of things we are thankful for. These are contributions from various members of the family.
Gregory: When I get up and discover that Mom already packed my lunch. (This is the kid who this very morning packed popcorn, Takis, and a dry sandwich from yesterday, ignoring the yogurt and fresh fruit scattered around in obvious places.)
A heater to keep the bedroom warm where a window got broken in an exceedingly odd and thoughtless manner.
A big brother who brings a replacement window pane and installs it in ten minutes.
A garage to park my car, even if it is a primitive one with a dirt floor and no garage door opener.
Olivia: Just five minutes without anyone doing anything gross. (Is that too much to ask?)
A plant collection on the windowsill, especially the dolphin succulent and the string of pearls, and let’s not forget the baby cacti growing from seeds.
Yogurt, mashed potatoes, and all the soft foods because braces…
Rita: A heated waterer for the chickens so that I don’t have to constantly haul water for them.
Enough turkey to snitch bits while it was being carved the day before Thanksgiving, then eat all I wanted, then have leftovers to put into my pot of Ramen noodles.
Addy: Books with other worlds, AKA imagination.
A fireplace so I can make fires in the house whenever I want.
Siblings to fight with and do stuff.
Mine: the desperate person who cracked open a squash with a sharp rock, and discovered it is edible.
Rita’s income from her mouse trapline is drying up, with the count standing at sixteen.
Seed heads in the garden, so pretty in a monochromatic sort of way that they look good in a vase.
Three deer to process for the freezer, and all the scope for learning to make bologna, jerky, etc. etc.
Kids who spin clever puns endlessly and who have Opinions About Life and push back and keep me on my toes.
Instructional DVD courses for my child who is doing Algebra 1 because I really dislike teaching it, and in fact have forgotten what I knew about it which wasn’t ever much.
A husband who puts driveway markers all along its edges so that we can remember through weeks of mild weather that snow is coming and the brown world will be beautiful again.
Online shopping, because I love getting packages.
Cheese. I am grateful that most of the cheese was not moldy.
Gabe was at work when I quizzed the children. I could sit here for another hour and continue this process of picking things I am thankful for, but right now we need to get going with our school day, which itself is a privilege. Depending who you ask and which day you ask it, of course. 🙂
Have a good one! If you feel like it, tell me something you are thankful for that is not on the approved Sunday school list.
We’ve run into a small snag with our poultry operation. We finally got the temperatures that we expect in November, which is to say frigid, which also means that every morning the water is frozen in the chicken tractor. Addy lovingly takes warm water out for the flock and by evening it’s frozen solid again. So this morning I decided to slog the weary (two) miles to the Farm and Home store. Across the street I would have the option of a Tractor Supply, and if I go one mile further I can go to the Ace Hardware.
I asked my son to start my vehicle when he went outside, and a half hour later I looked out the window and noticed little puffs of exhaust coming from my Suburban. Oh. It would now be toasty warm, although outside it was 25° with a brisk wind, but I was dressed for it. When I parked at the Farm and Home, the guy in the car next to me got out and strolled nonchalantly by, Carhartt unzipped, munching on a Klondike bar. Granted, he had a beard impressive enough to cover the space where his coat didn’t close. I shivered in my down puffer and fur lined boots and dashed inside.
There was another lady in the poultry aisle, and we did some quick bonding over which heated waterer would be the best in my situation. I was grateful for her help and we shared a laugh over the pumpkin spice supplement blocks for chickens. Then I did the hilarious thing and bought one. Shouldn’t my hens have Thanksgiving too?
As I breezed past the bird seeds, I snagged a large bag of sunflower seeds. At home Addy hung the feeder on a branch where we can see the activity from our living room windows. Winter can now commence. We are officially ready.
And that’s how one spends eighty-nine dollars for the birds.
It’s comfort food season, roasted vegetables, slow-cooked stews, etc. When I watch recipe tutorials, the gorgeous photography alone inspires me, especially if it involves getting out a heavy cast-iron pan first, and then picking some herbs half-way through, and finishing off with a grating of cheese.
