Monday, June 3, 2013

The Jam Lady

It is half-past apricot time here at the homestead, and I am elated that our little tree finally produced a decent crop this year.  It's not the bumper, "Lord of the Harvest," crop that we had a few years back, but it's very respectable.  This year I prayed for the tree, and I talked to it when I backed out of the driveway every day.  I'm not kidding and am pretty sure that helped, especially when I encouraged the delicate, little white buds to hang on to their branches for dear life when the winds came sweeping through a couple months ago.

Hang on, they did, and now their sweet, fuzzy lil' faces are ready for the picking.

This year I decided I was going to be The Pioneer Woman, harvesting this juicy, sweet fruit and making them into some delicious preserves.  Most of the recipes I found have about a quart of sugar, which is just gross, but I found one that uses juice concentrate to sweeten it, so I set out to the store to get my supplies.  Did I mention I have never done canning or preserving of any kind before?  Never, folks.

Standing in the grocery isle with Jason, we looked at the jars and the canning sets with all sorts of clamps and magnets.  I had no idea what I was doing, but that wasn't going to stop my jam quest from happening.

Then the Jam Lady walked up and innocently inquired, "Are you going to make some jam?"

"I sure am," I replied to the kindly-looking, grandma-aged woman.

"Well, would you like some help?"

"Sure!  I've got some apricots and I want to make some preserves." I was not about to reject help of any sort.

She began telling me about how I might want to try pineapple juice instead of lemon juice, and how I would need to go and get some pectin unless I wanted to be stirring for a couple hours.  Yes, good... input.  I did not want my arm falling off from over stirring.  Yes, this experiment was going to be muy delicioso!

"So you have a tree?" questioned the Jam Lady, peering at me intently. "Where do you live?"

Before I even thought twice, I told the Jam Lady what neighborhood I lived in.  Then, I saw that glint in her eye.  It's the same sparkle that quilters get when they see new fabric, and knitters get when the hold a new skein of yarn.  Oh, no!!  I told her where I lived!  What, am I crazy or something?

The Jam Lady wished me luck and then gave me her official "Jam Lady" card and told me to call if I needed any help.  I thanked her, and we made our purchases.

As I drove out of the parking lot, I glanced in my rear view mirror, and there she was, with her husband, in the car right behind me.  Was she following me?  Yes, she was totally following me... my thoughts filled with paranoia!!  After discussing with Jason how stupid I was to tell a perfect stranger where my neighborhood was, and to never do what mommy did, I took the Jam Lady on a wild ride until her car finally turned the opposite direction.  Did I think she was following me to come get my fresh, sweet apricot stash?  Heck ya, I did!  A few years ago, I had some ladies come and take a hefty box of my fruit and promise, cross their heart, they would bring me back some jam, and did I ever get it?  No, I did not!!  I had to lose this Jam Lady.  I know exactly how they operate.

Jam Ladies be crazy, people!  
And I am now becoming one of them.

Mom and I prepped apricots this afternoon just like they did back in the day.  We talked and laughed and got those little orange buggers ready.  And dang, is it a process?!  I spent a good couple hours cutting and boiling and stirring and clamping and sealing... and wiping my brow.

And there were pots and pans and more pots and pans.  They were multiplying like rabbits.  The blender even got involved at one point, and thank goodness I didn't scald myself or blow up boiling liquid in my face, because the kitchen is a very dangerous place to be.  Those pioneer women were tough cookies.

All of this culinary drama to produce my seven little apricot jam babies.

Apparently, I have to babysit them for a while until they set or gel or become teenagers or something.

I am so proud.

Look what I have done,  Jam Lady!

Patrick said I did a good job.  He also asked if I was going to start wearing denim overalls.  No way, baby.  I will drive my sweet van for years to come, but I draw the line at denim overalls.  It just ain't gonna happen. 

