Weed tree lumberjack

For the most part, my husband and I were raised as city people. A half-acre lot was plenty for our folks. They had their vegetable gardens and rosebushes. Brent’s dad even had some fruit trees. But our homes were situated in suburban neighborhoods (in Nashville and Knoxville, respectively) with weekly garbage pickup and streetlights and city buses and access to nearby interstates, not out in the country.

 

Now we still live in a city surrounded by neighborhoods, but we have a little bit of land—almost 5 acres—and sometimes our citified upbringing surfaces. We accidentally neglect parts of our property, and then a Saturday free of obligations rolls around and we spend all day catching up. Mowing and weed-eating, digging up unwanted plants and trimming back hedges. We get to work, sweating and toiling like we’re preparing for the arrival of royalty to our humble village.

 

Last Saturday, I decided to tackle the forest of weed trees growing unchecked below a line of tall pines along our driveway. I used everything in our gardening tool arsenal: long-handled loppers, an electric hedge trimmer, a chainsaw, and a small hatchet. Many of those weeds I drive past every day had grown taller than me. Some of their trunks were thick, as much as 6-inches in diameter. How did this uninvited grove grow right under my nose?

 

I suppose I was looking elsewhere, my mind wandering, sussing out both the important and unimportant, and the weeds just became the expected backdrop. They were green, so I didn’t look too closely. If I had, I would’ve seen thorns and ivy snaking around the trunks of the pine trees. I wasn’t heeding the Scriptures which remind me to be watchful. “Dressed and ready with my lamps trimmed and burning,” as Jesus told his followers. “Ready to answer when the master knocks on the door.” I was caught off-guard by what can develop when I’m not vigilant.

 

But it’s not always just our negligence or laziness, those weed trees suddenly towering over us. Sometimes we actually invite the invasive and insidious. Take kudzu, the widespread vine from Asia, for example. It was introduced to the U.S. at the 1876 World’s Fair in Philadelphia as an ornamental plant which could be handy for shading front porches. It was eventually seeded all over the country to combat soil erosion in the face of the Depression-era dust storms. The government actually paid farmers to plant it.

 

At first, it seemed like a good idea and who could blame them? It grew quickly, could be fed to livestock, and smelled like grape bubblegum. But now we see what happens when kudzu goes unchecked. Without cattle to graze on it and keep the vine controlled, it chokes out the nearby native plants. We see it cascading by highways, mountains of green originally planted there to fill in the gashes made by road crews. There seems to be no stopping it. (Although the Japanese kudzu bug, which somehow traveled to a garden near the airport in Atlanta, according to a fascinating article in Smithsonian Magazine, is working hard to suck the juices from the vine and may reduce the spread of the invasive plant.)

 

Nature is a reminder of God’s creativity and majesty and power, but it can also be a metaphor to apply to our day-to-day lives. Even the weeds can teach us. As I hacked away at those vile weed trees on Saturday, I pledged that I would do better at keeping them in check. I made promises to my Lord and myself that I would be vigilant, both in my landscaping and my life.

Easter Bread

There are a lot of things to love about Easter—chocolate bunnies, new dresses, egg hunts, spring blossoms—but the thing I love the most is reading the account of Christ’s resurrection. As a perpetual optimist, I’m a big fan of happy endings, and that’s what we get when we keep reading the Gospels after the events of the crucifixion. The difference between Luke 23 and Luke 24 is monumental!

 

The women who had looked after Jesus and his disciples throughout his ministry saw him die a gruesome death. Luke says that others “beat their breasts and walked away” from the foot of the cross, but many of his followers, including these women, stayed to keep watch. Later, they followed Joseph, the man who had asked permission to bury Jesus, to see where he would lay the body. Once they knew where the tomb was, they went home to prepare burial spices and finish all their tasks so they could rest. It was the Sabbath, and these women knew the rules.

 

I imagine them feeling weighed down, their arms and legs seemed heavier than ever before as they took down their spices, pausing to hold the dried flowers and leaves and resin to their noses to smell the familiar, soothing scents which perhaps reminded them of the burials of other loved ones. They were sad and confused, but I bet they were grateful for a job to do. They needed purpose and agency to keep going.

 

Then, early in the morning on the first day of the week, the women took the spices and headed to the tomb. When they got there, they saw that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. They ran inside, but Jesus’ body was gone. They clutched those spices and wondered what had happened. Was this good? Was it bad? What should they do? Who should they tell? Then two men in lightning-bright robes appeared out of nowhere. The women fell to the ground, hiding their faces. The angels said, “Why are you looking for him here? Don’t you remember what he told you? It’s all happened just as he predicted.” Then the women remembered, and they ran to tell the others.

 

I look forward to the day when I can meet these women—Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James. I want to ask them what it was like to be a woman in their time, and what did Jesus’ teachings mean to them in light of their social position. I wonder if they’ll discuss how caring for others, especially Jesus and his disciples, was such a big part of their ministries. Whether they were preparing meals or preparing burial spices, this was how they showed love.

