Monthly Archives: December 2013

Oh Depths of Mercy! Can it be?

We were on our way home from church, Certain Man and I. I looked down at the ashes on the back of my left hand, and I took a tissue and wiped them all away. My heart felt sick and sad and I just didn’t feel like remembering.  The smell of the oil of lavender that I had mixed with them persisted faintly. I resisted the tears that had been threatening all morning, and wondered again at severe mercies and best laid plans going awry.

The previous Sunday, there were seven faces around the table in my Sunday School class.  It was an unusual situation with us practicing for the Christmas program, but it was still a good time together. I was hopeful that the kids would come back.  I knew that there wasn’t going to be oranges and candy bars and possibly gifts to lure them in, but I was still hopeful.  Saturday night I was especially glad for the promise that four of them would be there.

Then one had somewhere else to go, but that still left three.

Our lesson on this morning was on mercy.  It was the second half of the story of Jonah, and our book did a great job of bringing things together for teens in our world today and situations that they find themselves in.  My life had been so hectic at the end of this Christmas week with some heartaches that have been peculiarly my own, and I found myself needing to do last minute Sunday School prep at the expense of spending time with my family.  And I felt like I really needed to do that stuff for the Sunday School Class.  Plus, I had made a promise to one of the kids about editing an original creation of hers and printing it out so that she could hand it out this morning at church to anyone who might be interested.  I remembered it late Saturday night and managed to squeeze it in on Sunday morning, editing, formatting and printing it, then stapled things together on the way to church.

One of the things that I really like about our current Sunday School curriculum is that it often has something special for the teacher to prepare that will give a visual reminder to the students about the lesson.  For this lesson, I was to take ashes and mix them with oil and take them to class in a small container.  Just before closing, there was a thoughtful question about a time when we were in need of mercy and it was granted to us.  As a way of acknowledging that we have been recipients of mercy, we were to brush the mixture on the back of our hand to symbolize the sincerity of our repentance (as in “sackcloth and ashes”) and the consequential mercy we received.  So I got some fine ashes, mixed them with some Lavender and olive oils, put the mixture into a small container and put it into my teacher’s bag.  I felt as prepared as I could be under the circumstances, and was eagerly looking forward to the class time together with the three gals that were going to be there..

All around me, throughout the whole morning in the household of Certain Man and Certain Man’s Wife, the activity went on.  The Ohio Heart Throb was quite ill.  The three little villains were cuter than bugs, but testing the limits.  Eldest Son was very tired.  He had been out late with Youngest Son to Beloved Son in Law’s house.  Youngest Son and Girl with a Beautiful Heart were trying to pack to go back to Virginia.  There was lunch to make, showers to give, oven to set and relationships to nurture.  There were three hungry little boys, and this is never good.  I toyed with the thought that this might be a good morning to call my substitute and ask her to fill in.  But Certain Man and I were scheduled Greeters and there was also the promise made to my young friend to bring her the copies she wanted.

And so, I decided that I would go and be greeter with Certain Man, teach my class, give the stack of edited papers to my friend, listen to nephew Josh’s sermon (that I hate to miss) and come home as quickly as possible.  The “coming home as quickly as possible” was because an early lunch had been requested by the Offspringin’s.

A group of warm and friendly people gathered at our country church on Sunday morning.  And being greeter is always a joy.  For a church as small as ours, you would think the opportunity would present itself pretty often, but actually, It seems like it doesn’t come around often enough.  As the smiling faces passed through and the minutes ticked by and time for opening rolled around, my heart got heavier and heavier. It looked like there would be but one pupil in my class.

As quickly as I thought it, I was reminded that one student is ONE PERSON, and I happen to like this gal rather muchly, so I figured that God had a special reason for our time together, and that He intended for me to throw myself as much into the lesson as if the entire class was present.  I believed that God had a reason for my careful preparation and that He would use this lesson for good in Emily’s life as well as my own.  And so we gathered at the end of one table, close together.  I prayed for Emily, for the lesson, that our time together would be profitable and that we would both learn more about mercy.

