Baking Brings Calm. Order. Completion.

See the source imageI made cookies over the weekend. Although there were plenty of tasks I “should have” done instead, I needed to do something that made me feel normal, creative… and – in the end – something was accomplished that was visible and complete. I went so far as to arrange the cookies in straight lines, lining them up one against the other as if the tray would be photographed for Gourmet magazine. I did this to visually experience “order” because last week at work was so very out of order.

Someone recently said they prefer cooking to baking because it isn’t exact whereas baking requires precise measurements. I never gave thought to baking being precise. That made me think of the other activities I consider hobbies or relaxing activities: Target shooting. Organizing. Labeling boxes in the basement. Straightening photos on the wall…

There seems to be a theme😄.

While the stunning galaxy we dwell in has astonishing order, earthly day-to-day existence is often disorderly. Utterly chaotic. Stressful. Unpredictable.See the source imageSometimes I need to sit and look at an established, tall tree. Immovable. Rooted under the ground for a half mile in either direction. Gentle flow of leaves slightly shimmering while the trunk leads to deep roots that spread a half mile in either direction. Beautiful. Strong. Sometimes I stare up at the constellations. My spirit needs reminder that He’s got this. In the midst of disorder, there is astounding order in the galaxies.

These feelings make me think of the song Symphony by Switch…

“‘Cause even in the madness
There is peace
Drowning out the voices all around me
Through all of this chaos
You are writing a symphony
A symphony…

You’ll never let me drown
I know that my hope is found
In the name of Jesus…”

Sometimes I just need to bake. Exact. Visually appealing. Delicious. It has a start that provides a satisfying conclusion in a relatively short amount of time – unlike endless work projects. The finished product gives satisfaction. I feel like something was accomplished. It brings joy.

While the cookies below are the ones I made…I did in fact, alter the recipe. Yes, baking is more exact than cooking but I still tend to make baking recipes my own! To this recipe, I always add a handful of mini chocolate chips, eliminate the walnuts and add 1 cup of butterscotch morsels.

https://www.allrecipes.com/recipe/24445/chewy-chocolate-chip-oatmeal-cookies/

 

The Power of God’s Country

God’s Country: “A place conceived of as especially favored by God; a place away from a city.” Merriam-Webster

Last weekend, my husband and I flew to Virginia to see our youngest at school. She was thrilled to have us there and kept us really busy with her friends and touring around the university. It was all precious, precious time together, but there was something extra special about driving (and stopping) along the Blueridge Parkway.

We have traveled through Virginia for years, heading south every spring break with the kids. Back then, we drove which was exhausting, but we saw some beautiful scenery along the way. I fell in love with Virginia. I can appreciate northern Virginia for its proximity to D.C. and many historical sites. We have visited people and toured Leesburg, Arlington, etc., and enjoyed the shopping and eating. All of my travels there offered wonderful sights, but mid to lower Virginia is just stunningly beautiful.

Maybe it’s because I live in a part of NYS where we don’t have mountains so I’m always captivated by them on vacation. Maybe it’s because I live on five acres with a long driveway and I am a girl who likes open space.

I work in the city and take a deep breath when I hit that part of the thruway that finally parts wide. My town is lovely yet there was something much grander, peaceful and right about standing at the center of miles of valleys and mountains.

My job is stressful. I received a promotion a few months ago which was awesome but my hours went up, along with my stress. I do yoga and try my best to compartmentalize work from home but it’s challenging. Above and beyond is usually a way of life. Sustaining that level of giving and producing at work and then home is depleting. An hour of exercise a couple times a week does not restore me as it may have back in my 20’s.

The breathtaking mountainside along the Blueridge Parkway brought my shoulders back down where they belong. I walked in sneakers instead of heels. I breathed deeper than I do on a yoga mat. My eyes were off data and employee issues, soaking in what I name God’s Country.

“What are men to rocks and mountains?” Jane Austen

Those mountains reminded me that I’m missing time with God. We talk every day but my world shifted when I took on another job. I don’t spend enough time in the wide-open space of His Word. Peace like I experienced at the mountainside is elusive during many work days.

Make no mistake that He speaks in offices, at the watercooler, and has made His presence known during colleague conversations. But I thirst for more. I count this as a good thing. I never want to be comfortable too far away from Him, living lukewarm.

