Mining for Gold

Morning

It was the feast of the angels, and that meant Struan. It was a day that had to be about giving. There have been too many illnesses, dramas and heartaches these last many weeks, that have kept me busier than ever–and focused on the putting out of fires. I was (am) desperately missing the regular routine of reaching out.

Several years ago, when my daughter was five or so, we knew there was a mid-week service at church, but were too busy, too whatever, to even know what we were celebrating. My daughter begged to wear her gold angel wings to church, wings that she had made at school just a few days before. I relented after much begging, and we entered the feast of the holy angels with my daughter already in tune with the day, leading the way as she danced in circles and sang hymns celebrating Saint Michael and his fellow angels.

Children often have knowledge that we would be wise to listen to.

Every night I pray with my littlest one, who will absolutely not head to bed unless he has had triple prayers. My husband typically says the trisagion with him as a start (unless he’s out of town, and then my eldest usually jumps in). I swoop in and say another prayer, thanking God for the day, asking for restful and undisturbed sleep for the night, and John Ronan finishes with prayer number three, said with his eyes wide open and always a smile, entreating the angels to watch over him (among other things!). Triple prayers, every night.

Do you believe in angels?

I do.

Lately I’ve been making my way through Brother Juniper’s Bread Book. Written by Peter Reinhart, a master baker who is also Orthodox, he writes a beautiful explanation of the Scottish tradition of making Struan. It’s a Scottish harvest bread, filled with corn and oats, brown rice and bran. There’s buttermilk and brown sugar and honey…

Midday

Anyway, I had a list of things needing to be done that day–that day of the angels. School, for one. Picking up pine needles. Laundry. Baking Struan, downloading Skype, making a new batch of granola, reading books about angels. I got most of them done. A few of the uncrossed items simply moved to the next day. You know why? It was a feast day! A day to celebrate and learn, and love, and a day to put prayer and feasting in front of errands and domestic dramas.

Rewind

Several days ago I fell into a pit. Piled on top of all the sicknesses came a real live heartache. I haven’t felt angry in a very long time–not real hot anger, but this time I was spinning in circles, my defenses already beaten down by so many other worries and tasks. Prayer. I dipped into prayer, then lunged out, angered again. It was a wild ride. Thank God for the prayers of his saints, for the love of my friends and my priest who reached me and encouraged me to not be so horribly prideful and angry. Anger gets you No Where.

Giving

So, I brought the extra loaf of Struan to a friend who is also in a hard place.

But… when we arrived at church for the akathist, she wasn’t there. Instead, I shared that loaf of Struan with a whole host of everyone. Everyone who was there. So glad I had a way to share. I needed to give. Forgiveness Giving.

Saints All Around

And following on the heals of the feast of the angels was the feast day of Saint Nektarios. What a gift he is–my son was born on November 9th and so we got to celebrate yet again… And all day, when people said Happy Birthday, John Ronan responded this way, “AND, it’s the feast day of Saint Nektarios!”

Saints, birthdays, an ascent from a place of anger to a place of forgiveness. Here are some words I jotted in a notebook last year…

Father sees this time as a time when I can mine some spiritual gold. My body is struggling and God can be my help… Before succumbing to fatigue, ask God for help. Battle it. It will make me stronger in the end. Fatigue, hunger, sorrow–if you can find that place of light, of love and joy in the midst of those trials, then you will indeed strike gold.

Forgiveness Giving

One loaf of my Never-Been-to-Maine Pumpkin Bread

During Lent I hoped to push myself a bit more in my giving and bake bread for folks who were truly hungry, sad, needy, or with whom I struggled. That’s why I ended up at the Rescue Mission with ten loaves of my brother’s bread, and stopped to offer cornbread to a homeless man who was begging outside of Trader Joe’s…  Thankfully, I couldn’t think of too many people that I disliked, but even so, two people came to mind in a flash. My hope was that by giving these people something from my very own hands, something that I labored over, that my heart might be softened and I might find a better love for these folks.

