Sharing a Cup of Tea

In her more recent book, Teatime Discipleship: Sharing Faith One Cup at a Time Sally, Clarkson goes into great detail concerning the joys and benefits of sharing a cup of tea with someone. For insight and perspective into building relationships with others at home, I highly recommend Sally’s book, paired with Rosaria Butterfield’s best-seller: The Gospel Comes with a House Key: Practicing Radically Ordinary Hospitality in Our Post-Christian World.

Both books discuss ways we can use our home to invite others in. We can create a resting place for our family, other believers, and unbelievers, simply by utilizing our home well. I have always been a proponent of ministering to others through my home. But last year, inviting people for tea became a highlight of how we shared hospitality.

I know each person is in a certain season of life, and there once was a time, I could only manage one hospitality endeavor a week. Now, that my children are older, I find it very easy to invite anyone over for tea, short notice, or someone we just met. My children love to chip in and set the table, brew the tea, and lay out snacks.

Tea is fun and un-intimidating for most people. Inviting people over for tea also allows me to have guests over during the day. Daytime visits, keep my evenings more free for my family, and yet allows me opportunity to open my home to others and get to know them.

Why tea?

Tea is child friendly. Unlike coffee, which can be high in caffeine and bitter to taste, there are a lot of choices when providing tea. I can offer an assortment of options, with or without caffeine. My children all have a personal favorite, and if we have other children join us for tea, most mothers are comfortable with their children enjoying a cup or two.

Tea is cheap. Even though there may be initial expense in a container of good tea, overall, it stores well and only takes a few bags or Tablespoons to make a medium pot of tea.

I can use items I have already for tea snacks. I do not aim for a proper British tea when serving tea. My goal is fellowship, and that can be had around anything I have in the house. I can fill celery with peanut butter, make a few mini muffins, cut some apple slices, dip dates in chocolate, put cream cheese and finely sliced cucumbers on a tortilla and roll it up, make deviled eggs, melt chocolate over nuts…I rarely buy anything special at the store for our teas. I simply utilize the foods we have at home for savory or sweet. I keep sugar cubes on hand, just for tea, and we usually have milk, cream and/or half-and-half in the fridge. Of course, we always have tea.

People with food sensitivities can eat obligation free. Unlike sitting down for a meal, guests at tea are expected to pick a few items and not eat a bite of everything. Tea allows my guests to have a certain freedom with what he or she eats. Sometimes, a guest will just drink tea and not eat at all, other times, there is much festive indulgence. It is all up to the guest what is put on his or her plate.

Sharing Tea is a fun way to get to know people. Everyone I have ever invited is very excited to come for tea. I have had women who are very feminine minded dress up to the nines in fancy tea attire. I have had women enjoy a cup of tea in jeans and a t-shirt. No matter the kind of lady we have, each one has been thrilled to join me and my children for a cup of tea.

Having Tea is unintimidating. Sharing a cup of tea (especially if children are present), puts people at ease. Tea is a strange mix of formal and casual. Since it is not a sit-down dinner, people see tea as more relaxed and simple than a meal. It is also formal enough, for everyone who sits at the table to feel special.

Setting up and hosting friends for tea is training my children in an art of hospitality. My children are working on character traits of kindness, gentleness, and thinking of others. Tea provides them with the opportunity to focus on all of those things as they help me prepare and show love to our special guest(s).

Ok, those are a multitude of reasons I enjoy sharing a cup of tea with people, and I have a lot of other reasons too, but those are the main ones that come to my mind. I am truly grateful for the Lord’s provision of little things like tea, that we can use to connect hearts and bless others.

Loving the Lonely

an elderly woman sitting on a blue armchair
Photo by cottonbro studio on Pexels.com

His big sisters were playing with dolls and well into their fun when my little fellow woke up from his afternoon nap.

“Mommy, I have nothing to do.” I knew those words were code for feelings he did not know how to express. He was lonely and wanting a playmate.

Loneliness is familiar to everyone on this planet. We have all experienced becoming a growing epidemic in our culture. I know we would like to point our finger to blame social distancing or technology for the surge in loneliness, but the truth is loneliness has always been among us. It isn’t about whether one is married or single, on Facebook or not, healthy or sick, rich or poor, or any particular circumstance. Loneliness can accompany anyone, at any season in life.

A little child can be lonely as he or she navigates his place in his home.

A teen can feel lonely as he or she wrestles with changes within and in his or her life.

A young bride can feel incredibly lonely as she navigates her first years of marriage.

Young mother’s feel lonely as they wrestle through the challenges of their world being consumed by little cries and little voices.

A mother can feel lonely and lost after her last child moves from the home.

Divorce, singleness, death, and crisis’ in life make people feel very much alone.

Loneliness is not about companionship. A person can be in a group of other people and still feel lonely. A wife can be in a wonderful marriage and still feel lonely. If a person feels that he or she is not seen or heard will feel lonely.

I have noticed three different causes of loneliness.

