. This is the part of bread making that is hard to precisely describe without showing you in person! And to give you an idea of how variable it can be, the recipe I’ve adapted calls for about 2 cups more flour than I’m ever able to add to my dough – I live in a really dry climate, and it affects my yeast bread significantly, since most recipes have been tested and created in more humid places.

Anyway, when you’ve gotten the dough to your liking, you’ll want to knead it until it starts to look smooth and elastic, and stretches when you pull on it instead of breaking away in chunks. I have a mixer with a dough hook that I let do the kneading for me, typically, because it gives me more consistent results in less time, but there is something very satisfying and cathartic about doing it by hand from time to time, so don’t let the absence of a mixer stop you! This kneaded dough will then need to rise in a large bowl, coated with either melted butter or oil to keep the dough from sticking. Just like for the sponge, this bowl will need to be covered loosely and allowed to rest somewhere cozy until it has about doubled in size, which will probably be about an hour but will depend a lot on the health and happiness of your yeast.

Finally, at this point, you get to shape your little buns! I like a roll about the size of a typical dinner roll or average muffin, a piece of dough that comfortably fits in the palm of my hand and is easy to shape; this gets me about 32-36 rolls. Mary Gubser recommends making them with pieces of dough about the size of a walnut, resulting in 84 or so tiny little two-bite rolls, but I honestly quiver at the though of drawing crosses over that many tiny buns. Also, I never really want fewer than one hot cross bun anyway, so I’d end up eating 3 or 4 little ones at once…

These newly shaped rolls should sit on parchment paper or a buttered baking sheet, under a light towel, for about 45 minutes to let them rise one more time before baking, during which time you can preheat the oven to 375 F. The rolls will only take about 12-15 minutes to bake, even at the larger size, and should be golden on both top and bottom, light to the touch but not too squishy.

To cross them, after they’ve cooled, make a basic glaze with lemon juice and powdered sugar to get to a spreadable consistency, pipe with a pastry bag/ziploc bag with the corner cut off, and let sit to harden. I usually only cross part of the batch because they’re easier to store unglazed, and I can glaze the rest of the buns the next day if I need to or just eat them unadorned, which is still very tasty if not quite as edifying and delicious.

Enjoy!

Posted in musings

new life through a crown of thorns

Through the crown of thorns comes beauty and new life.

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(I found this at the park this morning – it was like a reminder from God, on this day of waiting and held breath between the crucifixion and resurrection, of both the pain and the beauty bound together in Christ’s sacrifice.)

Posted in musings

Holy Week in the midst of everyday life

Holy Week.

When the profound realities of the liturgical year – the past that comes again, ever new, with each turn of the calendar – should be coming alive in our hearts and minds.

When the passion and suffering of our Lord should be the meditation of our hearts and the prayer on our lips.

When we remember the gift of His body and blood, in the once-for-all-time sacrifice of Friday’s cross and in the ceremonial establishment of the Eucharist at Thursday’s Passover meal.

When the truths that fade away from us so easily – the forgiveness God offers, the love He extends, the high cost of His grace, the mercy that seasons His justice, and the pathway to unity that He creates – should be standing out to us in sharp relief.

And yet, in Holy Week, the world still keeps spinning and life still keeps going on as it always does.

In Arizona, we held presidential primaries on the Tuesday of Holy Week this year, distracting ourselves from the King of the Universe in our quest to choose a new president to lead us to greatness. I couldn’t help but be reminded of the crowds acclaiming Jesus on Palm Sunday, sure that He would be the Messiah to rescue them from Roman oppression, only to turn on Him a few days later when they realized that His was a heavenly kingdom. A heavenly kingdom doesn’t fix our problems here and now, like Trump and Sanders and Cruz and Clinton all promise to do in their various personal styles – so the heavenly kingdom can wait, right, while we focus on cleaning up the issues we’ve got going on right now? (Well, no, actually, that heavenly kingdom should always come first, and should inform our approach to the temporal problems we’re facing.)

In Brussels, another terrorist attack left the city (and Europe) reeling and devastated, unsure of the best way to respond to danger without losing freedom and integrity. With friends and family killed or injured, people are dealing with a sea of sorrow and, most likely, anger and a desire for justice. Does God offer that justice and revenge this week? We see Jesus’s grace and forgiveness extended even to those who murdered Him, and we cringe because such an act is too great for us, in the raw pain of our grief and outrage. He says, watch, I have suffered for you, and I suffer with you – and we say, go somewhere else with Your presence and Your comfort, and let me find another who will promise me the security and vengeance my heart craves.

People still go to work, performing the same tasks and interacting with the same coworkers as on every other day of the year. Families still deal with bedtime battles, dirty diapers, potty learning, sicknesses, homework, friendship drama, housecleaning, and marital stress. The daily commute, the daily chores, the daily routines are all the same.

