Monday, August 26, 2013

When Time Is Moving Too Fast

Main street was one block long and one block wide.

Eighteen inch tall vegetation grew through large cracks in the concrete.

Time had cast long shadows on the small town.

We drove slow and wondered about the stories behind the place, the people and the emptiness.

It caused us to breath deep, as the town seemed to be gasping for it's last breath.

A few sagging buildings stood somewhat vertical on one side of the street. A single story structure, with a large cloudy window, appeared to be full of forgotten things, covered with layers of undisturbed dust. 

Except one.

White stucco, aged to a yellowing-grey, with a rounded arch facade, which seemed to lift it's tired old face. 

The wooden sign on the front said "Emporium."

We walked the elevated wood plank sidewalk, to peer through the thick glass and old lace curtains. 

Surprisingly, the lights were on and the sign on the door said "Open." Grasping the antique glass door knob, the iron squeaked  and with a firm turn of the hand and a push, the door opened.

Inside a round-faced woman, with thin curly blond-grey hair and bright clear blue eyes, welcomed us as if she had been waiting all day for our arrival.

There were shelves with antiques, hand crafted items and a glass bakery display, which held of all things, flaky pastries neatly arranged on plates. We tasted cherry and lemon danish while fussing over what a delightful surprise it was to find this place in the center of no-where.

Small town talk couldn't be avoided. As it turned out, our host was not only the owner of this place of business, she was the town postmaster and the mayor as well. We stayed so long that we heard about her ancestors being Swedish and she gave us the two recipes to her buttery sweet treats. 

I've never forgotten.

It was a gem, still sending out a beacon of light in the small-town-ness of it all.

We were so glad that we took the time to step off the beaten path.

Years before that, a band of homeschooling families had gathered, as part of a state history unit study, to hear an author speak about his new book.  The man had taken on the adventure of visiting every town in our state and wrote about his experiences. (So sorry, but could not find the book or his name!)

Ultimately he challenged the group, to slow down our hurried pace, get off the main highway when ever possible, and take time to visit small town rural America.  

He was a bit of  cloudy doom-and-gloom, as he stated with bold confidence,  "in twenty years, you could mark his word, hundreds of these small towns would not exist."

Now, probably fifteen years have passed since his grave prophecy, I can say he may have overstated his prediction, but the face of rural communities have continued to take a hit along with the values and slower pace, that they can represent.

So often the young people go away for college and move into the cities.

The railroad depots are silent, as there is no longer a need for trains to stop in remote areas, to load cattle from a thousand hills.

Instead of seed stores we have seed company representatives, full service gas stations are now quick stops and the small town grocery stores have given way to larger town, super centers

They say when the school closes, the town soon follows. 

Now even the post offices are fading from the landscape.

And the whispers that rise from the prairie dust, is that time is marching on to a relentless beat.

I have always loved history, stories of the folks who lived it, old bottles and rusty things pulled from the ground. 

So as I travel, I often pull off the main roads to the take in what many bypass.

Towns that only have hints left to their identity.

It makes me think about where my own identity lies, in this blink-and-miss-it life.

As the days pass into years, and children grow up to have their own children, all that we run after and do, is passing away.

The things we put our hands to build , between dawn and dusk of every day, will crumble unless we are doing it for the One who holds eternity past and present in His hands. 

Maybe today, you and I, can take the exit ramp of a life that is flying by?

Yes, life will continue to be too busy, but I issue a challenge for us to choose wisely where we put our energies and resources. 

May we work for things that last.

And the only things that truly last are those things we do in Jesus name.


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Monday, August 19, 2013

When It's Time To Live Love

The cicadas start thrumming their spirited song from high in the silver maple.

We're walking.

The most overweight dog and I.

The canine is winded by the first turn, where rows of  trees sprinkle the landscape and the gentle murmuring of lake water as it laps the shoreline. Edges of flaming red and burning saffron colors standout from the deep green foliage.

They all hint of summers passing.

