670: Ceremony of the Innocent

Taylor Caldwell wrote the book by this title as a Romanticist who viewed life with a seriously jaundiced eye. If you haven’t read it, it is the story of a young, devout, innocent (natch) girl’s life. She manages to keep her innocence almost to the end because of the combined and dedicated efforts of several people who earnestly believe they are “protecting” her and her own innate naivete.

The author has several recurring themes (which I do not necessarily agree with, but can see as logically derived), such as religion being a tool to keep people downtrodden and accepting of their lot in life, the venality of mankind, the class snobbery of the upper AND the lower socio-economic classes, the innate superiority of ‘intelligent’ people as opposed to the hoi polloi (everybody else), and the ungratefulness of children/people in general.

Eventually, the totality of her life’s experiences unmask the people whom she loves (destructively, but to the best of her generous and misguided ability), and the loss of this essential (to her) innocence removes her will to live. She takes her own life.

There is a social trend of the last few decades to blame one’s parents for, well, pretty much everything that isn’t perfect in one’s own life. This has been reflected in TV over these years by the depiction of children in shows as the wiser, more mature persons residing with their dysfunctional, idiotic, irresponsible parents. This theme recurs in many different “modern” shows, and is in marked contrast to shows of previous decades where parents might be portrayed as making mistakes, but were still acknowledged as adults and leaders of their families.

First, for all children: we all owe a huge debt of gratitude to our parents for the simple fact that we were born, because the option for abortion has pretty much been available to our mothers from forever (legal or not), and they carried us to term and birthed us – and raised us (mostly) until we could create lives of our own. For that one thing, we owe them.

Second: true maturity is being able to reflect on past experiences with a, hopefully, mostly unbiased view. WE do not hold OURselves accountable for being perfect and never making a mistake, so how in the hell do we manage to transfer that expectation to our parents, who are ALSO every bit as human and fallible as we ourselves are? And that whole “yeah, my issues are directly a result of my parent’s parenting?” Can you not also see that your parents have issues derived from THEIR parents and family of origin’s parenting, too?

MOST (yes, I know full well this does not apply in every situation and circumstance) people had parents who loved them and tried to be good parents. Perfect? Hell, no. But, for most of us, good enough. What’s up to us, now, is to get on about the business of making our own lives and our own decisions, standing firmly on our own two feet, establishing our own support systems and families of our own – where we ALSO will not be perfect parents to our own offspring. Here’s hoping that provides some of us with some much-needed humility and understanding when it comes to our own parents – living or dead.

Have some gratitude that your parents gave you the life that allows you that opportunity.

669: Butternut Squash – Easy!

I found an easy, delicious way to prepare butternut squash using the microwave. Start with a butternut squash, and peel it using a standard vegetable peeler. Cut open, remove seeds, and cube it up into a covered, microwave-safe casserole dish big enough to hold all the bite size cubes your squash produces.

I top the squash with 3-5 pats of butter, and drizzle a little (tablespoon?) of olive oil over the cubes, and spice it with Badia complete. I have also had good results with other spice mixes, such as garlic and herb, so you might want to experiment with your fave blend. I also add Badia bagel topping for the nutty flavor, but you could add sunflower seeds or pumpkin seeds (tablespoon?) for a similar result.

Depending on how big your squash was, the microwave time will vary. I use full power. It also depends on how “cooked” you want your squash – I like the ‘al dente’ firmness of lightly cooked. You can adjust cooking time to your personal taste – more minutes equals softer cubes. A small squash can be ready in as few as 3-4 minutes – a big one can take 15-20 minutes. I like to stop and stir, because it distributes the spice flavors and recoats the cubes with the butter/oil mix, too.

Once you are satisfied with the doneness, stir the cubes once more and serve!

668: End of Season Garden

Cleaning out…

Today was the day to polish off the summer garden in preparation for getting the fall and winter garden going. Where I live in southern Georgia, winter’s usually temperate enough for several varieties of cold-hardy vegetables to grow.

