Archive for ‘gratitude’

2013/07/09

Grace

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The favored coconut cake

I cook and bake as often as I can, though not as often as I would like. The thought of having time to leisurely shop at the grocery store for a list of delicious ingredients, only to come home and use those ingredients in a recipe (perhaps from my “Food I want to make and eat” list on Pinterest) sounds to me like luxurious hours well spent. Like other foodies, I don’t really linger on one type of cuisine. I have favorite dishes and restaurants inspired by my international taste buds, a product of getting to travel the world with my parents as a child.

However, during holidays and birthdays, I have come to be somewhat of a cake maker. Some of my favorite cake recipes are in the pages of Giada’s Kitchen and Tessa Kiros’ Apples for Jam. But at the top of the list as voted by friends, family, coworkers and even clergy is absolutely, undeniably my coconut cake.

I once brought two leftover pieces to my church’s music office for our director and associate director of music. I didn’t even have a chance to get the pieces separated on two serving plates. My tasters dug in right there on the paper plate, and one even ate the crumbs off his desk.

Of course, it isn’t my coconut cake. I didn’t develop this recipe of greatness. The recipe is actually in a cookbook by none other than Paula Deen.

Yeah, I know. Paula Deen. I have to say right off that this cake is so good that there is no way that I am boycotting the recipe. It’s actually her son Jamie’s recipe according to the book, not that that makes any difference to me. I’ve been following the story, and this whole Paula Deen thing bothers me. Yes, she is currently being sued for harassment, a case that certainly needs to take it’s course, but the “sin” that has really put her on trial seems to have been almost 30 years old.

I know time may tell a different story, but my point here is not to defend Paula Deen in particular. If we take a look at how people like Bill Clinton and Anthony Weiner have seemingly out lived their own scandals in the public eye, Paula Deen should have a lot of hope for her own career.

Celebrity aside, I’m worried that a situation like this says we are in part, living in a graceless age. Consequences are important, don’t misunderstand me. But when a person cannot be forgiven for something like this that happened in the very distant past, what does that say about our society? Are we inadvertently telling people honesty is not always the best policy? I mean does anyone else feel like we may be witnessing a hefty dose of Pharisaical self-righteousness in all of this?

I used to be a pretty self-righteous person myself. It’s a heavy mantle to wear honestly because when you are self-righteous, you just simply cannot screw up. There’s never a moment where you can let your guard down or appear less than perfect. When you are a Pharisee and you do screw up, you instinctively turn up the heat on someone else’s sins if you feel that you might get burned by your own mistakes.

Thanks be to God, I did make mistakes—major ones—and then other life circumstances turned my world upside down. I was tired of the act, so I took a good look at my Pharisee self. And all of that broke me.

And I’m so glad it did because even now as I type these words, tears well up in my eyes in complete and utter gratitude. That refiner’s fire taught me about grace. Before I didn’t understand anything about it, so of course I couldn’t and wouldn’t extend it. I pray that the Kim of those days is dead and gone though I know I need steady reminders to live out my faith with a grace-covered and grace-offering spirit.

I’m imagining that this Paula Deen story may be scary for some people. Beyond the consequences for poor choices, how many of us live in fear that someday, maybe 10 years, 20 years, or 30 years from now we’ll have to face and confess anew something that was long ago covered in Christ’s blood? Is there fear beyond the comfort of forgiven sins in a world that seems so ready to tear someone down?

As Don Henley helped write in the expertly penned song, “The Heart of the Matter,” 

These times are so uncertain

There’s a yearning undefined

…People filled with rage

We all need a little tenderness

How can love survive in such a graceless age?

I propose it can survive in those of us that understand a little about grace, enough to share it at least. Our forgiven sins and new selves can manifest in grace and show up in the ways we love one another. And when we practice the grace we have experienced, forgiveness and love cease to only be biblical edicts. Grace in practice changes the way we engage with the world around us in the everyday stuff of life.

We show it when we support a friend through a messy divorce; when we give a job to a recovering addict; when we love a pregnant, unmarried teen, and maybe even when we keep making that coconut cake from a star that has fallen from grace in the court of popular opinion.

Dear God, help us to combat the graceless age we live in through the power of your spirit. Help us recognize our own weakness and desperate need for grace and by that recognition extend it to those around us. Amen.

The Heart of the Matter © EMI Music Publishing, Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.

2012/12/23

Heroes nearby

A gift for a child

Early this month I spent the second year in a row in Memphis during the St. Jude Marathon. A town known for music, soul food, and the death of Civil Rights leader, Martin Luther King, Jr., Memphis is also a place where many families have found the only hope for their children at a hospital that offers cutting edge treatments at no cost.

Visible Music College had music stages set all along the race course to help keep the runners motivated, and I was helping my friend George check in on the musicians including students and Vincent Creative Group’s Americana duo Yancy & Yancy. One of the venues was a fire station parking lot that faced part of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. A high fence lined the hospital lawn, green from the still warm southern temps.

As we watched the runners in one of the last miles of the race, we saw that a father and two small children had come out and were peering through the bars at some of the heroes passing by. One of the firemen crossed over to them slipping two red plastic fireman’s hats to the kids from the other side of the fence. The smallest child was a little girl donning a mask and a pretty headband across her head, bare from the treatments that were helping to lengthen her life. She proudly placed the red hat on her head and continued to watch the hero runners, many who not only paid the fee for the race, but had also raised extra money to help kids just like her.

It was a poignant picture, and I thought as the fireman crossed back over to his station how there are heroes all around us. We have family members in the armed forces, friends who are policemen, brothers and sisters who are round-the clock nurses and doctors, and we know teachers who protect children even at their own peril like we saw in Sandy Hook just a few days ago.

Many of us will be with our personal heroes as we reunite with families and best friends over the holidays. Some of us will go “home” to see pastors and spiritual mentors. Others of us will be volunteers along side other heroes to feed the homeless, give shelter to the weary and cold, or to deliver packages to children with out-of-work parents. And less than two weeks ago, I got to meet medical heroes that saved George’s life when he had emergency double bypass surgery.

Truth is, in the midst of a chaotic and troubled world, there are heroes nearby.

As 2012 winds down, we are presented with the perfect opportunity to say thank you to our heroes. If you’ve lost a hero this year, write a prayer, print and frame a special photograph, or gather with people to tell the best stories of that person’s life and record the conversation as a memorial that can be shared with generations to come.

Conversely, take some time to appreciate, to love on, or to serve your living heroes. I’m on my way to see my Pap who is one of my heroes. I often joke with my daughter that they don’t make men like him anymore, but I hope you know someone like him. Devoted father, husband, former volunteer fire chief, prayer warrior, steel mill and railroad worker, retired yet full-time caregiver to my Nan—he is a humble leader with a very healthy sense of humor, a person who leans on his Bible more than his abilities (though he has plenty of them), and one of the most godly men I’ve ever known as evidenced by his every day living.

I plan on telling him how much he means to me. I won’t get anywhere near the mark in expressing fully what a great hero he is to me, but I don’t want to miss the chance I have this year to do so. I promise you sharing your gratitude with your hero will be one of the best gifts they could ever receive this Christmas.