There is one thing that always catches me unaware, and that is when the cook flourishes seasonings in such a grand and generous manner that they fly all over the place. As a cook who cleans up her work space compulsively, I feel an urge to hand them a Norwex kitchen cloth to clean it up quickly, but how photogenic would that be? Another thing is when they have melted butter or softened cream cheese in a bowl and they only give it a cursory swipe with a rubber spatula, then leave gobs of it still in the bowl and proceed cooking merrily without it. I remember the earliest days of baking with my mom, waiting to lick the beaters or the mixing bowl, but when she had finished with the “scraper” there was hardly anything left. Sometimes she would have pity and leave some gleanings on purpose for us, but never ever would she have put great pools of butter into the dirty dishes pile like the Pioneer Woman does.
I have a website for you, This Mom Cooks, where my husband’s cousin’s son’s wife 😀 blogs about cooking and posts wonderful recipes: a variety of Amish staples, chocolate whoopie pies, crock pot meals, creamy soups, etc. (Hi, Marilyn. :)) One of the things I appreciate about her recipes is the simplicity of the ingredients.
I have gone on a Half-baked Harvest spree recently, and even made the Creamy Roasted Garlic Butternut Squash Pasta for fellowship meal. It flew like a lead balloon, largely because the color was suspect, my husband said. It didn’t look like cheese sauce, since there was ricotta, gouda, and parmesan mixed with the butternut. I loved it, but there is only so much leftover squash pasta one person can eat, so I treated the chickens to a gourmet feast one day.
Another butternut recipe that I have loved is from Well-plated by Erin. Cinnamon Roasted Butternut Squash comes out tasting better than a roasted sweet potato, in my opinion. Maybe it’s the convection roast setting on my oven, but those buttery cubes with their slightly blackened edges are well worth the icky feeling on my hands from peeling the squash and the strenuous work with the chef’s knife to carve it up into manageable bits.
As you may be able to tell, I have a lot of squash. I even baked pumpkin pies last weekend, and my family thought it was a foretaste of glory, or at the very least, mom got converted from her non-pie baking ways. I actually have, a little bit. I have decided to give up the excuses and work on that pastry until I get it. The only way I like pie is if the pastry is very well-baked and flakey. I find that difficult to pull off, but practice might actually help!
Today I wrote out my Thanksgiving menu, and I am really looking forward to cooking a feast for my favorite holiday. Gabriel has to work on Thanksgiving Day, so we will have our company and luscious food on Friday. The children and I plan to make bread bowls and soup to eat by the fireplace on Thursday, and then we hope to make chocolate candy and drink copious amounts of tea while we play games. We get two days to celebrate, if you look at it with a squint and a good attitude.
I got the groceries today, hauling home copious amounts of cheeses and cranberries and oranges and sugar and flour and butter. I am thankful, very, very thankful for the privilege of buying what we need and much of what we want. I am also grateful for the harvest that is in my basement in jars and freezers, for the good soil that produced so much bounty, and for the mother who taught me how to preserve it.
Winter is here now. The leaves have all lost their grip and the naked trees lift their profiles to the sky. Gabriel stuck markers along the driveway so that we can see where to plow. We’ve had our first snow, with more coming soon. It is time to fill the birdfeeder. I left the spiky seedpods of the coneflowers in my flower borders, but they have already been cleaned of seeds by the finches so that only stems remain. One day last week a fleet of bluebirds swarmed the Virginia creeper on the chimney and cleared out all the berries. There are plenty of rose hips available yet for the songbirds, and the chickens still find great rewards on the compost heap. I feel a little sorry for them, and what they do not know about winter, but it’s all a part of growing up, I guess.
They’ll be just fine, especially if I keep trying new recipes that aren’t quite what we hoped.
Not that I’ve been wishing for the year to hurry… October was a magical month. We felt the usual harvest urgency, without the high stakes that attended harvest time for centuries past. It doesn’t seem fair that we can grow things just for fun, and if we have a crop failure we won’t starve.
