Merlot Mudpies

Can a blog be about gardening, cancer, family, food and life all at the same time? Oh good.

Real Repentence is Hard February 26, 2010

The thing about change is that it requires you to give yourself over to God’s intent for you and forces you to let go of some things you might feel entirely entitled to otherwise.  Giving yourself over and loving like God requires, in fact, that you give up many of what society tells you are your rights. This morning when I woke up — again in a funk and with the last vestiges of anger clinging on when I rolled out of bed — I happened to run accross this article when I opened my email:  Anyway Love.

I’ll take you to the heart of it:

In Luke 6:32-36, Jesus says we shouldn’t love because. We should love anyway. If we love someone because that person is good to us, or gives back to us, or is kind to us, we’re acting no better than anyone else. In essence, Jesus is saying you don’t need the Holy Spirit to love a man who remembers every anniversary – not just the anniversary of your marriage, but the anniversary of your first date and your first kiss. Any woman could love a man like that. Or if you love a wife who lavishes you with sports gifts, who goes out of her way to make you comfortable when you get home from work and who wants sex anytime you do – well, you’re doing what any man would do. There’s no special credit in that!

But if you love a spouse who disappoints you, who can be a little self-absorbed – now you’re loving anyway. In doing that, you’re following the model of the heavenly Father, who loves the ungrateful and the wicked.

This is so true. It is perfectly right. There is no arguing it. And yet, it is so, so hard to take from your head to your heart.  And this is where I find much of my walk falls down.  Sitting and reading this article my whole being resonates with the rightness of loving as God has loved me.  As the article puts it:

Christians are called to anyway love. That’s what makes us different. That’s what gives glory to God. That’s what helps us appreciate God’s love for us, because God loves us anyway. He gives and gives and gives – and we take Him for granted. He is eager to meet with us, and we get too busy to notice Him. He is good to us, and we accuse Him mercilessly when something doesn’t go just the way we planned it.

But God loves us anyway. To love anyway is to love like God – and to learn about God’s love for us.

Every fiber of my being knows this is true. But when I stand up, when I walk through my home, past messes, through rooms that overwhelm me, and listen to requests from the people I love, I sometimes want to stop and cry or scream. Sometimes I DO stop and cry or scream. And I know in my head that this flies in the face of how I should love and how I should respond. But getting from knowing to doing is hard. Right now I feel trapped between “SO HELP ME…!” and “Oh, Jesus help me.”

And I need Jesus’ help. In 2 Corinthians 10:5, Paul talks about “taking every thought captive to make it obedient to Christ,” which means to me that our thoughts can be disobedient to Christ when we do not work to bring them into line with what we know to be true in God’s word.  Right now my thoughts and my heart are very undisciplined.  Can you think, for any of you who are perhaps struggling in a place of resentment and anger as I am, of the last time you felt at the end of your rope?  Can you track back your thoughts and their course?  I can because I’m in them right now.  I won’t detail through them again — it’s the last thing I need.  But I can tell you the general course:  I begin to fume and fester over whatever has made me upset that time and then, like a magnet attracting metal shavings, every other resentment comes to the fore and I find myself attaching the worst intentions, the greatest wrongs, remembering old hurts and seething until the entire situation is blown completely out of proportion.

I used to think that some of Paul’s language was a bit overblown in passages like these but here, thinking and asking for God’s help in understanding, I begin to see that facing my own undisciplined thoughts really IS like facing an army arrayed against the truths of Godly love seeking to make their way from my head into my heart and out of me into the way I deal with my family and my home. I’ll be honest, if that were the only hope I had, my ability to overcome my own sinful heart and desires and actions, I’d throw up my hands in despair and I’d have no reason to hope that this will change.

But I don’t only have myself to rely on.  I have the Holy Spirit, and I have the faithfulness of my Savior to trust in.  My hope is not in my ability to get up, let it all go and move on by the power of my own strength.  Rather, I am reminded of my real hope, the hope the author of Hebrews wrote about in chapter 10:

19Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 23Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.

He who promised is faithful.

