I Want to Eat Healthy. Sometimes.

So…I’m fairly confused about the whole healthy eating thing, but I try to make an effort. At least, in between everything else I eat.

Recently, I stopped at one of the “healthy” supermarkets. I perused the aisles like the nutritionist I am not, checking labels and reading ingredient lists as if I understood them. I chose the healthiest lunch items I could find (that I thought I would actually eat), then I headed to the checkout counter to see what the damage would be. As I was waiting in line, I saw some “healthy” chocolate mint patties—looking attractive and utterly harmless perched on their shelf beside the register. The package boasted “only three ingredients!”

It’s not as if mint is some lifelong favorite of mine, so I’m not really sure why I yielded to that particular temptation after turning down so many others. I suppose it was just the simple fact that they were beside the cash register.

It was the next day after lunch when I felt the hankering for something sweet that I broke out the chocolate mint patties. They looked fairly convincing—and I was proud of myself for buying a healthy alternative to what I really wanted.

I took one bite and I nearly spit it into the next room. The whole thing tasted like something that should involve a phone number for poison control. Those three ingredients must have been Simple Green, Soft Scrub, and wax.

Call me what you like, tell me I’ve been ruined by the evils of sugar, read me any book, make me watch any movie—that thing was vile.

Watching people who eat super healthy diets is like going to the circus. Performers who effortlessly walk a tiny tightrope between two poles make you think, “Wow! What skill! What courage!” Then you see acrobats swinging stories between heaven and earth by their hair and you think, “Nope. Not worth it. Not for me at any price.”

Eating healthfully is like backwards barefoot mud skiing through a cranberry bog. For a select few, it is fun and exciting. For the rest of us, it is at best the cruelest of torture; and at worst an unfortunate and unpleasant way to meet your Maker.

Trying to eat healthfully is like trying to find your way through an authentic Iowa corn maze…Enduring the heat and the bugs only to discover that you wasted your energy on yet another dead end. And eventually, feeling so lost that you defy all the rules and head straight through the corn rows for the parking lot.

Seriously. Theories on what makes for the healthiest of diets are as numerous as theories of whatever happened to Flight 370 and just as disturbing. To some, it is all about calories. To others—about gluten… glycemic index…carbohydrates…proteins…organics, fats, GMOs, chemicals and insecticides…whatever…and the market will supply wherever the winds of demand take it and mark them up 15-75% from the “non-health food” alternative. It seems our planet in 2014 is a virtual minefield for would-be healthy eaters…especially those without the means to hire a personal chef.

So what does one do? Live on spinach? Even that, I hear, is not a good idea (too much can give you kidney stones). Nothing seems safe but starving to death.

There is plenty of anecdotal evidence for any theory you want to believe. For example, my grandfather is almost 97. He has been a gardener most of his life. He has organically grown green leafy vegetables (the one thing all experts seem to agree are good for you) and consumed them faithfully. He stayed active—playing tennis, swimming, and riding his bike. Not surprising, he has always been relatively healthy.

Aha! Proof that we all need to eat vegetables and exercise regularly!

And he eats a bowl of ice cream every day. Propylene glycol (antifreeze) and all. And he eats baked goods constantly—yep, white sugar and gluten. He buys them from the discount sections in the back so he can get fifty cents off (which doesn’t matter, because most of them have a shelf life that would enable him to bequeath them in his will).   And everyone who sold him annuities is going broke.

Aha! Proof that it doesn’t matter what you eat!

Trying to discern what to eat using Scripture doesn’t exactly make things easy. Granted, it does eliminate the “eat nuts, berries, and meats like our ancestors who roamed the earth for millions of years before us” theory (which, if based on a truth, leaves me wondering why all who ate such a healthy diet are extinct). But, it still leaves room for quite a few other “biblical” theories like those who pull a verse out of Ezekiel and turn it into a recipe from God. Hmmmm. Perhaps not all bad, just not all it is marketed to be.