The crossing guard won me over in a heartbeat as she sat there in the rain and waited for the rivers of children to flee school. When I drive by her now, I hold a completely different image of her in my mind and heart than I did only a short month ago.

I wasn’t so sure about Woman Number Two. She has been rude to me and my children over and over again. Once, she even laughed aloud at me, rejoicing in my stupidity. I kept imagining that I would bring her bread and she would throw it in the trash while I watched. And I couldn’t imagine what I might say. I’m bringing you this bread because you’re so mean, and because when thinking of people I need to forgive, you came right to the top of the list!

No. That wouldn’t be right at all. For this giving is more about me and my need to love and forgive than it is about trying to help anyone else change…

The first time I brought bread to Woman Number Two she wasn’t working. I gave the loaf of molasses bread that I’d made for her to some folks peddling pixie sticks instead. But on Holy Thursday, just yesterday, John Ronan and I walked into the store and there she was, pricing little trinkets behind the counter.

She greeted me with a head nod and I slowly said my rehearsed line. My kids love to come in here, and whenever I bake I always make something to share. We live nearby, and I just thought you might like it.

A smile, a big, surprised smile, and her eyebrows went up as I handed her the pumpkin bread. She didn’t say anything for a moment and then… In all my 35 years of this store, you’re the first. I smiled. Really. 35 years, she said. She mumbled something else, but I didn’t catch it. John Ronan had already made his way to the toy aisle and I needed to supervise.

He and I looked at toy rings that squirt, and after several minutes I coaxed him toward the door. By this time the husband had made his way to the front register and as we were just about to leave he said, Are you the one who made us this delicious bread?

I smiled and nodded, and noticed the woman already eating a torn off piece of  pumpkin bread. She said, This is delicious! Perfect for lunch!

I smiled again and as we left, I heard her say, …in all these 35 years.

***

I feel thankful, and convicted. Maybe she’s had her mean days, but I’ve been just as mean. I’ve made snide comments, reveled in others’ failures, given people dirty looks. I know I’ve cut people off driving around town, and cheated, and lied. Maybe I’ve softened, but that’s all due to Christ, and maybe she doesn’t know Him?

Maybe in all these 35 years no one has cared enough to tell her of Him.

My priest once said that if you have difficult people in your life, that it helps to find a good and beautiful image of them and keep that foremost in your mind whenever thinking or dealing with them. He said that that image will not only change you, but it will eventually change them too. That pumpkin bread brought out a grateful smile that I will never forget, and I know that by braving this, my hardest episode of giving, that I’ve been…

changed.

All in One Day: bread, butter, cheese, forgiveness

Mixed: 9:45 pm

Molded: 6 am next day

Baked in two batches–one at 7:15 am and another at 8:15 am.

Off to church at 9:30 am with three loaves of very cheesy bread

At our church, following morning Liturgy every Sunday, we all file outside and enjoy a time of chatting, and the kids running all over the grass, and sometimes we munch on donuts or potato salad, or carrots dipped in hummus. But on Forgiveness Sunday the coffee hour table is all about cheese. It’s our last chance to eat dairy until Pascha and so that’s what we do!

I volunteered to make bread for the table, since they wanted a table of breads, cheeses, veggies and such, so I dove in the night before and had such fun.

Side note: Since we leave for church at 9:30 on Sunday mornings, if I’m ever called on to make fresh bread for my fellow church-goers, I begin a no-knead mix the night before. This easily gives me extra hours of sleep. I would have to rise at 4:30 am if I wanted to do the whole process–from mixing to kneading to rising to molding to rising to baking–and have two batches of bread ready when we leave all dressed and spiffy-looking for church… The no-knead recipe allows me to mix the dough the night before and mold the bread at 6 am the following morning.

Anyway, on Saturday night, I rifled through our cheese drawer in the fridge and decided to use every bit of cheese there. Pecorino, Dubliner Irish, and Parmesan, all three were grated clear to the rind; I even had to call in the Capo Chef to help because my hand was cramping… My husband, “Are you SURE you need this much cheese?” Me, “Yes.” So he grated and grated and I scooped every last morsel of cheese into my three mixing bowls.