I wave politely, as we pass the man with a walking stick. I don't know his name. but I know he is retired, holds a masters degree in agronomy, with a particular interest in plant genetics. He walks with the stick because he was bitten by a dog in our neighborhood some time back. It would be easier to remember his name than all that. His wife seems kind, though I've only talked to her briefly and we wave friendly.

Another man in our subdivision walks too. I call him "The Democrat,"  because that is the sum of what I know about him. Once I saw him in the park and he put his political parties sticker on my shirt, before I could tell him if I'd like one or not.

We nod and pass each other cordially, while he walks on slow, squeezing his tennis ball. 

My mind wanders to other neighbors. The lady who recently got a divorce, the ones who painted their house green, and the beautiful young couple who love working in their yard.

It's sad. That's all I really know about them.

Much of my life, I've lived in fairly remote areas, with the nearest neighbor three miles and more away. I was more neighborly then than I am now.

Everyone is busy living life, I tell myself  - -that's just the way it is.

But that isn't how my friend Florence thinks.

She is small in stature, giant in faith.

Often times, she doesn't sleep well, so she prays in the deep dark of the night. One day while I was in her home, the conversation turned to her neighbors. She spoke of the person or family represented by each house. Not to just know things to talk about, but to take a meal, send a card and most importantly, to pray for the needs she sees with her heart.

The place where I gather on Sunday, we've been learning about the " living you go." (Read here?)
(here it all here?)

The word "go" in that verse, means "as you go." It seems like it's about living wherever you currently are, not just packing a bag for another country.

And right after hearing these words, I'm running late to the party I'm suppose to be hosting, trying to get through a check out line, when the cashier starts telling me part of her whole life story.

She started with 2005 and a heart failure, how she had to learn a new way of living life and I'm breathing in, trying to look past my watch and into her deep brown eyes of pain.

Yes. This is where I need to pause, right now. 

How can I live love, right here with melting ice cream and a frail stranger? 

She's reaching out with her heart and I extend mine to her.

Because living love right now, right here, that is what matters.

I like what Ephesians 5:2 says too:

" a life of love, just as Christ loved us.."

Not, "if you feel like it." 
Not, "if there is time."
Not, "if they agree with you or like you  or if it feels comfortable."

It probably won't fit inside of convenient and what we understand.

My boss understands the, "as you go," thing. 
He gets the "live a life of love."

He came into work and asked if I had seen the picture of his kids.

I was polite and said, "no I don't think so... 
...not lately." 

He fumbled for a minute, scrolling through his phone and held up an image. Then he made the photo bigger so I could see their squinty-eyed, white-toothy-smiles.

Ya, I was surprised when it wasn't his son or daughter, but three beaming little faces that I didn't recognize.

"These are some of my kids that I read to, in a program though the school in the neighborhood," he beamed.

He had been a little skeptical of giving up his lunch, so he could sit on small chairs with kids who he guessed, would probably care less.

To his surprise the children bounce with excitement when they see him. Many of the kids in this program have difficult life situations. They know his name and they know he will show up, if he said he will. Few people I know of personally, have more pressure or responsibility, but he takes this thing serious, this giving and living love.

It was past my bedtime, when I read a message just a few days ago.

The words made me choke back tears, and the oxygen seemed sucked from my lungs.  

The name that flashed across the screen, brought to my mind a beautiful little girl, with chestnut hair and soft tendrils of slender curls framing her face. Now, two decades past, this shy little girl is a woman, with a child that reflects her mama's beauty. 

Her message spoke of  how she was searching God and faith, and that she remembered us from her childhood and how our family was the first realization of His existence.

With cracking voice and through tear-blurred lines, I tried to read the e-mail to JQ.  

She is a voice from a time and a neighborhood long past. I only remember living life and that she was a friend of our daughter. 

She remembers it differently.

I know this, whatever good she saw in us, had to be Jesus-in-us.

And it is confirmation, that what we do really matters.

It matters that we take time to drink coffee with the couple down the street or when I grab another neighbor and take her on a crazy unplanned road trip adventure, so we can laugh because I have no idea where I'm going or how I could have missed the turn, and I can't read my own writing.