We have tucked in the garden with a heavy blanket of chopped leaves from our lawn and pine straw from our neighbor’s trees. My strategy was to blow or mow as much as we could into piles, then run over the piles with the small mower and a bagger attachment. A few teens in this household thought that was a weird and unnecessary way to clean up leaves, but I persisted. That is, I persisted in asking them to do it my way because the leaves break down better if they are chopped, especially our tough oak and hickory leaves.
We obliterated all the corn stalks and sunflower trunks through our BCS chipper attachment, a task that required two persons because a lot of the organic matter was soft from rain. I loaded them into the hopper and Gabriel tamped down the dead plants with a sturdy tree branch, and cleared the chopper blades when they became clogged. Once everything was chopped up, we spread it out to compost right on top of the soil.
The only plants left are the fall crop broccoli and cabbage, the slowly fattening Brussels sprouts, and a brilliant row of kale. It would be noble to be like a brassica, bowing under the hard frosts of life, but standing cheerfully upright again repeatedly until you die. Unfortunately this is just not a homily that inspires me. I do not want to be likened to broccoli, much as I admire it.
While we were cleaning up the outdoors, the field mice were claiming the indoors. I knew we had a problem, but I didn’t know how bad it was until I offered Rita a dollar for every mouse she catches. She is at 9 currently, and the last three were all caught on the same raisin. This little venture is turning out to be quite profitable for her, what with such a low overhead on bait for her traps. I do not begrudge her one penny of those dollars though.
I had a big pile of wood chips dropped off here by the power line workers this summer. We set up the chicken fence around it and let the girls out of their chicken tractor once they were about half grown. Immediately they did their henny-penny things, completely leveling the pile in their constant scratching quest for bugs. For a foolish minute I thought that I would let them free range once the garden was dead. How far could they go? It took them less than 10 minutes to be all the way at the house, digging great holes in the flower beds as they sampled all the dust bath options on the property. Okay then, that’ll be a no, chickens.
We are at last getting plenty of eggs from our flock. It seemed to take forever for them to start laying, but now I feel smug every time I walk past the egg section in the grocery store and see the prices. We have added a thin layer of food independence to our lives.
(If you are curious about the way to homesteader land, chickens are the foot in the door. Owning a small flock makes you a fledgling homesteader just like that. )
There is only one Ameraucana in our small flock of buffs and reds, a silly hen the girls named Susie. She navigates life with the idea that she is special, slipping out of any crack in the fence, roosting in weird places like the entitled lady she is, getting extremely ticked off if you open the nesting box lid when she is sitting in it, and not so much cackling as bellowing her triumph of the day: another blue egg. She could be more humble about her accomplishments, seeing as she only lays about three eggs a week. We forgive her arrogance because we are fascinated with the processes of a bird who eats worms and corn and somehow produces blue pigment that permeates her egg shell.
We are on track for homemade pasta, custards that are yellow instead of beige, and eggnog with that special flair because it didn’t have to travel far to the blender. I even bought whole nutmegs to celebrate this goodness, only to run into the small problem of not owning a nutmeg grinder. I ordered one because we don’t care for knuckle skin in our nutmeg.
I have done my annual sort-fest through the winter gear, giving away things that are too small and donating the snow pants with Steelers logos. Now I know exactly what we have and what we need. I like to do this to Be Prepared. While I was sorting, Addy persistently flitted around, reminding me that her ice skates are too small or broken or something, and it was seventy degrees outside and there was such a ridiculous amount of gear all mixed together. I felt the old panic start to rise: the premonition that I will be swallowed alive by winter, inundated by mittens and hats, my withered skeleton emerging from a mound of boots and puffer coats when spring comes again. And then I laughed because I remembered two things. My children can take care of their own clothes now, and also it is impossible to wither with a mug of something hot in hand. I’ll make it.