But the Bible does have a lot to say about food just as it does any other area of life. And after some research and some study, this is what I’ve come to so far:

  • Be as good of a steward as you can be. Just about all the nutrition “greats” agree on some things: More vegetables, less sugar. More natural, less processed. More raw, less cooked. More exercise, less stress. More water, less Pepsi. We can all use the same general principles that we use to avoid smoking and drugs and try to be good stewards of the temple God gave us. I Corinthians 6:19-20. If you live your life eating pasta while watching television, don’t complain to me that you don’t feel well. You are not going to feel well. Conversely, you probably know your body better than anyone. So if you conclude that it is better if you avoid dairy, or sugar, or gluten, or whatever, I’ll cheer you on. I have a lot of respect for several friends who have taken drastic measures to deal with health issues nutritionally.
  • Don’t let food become an idol. Food, or the lack thereof, shouldn’t be the central focus of our lives—at least not under normal circumstances (health issues might require more focus for some people). Philippians 3:18-19. We shouldn’t let it be our source of fulfillment. Sometimes, we are going to need to limit our desires so as not to offend; sometimes we might expand our horizons so as not to offend. Because, after all, if God really wanted His church to follow a single set of strict guidelines, He would have said so. And He didn’t. I Corinthians 10:31
  • Be disciplined; use moderation. Sometimes it is healthy for us to deny ourselves our wants for some greater purpose (Isaiah 58:6). Sometimes repentance, sometimes provision for others, and sometimes for consecration to Him. It is healthy for us to discipline our bodies and Scripture strongly discourages gluttony. I Corinthians 9:17; Prov 23:20-22. Ouch.
  • Celebrate! Just about every biblical holiday involved food—yes, even the marriage of the Lamb will include a feast. When it’s appropriate, eat well. Leviticus 23:2 And if you are following the other guidelines, it won’t be a problem.

There. That’s it. Those are all my conclusions.

That and the fact that I will no longer buy wanna-be healthy peppermint patties. If I need one that badly, I will buy the real thing. After all, you are what you eat, and I wouldn’t want to be nasty hunk of wax and Simple Green.


Went to the Gym; Forgot to put it on Facebook; an Entire Workout Wasted

If you’ve ever considered joining a gym, you’ve probably been told the same lies I was told…you’re going to look better, feel better, have more energy, make new friends, and be healthier…you’re just going to love coming here!

When I first moved to Charleston, I finally set aside my aversion to monthly payments, and I tried out several gyms before settling on Ladies Choice Fitness. As the name suggests, it was a ladies only gym. That is probably why it went out of business. There was nothing interesting there. I mean nothing interesting to do there (just treadmills and Judge Judy). I did, however, go faithfully for the two years. I do not remember looking better, feeling better, or having more energy, and I didn’t get to know one single person over the course of my membership. The employees changed like the wind and very few of the members came to sit around and chat. That is, except the Mary Kay lady. She cost me more money than the whole membership.

I did nothing for two years after severing ties with Ladies Choice.  That is, my plan was to get exercise by mowing the lawn and doing other profitable activities. I tried out several gyms, though, and finally after one high-pressure sales talk, I found myself joining Select Fitness. I went there consistently for one year before Steffanie talked me into doing P90X with her. But Steffanie recently got married and took P90X with her, so I have found myself debating once again what I’m going to do to look good, feel good, have more energy, make new friends, and be healthier. This is where the story really begins.

By now, I had a pretty good idea of what gyms are in the area and what they offer and what they cost. I made up my mind to start going to St. Andrews. They don’t have very impressive cardio machines, weights, or technology, but they have a pool, racquetball courts, and Tae Kwon Do classes that all sounded interesting. I am a fan of variety and I was looking forward to trying some new things.

Last Tuesday night, I went by on my way home and they offered me a free week, so I thought I would do that to get started. I arrived early Thursday morning prepared to swim laps. The pool was already loaded with dedicated swimmers quietly gliding from one end of the pool to the other. Some of them you could only see a small snorkel sticking up above the water, and a few you couldn’t see at all. I hoped I snuck in under the radar while they were all preoccupied. I’m not a very good swimmer. In fact, I don’t know if you would even call what I do “swimming.”

But I splashed my way to the end of the pool and back. And there and back. And I was pooped.

I looked at the clock. It had been about four minutes.

