Passing It On

December 29, 2009

Tonight I’m going through an instant replay of a recent family gathering. About 20 of us sat in various smaller groups scattered in a large room when a cousin suggested that we focus on being one big group and share each of our stories one at a time. The theme was “my favorite thing about 2009.”

It was fascinating to hear about trips to Europe, dream vacations, personal accomplishments. Two were happy to still have jobs in this economy. Focusing on their children, one family had purchased a mountain cabin in order to be able to spend more time together.

Tonight it occurred to me that if I were sitting with people in the Ayta community where I worked for a few years, the conversation about 2009 would probably be very different. No one would have made an overseas trip or taken a vacation. Someone might mention a bumper-crop from the mango tree that allowed himto reroof his house. A woman might remember how sick her baby had been, and be grateful he was still alive. Another might talk about being able to see her son graduate from high school – the first in the family to actually finish.

It made me aware of my tendency to celebrate the big things and forget about the smaller steps along the way. The memories brought me to some basics that I too often take for granted: the privileges of health care and education, the security of steady income, the comfort of a climate-controlled home that doesn’t leak….  Both my family and my Ayta friends recognized the importance of spending time with family, of being diligent in the job one has and appreciating the provision it makes possible. Though the two groups express them in different ways,  the things remembered best and emphasized most communicate the values the next generation will absorb. What we pass on becomes the cultural framework for the children’s future. I pray we’ll be intentional about it…

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Tea Cakes

December 24, 2009

An angel with an attitude - me!

They don’t look like much. At least, mine don’t. For some reason, my cookie dough sticks to whatever I roll it out on no matter how much flour I add (ever so sparingly). If I manage to maneuver each work of art onto the cookie sheet, my Christmas tree shapes look like Charlie Brown’s latest find and my stars are already in nova.  But they taste good. And I suppose that’s what counts, although it’s a bit embarrassing to have to participate in a cookie exchange or take them out to a dessert fest.

I don’t know how “tea cakes” got their name. They taste just as good with milk or coffee, and they are certainly not cakes. But it’s tradition to call them that. The recipe that I have came from my grandmother. I’ve scribbled it into a printed cookbook just so I’ll know where to find it. No matter what they look like when they lay on the cookie sheet or how swollen and pitiful they turn out after baking, they disappear quickly.

I don’t like them frosted. I think they’re my favorites because they’re plain, uncomplicated. They remind me of my childhood, when Mom let us help her cut out gingerbread shapes and decorate them with red hots and colored sugar. It’s one of those sweet, simple memories that’s a gift every time it floats to the surface. They’re sweet nostalgia that melts in your mouth.

Here’s the recipe.  I hope they’ll make delicious memories for you, too. Merry Christmas!

Tea Cakes (This is a double recipe)

2 cups butter
3 cups sugar
8 cups sifted all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons soda
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon nutmeg
4 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla

Cream the butter and sugar. Add eggs one at a time and beat until smooth. Add the dry ingredients. It will be too stiff for a mixer. Add vanilla. Mix well. Don’t use more flour than necessary. Roll to 1/4 inch thick. Cut. Bake at 350 degrees for 12-15 minutes. Enjoy!

The Nativitree

December 16, 2009

We’ve now been married 11 (eleven?!) years, and we still use this Nativitree every year. Two changes: it now has a string of colored rope lights instead of white, and we set it on the front porch instead of in the living room so it’s visible from the street. And since that time, we bought a 32-inch high fiber optic tree that I stand on a side table and decorate with Christmas earrings. Works for us. But this tree is my favorite.
 
 

Notice the symbols, visible in daytime.

Notice the tree shape, representing the Trinity, visible at night.

Gary and I have been married five years now, and have never put up a Christmas tree. For some reason, I couldn’t bring myself to use the decorations that had adorned the lives of his family when the children were growing up. It just didn’t feel quite right; those weren’t my traditions. We used the nativity set that he’d stored in the attic instead. It showed the real meaning of Christmas; we just laid our gifts at the base of the table where the Christ child rested in His miniature manger.