I did the things that I had planned to do.  We discussed different situations in their degrees of “fairness” and discussed what should be the punishment for certain infractions.  We went over the story of Jonah and his desire for the Ninevites to be punished for their extreme cruelty.  We wondered what it was that moved the Ninevites to repentance and we talked about a God who desires to have mercy on us, but also desires us to have mercy.  Emily read a moving story in the student book of a Jewish woman who, at great cost to herself, had physically protected an Arab  man who was in danger of being murdered by an angry crowd after he had slashed two Jewish teenagers.  I refused to think about the fact that there were some other kids who desperately needed to hear this lesson.  When it was time for the final question, I brought out the small container of ashes and oil.  We talked about times when we have been in need of mercy, and I shared several instances from my life and brushed the dirty mixture across my left hand.  The lavender and the ashes stained the back of my hand.  Emily was wary, unconvinced.  It just looked too dirty to her. Besides, she could think of anything to share.  In the end, there was only one of us who climbed the steps back to the assembly with ashes on our hands.  It may have been on my left hand, but the Holy Spirit seemed to be witnessing to my spirit that it was truly on the right hand.

I kept catching a glimpse of the smudge during the service.  Josh preached on the fifth Sunday of Advent with his topic being JOY.  There was much to think about as I felt the curling of sadness around the edges of my soul. There have been many shadows that have fallen on brightest hours in these December days.  I kept thinking about how mercy is a compelling reason for Joy.  That the mercy extended to me should bring a wellspring of joy that cannot not be silenced.  That the pain, and darkness and even sin that threaten my joy are nothing in comparison to the gift that I’ve been given — not just once, but over and over and over again, in an ongoing stream, deeper and wider and longer than I can begin to comprehend.

“O depth of mercy!  Can it be? That Gate was left ajar for me?”

For me?

When I allow impatience to bring out ugliness towards the ones I love best?

For me?

When my judgmental heart reserves the right to think I know best?

For me?

When my way of life and my way of doing things and my way of family builds walls instead of bridges?

For me?

When I expect others to extend grace for my imperfections but I expect them to do live in a way that doesn’t require grace from me?

For me?

When my disappointment in others makes me want to withdraw from their lives, to withhold that which I could give?

. . . I should have left the smudge on for another day, another week, another month, another year.

I need to be reminded again and again.  Severe mercies are mercies none the less. And they can be the well spring of joy if only I let the mercy river run deep and wide and long.

For me.  Yes, for me.  Grace enough and mercy granted for me.

It only becomes joy when it intentionally slips through my hands to others.

“Oh, Lord Jesus!  Of all the gifts you’ve given me, may I be the least selfish with mercy.”

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To keep a promise . . .

“Mom, you never make Swedish Tea Rings anymore,” said Middle Daughter on an afternoon in November.  “You used to make them every Christmas, but we haven’t had them in years!”

“Maybe this will be the year I get that done,” I said.  “We can certainly try!”

“You always say that,” she said, “but it seems like we just never get to it.”

“Okay,” I said.  “This year will be different.  I promise to make Swedish Tea Rings some time over Christmas this year.”

She didn’t say it, but I could tell from the look on her face that she was a bit skeptical as whether this would ever happen.

Swedish Tea Rings.

When I was a young wife, one year around Christmas I stopped over at the home of our neighbors, Earl and Alice Yutzy.  They lived down the road from us and I knew some of their daughters.  Alice was up to her elbows in baking on that particular day, and I was intrigued with the beautiful round pastries that she was turning out.

“What are those?” I asked.  “They really look good!”

“They are Swedish Tea Rings,” she answered.  “I make them at Christmas to give away.”  The rings were set around her kitchen in various stages of completion.  Some were rising, some were just baked, some were iced, and she had even decorated some of them with red and green candied cherries, cut and placed to look like Christmas greenery and berries or flowers.

I was young and foolish and impulsive and over-confident.  “Could I have your recipe?” I asked her.  “I would like to try to make them.”

I’ve often wondered what she thought.  If I had known how much trouble they were to make I would have: 1) Understood why she only made them once a year, and 2) Never attempted to even begin to make them.  But Alice was, first and foremost, gracious.  She was also encouraging.  And I watched her make those tea rings, and I called her one day and scribbled down the recipe on a page in our local phone book that didn’t have much on it, and I learned how to make tea rings.

There came a day when my paper was almost unreadable, and I wrote it in a recipe book that was just for writing down personal favorites and that is where I was able to keep tabs of where it was when I needed it.

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This season has been busy.  Certain Man finished his village a full three weeks later than usual.  There are some of my Manger scenes that haven’t even gotten up.  Those that have made it up through the faithful help of Middle and Youngest Daughter.  At the back of my mind, though has been this promise about making Swedish Tea Rings this year.  On this gloriously quiet Christmas day, I decided that there was no better time than now to get started.  And so, I DID!

