The words you gave me

We apologize for the delay. The proprietor of this blog wishes to state that she was temporarily flattened by pizza sauce, sweet corn, and birthday parties.


Aw, you guys are so fun!

It’s chancy putting a game out there and not knowing if anyone will want to play. I loved watching you dig into your bookshelves. Your booklist was charming – reference books, all-time favorites, and even one of my dad’s titles – ranging from serious to slapstick. There were some classics, some inspirational, and some dry as toast, with a splash of whiskey (not recommended at home). Your kindness to me and each other was delightful. Thank you.

Did you know that one of you arranges her books by the colors of the rainbow – which pleases me to no end?

And these words…!

My friend Sheila emailed me to say that she checked four bookshelves hoping for something good. Four! and found “of” twice. “It’s a random word, dear, not a Message From Jehovah,” I told her. Her next email made me laugh. “At least it rhymes with love, she says, straightening.”

My friend Cris found page sixteen completely blank, between the introduction and part one of a medical tome. Very significant, that. If only I knew in what way.

We ended up with two main characters, Pat and Charles, besides dad and God. Your “boring” words held everything together (theoretically), and you had some winner nouns even though they didn’t know how to play nice with the other kids. The washstand and the R.R. were particularly unwieldy.

The following paragraph uses each of the words given me to date, and only those words, although some of them are used more than once.

Those schemes for the back door breakfast analogy you want will have dad as God. I want more green smoke for you. Pat schemes to have Charles for early breakfast. The washstand is in the windy October world. Charles is packing. Pat helps. I said I loved today. Charles had that last o’clock of life. The R.R. voices will have soul’s word in it. In Pat’s defense, I observe that Charles will have loved God.

I mean honestly, guys, it’s not a thing of great beauty. You can do better than this.

Are you sure you checked the right bookshelf?

Okay.

Well, that was silly and fun. What would you compose from our word list?

In praise of the soybean

My dad grew edamame before it was cool. We called it by another name back then.

In the garden he claimed from a Minnesota meadow, he planted rows of soybeans, poor man’s food he remembered from his boyhood. When the plants died in the late summer, he uprooted them by the dozen and laid them in our yard. Rows and rows of tables stacked high with brittle stalks. How many were there? We pulled the sharp, hairy pods from the plants and my mom boiled them until the beans inside were bright and ready, jewels of goodness we pinched from the pods until our thumbs were sore. The mosquitoes chewed holes in our legs, and we stood on one foot so we could scratch with the other.

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When I was an adult, I went to a posh restaurant and was surprised to find edamame on the menu; the waiter grinned when I pronounced it correctly (“Very nice. Usually nobody knows what that is”), but I was raised on it in the wilds of Minnesota and when it arrived on my plate I found they hadn’t even bothered to pinch it out of the pods, but oh it was good, packed and popping with goodness, and since then I have found it at my supermarket shelled or not; an easy choice for this girl who remembers how

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The mosquitoes chewed holes in our legs, and we stood on one foot so we could scratch with the other. We pulled the sharp, hairy pods from the plants and my mom boiled them until the beans inside were bright and ready, jewels of goodness we pinched from the pods until our thumbs were sore. How many were there? Rows and rows of tables stacked high with brittle stalks. When the plants died in the late summer, he uprooted them by the dozen and laid them in our yard. In the garden he claimed from a Minnesota meadow, he planted rows of soybeans, poor man’s food he remembered from his boyhood.

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We called it by another name back then. My dad grew edamame before it was cool.

 

How to bake a Noah’s Ark cake

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When I was in my upper teens, my dad and I attended a Father-Daughter Banquet together. One of the after dinner activities was a paper for the dads to fill out, starting with In ten to twenty years, my daughter will be…

Most of the predictions were a variation of I hope she will be serving the Lord wherever her lot falls. But my dad had us all laughing, carried away by his prophetic sagacity.

Yesterday I dug out his prediction paper and found he wrote:

In 10-20 years, my daughter will be married—no question—after having graduated from nursing school with honors. She will be driving a 2010 yellow Beetle—a five speed with twin car seats in the back… with twins in, of course. Her two-year-old twins will be talking non-stop and giggling as they try to land pieces of pretzels on their mom’s head. My daughter will patiently explain the proper use of pretzels while fervently repenting of all her own childhood sins. –John Coblentz

He got a few details mixed up, of course. It’s two of my brothers who did nursing school with honors, and my sister is the one who got the Beetle. But fifteen years after the banquet, I have done a significant amount of repenting, and the gigglers just turned two.

And yes, they throw pretzels.

So it would have been nice if he had predicted them cleaning up toys or getting potty-trained or something useful. {Thanks, Dad.}

We celebrated their big event—uh, birthday, not food fight—with a Noah’s Ark cake I learned from the baking queen in my life, my sister-in-law Chastin.

Mix up two white cake mixes and bake them in seven layers, one for each color of the rainbow. (I don’t have seven round cake pans, so using disposable pans meant I could bake a bunch all at once. Don’t tell anyone I washed and saved them for freezer casseroles when this baby comes.)

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Stack the layers in order with a thin layer of buttercream frosting. (It doesn’t look “thin” on the picture but it’s compensating for the curvature of the earth, or something.)

You will need to drink lots of coffee during this stage, because you will know the whole stack is going to fall over. Miraculously, it won’t. The coffee will help with your other issues though, so it’s not in vain.