1. A person becomes lonely when he or she feels like no one understands.

2. A person will feel lonely when she or he is not truly listened to. 

3. A person feels lonely when he or she feel unnoticed, unseen, and invisible.

Sometimes just one of those reasons can be present. For some folks, all of those reasons can be combined to cause loneliness.

Life can present each person moments of internal solitude for various reasons. And it is important to note that what might make one person feel lonely, may not be an issue at all to another person. We are all different and it is good to keep that in mind when we do not understand why someone is lonely.

If we take time to consider it, we all have struggles, do struggle, and will struggle with seasons of loneliness.

As believers, it is important we can look out for each other during these seasons. Some friends may have times that last a long while or become permanent fixtures of loneliness. For others, loneliness comes and goes throughout various seasons.

Loneliness has accompanied my soul through various seasons of life. Having experienced loneliness myself, I have learned to recognize some clues in the hearts of someone else who is lonely.

My mother was good at teaching me from a young age to love lonely people. Some mothers tend to only plan visits to people who have children their own age. Although I have many memories with friends, I also have a lot of memories visiting older couples as we grew. We often would visit with widows and widowers, older couples, and those with no family. We even had some single friends live with us as they went through difficult seasons.

I too, now include a variety of ages in my children’s life. I find those relationships to be so symbiotic. Lonely people often are cheered more by my children than by me. And relationships with lonely people are an amazing training ground for my children to learn to think of other people.

Just like my mom did, I will give a synopsis of our friend before we go so my children know that person’s story. It helps my children to know how to interact with that person, and also helps them to behave well.

I might say something like this: “Mrs. Doodle’s husband died one year ago, and yesterday she just found out that she has something bad growing in her body. So we are going to take her dinner a some flowers today.” I try to make sure my children understand the seriousness and value of our visit. Generally each one of them will express compassion in some form like writing a note or giving a hug.

Just as my mother included her children in the time she spent with the lonely, my mother also taught me to recognize the symptoms of loneliness in people. I will never forget going with my mother to visit my great aunt. She was a widow and in her eighties. We spent the weekend with her. She wasn’t the same person I remembered visiting as a child. She talked without ceasing and seemed a easily agitated. When going home, I complained to my mother about my aunt. My mother’s response was simple. “She is lonely.” Then my Aunt’s behavior made complete sense. And I felt sorry for my frustration with her. I still am able to recognize symptoms of loneliness in people as a result of that visit to my Great Aunt.

Symptoms of Loneliness:

  1. Lonely people talk…a lot. Lonely people seem unconscious of another person’s time. They seem unconscious how many times a conversation has been ended and restarted. Lonely people are simply happy to linger in conversations. I have had phone conversations that lingered on and on, even as the person on the other end of the line acknowledges that they need to let me go. We had a sweet neighbor a few years ago who lived alone in her eighties. She never let us just “stop in” every visit was a sit down visit, then a tour of the stuff around the house, then she prattled on and on, and often sent us home with little trinkets or some sweets. Our sweet neighbor was lonely and just happy to have someone to listen to her.
  2. Lonely people can be persnickety. I find the critical spirit behind a person who is lonely to be a great clue into that person’s heart.  I have found that generally sweet people can become cranky if they find themselves lonely. I think of the Johanna Spyre Classic story “Heidi” and how cranky and persnickety the grandfather was before Heidi showed up into his life. He was riddled with loneliness until her companionship entered his world. No one liked him. I have seen normally cranky people soften as they are listened to, noticed, or feel understood. 
  3. Lonely people find comfort in things. We had a dear Sunday School teacher, Miss K, who lived with her mother until her mother passed. After her mother’s death, Miss K, began collecting things. Things upon things lined her small house until she was forced to move out for her safety. She was lonely. She found momentary comfort in the presence of things and so she held onto things. Lonely people can be incredible sentimental, keepers of stuff, and shopaholics. What little old widow doesn’t have her house decked out with sentiment and stuff? She is lonely, and keeping stuff reminds her of those who give or gave her respite from loneliness. In a way, she holds onto people by holding onto their photographs and their stuff.

It is normal to feel lonely. And it is okay to feel lonely. In fact ones loneliness can be a springboard to various ministry to others. I have several dear friends struggling with loneliness, but they use their loneliness as an avenue of understanding others pain, of being their for others, of providing counsel, love, and prayer.

Ministering to lowly people is truly a life-long endeavor. But it is also the backbone of how our faith in God is displayed, as we provide, without grudging, our time and resources to include, bless, and encourage those who are alone.  James 1: 27 “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”

Notes About Loving the Mothers Whose Kids We Don’t Enjoy

The family had just left and we looked around our home. I love children and I love the noise of their chatter and the dirty little smudges they leave behind. But this experience with children had been different.

There were dirty boot prints all over my freshly cleaned carpet, leftover plates with half filled drinks left beside them on floors and tables and chairs, and something that looked like smeared frosting on one spot of the carpet. That was just one room. As I surveyed the scene, the entire house showed signs of a hoard of children passing through…toys were all over the children’s bedrooms, paper and crayons left on tables…We had only had three children and their mother over. I sighed, the mess was nothing compared to the frustrating conversation I had attempted to have with the children’s exhausted, and frazzled mother.

