Category: Thinking about Faith

Fruit Cake is something that evokes happy memories of Christmas for me. I remember the excitement my dad and I shared when the heavy round tin of Fruit Cake arrived. My father hoarded it, and the two of us rationed it until February. We would eat it before bed and my father, who rarely drank alcohol, would occasionally indulge and have a bit of Brandy or dessert wine with it. The tin took up the entire bottom shelf of the refrigerator and the rim was always copiously wrapped in tape. The sweet, alcohol-infused smell when the lid was removed gave a hint at the red wine or brandy my grandmother used to cure the cake.

An acquired taste, my grandmother only made the cake for those who enjoyed it. The short list included my uncle David, my father and myself. When I went off to college, I graduated to getting my very own Fruit Cake. After my grandfather’s passing it got more difficult for my grandmother to continue the tradition. I was deployed to Bosnia during the Christmas of 2003 and in one of my letters home I offered to take over the tradition of making the Fruit Cake.

My grandmother mailed me the recipe and informed me it was top secret — she had never shared the recipe with anyone. The recipe was given to her when she worked as the house girl for the Fort Benjamin Harrison Post Commander in the late 1930’s. It was a magazine recipe.  The Commander’s wife had my grandmother use it to make Fruit Cakes as gifts. While some people hate the idea of getting one, Fruit Cake is a luxury gift because they are so expensive and time consuming to make. My grandmother began making Fruit Cake with the recipe after that until I took over the tradition in 2004. I have been making Fruit Cake every winter for nine years. It’s one of the last remaining ties I have to my dad’s family.

2014 would mark my tenth year making them, but I’ve decided against it. The decision was difficult, emotional, and made me examine my beliefs and myself. To explain this, I need to provide a short description of where things stand with my Dad’s side of the family.

The connection between my dad’s family and mine has been lacking for a long time. Who is responsible for that? Good question. Yet I’m certain the finger is pointed at me.  I won’t deny that I’m comfortable with the current level of communication. In my opinion, if anyone on that side misses me, they know where to find me. We all have access to the post office, email, telephones, and Internet. Of the forty some relatives on that side of the family, four were at my wedding, one was at my father’s funeral, and none were around after the birth of my children. I’d enjoy more frequent contact, but I don’t pine for it or let my feelings get hurt by their lack of interest in my family or me.

My sister and I are fifteen years apart and not very close.  But a few years ago she had no place to live.  My husband and I took her in and let her live with us, drive our car, all rent free.  Within a few months there was a falling out and she had to leave. Last spring my stepmother asked me for the fruitcake recipe so she could give it to my sister with whom I still had no  contact. She told me my sister wanted to enter it in a heritage recipe baking lot at the Minnesota State Fair. I told my stepmother no, it’s a tradition and a secret recipe. This summer my sister reconnected with me briefly on Facebook. There were no apologies, but we were speaking again. This past Sunday she messaged me and I got a knot in my stomach. I knew the only reason she was reaching out to me was because she wanted something from me and I suspected it was the fruitcake recipe. I admonished myself for thinking the worst of her.  Why was I jumping to conclusions? I needed to think the best and not the worst.

Unfortunately, my gut instinct was right and she wanted the fruitcake recipe. I was conflicted.  Our grandmother had guarded this recipe, never given it out, and gave it to me only when I agreed to take on the tradition. Was it really mine to give to whomever, or was it my responsibility to honor and respect my grandmother by keeping it secret?

Our grandmother is still alive and I told my sister to ask her for it. I decided if Grandma wanted her to have it she would give it to her. My sister said she had asked for it and according to her, Grandma doesn’t know where it is. My sister insisted I give it to her saying, “Why is this such a big deal?”

What an excellent question.

I was angry as this was the only reason she contacted me. I felt protective and suspicious of her and her motives. My selfish pride was chanting, “No! It’s mine, it was given to me, and you will never, ever, never get this recipe from me!” Knowing this was pride, I wanted to cave and just hand it over and humble myself. Then I was hit with an overwhelming sadness that handing this over would equal me handing over the final tie I had to my Dad’s family since his death. The one consistent thing we shared. A tradition I loved and one which brought back happy memories of my father.