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Then top with a Noah’s Ark set of your choice. You can use a plastic one from your toy stash, or make your own. My ark, fashioned of cake bits and graham crackers, is what I would call a good try—almost, though not entirely, unlike a boat.

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But bubble gum animals are super fun to make. Start with Bubblicious gum, those thick cubes, and shape like Play-doh with as many details as you wish. Dipping a toothpick in food coloring makes cute eyes and accent marks.

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The nice thing about this cake is that it gets prettier when you cut it.

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Happy birthday, babies! May you live long and prosper.
(But that is not the proper use of pretzels.)

Uncertainty

“To this man will I look,

even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit,

and trembleth at my word.” Isaiah 66:2

I remember being a little girl, wondering when I would hear God speak. Would he speak out loud? What if I missed him? What if he asked me to do something really weird and embarrassing as a test of faith—stand up and prophesy Quite Suddenly in the middle of church or something?

My dad said that it took time to learn to recognize his voice.

Learning to hear God is a journey.

As I grew older, I found that people “hear God say things” that don’t come true. I had one single friend tell me that she knew how many children she’d have and what their names were going to be, because God had told her. I had another friend tell me she had felt quite certain God told her something wasn’t going to happen; when it did, she confessed her faith took a serious hit.

I couldn’t understand this, and it worried me. What were they hearing?

Did people understand the words of Jesus when he walked here? I ask you.

He spoke them out loud, with an audible voice and clear pronunciation in the language they knew well. He spoke to crowds of people who could have corroborated the account, and to a few close friends who could have understood him in context. Over and over and over, they got it wrong.

–They thought he was going to set up an immediate kingdom on earth (Acts 1:6-8)–

–They thought he was talking about not bringing any bread (Matt 16:5-12)–

–They thought he said he’d destroy Herod’s Temple and rebuild it in three days (John 2:18-22)–

–They took him to mean that Lazarus was sleeping, not dead (John 11:11-14)–

–They were offended at his talk of eating his flesh and drinking his blood (John 6:51-66)–

–And sometimes he wrapped truth in parables to mix things up, so that only those would understand who were supposed to understand (Mark 4:9-12).

His parents didn’t get him (Luke 2:49-50); the Jews didn’t get him (John 8:21-27); his closest friends had enormous blind spots.

“The disciples did not understand any of this. Its meaning was hidden from them, and they did not know what he was talking about.” (Luke 18:34)

Sometimes God’s voice is misunderstood.

Especially when it tangles with our longings.

*

How in the world? I thought. How in this world of godly predecessors setting broken track records am I ever going to be sure I hear Him right?

On gardening and imperfection

Part A

Confession: Almost I would give up writing on any issue I care about, for the way in which I am tested in that area immediately afterwards.

I wrote about seeing work as play, and immediately began taking my own so seriously I could hardly stop to breathe.

I wrote about grace, and started coming down so hard on myself and others that I wondered if I knew the meaning of the word?

I wrote about marriage, and was handed a remarkably well-timed opportunity to come alongside The Boss in something I am terrified to do.

So today I am wondering about imperfection, and glimpses of glory to which we have not attained.

Part B

Confession: This is the time of year when I ask myself “Why do I garden?” and answer back “I have no idea, dear.” I adore planting. I drink it and eat it and sleep it. And I love harvesting—the satisfaction of fresh corn, new beans, rich tomatoes. But in between—!!

I was gardening yesterday, sloughing through weeds grown tall from neglect and too many days of rain. I hate weeding. Hate the endless, careful tending while doubting all the while that any fruit will come. It seems so ludicrous, after all, to believe that small wrinkled seeds and spindly stalks will yield anything tasty.

And I hate uprooting in one area what brings me joy in another—pulling violets and goldenrod and dandelions out by the roots when I actually like violets and goldenrod and dandelions. Just not here. Simultaneously I am babying volunteer potatoes and tomatoes that came up among my rows of corn, babying them though this is not quite their niche. Volunteering is a brave act and should be encouraged.

Then I walk out to my new-planted strawberries, and heartlessly nip every bud.

My dad says that many times, a dream God gives to a person must go through several deaths before coming to fruition. Jesus called the human heart a field, and I wonder about the stuff that comes up in mine. Does He smile a little when I offer to feed Him my first-year asparagus, bravely pushing out of the ground? Look, Lord—use this!

He smiles a little and waits. Not this year, dear.

Does He wince a little when he nips my earliest strawberry blooms? I won’t use them just yet. Send your roots deeper. Don’t get discouraged, girl.

He never uses the word immature with me, and only as I look back later do I see He could have.

Sometimes I send forth a profusion of verdure, half choking some in my effort to produce all. He lets it grow side by side, the useful and the misplaced, the pretty and the nondescript. In my best patches, ugly worms turn beneath the surface—jealousy, competition, reproach, self-gratification. If I allow them at the crops, they’ll chew the garden full of holes. But if I go on quietly growing the fruit, maybe they will turn out to be earthworms only, enriching the soil.

I don’t think He asks the fruit be perfect to be useable.

Maybe it’s okay that the upside and downside never quite match. Maybe some of life is potatoes, and the rather silly and nondescript plant dying halfway through the season is an essential part of the rich brown tubers beneath. Maybe some of life is corn, and the crazy shooting into height with almost no root at all bears a crop of gold.

So today I am wondering about imperfection, and glimpses of glory to which we have not attained.