Friday, January 29, 2010


When I was sixteen or seventeen, I got really, really thin.

My grandpa had suffered an aneurysm of his aorta, which was very serious indeed. Every day after work, my dad went to the hospital to visit his dad. The rhythm of life changed, and I was able to get by without eating. People were distracted. I did not feel neglected; that wasn't the problem. I just wanted to skip meals, or eat very little at meals, and I capitalized on my opportunity to do this without being noticed.

I ate breakfast... Grapenuts, I believe. I also ate a small sandwich and a piece of fruit for lunch. I learned how to stretch a few bites of dinner into twenty minutes of sitting at the table manipulating my fork. I never touched food after 6 p.m.

I skipped meals when I could, but I learned to eat when I was with people, so they would not hassle me about eating. When I was with people, I made sure always to have a piece of food in my hand. I became extremely skilled at carrying around food and not putting it into my mouth, but I associated with food when I was with people, and stayed completely away from it when I was alone. To this day, I have trouble eating when I am by myself, because it became so automatic for me to make the most of my solitude by fasting.

The pounds melted away until I became a little afraid to weigh myself without clothes on. I remember the feather-light feeling in my arms. I loved having my clothes be too big and the floaty way I felt when I moved.

When I was a junior (I think; maybe it was my senior year, but I think it was when I was a junior) I took a class period to be an aide to my French teacher, Madame Klohs. I do not clearly remember how this came about or whose idea it was. I don't think it was my idea, because I don't know how I would have thought of such a thing. I was supposed to help out with grading tests and papers, putting together visual aides, that sort of thing. In reality, she gave me very little to do. In retrospect, I wonder if she didn't orchestrate the whole arrangement because she thought I was overstressed and needed a break? I was a straight A student, and I was bent under the strain of it, very serious, very worried, very uptight. She may have thought this was related to how thin I had gotten.

I would sit in the area where the teachers had their desks, grade a few papers, and then I could use the time to do whatever I wanted. Usually I read. Sometimes I did homework, but usually I just read novels and relaxed. It was quiet, and I was alone except for the teachers who happened through and said a few kind words to me.

There was an English teacher; I wish I could remember his name. I think it started with an N. I never had him for a class, but I always wished I could have. He didn't teach the AP classes that I took, but you could hear his classes having discussions, and it always sounded incredibly interesting. In those days, "open" was the buzzword for school design, so there were no doors on the classrooms. I can remember sitting in an AP class with "Moby Dick" or "The Scarlet Letter" or something else equally dry open on the desk in front of me, hearing heated debates from Mr. N's classroom across the hall, wishing I were over there.

Mr. N had a prep period while I was supposed to be working for Mme Klohs. He often stopped over to chat with me, which I loved, not ever having had the benefit of engaging in a conversation in his classroom. He was Greek. One day he brought me a piece of baklava. I didn't really want it; I never ate between meals. But he was so pleased with himself that I obediently chewed and swallowed. It was pleasant, but I would not say that I loved it.

After that, every time I was in the teachers' office area, Mr. N brought me a piece of baklava. Every day. I remember vaguely worrying that it would make me fat, but I couldn't figure out how to avoid eating it. Usually he would sit and watch to make sure I ate it, and I was too polite to refuse. After awhile, it grew on me, and I started to look forward to my baklava. In retrospect, I wonder if he was purposefully trying to fatten me up a little bit?

I don't remember the last piece I ate, but I do remember missing baklava when those days were over. Now and then I'd get a craving for it, but in Minnesota, you can't just go down to the grocery store and find some baklava on a shelf; at least, in those days you couldn't.

This past Christmas, I bought a tray of baklava at Sam's Club. It wasn't as good as the homemade kind that Mr. N used to give me, but it was tasty. Shawn loved it. As we drew near the end of the tray, I purposed in my heart to learn how to make baklava.