Thoughts and emotion overwhelmed me and so I did the one thing I knew I should, I prayed about it. The answer was simple and came quickly. My actions need not be a reaction to the past or what happened, they needed to be acts of love and reflect God’s grace. I needed to let go of the tradition, forgive the past, and move on. Then a passage jumped out at me this past Tuesday during Bible study and reinforced what was put on my heart:

Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered: and many such like things do ye. – Mark 7:13 (KJV)

It was what I needed to hear. It was a clear reminder that my focus needs to be on God. I needed to think about love and forgiveness and not be ruled by tradition and jealous sentiment.

I’ve enjoyed the fruitcake tradition and now I am letting it go. My sister can take on the tradition, enter the recipe in the state fair, or do nothing at all with it. I will not let a tradition or a cake recipe wrestle away my peace of mind.

Here is the original recipe my grandmother sent to me in 2004:

 

 

 

 

Have you read about the Blood Moons?

If you are curious you can find this book at Amazon.com. I haven’t read it, but I might add it to my goodreads que. Thankfully, I have a few friends who have read enough to fill me in. This Tuesday morning at 2:07am, if it is not overcast, we should see the first of the next four. Each of the last cycles of blood moons occurred during historically significant events in Israel. Is it just coincidence? My pastor said, “I’m telling you about the first one to occur this year, just in case you want to observe something coincidental.” That had my mind spinning and thinking about what could take place in Israel that would be “world history” significant, and I scared myself a little.

Does this cycle of blood moons equal the end times? I don’t know. Do I believe in the end time, yes. Do I spend a lot of time thinking about it? No. Maybe I should, maybe I need to have an emergency food and water supply? I’ve met several “peepers” during the course of my life. People adroitly aware of the end times, preparing themselves for the end of the world. I worked with a man who had barrels of dried food goods in his basement. Every day he had hard candies in his lunch. Turns out he even bought the candies by the barrel. There is a peeper who hits my garage sale every year. He shops garage sales in search of cheap soap.  He said he is hoarding chocolate and soap to sell when the US economy collapses and the end of the world begins. I don’t think chocolate will be top of my list when the end times begin, but I have to hand it to the guy, at least he has a plan.

I’ve been thinking about all of the “religious” churches.  I wonder if they take any notice of these blood moons. Do they think about what Luke said when he talked about the end of the world? “And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars”-Luke 21:25 Minister Reggie Scarborough lead services this past weekend.  He said something I thought was profoundly sad, “Religion worships who God was, but not who his is today.”

Pastor Scarborough said we will see an end to the middle churches in the end times. What is a middle church? A hodge podge, mixture of everything. They are neutral, not hot, not ready to make a stand and declare their beliefs because they are to afraid to offend anyone. I can see this, churches failing because what they are teaching will not be accurate. It will not hold true to what will happen in the end, or be enough to help equip their fellowship. I liked what Pastor Scarborough said. “Paul wasn’t afraid. He said, I am not ashamed of the power of Christ.”  Pastor Scarborough also said, “In the days ahead the Holly Ghost churches will flourish. We cannot be ashamed of it. Don’t put God in a box.”

Am I ashamed of it? Am I ashamed to be part of a faith movement that is an old parody stereotype from the 1940’s and 50’s? I don’t think my church looks anything like that stereotype, but while I don’t feel ashamed, I do feel pressure. There is a balancing act when I talk about my faith. Doing this fly’s in the face of my Minnesota nice up bringing. Even blogging about my faith has made me twitch and feel that old Minnesota nice rear it’s head.  Having been a baby Christian for so long, talking about faith is still new for me. I’ve faced the attacks in the past, with questions posed well enough, to make any waiver on my part equate failure. Am I afraid of the future attacks? Maybe I’m afraid of not having the right words to form a response? Maybe it’s a mix of both. The good news is, I’m confident I am more capable of facing these attacks today than I was a year or especially five years ago. We’ll see how well I fare. In the meantime, I might research emergency water supplies.

