Reflections on Giving-July 2010

Two rosemary boules

Mixed: 8:30 pm

Molded: 7:30 am

Baked: 11 am

Lately I’ve been wanting to take a moment and reflect on this blog. After all, my bread baking and giving has been an experiment; it only seems right to step back and take stock and see what sort of path I’m heading down…

Right after I launched the blog, I struggled with the realization that I am broadcasting my efforts in good works to the world. That instead of opening up my heart more to my neighbors, and concentrating just on that, quietly, and secretly… ┬áthat instead, I set myself up to give publicly, which could very well lead to the equivalent of ┬átaking a daily dose of pride pills. I’m not in need of any more selfish pride… While wrestling with these thoughts I ran across words like, “clanging gong” and “pharisee” too frequently for my comfort. Was God trying to tell me something?

I prayed and struggled with this for quite some time. I spoke with my husband, and with friends, then finally set up a time with my priest to specifically discuss this. He encouraged me to continue the blog, and reminded me that absolutely every good thing we do can be a source of pride and temptation. The key is our response–it’s how we internalize a compliment or a word of praise. It’s whether I allow prideful thoughts to seep in and corrupt this fun experiment I’ve embarked on.

The photo of the loaf of bread above is a fairly true portrait of how things have gone these last eight months. Round, edible, almost ugly, but sanctified… For this particular batch I intended to mix and mold the bread in the evening, but forgot about the mix and found it in the morning, overflowing the bowl I had started it in. Rescue mode. I reworked the dough, revitalizing the yeast with a bit of new flour, then molded and finally baked the bread. Overall the two loaves of rosemary bread came out fine, even give-able, sanctified by the prayers kneaded in and the cross scratched into the crust, but not beautiful. Certainly not beautiful.

Beauty is an ultimate goal of mine each day: Can I be beautiful in the way I act toward my children, toward my husband, toward those I encounter when I’m out and about? Can I bring some beauty into our home, for us to behold and admire, which might lead us to praise God? Can I be beautiful in my prayers, in the way I work, in how I answer the phone and respond to email?

Much of what I’ve done these last eight months has been functional, passable; and, for the most part, sanctified by prayer, apologies and confession. But true beauty is hard for me to manage often. Odd things, very odd things pop in to distract me. I don’t pay enough attention to the little one, or criticize my daughter too often about her habits, or lose strength and just get snippy! Ugh… the yeast is at work, it’s overflowing the bowl and things are going awry! I have to backtrack, move into rescue mode and get back on the path. I have to say extra prayers, cross myself and move on. And the end product is rarely beautiful, but I pray it is sanctified, saved…I pray that even though my actions aren’t always fully beautiful, that there’s a bit of Christ eeking out of me into the world…

There’s a whole layer of my life that I’ve intentionally left out of this blog. I’m hoping to inspire others, not to depress, and so I’ve often written a post these last few months, then deleted it. From January until June I underwent some unexpected trials and I chose not to share them with you. I couldn’t see what good would come of my complaints. But now that I’m on the other end of the struggle, I can see some of the learning, with hopefully more to come.

I have struggled with a thyroid condition for fifteen years. It’s not terribly difficult to control and I’ve been on an even track for a long while now. But in January, my pharmacy accidentally gave me the wrong medication. For three months I slipped–lower, lower, lower, lower, lower… All the while Lent was pressing in on me, and I struggled to stay afloat. I thought I was raging one of the most difficult spiritual battles of my life. It’s true, I was. For I believe that your body, and mind, and your soul are all interrelated and share in the task of keeping one sane and healthy. But this battle wasn’t solely spiritual, as I’d thought. On Holy Friday I got a call from my doctor. Your thyroid numbers are really off, Jane. Really off. Deadly off. I had never been so relieved to hear such bad news in my life!

During this time when my body was sinking further and further into non-activity (when your thyroid stops working your whole system slows, just like yeast does when you stick it into the fridge!)… I was able to keep baking! Baking and giving. When I had very little energy to even smile, or stay alert while driving, God somehow gave me what I needed to reach out and do something for others. This was a huge encouragement to me, and proof of God’s mercy on me. My numbers were so low that I should have been sleeping almost all the day through, like a little newborn… Many scary symptoms began to show their heads, but I was given the strength to homeschool my daughter, to traipse my kids back and forth across town when I was half asleep, and to not crack into a million pieces.

So, here I am, feeling human again, writing again, smiling again, and so very thankful for my returned health. And though living the perfect day, or making the perfect loaf of bread is a rarity, maybe even an impossibility, it’s worth it to keep pressing forward, asking God’s help all the while. You never know what sort of life secrets you will learn when you’re in the midst of struggle. I’d love for you to share some of the secrets you’ve learned.

In the meantime…

gotta run; bread’s on the rise.

Christmas Miracles

Countless cranberry muffins–some specifically for Tina.

One pain a la Suzanne for the Butlers to eat at midnight.

One jaco for Evelyn and her crew.

More bread in the works…

It’s Christmas Eve. The tree is lit. The healthy members of the family are about to head out the door to our late night church service. The gingerbread house is half eaten. A present or two have been opened. The little ones are drifting off to sleep in between bouts of coughing.

I think of St. Romanos on this Christmas Eve–hundreds and hundreds of years ago. The last straw breaking, tears streaming down his face–so many that they watered the wood floor at his feet, so tired of being laughed at for his lack of melody, for being illiterate and unlearned, for being so simple, for spending his life just cleaning, and polishing and dusting the church. I think of him and marvel at the Christmas gift he received. And wonder why we put things like scarves, and new ipods, and jewelry on our Christmas lists. We should be asking for miracles on this night, on this night that epitomizes miracles. On this night when God became man.

And I rewind further and think of Mary, forging Christmas history for all of us, and the new life she held in her arms. What child is this? Could she see the heavens, the earth, the planets, the future, in his baby brown eyes?

I needed yet another bag of flour today–I’m going through a five pound bag a day, it seems, and there was a new homeless woman outside Trader Joe’s where I went to brave the crowds and purchase more. She held a Merry Christmas sign, and sang out a cheery hello and thank you when I offered her a pre-made bag of food that our church distributes. (I keep them in the trunk of the car…) I wondered what talents she longed for Once Upon a Time–like St. Romanos. If she wanted to be a singer, or an actress, or a doctor once. If she got tired of cleaning and polishing and dusting. If abuses were ever shouted her way… If she even knows that hoping–that crying out–for Christmas miracles is an option?

And I wonder what mother held her, and looked into her eyes–and what did that mother see? Does she know what’s become of her baby daughter, that she’s holding a sign, sitting cross-legged on the sidewalk–the sun setting behind her?

St. Romanos was illiterate. He was frequently mocked by his coworkers. Called Stupid more than once. People can be so cruel–even people tending the church, people pretending to be holy. He cried out to Mary for help after a particularly humiliating Christmas Eve service, and to his surprise she came. His Christmas gift arrived in the form of music–the voice of an angel and the ability to write and compose. He eventually wrote over a thousand hymns for the church…

Yesterday I really didn’t know what to think of Christmas this year. I’ve been scattered, not centered, and the fevers have got me whirling between beds, dodging coughs, and picking up the endless trail of tissues. I was counting on our midnight church service to help me refocus… But God has sent me this moment of quiet and reflection–this story of St. Romanos, who was brave enough to cry out.

I think I’ll light a candle, and then slump my body over for a bit and pray. I can think of some folks out there who could use a few mighty miracles tonight. I could always use a little healing of my own… I think some has already come my way…

What sort of miracle would you like to see this day–this day of God being born for man and all of creation?

I’d love to know…