There were some very confused and worried moments while they were mixing because I forgot a whole cup of evaporated milk that the recipe called for.  But I put it in and it all mixed up very nice.  Then I weighed everything else, dividing the dough into individual pieces so that I knew exactly how much dough would be in each ring.  Then I weighed and divided the filling so that there would be the right amount for each ring, and I wouldn’t have to guess.  I set these on a sheet of waxed paper, close at hand.

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When everything was completely ready, I set to work.  The dough had to be thoroughly chilled, so I put the first ones into the freezer while I finished weighing everything out.  Then I got the first pack and the greatly simplified assembly proceeded.

First, I rolled the dough into a rectangle, approximately 9″X12″–

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Then I took one of the premeasured filling portions and spread it over the dough like this:

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Then, I rolled it up like this:

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And then joined the ends together to form a circle like this, and placed it on a sheet of foil that I could transfer it to a cookie sheet.

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This next process is one that took a very long time for me to understand and learn to do.  The instructions were to make cuts all the way around the “wheel” like this:

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Then the trick is to carefully take each section and turn it gently on its side like this:

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Then the creation is allowed to rise for about an hour — less if it is really warm in your kitchen and more if it is chilly, then it is popped into the oven at 375 degrees for about twenty minutes and it comes out looking all brown and good, and we put icing on them and they look like this:  Ready to eat or give away, or package for later.

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Alice always had beautifully proportioned and perfect looking things.  Mine usually taste okay, but I just cannot match the perfection that I still see in my mind’s eye when I think of hers.

But my family say they taste as good as ever.  They have been effusive in their praise.  I don’t think they taste quite right, but I cannot say that out loud.  They forbid me to complain about the food that I make.  They said that I am never satisfied with food I make.  Which is pretty much true.  I think that something is wrong with my taste buds.  Nothing ever tastes quite right.

I think it must be something that comes with six decades of overuse.

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The Yutzy Family’s 5 ingredient Hot Chocolate Mix

1 box (20 or 22 quart size) Powdered Milk 

1 – 12 oz. can of Ovaltine Rich Chocolate Mix (blue plastic jar)

1 – 30 oz. canister regular chocolate Nesquik

1 – 22 oz. jar of regular flavor powdered coffee creamer (I like to use the store brand)

2 pounds of Domino powdered sugar

Mix all together thoroughly, and store in a large container

 (This recipe fills a 9 quart Tupperware container)

Directions:

Fill cup 1/3 t0 1/2 full of mix.  Add Hot/boiling water to top.

Stir and enjoy!

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So Blind Linda’s center has a Christmas party today. And I agreed that she would choose a name and we would get a gift. Last night, Youngest Daughter wrapped up the gloves and the Christmasy necklace in a beautiful package and I put it where I would remember to give it to her driver to take to Easter Seals with her.

This morning, the driver came early (7:05 for an 8:00 pick up) and I was hurrying around here trying to get her out the door. As I passed by the gift, I grabbed it up and took it along with me.

WHY, OH, WHY DID I NOT PUT IT INTO A BAG??!!??!!??!??!?!?!?

As I hurried down the ramp to the waiting bus, the driver came dancing out, took one look at the nicely wrapped gift in my hand, said, “Oh, for me????” and before I could set the record straight grabbed me and hugged me and kissed my cheek quite firmly.

Oh, dear, oh, dear!

I quickly said, “On, no, no! This goes to center with Linda. They have a party today!”

His look was of that of crestfallen disappointment. I tried to redeem the situation by giving him a bag of party mix and a Christmas card, but between you and me and a fence post, I am glad he is taking off until New Years.

Later, after my husband’s rather perfunctory Good-bye kiss, I said, “Sweetheart, I am going to have to ask you for a proper kiss. I really need to get a bad memory out of my mind.”

Of course, he was clueless until I told him the rueful tale. Which he found to be inordinately amusing.

But he made good on my request for a proper kiss and I certainly have no complaints there!

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December 20, 2013 · 3:18 pm

Salmon Soup and Family Memories

I was looking for a quick and warm supper for tonight.  As my mind was floundering about, I suddenly remembered that I had bought a can of salmon some time ago and put it on the shelf for such a time as this.

Salmon Soup.

Many was the Saturday night after a long day of cleaning and shopping and such that our tired Mama would bring out a can of salmon, warm the milk and add a few of her own touches along with a can of salmon and feed her six hungry children and husband on that can of salmon and milk from the bulk tank.  The melted butter floated in the top and the salty crackers broken up in it made a warm and nourishing soup.  She flaked the salmon small and we savored every morsel of salmon that sank in our soup bowls while we all sat around the kitchen table, and had bread with King Syrup on it to serve as an accessory to the simple meal.  Daddy probably had home canned peaches to finish things off.