A couple of weeks ago, I researched baklava on the internet, picked out some recipes, collected hints and tips, and ultimately made a batch based on a recipe I compiled from what sounded best about the different recipes I had found.

Not to brag... but it was amazing. Amazing. Delicious. Incredible.

I just made it again yesterday, and I have to share, so here goes:


(You can click on these pictures for a bigger, better view.)


1 (16 oz.) package phyllo dough (thawed in advance)
1 pound chopped nuts (walnuts are really good--some say to use a mixture of walnuts, pistachios and almonds)
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. cardamom (if you have it)
1/8 tsp. clove (no more than this! a little clove goes a long way!)
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup butter
1 lemon
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup honey
1 tsp. vanilla


Make the syrup...
Grate the zest off the lemon and place in a medium saucepan.
Juice the lemon and put the juice into a measuring cup. Add enough water to total 1 cup liquid.
Add the lemon water to the zest in the saucepan.
Add 1 cup sugar and the honey.
Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to very low. Add vanilla and simmer for 14 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

Assemble the baklava...
Put nuts, spices and 1/4 cup sugar into food processor. Pulse until nuts are chopped and mixture is kind of evenly mixed (don’t go for perfection or you will get mush).
Generously butter a 9x13 glass pan.
Unwrap phyllo dough and lay on counter. Cut to fit the pan. Cover with plastic... a bread bag cut to open flat is less frustrating than cling wrap. Just saying. You will probably have some sheets that fit and some you will need to piece together to make a layer. Plan so that you can use the full sheets on the top and the bottom. Use the pieced together sheets in the middle.
Melt the butter and put into a spray bottle. Set the spray bottle in a container of hot water to prevent the butter from firming up as you work.
Create a “tent” of plastic wrap over the 9x13 pan. This will contain the mess as you spray the butter. Have a friend hold the plastic wrap for you while you spray, if possible. You can skip this step, but you will have a much bigger mess at the end of your project if you do. The baklava will be fine; your kitchen might not be. I developed this step the second time I made this recipe. I liked it.
Lay two sheets of phyllo in the pan. Spray with butter. Repeat until you have used 6-8 sheets of phyllo.
Continue, but after spraying butter, sprinkle about 1/4 cup of nut mixture over each layer.
Set aside 6-8 sheets of phyllo for the top of the baklava. Make sure you use up all the nut mixture before you get to these sheets. Finish off the baklava by laying in the sheets, 2 at a time, with butter in between, finishing off with the last of the butter over the top layer.
Use a sharp knife and cut into 24 equal squares, but do not cut quite to the bottom of the pan.
Bake at 350 degrees for 45-50 minutes, until golden brown and crisp.
Remove from oven and immediately pour cool syrup over hot baklava. Cool completely. Cut through to bottom of pan. Serve. Smile.

note to self: try with an orange sometime, instead of a lemon.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Big questions

The big question that haunts me is, "Why did God create us, knowing all the pain and bother and mess we were going to cause? Why would anybody do that?"

We know from 1 Peter 1:20 that God chose Jesus to be our redeemer before the creation of the world. That means God knew everything that was going to happen before He even lifted a finger to create the first ray of light. He knew that humans would sin and require redemption. He knew everything. He knew who would be His children; in fact, He chose us before He created the world, according to Ephesians 1:4.

He knew that we would be born, and He knew where we would live and what our names would be, and who would share the gospel message with us. He knew that I would be Ruthie Rainbow from Anoka, Minnesota, and that I would grow up and marry a man named Shawn and move to New York and have four children. He knew on what day all of my children would accept Him as their personal Savior, and He still knows, even though I never bothered to write it down.

It makes perfect sense, when you ponder on His attributes. He is all-knowing, so how could He not know? He is eternal, so the future is not hidden from Him. He is all-mighty, so He is the great orchestrator of all that happens. He is sovereign, so He has everything perfectly within His wise and holy control.