It matters when we look through eyes of  respect to the homeless person, smile at the one who cut in line, be appreciative to the person at the drive through window, be kind to the ones who are unkind and take time to talk to the ones who others pass over.

It matters that we read to our children, our grandchildren and to someone else's jittery children. 

The verse says "go."

And "go" means, " you go..."

Because time is passing too quickly and you never know if this is that someone's, final day on earth.

Like the cashier, we all need to learn to live in a new way.

The way of Love.

Nothing we do is insignificant. 

We live like Jesus, to the people we come in contact with, because they need us to be different than everyone else.

Love those that we can today we go.

Live. love. right now.

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Monday, August 12, 2013

Writing On The Wall

I write what I've lived, what I dream to live, and most often, what I am currently living.

If I were honest about it all, ...well,'s messy people.

I'm a mess and life is a mess.

It would be easier to just make cookies, then tell you what is going on in my soul.

Last week I was over this blog thing.

It's a lot of work.

I seem to write best under the pressure of a deadline, while the dew is still hanging in the early morning air, especially long before the sun is rising.

It often feels unimportant and uninspired. 

I almost always doubt the value of what I have to say.

The voice in my head says,  "that sounds dumb."

I think thoughts about going back to college so I can get a grip on the English language. 

Or why don't I just do a food blog, - -those are wildly popular.

As if that's what my life is about,  
   - - being popular- -

Yes, one week I'm confidant that people's opinions are just that. 


Rejection comes cutting and my heart starts growing insecurities like monsters under the bed.

The "I's."
The "me's."
The "my's."

There is the core to my problem.

Anytime the focus goes inward, disaster is imminent.

And negative script kills creativity every time.

So, I'm sitting in my favorite chair, with my favorite cup of comfort at the freshest point of the day, staring at the wall. 

I'm staring right through the writing on the wall, when I realize the answer is staring me in the face.

In large, bold letters I am reminded of what is important.

More, I'm reminded of  Who is important.

I claimed it long ago as my "life verse."

(Do you have one?)

It just says, how I want to live. With my whole, heart, soul, mind and strength.

Years ago, I hand-painted it on my wall.

It's big and bold as I could fit on the wall and now I'm not even letting it sink into the fiber of my heart.

The verse really talks about being one-souled.

About keeping my eyes on the One, not the world.

This writing, being creative, this living, demands that I work past self. Somehow it is then, God can use all the stories I've lived, to point to Himself. 

It demands that (my) self gets out of the way so that the real message can flow through. 

And I have to take time to live a good story, so I can write a good story.

This is a prayer I wrote last  year. 

I go back and read it slow. 

"Oh, I want to be a Psalmist Lord..." 

This week I ran across a small jewel:  "..  a Psalm is a story of deliverance or a commemoration of mercies received.." 


That is what this blog is about.

Stories of deliverance and mercies received. 

And life being lived out in relationship with those who cross my path and are open to connecting beyond the polite hello's.  

I had grandchildren this weekend. The oldest just lays on his tummy, legs splayed out, all relaxed. He asks me if I want to hang out with him, after the others have fallen asleep. He just had a birthday and said he wants to be ten, not five.


Yes, I do want to hang out with you little man-child. I want to listen to your heart and your one-thousand deep questions, including how much gas does my gas tank hold.

And quit growing up so fast, please.

Over a decade ago, I wrote down the words from Isaiah 44:3: 

I will pour out my Spirit
on your offspring,
and my blessing
on your descendants.

When I wrote this in my journal, I felt it was a promise I could claim over my family. Before any of them were married or had children, God spoke that promise over my heart in a very personal way.

The writing on the wall, is the verse prayed back over my loved ones.

There are some verses, too, I feel that God gave me, that I am still waiting on to be true in my life, in my children's lives, in other peoples lives.

My family pictures haven't been updated, the clutter is stacking high and the color on the walls seems drab.

I'm getting ready to do a fresh new thing. Or should I say that I think the Lord is getting ready to do a fresh new thing in my life.