I don’t sit here needing to find the perfect exercise on my own. Rather, by His grace, I’m reminded of God’s grace and that changes something in my heart, even now as I write this. It doesn’t mean I get to just sit. But it does mean that as I look toward some of the things I need to accomplish today, and am reminded of who it is I really serve in serving those I love, and whose love causes me to love…it all seems less onerous. And that means something has changed for me today.

The end of that passage from Hebrews says, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” So as I get up to make my way into my day, my responsibilities and relating with my family, I urge any of you with whom this resonates to plead with God to touch your heart and remind you of all he’s done for you. He did it while we were undeserving. He did it while we were lost in sin. He did it while we resembled nothing good, nothing worthy, nothing beautiful. Ask him to make that the starting point for your heart change.

Nothing around me looks different. But that isn’t the point. The point is Jesus. I have dishes to do.


Family Feasts for $75 a Week – A Review July 8, 2009

Author: Mary Ostyn

Release Date: September 2009

Price: $17.95 US

I was all set last night to sit down and write my thorough praises of Mary Ostyn’s new book, Family Feasts for $75 a Week, when my husband blithely reviewed the book better than I could have in pages with one sentence:

As I sat cackling over the money I’ve saved since reading a pre-publication copy of this book a month ago I said to Ryan, “I can’t believe how much money we’ve saved this month!  I’ve cut our budget by 50% and I think I could easily go lower if we needed to.” To which he replied, “That’s insane, because we have been eating really well recently, too!”  High praise coming from a man whose own mother (an amazing cook) dubbed him The Food Diva several years back when he commented on the amount of carrots she’d used in a favorite dish of his when we were home visiting for Christmas.

In case you aren’t already heading out to pre-order a copy of the book based just on that, let me elaborate just a little.  Because if you’re anything like me you might be thinking, “Come on, seriously.  Do we really need another book on how to save money on groceries and inexpensive recipes to feed our families?  How many tater-tot casseroles with cheese whiz and Ritz cracker toppings can a girl try?”

If that’s you, I’m with yah sister.  But let me just mention a couple of things.

  1. Delicious Recipes Suited to Any Skill Level: While Mary DOES mention tater tots once in her book it is only to tell you how much better homemade fries are.  Not only that, but she upgrades the oven fries with her own homemade Ethiopian seasoning mix (and provides several other easy suggestions for seasonings if a mouth on fire is not your particular version of tasty).  And all joking about those spuds aside, her recipes are seriously good, seriously easy and seriously cost effective.
    In particular I must recommend her Thai chicken curry dish for which you can make your own curry paste and even your own coconut milk if you don’t have a can on hand but do have some shaved coconut in the freezer.  Another favorite already is her suggested recipe for making your own granola cereal.  (As I stood at the counter breaking up my first batch, chest swelled with pride, my husband gave me a smooch and seriously appreciative squeeze and raved about how amazing it was that I could make something like that all on my own.  Sorry, Mary, I took that compliment for my own and didn’t re-mention the fact that I’d learned it from the book.)
  2. Flexible Ideas on Cost Cutting that Allow You to Create Your Own Plan: One of the frustrating things about many books like these is that, in order for the system to work, you have to change a million things all at once and after about two weeks (for the very strong and enduring, perhaps three), the whole thing goes out the window because it’s just too hard to maintain so much change all at once.  Mary, however, is very clear about her desire for readers not to make this mistake.  Instead you’re given four areas in which you can assess your strengths and weaknesses and then a ton of ideas to choose from in each of those areas to begin the process.  This book’s plan is laid out like an a la carte menu of great ideas that you can tailor fit to your needs and your money-saving goals.
    I hate to admit it but I’m the queen of starting strong, getting over my head, and fizzling out completely on things.  This is something I dislike about myself and have been working hard to overcome.  But ladies, this process has been seriously painless so far and the benefits have far outweighed the effort.  Oh and another thing?  You don’t have to use coupons!  (But you can if you need to do penance or something.)
  3. An Easy and Interesting Read that Gets Right Down to the Issues and Lets You Start Saving Almost Immediately: I got this book on a Sunday.  Inspired, I refused to go to the grocery store until Wednesday because I could see in my own kitchen several different great meals I could already make with things I had in the house.  During that time I was able to use small portions of my time each day to figure out what changes I could make, lay out my plan, and embark.  Holding on to just a few of the ideas I’d found in the book I set out my first week and was delighted with every grocery receipt I collected because I knew I was making wiser decisions already.