As I weeded, trimmed, removed wire support cages and uprooted the dead and dying summer vegetable plants, I observed that planting a garden certainly is one practical way to commune with God. When in a garden, you can observe a lot of God’s truths, plans, and laws in action.

Weeds flourish in hidden, sheltered, hard to get at spaces – just like “weeds” of the heart, mind, and character do. Uprooting them when they are small and weak is much easier than when they’ve had time to firmly root themselves. Ditto with those soul weeds. Be careful of your protected, sheltered places. Weeds that sprout there are hard to get out.

When there’s no fruit or growth, there are no pests. Pests come in times of growth and bearing fruit – just like in life. If you are dead, nothing wants to bother you – what for? If you are vibrant with new growth and ripening fruit – THAT’S when the pests attack.

Many plants need support to bear the best and most fruit. That is SOOOO like me. I can do a lot on my own, but how much more can I do when I have support? Sometimes support is freely given and I just need to accept it, like the big wire columns I place in among the growing peas. The plants accept and reach for the support, and climb the wire baskets eagerly as they bloom and cover over with pea pods. Sometimes I need to ask, like the sturdy eggplants that normally stand well on their own, but which all needed support when the hurricane-lashed wind and rains came. They were so pitiful and bedraggled the next day. I lifted them and helped them stand with sturdy wire cages after that storm, and they continued to faithfully bear fruit, even after the pummeling they took in that storm.

Fruit-bearing plants often need pruning to bear more and better fruit. So do we. Pruning probably doesn’t feel really good to the plant, either. Sometimes, there’s a branch that is perfectly good and healthy that I prune off, because it is growing towards the center of the tree, and I know that it will eventually be choked out with no light or room. Sometimes a healthy branch is pruned off because it is growing where it will interfere with another healthy branch that is already established. The plant doesn’t know these things, and neither does the part that’s getting lopped off. The gardener knows. God, help me trust you as the Master Gardener, and let go of the branches you are wanting to lop off, even if they appear to be healthy branches (to me).

It takes about four months, maybe five, for God to make a hearty and delicious squash. Good things often take time, including growth and fruit-bearing. On the other hand, it takes God about a hundred years to make a mighty oak tree. I can relax – I’m not a hundred years old yet. There’s time.

667: Struggling as a Teacher in the Age of COVID-10

I am a public school teacher (high school) and I happen to teach in rural Georgia, in the USA. I am really struggling this academic year. Last year was tough enough, when face-to-face school got called off one Friday in March and we were all teaching virtually on the following Monday.

I was teaching English last year, but I had some advantages over other teachers when we were suddenly all virtual. I have several professional certifications, including a Master’s in Technology Education (I started my teaching career as a Shop teacher (Industrial Arts for 18+ years), and I am all-but-dissertation status on a Doctorate degree in Online Learning. So, I had a leg up on going all-virtual over many other teachers. And it was still challenging, given that I am a conscientious teacher who actually tries to do what the administration says I am supposed to do, while at the same time doing all I can do to meet the needs of my students (not always the same thing). I went from my normal 10-11 hour day (manageable) to a 14-16 hour day (if things went well, more hours if things didn’t).

This year, our small, rural school started school pretty much on time at the first of August (even though there was lots of controversy about COVID-19). So far, our concern and adherence to CDC guidelines has kept COVID mostly at bay. Our small school is a federal Title 1 school, meaning that our poverty rate is high enough that every child in the county qualifies for free breakfast and lunch at school. Partly because of this status, we have also been awarded several grants that have enabled our little school system to provide one-to-one access to laptop computers for our students, something many of the surrounding county public schools do not have. All of our students do not have Internet access at home, but nearly all do.

Our teaching model this year has been a hybrid so far: parents and students had the choice to come to school for face-to-face instruction, or to work in a totally online platform – and about 30% of our student body opted to study at home, many stopping by school daily to pick up food packages from the federal school lunch program which they all qualify for. The rest have had traditional F2F instruction, with a heavy reliance on digital content using their school-provided laptop computers.

