The Essential Ingredient

Perhaps this pizza slice is slightly overcooked?
Photo by Kevin Payravi, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY SA-3.0

Have you ever cooked a dish which turned out to be plainly inedible, or even downright dangerous to consume?

It can happen to the best of us, as these examples prove:

A grandmother with failing eyesight accidentally grabbed a bottle of ammonia instead of vinegar when making potato salad for her family. They started gagging at the mere smell of it, which fortunately prevented anyone from eating it!

An 18-year-old living on his own for the first time wanted to make fried rice. He poured some oil into a very hot pan, then dumped in a bunch of uncooked rice. Needless to say, the burned mess had to be thrown out.

Another young person forgot to add water when cooking packaged ramen noodles. I guess cooking isn’t for everyone!

Did you know that a cooking fail even happened in the Bible?

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A Gardener’s Worst Enemy

Garlic Mustard
Photo by Simone VomFeld on Pixabay

Gardeners may not realize it, but they’re a bit like soldiers in wartime. Their enemies aren’t people, of course, but an even more insidious foe:

Weeds.

Weeds infiltrate our gardens like enemy invaders: dandelions, nettles, thistles, couch grass and garlic mustard, to name a few. They may seem innocent enough when there are only a few of them, but make no mistake: their ultimate aim is to take over and occupy your territory.

One vanguard weed may sneak in and settle, and you think nothing of it. If you’re not vigilant, though, that lone plant will soon multiply into an overwhelming host.

Or you pull up a dandelion and think that’s the end of it, but unless you’ve been very thorough, part of the taproot remains deep in the soil. The weed will come up again long after you thought you’ve eradicated it.

The seeds of weeds may stay in the soil of your garden and remain viable for years. They lie in wait like sleeper agents, waiting patiently for the right opportunity to spring up and attack.

The mission of weeds is simple but deadly: to compete with other plants for light, water and nutrients and crowd them out so they die. They’re dastardly adversaries, often needing less sunlight and water than other plants to survive.

And the worst part of it is that they’re very hard to kill.

Weeds are sort of like sin, aren’t they?

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The God of Second Chances

Hands holding seedling
Photo by Pikrepo

It’s an awesome feeling to realize that you’ve got a second chance, isn’t it?

A friend of mine discovered this after moving into a house with a large garden this summer. A beginner gardener, she was delighted to finally have enough space for an extensive vegetable garden. She immediately planted some tomato and cucumber seedlings, which grew vigorously and are now producing ripe veggies.

Because she’d moved in mid-summer, however, she lamented that she’d missed the chance to start growing vegetables like beets, spinach, peas, and carrots from seed in spring. She knew that cool-weather-loving veggies like peas wouldn’t thrive in the summer heat. She figured that if you didn’t plant those seeds in the spring, you’d missed your chance for the whole year.

But the garden, like God, often gives us second chances.

I told my friend that she could actually plant those seeds now for a fall harvest. There was still time to grow a second crop before the frosts of November hit. She hadn’t missed out after all: she could still grow the cool-weather veggies she’d hoped for.

What a wonderful metaphor for how God deals with us!

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God Won’t Waste Your Pain

Quilting Bee circa 1910, New Jersey
Photo by Richard on Flickr CC BY-2.0

Did you grow up in a family that hated wasting things? So did I.

Instead of throwing out old scraps of fabric, my paternal great-grandmother would twist the lengths and sew the resulting cords together into a rag rug. Nothing was wasted.

It was the same on my mother’s side of the family. Material from clothes that were no longer of use would be cut up and sewn into quilts. My Mom recalls sitting underneath the quilting frame as a child when her mother and other female relatives worked together at a quilting bee (Mom thought she was “helping” push the needle back up to the top surface). Even as a little girl, my mother learned an early lesson in letting nothing go to waste.

I must have inherited that trait.

I love recipes that not only produce a yummy result, but that are efficient. By that I mean that you’re not left with partly used cans of an ingredient that will languish in the fridge and eventually have to be thrown out.

I prefer a recipe that uses up the whole can of an ingredient, or, if it calls for 3 egg yolks for the batter, it also calls for 3 egg whites for the filling or a meringue (see cheesecake recipe below). Nothing is wasted. No leftover egg whites that you have to store until you think of another recipe that can use them up.

Likewise, I think God is efficient in how He manages our lives. He won’t waste anything we go through: it all has a purpose, even the negative parts.

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Golden at the Broken Places

Bowl repaired by Kintsugi method by artist Ruthann Hurwitz
Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA-4.0

We all shudder at the sound of something breaking, don’t we? We can’t help but wince when we hear glass or crockery shattering into pieces on the floor.

Why do we have that involuntary reaction? Because we know that the object probably can’t be repaired: it’s likely to be damaged irreparably, and must be thrown away.

We’re wincing at the sound of loss.

But what if there were a way to not only put the pieces back together, but to make the object more beautiful than it was before, despite the breaks?

The Japanese long ago invented a way of doing just that, and have even made an art form of it. It’s called “Kintsugi,” which means “golden joinery.” The process involves mending the cracks in pottery with gold lacquer. Instead of trying to hide the damaged areas, they are instead highlighted with something precious. The end result is a restored piece of pottery that is beautiful at the broken places.

But what happens if it’s not a piece of pottery that is broken, but a life? How can a shattered heart be put back together?

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Give It Time

Handkerchief Tree photo from Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0

Do you get the feeling that society is becoming too impatient?

We seem to expect instant results these days: immediate responses to our texts or emails, same-day delivery for things we order, instantaneous loading of videos or web pages. In fact, a study showed that a YouTube video that loads slowly will start losing viewers after two seconds.