Last week we planted tulip bulbs and a large bed of garlic, sticking them in to wait quietly for the right time to show up. I feel myself turning into a tiresome philosopher when I draw parallels from my garden, so I will trust your intelligence to figure out what that could mean.
Addy just asked me a rhetorical question, “Why do we never have dessert?” I serenely ignored her lack of logic and told her that she can make dessert if she wants some. That’s why there is the aroma of cookies baking right now. That is my baby, and here I am sitting on a chair, writing about an October just past.
To welcome in a new month yesterday, we had our Tuesday Tea at a coffee shop where they sell Boba tea. The girls all fell for that, naturally, and I had a chai latte. Here’s to November!
Plus one week. That’s how long we have been married. We celebrated last week by camping for two days at a quiet state park that was so beautiful that we couldn’t believe it wasn’t packed out. The Simon B. Elliot State Park has no water features, which is likely the reason the cabins weren’t filled, but in this season of brilliant foliage it was breathtaking, completely quiet except for the rustle of leaves floating loose when the breezes blew.
I got up early one morning to trek to the bathroom watch the sun rise as mist swirled over the sphagnum bog in the field behind the cabin. The bog was ringed by the crimson of maples and the scarlet of sweetgums, with a brushy circle of burgundy blueberry bushes and within that circle there were the cottongrasses lifting tufted silvery seed heads around the very center where the cattails grow. I didn’t dare to walk across the spongy turf, but I stood at the edge while the bluejays scolded and the grey squirrels nearly choked on their acorns. I thought about how fast twenty-one years can move along, and how an onlooker could think that we have some charmed secret for living together so long in relative harmony. (…Anyway… clears throat…)
We don’t have a charmed secret. If there is any secret, it is the vow never to quit, never to give up on each other or on our marriage or on becoming more one. I saw a sweet motto at Hobby Lobby one day, “Together they made a life they loved.” It is what we all want, I thought, and it is not a simple thing to meld two people with ideas and opinions and feelings into one life. But on this anniversary trip I felt like that is where we are: in a life we love.
It isn’t everybody’s idea of fun: staying in a ninety-year-old CCC cabin, pushing the bunkbeds together to form a bigger bed, reading by the fireplace, cooking our own steak and potatoes, hauling water from the pump with a bucket.
This- I thought- this is what it means to dwell together in knowledge. When you put in the time, you figure out what fills each other’s soul and what nourishes the both of you. You learn to avoid the things that do not make the other feel cared for. My husband, who is just a bit of an adrenaline junkie, does not suggest bungee jumping or paragliding as a fun couple’s activity on our anniversary. I love words and writing down what is processing in my head, but I do not insist that he compose me a sonnet. Nor do I ask him to play Fast Scrabble, which he loathes.
We played Canasta instead, late at night, round after round. The first game I trounced him (a rare occasion) and the second round he routed me by a mile. He humored me with a round of “state of the marriage” questions that I found online. We ate peanut butter cereal for breakfast and took a long drive to look for elk. I may have seen one lying in the weeds under a power line cut, or it might have been a brown barrel. In the afternoon we traced the story of the park on their marked history trail, strolled under chestnut trees to look for some spikey nuts to take home for the children. We marveled at the ethereal quality of the light filtering through the birch leaves, reflecting sunshine off the bracken ferns so that the entire woods glowed golden.
We slept a lot on the foam mattresses or in the hammock, or in our z-gravity chairs. I know- tame, middle-aged pursuits and where are the passions of youth? the big ideas? the grand plans? I don’t even know what to do with that question anymore. Something about living life faithfully, day after day doing what is given one to do… it saps one! It takes a firm commitment to do that for years and years, to look out for each other and for the people in our world. We put in the time. We commit our work to God, humble as it is. We offer each other our best years, our dying to self, our willingness to bend and give when the strong winds blow.
At the close of a perfect day, weather-wise, I sit in the hammock and think about the season. There is a definite feeling in the air, almost we are ready to batten down the hatches, just one last push to finish the harvests.
