Gritty Food

My introduction to grits occurred in the sixth grade.

My family had moved to North Carolina from Virginia. We were oatmeal people (at least my mother was). I never have been able to eat oatmeal without lots of sugar in every spoonful. I was so relieved when I learned you could get oat goodness in Cheerios – much easier to swallow!

My best girlfriend in sixth grade was Sue. Her mother was a grits person. I was taught to be a polite guest, so when Sue’s mother served me grits, I let her give me a generous portion. I watched the rest of the family sprinkle a little salt, add a pat of butter and spoon on a greasy concoction of ham drippings and fresh-brewed coffee. This was red-eye gravy. In the bowl the ham drippings and coffee form a dark red center, while the lighter grease from the ham separates into an outer ring. It makes a sort of bull’s eye; hence the name, red-eye gravy.

“Well, how do you like my grits?” Sue’s mother asked.

Oatmeal was never like this. Oatmeal was thick and rich and gaggy (unless it had lots of sugar). Grits … well, they had a thinner consistency, not much flavor except for the salt, butter and gravy. And they had a gaggy quality all their own. I was not a fan.

“Oh, very nice,” I replied in my best Eddie Haskell impression. “Very tasty.”

“Good. I just knew you would like ‘em,” she beamed as she grabbed the pot and gave me another heaping helping.

Somehow I made it through my first grits encounter. Sue and I remained friends for many years, so you know her mother made a special effort to serve “my favorite” grits every time I stayed there. It pleased her to see me gobble up a plateful.

I continued to eat grits without complaint, never letting anyone except my mother know my true feelings. Now here’s the strange thing. Eventually I grew to love them! I really mean it. I loved grits – so much so that when I was pregnant with my first child and very ill, one of the few foods I could eat — and that would stay with me — was grits! God has His ways.

When my son attended college in Florida, there were students from all over the country and from many different countries. You can imagine their confusion about some of the foods that were available. In the cafeteria line one day a young man pointed at the steam tray full of white-ish, solid, but liquid-y breakfast food.

“What is this food?” he inquired.

“Grits,” my son answered.

“What are grits?” he further inquired.

“Well, it’s ground-up hominy … corn. It’s good. Just put butter and salt on it.”

Anxious to try this Southern delicacy, the young man addressed the cafeteria worker, “I will have a grit, please.”

When my husband and I were stationed in Germany, he worked with people from all over the United States. On holidays and special occasions we tried to host the single soldiers, knowing they would appreciate a home-cooked meal. One of the guys received a country ham from his mother in South Carolina. He asked me if I would fix a meal around it. So I did.

We had country ham, scrambled eggs, homemade biscuits with lots of butter and jelly, grits and red-eye gravy. One young soldier from California was entranced by the fare set before him. He ate everything with gusto.

“I’ve never had anything like this. This is delicious!” he told us. Then he asked, as only a nineteen-year-old with a touch of homesickness would, “I don’t suppose you would have any avocado?”

 

“I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands.
I will be fully satisfied as with the richest of foods; with singing lips my mouth will praise you.” – Psalm 63:4-6 (NIV)

 

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Joshua

He asked for it. He got it.

The family had planned a special outing for the evening, but his behavior and attitude made me rethink his participation. Yes, the teenager again. He couldn’t seem to understand that we didn’t want to spend time with him while he was in that mood.

“Here’s the deal. We are going out to have a good time. You will stay at home. You will read the first four chapters of the book of Joshua while we are gone. And you had better read it. There will be a quiz when I return.”

My children were used to my bizarre attempts at “attitude adjustment.” My daughter had a favorite (only because she is such a neatnik). It was the time I punished her and her other brother for something, can’t remember what, by having them swap and clean each other’s rooms.

My son’s room was a complete nightmare. My daughter took great joy in making it sparkle and shine. It was not a nightmare, but a dream come true for her. She enjoyed every minute of it. Some punishment.

My son had the easy part… up to a point. His sister’s room was neat and orderly, not much to do there. BUT there was also a half-bath in her room. We’re talking toilet cleaning. I guess it evened out.

So the Joshua thing might be OK, too.

To me reading scripture is a delight and a distinct privilege. I try to read the Bible all the way through every year. I don’t always accomplish it, but that’s my annual goal. I like to try new translations, do topical studies, character studies, geographical and historical parallels. You get the picture.

But reading scripture for a punishment? To me it seemed like the best solution at the time. Let his heavenly Father get involved. I was tired of dealing with this crabby kid.