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Guilty Pleasure

I love Dancing with the Stars.  Not just for the dancing, but for the stories and journeys of the people who participate.  I hardly ever watch the results show, but I get so drawn into the competition night... seeing obstacles overcome and seeing people growing, learning, and pushing their limits to create something fun or beautiful is amazing.

But what I watch mostly for are moments like this.  
Moments of astounding beauty and vulnerability.  
Moments that capture my heart and make me hold me breath.

Kellie Pickler, I applaud you.
Knowing that you cut your hair in support of your friend who is fighting cancer,
and seeing that friend in the audience with tears running down her cheeks after this performance
was extraordinary.

And Derek Hough, you are an incredible dancer, teacher and choreographer.
I am often left speechless after watching your artistry come to life.

For completely different reasons, this was my other favorite dance of the season.

Are you a fan?
What's your guilty pleasure?

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Midnight Mischief

When I look at the stars, the stars...
I feel like myself

Oh, my sweet boys...

Do you remember that night back in August?  Gramma said there would be a meteor shower.  It would be so beautiful to see in a desert sky, removed from city lights.

We stayed up far past your bedtimes... even past when your daddy and I usually dose off.  Giddy, we took a blanket and sneaked through the foliage and onto the greens.  The frogs were croaking and the crickets were chirping, and we lay side by side in our bathing suits and gazed into the dark void, hoping to see a streak of magic dancing across the sky, among the twinkling star-lights.

"Oh, did you see that?"

"I just saw one, too!"

"We are going to get so busted for being out here," Josh mused.

"Well, I didn't see any 'No Trespassing' signs, and if someone asked us to leave, we'll leave," I replied.

And then we heard a pop, followed by sprays of water in every direction.  Squealing, we ran to dry ground on the edge of the lush grass, and resituated ourselves to gaze back at the heavens.

Then, another pop... right under daddy.  Eeeeeeek!!

This time, we embraced the aquatic shenanigans, drenching ourselves in the cool, misty rains.  

Jumping, twirling, running, dancing... until we were out of breath.

We finally took our respite up on a mound next to one of the putting green holes.

Daddy started singing, and we joined in, gazing skyward once again...

Bless the Lord, O my soul
O my soul
Worship His holy name
Sing like never before
O my soul
I'll worship Your holy name

 As we finally made our way back through the shrubs, the warm desert wind gently blowing us dry, I remember thinking that I didn't want the night to end.  

It will always be a treasured memory, my loves.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Make 'em Laugh

How do you get a great photo with a comedian?  Let him give his knee a little pop!
(Oh, and do you notice how muscular my right forearm is looking?  Man Arms, I tell you!)
(Part of my Journey to Charis: Evidences of God's Grace)

On Saturday, I took the 101 south, with my family, to go see Tim Hawkins perform live.  I met up with my friend, Ruth, and her entire family (including her 7 kids... yes, 7, she is amazing!)  I have known Ruth since childhood... we have had many, many laughs together!  I had no idea this one would be so powerful though.

I talked about this concert (Can I call it that? Tim's an amazing musician, too, so I say yes.)  with Patrick, and he didn't seem overly excited to go.  Don't get me wrong, he thinks Tim is hilarious, but he wasn't so sure about driving about 2 hours to get there.  But for some reason, I really felt like we needed to be there... it was just one of those things that I couldn't let go.

Tim walked out on stage, doing some weird sight gags, and I literally laughed non-stop for two hours.  I'm not talking little chuckles, either.  I am talking belly laughs, laughing until I was coughing, and laughing so hard my cheeks hurt.  Patrick was laughing so hard he was crying, and Ruth was giggling behind me to no end.  It was uproarious laughter.  It was the exact opposite of an ugly cry (which I had just last week, by the way).

I haven't laughed this hard in years.  It changed something in me.  It was as if God lifted a burden from my heart and lightened my entire being.  I began to catch another glimpse of who I know I am inside, and it felt really amazing. 