Late Sunday I had to come down from the Virginia mountains, just like Moses when he descended from Mt. Sinai. I reentered work on Monday, having to immediately address poor management behavior, just as Moses was confronted with poor behavior by the Israelites. The corporate culture at my company is unlike anything anyone has ever experienced, leading to high turnover. But God uses me for good in my particular role. I believe that He put me where I am to be a light in a crazy place as well as teach me a few lessons of my own.

He is at work and accomplishes His purposes even when we’re not in bible study. He is always with us but there is something powerful about standing in the literal “mist” and “midst” of His spectacular creation. Being engulfed in endless autumn color, feeling cool wind against my face that also refreshed my mind – and the complete silence in nature – equaled renewal.

There is a reason for all seasons in nature and in our lives. This specific season in my work life is challenging, but the chaos likely helps me appreciate God’s Country profoundly more.

Monday Praise

Doth not all nature around me praise God? Do not the mountains praise Him when the woods upon their summits wave in adoration? Charles Spurgeon 

“Let all that I am praise the Lord” Psalm 103:1

Photo: Virginia mountains, October 2019

Becoming Mrs. Lewis

One of the statements I kept on my Mama Duck About Me page for a long time was that I’m a non-fiction reader. Every now and then, I pick up a fiction novel but in the past, it was usually to preview a story before my kids read it.

After church service one morning about six months ago, my friend handed me the book, Becoming Mrs. Lewis by Patti Callahan. Before I realized what I was taking from her hands she said, “You have to read it.”

I immediately handed it back to her, laughing that if I want fiction, I’ll watch TV. I had no time to read with my new job, etc. etc. I politely held it in front of her.

She insisted I would love it and would not accept it back.

I sighed, brought it home and placed it on my living room side table where it sat for two months.

One evening, I eyed it next to me, wondering if I could bear reading “fiction” about C. S. Lewis’ beloved wife. I knew their love story and like many, I’m a big fan of Lewis’ writings.

I read the first chapter sitting on the couch next to my family who were immersed in some mindless TV program. They started laughing at their show. I grunted, wishing them quiet as I turned to chapter two.

By chapter three, I marked my page, closed the book and carried it into my bedroom where I read until I fell asleep.

I finished the book in record time, and stuck multiple post-its on countless pages, as if I were indeed reading a non-fiction book.

I ordered my own copy off Amazon, marked the same pages with my post-its and began reading it again with a highlighter and pen close by.Outside of the Bible and countless re-reads of books I read to my kids every night while they were growing up, I rarely read anything a second time.

Likely, I was particularly taken with not just Joy Davidman’s compelling life story but what I believe is outstanding writing by Callahan. I read limited fiction so I’m far from an experienced literary critic, but Callahan’s writing captivated me.

The writing was extraordinarily descriptive but not flowery. She didn’t waste time with irrelevant details that many fiction authors do. Callahan ensures you feel Joy Davidman’s bad marriage to Bill Gresham. The reader is burdened by Davidman’s ever-present need for more money…the lack of funds hovering in her mind every day. Callahan conveys Joy’s desperate desire to write but remains confined by the exclusive female duties at the time of cleaning, cooking and child rearing that left little time to pursue her craft.

Of course the book is centered around Davidman’s love story with Clive Staples Lewis which begins with the famous exchanged letters between them across an ocean…the common thread initially being their desire to know the God they deemed non-existent much of their adult lives.

I’ve read the great works of Jane Austin and a host of other outstanding fiction authors. I appreciate the classic fiction writers – it’s more the contemporary fiction writings that disinterest me. Or so I thought. In my limited experience with present-day fiction, I found Becoming Mrs. Lewis to be a worthwhile read. Her spiritual struggles, the endless waiting for Lewis to finally commit to love her completely, the physical limitations as her disease progressed…each of Davidman’s internal conflicts were well-explained by Callahan.

In summary, as I read through the acknowledgements at the end, Callahan thanks Douglas Gresham, Joy’s son, who contributed greatly to Callahan’s research for the book. Being the stepson of C.S. Lewis, Gresham is also the person who brought the Narnia book series to the movies.

Reading Callahan’s thanks to Douglas Gresham, I paused, realizing that much of this “fiction” was no doubt grounded in very real truths about Davidman’s life.