Thursday, November 8, 2012

'Tis the Season or Teach a man to fish or something like that...

The other day we received our Heifer International gift catalog.

Several years ago, the gals in our ladies' Bible study group pitched in and made a gift of some animals to a family in a third world developing country.  We gave the money to Heifer and they purchased the animal (was it a goat?  Some chicks?  I forget) and gave it to people in need, along with training and support.

The idea is that if you give a family some food, in a few meals it will be gone, but if you give a family  means to raise food, not only will they be able to support themselves, but will soon be able to help produce for others in need.

Back in 2008 the kids and I were made aware of the plight of the christian Indians who lived in the Khandamal district of India.  An extremist group was inflamed by power-hungry politicians and went on a rampage, burning down every single church in that state, murdering, beheading pastors, and tearing down homes of the Christian believers.  It was non-discriminatory when it came to denominations.  Catholics, Anglicans, Methodists, Baptists, Assembly of God; didn't matter, they were all affected.  Even many children were doused with gasoline and burned. 

Our family began to pray for the many widows, asking God to provide for them a means to support their children, in a dignified fashion. 

During this time our church made us aware of a particular organization called Land of a Thousand Hills Coffee.  A group on another continent working to offer dignity to widows.  Jonathan Golden was the visionary behind a movement to bring together widows of faction tribes in blood-bathed Rwanda, offering a place for them to sell their coffee beans at a fair price.  An opportunity for these woman to be able to work with dignity, in a way that would bring about reconciliation.  Over the years, this organization has grown, and the money, earned fairly by the farmers, has brought about improved working conditions, better equipment, basically, a way to work with dignity and pride. 

We loved buying those coffee beans, knowing that each cup was a part of making a tiny difference in the life of a woman somewhere in another part of the world. 

Little did I know that not too many years later, actually only a couple of years later, I would find myself in a similar spot.  Granted, when my husband died, I did own our property free and clear.  And had animals that provided for our meat and dairy and offered income producing potential.  I also had a very small "hobby" baking operation, using a tiny kitchen mixer to knead the dough and our kitchen oven to bake the bread.  But it wasn't enough.  Not enough to produce an income that would provide for a single mom and 5 kids.

After Philip's death, we were showered with gifts.  It was shocking, humbling and amazing.  Big gifts.  Gifts that enabled me to pay off the debt we had and gifts that enabled me to buy used professional equipment for a bakery.  Giant oven.  Great big  mixers.  Lots more grain.  Reliable vehicle for carting things to market. 

I weep even now to think that God used so many people in our family's life to bring about the means for me to be able to work with dignity to provide for  my kids.  Things are different now.  I don't have a cow or goats to milk to provide milk.  But I do have bread and grain and enough income to buy milk from a woman down the road! 

As the solicitations for charity come pouring into the mailbox, even now, before Thanksgiving comes along, I will be giving thanks for the people who were so generous to me and my children.  Who continue to be generous to me and my children in many ways.  And will hope that we can be a part of passing on the good.  Isn't it amazing that we have the opportunity to make a difference in someone else's life??? 

As I read through the articles in the Heifer magazine/catalog, I felt inspired to share with you guys.  I hope to have the kids help me raise some money to buy someone a goat and a hive of bees (Milk and Honey!!!) for Christmas for some single mom in another country.  Heifer is a great way to do it.  There are several other groups who go by different names, but do the same things.  Southern Baptists have been doing this kind of work for decades.  World Vision is another group.  I think we will also order coffee to sell in the bakery from Land of a Thousand Hills.  You know how I love my coffee!  Wouldn't it be nice to know that the extra dollar or two we have to spend per bag would be going straight to some hard-working family, instead of a shiny corporation?  Perhaps you know someone who just needs a little boost to get their business off the ground.  Buying their handcrafted goodies for Christmas gifts, or their beautiful postcards for holiday greetings might cost more than the package of 150 from the super store, but the benefit would be worth the cost! 