Ok, I have to confess something.  You know how I said I laughed for two hours straight?  Well, that isn't entirely true.  There was a window of about 8 minutes when Tim got really serious and started talking about burnout in the church.  I stopped laughing and tears welled up in my eyes, because he was speaking to me.  I don't know that I've ever mentioned church burnout here.  You see, I want to love the church, and I don't want to come off as a church basher, but to be honest with you, burnout is a big part of my story.  There are many components, but burnout is at least part of the puzzle.

I also didn't want to mention it, because it makes me feel weak and ashamed.  I thought that my husband and I were doing all we could do to minister to people, to be good leaders, to put others before ourselves, but the truth is, I was in way over my head.  As in drowning.  Lonely and overwhelmed, I didn't know what to do or where to go, until my mind and body gave out on me.  I used to teach Bible studies, and now I struggle to sit through a sermon... it's a very humbling and painful thing.

God has taught me many things through the dark and broken places I have walked and I am thankful for those times.  Saturday night, I couldn't help but be even more thankful that He was breaking chains and filling me with laughter.  At one point, Tim said that he used to try and "get laughs," but now he sees it is more important to "give laughs" to others.  To feel some of that restoration, and to have it be so tangible, was an amazing gift from God through Tim.  To sit in a church building full of so much joy was, to me, nothing short of a miracle.

"A joyful heart is good medicine,
    but a crushed spirit dries up the bones."
Proverbs 17:22

Today I'm keeping my heart and eyes open to truly enjoy more of God's joy in my everyday.

Has God given you any unexpected joy lately?

Friday, May 3, 2013

I've Got Man Arms

 (This is not a portrait of me, but it's close.)

I see a bunch of different doctors.  They are like my team or my posse or something.  "Team Linda and the Mission to Get Her Well"... it could make a fascinating mini-series.  Maybe I should look into selling the rights for that.

One of the doctors on "Team Linda" has been trying to balance out my hormones, because they are wonky or something.  For a while I was using progesterone cream and now I am on testosterone.  Testosterone is the hormone that men have a lot of,  you know.  By and large, I think it has been a helpful treatment, but the other day I was looking down at my forearm, and I noticed that it looked more muscular and that the veins were kind of popping out.

"Where have I seen this before?" I asked myself.  And then I remembered.  I went and sat down next to Joshua, my teenage son, and I looked at his arm.  Yes, my arm was resembling a boy-man in the midst of puberty.

This wasn't the first clue that I now have too much testosterone in my system.  I am partly French, so I have a lot of hair.  My Filipino husband and boys, on the other hand have barely any hair.  Their skin is as smooth as a baby's behind.  Because of the testosterone, I am growing even more hair.  Now I have enough hair for all four of us.

The other day I plucked 64 hairs out of my chin.  64 hairs.  It hurt.  It made my eyes water.  I am not even exaggerating.  I am fairly certain that this is a lot more hairs than I used to have.  And then to make matters worse, I caught I glimpse of my lower lip in the van's rear view mirror the other day.  There is a very small patch of dark hair under my lower lip and I am slightly mortified... I'm not sure what to do with it.  I don't need a Fu Manchu, or whatever those things are called.

"I think I am becoming a man," I told Patrick.  "Ya, I'm pretty sure I am."

The doctor didn't seem to be particularly phased about my transformation, but he lowered my dosage, so he must have been somewhat concerned.  I'm sure he doesn't want to read a headline that says, MIDDLE-AGED, PARTLY FRENCH WOMAN MORPHS INTO MAN, and feel somewhat responsible for it.

I'm not sure what the point of this story is. 

I hope my voice doesn't start cracking.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Blame Game

Do you ever watch or listen to TED Talks?  I think they are fascinating, and I love how people are able to convey thought-provoking ideas and new technology in an accessible and often times funny manner.  I once watched a talk on dinosaurs that had me in stitches.  Who knew dinosaurs and fossils could be funny?  Who knew that some dinosaurs may actually be the juvenile counterpart to another dinosaur rather than an entirely different species?  And who knew you could discover this by examining sliced dinosaur skulls.  Fascinating I tell you!!

