663: Dealing With the Bounty

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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

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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.

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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.

648: Philosophy of Relationships, Blackberry Style

There is plenty of time while picking blackberries on the side of a dusty red dirt Georgia road on a hot, humid, and sunny June day to entertain philosophical thoughts. The task itself is repetitive, though fairly exacting, so that the mind is mostly free to pursue other pursuits while the hands are engaged.

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When you see a blackberry on the bramble that you desire to pluck, you must first weigh the relative possibilities of achieving it versus the potential difficulties, for example, its position nestled within the thorny brambles that protect it. This is very much like that first full look at that gorgeous guy or girl that spikes your blood pressure and makes your eyes dilate. Once you determine the difficulty level for that particular berry is surmountable, you must grasp the berry gently, or all you will be left with is a red-purple stain on your fingers, as blackberries are very tender and easily crushed. Another person’s feelings are often just that tender, especially at first, when you don’t know their triggers and tender subjects.

If you can grasp the object of your desire gently enough not to crush it, then comes the process of bringing it to the basket. Its defenses will snag you in this retrieval effort, and you cannot allow yourself to react harshly or instinctively, jerking back when you feel the bite and sting of the bramble’s thorns, or they will merely dig deeper, drawing blood. You must negotiate with them, twisting, turning, maneuvering gently, always gently as you draw the succulent berry closer. This is the intricate relationship dance as each of you come to know the other, drawing out old splinters and working through the unpacking of old baggage, which each of us brings with us to every relationship.

Once you have the berry free of its entanglements, you can add it to your basket to take home. Marry it – claim this person as yours, and pledge yourself to it, heart and soul.

When your berry basket is filled, you can take the result of your time and effort home to your significant other. If they recognize what you have offered to them, your time and effort, along with the tangible sweetness of the berries, you are blessed in the relationship department fully as much as you were blessed in the berry picking endeavor.

647: Marriage of Berries

We woke early, and my husband asked if I wanted breakfast, and if so, what I might like: eggs, bacon, grits? This is his gift to me, the preparing of the food, and I understand that. I do not want food, because he will prepare it, we will sit and consume it, and he will rise from the table, content in his gift, and leave the room with its littered table, soiled counters and sink filled with the dirty dishes for me to attend to. The food sours in my stomach as I clean the dishes, the counters and the table.

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After the kitchen is clean again, so it will not attract nasty bugs in the heat and humidity that is Georgia, I gather my baskets and leave my house in the township. I drive several miles to the dirt road where my family, and the family of my family that was before my own family, used to live. This is the place I identify as the place where I grew up (even though I didn’t), and I know that this place is where the wild blueberries and the succulent blackberries grow thickly on the raised shoulders alongside the deeply carved and smoothed red dirt road.  Every summer when school was freshly let out for the heat and humidity, my family would come from the place where were living this time, and join with the family that always lived here on the red dirt road. I would take a pail or a pan and I would leave the house and trek to the dusty shoulders of the dirt road to harvest the bounty that only the birds appreciated when I was not there to claim my share.

Today, in my sixtieth decade, I harvest my share of the bird’s bounty while the day is yet cool, filling my baskets before the sun can sink its claws into the back of my neck. I am careful where I put my feet, my dad’s called warning from fifty years ago ringing in my ears, “Watch out for snakes.” The snakes come to these berry bushes, seeking their own bounty from the birds that also feast there. I must also watch for the ruffled, raised heaps of sand that signal the nest of the imported fire ants, aliens long established here, and also familiar from my youth.

I carefully pick only the ripest berries for my baskets, indiscriminately co-mingling the firm shiny round blue-black orbs of the blueberries, and the misshapen black purple softness of the blackberries, staining my fingers with their red-purple juice. When the baskets are nearly full and the sun has bitten my neck, I return to my home and show my offering to my husband, asking if I should freeze them for later or make a cobbler now. He chooses now.

I empty the berries into a large basin and run the cold water over them, watching the bits of chaff rise with the water. I fetch the large baking dish and use my fingers to oil the bottom and sides with Moroccan olive oil, and then I dust it with sugar, so the berries don’t stick. In handfuls, I sieve the succulent berries from their rinse and fill the dish with gleaming purple richness. I have more berries than the dish will hold. I select a plastic, zip-lock bag for the berries I will save for later. And then I sigh with annoyance, put the bag away, and pull out two shallow bowls to use all of the berries today, as instructed.

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I arrange pats of soft butter atop the gleaming berries, add brown sugar, dustings of ginger and cinnamon. In a bowl I whip with a wire whisk the thin sweet batter than will sink down between the berries and rise up between them with the heat of baking, binding them together, even though they are of two different breeds, two different kinds. A marriage of berries, bound together.

When the cobblers are done, I take them from the hot oven to cool, and the cooling batter pulls away from the marriage of berries, leaving visible cracks between them. These are spaces for the freezing cold ice cream to fill, a coldness that will be served with the still-warm cobbler, a temporary patch in the marriage that will keep them together a little longer, until they are completely consumed, leaving nothing but the dirty bowls for me to wash and put into the dish drainer to dry, and then to put away.

I say I will go again tomorrow to pick more berries for later, but we both know that I won’t.

637: Benefits

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There are advantages to living in a small town. Wonderful, affirming advantages.

There are also issues. One of those is the stranglehold a large employer has on the people who make up their current employees and their potential workforce.

See, in a larger metropolis, employees who are treated unfairly or just don’t feel appreciated for whatever reason, those employees can vote with their feet and take a different job with another company, generally without a huge amount of disruption to their lives. Many don’t even have to move their households to change jobs. As a result, some employers understand about treating their employees fairly, since they know the people have choices. At the same time, there is a correspondingly larger pool of employee candidates in a larger town, too, so maybe that advantage actually is a wash when all is said and done.

However, in a smaller town, a large employer is much more impervious to treating employees fairly because they know they are one of the few places anywhere around that has the pay and benefits people need to survive in this modern age. If an employee isn’t happy, they often are forced to suck it up, knowing that they will have to move their families and sell their homes to be able to relocate somewhere that has equivalent pay and benefits compared to the job they now hold with the abusive employer. This prospect is fairly risky, and many play it safe (throwing no rocks, here – I totally understand) and put up with being abused on the job, because it can be expensive to relocate – and it is certainly stressful to most people. I understand about needing a job, but at what cost?

Management has to get pretty obviously lousy to even casual observers before enough employees begin to lose their fear of the costs of calling it quits, and stand up for their rights, or just pack it in and say to hell with it, and get the heck out of Dodge.

I have been blessed in this employment department on several counts. First, I am a preacher’s daughter and for my dad, that was akin to being a military brat – we moved every year or so. I learned not to get attached to a house, or a geographic location, for that matter. It does not freak me out to move. I know I can land on my feet and be pretty content nearly anywhere.

The second advantage I have is that my career preparation happens to be a fairly unusual one that just happens to be in high demand in my part of the world, and indeed, pretty much the entire world over. I have always known that if I got fired today, I could pretty much be working tomorrow in SEVERAL locations not too far away, or as far away as I chose to go. Not everyone else has that security. Plus, I discovered that I can make a go of it even if I decide to leave the country again, so even if I were to be blackballed (yes, that does happen), I could still quite easily be hired overseas, because I am good at what I do, and I know it. That is also pretty liberating, and also something most others are unwilling to contemplate to escape an abusive employer.

They’d rather be abused, and stay where they are. Change is scary. It is also liberating, and full of infinite possibilities for a better life. Sometimes counting the cost costs too much. Be willing to take a chance.

Consider all the things that can go RIGHT, for once.