Just about the time I had made up my mind to make Salmon Soup for supper, the phone rang.  It was my Sweet Mama.  She has been spending some time with my brother, Nel, and his wife, Rose.  She gets such good care there and I’m always glad for her sake when she can go.  However, she has been sick and still sounds tight and wheezy in her voice.  Her good doctor prescribed antibiotics for her as well as an expectorant, but I’ve had some anxious thoughts since she has been gone.  Not that she would get better care if she were home, but she seems so far away.

“What are you doing?” Her familiar voice rang cheerily over the phone line.  It is her typical question.  (There have been times when she asked that question and I didn’t want to answer and I would scramble for something to do quick so that I could answer something that would meet with her approval or that I would feel comfortable telling her I was doing.)

This time I could tell her what I was doing for most of the day.  “I’ve been working on my Christmas letter,” I told her.  “And I saw the dentist this morning for an appliance for those front teeth that are hurting, and I’ve been home.  It’s been cold and snowing.  I’m getting ready to make some supper.”

I paused and then said, “How did you make your Salmon Soup back when we were children?  I would like to make some for supper, and I’m not sure I remember what all you put into it.”

She went over the simple steps, asked Sister in Law, Rose, how she did it and we had quite a discussion.  Suddenly, I was filled with a deep and pensive longing.

“Oh, Mama,” I said.  “What I wouldn’t give to be a little girl again tonight. To pull my chair up to that kitchen table with you and Daddy and all my brothers and sisters and have a bowl of your Salmon Soup.  To not have any responsibilities except to be a part of our family as a little girl . . . ”  I couldn’t go on.  The tears were clouding my voice.

She was quiet for scarcely a second, and then she said gently, “That would be nice, wouldn’t it?”

And then we were on to other things, but the longing had been stirred and it followed me the whole evening.  Certain Man and I, sitting at the counter with our bowls of Salmon Soup, were enjoying some quiet moments together, and I was still pensive.

“Sweetheart,” I finally said, tentatively, “do you ever feel homesick to be back with all the family around the table again?”

He looked at me puzzled and said, “Well, it would be nice, I guess, but they are all scattered, I mean, they DO come home, but I guess it’s not the same –”

“Oh, I didn’t mean OUR children,” I hastily interrupted.  “What I meant was when you were children.  Do you ever wish to be back around the table with your sisters and brother and Dad and Mom –”

His eyes were suddenly guarded and he shook his head so slightly.

“Don’t you have any good memories about being together for supper or having fun around the table–?”  My voice hung in the air, and he turned his head away.

“Not that I can remember,” he said tightly.

This time, my tears were not selfish.

There are far worse things than wishing you could somehow be back in the happy, warm, embracing, comforting, encouraging memories of long ago.

One of them is to remember your childhood and to never wish to be back there.

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December 11, 2013 · 4:10 pm

Old Gertrude Rides Again

I was tying BL’s shoes the other morning, getting her ready for the DART bus that would take her to Easter Seals Day Program, and I suddenly remembered that there was one Christmas when I put red ribbons and jingle bells on her shoes and the Powers That Be removed them rather promptly.

And that made me suddenly homesick for Old Gertrude.  This season was her favorite of all.  She believed in Santa Claus with a childlike faith that put him right up there next to God.  Sometimes Oldest Daughter would tease her and say, “Gertie, Santa Claus isn’t coming this year.  He got hit by a car and he DIED!”  That would really set her off.  She knew that Christina was teasing, but she honestly felt that she was guilty of a terrible sin, probably blasphemy in the nth degree, and she would hush her and scold her and raise quite a fuss.  She loved for me to put red velvet ribbons on her shoes with jingle bells that jingled merrily with every step she took.  She would sit in her chair and shake her feet and smile conspiratorially to herself while the bells rang on and on.  After BL’s center reacted so negatively to her bells, I wonder what Gertrude’s Day Program must have thought.  I’m so glad they didn’t make her take them off.  They gave her so much joy.!  Here is an old post from 2006 that couldn’t be truer if I had written it just today — except for the dates which are glaringly off.  I had forgotten that I had written it, so I enjoyed it as much as any of you will.  As the years pass, there are things I almost forget — and I want to remember.  The memories make our lives so rich, our hearts so full.  I’ve been so blessed.  My heart gives grateful praise.