What I had gathered from her, was that she felt that we were raising our children the same way. She felt I was just as weary as she. She thought what she was experiencing in motherhood was normal. Due to the inordinate interruptions from children and her constant appeasing of her toddler, we never got to the part of the conversation where I could tell her that her expectations of her children and her expectations of motherhood were far too low, and that she could experience joy and peace as a mother instead of struggling through each day to survive.

I groaned inwardly as this dear mother expressed her desire to meet up again soon. I knew her soul was starved for fellowship and that she desired to have an uninterrupted conversation. But I also knew, that I had no desire to develop a friendship with her simply because her children were so difficult to have around.

Let me ask my readers, is this a mother one you know? Are you possibly this mother yourself?

Let me begin by giving hope. If you know a mother who is in need of fellowship, but is a burden be around simply because of her children, here are some tips I have implemented to build a friendship with her. The goal is not only to provide a weary should with fellowship, but to possibly give her hope that motherhood can be so much more than what she experiences.

I have quite a few friends whose children fall into the rowdy and unruly category. It is easy to simply choose not to develop a friendship, and I must admit that has often been my fallback, but as my children mature and as age has brought experience and wisdom to my soul, I find there is a way to peruse friendships with struggling mothers in a way that is a benefit for both of us.

  1. Pray and Show Grace and reach out on occasion. It is easy to block out families with unpleasant children out of our lives. We can even try to make it sound righteous, like, “Those kids will influence my children to be naughty.” Honestly, if anything, children who are well managed, will find the other children difficult to play with and their behavior shocking and frustrating rather than joining in. If my child chooses to join in (usually the boys not girls) I can use it as a moment to instruct him otherwise in front of the floundering mother and often that gets her to think a little more about why her kids do what they do. In any case, I do still try to build a relationship with certain mom’s because they need it; not because I need it.
  2. Rule your home. Even though other people and parents might be visiting with their children. My home is ruled “my way.” I have no qualms entering a room and telling a group of children that “we don’t do that in this house.” Or “In our home, we clean up when we finish playing with one thing.” Or “I am sorry, but we are not playing with that today.” My son loves playing with kinetic sand. For him and his siblings, the mess stays contained to where I allow. He is not allowed to play with that sand with anyone but siblings. So when we have guests, even our well-mannered ones, the sand never comes out.
  3. Meet up at parks and museums, not in a home. This provides time for casual conversation while little ones are interested in new things. It also eliminates the need to clean up. I want my children to love hospitality and not dread the cleanup after each visit. There have been times they have groaned…”Oh no! Those people again.” Although, such friends can be tools to help my children develop grace and gratitude, I try to keep those occasions few for my children’s sake. I am a busy mom too and have enough clean-up in our home from my own family, to add another family’s hurricane into my week can be stress I do not need either. A park or indoor play-place also enables me to take my leave when I feel it is time instead of hoping a mother, whose children have overstayed their welcome, won’t continue to stay and try to have a conversation that will never happen.
  4. Meet at the other Mom’s Home. This is a great way to give yourself space to leave a house if you need, but also puts the weight of hospitality on the other mother and gives you opportunity to ensure that you show her by example how to get your children to pick up before they leave and tell the  hostess “thank you.” I have often been somewhere to visit and either been asked “how do you get your children to behave so well?” or if the mother comes to our house, she may require more of her children the next visit. Some mothers just don’t know how to make their children behave and have to see you do it first.
  5. Introduce your needy mother to other ladies. To be the only friend a mother has is no place for anyone. Mothers need lots of friends, so arrange play-dates with a couple moms at a time and try to help friends build friendships that can continue without you. I have done this often, and some of those friends will still get together with each other.
  6. Use other’s kids poor behavior as a teaching tool. My children love to tell me how disobedient other kids are. Things that are said, or done are often reported by “good” children, this includes sibling and friends. I have had so many wonderful conversations with my children about things other children have said or done and the consequences that brings. How many times my children have asked if I had a good visit, and I can tell them that is was not because of the little one who continued to bother his mommy. I cannot begin to tell how many times my children’s eyes are blind to their own rudeness or fussiness, but once they have seen it on someone else, they see it for what it is in themselves.

A Redeemed Introvert

happy ethnic woman in apron standing at entrance of own cafe

I get everything about the need for personal space, the desire to re-charge, re-group, the distaste for large frivolous gatherings, and the hunger for more than small talk. I desire and understand those things.

Introversion has really become a popular phrase lately. I have had so many people tell me over the past few years how their introversion prevents them from enjoying social experiences.

There is so much information concerning introverts. Introversion is no new thing, but somehow, it seems that it must be something that everyone understands.

Most people I know claim to be introverts. I always thought I was an introvert. I like my personal space. I do not like parties and large groups of people. I feel out-of-place in the world, but comfortable at home.

As the knowledge of introversion has exploded this past decade, it seems that more and more, I find people are finding their identity in their introversion rather than in their redeemed person.

Why do introverts feel the need to tell anyone they are introverts? For one thing, it helps alleviate any feelings of social awkwardness if everyone knows where one is coming from. But it is also a matter of identity.