Most of you who read this blog have been taking these steps far longer than my family.  Some of us have very limited incomes and not enough extra to do anything extravagant.  So please, don't think this post is an effort to guilt anyone into doing something they can't afford.  I hope you will see it as an encouragement!  If we are intentional, even tiny little gifts can make significant differences.  We are so bombarded this time of year with solicitations for help.  I hope we won't be numbed to the point of missing the opportunities that come along that are divinely presented.  If you think that what you have to give is just way too small to count, ask me to share with you the story of Nora's $1 gift that I took with me to India and was able to use to purchase milk for over 10 kids who were victims of the Khandamal tragedy.  I will be praying that God would show me and my kids what we have to offer that would enable someone else to be equipped to work and provide for their family with dignity.

PS Just so you know, this morning at our breakfast table we offered thanks for the people who made it possible for me to have a job, milling grains and baking.  I regularly give thanks for you who gave to us to make it possible for me to have the equipment to increase the volume of goods I sell.  I pray for you to be blessed!  For what you gave to us to be returned to you a hundred and thousand fold.  I am so grateful. 

Monday, November 5, 2012

Dia de los Muertos

Last Friday was Dia de los Muertos.  It is a day set aside to honor the memory of those we love who have passed on before us.  Of course many churches in the US celebrate All Soul's Day, but in Mexico it is a very big event. 

People go to the cemetery, clean things up, decorate and set out foods and drink that their loved one enjoyed, they sit around and eat and drink that food and tell stories.

Instead of fearful death, decorations are garish, skeletons, gawdy and brightly dressed in finery.  As if the culture wishes to say, we are not afraid of death!  It is real!  We will all be skeletons some day!  Let's not run away from death and grief, but embrace it and the memory and story of our loved ones who have died!  They are worth the tears and the laughter and the pause in our daily life to acknowledge them!

As you may have figured out by now, we live near the border of Texas and Mexico and see a lot of Mexican influence in our culture.  Many communities honor the Dia de los Muertos with some kind of celebration.  For a while I have wished to go down to Terlingua Ghost town for their celebration.  I thought it would be good to show the kids that others take the time to carve out ritual to honor the memory of their loved ones.  I thought it might affirm that the things they learned in grief support group after the death of their dad were universal ways of coping. 

Well.  I didn't get done with work in the bakery on time to make it down south.  I was kind of disappointed because I had the feeling that it would have blessed the little girls to do something to remember their dad.

Then J. called and we invited her over for a few minutes.  She sat down to have a glass of wine with me and a chat and we spoke about the day.  Somehow, one of us mentioned the boxes the kids made in their group with Martha Furman, a counselor who led the group.  They call them their "Dad" boxes.  They spend time decorating the boxes, then put special things in the box that are important memory items.  Like photos.  A baseball because Philip loved the NY Yankees.  Philip's Japanese driver's license, remnant of our two years spent over seas.  Actor's Equity card.  Old newspaper clippings from when he was in highschool.  Scraps of paper with his handwriting, lists of stuff he needed for home renovation projects, scraps of old elementary school spelling and penmanship homework. 

J. sat and watched and listened as the girls took turns unpacking their boxes.  She was so patient as they shared stories of how they loved it when he would take them to McDonald's for burgers when I was out of town!  And how they loved it when he would take them swimming.  They showed her pictures they had of Philip and I on our wedding day, we were so young!  and of us hiking in Big Bend National Park, different kids on his shoulders during different seasons of our life. 

You might think it would be depressing to spend so much time talking about a dead loved one.  But you should have seen the pride and joy on their precious faces as they felt safe to let our friend get to know us better!  You can't know us without knowing something about Philip, who was such an involved dad and husband. 

