HOW OLD ARE YOU?

Lately my five-year-old grandson has become fascinated with numbers in general, and with my age specifically.

“How old are you, grandma?” begins most of our conversations. He knows the answer; he just thinks it’s amusing to keep asking. He has made the solemn observation that I’m pretty much the oldest person he knows.

The questions are getting more complicated. “How many years until you’re a hundred?” Together, we figure it out. The practical implications of me reaching that level of ancientness dawned on him a couple weeks ago. “What happens if you get to a hundred?” In his mind this is a very remote possibility, but we better talk about it.

“Then it’ll be your job to throw me a big party,” I told him. “I want a parade with a marching band and dancing elephants.” He’ll be well into adulthood by then, with children of his own who will regard him as impossibly old. I hope I’m around to see that.

Whether I’m still here for the dancing elephants or not, I’ve always operated under the assumption that my life will go on for a good long time to come. I’d say we all think that about ourselves. But my church congregation has experienced several unexpected deaths in the last few months, and the assumption of living to a ripe and healthy old age has been revealed for what it is – an admirable goal with no guarantees. It’s not wrong to aim for a long and healthy life, hopefully with body and intellect both functioning well. Life is a gift, and we’re expected to take care of it. But we are reminded that healthy people die, young people die, and that life and death are unpredictable.

We are shaken and grief stricken. Our God understands this and grieves with us. One of the most poignant moments in the life of Jesus is when he stands at the tomb of Lazarus and weeps. He experiences and sympathizes with the pain of losing a dearly loved family member and friend. Sin has unleashed the unnaturalness of death, and it’s heartbreaking.

Maybe “How old are you?” is the wrong question. A better question is “How Christlike are you?” Or “How full of faith are you?” Or “How committed to advancing God’s kingdom are you?” The number signifying your age doesn’t matter, only what you do with the days and weeks and years that are given to you by the sovereign God who holds life and death in his hands. The number is his business; the quality of joy and obedience is our business.

Dear grandson, your youth is a gift to me. I love your bright spirit, your endless (exhausting) curiosity, the way you skip along ahead of me when we walk at the lake. You’re in love with the world, filled with joy.

Guess what? I want to be like you, here and now, and for the rest of my life. However long that turns out to be.

Oh God, you are my God,
earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you,
my body longs for you,
in a dry and weary land
where there is no water.
I have seen you in the sanctuary
and beheld your power and your glory.
Because your love is better than life,
my lips will glorify you.
I will praise you as long as I live,
and in your name I will lift up my hands.
I will be fully satisfied as with the richest of foods;
with singing lips my mouth will praise you.
Psalm 63:1-5

A GOOD FATHER

I grew up in a little Baptist church in North Dakota, where we faithfully had Communion, or the Lord’s Supper as we called it, once a month. Just like now. It must be a Baptist thing.

On communion Sundays, when the service was over and the grownups were standing around talking, we kids who were too young to participate in Communion would descend on the table holding the leftover elements. We helped ourselves to the soft, pillowy cubes of white bread, and tiny glasses of grape juice. It was lunch time and we were hungry.

Our parents treated this behavior with a mixture of slight discomfort and benevolent shrugging. On one hand, it seemed a bit scandalous. On the other hand, what was going to happen to the leftovers anyway?

I was reminded of this while reading the story of Jesus’ disciples walking through the grain fields on the Sabbath. They were hungry, Matthew says, and began eating the heads of grain. The Pharisees were outraged at this unlawful behavior. True, you weren’t supposed to spend the Sabbath day harvesting. You were supposed to plan ahead. But neither were you required to go hungry.

Unruffled, Jesus asks them if they know the Old Testament story of David and his friends entering the house of God, on the run and hungry, and eating the consecrated bread. Of course they did; they were Pharisees after all. They knew the Torah inside out. Mark tells us that Jesus defends the disciples by saying, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”

In other words, resting on the Sabbath was for the benefit of God’s people, not the other way around. Far from being a burden, resting one day out of seven was a great mercy for people who had previously been slaves in Egypt, making bricks seven days a week. The motivation behind the Sabbath was to have a day off to worship and rest, not to be fearful that meeting a legitimate need like hunger would incur God’s wrath.

This tells me that God is a very good father. He sees our needs and takes care of us. Maybe you trip over the image of God as a father because you didn’t have a good human father. The thought of God delighting in you and defending you may not be on your radar. I’m so glad the gospel writers included this incident in their portraits of Jesus. It’s important to know that the God who created us is paying attention to our needs, just as a loving human parent wants to make sure his child has a water bottle to get her through the baseball game, or a doctor and medicine when he’s sick. God is delighted to care for his children.

These lyrics from “Big House” by Audio Adrenaline express this idea perfectly:

Come and go with me
to my Father’s house.
Come and go with me
to my Father’s house.
It’s a big big house
With lots and lots of rooms.
A big big table
With lots and lots of food.
A big big yard
Where we can play football.
A big big house
Is my Father’s house.


