Tuesday, July 28, 2015

"Massive uncertainties"

Today, out in New Hampshire where The Great Aunt has been living, a few family members sit vigil by her side as she seems to be slipping away. I cannot be there to say good-by to a woman I have loved.
The Great Aunt and Paddington
Seems we have entered a time of sadness and are feeling the grief of people passing away, of diagnosis of illnesses, of struggles against depression, of broken plans and dashed promises and other less noteworthy things like sinus infections and Japanese beetles eating your grapevine.

Our friend, Ed Hague who has fought a three-year battle against stage IV prostate cancer has thought a lot about despair and posted some brutally honest thoughts to his blog. See “The Benefits of Despair” on www.wedonotloseheart.com.

It seems to me that we Christians are often guilty of trying hard not to be in that dark place.  Or perhaps what I mean to say is that we try to find ways of mitigating suffering and evil, even to the point where we worry that acknowledging despair is somehow heretical. Instead we pass on little sayings meant to tell us: “Get along little dogie” Can’t stay here, you know. Everything happens for a reason. When God closes the door he always opens a window.

Steve Froehlich writes with more realistic passion in the latest issue of Critique in the "Letters to the Editor" Dialogue section.

As John writes: we know how the story ends [see the book of Revelation] But these certainties, the ground of hope in Christ, do not resolve the massive uncertainties that cloud our lives right now. Nor do they provide us with explanations about how God is accomplishing that purpose in our lives or in our moment of history. But we are people who believe in the Resurrection, and we choose to be content living with hints and foretastes (none more important than the Eucharist) of the shalom of the world made new.

Yes. The crucible of human suffering seems somehow more relieved when we admit that life is often filled with “massive uncertainties.” To be together with others in the midst of shit is oddly, the very place where my hope and love in Christ grows.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Fava Beans: The gift of too much work

Squish the bean out of its membrane.
I’ve never seen Fava Beans (or Broad Beans as they are known in English) in our grocery stores. I’ve never known anyone to grow them. I’ve only read about them. I think that was in Under the Tuscan Sun, but I can’t find the passage to be sure. I remember reading about this vegetable where everyone in Tuscany or Provence eagerly awaits its early summer harvest. Like I wait for the first real strawberries of the season or the hope of a few morels in May. I only had the vaguest notion of what they were like. Then a few days ago our vegetable farmer friends gave us a gift of about a pound of fava beans. (Recipes say for a serving you should plan on a pound of pods per person.) I think I know why they are rare in our country.

Joe and Becca sent along basic instructions. Open the pod. Inside, find three to five large beans. Remove them. When they are all collected, blanch them for 30 seconds in boiling water until the membrane around each bean loosens. Quickly place them in an ice bath. Open the membrane slightly and squish out the bean. Do this for each one. One at a time, until you have a small bowlful. Steam them for 3 minutes until tender.

With this little batch I did the simplest thing possible to taste them. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle on a little sea salt and pepper. I now understand two things. Why Italians love them so much. And why they are not popular here: too much work. But their buttery flavor and smooth texture won me completely. It was worth each little step. More, please.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

A complicated eulogy

Elisabeth Elliot died.

Photo from elisabethelliot.org
It’s a very odd thing to read about the death of someone you so respected and who influenced your life, but to also honestly face some of the doubts and, well, personal opinions that quite differed from hers. Writer Addie Zierman brought those repressed questions to the surface. She eloquently voiced what I would want to say if only I’d thought of it. (Read it here.) Elisabeth was one of my heroes, too. Many of the things she wrote and said steered me through difficult times. When I was overwhelmed with life she said: Don’t try to take the entire journey at once. Trust all your life and its details to God. He cares about you. All you need to do is the next thing. Whatever it is. Just do the next thing.

I wanted to be like her. For awhile. Until I grew farther into womanhood and marriage and mothering, then I found her voice more difficult to bear on some issues.

Zierman ends her eulogy with graciousness. If anyone ever wrote mine, I hope they would extend me grace in the end as she does with Elisabeth. Zierman points us to a place where I have wanted others to go – a place of hope, a place we long for: Home, a place where I (and you) are called “Beloved.” 