And yet, knowing all this, knowing that we would sin and that to save us from the consequences of our sin would require the excruciatingly painful death of part of Himself, knowing all that, He went ahead and created us.

Some people say it is all about contrasts, about how the diamond of grace shines so much brighter against the backdrop of black velvet sin. I myself have used this illustration, but I have never felt comfortable with it. It seems sort of sado-masochistic, sort of like the guy who was banging his head against a brick wall, and when they asked him why he was doing it, he said, "Because it feels so good when I stop." God isn't like that. I just know He isn't.

I have never bought into the phrase, "Better to have loved and lost than never to have loved." I am all about avoiding pain. I do not think the same is true of God, but neither do I think He would inflict pain merely to enable us to celebrate when it goes away.

On Wednesday, during our small group, I think I finally gained some insight into all this.

We were watching a Colin Smith DVD, and he was teaching about creation and the fall. He alluded to the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and said something like, "They already knew good, the only thing they didn't know was evil, so when God told them not to eat of the tree, He was not keeping them from anything good. They already had everything that was good. God was only protecting from the knowledge of evil."

One of our members was stymied by this. He said, "If they already had the knowledge of good, why were the two bound up together in the tree? Why wasn't it just called the tree of the knowledge of evil?" Which I thought was a very good point. Another member said, "But it was the knowledge of good and evil..." And we did not quite explore this idea, and I wish we had, for I believe we were very much on the right track, and I think this same track leads back to the explanation of "Why" concerning the creation of the entire universe.

I am going to tell you a story now, and I am not really digressing. A few years back, I worked with a volunteer group for our school district. We arranged arts programming for our elementary schools, so that the children would be exposed to plays and concerts and the like, even those children whose parents would never be in a position to take them out to attend a performance. Of course, this sometimes involved busing the children to various venues where performances took place. If everything went off without a hitch, we never heard a word about it. But if a bus was overcrowded, or a group had to walk two blocks through inclement weather, or somebody had trouble finding their bus in the bus-line after the performance, you can believe we got an earful then.

My point is that when everything goes well, it is merely going "as it should." It is only when things go wrong that we notice that it is "bad." (Incidentally, this is a bit of a corollary to the point C.S. Lewis makes in Mere Christianity, about how all bad is merely a perversion of good, and therefore it is obvious that good was the original condition).

This led me to realize that, while Adam and Eve had every good and perfect gift that the Father could possibly give them, they had no knowledge of good, because the knowledge of good only shows up when there is bad contrasted against the good. In other words, they had good, and they experienced good, but they did not know that this is what they were experiencing, because they didn't know about the possibility of anything else (namely, bad).

This, I believe, may be why God created us, knowing full well that we would sin and in so doing require the demonstration of mercy whereby His only Son poured out His very lifeblood for our salvation.

Before God created, everything was good, but it wasn't a known good, it was just a sort of bland, meaningless good, like a comfortable temperature in which one may exist without ever noticing, as opposed to how wonderful it feels to warm up in a soft blanket in front of a fireplace after sledding in the winter, or to cool down in the shade with an iced drink on a hot day.

In a way, creation brought meaning to the goodness of God. God was always good, but in creating the universe, He gave His inherent goodness meaning and purpose, and provided Himself with an opportunity to share His goodness with others, with us, for our benefit and His glory.

Monday, January 11, 2010

here we go...

Lots of things have been happening. DJ got his wisdom teeth out, for one thing. That was a week ago, on Monday.

He was euphoric when he woke up from the surgery. They used some mighty good anesthesia. Everything Shawn said cracked DJ up as he lay on the cushioned bench with his mouth stuffed full of sterile gauze. He laughed around the gauze and gave us the thumbs up and drank a ginger ale, which mostly dribbled out his very numb lips and into the plastic tray they had provided for this very purpose.

About an hour after we got home, he was in so much pain that the skin on his face turned a frightening red and white mottle, which made me question whether he was possibly having an allergic reaction to something. He wasn't. It was just pain.