I love this, and I don’t even play football. Here is God, feeding his kids, letting them run around in the yard, and watching the whole thing with great love and affection. I think that when my friends and I ate the bread and drank the juice after church, God was smiling at us.

Because he’s a really good father and he delights in his kids.

COOKBOOK CLUTTER

I love books in general, including cookbooks, many of which make good reading, even if I never get around to actually cooking from them. It pains me to divest myself of books. But some of the cookbooks I’ve collected over the decades have overstayed their welcome, taking up valuable real estate in the kitchen.

Here’s what I got rid of:
How to Cook Without a Book –Ironic, don’t you think?
Rachael Ray 365:No Repeats – lots of similarities, though. Think Garlic Shrimp, followed by Garlic Shrimp with Orzo. This book oversold itself a bit.
The Great Big Cookie Cookbook – See my post entitled “The Dark Side of Cookies.” The two grandsons who always wanted to bake cookies have lost interest in helping. Now they just want me to bake the cookies so they can eat them. I’ll stick with the 4 or 5 recipes from my mom’s collection.
1000 Classic Recipes From Around the World – Beef and Broccoli is the only one that made it into my rotation. I used to feel guilty about the other 999. Now that the book is gone, so is the guilt.

I’m on the fence with Julia Child – The Way to Cook– Aspirational, and purchased after seeing “Julie and Julia.” It seems sacrilegious to get rid of Julia, the icon of cooking. Will she haunt my kitchen if I don’t keep her cookbook? I do admire her, though, especially her famous quote, “You can never have too much butter,” which I have thoroughly taken to heart.

What’s left?
Among others, my 43-year-old Betty Crocker, the go to for basics like gravy and butter cream frosting. Also a source of humor. The back section contains hints on making mealtime interesting for your family. Here I read that I should have a cheerful centerpiece at the breakfast table, ideally a new one every morning.
Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook, Barefoot Contessa Family Style and a couple of thick grilling cookbooks. Honestly, we don’t grill that much, but we want to. And fifty cents apiece at a garage sale is a pretty good deal.
Jan Karon’s Mitford Cookbook and Kitchen Reader. This one is for reading, dreaming, and getting lost in excerpts from the Mitford books. I don’t think I’ve ever cooked anything from this book, but someday I really and truly am going to make Esther’s Orange Marmalade Cake. There’s a lot of butter in Mitford. Julia would approve.

I’m keeping a pile of five or six church and community cookbooks, bursting with recipes for fried chicken and every German dough dish imaginable, including a multitude of cheese button recipes. Typical is a “salad” of jello, marshmallows, cream cheese, real whipped cream and mayo. Main dishes include Rice and Hamburger Hotdish (with cream of mushroom soup in a supporting role; also note that “hotdish” is the Midwestern word for “casserole”), Chicken Ole (cream of mushroom AND cream of chicken soup), and Cowboy Dinner. This one involves kidney beans, which I’m pretty sure cowboys didn’t eat, and if they did I feel sorry for them.

The dessert sections in these church and community cookbooks are the largest categories, with names like Goop Cake, Apple Turnovers and Bible Cake. This is the stuff of the magnificent church potlucks of my childhood. Though I don’t cook like this, I can’t part with the memories of the dear people who unwittingly killed their families with jello and cream of mushroom soup. It would be like throwing out a Bible. I can’t do it. So these bastions of nutritional suicide will remain in the museum section of my cookbook collection.

On to the loose recipes in file folders. The grease-stained, juice-splattered ones have become sacred and shall be kept forever. I threw out a lot from each category, but kept all the dessert recipes. I don’t know why. I look at them often and longingly, and conclude that unless I’m cooking for a crowd (which hasn’t been possible in almost a year), I’d be a fool to make a caramel cheesecake or a triple chocolate-pecan pie. It would be self-destructive for a person who’s able to justify eating pie for breakfast.

Before I go, here’s one of the sacred recipes from the file folder. I promise you it’s delicious, even the Brussels sprouts component. I sometimes serve it with a kale salad, but that might be pushing it.

BRUSSELS SPROUTS GRILLED CHEESE
2 tbs olive oil, plus more for brushing (you could use butter instead, very soft or melted)
¾ lb. Brussels sprouts, very thinly sliced
1 shallot, finely chopped
8 slices whole grain bread
½ cup grated parmesan cheese
2 tbs. prepared mustard
8-10 oz shredded fontina cheese

In a large skillet, heat 1 tbs oil over medium. Add sprouts and shallot, season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 8 minutes.

Brush one side of each slice of bread with oil. Sprinkle with the parmesan, pressing gently to adhere cheese to bread. Turn the slices over and spread with mustard.

Layer 4 slices with half the fontina, the sprouts/shallot mixture, and the remaining fontina. Top with remaining slices of bread, parmesan side up.

Heat remaining 1 tbs oil over medium and cook the sandwiches until toasted, 3-4 minutes each side. Or you can go the route of the fake panini press with a preheated George Foreman grill coated with cooking spray.