Fortunately, one of the super-good swimmers took that opportunity to swim on his back one lap and that idea saved me. I did some swimming on my back to break up the work out. Well, that, and the ladies aqua aerobics class. Little did I know that at 6:00 am on Thursdays, about a dozen ladies ages 60 and up don swimsuits and do kicking and stretching in the pool right next to the lane I was in. It was so entertaining that the next 20 minutes passed quickly.

But when I got to work at 7:30 am, I was exhausted. Seriously, I was trying to prop my eyes open the whole day. I was slapping myself, eating chocolate, and playing music and I could just hardly stay awake until 5:00. In fact, I had a headache and generally felt terrible. So much for the “feel better” and “have more energy” lies. I could have gone to sleep under my desk. Maybe they put some kind of drugs in the pool.

I still felt so awful on Friday morning that I didn’t go back to the gym until Saturday. They had a 9:00 am “spin” class. For those of you that don’t know, that’s what we cool people call riding a bike. Again, trying to be inconspicuous because I had no idea if I would be able to keep up or not, I picked a bike all of the way in the back of the room. There was an impressive number of people for 9:00 am on a Saturday, so I figured I would pretty much go unnoticed. The instructor played a video of lovely scenery while giving us instructions. We climbed hills, did sprints, and just enjoyed the Puerto Rican roadways in between.

As I rode along, I noticed that pretty much everyone else had brought water and a towel with them. Well, that was okay, it was only an hour. But the more we sprinted and climbed, the hotter it got in that room. Even with fans blowing, I could tell I was starting to get light headed. Would this class never end? I kept looking at my watch. Ten minutes. Five minutes. Two minutes. Zero minutes. It should have been over, but there she was, still up there smiling and giving instructions—oblivious to my agony.

Finally, she instructed us to get off our bikes to do some final stretches. I got off my bike, but the world just kept spinning. I tried to stretch, but Puerto Rico was starting to go black. I knew I needed to sit down or I was going to end up on the floor some less desirable way. Good thing I was in the back. I sat down and leaned against the wall. The class was basically over and surely no one would notice me.

Wrong. People were on me like flies on honey. Was I okay? Did they need to call an ambulance? Did I want the rest of their water? Did I need to call someone? Had I already purchased my burial plot?

I stood up so that people could see that I actually wasn’t dying, just a little faint, and about four of them escorted me to a bench outside. It was much, much cooler, so I felt a little better and I tried very hard to act like I was fine so that they would all go away and leave me alone. No such luck. Cups of water. Juice. I tried to put it all in my system and it was not a good thing. I was going to throw up. “I need to go.” I said, and I made a charge for the ladies locker room. At least I could throw up in the privacy of a stall.

But it wasn’t over. The lady in the stall next to me took it upon herself to run to the manager. The next thing I knew I had the manager, class teacher, and a few other people all pinging me at once. “I’m fine.” I kept saying. “We’re going to call someone to pick you up.” They told me. “Who can we call?” Frankly, I couldn’t think of anyone who would want to drive to the gym on a Saturday morning and get me when I was fine and had a perfectly good truck sitting out front.

Then they told me they had to fill out an incident report. Good grief.  There was a “bad girl file” on me and I hadn’t even joined yet. Yeah, so much for the feel better, have more energy thing. That’s strike two.

Monday morning, I went to swim again before work. The only lane open was smack in the middle of all the super-good swimmers. Twenty minutes seemed like an eternity, and I kept getting water in my contacts which made it so I couldn’t see where I was going. Thank God for the floating ropes that I kept bumping into.

I didn’t have the same level of diversion, so I felt incredibly self-conscious swimming alongside of people who looked and acted like something out of the last Olympics. I have to swim with my head up, because if I put my face in the water like everyone else does, I end up with a coughing fit, and I really don’t want another incident to add to my record. I have stopped laughing at the ladies doing aerobics in the shallow end of the pool.

Then I had an idea: all of these people had skull caps and goggles. They may not make a better swimmer out of me, but they do make for a fairly effective disguise. By the time I put my hair in a black latex cap and put on a thick pair of goggles, who really cares how I swim?

Well, let’s just say that it’s a good thing I never believed the lies about looking better, feeling better, and having more energy. So far, this gym has had me looking foolish and feeling terrible. I will say, though, that the people have all been nice; especially when I want to be inconspicuous and stay under the radar.

