Ginger Snaps and Coffee

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There have been several times I’ve started to write for the website. Then the muses bombard me with ideas, poems, songs. This isn’t a complaint though. All artists want their muse or muses talking. Mine can be quite stubborn when I don’t listen because I am ornery. Today it seems they will allow me ginger snaps and coffee if I keep writing. I’m good with that.

“A miracle is not defined by an event. A miracle is defined by gratitude.” ~Kate Baestrup

Ginger snaps are good at any time of the year for me. However, fall is my favorite time for ginger snaps. As I bite into a cookie, I remember all the times my sister and I came home from school, grabbed the ginger snaps mom had bought and a glass of milk. We snacked while watching our favorite after school television shows. When Andy Griffin came on, we knew we had to hurry and make sure our chores were done before mama got home.

Our world is flavorful, isn’t it? There are flavors we don’t like for various reasons. Perhaps it’s merely a dislike of the taste or the taste is associated with a bad memory of sickness or hurt. We avoid those (if possible) of course. Then there are those tastes like ginger snaps or molasses cookies that remind us of those we love. Times gone by that were good and safe.

Tastes bring back memories. Molasses cookies were the only soft cookies I liked growing up. They reminded me of the taste of ginger snaps and were another after school snack. However, anything molasses made me think of Grandma and Grandpa Whitley. Molasses were a staple at their house and there was nothing better than pouring that earth brown syrup over fresh hot biscuits.

The molasses were actually considered “grandpa’s” but he always shared with us. Grandpa liked the type of molasses found in the mountains. They were not the jars of blackstrap molasses that one can find in the store. He liked the molasses best that were sweeter and with no bitterness. The viscosity of his molasses was such that it poured like honey and when it was poured, a line of gold shone at the lip of the jar. Just to talk of pouring molasses reminds me of all the times we four of my family sat at grandma and grandpa’s table eating fresh vegetables from their garden or my dad’s. Then, dessert was molasses over biscuits.

The only time we didn’t have molasses and biscuits for dessert was at this time of the year when grandma made persimmon pudding. Though, growing up, we pronounced it as “persimmern pudding”. Seems that we Southerners add syllables unconsciously when we speak. It was only after I had gone to college with many Northerners that I began to hear how our brogue was different from “the yankees”. Returning to work at the fish camp where I had worked in high school one weekend, I laughed to discover that the number four could have two syllables as in “fo-er”.

As the taste of ginger lingers in my mouth, I dream of grandma’s persimmon pudding. Most who have never tasted persimmon pudding turn their noses up because its color is brown like ginger snaps. Grandma’s was a simple pudding made of persimmons, sugar, butter, and eggs. Mama can make one like grandma’s and so can my sister. I’ve made them years ago when I lived closer to farmers who had persimmons.

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A persimmon is a fruit of the South. Maybe they have them elsewhere, but even some of my friends west of the Carolinas had not heard of or tasted persimmon pudding. One of the first things you do for a friend is to let them know not to taste the uncooked/unsweetened persimmon. Without the sugar, they are a bitter fruit that turns the mouth inside out. My second-grade teacher, Mrs. Teeter, taught us this as we took a nature walk one day and she spotted a persimmon tree. I’ve always been thankful that she warned us so that no one would be able to play that cruel joke on us.

Waking up in the dark this morning, the sun rose in my heart filling it with love for all of creation. Some days are simply like that. Then, during meditation, memories of being loved returned flavoring my soul with the sweetness of memory, more love, and the realization that love transforms everything bitter into something sweeter.

We all know that life can be bitter. Yet, there is a sweetness to be found as the sun rises and birds begin to sing. The pink of the sky kisses the mountains and light begins to glow in the darkness. The day will pass with the good and the bad. Then, as night falls, there is rest and starlight and a safe warm bed. Not everyone has a safe warm bed or food to eat. Some awaken blind and deaf to the world around them. Yet, even then, there can be sweetness in life when it is allowed.

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The thing is, is that love is not aggressive. Love works for the well-being of another and if that other says no, or, leave me alone – love listens, hears, and respects the other. In my life, I wanted to give love to the world my heart full of idealism and hope. Then, as is prone in this world, hurts occurred, and dreams were torn apart. The remedy I was told was to love myself. That made no sense. Yet, time and again the message given to me by priest, counselor, doctor, friend was that real love for others could not occur without first loving one’s self.

