Advent Alms

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The weather has turned and all of my plants have been drinking in the moisture of the clouds. Rain is always a blessing here in Santa Barbara.

This weather makes me look inward–toward books and tea, toward the oven and the warmth. It’s a good season to plan, to prepare, and to give, isn’t it?

Recent Giving–Story Number One

Right before Thanksgiving I spent the afternoon baking and doing laundry, and working in the wet yard. My husband had taken the whole week off of work, so there were two extra hands on deck. With bread baked by noon, we had lots of time to give before dinnertime rolled around; that’s when we call it a day and sink into being together and try to ward off all thoughts (and happenings!) of carpooling and the such.

Anyway, off my husband walked to gather something from the grocers. Green beans, maybe, or pearl onions. I can’t remember. And with him went a lovely loaf of sourdough–a gift.

But the man standing on the corner–someone we had seen with a sign earlier that day–wasn’t there. He had moved on, so my husband went on a search. And he found a man next to the post office, hanging around, wanting to chat. So they chatted, and the bread was given, and my husband came home with a small and simple, yet significant story to tell. A story of a man by the post office, who was happy to receive a warm loaf of bread.

Story Number Two

Our church serves food to the homeless on a regular basis. This year we have made teams, and I am the Baker (!!!) for Team San Roque. Awesome. It was Monday, and it was cold, and the yeast was moving at its own, it’s-pretty-chilly-so-don’t-rush-me pace. I was patient, but with dinner across town at 4:15 and the final two loaves coming out of the oven at 4pm…. Well, there were folks lined up and ready to eat when I arrived. We quickly sliced up the molasses bread (the best bread ever for these types of events because of it’s full of taste and nutrition), and the hungry ate.

When I tried to take a photo of the event from a far off vantage point a homeless man chastised me and told me that I should get permission from anyone I might capture in the picture. I asked his forgiveness, but then told him that I only had the intention of taking a photo of people’s backs–that I understood that everyone was entitled to their privacy. He still eyed me with suspicion. And I agree. Having a camera at an event like that doesn’t promote an environment of one person connecting to another–it creates distance between people and can even invite harsh or frightened reactions. Next time the camera stays home.

Story Number Three

It was raining–again!!!–we love the rain here– and I went a bit nutty, mixing up double the fun with four loaves of bread rising, waiting, baking. At around dinnertime, with the pain de campagne cooling, I sent my daughter and her boyfriend off to deliver bread to some school acquaintances under an enormous golf umbrella. They walked three blocks there and three blocks back and came home to Asparagus soup.

Advent

We are in the midst of an Advent quest of preparing our hearts for the wonderful coming of Christ.  We are giving lots of bread this season, so I hope you don’t tire of me. Yesterday I finally spent some time gathering greens for our Advent wreath. A bit late, but never too late, is it? I raided my parent’s garden, clipping Acacia and pyracantha, and purchased a new wooden candlestick as a centerpiece.

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Two years ago I spent a bit more time, and created a wreath from our bay tree, pine needles from our Canary Island Pine, and used the berries from our nandina. You can see the post of that Advent wreath here.

But I’d love to hear what you are doing to prepare, and how you’ve been inspired to give. Please share. Please 🙂

And in leaving I give you this–a hymn from the Orthodox nativity service that tumbled across my work desk the other day. It’s even more beautiful when you say it aloud…

What shall we offer You, O Christ,
Who for our sake has appeared on earth as a man?
Every creature which You have made offers You thanks.
The angels offer you a song.
The heavens, their star.
The wise men, their gifts.
The shepherds, their wonder.
The earth, its cave.
The wilderness, the manger.
And we offer You a Virgin Mother.
O Pre-eternal God, have mercy on us!

Fair Game–Feed the Hungry–and the Disappearing Bread

So, it’s Palm Sunday and we had a giant potluck after church. My contribution to the potluck, since I’m barely good for sharing anything except bread (I really am an awful cook), was one gigantic no-knead loaf of bread that I mixed olive tapenade into. So, yummy. I also baked a smaller loaf of bread for a friend and brought them both to church.

I was so wrapped up in the Palm Sunday service and all its glory (and distracted by an extra squiggly second son), that I completely forgot to head out after communion and slice up that gigantic loaf of olive bread. Simply. Forgot. I rushed out right after announcements–after Father mentioned the upcoming potluck. Almost ran over a few folks standing in the back. And there were both of the loaves, cut, in the basket, and ready for the table. I sort of grimaced. Not because somebody had done my job, but because I really wanted to share that second loaf with a friend.