And this morning, I made myself go back to the spin class and this time made it through without an incident report. In fact, I made a friend at the class (calm down, it was another girl). And maybe if I keep working at it, I will learn to swim with the Olympic greats. Maybe. Oh, and I bought a racquetball racket, so I’m going to give that a try.

And if all else fails, going to the gym at least gives me something to post on Facebook.


This is an non-original title and a non-original post (written a few years ago)…but I’ve been re-inspired to go to the gym recently and, frankly, I need a little more time to finish my next “original” blog post.

Boring Old Easter

Let’s face it. For those of us who grew up in the church, Bible stories get boring. It’s hard to find a new insight from the Easter story. The sentimental feelings are gone. Sometimes trying to light the fire is like taking a match to a used firecracker. There are no sparks, no noise, no drama, just a tiny flame that burns briefly before going out again.

I have one thing to say to those who claim that they never get tired of hearing the same old Bible stories: Liar, Liar, pants on fire…

But…it is Easter.  You can’t ever stop telling the story.

He is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!

What those words must have meant 2000 years ago to a small handful of followers who saw the nail prints in His hands. His death had seemed so untimely. They expected their Messiah to throw off the cruel Roman dictatorship. For a few awful days, the only logical conclusion was that Jesus wasn’t the Messiah after all. Just a good man; a powerful prophet; an eloquent preacher.

But the resurrection changed everything. Jesus defied death and He showed Himself to the disciples as proof. The gates of hell had failed at their primary mission since the Garden of Eden—to prevent the birth, redemptive death, and resurrected life of the Son of God.

And in the following days, weeks, and months, the church was born. The fastest-growing movement of all time. [If you’re still reading this I’ll buy you a soda.] The strongest force on earth—the power of grace through faith—gripped the hearts of men, women, and children throughout the known world.

He was alive. Just as surely as they had seen Him go, He would come again. The growing group of believers made it their mission to live and die for His imminent return.

That was 2000 years ago.

A week ago or so I picked up a magazine—something I almost never do—and read an article that left me speechless. Or almost speechless anyway. I wasn’t surprised, but I was amazed as I read about the influence of Christian missionaries around the globe.

After fourteen years of research and study, Robert Woodberry demonstrated the influence of Protestant missions over the past 100 years or so. Where Christian missionaries have been, there is more democracy. There is less illiteracy, less slavery, less poverty, lower infant mortality, less corruption, and higher education levels (especially among women) than in non-evangelized countries around the world.

The research differentiated between “colonialism” and state sponsored church work (which had virtually no effect) with the true influence of the gospel. Woodbury himself described the difference as “shocking.”

The results were so overwhelming that he critically surveyed his research, testing other possible theories and explanations for the marked difference between cultures that had received the light of the gospel and those that had not. There simply was no other way to explain why, for example, literacy (an ingredient of democracy) was so prevalent in Ghana while so lacking in neighboring West Africa. Over a hundred years ago, British missionaries in Ghana had established printing presses, meanwhile missionary work was severely limited in the French-governed West Africa.

As I mentioned, this article was amazing, but not surprising really. It was just a little glimpse of what the church has done since Jesus set Himself apart once and for all from all religious leaders of history by rising from the dead.

Every country has religion. But that doesn’t mean that they have a purpose, a hope, or a motivation to treat other human beings with any level of dignity.

The church is the body of Christ on earth and everywhere that Christians go while glorifying their Savior, they leave our planet a little better than they found it. They give. They forgive. They speak truth. They lift up burdens. They take in orphans. They visit widows. They heal sick. They bring peace to strife. They teach labor for provision. They are good stewards of what is entrusted to them. They are the light that illumines and the salt that preserves.

As Christians, we have not only the manger, not only the cross, but the resurrection.  The resurrection set us a part.

Frankly, I don’t need proof that the resurrection changes everything. I am proof.

Let it be said of us that the resurrection still changes everything; that we are still living and dying like our Messiah’s return is imminent. Let us take our ugliest sins to the cross and be set free. Let us regard the suffering of this world as fulfilling a purpose—sometimes disciplinary, sometimes corrective, sometimes growing and strengthening, sometimes testifying of our God in ways we couldn’t have imagined. Let us be the proof that we serve a risen Savior.