We had a guest minister this weekend.  I’ve never seen Dwight Thompson preach, but boy did I enjoy it.  (You can find a video of the service HERE.) The stand out moment for me, was when he said, “Jesus will take you, as is.  You are good enough for Jesus.” Seems simple right?  Well there are a whole lot of people who don’t think that’s true. What I thought about in this moment sounds weird, even to myself, but suddenly the movie 8-mile was in my mind.  I know, I know, yes I was in church thinking about the Eminem movie.  I was thinking about the scene where the protagonist is at his lowest of low moments, still the guy needs to go and compete in a rap competition to try and make his dream of becoming a professional rapper true.  While he is in this competition, the guy he’s up against starts taunting him, throwing in his face these sad but true bits about his life.  The next part, it’s the part I took away from the movie.  The protagonist throws down basically saying, “So what?  You don’t get to judge me.”

I know everything he’s bout to say against me

I am white,

I am a fuckin’ bum I do live in a trailer with my mom

My boy Future is an Uncle Tom

I do got a dumb friend named Cheddar Bob

who shoots himself in the leg with his own gun

I did get jumped by all six of you chumps

And wink did fuck my girl

I’m still standin’ here screamin’,

“Fuck the Free World”

Don’t ever try to judge me dude

-expert from The battle scene in 8-Mile

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He agrees with the guy, laying out the ugly truth about his life.  He doesn’t feel sorry for himself, but glories that it’s not getting the best of him, it does not define his worth.  It was a great scene, in a film I expected to hate.  It was a very relatable moment in a relatively dark movie.  He did not let the truth about him and his circumstance take him down.  He embraced his own failures.  It’s amazing how free we become when we can own our failures.  We become human, honest, and credible when we speak the truth about ourselves.  Especially when it is an ugly truth.  Ultimately the only one who is gets to lay judgment against our ugly truths is Jesus.  The word tells me I’m not growing to my full potential when I sit and worry about what others judge about my character.

God is love. When we take up permanent residence in a life of love, we live in God and God lives in us. This way, love has the run of the house, becomes at home and mature in us, so that we’re free of worry on Judgment Day—our standing in the world is identical with Christ’s. There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life—fear of death, fear of judgment—is one not yet fully formed in love. –John 4:17-18

Behold, I send an Angel before thee, to keep thee in the way, and to bring thee into the place which I have prepared.  Beware of him, and obey his voice, provoke him not; for he will not pardon your transgressions: for my name is in him.  –Exodus 23:20-21

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I have a guardian angel.  It’s true, I do, and that’s awesome.  I clearly remember this angel’s influence in one of my childhood memories.  It was summer between third and fourth grade and I spent my summer days in the care of my stepmother.  She really didn’t enjoy my company, and the feeling was mutual.  I got fed up one afternoon and hopped on my bike and ran away.  I rode my bike from my dad’s house in the Hamline Midway neighborhood of St. Paul to my mother’s house in the Frogtown neighborhood of St. Paul.  Not all that far, but to far for any kid that age to be biking unsupervised.  It was during the bike ride I had a very physical reaction to what I was doing.  I remember my hands shaking in a way I had never seen them move before.  There was a repeating thought of, “turn back-don’t do this!”  These were not my thoughts, I was set-I was out of there.  I was tired of being the object of her contempt.  I was miserable, powerless, and no one protected me from her.  I made it to my destination despite my guardian angels protests.  It took my stepmother two hours to find me, and she only did when the neighbors across the alley ratted me out.  I believe to this day my angel was there.  It was close, and doing everything it could do to turn me around and talk some sense into my ignorant free will.

Growing up, and when I was a baby Christian, I did not put a lot of thought into Angels being actively involved in my life.  I didn’t think God took an active interest in my daily life.  He was up there and I’m down here and he didn’t really care about the ins and outs of my day.  I assumed angels were not interested either.  I mean who was I, why would they care?  Surely they have better stuff to do than pay attention to me.  Now that I actually believe what I always claimed to believe, my perspective is different.

After Pastor Mac’s sermon, (You can see it HERE) I’m still thinking about angels.  I’ve been thinking about words.  I knew they were powerful, but now there is an even more power and potential danger layered into them.  My words impact the angels around me-the light and the dark ones.