This little canvas is my inspiration. I have some other ideas too, I'll let you see them as they come about.

When the walls are freshly painted and I have a clean slate to work with, this verse keeps coming back to me.

Jesus said it all, when he said this, in John 14:6. (Read it here?)

"I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me."

Yes. It is etched on the wall of my heart and probably soon on my office wall too. 

And I pray that the rooms of my home and my heart will truly be established by wisdom and filled with rare and beautiful treasures. (Proverbs 24:3-4)

I pray that for you too friends. 

Photo Credit

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Monday, August 5, 2013

The Art Of Bearing Fruit

Mist hung like a smoky veil over the valley. The blanket of shadowy droplets rolled out and settle into the furrows between the rows of corn.

Tires threw streams of sand onto the sides of the car, as we ascended another low hill in these rolling hills. Before turning south we pass a tiny cemetery with no name, that is marked off with a white picket fence on one side and an old shaggy tree line on the side along the country road.  The road continued to cut through the valley, as it turns and twists, before opening to the well groomed and established farm.  

My friend greets us, her dark mane of hair crowns her beauty. For the decade that has passed, she dreamed up and lived, a thriving business making hand harvested, handcrafted jellies.

It was a labor of love with impeccable quality behind each jar. Her gifts in business sense, work ethic, and faith were rewarded with an ever growing entrepreneur  endeavor. 

My motives were purely selfish, this sadness, when she announced she was giving up her business. In light of that news, she held out an invitation to come gather choke cherries, all free for the picking. 

She appeared from the shed with the tools of her wild-fruit-gathering trade. Mainly buckets with handles and one well worn leather belt. A thinly stretched area marked where she placed the handle of the bucket, then she buckled the tan strap around her waist.  

This freed her hands to pick the fruit. With palms up, she reached her long slender fingers, to grasp dark purple-red berries. Firm  gentle motion plucked each fleshy gem. She didn't rip the vine, but left an empty spine where the fruit had hung. It was as if, each bush was an old friend and she was thankful for the gifts it gave.

We began to imitate her actions. Imperfectly we began to pick along side her and soon the awkwardness melted into repeated pattern and rhythm.  

We were flanked on one side by a wall of corn standing like soldiers at attention all strong, straight and tall. A dome of  storm clouds built, on this unseasonably cool summer evening, as we shared in the art of harvesting wild fruit. 

Something lovely happens when people gather and forget the trappings of life. Beyond short-comings, deep insecurities, comparison and perfection, we peer into where the real beauty lies.

We kept saying, how nice it was to just be outside, gathering with our hands, wild fruit and the value of spending time with each other. We talk about how long ago women probably found community when they worked together doing the common things that took more effort than today.

That perhaps those things considered common, were more divine than we thought.

Because we need to spend time with each other. We need people who will love us and speak truth that builds up, extend encouragement and to rub against each others imperfect lives. Our busy lives often cause us to miss this unwinding together.    

Now after a decade of harvesting wild fruit to run this business, she tells me she has put priorities in place. To work along side her husband, to be there for her sons and the better things.

But she had to let go of something good, first.

There are so many things to spend our greatest resource of time on. How do we discern and choose, the best, over just the good?

The verse says that there is fruit that will not spoil. 

And that we are to be fruit bearers. 

Fortunately it tells us how to do this.

We ask the Father in Jesus name.

In another verse it tells us that we must stay connected to the Vine.
(read here?) 

That's all.

Stay connected.

Pray about everything we do for Him, in His name. 

Seek what is best, not just what seems good.

Imperfectly, with palms up.

As we drive home, the rain moves in. 

Pastures of prairie hay and rows of corn, roll out a thick carpet with hues of olive, sage and deep tones of green. 

Our buckets are full of fruit, gathered like precious rubies and that is what I want my life to produce.

But I ask myself this: What am I hanging on to that seems so good, but may be standing in the way of the best? 