Saturday, June 27, 2015

A loving vine-dresser

Today we read together the Common Prayer for June 27 and were awed by words so appropriate to our present circumstances.

“Above all, trust in the slow work of God. We are quite naturally impatient in everything to reach the end without delay. We would like to skip the intermediate stages. We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new. And yet, it is the law of all progress that it is made by passing through some stages of instability – and that it may take a very long time. Above all, trust in the slow work of God, our loving vine-dresser.”  Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.

Today is a  last-day-before-your-life-changes day. Tomorrow our teenage granddaughter arrives to make her home with us until whatever time she is ready to launch into the world. She has one year of high school left. Her life is full of change and unknowns. So is ours.

We are excited and a little nervous. So is she. We have talked a lot about what this could look like, but do we really know? No. What we do know is that she wants to be with us. We love her and she loves us even if I can’t listen to her music that vibrates my ribs and stuns my ears. Yeah. I used to, but those days are gone along with some of my hearing. Give me a little Mozart adagio and I’m happy. There are a lot of details to look forward to. Like Dr. Who episodes and driver’s education and a part-time job and new paint for her room. My only stipulation was – sorry, not black. It’s too hard to cover if you want to change it some day.

This isn’t what we imagined for this stage of life. But isn’t that often how things turn out or don’t turn out? And don’t we wonder if only we could skip the hard parts and fast forward to the place where outcomes are certain and wouldn’t that be just be so sweet? We believe there will be sweetness in ways we don’t know. That in adding to our family – we are doing exactly what God has in mind for us. And for her. And that his work in our lives is a long, slow process. At least that’s how it’s been for me.

Friday, June 5, 2015

New Normal

Today is packing-the-car day. Tomorrow we head to Tennessee to see our children and grandchildren. More than ever we want to be with them. There is a story unfolding. Here is a piece of it.

Costco Delivery!

Last December the LaRose family all came down with a stomach virus and were sick as dogs right around Christmas. Everyone recovered in about four days. Except for our daughter, Sember, hers hung on for days. A month passed and she was still unable to get out of bed for a full day at a time. More weeks passed until finally she went to the doctor to see if they could find figure out what was going on.
It’s a long story, but she ended up at the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale where she was seen by a friend of ours who is pretty much a medical genius at sleuthing and he diagnosed her with Postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS disease). POTS sometimes occurs after a virus attack or some other trauma to the body. Here is a link that gives some idea of what life is like for a patient. With one caveat. Young people have a much better chance of recovery. For older adults there is no cure. Dr. Bergstrom compared the quality of life as that of a person having congestive heart failure or kidney failure with dialysis.

The prospect of having another life-long, chronic illness (along with CFS) has precipitated a time of grieving for everyone, but especially for Sember. She feels like she’s on the steepest learning curve of her life as she figures out how to live with her new normal. There are days when she can’t get out of bed because of overwhelming body pain and wicked exhaustion. (In the midst of it she somehow maintains a spirit of kindness and humor.) Parenting, keeping a home, feeding the family and so many other things are now difficult if not impossible.

Their community and church has rallied around them in wonderful and unusual ways. One way was figuring out how to help with meals. It is one thing to deliver a meal or two to someone who has had a baby or has been in the hospital, but to help someone who has an on-going chronic illness? Finding ways to help without burning out is definitely a need? A friend devised a solution by inviting people to contribute to a fund that would hire a person who cooks:

Anne wrote to friends and family: “I have a friend who is a private chef. She cooked for us for a while when we were uber busy, and she is amazing! I would shop for proteins, starches, and vegetables, and then in four hours, she would put it all together and make enough food for several days. She likes to make healthy food and is very knowledgeable when it comes to cooking for people with food issues such as gluten or dairy allergies. Better yet, her food is yummy.”

After figuring what it would cost to hire Cassie for four hours a week, there was enough money donated to make it happen through the next three months! (If there is anyone out there who would still like to contribute – let me know.)