Slowly, we have been teaching our students how to use their devices in various ways to facilitate learning online, in case the federal or state government overrules our county’s Board of Education and closes the schools. They have learned to live conference, so we can teach live content. We should be able to continue live instruction remotely, with the teachers holding class at school and the students logged in, learning at home. A regular school day, all online. Our little school system will be, as far as we know, the first one in our state to do this.

Is it challenging? Sure, it is. Our infrastructure in our small, rural county in Georgia isn’t on a par with what people are accustomed to in urban Atlanta, or in the other, larger cities in our state. We don’t have 5G. When it rains, we blink out. Still, we can do this. Do we struggle? Sure, we do.

Still, it is a new world. Do I run the numbers to see if I CAN retire, instead of finishing out the last years I was planning to teach? At least once a month. I’m eligible to retire – I’m just not ready to, even as difficult, challenging, and annoying as this current school year is working out to be. I can still make a difference, and help some student along. That’s all I was ever in it for.

666: God and Loose Change

Image from: https://www.boundless.org/blog/challenge-4-loose-change-creates-change/

Like a lot of people, hubs and I have a jar for our loose change. We deposit our coins gained from our transactions on a daily basis, and when the jar gets mostly full, I pour it out on the kitchen table, count and roll the coins. The proceeds go into our savings account. Usually.

One way to pretty much guarantee that you are hearing a word from God is a thought that is Scriptural, which is something that you’d really rather not do. *sigh*

We have had for some time a change drive at church for the children’s and youth ministries, and I have given each week what coins I had in the change purse when I got to church on Sunday – usually a dollar or two. The coins I rolled at home today added up to over thirty dollars. When that thought popped into my head that I needed to give the entire stack of neatly rolled coin sausages, bulging with neatly stacked coins, I winced.

And then I CHOSE to take them to church and put them in the colorful plastic pail reserved for this offering. I was somewhat chagrined to realize I was being covetous about my COINS. Jeepers, creepers.

God gives us opportunities every single day to CHOOSE to become more like Jesus. Even when we don’t want to. Like that nifty little commandment to pray for your enemies and those who spitefully use you and say and do ugly, hurtful things about you and to you. I pray for them, far too often grudgingly, asking God to help me do it and be obedient, because He’s told me to pray for them. Sometimes prayer changes them, but it ALWAYS changes me. And I will stand in the hall of judgement one day and give an account of ME, MYSELF to God Almighty. I will not be giving an account of YOU, or of my enemies. So, God’s lessons are for ME and for MY benefit. Being obedient is one of those lessons that I CHOOSE. Praying for those people has gotten easier, because I have been obedient and done it before. Practice does make even difficult things a little easier to do.

Including CHOOSING to be more like Jesus when God gives me the nudge to do something I’d rather not do.

665: Man, There Just Ain’t No Way!

image from: https://www.wayfair.com/East-Urban-Home–Domestic-Chicken-White-Leghorn-Cockerel-CloseUp-Of-Head-And-Neck-France-Framed-Photographic-Print-FBBD8637-L1318-K~EAAC7526.html?refid=GX431844981303-EAAC7526&device=c&ptid=897477354446&network=g&targetid=pla-897477354446&channel=GooglePLA&ireid=39781661&fdid=1817&PiID%5B%5D=21913171&gclid=CjwKCAjw-5v7BRAmEiwAJ3DpuPJ8LtStOeZhDgk3s0orYIOhK9BCD0TO12Cieoa_MBu74m5PaJFJsxoCe50QAvD_BwE

When I was a youngster, one of my dad’s parishioners was a farmer raising egg-laying chickens. For those who do not know, this is when there is a huge chicken house (narrow but very long) where thousands of tiny chicks are delivered to be grown in a few months into egg laying-sized birds who produce eggs until their production slows with age and they are then collected and shipped off to the processing plant to become baking hens. What many do not know is that usually, these chicks are all female (DUH, eggs!). 20 thousand at a time.