The grimace registered and my friends, the awesome bread cutters, grimaced, too. They felt bad–though it was all completely my fault. Fresh bread, left in the kitchen of a church that’s having a potluck, is more than fair game, right?!

Right!

So, we thought fast, placed some of the cut bread into a bag for my friend, left it on the counter, and joined the folks around the coffee hour table.

And here’s the mystery. When I brought my friend into the kitchen a half hour later to offer him the bread, the bag was there, but the cut bread was all gone.

Oh, well. It’s Holy Week and someone was hungry! Feed the hungry, clothe the naked. I pray it was enjoyed.

And, here’s the beauty of it all. I get to try again! There’s plenty of flour in my cabinet, plenty of muscle in my arms, and another opportunity available to give.

Sending you all love.

Emily

I’m excited about a new course I’ve embarked upon. I’ll be steeped in the world of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd for the next year, spanning many Saturdays just like this past one, so I can eventually work with children in our church.

Moving backwards. Friday. I made rosemary rolls. The kids were begging for them.

So, now, back to Saturday. I decided to pack two sandwiches (using the rosemary rolls) for my day at the course. I only live a little over two miles from the church where the class is held–a perfect distance for both getting exercise and having time to gear up, and wind down before and after the session. Since homeless seem to line State Street (the road I was to walk on), whether it’s uptown, or downtown, or mid-town, I thought an extra sandwich was exactly what needed to be in my bag.

And wouldn’t you know, half way there a woman was sitting on a bus stop. No shopping cart, or load of things to tug about, but her coarse, sunburned skin, the bloated and bandaged legs, and the way she looked tired, almost done, gave her away. I guessed food might be welcome.

I crossed over and dug into my bag, pulling out the roll stuffed with cheese. I made an extra sandwich today, would you like it?

She stared. Not at me, but past me. 

I knew I’d be coming downtown and thought I might just bring an extra sandwich, just in case.

Won’t you want it? she asked in a high, sweet voice. She looked at me this time.

No, it’s an extra. My name’s Jane, by the way, what’s yours?

Emily. But might YOU want it?

No, I have one for myself.

Emily. Her eyes were bright blue, highlighted by the bloodshot red that surrounded them.

She took the sandwich and I smiled and told her I was on my way to a course and better keep walking. We said goodbye.

I made it fifty more steps, to the corner, and started to cry.

Her sunburned skin. Her leg, swollen and wrapped. Yet. She wondered whether I would have enough food for lunch. Ha! Enough. I have enough of everything. Of food, and warmth, and clothes, and books, and baking pots, and gardening tools, and figs coming off the tree, and friends, and… love. And all morning, while focusing on learning how to serve children, I just kept thinking about Emily. About her childhood, about her road that must have been filled with many zigzags, and probably is still swerving.

Over the last few weeks I’ve been slowly reading Lewis’ A Grief Observed. Have you read it? What a powerful account of love, of the loss of a beloved, of a shaking of one’s faith. This passage shouted at me–Lewis is describing how the faith he believed he had while things were good was revealed to be weak once tested:

Of course it is different when the thing happens to oneself, not to others, and in reality, not in imagination. Yes; but should it, for a sane man, make such a difference as this? No. And it wouldn’t for a man whose faith had been real faith and whose concern for other people’s sorrows had been real concern. The case is too plain. If my house has collapsed at one blow, that is because it was a house of cards.

I don’t really believe that Lewis ultimately had built a house of cards with his faith in God, he was thick in the midst of his mourning when he wrote those words. But he uncovered a basic truth that I felt while walking away from Emily. I have never been homeless or lacking. I have never been broken, betrayed, battered or cast aside. My concern for other people’s sorrows is superficial and ultimately fits my schedule. And until I am placed in their position, all I can do is keep offering sandwiches and a smile, with no pretense that I am saving the world.

Hopefully I am saving myself, one tiny crumb at a time.
Pray for me!

January Thanks

I WILL not complain about my camera not being repaired yet. Even though it’s been out of service since Christmas Eve… I will not…

I did.

Sheesh.

