Appalachian Thursday–Easter Sunrise

sunrise
Sunrise at the farm in WV.

I love most every holiday. Food, friends, decorations–it’s all wonderful. But my favorite holiday is Easter. And my favorite part of Easter is the Sunrise Service.

It’s a disappointment to me when the service gets moved inside because of the weather (too cold, too wet, too snowy). But I’ll still be there, in the pre-dawn light, waiting to celebrate the moment when the truth became clear. Jesus is ALIVE.

That’s why I love Easter now–remembering Christ’s resurrection. But I think I learned to love Sunrise Services when I would go with my Dad as a child. I remember at least one Easter when it was just the two of us. I remember getting up in the dark and putting on my new Easter clothes–a dress, white stockings, and black, patent leather shoes. Oh, how they shone.

As Dad and I went out the door I remember seeing our Easter baskets waiting–brimming with bright candy and other goodies. But I knew going to church to see the sun rise was somehow more important. Candy and treats could wait.

That might have been the year we went to French Creek Presbyterian and stood on the crest of the hill looking down over the valley. There were houses down there–mostly on the ramshackle side–with old cars and peeling paint. Some chickens scrabbled in the dirt and a dog or two stirred. It wasn’t exactly a bucolic scene.

But then the sun rose and we sang and proclaimed that He is risen! He is risen, indeed! And I was warm where I stood leaning up against my Daddy. Then we went home for breakfast and Easter baskets followed by church and Easter dinner with ham and deviled eggs.

And the world was good.

There’s plenty wrong with the world today. Some of it touches me personally, some of it doesn’t. But somehow when the sun rises on April 16 this year, it will be like starting over. And those first rays of the sun will fall on a world that God is still shaping. And I’ll remember that what Christ gave us most of all is . . . hope.

Happy Easter.

A Palm Sunday Memory

Easter eggsI spent Palm Sunday at a friend’s church. It was a lovely service with lots of joy, but I’ll confess I missed the children’s processional of little ones waving palm branches that’s a tradition at my own church.

Which got me to thinking about a Palm Sunday back in 2011 . . .

That year, the children not only came down the aisle waving palm branches, they also offered up a series of songs and readings. It was alternately moving and, well, funny.

Three of the children performed solos, each taking a verse of a song. Camden went first. He was five at the time and very poised for one so young. When he began singing, clutching that microphone and pouring his whole heart into the song, I got a little teary. He was trying so hard and obviously wanted to do his very best. He finished his section and handed the mic off to the girl next to him.

And then . . . he heaved a sigh and began untucking his shirt from his pants. It was like the tired executive at the end of a long day loosening his tie and unbuttoning his collar. But then a look came over Camden’s face. I’m guessing he realized that this might not be the time or place for getting comfortable. So he began stuffing his shirt back into his pants–largely without success. Finally, with half of his shirt tucked in too deep and the other half flopped over his belt he stood up straight, thrust his chest out and looked like he was well-satisfied with himself.

I think when Camden began  singing, many of us got a little dewy-eyed. But now, looking around the congregation, I suspected the tears were from suppressed (mostly) laughter. I’ve never laughed so hard without making noise.

And I think that’s what Jesus might have been getting at in Matthew 18 when he said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Camden did his VERY best. He sang with all his heart and he remembered his manners if a little late. I’m pretty sure he wasn’t worrying about what the congregation thought as we giggled through his antics. He just knew what was expected and he did his best to meet those expectations.

God knows we’re not going to get it right. I think He loves it when we do our fallible, human best. He sent His son to die so we could keep trying to get it right every day. Whether it’s the start of Holy Week or just another Monday.

Love Like a Casserole

toddyIt’s day 19 of this ridiculous cold that has apparently morphed into something else. The paperwork from the urgent care clinic says, “Acute upper respiratory infection, unspecified.” I have antibiotics.

I think the doctor may have given them to me to appease me, but I don’t care. I’ll take lamp oil in sugar at this point. Anything to breathe through my nose again.

And yes, I’ve given whatever I have to my husband who is still being sweet to me anyway.

And he’s not the only one.

It’s just a cold. I know folks who are SO much sicker. Who have MUCH harder illnesses to deal with. And yet . . .

My friend Suzi brought me a casserole. She heard me hacking and snorting through Bible study last week and told me it would make her ever-so-happy if she could bring me a casserole she’d already made up, not knowing who it was for.

I agreed, because I’m not an idiot.

She brought us a scrumptious chicken and pasta casserole with mushrooms and zucchini. But that’s not all. There was also a chopped, Greek salad, and the makings for hot toddies. Honey, whiskey, lemons. Throat-soothing, sinus-opening, sleep-inducing hot toddies.

Ahhhhhhh.

This is what love looks like. Pyrex dishes full of bubbling, cheesy pasta and chicken. Vitamin-packed salads. And a small bottle of whiskey from a bonafide church lady.

Love is seeing a need and meeting it without being asked. It’s stopping by someone else’s house after a long day at work and making sure people you care about are well fed if nothing else.

Thanks Suzi. I love you, too. And that’s not just the whiskey talking.

Worry Fast Step 2–Identify

relationshipsLess than a week into my worry fast I thought I was doing pretty well. I’d avoided some of the big pitfalls (much to my surprise). Mostly, I’d managed not to fret over family issues–Mom, Dad, my niece–praying and leaving them in God’s capable hands.

