Friday, April 18, 2014

Daring to create...

Last November, my friend Mary made a suggestion when I was, yet again, struggling with the approaching holiday season.  Her idea was to make my own traditions, not necessarily having anything to do with Thanksgiving.  In a way, I believe what she was suggesting was that I try to re-make the holidays so that they were for me.  I confess, I laughed off her suggestion with a half-hearted agreement that I could make Thanksgiving a day where I ate all my favorite foods or something.

I thought she was nuts.
Make my own traditions?

I did not grow up with positive family holiday gatherings.  Such is not possible in a family where drugs and alcohol—and the accompanying anger and violence—are present.  Other things, too, tended to happen around the holidays.  So, I struggle ... deeply ... with being a Christian and having much fear and loathing for Christmas and Easter, and a whole lot of loneliness and jealousy of all the talk of family visiting during those holidays and Thanksgiving.

Recently, if you haven't noticed, my longing for Texas, for the culture of my childhood, has reached a near visceral level.  Mostly, I want to be understood.  And so very much of me cannot be understood unless you live or have lived in Texas ... especially Dallas.  Seriously, as this hilarious (and yet poignant if you are a homesick Texan) post points out, the television show "Friday Night Lights" is not an exaggeration of Hollywood.  I really, really, really want to be understood.

In a way, this longing has deepened by this extraordinary mercy that Marie has shown me.  You see, she got the book The Courage to Heal and started reading it.  I make sense to her now.  I can be me and talk about my life and she understands.  I am even more normal and more okay.  SIGH.  I will never be able to tell her just how much this means to me or the unbelievable freedom she has given me in so doing.

Anyway, in my mostly futile attempts to assuage this longing to be understood in my cultural roots (for Texas is a culture unto itself, as well as a part of the South), I found this INCREDIBLE blog filled with sumptuous TexMex recipes.  You might not know this, but I was raised on sour cream and chicken enchiladas.  There's a recipe for them!  Mmmm...  The author is a great writer, too.  And, well, every mention of the restaurant Nifas warms the cockles of my heart.

There is even a recipe for rendering lard.
I announced to Marie that she needs to render lard for us.
She's game!

When I was upset the other night, I spend many hours reading through every post of Homesick Texan's blog.  Granted, most of the recipes I skimmed, but I saved to my bookmarks all the ones I wanted to try.  It was in this time of great anguish and longing that Mary's suggestion came back to me.  Suddenly, I understood what she meant and thought ... perhaps ... I might could follow her advice.

Today, I made Honey Soaked Hot Cross Buns.  What I know of hot cross buns are two things: 1) they are a Good Friday treat (thought also often cooked in Lent) and 2) they are meant to be shared.  In reading the recipe entry, over and over again, I found tears slipping down my cheeks.  I wanted, for a reason I cannot quite identify, this to be my tradition.  Easter.  The worst of all the holidays for me.  I wanted to turn just one part of Easter into something good for me.

But there is that ginormous fear of yeast that I have.

I did not share my desire or Mary's thoughts with Marie when we first discussed cooking together today.  However, I floated the idea of the hot cross buns with her, trying very hard to sound casual as I talked up the honey angle.  She agreed that they might be something good to try and also agreed to bring over some craisins (because I was already going to be changing the recipe).

What I didn't tell her is that, having really only her and Paul as folk to share with, I decided to bring a plate for each of my pastors' family to church tonight.  Yes, I decided to go to a second service this week that still was not the recommended one.  Yes, I wanted to go, even though last night was pretty disastrous for the state of my soul.

I wanted to go because my pastor said it is okay for me to go.
I wanted to go because my pastor said—just not in so many words—it is okay that I have a war inside me.
I wanted to go because I wanted to create my own tradition.

But there is that ginormous fear of yeast that I have.

Well, the whole Lord's Supper anguish last night meant little sleep for me. In the early hours of the morning, I texted Marie and asked her to go ahead and come at 8:30, but to start her freezer cooking without me.  Or rather I said I wanted to sleep until 10:00.  Kind soul that she is, Marie had no problem with that.  Amos did.  He sensed the presence of his beloved Aunt Marie and made trying to get much extra sleep (I was too distressed to sleep until about 4:30 AM) too difficult.  I gave up around 9:30.

We still didn't get started early enough on the buns—we meaning I—to finish them with Marie as my dough coach.  She got me through the yeast bit and the mixing bit and the kneading bit.  However, if you are going to use an old-fashioned recipe that uses honey as your sweetener, you need to be prepared for hours and hours and hours of rising.  I was in a near panic when I realized that Marie and I had never discussed how it is that you punch down dough.

I called every dough maker I know without getting anyone to pick up the phone.
I watched copious You Tube videos.
I bewailed my plight on Facebook.
I vomited.
Then, I punched down the dough, divided it, rewarmed the towel, and let the buns rise again.

Mary and Caryl responded to my Facebook plea, but it was Emily who remembered my need of specificity and taught me about why I needed to do the punching and specifically stated that I did, indeed, want the buns to double again.  You see, the recipe simply said to let rise until doubled (no time directions given) and then to let rise after punching (no size or time directions given).  Emily shows me great mercy in two ways:  1) she likes nearly all of my posts and many of my comments, essentially telling me that it is okay to be me on that fearsome, flawed social media platform and 2) she answers my cooking wailing with specificity, either by comments or private messages.  I no longer have to explain my need for specificity.  She simply gives it.  Great, great, great mercy.