I realized that we got to have our own Dia de los Muertos celebration that evening.  So there were no candles lit, and we didn't go buy cheeseburgers or sit in the cemetery.  But the heart of the day was honored and we were all able to give thanks for the life of my dear deceased husband and their dear deceased dad.  We miss him everyday.  But being able to honor him somehow makes us free to continue living. 

So glad for friends who care about me and my kids and are so generous with their time.  It was a gift, getting to see the girls share their memories with our new friend.

What an introduction to November!!!

This Saturday, Rose, Nora and I loaded up yummy goods from the bakery and headed down south to Terlingua Ghost Town for farmer's market.  It was cloudy and drizzly here in the mountains of Alpine.  The sky was blue and weather warm once we got to Terlingua.

I wrote about the Terlingua Green Scene some last year.  It is a cooperative garden, designed to educate folks on how to grow stuff and live more sustainably in the remote, arid Chihuahan desert.  They have a giant compost area, receiving treasured cans of refuse from area restaurants.  garden plots are filled with little seedlings that should bear all winter long~greens, herbs, other cold crops.  The non profit was given a large shade structure which not only shielded us from the beating down sun on Saturday, but also provides many gallons of water harvested from every drop of rain, collected in giant rain catchment systems. 

If you have ever been to Terlingua, you will know that it takes a special kind of person to live out in the remote region.  Tough as nails, independent, able to live without many amenities other people think are essential to life.  Green Scene is all about helping make this lifestyle work even more efficiently, demonstrating that it is possible to create gardens and oasis in the desert.  In fact, this has been done for thousands of years.  It just takes grit, stamina, perserverance and a little help from friends and neighbors.  A local market makes the economy even more brightly flavored.

I love going down to Terlingua.  The market has the best view for hundreds of miles-the blue Chisos Mountains to the south.  Pace is relaxed.  We visit.  Stories are shared.  Everyone catches up on the latest news.  Kids run around.  I hugged necks of some folks I hadn't seen in 22 years.  Visited with new friends.  Met tourists from many points across Texas. 

After market, the kids, Raymond and I drove on down to Big Bend National Park, loaded up gear and headed for the Rio Grande.  I made a mexican stew with venison provided by R, local peppers and onions, eggplant grown by Seiko up in Fort Stockton, tomatoes, carrots, garlic, cumin, oregano and fresh herbs and tomatillos from Shannon at Green Scene. Since I was busy baking bread, I bought whole grain tortillas made locally by someone else.  We set up camp at Gravel Pit.  Sierra del Carmen glowed.  Ate our supper while watching the best show in town, lightening storm and clouds over in Mexico, shooting stars above us.  Constellations and the milky way so bright and clear!  Rising moon like a spotlight, curving over the night sky, our ceiling in luxurious accomodations, camping pads and sleeping bags, Nora cuddled up right next to me. 

We set up a tent, in case scattered showers came our way, but we had no need to use it.  We enjoyed the open air.  Dawn rose pink and lavender.  I don't think I worried about anything for several hours!  We ate leftover stew and quesadillas for breakfast then canoed downriver to a secret hotsprings Raymond knew about.  Not too secret, for he has pictures someone gave him of a camp set up back in the thirties for folks who wanted to go bath in the healing mineral waters.  Hard to believe that anyone could find such a remote spot!  Now there is a rock formation across the site in Mexico that helps you know where to look, but otherwise you would not know you were anywhere near until you felt the shockingly hot water hit your boat! 

We sat in the springs, must have been over 105 degrees.  When we got sufficiently boiled, we moved over to the cold river.  It was fun watching the clear water and bubbling sands, water heated by magma who knows how far down in the earth?  Kids and R scrambled and slid around in the sand dunes back beyond the river bank.  I relaxed.  Sat still.  Listened to sound of whirring bugs and soft breeze in mesquite.  Gurgle of spring and river, coexisting. 

