A Cup of Soup

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For years this verse directed much of my life: “Truly I tell you, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to the Messiah will certainly not lose their reward” (Matthew 9:41). A cup of water. How we take that for granted! I used to spend hours each week helping get clean water to those who need it most. While water ministry is still dear to my heart, most of that work is done by others who are much better at it than I. Now, however, I’m re-discovering the power of a cup of soup.

When was the last time someone rang your doorbell just to bless you? When was the last time you knocked on a neighbor’s door just to share a blessing? It’s awkward, isn’t it? We live in a scheduled world where busy people value their time and their privacy. (Or at least that’s the excuse I sometimes use when trying to protect my own.) Soup helps. Or muffins. Or … Somehow, it’s just easier to walk across the street and share yourself when you have something in your hands. So today I’d like to share a recipe with you. I call it “scissor soup” because most of the ingredients are simply dumped from a bag (opened with scissors, see?) into a pot. I hope you’ll give it a try. Have some for supper, then package up the rest in disposable containers. (In a pinch, Ziploc bags will work.) Then make your way to someone who could use a little love, and pass along a bit of your soup.

Just in case you need more encouragement, here’s another passage from Matthew, Christ talking in chapter 9. “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?’

The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”

Scissor Soup

6 cups bouillon, broth, or vegetable juice

1 bag frozen peppers and onions

3 bags frozen veggies of any variety

1 bag chopped cabbage or cole slaw mix

1 bag baby carrots or shredded carrots

1 cup salsa

1 can diced tomatoes

2-3 cans beans, rinsed.

1 can cream of mushroom soup (optional)

1 tsp. chopped garlic or garlic powder (optional)

Simmer until all veggies are tender (at least an hour)

 

I Get To

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Welcome to the holiday blitz. Are you ready? I’m not asking if your tree is already up and your shopping started and your cookies baked… I’m wondering if you are ready inside. I am, by the grace of God, more ready than I’ve ever been, because this year I’ve looked at Christmas, Easter, and every other big moment in life and realized they aren’t as important to me as the little moments in life. I’ve asked myself a dozen times what is important to me. Trees and shopping and cookies are nice, but they don’t really make the cut. Family, friends, worship, rest, health, noticing life—those things make the cut.

Last year, we didn’t put up a tree. Christmas happened anyway. This year, I only put up half of our decorations. The other half can have its turn next year. I will shop, but I’ll remember that, during my last visit with 6 month old Nick, his favorite toys were an empty shampoo bottle and a red Solo cup. ‘Sorta wish I’d learned all these lessons when my children were small.

There will be moments in this holiday season, and in all the seasons thereafter, when life outpaces me, when it will seem that the demands to serve are greater than my time and energy allow. Then I will try to remember what my pastor taught me last week. “I get to” is an attitude that will trump “I have to” every time.

Do you have to do the dishes or run a bunch of errands? I have a wheelchair-bound friend who would love to get to do that.

Do you have to read a stack of papers or pay a stack of bills? My nearly sightless friend would gladly trade places with you for a day.

Do you have to rise in the wee hours, yet again, to care for a sleepless child? My sweet daughter-in-law calls her midnight vigils “bonus time” with her baby. She gets it. She gets to.

This year, I will think first before diving into what I once thought was required of me at Christmas.  If it isn’t important, I just might skip it. And when my list looks long anyway, I’ll remember that, regarding all that life requires of me both now and as the new year begins, I get to.

 

 

Care More

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When Steve and I drive to Galveston, one route takes us across a rather imposing bridge. That bridge looks overwhelmingly difficult and frightening as we approach it. Yard by yard, though, as we ascend it, it turns out to be quite manageable. Before too long, we are on the other side. This is how life’s difficulties look to me now. They seem impossible as we approach them, but in the moment by moment reality of facing them, they are doable. It was moment by moment reliance on our Lord that took me through this journey.

There are a few things I’d like to share with you, and remember myself, in order to better help any friends who walk this road in the future.

  • I never said, “my cancer.” Somehow those words, for me, meant owning something I was in the process of getting rid of. I said “my condition” or “I was diagnosed with” instead, somehow distancing myself from the evil within me. So, in the future, I will not say “your cancer” either.
  • A cancer diagnosis begins a surprisingly time consuming process of research, phone calls, and doctors’ appointments. It’s as good a time to bring a meal as the surgery/treatment phase.
  • That same busy process also becomes mentally overwhelming. I came to a point where I needed a week off from talking about my condition at all. I didn’t want it to begin to define me. My dear friends and family seemed to understand my need to change the subject or put off responding to their calls and emails.
  • A remarkable amount of current entertainment deals with death, or at least illness, and often cancer. Steve and I have even joked about the “Disney Death Syndrome.” How many popular kids’ movies begin with the demise of one or both parents, when, in reality, that is a very rare occurrence? How many children have, for years, harbored a fear of losing Mom or Dad because of the skewed perception brought about by even relatively wholesome entertainment? Happy movie recommendations were greatly appreciated both for my sake and for my husband’s. Two friends even brought by bags of carefully curated DVD’s.
  • Healthy food is a big help, and it need not be a complete meal. A few friends brought welcomed snacks and side dishes that were perfect additions to what others had provided.
  • “Let me know if I can do anything” is a great saying. “I’m going to the grocery store. What can I pick up for you?” is a better saying. “Can I run any errands for you, or take you somewhere?” is terrific as well.
  • Cards, texts, and emails work better than calls and visits during those first exhausting days after surgery. Many of those who offered to visit in person or via phone wisely added, “if and when you are up for it,” making me feel more comfortable about turning them down if I needed to be alone.