I am torn between a desire to be completely honest about improvements to our grocery budget because it’s so amazing and wanting to hide from shame about how easily I have saved so much in my first month of using Family Feasts for $75 a Week.  I have literally saved several hundred dollars this month.  I thought at first that I was unique in how much waste was happening in our home but a few conversations with friends let me know that I am certainly not alone.  Some of my joking, if I’m honest, is to distract from the fact that it was painful to realize just how much room for improvement there was.  I found myself in tears at one point as I worked through my new budgeting plan and list of easy changes – it was a mixture of regret over the waste I could now see over the last 5 years of my marriage and relief to have found in Mary’s advice a workable, helpful and thorough means by which to improve so drastically.

In Titus 2, Paul admonishes older women to come alongside younger women and, among many other important things, train them in the ways of their home. Mary has shared the resulting wisdom of years of experience, trial, error and success in this new book and it’s a fantastic boon to those of us who still have a lot of learning to do. In future I plan on giving this book for wedding shower presents so that my friends can start out ahead of the game in feeding their families well on a frugal but flexible budget.

I could not recommend Family Feasts for $75 a Week more highly.  


What Food Can Make Real for Us July 4, 2009

As I sat in our kitchen one day about two years ago, feeding my one-year-old son his lunch and eating my own, I began to think about food and how much I hoped that my son would grow up with a taste for foods from all over the world.  That led me to thinking that I just wanted him to know about all the different groups of people in the world, to understand what a great, diverse, and colorful place this world is. I want him to know how these things point to the greatness, creativity and glory of God, who has “measured the waters in the hollow of his hand,” and “with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens. Who has held the dust of the earth in a basket,” and “weighed the mountains on the scales and the hills in a balance.”  (Isaiah 40:12)

I grew up in a home of daily devotions around the dinner table during which my father would often pull out our copy of Operation World and allow my brothers and me to pick any country we liked.  Dad would read to us about the country, we would talk about any missionaries our family knew who might live there, and then we would pray together for the people and needs there.  On our kitchen wall we had a gigantic world map which was bordered on all four sides with pictures of loved ones and missionaries for whom my family prayed throughout the years.  Pins marked on the map the location of each person or family and I spent many hours in front of them considering the faces, work, and lives represented in each one.  I wish I could say that I sat patiently through our devotions and obediently and hungrily absorbed the things Dad was trying to teach us, but I’d be lying.  However, those Operation World lessons caught my attention and something about the thought of these different lands and different cultures excited me and made a lasting connection in my mind.

Along with devotions around the table, my mother served us many delicious meals there.  Often they were the favorites served at just about any table across our country then and now, but my mom also occasionally served us foods from other countries or with biblical significance.  One that I still serve in my home now was Jacob’s Pottage.  I can’t stir those lentils and rice, pour the lemon-paprika dressing that accompanies it, or take a delicious bite without thinking about Esau coming home ravenous from hunting, and understanding just a little bit, how he could have sold his birthright to his brother for the sake of that simple meal.  Something about the food brings the story close to home for me and I still remember giggling with delight when Mom told me that this meal we were eating could be very like the one in the Bible from so long ago.  It was history on the table right in front of me!  It made the story seem real and possible, rather than like some story from the past in some far away land with no connection to me and my life here.

And so, sitting with my son as he gleefully consumed fist-fulls of broccoli and cottage cheese, I pondered how to go about making those same connections for him.  A desire I have had since the moment I knew I was pregnant with him was to impart an understanding and love for the greatness of God and the love He holds for all of His people of every shape and size, every color and hue, and from every country.  I want the connections to be strong, the lessons to be colorful and interesting, and for him to appreciate and value the importance of the work that missionaries do in the world.  I believe that this is a desire with which any believing parent can identify.