We canoed back to camp, packed up, and then drove north to meet some friends at a place midway between the Park and Alpine.  We drove through badlands, thankful for 4-wheel drive, and I wondered where in the world could anyone find water in such a remote and desolate place?  We had been hearing of this swimming hole for ages, but never made it out there.  Busy.  School stuff.  Farmer's Market.  Etc. 

We set aside excuses and drove down the road, catclaws scraping the side of the truck as I hoped to keep from falling down into washed out gullies inches away from my tires!  All of a sudden we reached the canyons and striated colorful rock formations formed a backdrop for the most lovely swimming hole I have ever seen.  And from the squeals and breathless shouts of laughter, it must have been pretty cold, but don't ask me!  I decided that I had had enough fun in the water and chose to pass on a cold swim!  But everyone else was game and watching them gave me great joy!

The setting sun shone on the rock walls, the blue sky told me that everything was going to be just fine.  And for another few hours we didn't worry about a thing. 

I know the Bible says to worry about nothing, but in all things present your requests to God.  Which is how I aim to live.  But let's be honest.  No matter what you call it, real living involves real problems, real concerns and plenty of managing situations, whether work, family or home.  Sometimes you just need a break.  A chance to see something bigger than your problems.  A chance to be still and feel the sun or hear the river or the sound of crickets and a breeze blowing through the leaves.  There is nothing like the delight of a seeing a shooting star, or two or three or more!  To see the perfect reflection of delighted children and friends, smiling in the crystal oasis. 

When we lived in New Jersey, I loved to run away to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Filling my eyes with beauty would put everything back into perspective. 

So the Met is too far away for my escape.  Now I have a different place that is perhaps the exact opposite, and yet brings about the same calm and joy. 

We stayed at Agua Fria a bit longer than planned.  Dark came upon us and so did a bit of a chill.  We were no longer in the national park, burn ban had been lifted, so we delighted in the joy and warmth of a campfire built on the edge of the water.  Bread was sliced.  Sandwiches made and giggling girls with muddy feet made me so thankful.  I felt very loved.

I felt even more loved when we got home and I found a sparkling clean bakery and stacks of clean clothes folded on my bed!  Maggie and Patrick went to Lubbock for their regional cross county meet and were unable to join us.  Maggie, BLESS MY SWEET TEENAGER!!!, cleaned up the mess I left.  I never asked her.  I hated to leave things undone, but figured that I would spend all Monday morning cleaning.  What a gift.  What a girl.  How many 15 year olds would offer that gift to their mother? 

Consequently, you have Maggie to thank for these blog posts. 


Some things make me sad... some random, scattered thoughts regarding meanness

Of course we are all still hearing about the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.  As many of you know, we have many loved ones on the East Coast, and most of them were affected to varying degrees by the hurricane damage.

I was checking on their statuses via Facebook on a regular basis, which meant I had to scroll through many other FB friends' updates.  I was shocked and at times left speechless by the types of posts I scanned.

Several posts seemed to indicate that a true follower of Christ would never vote for Obama.  In fact, their posts seemed to do more than suggest that it would be a sin to ever vote democrat. 

Wow.  I appreciate diversity and am thankful to live in a country which promotes free speech.  But as a christian, and a follower of Jesus, it hurts my feelings to see others suggest that people who do not share their religious or political views are less loved by God. 

Other posts suggested that if only people had built their houses on the rocks instead of the sand, they wouldn't be suffering from the damage of the hurricane.  That all the damage they have sustained is their own darn fault. 

And another fb post was passing on a list of how you can tell someone is a muslim, along the lines of the "you know you are a redneck if...".  The jaw-dropping incredulous racial, religious stereotypical slurs were not only inflammatory, they were mean, inaccurate and horribly offensive.

As I pondered the small-minded, petty meanness, I considered the options.

I could just silently unfriend acquaintances who don't share my views.  I could post mean comments trying to set those people straight.  By the way, these are not mean people.  They are kind, sweet, generous folks.  I could just ignore their offhand rants and comments totally, as I hope people would do for me when I let something stupid slip out of my mouth and then wish I could stuff it back in. 