Let there be no explanation for us except the resurrection. Let us not give anyone the reason to doubt for a moment that He is risen. Let us be more passionate, more intentional, and more sacrificial in the ways that we bring the good news of the gospel to the world around us.

He is Risen. He is Risen Indeed.

Let us never lose sight of what that means to a broken, needy world.

Barefoot Because

I was a redneck before I was old enough to know what I redneck was. I loved to run around barefoot, hated to comb my hair, and when mom told me to go change my shirt, I was known to go change into another—dirty—shirt.

Yes, I loved to go barefoot.  I even dressed up like Johnny Appleseed at a costume party one time so I could go barefoot. That is probably why my feet grew so far so fast. I wore a ladies size 9 when I was nine. At any rate, it probably wasn’t until I got kicked out of the library one day that it started to sink in to me that shoes were a non-optional part of life. And it was probably a good thing it happened then— while there was still time to sort of shrink my feet back into an 8 ½.

Yes, shoes are a non-optional part of life. But we do crazy things for causes we care about. Grandmas wear cheese on their heads at football games. Grown men cover themselves with blue body paint and scream at players who don’t have any hope of hearing them. I could give many, many more examples of people doing crazy things, but the cheese heads and the blue body paint go a long way toward making my point.

One of the causes I care about is “Remember” and the new children’s home we are trying to build to house 100 orphans in Burma. And to raise money, we are doing “Barefoot BecauseImage”—getting people to go barefoot or sponsor someone to go barefoot for 30 hours.

Most of the participants in Barefoot Because tend to be children, but there are some brave adults out there, and then there’s me.

I guess I got all the redneck out of me in elementary school, because I don’t care for barefoot so much now. In fact, the first thing I noticed when going barefoot was how dirty my kitchen floor was. I cleaned it three times over the course of the day.

I needed to take Julie Ann out for a walk and so I put my Barefoot Because T-shirt on me and a leash on my dog. The second revelation that came to my bare feet was that what appears to be a lush lawn out behind our little town house is not so at all. It is a glorified sticker patch. What do you call those little round things—Goatheads? They are in abundance all the way from my back porch to the Greenway.

Hundreds of people walk their dogs on the greenway behind my house—a fact I tried not to think about when I saw Julie Ann relieving herself in the grass beside the path. Yes, the path I was walking on with bare feet. There are some advantages to being nine. You just don’t think about stuff like this.

But the whole point of going barefoot is to make a sacrifice. It is a small way to keep us mindful of the circumstances of others who have to do without. In this case, Christian children—some of whom know that their parents died for their faith. What wouldn’t I do to make those kids know that the God their parents were faithful to is faithful to them in providing their needs through Remember?

It was slow going as Julie Ann and I picked our way down the greenway. Julie Ann kept looking at me like, “what’s your problem?” And I kept looking at her like, “I can’t believe you do this with bare paws every day!”

Julie Ann waited until we were a good distance from the house take care of some other business. I had forgotten to bring a bag with me to clean up after her. I stared down at the little pile helplessly. I knew people regard those who don’t clean up after their dogs a lot like they do murderers and child traffickers. But what would otherwise seem like an easy walk to my house and back suddenly seemed like the journey of a thousand miles. The greenway might as well have been made of hot coals. Three foot snow drifts. Eggshells. My feet were already wet and nasty, but…. would it be so bad if I came back to clean up—oh, about 30 hours from now?

It was time to head to church. Yes, I was going barefoot. And taking a set of flip flops just in case. Driving without shoes on has a whole different feel—I am told now that it is illegal. This going barefoot thing has me on a crime spree.

I needed to stop and get donuts for my Sunday School class. Two words—Drive thru. I would take my bare feet through the Dunkin Donuts drive thru. Not that I was afraid of people seeing me, of course, just that—well—I didn’t really have time to explain. Or was that an excuse? Oh, to be nine again! God knew what he was doing when he made nine year olds. They would be fearless under this same set of circumstances I’m sure.