The love they suggested was not that of narcissism but being as willing to work for my own well-being as I was to work for another’s well-being. This was hard to learn because it also meant being willing to express my thoughts and feelings even if and even when they were different from those I loved. There were fights and disagreements. The lesson is not one to be learned overnight and one born of loving friends and community. Through that lesson, after several decades of struggle, my own eyes were opened to see that I was not alone; that others loved me even with my faults and insecurities.

Being blessed with friends willing to challenge me in the best and worst of times also taught me that working for the well-being of another or of one’s self means taking the

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time to look at mistakes and misconceptions. Now it becomes clearer why it’s so hard for us humans to accept love. Why? Because accepting love changes us, and we humans are too afraid of change expecting it to be bitter and painful.

There is pain in the acceptance of love given to me and love I have accepted in and for myself. There’s no special cruise that love boats us to a better place. We have to unlearn bad habits or let go of unhealthy practices, people, friends, and sometimes family. Sometimes it’s merely looking at those people, friends, family members in a different way and seeing that they are afraid too.

Love changes us. When we can trust in love and that real love leads us to health and well-being, we can allow the sugar of life to mix with the bitter chemistry of pain, loss, and fear and cook up something as delicious as a life well-lived. Of course, the persimmon is a passive fruit being what it is. As humans with will and choice, we can always say no to love. My only question is why?

 

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A Community of Love

On May 5th I was honored to speak at a community of love called High Country United Church of Christ (UCC) in Boone, NC. The pastor, The Rev. Tamara Franks, was out of town and gave me the opportunity to preach last year and again this year. The congregation is one filled with loving people who are talented as well as socially engaged. Needless to say, because they are an open congregation with other gays and lesbians, each time I visit, I feel like I’m visiting homefolk.

“We can find harmful tendencies in ourselves, begin to free ourselves from our conditioned responses, guilt, and grief. Individuals do this; communities do this; religions and nations can do this.”

~Sallie Tisdale, “Lost Stories

High Country UCC, Boone, NC

Home

The topic Rev. Franks, in fact, asked me to address was home. I told her I already had a sermon prepared for when I was to preach at Advent Lutheran in Charlotte but couldn’t due to illness. It excited me to be able to use my work from January and also to adapt it to the conversations they had been having at the church about home and family. Of course, as is often the case when working on such things, the task was much harder than I imagined.

Altar at High Country UCC – May 5, 2019

The church was set up beautifully. They had paintings on a table just inside the front door that reminded people of home. Once inside, someone had set up a table that was beautifully decorated. It made me think of Christmas at my Grandma Poplin’s house although the theme wasn’t that of Christmas. The altar had lovely fresh flowers that are blooming in our area as well as a gorgeous tree photo.

As soon as I walked in, the choir invited me to sing along. Since one of the members was playing guitar, I asked that I might also play with them. They were gracious and said yes. Anytime I’m invited to play or sing along with a group, I feel more at home. Later, as I and two other guitarists stood around the piano to go over the opening hymn, I was suddenly at home even more.

Growing up, especially at Grandma Poplin’s house, we always were singing around the piano. At home, mom was the youth choir director, so my sister and I were always singing with her to go over new pieces. Or, sometimes we were singing a trio around the piano with me playing the guitar. Music is my home in a way that place is not.

Though that being said, the drive to and from the church was so glorious, I also know that I belong here. I belong to the forest, fields, and the mountains of the Appalachians. Even as a child, when we visited the mountains, I always told my family I wanted to live here. Now that I do, I never want to leave. My home on Beech Mountain is especially peaceful and quiet.

This blog about yesterday’s experience changed even as I write. Anytime we talk about home or family, those topics are hard for most everyone because they are so layered. Not only are the topics layered with challenges, but they are also deeply layered with meaning.

A Community of Love

One of the things I had hoped to do in my sermon (or presentation really) was to talk to the people about what it means to live as a beloved person. Basing my talk on Henri Nouwen’s book, Life of the Beloved, made it seem like it was going to be easy to preach the sermon to such a loving community.