Early this December, I was challenged by a sermon in which the pastor admonished us not to bring all of the world’s holiday traditions into our homes without displaying to the world the tree that mattered – the cross of Christ – that we have in our hearts. He encouraged us not to bury that tree under the holiday decor and mounds of materialism. As I drove home, the Nativitree grew in my mind’s eye.

Gary was thrilled to help me with the project. He cut a five-foot vertical and a thirty inch piece for the crossbeam from a 1 x 6 board. I painted the vertical bright red to represent the blood of Christ, whom God sent from heaven to pay for our sin. The horizontal I painted hunter green, representing new life and hope that we can now extend to others through what Christ has done for us. He also made a stand for the tree. It is green as well, symbolizing that life is found at the foot of the cross.

My mother is a talented artist, and like me, could probably describe herself as “hyperactively creative.” I can’t draw a stick, but suggested to her the idea of using symbols on the tree to represent the gifts and promises that are ours through Christ (The designs are not original with us, but borrowed from church tradition.) These are truly Christmas gifts: His incarnation, fellowship with God and His children, humility, the Holy Spirit, the bread of life, the living water, the blood of His new covenant, His promises and their fulfillment in the Old and New Testaments, Christ as shepherd-king and King of kings.

After the tree was assembled, we installed cup hooks in strategic places and used an eighteen foot rope light in two triangular sections, representing the Trinity. The cross itself represents the second person, the Son. The top triangle suggests the Father, and the one touching “earth,” the Holy Spirit, who is our Helper. We stood it in the corner of the living room and were astounded with the results. As you will note in the pictures, when the house lights are off, the center of the cross glows red, reminding us that the heart of the Gospel is the precious blood that made it possible for us to relate to God. Jesus knew about the cross before He ever made His way into the manger.

Now we have a new tradition, and our Nativitree will annually remind us of the reason we celebrate. Merry Christmas!

 Jenny Evans
Christmas, 2003

Giving Up Her Insurance

December 7, 2009

As I was reading John 12 recently, verses 3-7 struck me. In this scene, Lazarus’ sister, Mary, pours expensive ointment on Jesus’ feet and wipes them with her hair.

Mary, having seen Jesus do the impossible by raising Lazarus to life from the dead – after four days! – knew He was the “Resurrection and the Life.” The ointment she poured on His feet was not only an act of love, but a symbol of her faith. She was pouring out ointment that was usually reserved for annointing dead bodies. Maybe she’d been saving it for her family to use for her own death, or maybe she’d recently used part of it on Lazarus.

But she knew from recent experience that she wasn’t going to need it. Jesus was able to raise the dead. Why did she need to plan for death when the Way to Life sat right in her living room?

Mary joyfully gave up her insurance policy. She knew Jesus was somehow going to take care of her. With this act, she made a public statement that that effect. Death had been poured out on Life.

Soaking

December 4, 2009

Were you ever in one of those high school English classes where you had to decipher poetry? The teacher stood before the class like some expert to explore what was on Whitman’s mind, or to decide how Shelley or Keats got their inspiration. Sigh. I doubt any of those analyses actually carried much of the truth.

I wonder if someone will sit down in a classroom someday with a book of random poetry in front of them and find one of mine. Although it’s not likely, I imagine they’d have fun deciding “what they author meant.” Here’s one they wouldn’t need much discussion about. Enjoy…

                                    Soaking

 White noise envelopes me; even the click of fingers on keyboard
is a subtle distraction.
Paper and ink offer solace, the quiet absorption of words into pulp
bear some semblance of permanence.
Slanted letters bare my emotions; curls and tilts offer glimpses
of my soul.

 Not so as I type. Each word carries the same weight;
identical soldiers stiff upright in uniforms of ink
disguised to make me look efficient, organized; saved page-perfect.
Oh for the haphazard of squiggles in the margins,
the indecisive mark-throughs of a think-pause.
For a misspell that didn’t correct itself, leaving a
legacy of imperfection that more honestly reflects the writer.

 Touting tolerance, they say, “polical correctness.”
Sterile, without emotion or conviction.
Perfection eliminating personal opinion.
Respect each one’s individuality, like letters on a page,
none allowed to be out of the lines; forbidden to
mention it if they are. Automatically adjusted for
a flawless fit.

I’m tired of it.

 
Jenny Evans
1/14/09