Some Reflections on Providential Provision

Tonight, for the first time in my life, I served a meal in which not a single ingredient (unless you count the salt and pepper) was purchased in a store. We had roasted potatoes and carrots from our garden, corn from the Budd’s garden and one of “our” chickens. I hesitate to entirely claim those chickens, as Owen and Aimee put in most of the hard labor to raise them; nevertheless, they have never seen the inside of a grocery store. For dessert we had watermelon, also from the Budds. You’ve heard of the 100 mile diet? Tonight we had the 10 mile meal.

When we lived in St. Louis, I shopped at ALDI to make the food stamps stretch as far as they could. I have no idea where that food was farmed or grown, but we thanked the Lord for it all the same. In that place and situation we were trying to be the best stewards of the provision the Lord had granted us, and we are trying to do the same thing here.

Tonight as we prayed “give us today our daily bread” with the children, the Lord brought to mind all the ways in which His provision of daily food has changed over the years. The details of the daily bread has been different in every place, but the principle of dependence upon the Lord has remained.  The way the Lord provides, and the decisions we make about how to use that provision, is not only different from person to person, but from circumstance to circumstance; however, it is always, and only, the Lord who provides.

For that provision, in whatever form it comes, may we be forever grateful.


Some Thoughts on Privilege and Prosperity

Having read Little House in the Big Woods, my mackerdoodle has now, in her trademark fashion, begun peppering me with questions that begin with, “If Laura Ingalls were here, what would she think of [insert random place/item/event here.]?” It is a thought provoking way of looking at the world, and it has opened my eyes to the levels of extravagant opulence in which we really live.

For instance, we have a large number of whole chickens sitting in a freezer in our garage, just waiting to be eaten at our convenience. They are joined by a large selection of bagged, frozen vegetables. I don’t have to salt or smoke or dry things in order to preserve them for the winter ahead. I just freeze them and thaw them later. This has only been a reliable form of food preservation for less than 100 years, and is still not available to the parts of the world in which electricity is largely unreliable. What a tremendous luxury! Ma Ingalls would have loved such an option in her many cabins.

The house we are renting sits on 25ish acres and since the hay has been cut, the children have been flying kites up in the fields where the wind comes off the valley and the highway and goes for a run behind the house. In most of human history, and indeed, in most of the contemporary world, having that much land left open for luxuries like flying kites, is a privilege reserved for monarchs and despots, not the children of country preachers.

School has started for us this week and as I sat down with my plans and my goals and my new books, I realized that this, too, is a luxury. For a family to be able to dedicate one parent to the education of the children is a sign of our relative and societal wealth. It does not require all members of the family to labor for most of the day just to provide the basic necessities of food, shelter and clothing. Instead we can read and write and learn together of times and places in which it has not been so. A machine washes our clothes as we read about wind and build kites to fly in our opulent meadow. I take food from my freezer for lunch instead of walking to the market to barter what we have for a little bit of what we may need. The children can sit at my feet and complain lightly about their tasks instead of spending their days searching out clean (or less dirty) water to bring back to the family, or searching for fuel to keep the fire lit so that we can cook and clean and live. What a privilege. What a luxury.

I have been busy for a few days, and grumbling in my tasks. I have resented the tasks as onerous, instead of seeing the extraordinary prosperity they represent. I have coveted while all the time living a life that someone like Ma Ingalls would have not been able to imagine, let alone wish for. The Lord has inexplicably placed me in a time and place of milk and honey, and I grumble that I cannot “sit by the meat pots and eat bread.” The Lord has used my mackerdoodle’s questions to remind my grumbling, covetous heart of the true lavishness of His provision to me, and that, in all things, is the greatest privilege of all.


More Kissing Frogs For Labor Day

Tracey watched Joanna dash down the marble halls like they were a concrete basketball pad. Her ability to make any space seem comfortable was one of the things Tracey loved about Joanna. Even back in the worst days of living in someone else’s basement, Joanna made it all feel like camp instead of exile.

“I think you owe her an apology.” Edward’s voice was surprisingly gentle in its firmness.