Anyway, enough about extinct reptiles...  This morning I listened to a talk on vulnerability and relationships, given by Bren√© Brown.  She said something about blame that caused me to really stop and ponder.  In actuality, it was more of a plausible definition.

Blame - a way to discharge pain and discomfort

Hmm... I've never quite thought of it like that before.  I talk a lot with my boys about "blame shifting."  When my temper or frustration doesn't get the best of me (maybe 50% of the time, if I'm honest), I have the soundness of mind to ask them to stop and think a bit before they speak about an argument, giving them some needed time to process.

"I am going to ask you about YOUR part in this disagreement," I convey to them.  "Then you can let me know how your brother was involved."

I don't want to just hear the 'He hit me and scratched me' bit, I want to hear the 'I was provoking him by holding a toy out of his reach, and then he hit me and scratched me.'  Otherwise, it just tends to be blame shifting and we don't really get down to the root of the problem and ultimately changed behavior.  We might also miss the opportunity to discuss cause and effect, the Golden Rule, and responding in love.  Most importantly, I want them to learn to take responsibility for their own actions instead of diverting attention away from any wrong they themselves have done.

While I think these are good, healthy ways to deal with arguments and blame, I'm am realizing that for some reason, I occasionally allow people to place blame on me whether there was something to legitimately blame me for or not.  Not until now have I thought of blame as a way a person could discharge their own pain and discomfort, and I realize that I sometimes allow myself to be the recipient of blame that is not even my own.

You see, I like being able to help others with their pain and discomfort, and to share their burden... I think that is part of who God uniquely created me to be.  But there are times when I will not only help share the burden, but I will somehow turn it into my own responsibility and guilt so that the other person can feel better and doesn't have to change whatever responsibility he/she may have on his/her end.  I take it all on, and I start trying to come up with my own reasons to apologize, so everything can go back to being "calm and peaceful."  Only it's not... it then becomes my own silent turmoil.  And the problem doesn't disappear, it is just shifted.

I like what Paul said in his letter to the Philippians:

"And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God."

I'm going to start praying this for myself.  I would definitely be better off with more love, knowledge, depth of insight and discernment, especially in knowing when God might be using someone's pain and discomfort to bring them to another level of holiness and refinement.  I'm recognizing some areas where I may, in reality, be in God's way, and I pray that He teaches me when and where I just need to step aside, instead of camping out in His path.  Truth be told, I really don't like camping anyway... I'm horrible at it!  I would much rather pray from home and let God pitch His tabernacle where He sees fit and wait for Him to invite me over!

Have you ever struggled with these issues?
Is there a particular TED Talk that inspired you or caused you to think differently?

Friday, April 12, 2013

Tale of the Eyebrow

A couple days ago Patrick noticed that some of Jason's eyebrow was missing, so he asked him what happened to it.

Jason:  Well, you know how I get running really fast, and then sometimes I fall?  Well, the blades of grass are so sharp that they cut some of my eyebrow off!

How do you keep a straight face with a story like that??

Me: Did you get a hold of a razor?

Jason: Nooooooo......

Me:  You are not in trouble, just tell us what really happened, because I am not buying the "blades of grass" thing.

Yes, he admitted to using his teenage brother's razor, because he wanted it to look like a really cool scar.

The next day, he came home from school...

Me: Did anyone notice your eyebrow?

Jason: Yes...

Me:  So what did you tell them?

Jason:  I told them I had been involved in some major Ninja fights.

He's gotta get some points for some very clever story telling! Don't you think?

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

On the Side of Grace

It was a holiday weekend, nearly two years ago now.  My journey had already seemed so long, and I was quite physically and emotionally spent.  I felt like running away, so I did just that.  Hastily, I grabbed my Bible and the keys to the van and said something in passing about how I needed to get out.  Backing out of the driveway, I glimpsed my brother-in-law, arriving for his weekend visit.  His eyes grew large and his head tilted in concern as I turned the corner and sped away with a half-hearted wave and a frown turning down the corners of my mouth.