For almost twenty Christmases,
Old Gertrude
shared our carols, our Shrimp Chowder, the ageless Christmas story and the gifts.
Oh, how she loved the gifts!
How fervently she believed in Santa Claus!
Last year, she went to Heaven in October and was buried in early November.
At Stockley Center.
In the cemetery for the indigent and Mentally Challenged.  (That’s the new word — Gertrude hated the old one.)
Then Daddy died and nothing was right about last Christmas.  I hardly had time to think about Old Gertrude and how much she loved the season.  Besides, there wasn’t much to enjoy last year.  Just a new, wrenching grief and so many things for my hands to do that my heart didn’t catch up for several months.
Today, getting ready for our family celebration tonight, the gifts are wrapped, the tree is twinkling, the village is resplendent in it beauty, and, out of the blue, Youngest Daughter says,  “You know, I MISS Gertrude so much today.”
Suddenly, the ache in my heart gets wider.

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Gertrude!
She would have parked herself in the chair beside the tree every night since it went up and would have sang the carols and eaten chocolate, (getting it all over herself!)  She would have rubbed her hands together in gleeful anticipation of the packages under the tree, and would have listened as Certain Man read the Christmas story and Christmas prayers were offered. She would have rooted through her Christmas stocking and made a royal mess of things and would have been delighted with stuff that I could have imagined that she wouldn’t have looked at twice, and dismissed the things I chose so carefully with a sniff and an impatient wave of her hand.
Gertrude!
I miss her songs and I miss her childlike faith and enthusiasm.  I miss her unconditional love and her uncompromising loyalty.  She didn’t care if the house was a mess, she loved the simplest things to eat, she made me laugh and sometimes she frustrated me no end. She never wanted to hurry, and she didn’t care if everyone in the house was telling her to move, she would stand where she was and say with dignity and force “Don’t rush me.  You’ll cause me to fall!”

The picture above was taken at a small group caroling time several years ago.  Old Gertrude never could read, but she loved to pretend that she could.  I snapped this priceless photo and it couldn’t be more definitive of what Old Gertrude was like.

Oh, Gertie.  What a gift you were to our family!
I wish that you were sitting by our fire tonight.

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Thinking . . .

I pull the flannel sheets from the dryer.  They belong on the beds of Our Girl Audrey and Blind Linda.  I bought them from Kohl’s some time ago on a magnificent sale.  They are so soft and warm and fluffy.  When I clean the lint from the lint trap it is soft and airy.  I would like to put these soft, warm sheets back on their beds.  They feel so comforting!

But when I strip the beds in the morning, OGA cannot bear to wait until the sheets are washed and dried to have the beds made up again.  I’ve learned that to her, an unmade bed speaks of my neglect and uncaring towards her and it feels like nothing is right or predictable in her world.  If I even procrastinate at making up the beds once they are stripped, it worries her exceedingly.  So I learned early on to strip the beds and try hard to have them made before the timer goes off marking the 30 minute wait she has on Saturday mornings following her weekly “bone pill.”  The timer tells her that she can safely eat her breakfast.  It tells me that I should be done stripping and remaking the two twin beds in the bedroom that she and BL share.

A few weeks ago, when the weather turned cooler, I brought out the two sets of flannel sheets that I use alternately on the the ladies’ beds during the winter.  One is the wonderfully soft and warm set that I spoke of earlier.  It is light blue with white puffs on it that look like clouds, and looks warm and inviting.  The other set is flannel.  It is steel gray-blue.  It is serviceable and warm, but it is not very soft.  Even dried in the dryer with softener doesn’t seem to change the fact that it isn’t all that soft.  But it keeps OGA and BL warm.  And BL never acts like there is anything wrong with it.  OGA thanks me for making her bed sometimes and for putting an extra blanket on it, but she never seems to notice the difference in the sheets.  When I take one set off, I put the other set on without mention or fanfare.

Why does this make me think about Grace?  I was pulling that soft, airy lint from the lint trap today and thinking about the Grace that is so welcome in my life.  The Grace that is so warm and comforting and attractive.  And I wonder how often I miss that kind of Grace because I am so insistent on things being done in my time and in my way.  

But there is that other kind of Grace.  It is not soft.  But it keeps me warm and it is certainly serviceable in my life.  And just maybe it will prove to be more durable over the long haul.  And if it accomplishes what it was intended to accomplish, maybe it doesn’t matter so much how pleased I am with what it feels like.  Because when all is said and done, aesthetic values aside, I need grace for the long haul, not the short pleasure.

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