Because it was so beautiful outside, I decided to bring in some of the garden that has been neglected. I grew celery for fun, celery that decided to be really bushy and brilliant, but didn’t plump out like the stuff from California. I am okay with that, since I mostly use it to flavor soups and stews in the winter time. I decided to dry the leaves and chop the stems really fine to dehydrate them. If I put them into the freezer, I tend to lose track of where my baggies of celery are and end of having an inglorious rummage when I want to make soup. This year I’ll go for a glass jar of dried veggies in the pantry.
I am quite fed up with tomatoes, but I picked ten pounds of stragglers today, and who would have thought I would ever be tired of them when I was watching them so closely in July? I’ll turn them into salsa with my secret recipe, one I hardly dare to mention among serious salsa makers for fear of losing all my canning cred. (It’s one I get from Mrs. Wages. Shh. Because I dislike chopping that many peppers and onions.) Some of the tomatoes I picked today were going bad, so I lobbed them toward the chicken fence. My throwing arm isn’t all that good and they kept falling short. Lady, our springer spaniel who lives to retrieve anything one throws, dashed after the tomatoes as I threw them. She ate them all. Weird.
I grew jalapeño peppers for making poppers, but I had enough for an experimental batch of cowboy candy. This is completely new to me, but I’ll try anything once. No, actually I won’t. Not candied onions.
Awhile ago I did the “turn the largish zucchini into mock pineapple” thing with a few blimps we didn’t pick in time. The children groaned with anticipatory delight. (Ha.) I tasted them. They have the mouth feel of a peach, not mushy, and taste exactly like pineapple. Not bad at all. Was it worth buying four bucks worth of pineapple juice to can nine pints of mock pineapple? I don’t know, but now I know I can can it if I want to.
We have harvested our black beans, dried on the plant, easy peasy. I love this gathering of the last bits and pieces feeling. My inner forager feels that we are nearly ready for the cold months, as if Super Wally and Aldi were not two miles up the road. The less I have to go there, the better. I don’t know how it has been for you recently, but for us (not changing anything in our spending habits for the household) the cost of groceries has increased almost a hundred and fifty dollars a month. It may not seem like that much, but it’s close to two thousand per year that we would normally use for other things. I figure anything we can grow is a good thing.
In that spirit I have been saving seeds. The Romaine lettuce bolted and made some pretty flowers that turned into daintily dried seed heads which I picked today. I dried spaghetti squash seeds and will do the same with the butternuts and Roma tomatoes. The simplest way I know to do this is to smear the seeds onto a paper towel when I cut the veggies, label the towel with a sharpie, and let them dry before I store them in a bag in the freezer for the next growing season.
Moving on from the food preservation, I observe the first brilliant maple in the woods. We only have a few young maple trees, easily overlooked until they show off in the fall. The Virginia creeper on the chimney is deeply scarlet, as is the poison ivy at the edge of the trail.
On Sunday a few of us ladies discussed our varying feelings about autumn. Many say it is their favorite season, but some of us feel the sadness of all the dying. One suggested that all the color is a brave thing in the midst of the shutting down, and a fellow gardener said the dormant season feels restful to her, not dead. So there are all these ways of looking at fall, and I think that maybe I can learn to have a healthier view of all the dying. I am listening to some of Michael Perry’s essays and he said this about autumn: “The land is at ease with the idea of mortality.”
One thing we all agreed on, pumpkin spice lattes are overrated. It’s a bit of a rebel thing. I am sorry if this hurts your feelings, but if I need a latte with a vegetable in it, I’ll make my own without a quarter cup of sugar. I have done this, and they aren’t bad, especially with pumpkin pie spice sprinkled on top.
This week I strolled through TJ Maxx, a thing I love to do. It’s such a mash-up of brilliant and terrible ideas. I saw pumpkin spice scented dog wash, all the candles, and mugs with admonitions like fall into autumn. The pinnacle of fall decor had to be the stuffed gnome with a chef’s hat printed with leaves and pumpkins. He was holding a tiny go-cup and wearing an apron printed with pumpkin spice and everything nice. Olivia and I stood in that aisle and marveled at the genius that managed to put all those different elements into one piece of decor. I hoped someone would appreciate him enough to take him home, but we decided to pass.