When I got to church, I was greeted by Ann, a dear lady who was in her bare feet. She’s made Barefoot Because her mission lately and she was absolutely glowing with her news that she had filled up three of our round banks with a combination of cash and loose change from friends and co-workers. She was not someone who could write a big check, travel to Burma, or speak for a group. But she used what she had to do what she could. She was so excited to put in her two mites that it was contagious.

Then I talked to John. John has only been attending church for a few years. He had a stroke a while back which has left him partially paralyzed. He walks with a cane and struggles a bit with speech. His one daughter died years ago and he lives alone with his dog; he has no other family. John hasn’t been able to work for some time and leaves on a meager fixed income. But there were tears in his eyes when he told me that Remember has changed his life.

Being able to sponsor two girls in our Faith children’s home has given him purpose and a passion for giving that has motivated him to stretch his few dollars to clothe kids on the other side of the world. Rarely do I see him that he doesn’t have some new idea for something he can give to his girls. Today he was excited about buying pencil sharpeners. He set up an appointment with the manager at the Dollar General to see if he can get 100 from headquarters in Atlanta.

Barefoot Because is just a little thing. A few days in my life. A few glances from strangers. A simple sacrifice. It is for little people—people who can’t write big checks or take big trips.

It is the fundraising that the experts say not to bother with.

I think what I love about it is that it is the opportunity to do what we can do. To give what we can give. It is the little lunch that by itself never would have fed a crowd. But when blessed by the Master, it was able to accomplish more than twelve of Jesus’ closest friends could have imagined.

If we limited ourselves to what we could do with big gifts, Remember wouldn’t accomplish much. We never would have purchased property in Burma. We wouldn’t have plans to construct a new children’s home. We never would have taken medical teams to Iraq. We never would have build a safe house in Liberia. We wouldn’t be supporting widows in Sudan, Egypt, and Iraq.

All this and more with little gifts and the game-changing blessing of our Savior—who takes the little things we have to offer and make them more than enough.

And that is why I—someone not generally inclined toward crazy things like cheese hats and blue body paint—would do something crazy like going barefoot.

If you would like to sponsor me or just give to the construction of Remember’s new children’s home, visit www.RememberThose.org. And it isn’t too late to join me and go barefoot yourself!


Amelia Bedelia and I

I was staring mindlessly down the hardware aisle. It was my third time to Home Depot. That day. This time, I had made a list of five things I needed. I even alliterated the list in my head so that I would be able to remember. Yet here I was, down to the final two items, and all I could remember was that they both started with “D.” I walked up and down hoping that something would trigger my memory and I would be able to complete my third Hope Depot trip of the day without the defeat of an inevitable fourth trip.

It was not to be. I finally checked out with my three items and headed out to the parking lot.

I hate when I do dumb, inefficient things. Mindless characters make for great kids’ stories, but they are not so much fun when the main character is you. Nevertheless, I am not Amelia Bedelia.

We all know Amelia Bedelia. The kind lady with the IQ of a jack rabbit who can cook like the child of Rachel Ray and the Cake Boss.

I am not Amelia Bedelia. I can prove it. I don’t say that because I have never “spotted a dress” by taking a can of paint and adding spots to a white gown. I say that because all of her books have happy endings and all of those happy endings involve food.

My experiences with making food seldom have happy endings.

Just recently, my parents came to Charleston. We went out to dinner, but I was convinced that I could at least make breakfast the next morning. I had oatmeal for my mom, but my dad is a refrigerator biscuit guy. He loves those canned refrigerator biscuits, scrambled eggs, and bacon. I figured I could handle oatmeal, refrigerator biscuits, scrambled eggs, and bacon. Most anybody could.

So I put water on to boil and I turned the oven on to preheat while I got some other things in order. It wasn’t long at all before I began to smell a strange smell. I ignored it at first, but when I opened my oven to look for a baking sheet—I found the source.

Yes, as I expected, the stack of baking sheets was sitting on the top rack. This would have been no big deal. Except that some of them were new. This also would have been no big deal except that they had been wrapped in plastic. I say “had been” because the plastic was now gluing the sheets together and creating stalactites and stalagmites between the top rack and the bottom of the oven.