The man was talking to my dad one time when I was close enough to overhear, and he was telling my dad this obviously amusing story about something that happened in one of his chicken houses. It seems that in this shipment of all-female chicks, there was a sex-ID error, and ONE ROOSTER got included in the shipment. The farmer was telling dad that every day when he went into this house to collect eggs and check that the feed and water lines were working properly, he would see this lone rooster perched up in the rafters of the building where he could look down on all the tens of thousands of industriously egg-laying hens busily going about their daily business beneath him.

The man told dad he was sympathetic with the rooster, who apparently was looking down at the sea of femininity below his feet, shaking his head and muttering to himself, “Man, there just ain’t no way!”

Since COVID-19 took over the world, I have come to thoroughly understand this rooster, as well. I look at the mountain of work I am expected to complete on a daily basis as a public high school teacher, shake my head and mutter to myself, “Man, there just ain’t no way!”

It is marvelously freeing and stress-reducing, just acknowledging that it cannot, and therefore will not, all get done. Permission to relax, ’cause it ain’t happening!

664: God’s Lessons from the Garden

With the time off I was given from COVID-19, I planted a garden. Because this was a last minute thing, my new tiny garden spot did not have amended and enriched soil (which takes some time and pre-planning). It was whatever was there when my cousin came over with his tractor and spent 15 minutes turning up the soil. Strike one.

I planted some seed that I had saved well over a year before from an acorn squash I bought from the grocery store. For those of you who know, often commercial produce is from hybrid, or cross-bred vegetable strains so that the resultant fruit is bigger and better than either parent variety – and that usually does not repeat with the offspring’s seeds. Even if it had been top-quality seed, that seed should have been planted the next growing season, instead of two or more seasons afterwards. Strike two.

When the plants grew to fruit-producing size, the scrawny vine sturdily put on three very small acorn squash. The smallest of these wasn’t even as large as my clenched fist – and I am not a large person. In due time, I harvested these three green balls of home-grown goodness.

Today, I prepared the smallest of the gardening results from this one courageous vine. I was surprised to see when the tiny squash was opened that it was stuffed full of seeds. Just for fun, I started counting the seeds this smaller-than-fist-sized squash created. I stopped when the number of seeds exceeded (no pun intended) 300. More than 300 seeds from a fist-sized squash planted in very poor soil from seed more than two years old.

God nudged me, as He often does about the garden. Jesus gave so many parables that were agriculture-related because the people of his time were agrarian, and could easily understand the analogies He made between the Kingdom of Heaven and growing plants and animals. Consider how faithful and how hopeful this tiny, stunted little squash was, growing under adverse conditions – and still creating seeds. If the seeds from this one tiny squash were all planted next year, its progeny would be the only thing the entire garden had room for.

God tells us to share His message – to plant seeds. God is responsible for the harvest. It’s our job to faithfully plant the seeds, counting on God’s faithfulness to increase our meager influence to yield the bountiful harvest – even when we are stunted ourselves from our circumstances. We can still be faithful and plant seeds. Even when we are small and insignificant – we can still be faithful and plant seeds. Work for the harvest yet to come. Plant the seeds.

663: Dealing With the Bounty

dehydrator (2)

Planting a garden, even one as small as my tiny backyard one, is a blessing. Lots of rewards in seeing plants grow and flourish. Lots of food produced. However. You need to think about how you are going to handle that produce, because God is generous, so that you are sharing. When you see people at church are avoiding you, though, you need to man up and handle your own produce sometimes.

Buying another freezer is expensive – and lately, freezers have just been unavailable, since apparently lots of other people are also planting gardens, and well…God is generous. Problem with a freezer is the initial cost and the ongoing electricity, and the occasional freezer disaster, or power outage.

Canning is another solution that works well, but it is hot and labor intensive, and the jars and lids and rings are also expensive initially – which explains why they are such hot sellers at yard sales and thrift stores. Thank goodness once you have the jars, you usually only need to buy new lids every year, and there’s no electricity cost, just shelf space to store those gorgeous jars of delicious food.