Oh, the scent of bread and cheese that floated through our home Sunday morning. My husband, “Are you SURE we need to take all three loaves to church? Can’t we just leave ONE here?” Me, “No.” We left for church hoping coffee hour might come soon.

Thankfully, the Liturgy speeds you away to other worlds–to worlds of mystery and the holy foods of bread and wine–and who cares about coffee hour then!

But once the cross is kissed–EVERYONE cares about coffee hour. Someone even got inventive with one loaf of the bread and made pizza out of it.

It was a beautiful morning, but I tell you, the day didn’t end there. More baking, and more giving and more church was still to come.

Home to a quick nap and a little picking up of the house. A bit of reading, then… chocolate shortbread. Really, getting the cheese and the butter out of the house was a snap. Grate all the cheese into bread, and bake all the butter into cookies. After Lent, I’ll post the recipe of chocolate shortbread cookies that I make every now and again. I refuse to make them often because that just wouldn’t be wise, but they are scrumptious. Made with only cocoa, flour, powdered sugar, butter, vanilla and one egg yolk, not many nutritionists would recommend this cookie being in a regular diet.

I mixed and pulled out the cookie cutters and baked up little hippo and heart cookies, wrapping several in a brown bag for my goddaughter and her family, and few more for whoever I happened to come across while at church. Because… back to church we went.

Forgiveness Vespers is one of my favorite services of the year. The church community gathers Sunday evening, on the very precipice of Great Lent, and we worship together. At the conclusion of the service we all file past one another, bow, cross ourselves, then ask: “Forgive me, a sinner.” We hug, and kiss cheeks, and the mood is truly blessed–light and yet full of truth and the importance of clearing away any relational cobwebs that may have gathered over the last year. I got to hug a whole kaleidoscope of people last night!

Oh, but I won’t forget about the cookies. We gave a bag of cookies to my goddaughter, as planned, and then another bag to a homeless man who was munching down a handful of potato chips.

Blessed.

Clean.

And in case you weren’t one of the kaleidoscope of folks that I kissed cheeks with last night…

Forgive me, a sinner.

Forgiveness Bread

Two loaves of no-knead sourdough

Mixed: 9:30 pm

Molded: 10:15 am next day

Baked: 12:45 pm

Gave to neighbor over the hedge

I knew when my young son was given the shiny yellow motorcycle, that he wouldn’t possess it for long. The railing on the balcony looked too enticing and I’d seen toy after toy, rock after rock, ball after ball zoom over barriers: hedges, fences, rock walls, anything that had another side.

He was not quite two, and he held the toy for maybe three seconds, then whiiiizzzz it went over the balcony of the giant cruise boat, into the super deep blue of the Pacific.

So yesterday I wasn’t surprised to find John Ronan throwing several of his beach toys over the ten foot hedge that borders our neighbors. Buckets, shovels (large shovels!), sifters, rakes… they all made their way up and over while I was cleaning indoors. Our neighbor doesn’t like this. Even if my son is cute, and willingly says he is sorry; this passion of his is getting old.

Since he was just a baby one of his favorite activities is seeing things destroyed or launched abroad. How many times have I built an amazing block tower or marble track to only appreciate it for a millisecond before it tumbles to the ground? I’m not always sure what to do with this love of his–we try to curtail the destructive part, but even when we play catch he prefers to whip the ball full speed off into the distance than to aim with accuracy at his fellow player.

My weekly beach days are not just to appreciate the beauty of the water and the feel of the sand on my feet, but to allow my little fellow to get in some good throwing time…

Anyway, I asked his help as I made the bread today–letting our future pitcher know that it’s time to do something constructive for our nice and patient neighbors… He sort of helped, but better than that he was more than willing to write a card, and come with me to deliver the bread. I quote-he dictated…

Dear Bob and Georgie:

I am sorry I threw the stuff. I hope you like the bread. I will not ever throw anything over the hedge again.

🙂