What does the Bible say about introverts? Nothing actually. Many people we read about in Scripture were probably introverts. Moses comes to mind, as does King David, but the point is that it is simply irrelevant. In Scripture, people are all described by Whom they find their identity in…whether they seek to do God’s will or not is crucial to where they have put their trust.

I want to beg believers to please set their introversion aside and simply seek to obey God.

God commands us to fellowship with other believers. Hebrews 10:24-25 pleads with believers, “let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” This neglect to fellowship seems as though it is more acceptable if one is an introvert and not an extrovert. Scripture does not command only extroverts to fellowship, but all believers to gather and unite together faithfully. This “meeting together” is not just once a week but the result of a burning desire to walk with God. Acts 2:42 describes believers as devoting themselves to fellowship. “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” May I be devoted so to Christ that I must surround myself constantly with those who also share that desire!

God commands believers to embrace hospitality. Hospitality is not just a gift, it is a command. It is recognized in Scripture that this may be difficult for some more than others, “above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling” I Peter 4:8-9. The home is meant to be our tool to show love to others, not to be a safe-haven from others. I go into much deeper detail on the value of hospitality in articles like: “Ministering Through the Senses in the Home.” But it is truly vital that we evaluate the use of our home and love others more than our own self-comfort. Some are more gifted at hospitality than others, that is ok. All that is asked is that we show love to others by offering up our homes to be used by God with joy.

God commands us to Share the Gospel. As my walk with the Lord draws closer, I will say with joy, that He becomes pre-eminent in my heart in a way that cannot be contained. I want others to know Him and believe in Him. I truly believe that gospel sharing is simply an outpouring of our passionate love for Christ. It should be as natural as breathing air to speak of Him. I think people struggle sharing the gospel, not because of introversion, but from a simple lack of joy in their God. If our identity is in other things, like or roles in life, or character traits like introversion, then that is what we will share with others instead of Christ. Philemon 1:6 “and I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ.”

God commands us to pray. When Jesus found himself alone, even then He was not alone… How often introverts use the reason that Jesus went away from the crowd and they need time away from people to do the same. When Jesus went off alone, it wasn’t because He was going to sit on the sofa and binge watch “Bridal Wars,” or spend a weekend hiking and reading books by a fire. In fact, Jesus never went off to be alone. He went off to be WITH…with His father. Being alone and resting is not ungodly, but it is not a reason to separate oneself from God and the things of God. Yes, rest is biblical as well, but rest is found in Christ, not in ourselves or in nature, or in time away from home. Rest for our souls is found in Christ. Our dear Savior welcomes us so gently into His presence, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” Mt. 11:28-30.

Joy and worship are biblical. This is where art, nature, music, family and time alone come into play. Our joy in our God can pour out of our taking time to be in awe of what He has done and giving Him praise for creation and the beautiful things we see around us. This is not the place for self-indulgence… or is it? I must smile at the thought that if my indulgence is Christ, then yes, there is much room for worship in what I see and do. I can set up my easel for an afternoon and paint flowers with a heart of joyful worship to my Creator. As I discussed in an Tidings of a Leaping Heart, joy and worship in my Savior can, and should be a part of all I do and there is much room for what that entails. I Chronicles 16: 8-36 is too long to include, but most certainly worth reading and worshipping through as David repeats praises to our God. “Sing to the Lord, all the earth! Tell of his salvation from day to day. Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples! For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised, and he is to be feared above all gods” 23-25.

Yes, God has made us each different, and with different natures, desires, skills, and spiritual gifts. Introversion can be such an easy, and understandable excuse for staying in our comfort zone and not doing what is right. Instead of identifying ourselves as introverts, it is much better to simply find our identity in Christ as a sinner saved by grace. As we learn to love Christ more, we will find obeying His commands becomes a joy, not a duty, because our hearts are full of love for Him and love for all those who love Him as dearly as we do!

The Art of Hearing People

photo of old woman sitting while talking with another woman

Hearing people is truly an art. It is so easy to let words go in out ears with no intent to ponder what we are hearing. A busy mom is often at fault for this as she is interrupted and distracted by little ones during conversation.

So, how can one hear? Really hear someone else?

It begins by loving that person. We naturally tune in to those whom we love. If I have a heart for my children, my husband, my mother, my neighbor, the lady at the store, I am far more apt to desire to hear what it is they have to share with me. But love is often not enough. I love my husband, but how easy it is to get caught up in my own ponder the going on in my own brain while being present and not really hearing what he is telling me.

Love must be played out in prayer. Yes, prayer is essential in truly listening to others. By praying for someone, I am making them a part of my spirit. By incorporating that person into who I am through prayer, I naturally build a concern and attachment to what I hear from him or her. I seek not just a connection with that person as a human being, but as a spirit when I am faithfully taking that person to the Lord in prayer. I also find myself much more interested in the going on’s of a person’s life if there are matters about that person I have been bringing to the Lord. It is wonderful to hear how the Lord is working in a person I personally have been seeking Him about.