He healed pretty well, but he had a bad cold (which really should have prevented the surgery, but he needed to get it over and done before he went back to college and saxophone studies). He stopped taking his asthma meds because they were physically hard to take in the condition he was in, but that made his cold terrible.

In the middle of it all, I had to go to North Carolina for a VBS training institute by Lifeway at the Southern Baptist retreat center, Ridgecrest. That almost killed me on many levels besides the fact that I had to leave my recovering son to fend for himself and blenderize his own food. I had to get up at 3:00 a.m. to make the plane that flew there, and at 4:15 a.m. to make the plane that flew back. Also I can't sleep in strange beds, especially without my family around. I arrived home nearly an invalid myself, seriously sleep deprived, and spent some time wrapped up in a blanket on the sofa by the fireplace, snoozing with the dogs and trying to recover.

Tomorrow I have to teach Bible study and I am not ready. So why am I writing here? Because I am so overwhelmed, I am in denial and also making bad choices. Over 50 women have signed up for this study. I can't even think about this. There is so much nuts and bolts stuff to do before a first meeting. My prayer is that God will meet us there and that we will have a precious time together in His Word, even though I am having to spend so much time on logistics and details right now. May Jesus point me to what He wants me to read and explain tomorrow. Soon.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Warm fuzzies?

" 'For I know the pans I have for you.' declares the Lord, 'plans to prosper and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.' " Jeremiah 29:11

This is lots of peoples' favorite verse. I like it too, but I don't think it means exactly what people think it means. Have you ever noticed how, when angels appear to people in the Bible, they always say things like, "Fear not!" and "Don't be afraid!" ? They do this, I expect, because people's instinctive reaction to seeing an angel is abject terror. There is a little bit of this issue implicit in the "plans to prosper and not to harm you" verse, as well.

Why would God need to assure His people that He has definite and specific plans for them, and that they are plans for good and not for bad? Probably because they were in a position where circumstances might tempt them to doubt these things... and, if you look back even just one verse, you begin to see. Jeremiah 29:10 says, "This is what the Lord says: 'When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place.' "

Put those two verses together in order, and you get a slightly different picture from what you get when you read verse 11 by itself. There is something about Babylon and seventy years, followed by a bringing back. This bringing back is God's keeping of a gracious promise that goes along with His plans to prosper and not to harm. So what is the deal with seventy years for Babylon?

If you know your Bible history, you know exactly what I am talking about. Going all the way back to verse 4 gives a clearer clue for those who may not have heard this story before. "This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon." (Jeremiah 29:4)

The children of Israel were going through a tough time, a time of judgment and punishment. It happened because Israel, as a nation, had been very disobedient to the Lord. God's people had forsaken the covenant promises they pledged with God at the time when Moses gave them the Law. They had been unfaithful to the Lord, and now it was time for them to receive His discipline.

Every individual Israelite (actually, we could call them Jews now, because it is the last remaining children, the ones from the kingdom of Judah after the sister kingdom of Israel had fallen to the Assyrians), every remaining Jew was not wicked. But the nation had been unfaithful, and the nation was being punished as a whole. It must have been a very discouraging time for the faithful few who sought to follow the Lord.

In the midst of this sad time, God spoke through Jeremiah and encouraged them. In essence, He was saying, "Don't worry. I have it all under control. You will live in Babylon for seventy years, in captivity. Make the best of it and get on with your lives. Build houses and plant gardens. Marry and have children. Seek the peace and prosperity of the town where you live, and pray for your new neighbors. After seventy years, I will bring you back to your own land. My plan is not to harm you but to prosper you and give you hope and a future, so never give up hoping. It's going to be all right."

So that's what Jeremiah 29:11 means. It means that we need to live lives of trust and obedience, believing that God is for us, and that the hard things we encounter are also part of His plan to do good to us in the end.