Instead, working on a sermon that talked about being a beloved person of G-d as well as how that related to home and family at first caused me to feel vulnerable and exposed. As a lesbian, family is hard because they believe so differently than me. Also, their idea of home is in the Piedmont and most of my family never moves far from that area.

I wish I could say here at the end of the blog that I have some answers for you or words of wisdom. Instead, I find my own sermon topic preaching to me. Reminding me of my chosenness where G-d shows great love to me through the communities of love I have found in this area. Both High Country UCC and Holy Cross Episcopal feel like home in ways unimaginable.

Blessings abound in my community here on Beech Mountain. In addition to discovering wonderful faith communities nearby, my yoga class is a loving community in a different way. I know the people at Fred’s and their faces are a comfort when I can’t get down the mountain. The trees, birds, deer, and many beautiful paths are loving community and friends in a different way.

When I moved here, I was going through the brokenness of divorce. That is something that many of us face in this broken world. Yet, great healing has been given to me through this loving community. I don’t see them as separate communities although they rarely overlap. Why? Because these wonderful people have become my family and home. That doesn’t mean I don’t love my biological family or homeplace, only that in my broken-hearted move, these people were there for me in ways they never knew. All they did was to be themselves.

By being themselves, these loving communities of people gave healing balm to me. When we learn to embrace our own natures and broken places, we can find ways to live toward wholeness. As we live towards a life that is in tune with who we were created to be, in addition to giving us healing, it also frees us to give to others who need to know that even though they are broken, they too are chosen and blessed.

“When we begin to believe that there is greater joy in working with and for others, rather than just for ourselves, then our society will truly become a place of celebration.” 

~Jean Vanier

Yesterday, I ended my sermon with a direct quote from Nouwen’s book. I want to share that with you now. Share your lives with others. It’s what is needed in this hurting broken world. Love is working for the well-being of another even if it means leaving those who don’t get you alone. We can’t change the other, we can only change ourselves. What does it mean to be YOU in this world? What is ‘home’ to you? Find your place in the world by BEING you.

“Speak from that place in your heart where you are most yourself. Speak directly, simply, lovingly, gently, and without any apologies. Tell us what you see and want us to see; tell us what you hear and want us to hear….Trust your own heart. The worlds will come. There is nothing to fear. Those who need you most will help you most. You can be sure that I will.”[i]

Be a community of love wherever you are.

 

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Notes from May 5th Sermon:

Living as Beloved – Sermon at High Country UCC
May 5, 2019 Based upon Henri Nouwen’s book, Life of the Beloved.
Scripture John 21:1-19

Intro:  family and friendship “…is giving to each other the gift of belovedness.”[ii]

  1. Chosen – self-rejection is the darkness of feeling unwelcome anywhere[iii]
    1. “The eyes of love have seen you as precious, as of infinite beauty, as of eternal value. When love chooses, it chooses with a perfect sensitivity for the unique beauty of the chosen one, and it chooses without making anyone feel excluded….To be chosen does not mean others are rejected.”[iv]
      1. “Every time you feel hurt, offended, or rejected, you have to dare to say to yourself: ‘These feelings, strong as they may be, are not telling me the truth about myself. The truth, even though I cannot feel it right now, is that I am the choses child of God, precious in God’s eyes, called the Beloved from all eternity and held safe in an everlasting embrace.”
      2. “Secondly, keep looking for people and places where your truth is spoken and where you are reminded of your deepest identity as the chosen one.”[v]
    2. Blessed – “Count your blessings name them one by one”
      1. “It is not enough to be chosen. We also need an ongoing blessing that allows us to hear in an ever-new way that we belong to a loving God who will never leave us alone, but will remind us always that we are guided by love on every step of our lives.”[vi]
  • Broken
  1. Given and how do you give as a beloved?

 

[i] Henri Nouwen’s book, Life of the Beloved, pg. 20

[ii] Life of the Beloved pg. 26

[iii] Ibid. pg.  28

[iv] Ibid, pg. 45

[v] Ibid, pg. 49-50

[vi] Ibid. pg. 59

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