I am having such fun fiddling with a pumpkin bread recipe that I found online. I’m trying to get it just right, and have been making a weekly batch since mid-December. I recently shared a loaf with a sweet woman who works at my son’s school–an indispensable woman. She was out with the flu all last week, so I thought I’d make her a Stay-Well loaf.

Yesterday I baked four loaves of French bread for another homeless dinner at our church. These dinners are always humbling. The line up begins at about 4:15, with dinner being served at 4:30. Bicycles are parked along the fence, some with trailers attached, others with fake flowers woven between the handle bars. Many of the men and women are known to our community, but there are always a few newcomers… The meal begins after a brief prayer of thanks–this time Madeleine helped spoon out the spaghetti and Andrew put bread on the plates–I served as a food runner, toting more platters when supplies ran short.

There’s chatter and bantering and hellos. It’s the end of the month and some say this dinner is the first meal they’ve had all day. Some complain that there’s not enough sauce on the spaghetti–some want two helpings of butter on their bread–some slur so badly you cant’ understand what it is they want. Most of them are worn like old leather gloves. All of them say thank you.

Thank you. I don’t say enough of that.

Thank you.

Saint Brigid poured out her thanks to those around her. I’m excited that her feast day is just around the corner! My wheat arrived and…if my camera isn’t back by then???!!!!

No.

I can be thankful even without a camera. I can try. I WILL try.

What are you thankful for this beautiful January? I bet I could list 1000 things if my fingers could type fast enough. Here are the first few that come to mind…

a full tummy, a healthy family, another spring day full of sunshine, roses in front of me, a hard working and loving husband, laundry drying on the line, flour in the bin, books all around, Christ in my heart, angels in the shadows, a little one who still likes to cuddle, a body that still bends, nasturtiums under the plum tree, the fountain and the finches. Pretty good!

Cheers, everyone… Let’s be thankful together…

Preparing for Saint Brigid’s Feast

Shared a loaf of rosemary bread with a homeless man who attends our church…

In the spirit Saint Brigid and her love for those in distress, I’m asking your prayers for the man I shared my last loaf of bread with, and for my hesitancy to give him more than bread. He could use a new sweater (his has gaping holes in the elbows) and a good shave, and probably a good meal in a warm home. Though giving bread to neighbors and strangers isn’t always easy–it also is a very small commitment on my part. I’m feeling prodded to move a bit deeper–and what a perfect time to do that as the feast day of Saint Brigid draws near!

The wheat is on its way and I’m beginning to look toward the eve of January 31st when our family will be weaving Saint Brigid crosses. If you’re interested in weaving a cross at home, I’ve found the wheat from Dale Scott to be extremely easy to work with. I’m not a wheat weaver by ANY stretch of the imagination, but her instructions are simple, and the wheat is clean and smooth and ready to work with… She is currently in the middle of a move from Idaho to Arizona, so shipping may be a tiny bit slower than usual, but there’s still plenty of time to order before the 31st rolls around!

Also there are many tutorials for learning to weave. Last year I posted a video, and along with that post are some written instructions that I found helpful.

Dale also weaves her own Saint Brigid crosses, and I purchased one last year; it is stunning.

If you want to know more about Saint Brigid and her wonderful life, here are some musings about her on my website, and you can also find out more about my children’s book The Life of Saint Brigid: Abbess of Kildare here. She’s worth getting to know.

If you’d like to weave a cross from another material than wheat–it can be done!

So, will you be weaving with me on the eve of 31st?

Pirates and All…

Baked more than bread and cookies!

(In the oven went: 72 burritos, nine batches of cookies, and four loaves of bread just for fun…)

Having been involved in many school fundraisers over the years–everything from selling frozen cookies, to read-a-thons–I’m most pleased with the one fundraiser that my son’s high school puts on each November. At Providence Hall, all the students head into our community to serve an organization–and in turn they simply ask friends, neighbors and family to sponsor their efforts. It’s a win/win/win event. The school ends up with a few extra dollars in the till, the kids gain experience in serving others, and the organizations that are chosen get the robust and creative energy of teenagers for a day!

Each year I have helped lead a team of young people as they cook and serve a dinner for the Saint Brigid Fellowship, an organization run by our church that aids the homeless population there.

And each year it amazes me how powerful it is to reach out to those who truly are needy. In need of food, in need of care, in need of comfort.

