Monday, November 24, 2014

... But What About Death?

Last night we attended our community Thanksgiving service at the local Catholic church. Hundreds of people from Oriental's Episcopalian, Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Catholic, unaffiliated, and even Jewish places of worship, gathered there.
The altar arrangement at the community Thanksgiving service

The preacher this year was Baptist; he spoke on being thankful for the hardships of life. His text: Paul's thorn-in-the-flesh, a true, life-long torment. Even Paul, who could miraculously heal others, could not convince God to remove this plaguing affliction. But Paul eventually thanked God for the thing he first wanted removed from his life.  "Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest on me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ's sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong."

The Baptist preacher proceeded to list off some events we might initially loathe but later be thankful for: a traffic ticket, a bad grade in school, a broken engagement. Those are understandable. But does this principle apply for all things in life? Are there some heartaches that we can never become thankful for?

What about death?

Because if our faith in Jesus is only good for traffic tickets and romantic disappointments, it's not good for much.

It depends on what we do when trouble comes. How much does God have to do to you, before you grab hold of Him? Does He have to cut one leg out from under you, or two? Some of us are so stubborn, so independent, so self-sufficient, that when small- (or medium-) sized troubles come, we still don't think to turn to God. God's answer to Paul was that God had made Paul weak, so he would need God's strength. He would lean on God. He would be dependent.

It is an interesting mental exercise to recall all the greatest heartaches of life, and ponder why God brought them about, why He chose them for you, and what possible use they could be for your spiritual growth. What about death? What about the death of a dearly loved one, a child perhaps?

Even the worst of hardships should drive us weeping to the cross, to the One who suffered the most in death. And death can turn our hearts permanently toward heaven, as nothing else can. Can we be thankful for that?

I wrote a post this fall, but did not publish it, about dying, about particularly awful deaths, about why God (if it's someone's time to go) allows brutal, painful deaths. I wrote it after a local woman died in a boating accident, quite horribly. From our perspective, it was gruesome. Her husband was, I'm sure, numb with the pain of it. Why, God? Why not have her die in her sleep? Why are some deaths so appalling?

And I wonder if that kind of death is necessary to draw the person to God, in those final ten minutes of life. Because God is all about drawing us to Him, to heaven, by any means. What if our most wrenching heartaches are necessary because our hearts are hard? And like a lump of clay, like a cold mass of bread dough, our hearts must be worked and kneaded and ripped and contorted and squeezed until they are warm and malleable in God's hands.

I have great hardships in my past for which I am thankful now, but there were no deaths involved. I think this week of you whose lives have been shadowed with repeated deaths. Is Thanksgiving week a hollow time? May God work His strength into your hurting hearts and give you eyes to see His purposes. May He help you learn, like Job, to accept that He gives and He takes away, and His Name is blessed both ways.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Texas-Burnt-Orange Shawl

Remember this knitting project? Well, I finished at last the shawl for my friend in Texas.
Julia demonstrates that it's over 5 and a half feet long, and plenty wide.
It's a simple pattern (thankfully) because the yarn itself was anything but easy to work with, but the end result is really lovely. It is light as a feather, and has an elegant drape. I fit the whole thing into a gallon ziploc bag, with plenty of room to spare. What else do you know that is 5' by 3', and fits in a ziploc bag? :)
The pattern gives it a light, airy look.
It safely arrived in Texas! My friend says she plans to wear it soon :)

Friday, November 21, 2014

DeVona's Holiday Spice Tea

~8 cups of water
~18 tea bags -- orange/Mandarin spice tea
~4 cups apple cider
~4 cups unsweetened cranberry juice
~4 cinnamon sticks
~5 whole cloves
~1 cup brown sugar
~1/2 tsp. ginger powder

Brew tea first and remove bags. Add remaining ingredients and bring to a strong simmer without boiling. Strain out solids. Keeps well in frig. Serve hot with a slice of orange in each cup.

This tea has such luscious flavor. We plan to serve it with our dessert at Thanksgiving supper at church next week. The orange slices are so good -- they become soft in the hot tea. Pick the slice out after the tea is gone, slip the peel off, and eat the orange flesh, saturated with the tea's flavor. Yummmmmy.

This recipe is from my sister-in-law, who is a most marvelous cook. This is actually a double recipe; you could easily halve it.

The River Trail

Yesterday Adam and I took a walk with Max (my brother), Anne (his lovely wife), and Faith (another dear sister-in-law). We're visiting in West Virginia for a few days before the holiday season hits us all in the face. The nice walk in these hilly parts of the world is down along the Greenbrier River, on an old railway bed -- flat and straight.
Temps are in the teens or lower at night, and highs are still cold. The water just looked cold to us -- know what I mean? Brrr!
A sign at the head of the trail. I found it humorous that in West Virginia apparently it's just as common to have a mule as a horse, and to take it on a walking trail. Adam turned his mind to how you could possibly indirectly tie your animal to something, and thus keep the law.

Many years ago, a rock quarry was active along this railway line. The rock faces dotting the trail are impressive.
Some private landowner spanned the river with a foot bridge.
They do their best to prevent anyone else from coming across to their island in the middle of the river.
Faith noticed this mossy log with its community of mushshrooms.
Pom Pom, I thought you might enjoy this. If I were a very tiny fairy, I'd live here.
Icy white caps ~
My brother Max is an energetic walker, and could go on indefinitely (he's a farmer), but at last I asked to turn back. I knew I'd walk each step thus far, again. The sun was sinking along the sky.
I love the light in autumn, its slant, and the effect on tree trunks and ground, the crumble of leaves
Our side of the river was in deep shade; the opposite side was lit by sunset.
How I love these two ladies -- sisters to me who am sisterless, and friends to me for many years.
MK, Anne, Faith. Our warm gear doesn't do much for our looks, but they are stunningly beautiful, inside and out.
Not many leaves have the tenacity to hold on now. Late November in West Virginia this year has been unusually cold and more like January, I'm told.
Sheets of thin ice sparkle in the sun's fire.
We headed home.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Southern Color

We have color in Oriental. Not Colorado color. Not New England color. The South has its own muted autumn.
Crape myrtles:



Knock-Out Roses:

Our neighbor had two large pine trees removed from this spot and put in a brilliant garden:

That sycamore again, from a different angle:

I love the look of a wet autumn road, scattered in leaves and pine straw.
A parade of black trunks ~

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Homemade Feta Cheese

This past week Adam tried his hand at making feta cheese. He used whole milk and yogurt from the grocery store.
At this point he is pressing and straining the cheese through a cotton cloth, after cooking it on the stove.

He pressed it even more by putting it into a large can, having removed the two ends, placing a smaller can on top, and putting heavy books on it.
It will last in the frig for a while, but the first recipe he tried it on was a Marguerita pizza. It was soft, creamy, and very good.