“Mom,” my son protested, “four chapters?”

“That’s right. Have fun.”

I fully expected to return home to a sulky, surly boy that night. What I found, however, was quite surprising.

My son met us at the door, Bible in hand, pages flapping. Overflowing with excitement, he pointed to the written Word of God and gave us an earful.

“Have you read this? This is great! You won’t believe this guy. He was so cool. Look!”

He didn’t stop at Chapter Four. He had read the entire book of Joshua.

We listened intently as he recounted the valor of a man committed to God whose trust was not misplaced. A man who honored God and whom God honored.

Some punishment.

“And all thy children shall be taught of the LORD; and great shall be the peace of thy children.“ – Isaiah 54:13 (KJV)

 

Basketball

With three school-age children, there was always room for money at our house. As a matter of fact, there was plenty of room for it.

My intention was never to “poor mouth.” I didn’t want to complain about our lack of finances. It wasn’t because I was ashamed. It wasn’t because I was in denial. I just didn’t want to tell my children repeatedly, “No, we don’t have the money for that.”

I think that kind of talk breeds not only dissatisfaction, but also a way of thinking that sticks with you through life. I wanted my children to have faith, to know what it means to trust God for everything.

Because I believe that “nothing is impossible with God,” my stock answer became, “Let’s pray about that.”

“Mom, I need special swim trunks to be on the team.”

“Well, let’s pray about that.”

“Mom, look at my shoes. The soles are flapping open.”

“Let’s pray about that.”

“Mom, this store (the discount one) just doesn’t have my style. Can we shop somewhere else?”

“Let’s pray about that.”

One day my son Paul came running into the house. He was so excited he was about to burst.

“Mom, if I can get $16, I can play basketball at the Y! Can I have $16? Please?”

And I replied (that’s right), “Let’s pray about that.”

We prayed, and then he ran outside to play with his friends.

A little while later, he returned.

“Mom, Doug (our neighbor) said that if I rake the leaves in his yard, he’ll pay me $15!”

“Wonderful! That’s an answer to prayer. Now you’ll be able to play basketball. Oh, and I’ll chip in the other buck.”

 

Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding.
Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.
— Proverbs 3:5-6 (NLT)

Justified

Down deep inside I was tangled up.
My thoughts were all confused.
Filled with hate and angry words,
Beaten down, abused.

Fear and shame they covered me
‘Til I could hardly stand.
Then Jesus met me where I was
And took me by the hand.

Darkness tried to take my mind,
And I was givin’ in.
Hope did not exist for me —
Only guilt and sin.

Life was such a struggle.
There seemed to be no way out.
Then Jesus met me where I was,
And I began to shout.

I called on Him to help me
And prayed the sinner’s prayer.
I placed my faith upon Him,
Put myself into His care.

Abundant life is mine at last.
His peace He left with me.
I’m Spirit-filled, aglow with joy
Since Jesus set me free.

Justified, born again.
A new creation just-as-if-I’d never sinned.
Justified, born again.
Sweet Jesus holds me close to him.

“Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.

And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.” — 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 (KJV)

Lead Head

“Class! Class! Take your seats. Everyone be seated, please,” urged Mrs. Robinson, my second grade teacher.

We were reasonably obedient. Within a few minutes we were all at our desks waiting for the next set of instructions. We liked Mrs. Robinson. She was tall and willowy, not a real beauty, but really kind. She hadn’t been teaching long, but she had a teacher’s heart. That went a long way with rowdy seven-year-olds.

“Class, it’s time to sharpen our pencils. Row 1, you may go first,” she told us.

That’s how we did it then — in an orderly fashion. We had to. There were so many of us. We were the original Baby Boomers. Soldiers home from World War II fathered a lot of babies born in 1947. We doubled the number of classes in school, and increased the number of students per class.

Just the year before our only two first grade classrooms and our only two first grade teachers did double duty with two classes each per day — morning and afternoon. There were no teaching assistants then. One teacher was responsible for the whole lot. That’s how I became teacher’s pet.

I remember writing numbers and letters as early as four years old. I would lie on the wooden floor just outside the bathroom where my daddy was shaving. Paper and pencil at the ready, I would ask him how to spell something, then write it as he called out the letters. It was an arduous task, especially when I tried to write over a nail in the floorboard, but I persisted. I felt very grown up. Being the baby of the family I needed all the ego boosts I could get.