What to do?  I don't want to ignore mean, racial and anti muslim rants because it makes me wonder how many people chose to ignore anti-semitic rants not too long ago, and we can see in history what that atrocities occured because of people keeping their mouths shut. 

Not all muslims are terrorists. 

Not all muslims want to kill you if you are a christian.

And on that note, not all people who were slammed and hurt terribly by Hurricane Sandy had built their house on the sand.  For that matter, the damage was unlike anything sustained for generations, if ever.  And even if it were the case, would Jesus want us to gloat and chortle over someone else's tragedy? Because we were so much smarter to build our houses far from hurricane territory? 

I am just throwing out some scattered words as I try to figure out how to live in a world that is increasingly more divided.  In a world where the loud, "christian" voice is growing more strident, judgmental, condemning and harsh.  I don't want to be harsh and judgmental and condemning of my brothers and sisters in Christ, but certain topics are going way too far off base for my comfort, and this election season is causing more than a few christians to offer up a pretty sad picture of Jesus' unconditional love.  It isn't the political view that offends me.  It is the meanness with which some people are judging the political view of the opponents.  (FYI, meanness seems to come in many party flavors, republican, democrat AND independent!)

I have been more than guilty of saying flippant things about somebody without thinking it through, later suffering the sick feeling in the pit of my stomach, as I considered the damage my thoughtless words might have done.  The times my ignorance and fears caused me to throw out a stupid joke. 

I repent. 

I am sorry and I hope that we can all take care with our words, jokes, fears, to become more informed.  To think things through before we post, blog, or speak in public arenas.  And when we do goof, to be quick to turn it around. 

PS I wanted to dash off a mean rant last week, berating mean people, but my computer was broken down.  Which meant I had a helpful several days to think before I dashed off.  Certain things weighed too heavily on my heart and I decided that writing about it might help.  Perhaps we could all have a civil discussion?  I have dear friends on either side of the political coin.  And friends who are muslim, hindu, atheist, agnostic, jewish, christian etc.  Not to mention all the denominations within the christian faith.  Is there a way we can express fears, hopes, concerns without attacking and belittling? 


Decisions or Season for Change

Last month I realized I was pretty sad about missing so much of my kids' weekend life.  Farmer's market has kept most of my Saturdays occupied for the last several years.  At least 5 or 6 years. 

I love being a part of farmer's markets.  The local farmer's market is one of the best pictures of sustainable community and local economy available.  We meet our neighbors at market.  We meet other producers.  We get to share seasonal weather, hot, cold, wet, dry, absolutely beautiful, all together as we delight in everyone's particular offerings. 

Farmer's market is where I get to educate many people about the benefits of freshly milled whole grains.  We talk spelt.  We talk gluten intolerance.  We talk recipes.  I get to offer many free tastes, free cookies, free advice! 

Every so often one or more of my children expresses disappointment that I have to miss certain activities.  Or that we can't sleep in on Saturday mornings.  Or that it is hard for us to go and do on the weekend, since I don't get back from market until after lunch, and then have to clean bakery most of the rest of the afternoon. 

Now that Thomas has moved from home to Roswell, and Patrick is in his Jr year of highschool, talking college, it is ever more real to me that our family time as we know it is limited. 

I think I am going to limit my farmer's market sale days and see if we can maximize our weekends for a few months.  I wonder if I can get Saturday customers to come to the bakery on Tuesdays and Fridays?  I wonder if I can go to the market on a rare occasion to sell, and more frequent occasioon to be a market buyer? 

The kids are growing up so quickly, I don't want to turn around twice and come to find out I missed the chance to share camping trips and track meets and calm Saturday morning breakfasts at home. 

There is a time and season for everything.  Maybe market once a month for a few months will be enough.  If need be, I can always go back to regular market should the bank account dictate.