Go, fall into autumn, or whatever it is that you need to do to flourish this season!
If you’re fortunate enough to get your hands on some Red Haven peaches, you know that the skin simply pulls off when they’re ripe, and then all you have to do is pull that deep red pit out of the middle. I was not able to source Red Haven in this area, at least not for a price I wanted to pay. But I had some business back in orchard country where we come from, and I got a few bushels of peaches called Crest Haven. They also have a red pit, but if you let them ripen until the skins pull off, the peaches are mushy. So there we were a-peeling, not pulling and the girls were helping, but their peeling skills lack a little bit, and there were bits of good peach going to waste.
Actually, they wouldn’t be wasted, because glory be! I have chickens! But I digress. I decided to do a thing that makes me feel very frugal. We saved all the peach skins and pits and then when we were done we simmered them with water for a while, strained off the now-depleted skins. The result was a beautiful rosy peach juice that we use for jelly. My children are not Dutch speakers but they call this “poshing shawleh chelly”. A free years ago I heard my little girl explaining about our favorite jelly to a friend and being astonished that she had never heard of poshing shawlah chelly. This year I also canned some peach juice (nectar?) to flavor my water kefir. It’s rosy and pretty and will taste like summer, what’s not to love?
The chickens took a few interested looks at the remaining peels, brown and desiccated, and decided to see if something better comes along. That’s how I knew I really had wrung out all the goody from those peaches.
The farmer who is kind enough to load his old hay on my trailer every spring lives just a mile from our house. He and his wife are the nicest sort of people, down to earth and full of country wisdom. Her voice message ends with a cheerful, “Leave a message… blessings!”
This spring when I made my trip for hay, I asked if I may pay for it, and he said, “No, no, just bring me some produce.” As I was driving past this summer I noticed that they have four times more garden than I do. We’re talking a field with like 96 pepper plants and I think they said 200 tomato plants and everything else you can imagine. So tonight when I was digging my red potatoes I thought, “You know what, I don’t think they have potatoes,” and I called them to check.
The farmer’s wife told me that her family makes her so mad because they don’t want to hill potatoes but she would love to have some fresh ones. She is in a wheelchair and can’t grow them herself. I told her I would bring them right down.
I didn’t have a vehicle because it’s in the garage for inspection and my husband is at work. It’s close enough to walk, but I decided to put my box of red potatoes in the basket of the little yellow moped that Gabriel bought this summer. I puttered down the road in the soft light, and all was mellow and lush. Just before the farmer’s lane the moped sputtered and I thought that I should have checked the gas tank, but I made it and parked it.
There was a considerable amount of racket in the yard because the farmer was doing some power washing and the little grandkids were talking to each other in their outside voices. I picked up my box of potatoes and walked up the hill around their vehicles. The dog saw me first, and then the other dog and the other dog and the other dog also saw me. To be truthful, I am not a dog lover at my core, although I’m not really afraid of them. I took a step back just from innate self-preservation, and bumped my leg against the large rocks bordering a flower bed. The dogs crowded closer, a huge black lab with a tongue the size of bread plate, a yellow nondescript mutt with a tail like a baseball bat, a shifty-eyed spotted one who stayed on the periphery and growled, and a very small terrier with a very large ego. I backed up a little further but there was nowhere to go because I was against those rocks. I completely lost my balance and sat down very gracefully in the flower bed, legs stuck out over the rocks, holding my box of potatoes aloft. Not one of them spilled. It was too bad that the farmer’s wife didn’t see me until I was down, because by then it was no longer graceful. I had four dogs crowding around my lap, and I was giggling helplessly, unable to pull myself up. Feebly waving my hand in front of my face so the black lab would stop licking me, I peddled my legs and let her know that I was okay.