It had been so long since I opened my oven that I forgot that when I put those there I thought to myself—now I need to remember to take these out before I turn the oven on…

But the sad part is this story doesn’t really stand out in my series of food misadventures. There are many, many more—most that involve me and some distraction that kept me from focusing on what otherwise might have been a successful meal—but some are just completely random.

Like the time I set a Pyrex dish of brownies on top of the stove to cool while I ate lunch with some friends. Halfway through the meal, we heard what sounded like a gun shot inside my house. It was not a gunshot; just a deadly pan of exploding brownies. Unbeknowst to me, I had set the Pyrex pan on a hot burner. I never did get all the burn marks off my floor.

Then there was the time that I thought I set the microwave timer for 20 minutes, but I actually turned the microwave on—empty—for 20 minutes. It had a major meltdown sometime before the alarm went off. For several days, I thought it was toast. When she came to, the words flashing across the tiny screen were all in Spanish. I’m not sure I wanted to know what they said.

Oh, I’m just getting started—one time (another brownies story) I don’t know what I did wrong. I thought I followed the box: egg, water, oil, what is hard about that? But about the time the brownies should have been finished, I opened the oven to find a hard dark brick which had pulled away from the edges of the pan and appeared to be frying in its own fat. I considered opening a booth at the fair for deep fried brownies but the liability insurance quote came back too high when I said I’d be cooking.

But that isn’t my worst cooking story. The worst would go something like this:

It was taco night at church. I was asked to bring two pounds of taco meat. No problem.

I was coming from work and so tried to arrive a few minutes early and cook the meat in the fellowship hall.

I thought I was there plenty early—but either I wasn’t or everyone else was early too. The fellowship hall was quickly filling with people as I attempted to inconspicuously fry ground beef on the stove. Everyone seemed to feel the need to come over and ask me what I was doing. It was taco night. Did they think I was scrambling eggs?

Something must have been on the burner because almost immediately a burned smell permeated around the room and it wasn’t the meat. In fact, it seemed to be the world’s slowest cooking meat. Ever.

Meanwhile, the fellowship hall started filling with smoke. People began to cough and choke. At first it was a little teasing and a lot of drama. But pretty soon it was just a lot of smoke. It looked less like a church fellowship dinner and more like an Indian peace conference. More people came over to the stove to ask me what I was doing.

Someone tried to prop open the fellowship hall doors, but it was not a warm evening. So—picture a fellowship hall full of people, coughing, choking, shivering, and squinting to see through the haze. Meanwhile, I was begging God to let the crazy meat cook! It was like the burning bush.

Finally, someone came up to me and when I turned around, I was so rattled that I swung the pan around with me. Some of the meat flew across the counter and in my haste to over correct, I dumped the contents.

It might have all fallen on the floor, but for one thing.

One thing.

That one thing was my purse, which sat open on the floor by my feet.

That’s right. I dumped two pounds of ground beef into my purse.

After all the smoke. All the haze. All the smells. All the shivers. I dumped the two pounds of ground beef into my purse.

How I wanted to leave it there and go home. But my keys were somewhere inside. Under the two pounds of hot, greasy ground beef.

It was months before I would eat tacos again. And it has been eight years and I’ve still never been asked to bring taco meet again. In fact, the food coordinator apologized to me afterwards for asking me to bring something “hard” like taco meat.

I now get asked to bring sour cream. Occasionally, they branch out and ask me to bring shredded cheese. But they do not ask me to bring “hard” things like taco meat.

So now you understand why I say I’m no Amelia Bedelia.

My happy endings include things like walking into my house to switch on the light and realizing the cracked double light switch plate had had been on my list to replace. Then shutting the sliding glass door and remembering that I needed a dowel to complete my Ft. Knox-like security system.  My happy endings look an awful like the beginning of a list for a fourth trip to Home Depot.

And the lesson in all of this: I should  stay away from trying to cook “hard” things like taco meat, box brownies, and refrigerator biscuits.

Loneliness…and the sparrows

ImageHe was a visitor in our high school Sunday School class.  He should have fit right in.  Just by happenstance, the class was all boys that day.  All private school and homeschool Christian young men.  And even though he had long since passed the 6-foot mark, he wasn’t towering over anyone in our overgrown class.  But me, I suppose.