I shot the photo above before the sun dipped low–and before most of the 50 or so people showed up for dinner. Once things really got going my camera was put away… But, I did take this one photograph of a fellow pirate before heading home. I was an injured pirate recently, after the last fire raged through the hills here in Santa Barbara, when my eye was damaged by a flying ember. So I shared that story with this gentle man, and he offered a great big chuckle and this gorgeous smile.

These sorts of events always tear at my heart. I add my little bit of effort and kindness, and then I remove myself so easily from the place. Drive home in the Volvo, singing hymns, or humming along with the radio. I walk through my door, put on jammies, maybe light a fire, maybe have a cup of tea. I kiss my children goodnight, then climb into my cozy bed, fresh with clean sheets and a fluffy pillow. I don’t dream about the pirate, or think about where he is sleeping that night. I don’t wonder whether he liked the meal, or if he’ll be able to find food the next day.

Nope.

I don’t think of all that right away. But… it does sink in. My heart is changed, and each time I stretch a little more, stretch to give, stretch to be kind, and my heart becomes a little sweeter–a little more understanding of people–pirates and all.

Lastly, I want to tell you a wee little story. We baked so many cookies that night! We baked my typical recipe times nine. Every time I make cookies, I hide all sorts of good-for-you things inside. Nuts, flax seeds, oatmeal, wheat germ–whatever I happen to have in the cabinet.

Well, after the dinner was served, we put the cookies out and there were many eager eaters. One fellow, a helper that evening, asked if there were nuts inside and I said, yes, almond meal and walnuts. Phew! He was so happy he hadn’t tried a cookie–though MAD because they looked so yummy. He has an almond allergy.

A half hour later, a young homeless man ran up to the table and asked if the cookies had almonds in them. Yes! we said with a grin. But the grins faded when he told us that he also suffered from an almond allergy. Three doctors were there on site, so he was treated, but I felt horrible. Just terrible. I approached him, and the team of doctors to offer my apologies and do you know what the young man said?

Did he say–“You should have put out a sign!” or “Why didn’t you announce that there were nuts in the food!” No.

He said, “Mam, it’s all my fault. I’ve been allergic for thirty years and should know better. Don’t feel bad.”

Now, that’s a lovely lesson for all of us. He shouldered the responsibility–and was kind and humble in his response.

So today, I’m trying to learn from those we served. Things I’m allergic to get thrown my way all the time: I’m allergic to whining, and to kids pestering me with requests when I’ve already said no. I’m allergic to teenagers who talk back. The question is, can I bear these allergies with kindness and humility? Can I take responsibility even, for them?

Can I?

Far

Two loaves of no-knead bread

Mixed: 9 pm

Molded: 2:30 pm next day

Baked: 4:35 pm

Gave to two homeless men at MacKenzie Park

John Ronan is in the giving mood these days, and this time he wanted to go “far.” We headed left, and since I’ve been sporting a three-day headache, I tried to manipulate…

“We’ve walked all the way down our block. How about this house? Look! There’s a little boy just riding his bike up the driveway.”

He didn’t take the bait. “Mom…. That’s not far.”

We turned right. I trodded on, and he galloped ahead. State Street loomed. Rush hour traffic and no traffic light, just a crosswalk that is never ever noticed by motorists. I clutched his hand. He was determined.

We crossed the street–it took about five minutes for enough cars to notice us and all the four lanes to be halted. Finally on the other side we spotted two men sitting by a picnic table. Before I had time to ask if this was far enough, John Ronan had sprinted directly to them and stopped with a big hop right in their midst. They were drinking, and red-faced, and had gaps for teeth…

“Hi! I was a spotted doggy for Halloween!” my son announced. “We brought you some bread!”

I caught up and smiled.

“But isn’t that your dinner, little boy?” one of them slurred.

“We have food at home.” John Ronan spun in a circle. “Why are you sitting on the ground?”

They didn’t hear the question, but were pleased with the attention of a five year-old. I could tell. They wanted to chat. So the old and the new talked for a few moments. It was a conversation a wee bit difficult to follow.

And then John Ronan sprinted off.

“Run after him!” the man on the ground said to me urgently. “The street!”

“Enjoy the bread,” I said as I ran after my cheerful giver. We crossed the street, and we ran some more. Somewhere on the way home my headache lessened. Ah, to be a child who doesn’t judge. I’m thankful to have such a wise soul in my midst. Far is good–pushing the limits is something that comes easily with youth–something I used to do.

By going farther…

we learn,

we are pushed and we grow,

and we become better givers…