Sweet Celebration

Every time I think of Paska, I think of the first time I saw it, and I remember the tiny older neighbour lady who brought it to our house. It was many years later I was able to enjoy it regularly. I can’t recall my mother ever baking Paska, but after I married, that changed. My husband’s mother started her own tradition. She used a mixed peel-studded sweet dough and shaped buns into figure 8s. White icing captured coloured sprinkles atop these buns Mom called Paska. As the family circle grew to include more in-laws, different varieties of Paska appeared at our Easter celebrations. Eventually, I ventured to bake Paska, too. It tasted fine when it was fresh, but after just a few days, my Easter bread was dry. I became discouraged. It was better to enjoy others’ baking than to perpetuate discouragement.

Enter social media. I read a friend’s comments about her daughter’s Paska. She stated this one stayed moist and tasty for several days! That prompted me to contact the younger baker, and I learned she used Lovella’s Paska recipe. An Internet search provided me with Lovella’s Paska recipe, and I’ve been using it ever since. There’s something about the fresh citrus flavour that seems to speak of the new life represented by the risen bread. Lovella Schellenberg is one of the authors of “Mennonite Girls Can Cook.”

I didn’t think more about the source of the recipe until I submitted my story to the editorial committee working on Easter Stories and More.

“Please provide the recipe and a photo to accompany your story.”

I was skeptical. Concerned about copyright laws, I doubted I’d be able to obtain permission to have the recipe reprinted. However, one of the other authors, Betty Reimer lives here in Manitoba, and I discovered we have a mutual friend. One contact led to another and I was able to write to Lovella. She graciously consented to my submitting the recipe, asking only that I rewrite the method in my own words. I also learned she shares this recipe with others, too, seeing it as a gift. In doing so, she honours her husband’s grandmother, Agatha, who passed the recipe on to her family.

Thank you, Lovella, for your kindness. I understand the joy of sharing recipes. Even more significant is that we can share the joy of celebrating Christ’s resurrection. Is there anything sweeter than the relief we know when we experience forgiveness? Is there anything more glorious than celebrating Christ’s resurrection?

This good news is shareable! 

I am honoured to have my story included with the offerings of many fine writers, and I trust all who read Easter Stories and More will see God’s grace in a new way. May our words be pleasing to Him!

I’m thankful many of my writer friends and I could participate in this book project. Please visit these websites to read more from the contributors to Easter Stories and More.

March 24 – Ruth L. Snyder https://ruthlsnyder.com/blog/

March 25 – Sally Meadows https://sallymeadows.com/blog

March 26 – Eunice Matchett https://albertastoryteller.com/

March 27 – Lynn Dove https://lynndove.com/

March 28 – Pat Gerbrandt https://patgwriter.wordpress.com/

March 29 – Denise Ford https://walkingwithdustyanddee.com/

March 30 – Marcia Laycock https://marcialeelaycock.com/thespur/

March 31 – Bob Jones revwords.com https://revwords.com/

April 1 – Valerie Ronald https://scriptordeus.wordpress.com

April 2 – Kimberley Payne https://www.kimberleypayne.com/blog/

April 3 – Marnie Pohlmann https://marniewriter.com/blog/

April 4 – Lynn Simpson https://lynnjsimpson.com/

I will soon have a limited number of books available for pickup. Please contact me (204) 371-5183 or via email, patg.writer@gmail.com to order your copy. I also have copies of the prequel, Christmas Stories and More.

I’ll take a cup…

Hot strong coffee was a staple at family gatherings. Some people preferred to stir in thick farm cream. Often it was splashed into the saucer so it could be drunk without danger of a scalded mouth (for how is it possible to “spatzea” (visit) when one’s mouth is sore?  I remember well sitting at Grandpa and Grandma’s dining room table, the one we now use at our house, getting my first taste of coffee from a saucer.

It wasn’t until I moved into a dormitory and took my meals with my fellow students at Bible school that I had personal experience with coffee kettles. We all had to take turns serving our fellow students. Those large kettles are heavy when they are full! One day I switched my large kettle for a slightly smaller one. I explained the heavy pot hurt my wrists. A snort of derision and a cryptic denunciation of my weakling status hurtled my way. I guess I didn’t fit Cook’s idea of a good Mennonite girl. I had no fondness for the kettles I carried.

About six or seven years later, married by then, my husband and I began to explore the country acreage that was our new home. The property was half a mile deep, but narrow. A trail angled from one corner at the roadside to the other corner at the back of the property. There we found what turned out to be a garbage heap. As we poked around a bit, we found various household items, including a like-new pastry blender. That, and these two kettles came back to the house. Only one of them had a lid, but that didn’t matter. I cleaned them and spray painted them. 

It’s more than 40 years since these pots were repurposed. They moved with us when we left that narrow lot for a building site, and again when we left the country for a smaller place in town.