And into the middle of everyday, normal life, Christ comes.

With the power of His sorrowful passion, He comes. The details of Jesus’s suffering on the cross make us uncomfortable and uneasy, but in Holy Week we are almost forced to think about them.

Let these daily routines be baptized in Me, He says. Let your great worries and great sufferings find solace in Me; come drink of peace and rest. My suffering has purchased for you redemption – that all the banalities and all the piercing sorrows of life, alike, might be worked into new life, and beauty, and purpose.

 

Posted in family life, phfr

{pretty, happy, funny, real} – Christmas cookies!

One of my family’s cherished traditions is the annual Christmas cookie bake. Now, we make many different types of cookies for Christmas, but this tradition centers solely on the rolled and cut frosted sugar cookies, because it is such a monumental group effort to bake and decorate them all. This year my mom, my sister, and I rolled and cut the cookies, and then everyone pitched in to decorate some later in the day. Unfortunately I forgot to get any pictures of the decorating or the finished products… you’ll just have to take my work about the heights of our decorating abilities! 😉

{pretty}

My lovely sister (and my mom lurking in the background).

{happy}

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Two of my favorite women – so happy to be laughing and doing life together over the Christmas season.

{funny}

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His little jammies are just a bit small for him, and he doesn’t like to stay still, so diaper changes usually end with him running away with the legs unsnapped, like a little skirt. Even when I do get them snapped, the two snaps right by the diaper usually pop open after he crawls or climbs around for a while… drawbacks of using cloth diapers, I suppose!

{real}

I suppose my {real} is that this is as far into the process as I remembered to take pictures! Also I suppose the fact that it’s a secret family recipe so I won’t be sharing it with you 😉

Do any of you have fun family-specific traditions like this? I feel like it adds so much happiness to Christmas to have things to look forward to every year – things that are always the same through all the other things that change, pieces of familiarity and festivity that endure as time passes. They help bind us together with both shared memories and shared expectations.

Don’t forget to head over to the link up today at Like Mother, Like Daughter!

Posted in family life

before Christmas is totally gone…

…I’d like to share some of our pictures from the season! (And knowing me, probably some random meditative thoughts as well…)

I had wanted to find a tabletop-sized tree for our home this Christmas, but it didn’t end up happening. However, the city generously provided us with a Christmas tree by putting one up in the center of downtown – conveniently located about two blocks away from our house 😉

It is, I suppose, the urban child’s equivalent of a tree out in the woods, uncut, decorated with a single candle perhaps, and ribbons, and cookies and popcorn for the birds – the sort of tree described in Temple Bailey’s exquisite Christmas story The Candle in the Forest. It is what we have, beautiful and special, and we make it meaningful by sharing our delight in it together.

(If you haven’t read The Candle in the Forest, you should remedy that as soon as you can. It is one of my favorite Christmas stories of all times, for how well it captures the beauty of simple traditions and family love and doing the best with what one has; I have never read it without tears.)

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Even Limerick was sufficiently entranced by the lights and ornaments to cease his endless running (usually into the road) and examine the tree! And Rondel couldn’t get enough of it – he asked to see the tree everyday for at least two weeks after the city put it up.

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The specialness, the difference, of the Christmas season stood out to him for the first time this year – for some reason everyone was making everything more beautiful, and baking special treats more often, and lighting different candles, and secretly collecting gifts to give. We read the Christmas story to him over and over again, revealing more of the story as the day grew nearer, and he delighted with us in the coming Baby because of whom all the celebration was taking place.

Babies are very precious things in the minds of toddlers – they are just about the only people smaller than toddlers, and so I think they evoke feelings of responsibility, power, and protective love: essentially, they give the toddler a foretaste of being an adult and specifically a parent, and the toddler finds it quite an exciting experience. Not that they could bear that responsibility for long, of course, and they don’t try to – but when you’re always the small and the weak, who needs to be helped and taught and directed and cared for, it’s nice to find someone even smaller and weaker whom you can help teach and take care of. Babies bring that gift, the opportunity to serve and be a blessing to someone else, to even the smallest children – and in becoming a baby, God reminds us of the importance of that gift. For He did not come to be served, although as a human baby He was helpless and needy; rather He came to serve us, with His life, with His death, and with His intercession for us before the throne of the Father for all eternity.

(more pictures to come in a few days!)

Posted in musings

so the year ends

one calendar year ends and another begins.

it’s a rather arbitrary way to mark beginnings and endings in life, but it works as well as any – only I don’t feel like I’m ending anything significant, or beginning anything new. I’m exactly where I was last year, when 2014 ended and 2015 began: working at the same job, raising the same two children, married to the same husband who’s still going to the same school, living in the same house, involved in the same HOA, pursuing the same God, and wrestling with the same questions.

what thoughts do I have to take away from the year?