That is going to be the goal of some of my upcoming posts over the next few months:  To give children food that nourishes their bodies, hearts and minds and that creates with each meal a picture of another place in this world.  I’d like to provide some recipes and information that brings into present focus the reality of the work missionary families are doing to spread the precious word of God around the world.  It is my hope that through this learning God will be glorified as our children begin to piece together an understanding of the greatness and mighty works of the God to whom we look for all things and to whom we owe all things.

Does this sound interesting to any of you at all?


Being Pharaoh April 24, 2009

I realized something this morning. It isn’t pretty. As per usual, it’s come from observing my toddler.  If anyone’s sitting there thinking right now that I’m mean for saying I’ve learned something bad from my toddler, I’m assuming you’ve never had one.  But for those of you who aren’t too offended to keep reading, I continue.  🙂

We’re at this stage with my son, who just turned three. It’s this stage where he has learned to follow rules, but his heart has not understood what it means to obey. Some of this is a lack in our parenting and example, I’m sure. Some of it, though, is that he is a fallen being and he was before he hit zygote stage. Scripture is clear on this.

This morning, Eamonn got up way earlier than usual. I have been getting up at 5:00 AM to have some time to myself — some time of peace where I can drink enough coffee to wake up and pray myself into the day. One of my prayer requests is that this time won’t keep getting shortened by Eamonn’s getting up earlier and earlier as he did this morning. So, finally, at 6:30 he was up for a bit and what I thought was for good.

You know, moms, those mornings, where every little thing — even the easy ones — become a battle? “Eamonn, it is too early for you to be up. But you can sit with me while I finish reading and praying. You may do a hidden picture sheet or you may read a book.” “Ohh…I think I play my dart gun.” “No, no dart gun. That is loud. You may do your hidden picture or look at a book. Oh, or you can do puzzles. It needs to be quiet because I’m not done yet.” “I play your computer?” “No. You may choose puzzles, book, or hidden pictures.”  “Ohhhh.  Okay I do puzzles.”  Which lasted for about 3 minutes when I heard both xylophones being played at once.  “Eamonn, you must play quiet things.” “But I AM playing dem quiet and in my room.”  “No.  This is not what I’ve asked.  I’ve given you three things you may do…” “But…”  I won’t go into anymore detial because it wasn’t fun for anyone.

But so it began. With every single option given, something else off the list was chosen — or, something partially on the list but slightly different.  Of all the available options, each of which he would love had he not been active in resistance this morning, none was chosen as presented. Look, I’m new at this. I’m sure plenty of you would have caught onto the issue way before I did this morning. May I blame it on not having had my second mug ‘o joe? Whatever, I’m getting to the point.

Puzzles were chosen again and I lay down on the floor of Eamonn’s room with him while he worked a puzzle and I started to read in Exodus. (I’m way behind on my ESV in a year reading plan.) I was at the 7th plague. This is one of those stories that you’ve heard so many times since you were a little kid that you sort of shut down parts of your brain when you read it because you think you already know everything that’s in there. That’s how I tend to think about things like Moses and the Plagues, or Noah and the flood, or David and Goliath.

But here is what hit me this morning that I’ve never heard anyone mention before.  Pharaoh obeyed a few times before the first Passover!  Well wait.  Let me restate that.  Pharaoh obeyed…sort of.  Moses said, “Let my people go.” And Pharoh said, “All right!  Go!  Well, okay, the men can go.  But the kids stay here.”  Plague.  Moses said, “Let my people go with all of their belongings.”  Pharaoh obeyed some more and disobeyed some more, “Fine.  GO.  Good riddance.  All of you go.  Oh, but I’ll need all your cattle to stay.”  I’m paraphrasing a little.  

First I thought of Eamonn.  Hooooo boy!  Yup!  My kid’s not just a pharasee — keeping the “whole” Law but rebelling in heart.  He’s PHARAOH.  Keeping part of the law laid down but resisting parts and calling it obedience.  I mean it was just all crashing in so clearly, what his problem was.  