“I know. I’ll find her after fight club and buy her lunch. I was a pretty big fool.” Tracey dropped her head onto the table top and was surprised to feel her father’s strong hand on her shoulder.

“The right man will come along, Tracey. You don’t have to push it.”

“You know how it is,” came her standard reply, “If you want to find a prince you’ve got to kiss a few frogs.

She stood up, before Edward could respond and beckoned Joey to join them.

The poor man looked so out of place here in the club. It was everything that he wasn’t, but rather than making him look rough and unpolished, Joey seemed to make his surroundings look pretentious and artificial. It was one more surprise in her short history with Joey Dreus.

She reached for his hand, and shook it.

“Thank you for everything, Joey. You are a true tradesman, and I am sorry for underestimating you.”

Joey was looking flustered, and his ears were turning red, whether from anger or embarrassment she couldn’t tell. It was like they spoke different languages and everything that came out of her mouth ended up in confusion.

“Am I fired?” came the reply.

It was Tracey’s turn to blush as she turned on her father.

“You didn’t tell him why you wanted to see him? You just summoned and he came?” Tracey laughed, and shook her head. She patted Joey on the shoulder as she walked away.

 

*****


From Potato Flowers to Pickles . . . OR . . . The Tyranny of the Urgent

From Potato Flowers to Pickles LifeMoreAbundant.meFor most of the summer our garden has occupied a small, but regular, portion of my schedule. Every morning we would go out and pick potato bugs from the potato plants, pull the largest weeds, and check on the plants. Occasionally, I would carry water over, but for the most part I did no heavy lifting. I had many philosophical thoughts, from being captured by the beauty of flowering potatoes, to musing on the way the Lord’s provision to us has changed over the last year, while being still entirely dependent upon Him. I pondered these things while walking peacefully through the rows before turning my attention to my other chores.

But for the past two weeks my home has been a hot, hairy, mess while I learn about the urgency of harvests. Everything bows to the timing of the garden, because while laundry and dishes and mopping the floor can wait, if you decide on Saturday evening to pick corn on Monday morning, the racoons may just beat you to it. Did you know that in three days a cucumber can go from the size of a thumb to “oh my goodness, the only thing I can do with that monster is pickle it!”? I didn’t either. I have gallons and gallons of pickles, and relish. I picked, and shelled, and blanched and froze peas every four days until I had to give up, because . . . cucumbers and cabbage, and broccoli. . . . The tomatoes and peppers are finally beginning to ripen, and I have moved from pickle to salsa production. Plus there’s apples literally falling from the trees in the back yard so there is apple jelly and apple butter, and apple pie filling all being sealed in glass jars with a satisfying “pop”.

The freezer is filling. The jars are going from empty to full. The Lord is providing for us, as he always has, in a completely different way than he has before. While He is doing that, he is also teaching me about how to tell the urgent from the truly urgent. Sometimes it means letting the cucumbers get a little bigger, or sacrificing a tomato to the worms. Sometimes it means cooking supper in between rounds of peeling, or stewing, or canning, or blanching. It is the Lord’s provision, and if I have learned anything over the last ten years, it is that the Lord’s provision is perfect, abundant, and wildly unpredictable.


On the Surreality of Being “The Preacher’s Wife.”

Just for the record, I will never look, or dress, or sound like this . . .

So technically Jonathan is not yet a pastor. He is preaching here as stated pulpit supply until he passes his final presbytery exams and can be called and installed as the minister of this congregation. In a direct correlation I am not a pastor’s wife. However, on two occasions in the last month, Jonathan has traded pulpits with other pastors in our presbytery. As we have had the joy of worshiping with other brothers and  sisters in Christ, I have had the strange experience of being introduced as the preacher’s wife.

The title brings with it a sense of inadequacy and not a little bit of anxiety. I found myself standing before a mirror in Nova Scotia psycho-analyzing what my hair would tell the congregation about me. Too elaborate says that I’m vain, too plain says that I’m lazy and I don’t want to look like a grandma, but I certainly don’t want to look like I think I’m still twenty. I put it in a bun, just like I do every Sunday because there is still a rational brain talking back to the crazy. On that same Sunday I employed the phrase “Suck it up, Butter-cup” while telling a story and thought to myself, as I watched the words zoom past me, “Probably not found in the “preacher’s wife accepted glossary.”