But two years later when I met Dick, Jane, Sally, Spot and Puff – well, it was the highlight of my young life. Those letters made words that you could READ. I mastered “to,” “the,” “him,” “her,” and all the little stuff until I finally got to the action words. Oh, yeah! I’m working it now. “Run, Spot, run!” “Jump, Sally, jump!” “Look at Puff! Look, Mother. See Puff.” This was my introduction to a really big world.

Halfway through first grade Mrs. Reboussin recognized that I needed to be her teaching assistant. She took half the class and gave me the other half for flashcards. I was in heaven!!! I got to read BOTH SIDES of the cards!

School agreed with me … if first grade was any indication.

Now I was in second grade and still trying my wings, but I liked it. I liked doing what the teacher asked of us.

“Last Row, you may go to the pencil sharpener now,” Mrs. Robinson instructed.

I walked obediently to the front of the class and waited patiently until it was my turn to find the right size hole, put the pencil in, and begin churning away with the handle. Sharpening pencils was an art form, and I was good at it. I had had years of practice. I did a lot of sharpening for my older siblings, so I knew a thing or two about having the shaved part of the pencil uniform and making the point really pointy without letting it fall out of its wooden socket.

Pencil sharpened to perfection, I made my way back to my seat, placing both hands on the top of my desk, pencil held firmly in my tight little fist, pointing skyward.

“Now, class, it’s rest time. Put your heads on your desks,” Mrs. Robinson said with an air of relief. She would be glad for the peace and quiet.

Not so fast, Mrs. Robinson. The obedient child on the last row obediently lowered her forehead onto the really pointy point of her newly sharpened pencil.

Wow! That didn’t feel right. I pulled back, dislodging the pencil and started dabbing at my forehead with my handkerchief. It was floral, hand-painted by my Great Aunt Vi. Every morning my mother knotted my milk money into one corner of the hanky so I wouldn’t lose it. There were lots and lots of red roses painted on the handkerchief, so I didn’t notice there was blood. Until the little girl next to me got a really scared look on her face.

“You better go to Mrs. Robinson right now!” she screamed.

So I did. Mrs. Robinson was horrified. She sprang into action. The school nurse sprang into action with something that was really sting-y. The principal came in to survey the damage. At the end of the day they sent me home on the school bus – no note, no phone call home. Things were different in 1954.

My mother was not at home that day. I was supposed to stay at my friend Anne’s house until someone from my family came to claim me.

I walked into the plumbing supply office (that was the front part of Anne’s house). Her mother kept the books for the business. I showed her my still oozing wound and explained what happened. There among the appliances on display Anne’s mother had a brief meltdown. Here she was – in charge of somebody else’s idiot kid with a hole in her head. She collected her thoughts, dabbed something on it that was not quite as sting-y, and prayed my family would return soon.

Today if you look closely you will be able to see the blue spot on my forehead — all that remains now of the pointy pencil lead. But beyond that is a soul bent on obedience to the Father and His word. Oh, I don’t always get it right, but I have the heart of a woman who really wants to.

“Well then, since God’s grace has set us free from the law, does that mean we can go on sinning? Of course not! Don’t you realize that you become the slave of whatever you choose to obey? You can be a slave to sin, which leads to death, or you can choose to obey God, which leads to righteous living. Thank God! Once you were slaves of sin, but now you wholeheartedly obey this teaching we have given you.“ – Romans 6:15-17 (NLT)

 

First Argument

“Well, you just go on and do what you need to do. I’m calling my mother.”

It was their first argument, and my daughter did what any young wife would do. She called her mother. It was late at night, and I had settled down for a long winter’s nap when I received her call.

“Oh, Mom, it was terrible. We went to the Christmas party, and everybody was really nice. They loved seeing the baby. Then he disappeared for the whole evening. He talked to everyone in the room except me! It was awful.

“Well, when we got in the car, I let him have it. ‘You had better learn to treat your wife with a little respect,’ I told him. We were stopped at a stoplight, and all of a sudden somebody rear-ended us. That’s when I really let him have it.

“ ’See? That’s what you get for not speaking to your wife all night. Your baby is in the car. She could have been injured. Oh, God is watching you.’ ”

I interrupted her tirade to ask, “Where is he now? What’s he doing?”

“He’s in the bedroom with the door closed … praying.”

“Oh, that’s good,” I reassured her. “God will tell him you were right. Goodnight, honey.”