And then a small niggling thought occurred to me.

I do this ALL the time.  I am called to submit to different forms of authority before God and I am the queen of partial submission.  I give on the items in my home especially where I agree and no sacrifice is involved.  But what about the areas where my husbad for perfectly legitimate reasons has an opinion or desire different from mine?  

I could go on and on in all of the areas of partial obedience in my life.  That content alone would constitute a whole fleshed-out category in this blog if I wanted it to.  But instead I want to focus on vocabulary.  It isn’t partial “obedience” at all.  Rather, it’s plain disobedience through and through because any alteration is resistance in full.  It’s hypocrisy at its clearest because it’s made to look like submission and obedience when really, somewhere, I’ve made it on my terms.

This is garbled because that second mug is still sitting on the table getting cold.  But I just had to get this down.  This morning I read Exodus and I identified with Pharaoh instead of the enslaved Israelites and Moses.

The difference, thankfully, is that my heart is not hard like Pharaoh’s.  I am allowed to see, by God’s grace, my own disobedience and resistance. And I am promised help in changing because I’m steeped in Love freely given, not plagues and wrath poured out on my deserving head.  I am hidden away from the final wrath and consequences Pharaoh was dealt because of the blood of the true Passover Lamb.  

So this morning as I go microwave my coffee, now cold on the table, I contemplate full submission and obedience and pray for the grace to carry them out.

And finally as an imitator of my Father like in Ephesians 5:1 and 2 I will walk in love and try to pour myself out well to my son as an example of real obedience and submission.  By God’s grace I will accomplish it.


For the Kingdom of Heaven Belongs to Such As These July 9, 2008

Today I made pancakes for Eamonn and Ella as a treat because they have been such loves this week. They have fallen back into their easy pattern together: sharing more than arguing, hugging more than shoving, and running to each other and flinging their arms around each other dramatically every time we get to the condo.

On the way down the freeway, the closer we get to Ella’s house, Eamonn tells me with more and more frequency at every mile, “Mom? I luff Ellas. Mom? I luff Sy (his name for Josiah). Mom? I see Tata (his name for Crista, which we find hysterical)? Mom? I Ellas? I luff Ellas and Yon (my brother).” In between each of these sentences I am peppered with demands to go to “Ampa’s” house and told that “Dah-ee” is at work and that Dah-ee, too, is the object of his undying luff.

When we get to Ella’s, I hardly get the door open before they are running at each other, a tangle of 5-and-2-year-old hug in the entryway. “ELLAS!” my son cries. “OH EAMONN!! I’m SO GLAD you’re finally HERE!” Ella responds. “Hi, Sy!” Eamonn croons at Josiah in his exersaucer and then cries, “Won, Ellas! I play!” Leaving me to the baby, Ella and Eamonn run down the hall together to drag her play table and chairs into the living room while I get Josiah ready for breakfast. They sit across from each other while Eamonn sips “cossee” and Ella reads, like the oldest old married couple you ever did see — perfectly content in their pretend routine and comfortable in the given of the other’s love.

This makes my mornings good.

Because we’ve had a reign of peace this week, as I said, we celebrated this morning with blueberry pancakes. “Aunt Mary?” Ella asked as I whipped up the batter, “Are these blueberry pancakes going to have chocolate chips in them? Because that would just be my favorite.” I secretly designed to put chocolate chip smiley faces on them, but to no avail — we only just had blueberries.

Over breakfast Eamonn chattered and Ella asked for interpretations or interpreted his words to her own designs. “I think he is maybe asking if we can watch TV after breakfast Aunt Mary.” “Really, Ella?” I replied, “Because he just said something about vitamins.” “Oh! Vitamins?” she replied, “Well why would he ask about vitamins? I just thought maybe he likes Sesame Street. That’s what I was thinking.”

It is very hard not to laugh over breakfast.

And then she hit me with it.

“Aunt Mary?”