Preparing for conversation. I will be the first to state that sometimes conversations pop up unexpectedly without a moment to prepare. However, if I have time, I love to ponder upcoming conversations. I will think of things I want to know, advice I need, or questions I have for that person in advance. If I am already wanting to know things, I am far more apt to be in tune with the discussion.

Observe while listening. This is incredible crucial. How many times I have been in conversation and what the person was telling me did not match up with how that person apperared or I could tell more needed to be said through facial expressions and voice influctions. Sometimes, people do not need to be heard for what they say as much as for who they truly are. How often yawns can tell me my friend is tired and clue me in to leave. A

Read through words to the heart. Words are often used by people to mask insecurities, loneliness, or lack of confidence. A person who tends to ramble and reluctant to end the conversation is most certainly struggling with loneliness. A person who tends to talk about him or herself and brag about their recent exploits is one who is insecure and desirous of affirmation. A person who talks in assertive language and tends to be uncomfortable with silence is one who lacks confidence.

Think about conversations later. This comes naturally for me. I often ponder conversations in retrospect. In my younger, more insecure days, this was not always a good thing and I used it to feed my already insecure mindset. But as the years have past, I find pondering past conversations useful in listening to what was said. I often like to follow up with a text to something we talked about. I am also able to add specific notes to my prayer journal which leads to even more improved hearing in future conversations.

Make friends of good listeners. I have some friends who are amazing listeners. They are gifted in completely tuning me in while we talk. I have learned from them how to hear others better, because they have heard me. How I have been heard by my dear friends has helped me know how to better hear people.

Sharing the Glory of Easter with the Neighborhood Children

I have a dear friend who has held a neighborhood Easter egg hunt in her yard for years. She was the first person I called when the idea struck my mind that we should do that this year.

My friend is entering the zone of elderly now, but her life is still truly a testimony of God’s grace. She spent a good hour with me on the phone, telling me how she went about hosting the egg hunt every year. She has shared the gospel with hundreds of children as they have passed through her yard searching for plastic filled eggs. Some years over a hundred-showed up!

My first Easter egg hunt is very much a trial version. I hope to build up to the extravagant event my friend prepared, but we are not there yet. I am curious how it will go this year. And what things I will need to alter to make it better next year.

My friend impressed upon me the value of praying in advance. She spent time praying for the people who would come, conversations, relationships, and things like the weather.

Then she would trust the Lord that the right people would be there…parents and children. She did not wonder if she would have enough eggs or stress about who might come or not be able to come. She simply rested in God’s sovereignty in the whole matter.

Her preparations began for the coming year, the day after Easter. She snatched up eggs, toys, decorations and games on sale.

She ordered bulk egg toys and shopped dollar stores for egg fillers.

But Easter eggs weren’t her only activity. She planned a craft table with things for children to do.

She prepared a short time to tell the story of Easter and share the gospel. She used the wordless book, Resurrection eggs, had young people from church come tell the story, or read a book.

As I listened, I realized, filling and hiding eggs was a very small part of my dear friend’s Easter egg hunt preparations. The bulk of her time was in prayer over the event and the people.

I was truly impacted by my dear friend’s testimony and humble heart as she described to me what she did. Her voice is quiet and gentle. I have met few people who are as much of an introvert as she is. Yet, her love for people and their broken souls moves her to reach beyond her comfort and into the lives of others!

Oh, that my heart may be so loving of others that I am daily moved out of love for them to share Christ!

Kindness– in Muddy Puddles and Broken Teacups

black combat boot

He was mumbling unhappily as he hiked few yards behind my family on a trail to the falls at Yosemite National Park. His wife, a few feet behind him was doing her best to encourage him.

Then he stepped in a puddle. His shoes got wet and he released a slurry of words I did not yet understand at eleven years old. He was mad at himself for stepping into the puddle. He was mad at the puddle for being there. His wife looked at the puddle and sweetly placed her dry feet into the oozing, wet mud.

“Oh that is an easy puddle to miss.” She said. “See I stepped into it too.”

His attitude cooled slightly, and as our family slowed they passed on by us up the hill…both with wet feet.

My mother often reminded us of that story and  noted the kindness of that cranky man’s wife in her attempt to cool his nerves.

“Then there was the time that Mrs. Grover Cleveland attempted to engage a tongue-tied guest in conversation by seizing on the nearest thing at hand, an antique cup of the thinnest china. ‘

We’re so very pleased to have these; they’re quite rare and we’re using them for the first time today,’ she is supposed to have said.

‘Really?’ asked the distraught guest, picking up his cup and nervously crushing it in his hand.

‘Oh don’t worry about it,’ said the hostess., ‘They’re terribly fragile–see?’ She smashed hers. (Miss Manners Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior p. 7)

As a teenager, I checked out etiquette books at the library and read them repeatedly. I found etiquette fascinating. In college, I took several classes on etiquette and manners including meal etiquette and business etiquette. They were some of my favorite classes. 

Etiquette is a culture’s code on what is considered polite or rude. What is rude and what is polite is always changing as culture changes. The essence of etiquette is can be summed up as knowing how to treat others in your culture with love, respect, and dignity. The better etiquette a person has, the better human he or she is.