And there you have it—the short version of my journal entries over the past two months. May you never have to walk this road, but if you do, may my words turn your eyes to the One who will provide all you need.

Next Week: Something lighter this way comes ( I promise).

Humbled by Hospitality

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Last week’s definition of hospitality looked like this:

  • The generous reception and entertainment of guests.
  • A relationship between a guest and host, in which the host received the guest with goodwill.
  • Showing respect for one’s guests, treating them as equals.

So here’s this week’s question: How much does that definition relate to elaborate food, a perfectly clean home, and ready-to-converse information on the hottest news events? If you answered, “Very little,” then you and I are on the same page.

Steve and I spent many years opening our home to young people. They never cared if the carpet needed vacuuming. (In fact, it made more sense to vacuum after they left.) As for food, we called them the locusts (sorry, guys!), because any sort of leftover was fair game. No matter what we set out on our counters, they swept in and ate it all. And as to conversation, they didn’t care so much about what we said as they did about what we asked and how closely we listened when they answered. I thought the ease of entertaining them had to do with their youth. Now I’m not so sure. Perhaps adults would be just as pleased with an invitation to enjoy simple, relaxed hospitality as all those teenagers were.

Am I suggesting that we welcome guests into a dirty home and serve whatever falls out of our refrigerators when we open them? Not exactly, but how about this. Let’s help revive a culture of hospitality within our circle—and open that circle widely whenever possible.  Let’s stop allowing “I’m busy” to reduce our connections to a quick voicemail or two. What if we were all more willing to tidy up one room, ignore the dust bunnies, and welcome a friend, neighbor or lonely teen to come and play a game of cards? Or perhaps we could share a simple supper without chagrin. Nobody cares that much about what’s on the table when guests are received with respect and a desire for relationship.

This sort of hospitality requires a certain degree of humility, a willingness to let friends and neighbors peek around the corners of our busy lives into our imperfections. So what if they see a haphazard stack of bills, laundry, or dishes? So what if all we have to offer is a can of soup or some scrambled eggs? There is a time for well-planned parties, but we can practice hospitality even when time is short. Chances are that those we welcome into our own kitchens and living rooms aren’t leaving behind circumstances much different from our own.

The Cloak of Invisibility

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Harry Potter. I’ve been watching this series of movies with Steve over the last several weeks. Some are delightful. Some are surprisingly dark. I’m not here to extol or vilify J.K. Rowling, though. Rather, I’d like to focus on one of her many creative inventions—the Cloak of Invisibility.

Harry receives the cloak as a gift. It allows him, no surprise, to become invisible each time he hides beneath it. Thus he is able to escape danger on occasion and to become privy to otherwise forbidden conversations. I’d like to have such a cloak, wouldn’t you? No such luck.

However, there’s another cloak of invisibility we can have—that we are actually instructed to use on many occasions. It’s the cloak we can don whenever we are tempted to flaunt our efforts, to have our good deeds recognized. The Bible talks about not “letting your left hand know what your right hand is doing, about doing our good deeds in secret.” This is somewhat counter to our current culture, but can still become our personal mode of operation. It’s the aftermath that’s tricky.

Following our Lord’s direction, and blessing someone in a secret way, can be great fun, actually. The trick is to give God the silent glory and then remain silent about the situation henceforth, never “accidentally” slipping into “wasn’t that cool?” mode.

Need some encouragement to keep with the invisibility plan? First, take a gander at Matthew six. Then consider enjoying this novel: Magnificent Obsession by Lloyd C. Douglas, © 1929. It’s the story of a man who decided to put his cloak of invisibility to good use throughout a lifetime filled with acts of kindness. If you choose to read it, let me know what you think!

Stick Your Neck Out

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We’ve lived in the same house for over 25 years, and we’ve had the same next door neighbors for the entire time. Not too many people can say that these days! I’ve learned a lot from that wonderful couple. Let me share just two of the lessons they’ve taught me.

When we were out of town and a freeze was coming, our neighbors covered our pipes without a word. They saved us all sorts of trouble because they took the time to notice our need. I’d like to get better at noticing the needs around me and meeting them when I can. That’s the simpler lesson, though. This next one is a little trickier.

A couple of years ago, Steve pulled out of our driveway with a rather large moving van full of furniture. He was simply helping our son and daughter-in-law move all of their worldly goods from a storage unit in Houston to an apartment in Austin. But you can imagine how that might have looked, since I wasn’t in that van with Steve. Some people would have decided to “mind their own business,” but my neighbor was at the door within the hour, just to check and make sure all was well. That meant the world to me.

Too often, I have used “minding my own business” as an excuse to avoid what could be an awkward situation when, in reality, the needs of our neighbors may well be our business if we can be of help. Our culture is too quick to call for isolation in the name of privacy.

It’s not easy to stick our necks out and ask if our friends and neighbors need help. What if they say, “Hey, butt out!” Pause for a moment to truly contemplate that question. The real answer is, “That’s probably not such a big deal. It’s probably worth the risk.”

With “worth the risk” in mind, I called a new friend not long ago. He had been across the room from me in Sunday school and just didn’t look well. It felt a little awkward to make a “Hey, are you okay?” call, but I did it anyway, leaving a voicemail when he didn’t answer. Later he called back to catch me up on life a bit, tell me how to pray for him, and express his gratitude that I cared enough to call. On the other hand, another friend hadn’t been showing up for church for a while. I didn’t make a call to her and later found out that she was very ill.

And so, I’m hoping to get better at sticking my neck out—at asking, at the risk of being rebuffed, if I can be of help or encouragement to those around me. If you’re one of the people I call, please be nice!