“Yes, love?”

“Even though Grandma is with Jesus now, could we still have a party for her? You know, when her birthday comes? She still has a birthday, right?”

“Yes. Yes she does, Ella. It’s in October.”

“So, we could maybe have a party for her, I was thinking? We could remember her even though she’s not here anymore?”

“I think that would be a great idea. We could remember all the things we love about her while we were together.”

I swallowed tears and choked down pancakes.

“Aunt Mary?”

“Yes, love?”

“What did Grandma give me? I mean, which of my toys did she give me that I could bring to the party? I am thinking maybe I would like to bring two things to talk about that she gave me.”

“I don’t know, love. We need to ask your Mommy about that. Like…Eamonn…he sleeps with his tiger from Grandma Wagner and his Dino from Grandma Kathy…I know she gave you toys too but I just can’t think which ones those are.”

“I know I have some,” she said. “I just cant think what they are. But she did give me things.”

“I’m sure she did, love. I’m just not sure which things.”

It’s amazing how quickly pancakes, butter and syrup can taste like cardboard. We ate to the track of Eamonn’s chatter.

“Aunt Mary!!”

“Yes, love?”

“I thought of it! I thought of what she gave me!”

I thought she meant a toy and asked, “You did? That’s great! What did she give you, Ella? What would you bring to the party?”

“Aunt Mary, she gave me all of her MEMORIES! That’s what Grandma gave me! All the things I remember. That’s what she gave me. I will have those with me for always!”

And so, for the umpteenth time, I did not make it through breakfast without weeping.

Just as many nights I end the same way.

Twice in the last week my son has been woken in the night, weeping. I go into him and immediately after I calm him he asks, “Mom, pray?” Always, I agree and we begin to pray. But inevitably he interrupts me, “Mommy…I pray Ampas.” “You want to pray for Grandpa, Eamonn?” “Yes,” he tells me, “Pray Ampas.” And so, we pray. We pray for all our hearts but on those nights we pray especially for Grandpa’s.

The Lord used my Mom to touch hearts and she certainly touched Ella’s…a kid with one of the softest hearts I’ve ever encountered. And I am so thankful to see how my Dad has touched Eamonn in some way that goes beyond the explainable, but gives me joy all the same. As my mother-in-law so aptly puts it regarding these children, “There are waters that run deep.”

It is so humbling when your faith is challenged by that of a child, but it is hard not to be challenged in the face of Ella’s faith and Eamonn’s instinctual desire for prayer. I go through so many days challenged, hurting, not thinking of the hope I possess so securely because of what Jesus has done for me.

I keep stopping here and not knowing what else to write tonight. How do you go beyond something like that? Tonight I cannot. It’s as far as my heart will go. And for now I am content to be led by the wisdom of a child…and I am thankful for the solace of prayer and my memories.

Such pals from the very beginning…Mom and Ella
Mom and Ella together, peas in a pod.

Mom and Dad with Eamonn hours after his birth
Mom and Dad the day Eamonn was born.


Longing June 6, 2008

Eamonn woke up in the middle of the night shivering and crying and I’d brought him to bed with us for a little while so that he could calm back down and drink some water. I slept for a bit with my nose in his hair, remembering all the nights I clung to my mom when I was little, wishing that she could just stay the whole night with me. There are few aches like the aches we feel when we long for our mommies. I hold him a little closer when I feel like that and his poor, hot baby skin burned against mine while his fever did its work and he fell back to sleep.

I have been having strange dreams every night and last night was no exception. I keep dreaming I am with my mother and that she doesn’t know she’s dead and that it’s my job, somehow, to make her understand. I wonder what my heart is trying to process that makes me dream this over and over again?

When we woke up this morning, Eamonn and I were both a little the worse for wear. Since I was a little kid, a family remedy for morning blues was a trip to the local diner where all the waitresses know you. So I packed Eamonn up with promises of pancakes and we headed out to our nearest family-owned diner for breakfast.