Now they contain another memory. Even when my family had hardly any money for the basics of life, my mom planted her beloved begonias in the bare dirt behind our rental house. I’m sure she had brought the tubers from the garden at our previous house (also a rental). The vibrant red flowers looked magnificent against the darkly weathered bare boards of the two-storey house. Springtime is not too far away. Nights, and some days, too are still chilly in March but I choose to focus on what is to come. Seedtime and harvest will continue as long as God deems we need them. So, I’ll plant flowers in these pots again, Lord willing, to bring cheer, to remember my parents, and to remind me to forward to what God has in store for His children!

Mom and Dad both loved their coffee, too. Although they died many years ago, I often think of my parents as I sip my coffee while enjoying our backyard. These battered old kettles remind me one can serve up refreshing and beauty if one is willing to receive it first from God. I’ll take a cup. Will you?

It’s a thorny situation…

“It ain’t no bed of roses.” The only thing surprising about my aunt’s statement was that she confided in me. I was only a teen, and she had married my uncle before I was born.

“Maybe it is.”

Although I had no personal experience of marriage, I knew a bit about roses because my mom loved them. At one time, she had eighteen rose bushes in her modest yard.

I suggested to Aunt Rix the pain caused by thorns was offset by the beauty of the roses. I don’t know if Mom ever told me that, but I saw her devotion to the flowers. She didn’t complain about the occasional burning pain from the roses’ natural defense; she simply accepted it as part of the price of enjoying her beloved roses. She’d also been devoted to my dad, and their marriage wasn’t “a bed of roses” either, but she didn’t complain, ever.

Those who find Valentine’s Day difficult probably have reason for their reaction. I wish I could offer comfort, but the reality is, love is never without pain. People who have loved and lost know pain. Those who have lost a chance for love ache for what they miss.

If roses are a symbol of love, we need to remember they do have thorns.

Valentine’s Day is loved by those in love, but dreaded or even hated by those who feel they have no one to love or are not loved by anyone.

Perhaps we have too small a view of love. Love is more than an emotion. It is the language of Almighty God who chooses to reveal His purposes for us. We love because He first loved us.

What does He see? What do I see?

What are those horrid black lines doing on my photo? All I wanted was the trees!

Many years earlier, when we built a house on an undeveloped lot, I had to get
accustomed to having poplar, oak, and chokecherry trees on three sides of our yard.
The bush provided shelter from the north wind, yielded firewood enough to heat
our house for many years, and sheltered deer and birds. The birds made sure they got their share of wild saskatoon berries, and we enjoyed them, too. Although living “in the bush” had been a new experience for me, I learned to enjoy it and felt at home.

Then we moved from that rural acreage to a smaller lot in an urban community.
I wondered if I would miss the trees. As we settled into an older house, I began to make the acquaintance of our new tree neighbours. One morning I was a little disoriented when I awoke. How can there be trees on this side of the bedroom?  I had been so focused on unpacking I had not noticed the mirrored closet doors. I chuckled, thankful for the bonus view of birch and linden, and realized I would feel very much at home once again.

 

The kitchen window frames a different view. I can gaze at caragana shrubs, cedars, and the neighbours’ high hedges while I do dishes. A little further back, a massive evergreen stands sentinel at the corner of our property. I just don’t tire of seeing these trees, and sometimes I grab my camera, thinking I can capture their beauty. Then, when I look at the digital image, I’m dismayed by slashes of black, those unsightly cables intruding on the view.

The camera catches what is actually visible. It shows the beautiful and the unattractive. My appetite for beauty saw only the trees at first. I don’t want to let anything distort what God has made.

When I look at someone whose life is scarred, I try to look for the beauty God poured into that life. He sees His original plan for each of us. It helps to remember what God said when Samuel wanted to anoint a handsome kingly candidate. “But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.’” 1 Samuel 16:7 ESV

The cables will stay. I’ll keep looking up at the trees, and they’ll help me remember beauty is one of God’s gifts. Father, please show me the beauty of each human life.

Open the curtains!

It may still be dark out, but I open the curtains anyway. Daylight will come.

My mom had something to do with my habit. It began when I was a child. I doubt she gave any thought to my watching her, because she was on a mission. Of course, it wasn’t early morning when we visited her parents, but I can so clearly remember what happened every time we got to Grandpa and Grandma’s yellow stucco house. Mom put down whatever packages of food or mended clothing she had brought, and starting in the dining room, gave each tired old green window blind a good yank, sending it flying to the top of the frame. It was bad enough the heavy lace curtains still blurred any view of the out-of-doors, but she would have nothing to do with hiding in a darkened house.

I wonder now if my grandparents felt just a little too exposed living in that two-storey house in town. To the north were the railroad tracks and a huge orange grain elevator, so that was may have been their link to farming days. But, there were other people across the street on the east side and even more houses to the south, where the town stretched for blocks. Who knew how many strangers might come to peer in the windows?