After heading north on the freeway for a few minutes, I decided to exit and found my way to a park overlooking the ocean.  I cracked the windows, breathed in the fresh, salty air and began to read a few Psalms.  I had a lot of "why's" and I was desperately searching for something. Solace, comfort, healing, answers.  To know that God remembered me, to know that He cared... something I knew to be true in my mind but that which was muddled and unclear in my heart.

Soon, I found myself walking through the neighborhood along the cliffs that erected themselves high above the Pacific.  I sat on a wooden bench and looked out on the shimmering waters, watching the seagulls soar and dive, crying out in the wind.

What would it be like, I wondered.  To spread my arms and soar off the cliffs and then be consumed by the foamy turquoise water.  I entertained these thoughts for a few minutes, and then pushing them  out of my mind, I began to cry out... cries that could only be heard inside my head, full of desperation and loneliness.  I asked God what to do.  Was I even on the right track with the treatments I had tried?  Was there something I needed to do to bring about healing?  Was the suffering meant for a purpose?  I pleaded for answers, but only heard the waves crashing below, and felt my own salty tears streaming down my face.

I heard something in the near distance that diverted me away from my prayers.  The footsteps grew closer on the asphalt road behind me and then crunched over the decomposed granite.  Then they stopped altogether, and I could feel the presence of someone standing directly behind me.  Certain I was going to be mugged, I found myself hoping it would happen quickly, so that I could get back to my thoughts and questions and prayers.

Then she questioned, "Are you okay?"

I turned my head sideways, trying to somehow conceal my teary face and reddened nose.  "No, I'm actually not okay," I replied to a perfect stranger.  She was an African-American woman who looked the picture of strength and health.  Her eyebrows furrowed and the small dog she was walking sniffed inquisitively at my feet.

"What's going on?  Would you like to talk about it?" she asked with a sensitive, kind cadence to her voice.

Not even knowing her name, I proceeded to tell her about how I was chronically ill with autoimmune and glandular issues.  She specifically asked about my diet and affirmed that I was on the right track.  Then she asked about how I was mentally handling things and that she understood how tiring this journey must be.  Did I have a therapist to talk to and did I feel like that was a safe place to be? Yes, I did feel safe there.  It was as if God was answering all the questions and doubts I had just confided in Him only moments before.

"My name is Daphne, by the way," she said.  "Would it be ok if I gave you a hug?"  I nodded and we embraced. 

"Do you see that house, two houses in there?" Daphne asked as I looked in the direction of her finger.  I nodded.  "Well, I rent the place in back.  If you ever need to talk about anything, you can come see me, ok?  You are going to get through this... keep on doing what you are doing."

Thanking her, I watched as she walked off with the little dog leading the way.  I was so comforted that God, with His kind and generous heart, gave me such a tangible answer so quickly.  It helped me to hold on to hope.

At this point on my journey, I knew I had physical health issues, but I hadn't officially been diagnosed with major clinical depression and complex PTSD.  This past weekend, as I read the account of a pastor's son who had been suffering with mental health issues for years and ended his life, I could relate well to his story and his pain, because I, too, experience the affliction and despair that accompanies mental illness.  There are a lot of us out there, trying to do the best that we can, longing for the time that we can fully rest in Jesus' arms.  We need Daphne's to lovingly speak kindness and compassion, hope and encouragement into our lives.  We need tender hugs and the knowledge that you will be there if we need to talk... that you will understand or at least try to.  We need you to gently point the way to God without boiling things down to Christian cliches.  Most of all, we need the grace of God... because it is often trying just to make it through the day.

Friends, it is difficult to know what is going on in anyone's mind.  Err on the side of extravagant grace, because you never know how your words may be offering hope from Jesus to a weary and troubled mind.
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