The problem is that sometimes our impatience with technology gets applied to people, too. We expect people to change quickly, and if they don’t, we lose patience with them and give up on them.

This reminds me of the tale of the handkerchief tree.

Called the dove tree in its native China, it became known to Western visitors in the late 1800s, who were entranced by it. The handkerchief tree features stunning white bracts surrounding its flowers, which resemble doves, ghosts or fluttering handkerchiefs, hence its name in the West.

European botanists in China collected the seeds and brought them back home, keen to grow such a gorgeous tree. One gardener planted the seeds, but was disappointed to find after a year that they hadn’t sprouted into seedlings. Figuring that the seeds must be no good, he discarded them by dumping them onto his compost pile, then forgot about them.

To his surprise, two years later he saw a bunch of seedlings on the compost pile. They were from the handkerchief tree. They had sprouted after all!

What he didn’t know was that seeds of the handkerchief tree have what’s called a “double dormancy”: they require two years to germinate, unlike most seeds which will sprout within the first year.

He had written them off too soon.

Don’t we do the same with people sometimes?

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Got Baggage? Jesus Understands

Image by Scott O’Donnell on Flickr CC BY-2.0

Do you ever feel like you have too much “baggage” to ever be accepted by people, let alone by God?

Do you need a sense of hope that you could be loved despite the burdens you’re carrying from your background? Then read on…

A few weeks ago, we explored the moving account of Ruth and Boaz in the Old Testament. It’s a favourite of many people, because it’s one of the few outright love stories in the Bible. But we sometimes get so caught up in the romance of the story that we miss how startling their pairing actually was.

Boaz was a wealthy landowner living in ancient Israel. He was successful and respected, a descendent of Abraham himself. One would have expected him to marry a woman of his own people, someone from an equally illustrious family.

But Boaz ended up marrying Ruth, a woman with three strikes against her: she was poor, a widow and a foreigner. She had nothing and was a nobody in the eyes of the Israelites. In fact, she was worse than that: she was a Moabite, a group hated by the Israelites. No doubt Ruth was looked down on by many in the community.

So why would Boaz agree to marry her? We know that Boaz respected Ruth for how she’d cared for her mother-in-law. And certainly, God’s hand was on their meeting and their union. But why was Boaz so accepting of the idea of marrying someone like Ruth? Why was he not put off by her “baggage”?

I believe an answer lies in Boaz’ background. Turns out he had some baggage of his own.

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When Bad Cakes Happen to Good People

Cake Explosion Photo by Raffi Asdourian on Flickr CC BY-2.0

Sometimes, despite your best efforts, recipes don’t turn out the way they’re supposed to.

Your soufflé turns into a pancake; your cookies are as hard as hockey pucks; or your cake is a soggy mess. Any way you slice it (if it’s even possible to slice it), the recipe results in a total disaster.

Sometimes it’s due to a mistake on your part. You accidentally added twice the amount of an ingredient called for (guilty!); you used Shake ’n’ Bake instead of graham cracker crumbs for the dessert base; or you put the pizza in the oven for 450 minutes at 15 degrees, instead of 15 minutes at 450 degrees.

Or maybe the fault lies with someone else. The recipe’s author might have led you astray by inadvertently calling for 1/2 pound of flour instead of 1/2 cup’s worth. You only discover later that the recipe contained errors when you see a correction printed in the next day’s newspaper or blog post. But by then, of course, it’s too late: your family is using the rock-hard muffins you made as door-stops.

Often, you didn’t see a recipe fail coming at all. You followed the instructions to the letter, but it still didn’t work out. The ingredients may not have behaved as you expected due to humidity, altitude, or their age. Your oven may be hotter or colder than you realized, or your flour is harder than the type tested in the recipe. It wasn’t your fault, but just the nature of baking.

As Marian Keyes puts it in her cookbook, “Saved by Cake,” sometimes bad cakes happen to good people.

It’s the same in our lives, isn’t it? Sometimes things go wrong even when we’ve tried to do everything right. Our lives don’t turn out the way we expected.

But there’s good news for the believer in God: He can redeem any mistake and turn things around for your good and His glory.

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Break Your Four-Minute Mile

Last October in Vienna, Kenyan Olympic champion Eluid Kipchoge made history. He became the first person to run a marathon in under two hours, a feat that had long seemed impossible.

After running the 26.2 mile course in one hour, 59 minutes and 40 seconds, Kipchoge drew comparisons to Sir Roger Bannister. Bannister was the Briton who in 1954 became the first person to run one mile in under four minutes, an achievement also once thought to be unattainable.

Kipchoge said something very significant after his race: “I expect more people all over the world to run under two hours after today.”

Why did he say that? Because Kipchoge knew that a funny thing had happened after Bannister’s victory: other people began breaking the four-minute mile as well. They suddenly saw that it was possible, and were inspired to believe that if Bannister could do it, so could they. The barrier he broke for people was just as much a mental one as a physical one.

Do you have a “four-minute mile” in your life? Are there things you would like to achieve, but you feel they’re impossible?

Take courage, because God specializes in breaking barriers!

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God Sees You in Infrared

Bee on cosmos flower
Photo by Veronica H. on Pixabay

Did you know that some birds and bees can see things that are completely invisible to us? They’re able to see in infrared, just beyond the wavelengths of the visible light spectrum that human eyes can detect.

What looks to us like a regular pink flower might resemble a helicopter landing pad to a bee. Where we see only the uniform expanse of one colour, the bee may see a target-shaped design of several differently coloured concentric circles. The bee’s infrared vision allows it to home in on the most nectar-rich part of the flower.

The world looks completely different when you can see in infrared.

I sometimes think that God sees us in “infrared.” He can see things in us that are invisible to others, and even to ourselves.

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