What I like using on those days when I suddenly have 47 tomatoes is a dehydrator. Yes, the dehydrator is initially expensive, and it takes electricity, since I have not made the necessary trays and screens (also $$) for solar dehydrating That is also an option and works on these hot, sunny days we’ve been having (but watch out for those sudden summer showers). The electric one is more convenient for us lazy folks.

You do need containers to store the dried goodies, but unlike canning, any old glass or plastic jar with a good lid will do – and the finished product also stores on the shelf with no further need for electricity. Plus, unlike canning, where the volume of preserved food is actually greater than the initial food (water, vinegar, additives), dehydrating allows me to put 10 tomatoes in one fairly small jar, because I am removing the water. That’s what you add back when you use the dried peas, beans, okra, onions, peppers, tomatoes, blueberries, peaches, apples, etc., etc., etc, Some veggies do better when you blanch them first, and I had to consult Google this time about the green beans. It”s been a while since I had a garden, and I forgot if they needed it or not. There is advice online for beginners. And recipes, too!

662: The Spiritual Aspects of Onions


1 Kings 19:11-13    New King James Version: God’s Revelation to Elijah

11 Then He said, “Go out, and stand on the mountain before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; 12 and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice. 13 So it was, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave.

God does a lot of His work, both inside us personally and outside of us in the larger world, using the Holy Spirit in our lives. The Spirit is that little inside voice that is your personal, spiritual life coach – God encourages you, corrects you and pushes you to be the better person that He knows you are. Like all good coaches, sometimes He can be hard on us, but also like all good coaches, He knows how and where to push us, to prune off things that are not good, and how to help us improve. Be aware that the devil will also try and whisper stuff to you, too – it takes some Bible study and prayer to become aware of the difference between God’s voice and that serpent’s hiss. Being obedient is something that God WANTS YOU TO DO. Yes, God can make you be obedient. That is not how He works. You have to exercise your self-discipline (with His help) to learn how to stay out of trouble, and also learn to depend on Him when trouble comes to you. Part of that is learning to recognize His voice when He speaks guidance to you through His Holy Spirit. Learn to listen and learn to obey.

I have also discovered that there are fascinating spiritual insights to be found in onions.

For the last week, I have driven 30 minutes to a field here in South Georgia where they planted sweet onions. They have given me access to this field to harvest and give away as many of them as I can before they need the field and plow under whatever’s left, so I have gone every day that they will let me and loaded my pickup truck with 600+ pounds of fresh sweet onions. Then I drive back to my small town and give them to people. Anybody who can use them, because I believe it’s just plain sinful to waste good food.

Some of these fresh onions have some mushy layers on the outside, and I have learned that most of the people I am giving onions to don’t want those. It is extra trouble, smelly and messy, and just not nice, easy, or convenient to deal with those, because, you see, they will “infect” other onions you have and cause them to rot, too. Those are the onions that I keep for myself, because I don’t mind stripping off the nasty mess and getting down to the core of what is still a very good onion. So, the messy ones are mine.

That’s the sort of person I was when I came to God. I had some nasty mushy stuff on my outer layers (where it was pretty easy to see), and I was one of those that was going to need special handling. I am so grateful that God is willing to take us as we are, nastiness and all. And then, using the Holy Spirit, He starts cleaning away, stripping off those ugly, worthless layers we have until He gets down to the good part. And some of us need to be careful when we are around rotting onions, because they can infect us, too. That stuff your mama told you about being careful what friends you choose wasn’t wrong. Think about your own life. Are you an inspiration or an infection? I am sad to admit that there have been times when I was not an inspiration. I am letting God make me better. You can, too. Just ask Him.

In a small way, rescuing mushy onions is sort of what I do in my job, too – I am a teacher. The messy ones there are mine, too – the ones that need special handling. I appreciate the perfect onions, don’t get me wrong, but they don’t need me as much to be a good onion. I’ll take the messy ones. To me, they are worth the trouble. I am so glad that they are worth the trouble to God, too!