Sunday morning I sat in church as the pastor talked about spiritual practices, feeling pretty good about this fast that I originally thought might be sort of impossible. Then it hit me. I’d been worrying all week.

It’s what you might call a low-grade kind of worry. Turns out I’m a relational worrier.

While I managed to think about the big issues without descending into worry, I absolutely fretted over things like:

  • Calling a friend I hadn’t seen in too long.
  • Visiting neighbors I keep meaning to visit.
  • Inviting a friend to use tickets another friend gave me.
  • Wondering if I’d spent enough quality time with a friend I see too rarely.
  • How often I should call family members.
  • Finding time to deepen and nurture relationships I care about without depleting myself or taking away from my relationship with my husband.

It’s not like I was waking up in the night wondering what should I DO?!? I just had all these niggling little thoughts–worries–popping up in my peripheral vision from time to time. And I didn’t even realize I was doing it.

So, step 2 in fasting from worry is realizing what it is, exactly, I worry about.

 

Appalachian Thursday–When there’s a need

lasagna-kidsOur little, mountain church got word not long ago that some missionary friends on the far side of the world need a van. The old one gave up the ghost and transportation is important.

There were probably folks who thought about sending a few dollars, doing what they could. But a van, even used, well that would cost a good bit.

The kids, though, they got serious and began brainstorming ideas to help. They settled on a lasagna supper. They wouldn’t charge, they’d just ask for donations and have a few things to raffle off. They also thought about karaoke, but who does that?

Well, the adults got behind the idea. Donations came in for food and raffle items. Volunteers set to work helping the young’uns get their project off the ground. And one elder of the church mentioned in men’s Bible study that the kids wanted to do karaoke–ain’t that a hoot?

Such a hoot, that the next thing he knew, he’d been challenged to sing for his supper. And a fair amount of cash money was put up to see him do it.

The night of the supper the kids donned their aprons and served plates of pasta, salad, and rolls. The ladies set up a dessert table. That elder stood off to the side, trying to look calm.

mike-singingWhen he got up on the stage, he introduced the band–mandolin, guitar, and bass guitar. “This is how we sang karaoke when I was a kid,” he said. Then he took a deep breath and they were off. “Sing to the living God,” the tune went. The crowd grabbed the beat and kept a steady rhythm. Verses, choruses, instrumentals, steady on through to the end and a round of thunderous applause.

Then an encore of “Rocky Top,” just for fun.

The kids pretty well finished off the dessert table while the donation jars were emptied and counted. And the grand total was . . .

. . . $2,600 that will help buy a van for a missionary family on the far side of the world.

Amen to that.

An Unconventional Valentine

ladies-of-the-churchLife is hard.

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but just living life really does get tough some days. Sometimes you’ll run into a whole string of those tough days right in a row.

I’m part of a group of women at my church who gather for Sunday School and Bible study and food and fun and sometimes all of the above. And I’m grateful to have ladies who challenge me to dig deeper in my faith; who hold me accountable and encourage me.

But here’s why I’m especially grateful for this group of ladies. They make life, if not easier, at least more bearable. Because when life inevitably gets hard, there they are with hugs and smiles and casseroles and maybe even a measure of correction if it’s needed.

Our last few meetings have included tears. There’s been the loss of a child. There’s some tough stuff happening with parents in their 90s. And illness. And frustrations. And family challenges. But there’s also been joy. A health scare that miraculously turned out well. A child who got a good report. One of our own who passed her exams and is ready to be ordained.

But whether we’re laughing or crying, here’s what this group gives each other that I don’t ever want to do without. L.O.V.E. If we need to cry, there’s someone to cry with us. If we want to celebrate, there’s someone to cheer with us. Listening ears, soft shoulders, warm hugs, sage advice, and hearts lifted in prayer.

Your support group doesn’t have to be church ladies, but I hope you have one. I think we were designed to bushwhack our way through life as part of a community.

Life is hard. But when I’m with my girls, it’s not nearly as hard as it could be. Thanks ladies. I love you, too.

New Years Food Traditions

vasilopitaAs much as I enjoy researching (and sampling) Appalachian food traditions, I also like to explore traditions in other cultures.

We often serve refreshments after church and yesterday was my turn. Since collard greens and black-eyed peas are a bit tricky as finger foods, I researched what else might work as fun, New Years food.

Which is how I learned about Vasilopita cake–a Greek confection typically served right after midnight. The fun of it is the coin hidden inside. Typically, the cake is cut in the sign of the cross, then several slices are set aside. One for Jesus, one for the house, one for St. Basil, and so on. The person who gets the coin gets the best luck in the coming year. If the coin is in a reserved slice, everyone gets the luck.

So I baked the cake, boiling a penny and wrapping it in foil to tuck into the batter. I opted to do the cross cut, then, with a bevy of little girls watching and waiting, I set aside just one slice for Jesus. As I served my church family, one of the girls eyed Jesus’ slice of cake and spotted . . . the coin! How cool is that?

On the side, I served grapes and cheese in honor of a Spanish tradition. At the stroke of midnight, Spaniards try to eat 12 grapes before the chimes of the new year end. If they do, good luck is sure to follow. Some say sweet grapes represent sweet months, while sour grapes are for not-so-great months. Interestingly, this tradition was begun by grape growers facing slow, winter sales.

Regardless of what you ate yesterday–lucky greens, a cake with a lucky coin, or just your usual PB&J–I hope your New Year is blessed!