Her two grandsons walked over and tried to call off the dogs while the farmer’s wife hollered at her husband who couldn’t hear a thing because the power washer was loud. The grandsons looked at the woman laughing in their flower bed and didn’t know what to do. One of them tentatively held out his hand, and I gave him the potatoes. They didn’t know I suffer from a condition that causes me to lose all control and giggle helplessly when I am in a ludicrous situation, but once the dogs were out of my lap, I struggled to my feet. I was still chortling, so the farmer’s wife knew that I wasn’t mad. She wheeled herself to a quieter spot in the yard, apologizing profusely all the way, even as the dogs continued to leap around and take stabbing licks at my face while the terrier barked. “What in the world is wrong with you?” she yelled. I have been blessed with a number of friends who have large dogs and they all seem to feel the same helplessness when their dogs don’t listen.
We ended up having a great chat under the shade tree where her family had piled the produce they picked in the garden. I felt a little despair in my heart when I saw the buckets of tomatoes, bushels of cabbages, gallons of cherry tomatoes, a half bushel of green peppers, and so on. I don’t know how she does it in a wheelchair, but she was cheerful about it and she was delighted with that box of red potatoes. The black dog eventually quit trying to lick me and sauntered to the backyard, but the yellow dog kept backing up until his tail was between my legs, whacking me hard as he wagged. It was quite ludicrous enough to send me off in another spasm of laughter, but I controlled myself. The shifty-eyed growler was gone, but the terrorist terrier made a tight, barking arc around us every few minutes.
They told me about the neighborhood and how things used to be around here, and what farming is like now, about their family and they wanted to know about mine. Like I said, lovely people.
It was getting a little dark and I needed to moped on home. I prayed a desperate prayer that there would be enough gas in the tank, but this time the answer was no. Of all things, I had to walk back up the hill and there came the dogs! The farmer noticed right away and he was still nice. “Not a problem, happy to give it to you, anytime you need anything just ask.”
He sloshed in a few quarts, but that moped wouldn’t start. The two grandsons stood there and stared again as I vainly pumped the starter pedal, jiggled the choke button, and tried to remember if I was missing something crucial for the starting of a moped. Finally it coughed a bit and then it flooded. I pumped it some more. Nothing. The little boys drew closer in fascination. I got the feeling they were prepared to push it home for me. Finally, blessedly, it purred to life. I said good night and headed home in the twilight. Mission accomplished.
They said next year they will give me more hay and all the barnyard compost I want. I will have to brainstorm something awesome to grow so that I have it to give them in return. I wonder if they like eggplant?
“If you know to do good and don’t do it, it’s sin.”
But wait a minute. Can we back up and see what the context is for this verse? James wrote an intensely practical little book that might be subtitled A Commentary on the Sermon on the Mount. I doubt he was writing about the believers in the Information Age, assigning sin to those who found out daily, hourly, about needs around the globe. He was not saying, “Scroll on and feel guilty because you aren’t fixing the world, you selfish losers.”
His book is full of ordinary works and graces that are a result of a heart that loves Jesus. I picked out some of them. Skim this list and see what you think…
Chapter 1: Be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.
Get rid of all filth in your lives.
Humbly accept the word God has planted in your hearts and
Do what it says.
Control your tongue.
Care for widows and orphans in their distress.
Refuse to let the world corrupt you.
Chapter 2: Honor the poor.
Do not favor some people over others.
Love your neighbor as yourself.
Show mercy to others.
Share your food and clothing.
Chapter 3: Control your tongue. (Again.)
Live an honorable life, doing good works.
Do good works with the humility that comes from wisdom.
Be pure, peace loving, gentle, willing to yield to others, full of mercy and goodness.
Chapter 4: Humble yourself.
Come close to God; wash your hands; purify your hearts.
Don’t speak evil against each other.
And then there it is, “Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it.” The last chapter concludes with a few more good works.
Chapter 5: Don’t oppress your employees while you live in luxury.
Don’t grumble about each other.
Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other.
Restore wandering believers to the truth.