  • that accumulating more and more information doesn’t necessarily move me any closer to actually making a decision
  • that some of my worst parenting moments are when my routine is thrown off and I don’t have a backup plan, and my indecisiveness and uncertainty make everyone feel uneasy
  • that good communication is very important to me but I’m not very good at it
  • that relational discipline (as opposed to behavior modification) takes a lot of energy and effort but it really is worth it
  • that the joy two siblings can find in each other more than makes up for the squabbles and conflicts they also have
  • that if I could get my head out of the clouds and away from abstract ideas long enough to notice the world around me, I could be a lot more loving in my actions because I would observe the needs of others
  • that there must be something of value and purpose I can do with my dreaming and philosophizing but I don’t know what it is yet
  • that I desperately long to be holy but it’s going to be a long, painful road for me to get there (most likely involving death, since I doubt I’ll reach holiness this side of heaven!)
  • that prayer is more powerful than I had ever imagined

Any random thoughts you have as you look back at the year?

May your new year be filled with grace and blessing! Happy New Year!

Posted in musings

Christmas

I haven’t had much to say over the past week because I’ve been so busy being with people that I’ve hardly had time to think! It’s been very nice seeing so much of my family and my husband’s family, but it has been rather hectic.

After dealing with pretty intense PPD two years ago, and struggling with what was for me a lot of anxiety last year (probably partly because of the new baby!), it was incredibly nice to be mentally and emotionally myself this Advent and Christmas. It was nice to have that upswell of excitement when planning gifts for the people I love, rather than only a flood of discouragement and a sense of being overwhelmed. It was nice, too, that we’ve established more of a routine (as is necessary with two toddlers!), and that I was able to work a meaningful Advent celebration into that routine. Advent is my favorite time of year – something about the melancholy hope, the joyful sorrow, that it carries with it resonates with my heart – and being able to live it, sing it, talk about it, and teach it to my boys gave me so much happiness.

And now Christmas is here, and the first few crazy days of the brief festive season have passed, and the quiet enjoyment of each other is continuing, and a bag of presents for the boys (from neighbors, family, and the local thrift store) is waiting for Epiphany so we can share in their giving of gifts to the Christ child. Christmas is hard to live, because unfettered joy does not come naturally to me; I’m much more of an Advent person, painting even the fiercest of my joys with the shadows of sorrow and the remembrance of brokenness. How am I supposed to fully embrace happiness for the full twelve days of Christmas?

The boys help, of course – I am planning fun and different things for most of the days (small things, so they don’t get burnt out) to help continue the holiday spirit. We’re keeping the decorations up, and reading through the Christmas story each day, gradually moving the Wise Men closer to the Baby Jesus waiting in the stable. If I can maintain an atmosphere of peace and joy in the house, a feeling of delight at the birth of the Baby Jesus, I think that will help, even if the festivities themselves are smaller. It is like the birth of any new baby, I suppose – the feelings of happiness and wonder and joy persist even though the reality of sleepless nights and dirty diapers quickly manifests itself.

So Merry Christmas to all! May your Christmas season be filled with wonder at His coming, joy at His presence, and peace in His love, through all the difficulties and pressure the holidays seem to bring.

 

Posted in musings

advent – the candle of peace

Peace is at once the simplest and the most profound of the four Advent candles, and it is for me, at least this year, the hardest to understand.

When I think of hope, I remind myself that the brokenness of this life isn’t the final picture – that there is a coming restoration and redemption of all things.

When I think of light, I picture truth and wisdom coming into the ignorance, confusion, and error of our culture.

When I think of joy, I remember that the goodness and grace of God in this world means that there is always something to rejoice about, and it lifts me out of my worry or sorrow.

But peace is so multifaceted, so intricate, so all-encompassing, that I struggle to grasp it. I know it is more than just the cessation of war promised in Isaiah, though that in itself is almost beyond imagining:

It shall come to pass in the latter days
that the mountain of the house of the LORD
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and shall be lifted up above the hills;
and all the nations shall flow to it,
and many peoples shall come, and say:
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD,
to the house of the God of Jacob,
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.”
For out of Zion shall go the law,
and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between the nations,
and shall decide disputes for many peoples;
and they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war anymore.

I also know that it is more than just the personal peace promised in Philippians, though freedom from worry and fear is almost unthinkable in this life as well:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

My general feeling is that “peace” approximates the overall abundance, beauty, and well-being that will be when Christ returns at the second coming, and because of that it’s not something I’m ever going to be able to imagine completely. All I can do is remember that it is coming – that all things will be made whole and healed, from the despair of a broken heart, to the snapped cords of friendship and lost love, to the diplomatic relations between nations and ethnicities.