* In my area it seems to be a "good year" for choke cherries.
I have not tried my hand at much jelly. So with lots of encouragement from my friend Kat and following this recipe we had good success. Before this I had tried a few other recipes and my success rate was not as high. Choke Cherry Syrup anyone? : ]

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Friday, August 2, 2013

Let There Be Food and Friends

Food touches the heart strings of my soul. Indeed, most of my life I have fought, denied or succumbed to that reality.

Reading along this summer with the Bloom Bookclub study has played my soul like Handel Canon in D.

I inhaled the book "Bread & Wine" by Shauna Niequist as if it were a generous slice of my own homemade bread, steaming from the oven, slathered with equal amounts of real butter and raw honey whipped together, dripping off the sides and sticking to my fingers.

Can you tell that bread is at the top of my comfort food list and is one of my signature things to bake?

Anyone who really knows me, is probably aware too, that I have not joined the craze of gluten free and enjoy the feast of fresh ground, whole wheat bread or hand crafted cinnamon rolls with a hint of real maple and chopped pecans.

It's part of who I am.

It was part of how I was raised.

It is a part of how my children were raised and now they are raising their children on them too.

I love to share time and food with friends. It is my love song to those I care about or wish to bless. 

Food has played a major role in my dearest, closest, longest standing relationships. 

As a child  I knew what day of the week it was by what was being served for dinner.  My mom had signature brownie recipe and frosting made with marshmallows when there was a death. She loved potato soup when she wasn't feeling well, and would make three or four kind of cookies, when she was really upset.

What she was unable to communicate or fix in the world, she was able to find comfort in the process of touching, smelling, crafting and tasting of food.

When we were happy there was food. When we were sad there was more food.

Now that my mom is gone, those things seem even more important and alive to me. 

In her book, Shauna said it so well: "It's no accident that when a loved one dies, the family is deluged with food.... Food is a language of care, the thing we do when traditional language fails us.." 

And my family has had it's share of tragedy.  With each loss, there was an instinctive mode of response. 

It always involved a tremendous amount of food.

A classic example of that is when my grandmother lost her battle with cancer over twenty years ago now.

As we huddled together in her kitchen, her dear friend and neighbor delivered a large pan of fresh-from-the-oven apple cake accompanied with a beautiful pitcher of homemade caramel sauce. 

We devoured it's warm, spicy goodness until we were in a sugar coma. 

We ate it the next day for breakfast too.

After we begged Miss Bessy for the recipe, she was kind enough to bring a second pan of this deliciousness and the instructions how to make it.

Miss Bessy's Raw Apple Cake became an instant family favorite. It's an honest, easy, old time recipe, that would not be so hard on your glycemic levels if you skipped the caramel sauce. 

But that isn't probably going to happen in this house.

Live is too short  ...please pass the sauce.


This time tested treat is so thick with chunks of fresh apples that I often double check the recipe, to see if I've followed the instructions correctly.

One of the things that blessed me about reading this book was the freedom it brought in this area of my foodie life and background. I am so thankful to have learned to prepare, share and enjoy food with those around me. 

I'd love to have you sit at my table.

We who are hungry for true friendship and acceptance.

We could talk over a good cup of coffee and fresh baked cake.

The next best thing is to share a recipe that I love, so I do hope you try it.

This book, has helped me embrace a long misunderstood relationship with food and what a true gift it is to be able to open my home, my heart, my time around a table.

It's a beauty melody ..this thing of friends sharing life and food.

My prayer is that today you will pause to

  "...taste and see the Lord is good" friends.  

*Caramel Sauce is made and stored separately in refrigerator.
Eating this cake right out of the oven is amazing but
eating some the next day is wonderful too.
Just spoon caramel sauce over your piece of cake
and warm it up in microwave for a few seconds.
 More yum-i-ness.

*This post is inspired by Bread & Wine by Shauna Niequiest for the Bloom Book Club at {in}courage.

* * I love this book so much that I am giving one away! To enter just leave a comment telling me something about yourself, your family, your friends and/or food. Can not wait to hear from you!

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© Rhonda Quaney