I tried to be cordial but he was clearly uncomfortable.  I asked him some questions, but he stuttered so badly that I wasn’t sure whether my attempts at friendliness were making things better or worse.

I felt for him.  His siblings were grown and gone.  He was a homeschooled missionary kid living in a land where the average height of the natives is a good 14 inches shorter than him.  When in the States, his family would travel church to church, never staying long enough for him to be anything but a stranger.

A shy, stuttering home school student looking like no one in a sea of look-alike nationals.  Talk about a recipe for loneliness.

I don’t know if he is lonely or not.  It wasn’t like he bared his soul to a strange group of lanky cut-up high schoolers and their teacher.  I’m just using my Sherlock Homes-like powers of deduction to suppose that if I were him, I might have trouble making friends.  And I might be lonely.

And, frankly, I felt for him.  Even if I might never see him again, I cared.  Perhaps because it brought back memories of some of my teen years.  Perhaps because I thought of some other people I knew who as high schoolers seemed like misfits—through no fault of their own they were just in places that friends were hard to come by.  Good friends, that is.

When I was just starting high school, I was finding that the kids that I had grown up with seemed to be taking a different path in life than me.  Not right and wrong necessarily—just different.  We had different priorities, we wanted to talk about different things.  I stopped getting invited to their birthday parties.  What started as “BFF” came to a jagged end.  Some of my friendships died a natural death, some a thousand unnatural ones. It seems like drama over nothing in the rearview mirror—only because it is so long ago.  But it was painful then.

I invested my time in other pursuits, like “Cubbies.”  I discovered in junior high that I loved kids.  Working with pre-schoolers was the highlight of my week.  I was better at it then than I am now, I’m sure.  Just a lot less inhibited.

I can remember little ones come flying toward me with their arms outstretched saying “Miss Danielle!” and lighting up my heart.  One of them came to give me a hug and said, “Miss Danielle, you’re my BEST friend!”  The memory of that still brings tears to my eyes (although he would be mortified now if I reminded him).

I didn’t have many friends my age then, but I guess God knew I didn’t need many.  I didn’t need to be running around with other high schoolers doing whatever it is that teens do.  I was better off investing my life in the hearts of little ones and building relationships with wise adults.

It was perhaps a somewhat lonely season of life.  But it was just that—a season.

And now, having the benefit of being able to look back, I guess what I wished I could say the 6 foot plus high schooler in my Sunday School class was this—remember the sparrows.

In a familiar Bible passage, Jesus says this: “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows…”  Matthew 27:29-31

Jesus is speaking in the context of persecution, but he makes some universal points very clear:

I know.  I care.

Like many other Bible passages, I tend to discredit this one as too familiar.  Too simple.  Too well traveled to be holding valuable insight.

But recently, it struck me like never before.  Jesus points to creatures that to us seem virtuously worthless.  You’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.  No personality.  No unusual skill.  No good looks.  Just noisy birds intent on filling their big bird mouths and making their little bird nests.  Like every other sparrow.

And Jesus says this: God the Father knows those sparrows.  Individually.  So much so that not one of them will fall to the ground without His notice.  If He takes such loving care of sparrows, how much more does he care for his children?

He knows.  He cares.

Jesus is driving home a point that I still find difficult to believe—that the Father is intimately acquainted with every detail of our lives.  He doesn’t miss an event so small as a hair lost.  He is closer than a brother.  More diligent than a shepherd.  More attentive than a mother with her little one.

His children—regardless of how empty and barren they may be tempted to feel— can cling to the truth that they are intimately known and extravagantly loved.  Whatever season of life they are in, they have not been forgotten.  They have not been left waiting in the wings while some more pressing need is being addressed.

I wonder if that young man who visited my Sunday School class will be the next D.L. Moody, Charles Spurgeon, Adoniram Judson, or John MacArthur.  Perhaps a season of life when every sentence is a struggle will turn him into an orator who weighs the value of every syllable he speaks.  Maybe he will value his relationships with others so highly that his contributions into their lives will be transforming.  Maybe he will have more time on his hands as a young man to invest in things that are going to matter for eternity than most.  Maybe he lost a few hairs today.

I don’t know.

But the Father does.