Mom never ventured her ideas as to the reason for drawn blinds, but it must have been a deep-seated one, for the house was dark whenever my mom and I arrived. Mom never lost any time letting the sunshine brighten that old house. She raised the blinds as often as they’d been lowered!

Although watching Mom helped form my values, I have my own reasons for wanting the curtains open. Usually I wake about the same time, and in winter, the days are so short I have to wait a while before the eastern sky shows light. So why open the curtains? Because I want to see the light! 

As darkness fades and slight tinges of light appear, my anticipation wakens, too, and I wonder what the day may bode. Is this what the Psalmist and other writers of Holy Scripture felt?

Awake, my soul! Awake, O stringed instruments and harp! I will wake up at dawn! Psalm 57:8

I am up before dawn, crying for help. I find hope in your word.  Psalm 119:147

“Let us know; let us press on to know the LORD; his going out is sure as the dawn; he will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth.” Hosea 6:3

Because of our God’s tender mercy the dawn will break upon us from on high. Luke 1:78

The image of light is prevalent in God’s word, and that’s another reason having an unobstructed view is significant to me.

I open the curtains, settle in my chair, often with a hot beverage, and look to the the light in God’s word. I don’t want anything to obscure what He will shine into my life.

I wasn’t pushed…

I remember every detail of a card I received early in my teens. Since then, family and friends have sent many cards on various occasions, but that Valentine is the only one I remember so clearly. The front of the card showed a rabbit, sitting on a low stone wall, announcing, “I wasn’t pushed; didn’t need a shove…” Opening the pop-up card caused the rabbit to fall off the wall. The words inside, “…I just saw you and fell in love!” communicated to me a wonderful message. I doubt Daddy had read anything about a daughter’s need for affirmation from her father, but he gave me a hefty dose that day.

My dad, always eager to show his love but rarely able to afford gifts, had a knack of finding appropriate cards. It wasn’t easy for him to say the words, but he communicated his love as best he could. That was the only valentine I ever got from Daddy. Most of the time, he bought cards only for my mom.

Another Valentine’s Day approaches. My dad gave me that special greeting card at least fifty-five years ago. A dad’s love for his daughter is powerful. I am saddened to realize there are many women and girls, just as there are men and boys, who have not known tender, even if rarely expressed, love from their dads. Even the most loving dads can’t always fulfil their children’s needs.

There is only One who can love us perfectly, and His love is the most precious. God wasn’t pushed. Unlike the whimsical rabbit, He didn’t fall in love with us. His love is a deliberate choice.

God’s tender heart is expressed repeatedly throughout the Bible. Sometimes it’s tough love that comes through, but it is always for our good. His love is unending. It is passionate. Isaiah’s words to Israel (43:1c) ring clearly.  “I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine” and a few verses further, he emphasizes, “…you are precious in my sight and honoured.” (Isaiah 43:4a) This love is powerful.

And, it is costly. Someone said, “I asked Jesus, ‘How much do you love me?’ He opened wide His arms as He died. ‘This much.’ “

The rabbit’s Valentine message means even more to me now than it did when Daddy gave it to me, but nothing compares to the love God lavishes on us.

Rock Solid Promises

Mountains are impressive. So are huge rocks. This rock near the water’s edge would have crushed me if it were not kept in place. Like my travel companions, I felt the need to explore something other than the inside of the vehicle! We were on a road trip with some siblings. The six of us had a packed agenda for our holiday time, and that meant a lot of driving. An unspoiled little cove in Rhode Island gave us the opportunity to stretch our legs. It was wonderful to feel the wind, to turn our faces to the sun, and to watch birds dip and soar above the water. Like carefree children, we explored the rocky cove and took turns posing beside or under this rock.

This morning, as I pondered three separate messages I received in the past few hours, sadness loomed as large as the rock that shadows me. One of our friends died yesterday. Another friend, widowed just a few months ago, is on her way to visit her son thousands of miles from where she and her husband lived. Although the young man’s marriage is floundering, he and his estranged wife welcome this visit. Another woman let us know her elderly father has just passed away. Each of the men who died had confidence they would be welcomed by the One who died to save their souls.

Even so, there is deep sorrow because loved ones are no longer present. I could easily let the weight of sadness roll over me, just like a rock could topple. As I recalled what I’d written about looming mountains, I was reminded of another person who often felt overwhelmed. David confessed, “Only in God do I find rest; my salvation comes from him. Only God is my rock and my salvation – my stronghold! I won’t be shaken anymore.” Psalm 62:1,2.

In the previous Psalm, David is begging for help. “God, listen to my cry; pay attention to my prayer! When my heart is weak, I cry out to you from the ends of the earth. Lead me to the rock that is higher than I am because you have been my refuge…” Psalm 61:1-3a

These solid statements from a man who had a lot of experience trusting God encourage me to keep on praying for my grieving friends.