The first time I went to harvest, the man in charge who knows much more about onions that I probably ever will – down to molecular structure – told me that the onions that had the big, showy bloom stalk were not the best ones to get. He explained that that bloom stalk creates a hard center in those onions. There is still good onion wrapped around that hard core, but it makes them second quality. Since there are so many first quality onions still in the field, we have all been skipping over those.

I immediately thought of some of the people I know who are the hardest to reach with the good news of the Gospel. When a person’s life is clear and visible that there is mess there, like my mushy onions, those people can quickly understand and grasp the concept that God offers a much, much better way. But when they have a pretty outside, and a showy bloom stalk for people to see and admire (and many do admire beautiful, showy people), reaching them with the good news that God died for them and offers a better way to live their lives just does not interest them a whole lot. There are reasons for that attitude they have of “I don’t need God,” and sorrowfully, often God has to take away all their pretty before they can see they are just like the rest of us.

Some of us are like that when we come to God – and a lot of those onions never do come to God. When I found one of those bloomers in the truck (by mistake) that I had added to the better ones, I decided to process it, too, and see just what the expert was telling me about.

The onion was beautiful on the outside – really pretty. But when I cut it open, the core of it was a hard, fibrous stalk that was too hard to use. Isn’t that just like some of us? We have a layer of pretty that surrounds our hard, unyielding core. We have a big, showy bloom stalk, and many people admire us. Some of us who are that way know about our ugly core, and some will never admit that core is there.

For God, and me processing that onion, it isn’t as easy as just stripping off a bad layer or two to save THAT sort of onion. No, this kind must be cut WIDE OPEN, and the ugly heart cut out, dug out, ripped away. It’s major surgery. Some people are like that, too. God can do it, but it is much, much harder on the onion. That is partly why Jesus told us that it is hard for a rich man to enter Heaven – he’s too satisfied with what he has here on Earth to be interested much in the things of God. Still, there is good there. Those rescued, surgically mangled onions are great to cook with, and they season and add flavor just as well as a first quality onion. They are worth saving, too – even though they are the toughest ones to save.


And finally, there are a few onions in the field – not many but there are a few – that are rotten in the middle core. There is just no saving those. Even Jesus, on the cross while making the ultimate sacrifice for all people, saved only the one thief, not both of them. God honors the choice that people make. We as believers do our best to persuade, convince, convict, encourage, pray…..and for some, it isn’t enough. Not even God Himself could save them all. I guess what I don’t understand is why anyone would choose not to go to Heaven. Does that make any sense to you?

There’s a lot of onions, good ones, that have just a small rotten spot. Or maybe two. Those onions are easily fixed by just removing those bad places. If you don’t remove them, the rot will spread until it ruins the entire onion. In like vein, Scripture tells us of the rich young ruler who came to Jesus in the gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark and Luke, which made it a story important enough to include into three of the four Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry. It says Jesus loved him. When Jesus answered his question and told him to sell his belongings and become a disciple, the young man turned away, it tells us, because he was rich – and Jesus LET HIM GO. He honors our choices, even when we don’t make the right ones. Jesus didn’t tell everyone to sell their things. THINGS aren’t the problem for all of us. God through the Holy Spirit will put his finger on the things that I need to let go – and that word from Him is personal because He knows what junk is holding ME back. Not my brother or sister, not my neighbor – ME. It’s a message for ME. God pinpoints for each of us where our problem is – if we are listening, and willing to obey. Are you holding on to a rotten spot that needs to be removed? Are you willing to listen and obey the direction of the Holy Spirit in your life? Do you believe that God wants the best for you, as He has promised? Why would you want to hold onto something He’s telling you to let go of? Are you willing to risk having your rotten spot ruin the whole onion?

Scripture has the men climbing the mountains to experience God up close and personal. But Scripture also shows us that God appears to women in great and powerful ways while they are otherwise occupied in the ordinary business of living that took up and continues to take up their daily time. Men go to God. God comes to women.

God has lessons to teach, even while I am standing at the sink processing onions. That’s what it means to listen to the Holy Spirit. I am learning to listen when God speaks, whether He speaks in the wind, the storm, the earthquake, the fire – or in that still, small voice.