 

The older I get, the more I see this to be true. I feel a natural pull toward feeding the stomachs and souls of those I get to love on. Now that I have college-aged kids, I like to cook a meal for them and their friends. And my kids are learning to appreciate our family traditions as they see them in a new light from a little farther away.

 

One of those traditions is something my mom started when I was little. Every year, she made Easter Bread—soft, eggy rings of yeast bread covered in crunchy sprinkles with a dyed egg nestled in the center. It was my favorite breakfast all year, and now it’s the favorite of my kids. There are several steps to make the bread, but it’s not all that difficult. In fact, I made it twice this year to accommodate the busy schedules of my girls. That’s how important it’s become to us. But for me, it’s not about eating the bread. It’s about creating memories. Yeast dough has built-in periods of rest where you wait for the dough to rise. These magical moments are gifts. The dough expands while you remain watchful, expectant. Then, when the dough is baked, the house smells amazing, filling up with a heavenly aroma. This is how we prepare and celebrate.

 

So much has changed over the thousands of years since Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary crept home after witnessing the horrors of the cross. The most striking difference came when they entered the tomb and found it empty. They had carried spices to mask the smell of death, but left the tomb rejoicing with the angels’ news ringing in their ears!

EASTER BREAD

  • 12 hard-boiled, dyed eggs
  • ½ cup milk
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ½ cup water
  • 2 packets of yeast (or 5 ½ tsp)
  • ½ cup flour
  • ½ cup oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 4 cups flour
  • 1 egg, beaten (for egg wash)
  • Sprinkles (optional, but also essential)

Cook milk, sugar, and water in microwave for 1 minute. Pour into large bowl, and add yeast and ½ cup flour. Stir until smooth. Add oil, salt, and 2 eggs, and beat with mixer. Add flour, mixing well after each cup. Turn dough on lightly floured surface. Knead for 5-8 minutes. Put dough back in well-oiled bowl, coating all sides of dough with oil. Cover with a cloth, and put the bowl in oven with the light on to rise for 1 hour. Punch dough down and let rise for more 30 minutes. Divide dough into 4 equal parts. Roll each part into a long rope. Take two ropes and twist them so that there are 6 “nests” to hold 6 dyed eggs. This makes one 1 large ring. Repeat with other dough and eggs. Let rings rise until doubled in size (or let rise over night in the refrigerator). Beat egg and brush onto dough. Add sprinkles. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes. Cool slightly before cutting each ring into 6 sections.

Alarming

I can’t think of anything more confusing than suddenly being awakened from a deep sleep in the middle of the night, unless it’s suddenly being awakened from a deep sleep in the middle of the night while you’re away from home, sleeping on a pull-out sofa in a strange hotel and the fire alarm is blaring up and down the halls.

 

This was my recent experience, and I’m still recovering from it. Our 9-year old’s first response was “I didn’t do anything! It wasn’t my fault!” which it wasn’t, but I sure would like to know what he was dreaming about at 1:45 am. This information might be very revealing.

 

My husband, our two sons and I hopped up and threw on shoes before shuffling down the stairwell with the rest of the hotel’s sleepy occupants. We all stood in the parking lot, huddled in groups and waiting for the fire trucks to arrive. To entertain myself, I played a favorite game of mine which I call “Look How Everybody Thinks Differently.” Though it was a chilly 40-something degrees, several people were wearing only shorts and t-shirts, and some were even bare-footed. Others had jackets or blankets draped over their shoulders. One couple emerged outside fully dressed and pulling wheeled suitcases toward their car. They are my first suspects in The Case of Someone Pulled the Fire Alarm. Some joked, others fumed, but most seemed to assume the alarm signified no real threat to any of us.

 

The fire truck arrived with only lights flashing and no siren, a sign that this was going to be speedily resolved and we’d be happily snoozing away in no time. But moments after the alarm was turned off and we were back in our room, the alarm started back up again. Beeeeep, beeeep, beep it repeated every 25 seconds, followed by a 4 second break, a more clipped beeep, beep, and then it started all over again. (I know this because I counted.) More than an hour after it began, the alarm finally stopped and, if we could also stop the residual ringing in our heads, we could fall asleep.

 

It seems we’ve become overly comfortable with alarms. More often than not, we ignore the warnings because they come way too frequently, or we find that it’s easier to assume that it’s just a drill. Murder hornets and melting icecaps. Wildfires raging in California and derechos blowing through the Tennessee Valley. Widespread racism, harassment in the workplace, child abuse, identity theft…I could go on and on, but it’s too depressing and I might have to curl up in a ball, making it really difficult to type.

 

Reading the Bible gives me insight about being watchful but in a way which won’t drive me to the fetal position. 1 Peter 5 says, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.” (NIV)

 

I see four steps to follow as I attempt to up my Watchfulness Game: 1) From a place of extreme humility, acknowledge that God is in control. 2) With the knowledge that this All-Powerful God cares for me, transfer my worry to His mighty and capable shoulders. 3) Realizing that the devil is watching and ready to pounce, be equally as alert. 4) Sustained by my faith and backed by an army of fellow believers, refuse to follow the devil.

 

With God’s help, I can be prepared and watchful without giving up the peace He promises.