But in our travels around our sister congregations, I have had a wonderful realization. I am unlike all of the other pastor’s wives, and they are all unlike each other. There is no type or style or glossary, or wardrobe committee, or list of acceptable hairstyles. The way I am being introduced may have changed, but in reality I have the same job I did in St. Louis, and Columbus when I was just introduced as “Coralie.” I am Jonathan’s helpmeet and the mother of my children. I am married to a preacher. That is just an interesting fact about me, it is not a job description.


Another Kissing Frogs

This is the continuation of an ongoing fiction work I started years ago. If you want to read from the beginning, click “Kissing Frogs so Far” on the tab above the header.

Joey nervously brushed his work boots against the door jam before stepping on the rich plush carpet he saw stretched out in front of him. He had never been to a country club before, and the idea of it had managed to be much smaller than the reality.

 

“Meet me at my club. Joanna will get you the address.” Was all Edward MacManus had said, and then he had hung up. What he was supposed to do and where he was supposed to go once he had parked his work truck in the same lot as those sleek sports cars and fancy SUVs was still a mystery to him.

 

“Joey? Joey!” The call came from somewhere to his right, and he was bumping into the speaker before he saw her as he turned to find the voice.

 

“Joanna? What are you doing here?” He was so relieved to see a familiar face. Joanna smiled up into his confusion.

 

“Tracey and Edward are still talking some things through, so Edward asked me to make sure you were found. It’s quite the maze, isn’t it? Come on. They’re on the patio. Are you still hungry? The brunch buffet is still being served.”

 

She was chattering along seamlessly, but noticed Joey’s hesitation at her suggestion of brunch.

 

“Oh. It’s on Edward. He said to make yourself comfortable.” She grinned at Joey, “And he told me to join you. I’m starving. Let’s eat.”

 

Her relaxed enthusiasm was contagious, and as Joey followed her through a startlingly lush lobby, across a marble courtyard and out to a walled garden, he relaxed and began to look around him in curiosity. Before he knew it, the two of them were sitting at a small table on the periphery of a beautiful garden restaurant. The plate in front of him was a collection of anything Joanna had indicated with “That’s delicious!” He doubted his ability to consume it all, now that he really got a good look at how much was there.

 

Sitting in a booth close enough to see them, but far enough that he couldn’t hear, Tracey and her father were locked in a firm, but seemingly friendly, discussion.

 

“So you and Tracey are okay after that reprimand yesterday?” Joey managed to squeeze the words out between bites of the best food he had ever eaten in his life. He suddenly felt the need to apologize to his mama for even thinking it, but it was true!

 

“Well, it’s not the first time we’ve had a falling out over a man.” Joanna’s flippant words were not matched in her tone, and Joey let the silence hang long enough that she knew he wasn’t buying it. She looked down at her plate and then started again.

 

“I’ve known Tracey since before either of us can remember. We go a lot deeper than this. We’re okay.”

 

“So you’re not fired?”

 

Joanna laughed, “She can’t fire me. I don’t work for her.”

 

Joey’s confusion was evident on his face, even with all the chewing.

 

“I work for her Daddy. I have for years.”

 

As Joey seriously considered licking the hollandaise sauce from his plate, Joanna spun her tale.

 

“Mr. Edward is a salesman. He always has been. You’ve heard about guys who could sell ice to Polar bears? Well Mr. Edward could sell those guys ice. He just wasn’t so good with the details like where the ice was coming from and how it would be delivered. When things were good, they were rolling in success, but things weren’t always good, and twice they were so bad the entire family moved into my family’s basement for six months with only two suitcases between the five of them.

 

The first time it happened, Tracey and I were eight. It was like the best slumber party ever that didn’t stop. We convinced almost everyone at school that we were sisters. We did everything together. I cried when they moved into an apartment the next summer, but Tracey and I stayed close, and even years later we would be asked if we were sisters or cousins.