I also feel like I have one of the coolest sidekicks ever hanging out, keeping me on the level.  Now that I have a real connection with God, and I understand my connection to Jesus, I’m aware of these additional supernatural things.  I want to be what God created me to be, and I don’t want to let God down, and I don’t want to let this angel down either.  The angel’s got my back so I can do what God wants me to do here.  We’re on the same team, both serving God.  I look back at my religious upbringing and I can just picture my angel sitting in church with me wringing its hands.  I feel kind of bad.  My angels had to sit around and wait for me to wake up.

I wonder if they were as frustrated as I was with the lack of information I was given? After growing up in a mild, “progressive”, protestant church I feel like certain things were not taught.  I didn’t understand how the Holy Ghost operates until five years ago.  When my friend Terri pleaded the blood over me one after noon in 2008 I was completely lost.  “What is this woman doing, and what does blood have to do with it?”  I think a lot of science verses teachings from the Bible could be settled with one good lesson on God’s time.  And don’t get me started on the lack of information taught about the book of revelations.  Do we believe this or not?  Why is it such a stretch to trust people’s faith?  The pastors I grew up with didn’t want to rattle people’s cages, or alienate anyone. These topics were off limits and to ripe with pitfalls.  What was taught was all feel good things, happy relatable stories that maybe touched on the scripture of the week.  It taught me nothing.  Same order of scripture being taught at a certain point in time on the calendar.  I seriously can’t recall a sermon between the years of 1997-2006. It made no impact on me or my development spiritually.  Basically most of my young adult life, I came away from service with nothing.  If that is not a testament to my faith-because I still believed, then I don’t know what is.  But I was a baby Christian.  I might know a little more now, but this faith thing-and walking with God- it’s a journey.  I’m still learning new stuff, and here’s a revelation, that’s okay.  You don’t graduate from a confirmation class at the age of thirteen and magically arrive.

For the longest time I felt like I had this dirty secret, because the truth was I didn’t understand it all.  If I did admit my secret to those around me their patent answer was, “Just read the Bible.”  I think that’s terrible advice.  Yes, you should read it, you should know it-but when you tell a person to read a book for the first time, usually they go read it cover to cover.  With the Bible this might not always be the best approach.  The stuff about who begot who, and the proper way to prepare meat is going to loose a few readers.  And if they stop reading in the Old Testament they will only read about the God who was not always depicted as the most merciful.  Under the old covenant you had to be chosen to have communication with God.  And look out if you fell out of favor.  I remember as a kid wondering why the mini Bibles only had the books from the New Testament?  Now I get it.  And I think it’s great advice when I hear people at my current church recommend the first book you read as being the book of John.

How did I make it through the long years of confusion?  There was one truth I clung to , it carried me, and kept me afloat.  I knew God had a plan for me.  It’s why I’m here, it’s what this whole life thing is about.  It’s not my plan either.  Whenever I wasn’t sure where I was going, or what I should be doing, I prayed.  God always came through to show me or help me back onto the right path.

“For I know the plans I have for you,”  Says the Lord.  “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.”  -Jeremiah 29:11

It’s my opinion there are a whole lot of Christians out there who don’t really know a lot about what they claim as their religion.  They’re lost and confused.  They’re running on the opinion the Bible is a pretty set of stories and you can pick and choose what fits into your idea of right and wrong.  If you don’t believe it all “that’s okay”.  People who have more faith in media and news journalists than in what has been painstakingly passed to us from ancient times. I pick on these people because I use to be one, I use to think that way.  Mainly I was there because of my own naiveté, but I think I was also there because my religious upbringing was in the hands of churches that were afraid to teach what the word says. They were to afraid to get trapped talking about the supernatural in the Bible.  Those churches are chicken.  They are to chicken to take it, and revel in it, and get excited about life here on earth-in God’s favor, with angels, the Holy Ghost, our future in Heaven, and “gasp” the rapture.  

I finally got my questions answered. God helped me land in the right church and  I’m no longer a Christian in name only.  I’ve been working on being more mindful of my words, and they now have even stronger meaning for me.  What I speak is not just affecting the natural, it has the potential to influence and pass into the spiritual realm. I want to empower and not provoke the angel who’s been patiently watching my back.