My visits to this particular diner have been shaky at best since Mom died. It was a favorite of my mom’s and mine. It is where she, my mother-in-law, and I went for pie after seeing Eamonn on 4d ultrasound for the first time. We sat in awe with huge smiles and lots of tears, cooing to the waitresses about how clearly cute and talented my boy already was, even in the womb. We used to just sit there on rainy afternoons and laugh at Eamonn’s antics as he flirted with waitresses and old ladies who stopped by the table to say hi. It’s a busy place, but they never hesitate to pour you just one more cup of coffee over and over again when they know you. It’s the place mom took me for lunch to let me know that her cancer was back. She’s the only person I know who would buy you lunch to soften the news of her own cancer. Doesn’t it seem like cancer should be a free lunch ticket? But not to my mom.

On our visit to the Village Kitchen the week before last, I finally explained to Curtis, the owner’s son, why Eamonn and I had switched down from being a party of three to a party of two. It makes it a little easier to know that they know when I well up over my coffee, which seems unavoidable when I’m there these days. Today was no exception.

I ordered eggs, pancakes, and bacon for us. I always get cheese on my scrambled eggs and while Eamonn and I were eating we started to laugh as I pulled and pulled at a bite of cheddar and egg — the string of melted cheese was never-ending no matter how much I twirled my fork. Suddenly, like a loudspeaker had been turned on in my head, I heard my mom laughing. When Eamonn was about a year old we’d ordered him a grilled cheese sandwich and laughed over the very same melty cheese. “It’s longhorn cheddar!” she’d giggled, “What a dirty trick to play on a kid!” and we’d melted into hysterics while trying to help him manage his sandwich with such a little mouth and little hands.

Bam. Tears. That’s all it takes right now. Oh how I wanted her there.

Eamonn lasted beautifully through breakfast and then a trip to the hardware store for canning jars, but he was so tired when we got home. I put him down for his nap early and after listening to him cry for a little while he started to sob, “I lubbus, mommmm. Mommmmm, I lubbus!” His baby version of “I love you.” I couldn’t resist. I went and scooped him up and snuggled him against me in his rocker while he finally calmed down and slept. The smell of him, the weight of him, and the feel of his little hand on my neck — all of them made me ache.

This all got me to thinking about longing. I deal with a lot of longing right now. I shudder sometimes to think about the weight of the longing my father must feel without my mother there anymore. But in the midst of all of this longing, there is hope. And maybe this is why, though I long I do not fall apart the ways I expected to. And maybe this is why, too, I keep dreaming that my mother does not know that she’s dead. I’m trying to reconcile my earthly understanding of death and the seeming permanence of it with the faith I have that what we see here is not all there is.

Last night while I was cleaning, I unearthed the Christmas letter my mom wrote in 2006, only months before we found out that her cancer had returned. After all the family news was done, she mentioned that for the first time in years, we were all going up to spend Christmas with the extended family — her brothers and all of our cousins and our kids. She wrote:

“The whole bunch of us are going, and there’ll be lots of hilarity and reminiscing over old times, longing for others who won’t be able to be there, and remembering loved ones long gone. It will be a sweet time, and we can hardly wait.

There is another greater Family Gathering coming
that we both find harder and harder to wait for with each passing year. That gathering will be what our Creator took on flesh for on that first Christmas and BURST into history to do battle to reclaim. It will be what He WON, on the cross, at the cost of His own life. It will be what He planned from the very beginning — His living in warm-hearted “family-ness” with His people — no more guilt on our part, no more fear, only perfect security and everlasting purpose and contentment. And it will be just as real as you standing there with this letter in your hand reading about it.”


And so as I weep and ache and long, I do not despair. My mind is trying to grasp that while she is gone from here, she is alive and well. And all shall be well. All manner of things will be well. And it will be just as real as you sitting here in front of your monitor reading this blog.


Eat That Weed! – Purslane May 28, 2008

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I didn’t ever pay enough attention when my mom was talking about plants. And boy do I regret that. But something surprising I’ve been finding is how much miscellaneous information that I didn’t realize had registered at all is floating around in my brain just waiting to be discovered.

