Gifts of Grace in Bread, Wine, and Words

We’re back!

SOMEone turned SIX on our trip!

It was a wonderful trip, 9 days of visiting friends and family, most of whom we haven’t seen for a long time, because although my husband and I both went to college in the Northeast, we are back in this general area after 4 years in Europe, 2 in California, and nearly 2 in Chicago.

wagon ride on the streets of Harrisburg

A few weeks ago I had a post on the Christianity Today women’s blog on why it’s good to have people over to your house for dinner, even if it can feel vulnerable and awkward. I didn’t say much in that piece about how accepting hospitality also involves some vulnerability. It means accepting the kindness of others, which in our culture can sometimes feel like weakness. I suspect that’s one of the reasons some of us find it easiest to meet at “third places,” like restaurants and cafes. It’s easier to just go out to eat and order what you want and pay for yourself so that your friends don’t have to serve you and clean up after you.

Accepting hospitality is, I think, a little like accepting grace. You can’t earn it. You can’t make yourself worthy to receive it. Which is why it’s uncomfortable to accept. Accepting grace means admitting you need it. Accepting hospitality means accepting a gift of someone’s time, effort, and resources. Sure, you might bring a thank-you gift or card, but only a cynic would regard that as payment.

But staying with friends, eating with friends in homes–there is something almost miraculous going on there that I can’t quite put my finger on. I guess I can see why Jesus did so much of it. Even where I experienced nervousness at being so close to people I hadn’t seen for years (or, in some cases, hadn’t yet met), joy overwhelmed the nervousness. There is something precious about meeting people in their homes, seeing them with their children and in the place where they are (I think!) most comfortable. You can see that they are not so different from you–whether it’s in the quirkiness of their decor, the occasional crankiness of their children, or the unpredictability of pets, meal plans, and laundry piles.

another lovely PA farm…all the more lovely because of the people we love who live there!

(More than once, our children were cranky, rude, or whiny, prompting our various hosts to say in all sincerity, “your kids do that, too?” Tim & I joke that it’s our ‘ministry’ to help other parents feel better about their kids’ behavior…)

We are home now, but the joy of communing with friends on this trip has made me crave more hospitality in my life–more times of connecting over food and drinks and conversation, more times accepting and offering gifts of grace in bread, wine, and words.

we all should have friends who have grandparents who have ponies!

Thank you for your sweet hospitality, dear friends! We love you so much.

Cucumbers, Pickles, & Immigrants

Our little garden has produced plenty of cucumbers this year, though they’re drawing to an end now. We’ve been eating lots of them just like this:

salt, freshly ground pepper, dill; olive oil & red wine vinegar, with & without tomatoes

Because a truck crashed through our yard a few weeks ago, there have been plenty of work ‘guys’ (as my kids refer to them) in and around the garden recently. Most recently, a crew of landscapers came to plant new hedges in place of the ones that were uprooted in the accident. And while they were there, I caught sight of them eating some of my cucumbers.

Now, what you need to understand is that I watched these cucumbers grow from lovingly selected heirloom seeds, referring to the plants all the while as my “seed babies.” After realizing that no people had been hurt in the crash, I was greatly relieved to see that my photosynthesizing ‘children’ were fine, too. So finding that my cucumbers were being ‘stolen’ by the landscapers made me scowl at first.

cucumbers and string beans, vining together. I'm scowling because I can't reach.

But of course, I already have more cucumbers than we can eat fresh. I’m putting away the extras for another season, and, as I said, I’ve been given plenty more fresh cucumbers absolutely free. Truth be told, I’m even getting a little tired of fresh cucumbers. But there it was–a reflexive selfishness.

And then I remembered two things:

1. The men working in my yard–immigrants all of them–live on very little. From reliable sources, I know that many of them typically live on white rolls, bananas, and Gatorade. For many of America’s working poor–them included–fresh vegetables (let alone organic heirloom vegetables) are a luxury. A cool cucumber, eaten in the shade of the vine on a hot day when you’re working hard in the dirt–that must have been a really refreshing treat.

2. The Book of Ruth. (What?!) Yes, Ruth. Ruth, the ancestress of David and ultimately of Jesus, was a Moabite–a foreigner in Israel who met and exceeded all standards of kindness and generosity. And Boaz, her benefactor, did the same–though “law” only required him to let her take from the edges of the field, he instructed his field hands to leave out plenty of good grain for her to take. Both gave more than they *had* to. The result? Blessing, love, fulfillment; a respite from famine and exile.

3. (Ok, I lied, 3 things)–that God makes all things grow. Yeah, I fertilized, planted, mulched, weeded, watered, and fretted and prayed over my plants, but beyond all of this, there is a mystery that’s way beyond me. And it just doesn’t feel right to hold that too tightly.

Can I love my neighbor and begrudge him a cucumber? Who’s the impoverished one then? Me. So I do this with some of my cucumbers–

and give some away, and leave some on the vines for the work crew. Because I’m a “good person”? No. Because I want the joy that comes from holding the mystery lightly, and giving freely from what’s been given to me. Because THAT fills me with joy.

Which makes the cucumbers–and pickles–taste even better.

Countercultural Green Beans–Putting Food By

Five years ago, when we lived in California, our green bean plants were producing half a kitchen garbage bag of green beans per day. It got to the point where we had to take garbage bags of green beans in the car and drive around town (a very small town) to dish out green beans to everyone we knew (and even some people we didn’t really know.) We knew that we’d soon be moving to Scotland, and so putting some beans away for winter wasn’t much of an option for us. But sharing them, of course, was its own reward.

This year, in New York, we’ve again got loads of green beans–an easy 2 quarts a day, and while we’re eating plenty of them fresh, we’ve also been doing a bit of what 19th century folks called “putting food by”–that is, saving it for that time of year when Persephone goes back to the underworld and her mother, Ceres, mourns, turning our lush, green garden a dead and frozen brown. (No, I don’t believe that myth. But I do like it. My mom and I are really close, and you better believe that if one of us had to go to the underworld, we might forget to water the garden.)

my favorite field hand

So against that day, we’re storing up food, green beans among them. Frozen green beans can actually be quite delicious. Our favorite ones are the petite French beans you can buy at Trader Joe’s–and while they’re reasonably priced, I sometimes feel a little funny about the fact that they’ve come from France. I love French food, but we can grow great green beans right outside our door. France is a long way away, and while I love me a good French import now and then, I’d kinda rather see those transatlantic miles used differently (say, to bring Nora here. Hi Nora! Bisous!)

Mom's hands, trimming beans

My mom and I, together, trimmed and washed the beans, dipped them in boiling water, chilled them in ice water, dried them with a towel, and packed them into freezer bags. It wasn’t as hot and difficult as I once imagined such a process would be. In fact, it was kind of fun. Instead of going out for coffee, or ice cream, or shopping–instead of consuming, which we love to do (who doesn’t?) we stayed home and produced something, not for immediate enjoyment, but for future days.

ready for freezing

In other times and places, to speak reverently of such a practice–as if it constituted some kind of virtuous act–would be silly. ‘Putting food by’ was just what everyone did in the days before year-round availability of EVERYTHING NOW! There must have always been a kind of satisfaction in this work, though–the work of virtuous necessity, done (usually) in groups, with laughter, chatting, and singing to make ‘drudgery’ into good times. That’s what I’m grasping at when, in my own fumbling way, I try my hand at gardening and preserving. I’m trying to tread lightly on creation while exercising a homely kind of creativity, making small steps toward a hopeful future, and, in the present, creating good memories fueled only by necessity and love.

gratuitous adorable pet picture