 

The second time Mr. Edward hit rock bottom was six years later, and it was a completely different experience. Everyone was older, and the bankruptcy hit harder. Tracey’s oldest brother was planning to go to college, but there was no money for tuition. She and her second brother had to drop out of everything from tennis and music lessons to school clubs. She would leave the house twenty minutes early to walk four blocks and get on the bus in a different neighborhood, just so no one would see us living in the same house. She kept a notebook of what clothing combinations she wore so that she could rotate as many top/bottom combinations as possible so that it looked like she owned more clothes. And she hated her father.

 

That time the recovery wasn’t so easy. No one wanted to hire a two time loser, and he was completely out of next big ideas, until he realized that politics was all about selling, and very little about delivery. He ran for state representative in an off year by-election and won, and he has never looked back.”

 

Joey was watching Edward and Tracey over Joanna’s shoulder as this tale was being told. They were wrapping up their conversation, and Tracey was smiling and even laughed once. He looked back at Joanna.

 

“So how come you work for him?”

 

“My degree is in economic development. Every summer I would intern for Mr. Edward in some political capacity or other, but the place I shone was community involvement. I found places where he could step in with a little money and some hand shaking, and build some good will and political capital. Thing is, what I did better than the other interns was finding him projects that would actually last. I wasn’t bringing him playgrounds and overpasses, so when I graduated he hired me. My title is “Constituent Economic and Commerce Developer,” which is a real mouthful. I don’t use it much. Sophia publishing is one of my projects, but Tracey only agreed to head it up if I was her contact, not her father directly. So I work for Edward from a desk at Sophia and because I love everyone involved I also answer the phones and send emails and occasionally fetch coffee and the like. It seems to work for us.

 

Anyway, it all means that I’ll probably still be working with you pretty closely if you take this next project because that’s one of mine too.”

 

She swallowed some of her breakfast, then glanced at her phone.

 

“Oh darn! I’m running late for fight club. Just sit tight here until Edward and Tracey are done. Sorry to leave you hanging. I hear the coffee is really good.” The last sentence was hollered over her shoulder as she dashed out the door.

 


Kissing Frogs . . . Some More . . .

This is the continuation of an ongoing fiction work I started years ago. If you want to read from the beginning, click “Kissing Frogs so Far” on the tab above the header.

 

Tracey’s face went white hot. She could feel anger climbing her spine like a wild rodent and her palms began to sweat. She took a deep breath before putting on her game face.

“I am sorry that you feel that way. I think that if given the chance to speak to a young woman considering going into business I would tell her that my deepest regret was allowing myself to be duped into pretending to be a princess by someone who claimed to be a prince, but was really just a toad in some fancy clothes. I would tell any young woman coming to me for counsel that she should read this book, of which I am especially proud, and that she should realize that she does not have to be a helpless princess and she does not have to be a bitter goddess. If she read the book – which you clearly did not, and that disappoints me more than anything else that has happened to me today – if she read the book and then wanted to talk about what the alternatives look like in a real world instead of the fairytale world of this book, then I would be happy to speak to that young woman about my successes and my failures.”

 

*****

An abrupt commercial break seemed to come as Tracey was in mid breath for more tirade. No one said anything. No one moved. And then all four phone lines began to ring at once.

 

*****

 

The second Tracey heard the commercial music cut in through her headphones, she peeled them from her head, and grabbed her few belongings. She turned to one of the webcams, and smiled her best smile.

“Tracey MacManus. T-R-A-C-E-Y M-A-C-M-A-N-U-S of Sophia publishing. Google it.”

What she wanted to do was sweep majestically from the room without giving so much as a backward glance to Dr. Toad sitting in his wire cage. But her left foot had fallen asleep, so she resigned herself to a slow gimpy walk through the glass doors.

 

*****

 

There was a flurry of activity as the women of Sophia publishing ran to their desks and took battle stations. Amidst the sound of women talking in every office, and the fax machine ringing and printing and the phones ringing incessantly, Joanna quietly stepped to a corner and dialed her cell phone.

 

“Mr. Edward, whatever you are doing to help, please stop. Tracey has done it for herself. Today she is a rock star and she needs you to tell her that.”

 

Then she hung up, and dashed to her despised desk.

 

 


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