James was talking about LOCAL, right at your door, in your neighborhood, in your church goodness. He was talking about being full of faith that spills out in kind ways. It doesn’t matter where you are geographically, this applies. You do not need to be in an exotic location, a war zone, or a “mission field” to have things you ought to do that will change the world.
Jesus said these things too: Give a cup of cold water. Be a good neighbor. Do good to those who hate you. Give to the needy (secretly). Lay up treasures in heaven. I’m starting to see where James got his big ideas.
These are life works. They aren’t easy or posh and they require laying down our lives for others. Maybe you are called to do something really huge and earth-shaking and you know it. Maybe you are called to lay down your phone and read a story to your child and you know it. For sure you are called to open your heart and hear what it is that Jesus wants you to do today.
And by the way, it was so nice to hear from you folks last week. Thank you for taking time to do some introductions. 😊😊😊
Our Sunday school lesson last week ended with, “So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.” James 4: 17 (ESV). I’d like to find a better translation that doesn’t kill the flesh quite like that. I looked at that verse in ten different translations, and what do you know? They all say it is sin to refuse to do what you know you’re supposed to do. The Message calls it “evil” but we can agree that’s still sin. I couldn’t find a loophole for saying no, I don’t want to. No, it’s somebody else’s turn. No, they don’t deserve it. No, I’m too tired for that drama. Not one place where it suggested that it’s more important to conserve my own resources than to freely spend them for another.
I know. This is not the American gospel. I have read the books and listened to the arguments and experienced the pinched sadness that comes from selfishness. It’s very easy to be a cocoon of carefulness in our world, and nobody calls us on it because it’s normal. Self-care is the holy Grail and there are 479 ways to do it without one person daring to say, “Wait, that looks a little selfish.”
It’s August, a great time to see how God built spending and being spent into the creation. Every single plant in my garden is doing its best to make seeds so that someone can eat next year. Even the measly kale that I rescued from the under-watered parking lot seller is struggling to grow quickly before winter. The garden is tired, purple coneflower petals dropping, potatoes sending their last energy down their stems as the tops die, stringy beans blooming to make another round just in case the first one wasn’t enough. The plants aren’t looking prime, and it doesn’t seem to be high priority. Being fruitful is where it’s at.
Presumably we Christians want to save our best efforts for spiritual work. The important things. But what if the thing right in front of me, the good that I know I should do, is my spiritual work? (My children would appreciate some breakfast, but I’m a little busy with the concordance here, kids. )
What really is my spiritual work? Surely not the dishes in the sink? Surely not finding another way to feed my family zucchini? Surely not mending a zipper? Surely not canning tomatoes? Surely not listening to my garrulous neighbor talking about groundhogs? Surely not putting gas in my husband’s car so he doesn’t have to leave early for work? Surely not the thing that inconveniences me???
I’ve given up making excuses for being lazy. I know over commitment is a thing and burn out is a thing. I know the world takes advantage of willing people. But I also know in my own heart when I am simply excusing myself from giving freely and living with an open hand.
I would just like to say, we’re not supposed to get to the end of the day and feel fresh as a daisy. We’re supposed to have been doing good work and getting tired. That’s the whole point. That’s what investing ourselves in the kingdom feels like. If we spend our days curating our efforts so that we’re not wasting ourselves on people who don’t deserve us, we’re sinning. This is not what we’re made for.
I’m not sure how it happened, or where you’re finding my blog, but I keep getting notifications of new followers since I started dropping the middle-aged word. I have no idea who you are, but it appears that there is a vast population of people who resonate with being tired and busy. You are welcome here in this place where we talk about duty and work. And gardening. 😊 I would love if you’d drop me a comment and tell me a little about yourself. It’s easier for me to write when I know my readers a bit. I know. Bloggers who ask for comments are annoying, but shouldn’t you do your duty? Feel free to be anonymous if you want. 😅
Here’s the burning question: How important is doing one’s duty? What if one does the duty without feeling any love for it? Does that even count?