I did not let the buns rise as long the second time round because I was running out of time for my tradition to be established.  But they were mostly doubled so I baked them, I girded my loins and glazed them, I threw them on plates for all parties, marking the ziploc bag "covers" with the pastors' names, and raced out the door.  That is, I dragged my exhausted and still fearful person out the door.  I figured there would be even more folk at tonight's service, so I left 30 minutes early hoping to still snag a handicapped parking spot.

I did.
I did but.
I did but this man saw me trying to balance the cookie sheet I had brought to carry the two plates and my cane and came and took the cookie sheet from me.

I was simultaneously struck dumb with social anxiety and great relief since I would not have to walk into the sanctuary with an empty cookie sheet.  Being a nice young man, he tried to engage me in polite conversation.  Like I said, I was struck dumb.

After he opened the door to the church building for me, I blurted out that I had to use the elevator.  He said that was okay and then asked me what floor I wanted.  Wrong question.  You see, I never can figure out which button to push because the sign is too far away from the buttons.  Too far for me.  I have seriously contemplated putting sticky notes next to the buttons and see how long they last.  Usually, between both elevator rides, all the buttons get pushed ... some more than once.

Being a nice young man, he walked ahead and asked the secretary if she had a key to the pastors' offices and then, at her hesitation, said that I had brought a treat for the pastor.  I was so nervous that that darned verbal vomiting started and I humiliated myself in short order.  However, the keys were fetched, the treats were left, and I was rather delighted to realized that my treats will probably go uncredited.

The service?  Well, I struggled to follow the sermon.  It was a blood bath.  [Pun intended.]  And, to be brutally honest, I really do not care for the choir singing stanzas and such.  Even though I used to sing in the choir (heck, for several years I was the tenor section and the alto section depending on what we were singing), the more I contemplate the Divine Service, the more I dislike the performance factor of choirs singing.

[I really do not belong in the Lutheran church.]

But I did learn two things from the readings.  Yes, I remembered to bring my Bible so I could follow the readings.  Tonight, for the first time that I remember, I discovered that Nicodemus also tended the body of Jesus.  How cool is that!?!  Nicodemus!!  I liked that he brought the herbs/spices so that, even though haste was necessary, the body of Christ could be given a burial in keeping with tradition, that His body could be honored.

The second thing that I learned was that there were three Marys, not two.  Jesus' aunt was there!  Is there no word for aunt in ancient Greek?  I mean, you see Mary Jesus' mother and Mary Magdalene there, but it is hard to also see squeezed in between mention of them is a note that Jesus' mother's sister Mary is also there.

Today, when cooking with Marie, I felt free to speak some more of that poking-fun-at-my-evangelical-past humor with her.  I was worried about how to bake two things and roast a third when I discovered that the main dish for lunch and the buns were to cook at the same temperature. I gleefully announced that that means Jesus loves us.  Marie snickered and asked where that was in the Bible. I told her that when anyone questions something I say is in the Bible ... as a joke ... I declare that it is in Leviticus because no one reads Leviticus.

Marie laughed and asked who reads Micah. I told her Evangelicals do!  We have a praise song from there and it has great Life Application verses.  She then asked who reads Deuteronomy.  I told her Evangelicals do!  Deuteronomy has this great section on choice and we evangelicals are all about choosing God.  So, Marie asked, who reads Nahum.  I confidentially declared that that was a book that Evangelicals do not read ... no Life Application to be found there!  So, she said that oven temperatures matching on two dishes in a needful time being evidence that Jesus loves us must then be in Nahum.

So, while I was waiting for the service to start tonight, I read Nahum.
I read Nahum twice.
I read it slowly and I read it aloud to myself.

After their service, Marie and Paul came by to fetch the freezer food I had finished cooking for her.  I was not planning for them to stay, but I wanted them to try one of the remaining honey soaked hot cross buns left so as to render judgement upon them.  Marie said they were starving.  One thing led to another and those kind folk changed their plans so that we could all eat dinner together.

We ate Taco Bell.
We talked Book of Concord.
I told them what I learned from the readings.

The totally wonderful part—besides them fawning over my hot cross buns—was that Marie also just realized that Nicodemus was at Jesus burial, was there for Him at the end!  I also told Marie and Paul was I learned about Nahum:  chapter 1, God is awesome; chapter 2, Nineveh is toast; and chapter 3 Nineveh is really, really, really toast.  Then I said that I thought Jonah was the Nineveh guy, so I didn't understand why Nahum was having visions about Nineveh.  I said I would Google the matter and get back to them.

They laughed.
I laughed.
It was a good night for me.

So, my Good Friday tradition, should I have more Good Fridays in my future, is to make honey soaked hot cross buns and give them away.  For the Living Word is sweet.  Sweeter than honey.  And Jesus is the bread of life.  Don't you think a tasty culinary metaphor is just about a perfect Myrtle holiday tradition??

Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!

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