This was such an amazing gift. Who would have thought? I am deeply moved because if it were possible, we would personally remove this thorn from their lives. Impossible, of course. So this solution is a great comfort to everyone who loves them.

All this has meant that parenting five children will be a big challenge for both Sember and Shaun. Our own lives will be changing along with theirs because we have invited our 17-year-old granddaughter to live with us and she will be coming at the end of June. We love her and I think it is safe to say she loves us and is looking forward to life here in Minnesota. 

We didn’t know we’d be joining the ranks of grandparents who have grandchildren living with them. But this could be a very good thing for all of us. In a way it will mean that we, too, will be finding our new “normal.” We look forward to seeing what God will do as we step into the unknown.

If you are the praying sort, we would definitely appreciate prayer. What this will mean for me, I’m not certain. For some reason, as you could perhaps tell by my long absence from this blog, I haven’t been able to write for awhile. But today, I felt compelled to at least put this out there before we leave tomorrow morning.  Thank you for stopping by.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

The Shaggy Mane Mushroom

When you’ve been away for as long as I have it is difficult to slip back in without making a lot of fuss.  But today, I’m back because we are heavy into spring and mushrooms are rocketing through the rubble of last fall's debris, pushing up overnight. If you can identify them, some will become your treasures to be picked and eaten for free. We are on the lookout for our favorite mushroom of all time – morels.

However, this morning Anita found another kind of edible mushroom on her walk and brought back a batch of shaggy mane mushrooms also known as lawyer’s wig, because that is sort of what they resemble.  They are edible and being one of the few that are easily identified, it is okay to bring them to the table.  
Shaggy mane mushrooms in various stages of maturity.

Shaggy manes deteriorate quickly, turning into an inky black puddle in just a few hours. They will stain whatever they touch. Not appetizing at that stage. In the past, shaggy manes, which are a part of the inky cap mushroom family, were used as ink for writing.  They are found in fields on hard ground and along pathways, especially in spring and fall. They can grow quite large – up to eight inches tall. Generally found singly rather than in dense clusters like their smaller ink cap cousins.

For more information on them – and a good resource on foraging for wild foods check out this Minnesota chef.

Although I had just eaten a dish of fruit and yogurt for breakfast, I decided I’d better prepare them immediately. But one precaution to keep in mind is that shaggy manes have a mild form of antabuse, a powerful drug that sickens people who then consume alcohol. Some people could react to it. You might not want to consume your favorite beer along with them.

One of the easiest ways to prepare them is to make a light batter of flour, water, an egg, and salt. Whisk it together and dip a mushroom. Saute them until crispy and golden in olive oil and butter. Can be seasoned a little more with garlic salt and pepper. Delicious. 


Thursday, April 9, 2015

Look at the moon!

Creation can shine on a chill and dreary day – which is the kind of day it is today. It always surprises me how effortlessly it tosses us bits of excessive wonder. I love imagining how ever in the world could God come up with so many things that radiate light into our lives. I’ve pondered Jupiter this month as it glows next to the moon in the month of April. I’ve said it so many times and why is it that you probably do too? We say, “Look at the moon!” as if we’ve never seen it before? Today I’ve watched chickadees arc to the feeder at a hundred miles per hour and land delicately as a ballerina on a teeny perch. Last night we flash grilled marinated beef on skewers – my version of sate and it tasted killer good. We wonder how two fallen, scratchy people, image bearers of God, can stay together long enough to be old fogies and even laugh about it. And why are bunnies so stinkin’ cute when they eat carrot peels? 
And right now, this minute, if I stepped out and opened my mouth to the sky I’d probably choke to death because a rare spring snow is falling in beautiful enormous chunks. 
 In the words of David Clowney’s hymn, I believe:

God, all nature sings Thy glory, and Thy works proclaim Thy might;
Ordered vastness in the heavens, ordered course of day and night;
Beauty in the changing seasons, beauty in the storming sea;
All the changing moods of nature praise the changeless Trinity.

Even I, flawed as I am, proclaim his might and beauty.