And this brings me to “the weed” I insisted not get pulled when Jocelyn came and helped me one day in the plots. The thing is, I didn’t have much of an explanation…she was weeding and I said, “Don’t pull that one! I mean…well…I think they might be edible or good or something…so…leave those.” Sweetly, which is the only way Joce ever responds to my requests, no matter how hair-brained they might be, she said, “Okayyyy…” and left them meticulously be.

A few days later, Juan was in his plot and I worked up the courage to go and ask him about the weeds. I say worked up the courage not because he is intimidating or unkind — this couldn’t be further from the truth. But I had already pestered him about my strawberries and he had offered to help me with those, and then I had pestered him about the tomatoes I had being swallowed up by my squash so he helped me with those, and then he had offered to help me re-cover my strawberries, too. I didn’t want to become the cringe-worthy neighbor who was never just saying hi and ONLY ever borrowing a cup of sugar. But I gathered up my courage and went and asked.


“Hi Mary! How are your strawberries? I worry for them…”

“Oh, fine…they are beautiful. Thank you, Juan. I’ll have that new plastic soon.”

“How soon? They need the better plastic, Mary…”

“Thursday maybe?”

“Okay, Thursday I be here with plenty of time and we do it. I do it for you.”

I really love this guy. He is amazing and generous.

“Juan? Those things down there…” I pointed to the weeds he has like mine, which he seems to either cultivate or just let be. “Are those good or bad? I mean…okay my mom used to tell me that In Mexico they are a vegetable, not a weed.”

He laughed. “It is good. People eat it. We do eat it in Mexico. I? I don’t like it so much but you cook it and you eat it. I don’t know…It is not my favorite but it is good.”

It turns out we were discussing verdolaga. In the U.S. it’s commonly thought of as a weed and we call it purslane. In fact, when some of the other gardeners found out that I was going to try eating it, they wished me well, offered a memorial service and the always jovial Dick clutched me in a hug saying, “Well, it was nice knowing you. You’re a lovely girl! Can I have your zucchini?” Oh those gardeners.

But the thing is, after a little bit of research, I have begun to find some things out about purslane that maybe we Americans del Norte might want to pay some attention to. For instance, purslane is remarkably high in an Omega 3 fatty acid known as alpha lenolinic acid — very unusual in a food that is not fish (New England Journal of Medicine, 1986). According to the New York Times, it also contains surprising amounts of melatonin (which aids in sleep) and other beneficial nutrients. Surprisingly, a simple Google search of purslane showed multiple write-ups in the New York Times and the Washington Post. “Really?” I thought. “About a weed?”

But the idea of “weed” is really just ours. Apparently, purslane is eaten and relished all over the world — Mexico, Greece, Kuala Limpur, to name just a few places that think differently than we do in the U.S. But purslane is having something of a comeback here, too. This little, hardy succulent is beginning to be a hot item in farmer’s markets and chefs are using it more and more in top restaurants.

So last night I took the plunge. I heard from Juan that he and his daughter would be pulling out their purslane that day because it was choking out their bell peppers and so I came home with a huge bag of it, promising everyone who dubiously watched me leave that I’d return with a recipe if it was, indeed, good. Here is a picture of what I brought home. I was soaking to revive it after an hour in a hot car while I ran errands on the way home:

purslane soaking in water before being prepared

The recipe I used was for Greek Island Chickpea Salad With Purslane and Arugula from the Times. If you have the following in your kitchen, you can make the salad:

  • arugula
  • chickpeas
  • purslane
  • capers
  • lemons or lemon juice
  • garlic
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper

This is how it turned out:
purslane salad with chick peas and arugala

I have to say, it’s a rare day that I have pesto and pine nuts on my plate and something else interests me more. This was one of those days. Ryan and I purred our way through dinner and though the recipe allegedly made 4 servings of salad, we finished it between the two of us. And look! I’m still alive the next day!

So gardeners, think twice before you pull that weed. It might just be your next favorite vegetable.

Gosh, I’m glad I sort of listened to my mom sometimes, even without meaning to.


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