I will note, that one does not have to make a life-study of etiquette to have superb manners. What makes good etiquette is simply thoughtful kindness. Selfish people are incapable of good manners, and may use politeness only as a means to an end, not as a standard of kindness.

For some reason, many in our culture equivalate etiquette with fancy, rich, snobby people. This conception of etiquette is completely mistaken. Good etiquette is not stiff. It is certainly never snobby. And it is just as essential for the poor as for the wealthy.

Etiquette is the epidemy of selflessness. We might know that we are to live selflessly, but for those who do not automatically know how to be kind in every situation, etiquette provides us with various guidelines of what selflessness looks like.

Selflessness keeps its appointments and does not keep other’s waiting. Selflessness chews with it’s mouth shut. Selflessness says “please” and “thank-you.” Selflessness does not gossip. Selflessness does not dominate a conversation. Selflessness does not overstay its welcome. Selflessness does not talk with a mouth full of food. Selflessness does not embarrass others. Selflessness is dependable, kind, and gentle. Selflessness steps in muddy puddles and breaks fine china.

Etiquette is invaluable to our humanity. During the Holocausts, Jews were animalized. They were not seen as human, but as animals and were treated as such by being herded, beaten, worked, and killed. Jewish authors have often stated how much they missed culture. In the movie “The Pianist” we see a glimpse of the animalized Jews hungering to feel human again as they listened to music. 

Etiquette, (or should I say, selflessness) gives humanity its culture and is key to setting us apart us from all the other creatures God made.

The Japanese culture is a culture that is very respectful of other humans. The Japanese heritage runs deep into respect and honor, both the giving of honor and the keeping of honor. I am not familiar with all world cultures, but Japan certainly values good manners, and as a result, all humans in Japan are valued.

In Japan abortion regulations are very strict. Instead of being disregarded with age, as is common in American culture, the elderly become more and more honored with age. Education and culture are deeply valued. Meals are prepared and eaten with thought. Time with people is not hurried. People are important in the Japanese culture. Where etiquette is valued, people are valued. And where people are valued, good etiquette is also valued.

The careless spirit of our American culture does sadden me a bit. Not so much that we as a whole undervalue good manners, but that the root of our undervalue of courtesy is due to a lack of value and respect for each other.

People are not worth our time. Time with our family, is not more valuable that work, school and soccer schedules. Our busy lives proceed being on time and keeping our appointments. People and events are not worth our dressing appropriately. Responding to phone-calls, texts, and e-mails must fit into our busy timeline. Thank you notes…what are they? I could truly rant all day on the pains of poor etiquette in American culture.

But the greatest pain is that we consider poor etiquette acceptable, normal and even admirable. A mockery is made of our humanity as we gradually allow me, myself, and I to be the only thing that matters.

“For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God,” 2 Timothy 3:1-3

Cook One Day for the Month Experiment

As a result of needful mental and physical therapy for one of my daughter’s the start of the year, my school days increased in time by a couple hours. As a result, January dinners consisted of late meals, rotisserie chickens, occasional food delivery and semi-toxic packaged foods. It was expensive, unhealthy, and untimely, and I knew something had to change in the progressing months ahead.

Years ago, my mother got into once-a-month-cooking. We bought all our groceries, except produce and milk, for the entire month and planned a rough menu for the month. I remember helping my mom cook and freeze all that food. The idea of having all the meals prepped for each day sounded lovely….just pop it in the oven and bake. So, I began planning for the first round in February.

Honestly, I am still undecided on whether once a month cooking is going to be a long term effort or not. I just cooked up our monthly meals for March and so as I am heading into our second month of prepped food, I jotted down some thoughts on the subject so far.

Health: Stepping away from quick, store-bought meals is certainly a step in the healthy direction. As I prep the monthly menu, I am also able to incorporate a better balance and plan meals that use whole, real foods and pair easily with any veggies I have on the side. I can also prep meals to freeze that do no contain sugar or unhealthy carbs. So, I do feel there is an aspect about freezer cooking that gets the healthy planning and prep done and ready to go.

Quality: A drawback of freezer cooking is the loss of fresh. I can still roast a side of broccoli to go with the lemon pepper chicken or toss a salad to go with the Alfredo, so it isn’t that we do not eat anything fresh. However all the main dishes which are protein based are frozen. And there is no getting around the fact that once anything has been frozen its quality, flavor and nutrients do go down. So, I am mindful that there is a loss in the quality of the food I cook from the freezer.

On the flip-side, I do a lot of meat marinating. It was so successful last month, I doubled the marinades. Meat that has been marinated for a day is incredible, and the marinade helps break down the toughness of the meat. I rarely think long enough ahead to thaw chicken, marinate it, and then cooking it up. But, marinating fresh chicken and freezing it gets all that work done and the meat is ready to grill, fry, or bake. We noticed the long term marination in the freezer turns out excellent meat once cooked up.

Time: An absolute time saver, but not without a transition in how the time is spent. After cooking all the food for a month, my weekly grocery trip is cut down to grabbing a few gallons of milk and some produce. So, my shop time is definably less than if I went out weekly.

What takes the most time is planning the menu, I look at store sales the first of the month, figure what recipes I will make, then add needed items to my grocery list. I print out a list of all the recipes and ingredients I have purchased for a quick daily reference. The grocery shopping trip is a good morning too as I hop from store to store to gather the ingredients needed.

The longest day is the cooking day. Last month it took me an entire day to make all the food, but I did include lasagna and sweet and sour chicken on that month’s list which is a huge money and time bomb. This month, I was able to get all the prep done by noon. So, the type of meal I choose seems to make a big difference in the prep and cook time.

Expense: Here is where I am loosing. Since I only purchase meats on sale, I would buy chicken breasts at .99lb instead of 1.39. When I cook one time for the month, I must use the sales that are going the week leading up to my cook day. After that, I must ignore all other sales for the month because I simply have no money left in our grocery budget. So, either I restrict my menu to whatever is on sale, or I buy items that are not on sale to make the recipes I want. In order to make this work for me, I have been doing a little of both. So, the toll on the grocery budget is showing.

Stress: I must say, the trying to figure out what to cook and then making dinner late in the evening after a long day is stressful. It doesn’t help that the children tend to hang around and groan of their hungry tummies in the process. However, menu planning, grocery shopping, and cooking for a month is also a bit of a stress. The first weekend I attempted this monthly cooking experiment was very stress riddled, but I had a lot of unknowns going into it. The second time around was a huge improvement. So, I think long run, having a day set aside to cook is far easier on a busy momma than cramming dinner making into the end of a long day.

I did notice however, that our family did not eat all of the meals I prepped for last month, so some of those meals I am rolling over into this month. So, in a few more months, I may not notice the injury to the grocery budget as I continue to roll over meals.

Hospitality: I love having ready meals in the freezer! It makes me feel free to invite folks over without wondering what to make for them. We have plenty of options ready to go. I also can take a meal over to anyone in need at any time. It is set and ready for me to bake for them or for them to pop in their own oven. Having meals in the freezer is a huge asset to any home-maker, much more if there is a whole month of food in in the freezer.

Will I continue monthly cooking? For a while, yes. I am curious how our grocery budget will accommodate this new method of cooking, so if I find it unaffordable, I may alter my menu planning. But for now, it is a profitable experiment.

Becoming Blind, In Order to See

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I was ten. We were pulling away from our church parking lot. My mother was in tears. She was in a hard moment in her life. I remember her tearful frustration that there was no help offered by church friends. “Is it because we appear to be doing well?” She asked, not wanting an answer. The fact was clear to me that Mom was not doing well. But that was not the kind of well she meant.

My dad was a computer engineer in the 80’s. We were doing well compared to most folks in our small county church who’s income was probably half of my Dad’s.

Our home was a godly home. Back then, we might have been considered to be ultra-conservative sense we didn’t own a television and we home-schooled. We were about the only ones in our church holding to such standards and our family appeared to be a very godly one.

My mother was in-particular a very godly women, rising early and spending hours in prayer and Bible study before the household stirred. We were taught Scriptures, learned how to pray, were faithful to church and in the ministries of the church. Most folks at church probably were not that disciplined. So, spiritually, we were doing well if compared.

My parent’s marriage was in tact and they were both proactive at keeping it that way. Our home was whole. Again, compared to most folk at our small church, that was doing pretty good.

We were all healthy kids. There were no birth problems. We ate healthy. We spent hours playing outside. My parents were also very fit and healthy. For many of our church family, that was not the case due to poor eating, age, and other conditions.

So by all physical standards, were doing well. And because our circumstances looked good to others, why would anyone need to ask my mother how she was doing? Of course she was fine.

Sadly, our family’s success blinded our church family to the fact that we might have needs. My parents left that church when I was about 12. Although we attended a church until all the children in the family had graduated from college. My parents never latched on to church again.

Today, I wonder if part of the cause of my parent’s lack of finding a church family might be traced back to their years of lack of connection to a body of believers who saw their circumstances and not their souls.

Time has taught me that NO ONE is OK. We all have hurts, struggles, hard days. We all need to be inspired and encouraged to grow in our faith. We all need the prayers of others.

Questions for pondering:

Ministry is stifled so often by seeing the physical and not soul of a person.

How many needs are missed? How many souls are lost? How many people are in bondage to repetitive sins in their lives because they simply do not have another soul in their life who cares?

Am I not guilty of seeing the circumastances of a person before their soul?

How often a person’s circumstance blinds me from seeing the cries of her heart?

Do I fail to build connections with certain believers because they intimidate me?

Or because I think we have nothing in common?

Do I tend to travel circles with those I am most comfortable being with?

Do I attempt to connect with people who are very different from myself in age, status, politics, health, culture, or depth of faith?

As I ponder, my heart aches as I think of my Father. He may be yet a lot soul. I have no certainty of his salvation at this point. Would things be different in his soul if he had not been seen as “having it together” in his earlier days? I am left to wonder.

Those in need are not just the obviously destitute. We truly must blind ourselves to the physical circumstances and appearances of others in order to hear them, care about them, and minister to the needs of their souls. It isn’t a natural occurrence either, but must be purposed.

When I started my home with my husband, the Lord put it into my heart to minister without blindness to the souls whatever soul the Lord put on my heart. All are broken. That is how my Savior sees them. So that is how I must see them as well.

I have given aid to dear folks on the street to the happy families of means and found the more invested I became in those lives, the more similar they all were. Putting blinders on to the physical has allowed me to see that all souls are full of needs, sins, and troubles.

One does not have to be well versed in Scripture, wealthy, or qualified in any way to reach out in kindness to someone. I do not have to be a pastor’s wife to send a note of encouragement and some cookies to a pastor’s wife. I do not have to be wealthy to take a meal to a family who could easily afford to order in. I do no have to be a working mom, or even smart, to ask a businesswoman in our church how her week is going. I do not have to have a happy home to bless a family with flowers for their new baby. I do not have to be perfectly well, or even young to reach out with regular conversations to encourage a newly married young woman.

How many neglected heart’s are out there, untouched because we cannot see past a person’s good circumstances and into the soul. We truly blind ourselves to circumstances and look deeper into each dear soul with whom we are connected.

How to Make a Meal Bowl

I make a warm bowl of veggies and protein for about 90% of my breakfast or lunch meals. Honestly, each bowl is different and yet, every one I have made is delicious!

I often eat a hot bowl of food because it is easy for me to add a large quantity and variety of vegetables to my protein. It is also a lot faster to eat a bowl of cooked food than a salad. For a woman on the go lie me, time is important. Besides, if I am going to cook up a protein like eggs or meat, why not throw on veggies and cook them all together?

It occurred to me that there are basic principles I apply each time I make a bowl lunch and that information may be helpful to others who are trying to pack nutrients into their daily eating routine.

Basically, a meal bowl is a form of cooked salad, so if a person can make a salad with ingredients from the fridge, there is little thought in cooking up those ingredients with a few seasonings.

I do not plan what I am going to eat in each bowl I build. I open my fridge and decide what to do in the moment.

1. Choose a protein. It can be leftover cooked chicken or beef, eggs, uncooked meat, fish-raw or cooked, canned meat like tuna or sardines. Protein can also be found in nuts, cheese, peanuts, seeds, beans, or quinoa.

2. Once the protein is decided, pull out veggies that need to be used or will work well with that particular protein. I always keep a huge container of spinach in my fridge. It works with everything and is very nutrient rich. Okra, zucchini, cucumber, and tomatoes are also some of my favorite veggies to keep on hand. I also always keep garlic and onions, celery and carrots. I love peppers, but find they are not as versatile as many of the other vegetables due to their strong flavor. A lot of veggies are used in a bowl. I can pack 2-3 times the veggies in a bowl compared to fresh cut vegetables. For instance 3 handfuls of spinach melts down to half a cup of cooked spinach; a whole onion cooks down to a mild 1/4 cup of flavor. I can eat an entire cubed cucumber if it is sauted, vs. a few pieces chopped on a salad. So cut up entire vegetables for this dish.

3. Pick a fat to cook. The kind of fat should coincide with the flavor profile you feel like creating. For instance, if I am going to make an Asian bowl, I would choose sesame oil. For Italian or Greek…a strong olive oil would be appropriate. For beginners…a couple tablespoons of butter is easiest to blend and butter simply makes everything taste good!

4. The final step is to choose the seasonings. Garlic always ends up in my bowls, either in its fresh chopped state or dried and powdered. Again, choose seasonings that will create the flavor profile you are craving. For again, ginger, soy sauce, and garlic are great. For Mexican, cumin and red pepper with a bit of oregano work well. For an Italian flair use oregano, basil, parsley, and thyme with lots of garlic. For starters, garlic is sufficient. I like to toast fresh garlic in my butter to give it a nice crunch.

5. After the oil is heated cook up the protein if needed. If your protein is pre-cooked it can be tossed in just after the veggies are cooked. Nuts and seeds can be toasted at this point if desired. Once the proteins and nuts are cooked, they can be removed.

6. Cook up the vegetables in the same pan. More oil or butter can be added if it is needed. The vegetables should be cooked one layer at a time, starting with the vegetables that are the most firm like carrots and progressively added to the tenderest vegetables. Leafy vegetables like spinach should be tossed in last and cooked very briefly.

7. Dump the veggies and proteins together in a bowl and either layer them or mix them together. At this point any uncooked ingredients can be added like fresh avocado, fresh tomato, shredded Parmesan, olives, or toasted sesame seeds.

8. Vegetable bowls can also be layered with steamed brown rice or quinoa for a punch of a healthy grain. For breakfast, I will mix up my vegetable bowl and throw a fried egg on top. Easy and nutritious.

9. Don’t forget to add salt. I simply sprinkle it on after the food is cooked and before I plate it.

10. Have fun being creative and enjoy the healthy hot bowls of food you can churn out of your kitchen.

Check out some bowl recipes for inspiration too!

Scrambled Egg and Zuccini Bowl