And that’s what happened. And he asked for forgiveness. And she forgave him. And they got the car fixed. And they lived happily until the next time.

But I didn’t receive any more late night calls about arguments. I guess when they had a disagreement, he just prayed until God told him she was right.

 

“May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.”
— Romans 15:5-7 (NIV)

Second Time Around

“Mom, I have cancer.”

My older son was older now — married with two small children and living in Florida. He was working as a painting contractor — physically fit and very active, soaking up that subtropical sun every day, and making a good living.

“It’s malignant melanoma.” The same cancer that had killed his dad.

Immediately I felt it — the gift of faith. It went klunk-klunk as God dropped it into my heart.

“It’s OK, son. You will get through this. God will make you completely whole. I know it.”
A promise from God. Fait accompli. Done deal.

He came through the surgery just fine, turning to the scriptures for sustenance. The people of God prayed, delivered meals, offered assistance.

In my son’s line of work if you don’t work, you don’t get paid. His boss made sure he never missed a paycheck.

Then came the tests and the waiting:

The first round (wait, wait, wait) looked good; the next round (wait, wait, wait), good.

The next round would display a 1 in 1,000,000 view of the cells. If there was 1 remaining cancer cell in 1,000,000 cells, this test would find it.

“Son, I’ve always known you are one-in-a-million, so don’t worry. I am absolutely confident there is no cancer left.”

That round (wait, wait, wait) looked good, too.

Then came the PET scans — one every year for five years.
Wait. Wait. Wait. Good.
Wait. Wait. Wait. Good.
Wait. Wait. Wait. Good.
Wait. Wait. Wait. Good.
Wait. Wait. Wait. Good.

Wait a minute! Didn’t God say from the beginning of this that He would make my son completely whole? YES!!

Did He do it? YES!!

How secure we are in Him! His promises are sure and true. Thank you, Jesus!

“Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” — Hebrews 11:1
“Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? “ — Matthew 6:27

Happy Birthday!

My son was rubbing and pointing at a spot on his lower leg in the front, in that hollow just between the leg and the foot.

“Mom, look at this thing on my leg. What is that?”

“I don’t know. Does it hurt?”

“Yeah, a little, but not really. You know?”

“It looks like a wart, but if it hurts, we should have it looked at.”

We watched it for several weeks, and it got bigger.

I asked a retired doctor at my church to have a look at it.

His advice was, “Yes, that probably needs to come off. A dermatologist could take care of that. No, I think I’ll send you to a surgeon … just to be safe.”

We went through all the appointments and rigamarole required. The surgeon removed the spot. He thought it was probably scar tissue from a mosquito bite, but he sent it to pathology … just to be safe.

A few weeks later we received a call from the doctor to come in for the test results. My son was working downtown, so he said he would just drop by the office. I didn’t need to come.

When he came in from work that day, I asked him how the appointment went.

“Great! He said I have cancer, and I need an operation to cut out a larger portion to make sure they get it all.”

“Cancer?” I gulped.

“Yeah,” he answered. “Look, Mom. Here’s the way I see it. If they don’t get it all, I’ll die and go to be with Jesus. And if they do get it all, I’ll keep living right here on earth with Jesus. Now what’s for dinner?”

Well, he had a point. He was so sure in his beliefs, so certain of the God he served. He didn’t doubt for a minute that his Father had everything completely under control.

We scheduled the surgery and took him in to have a larger excision and skin grafts to close what would be a rather large wound … on his 19th birthday.

My son was a studious kid, a scholar, a deep thinker. He stayed at home to work after high school graduation. He wanted to take a year off to decide what direction to take. While his peers were entering college that fall, he was having cancer surgery.

It had been a difficult diagnosis. The surgeon had to send the original sample to the National Cancer Institute because he was unable to identify it — malignant squamos cell carcinoma.

His recovery was painful – not from the excision so much as from the skin grafts. They were on his thigh and burned like, well, like a burn.

My son was not the best patient in the world. When we learned that they had indeed gotten all the cancer and everything looked good (Thank you, Jesus!), he reverted to being a teenager again.

When friends called or came to visit, I breathed a sigh of relief. Let them deal with him. I was at the point of throwing him raw meat and slamming the door.

At times, though, he was quite comical – especially in trying to work out the logistics of life when he was in pain, on crutches and by himself. Like the time he decided to fix a sandwich and a glass of milk.

He made it to the kitchen just fine. He prepared a beautiful sandwich and poured the milk. Placing sandwich in one hand and milk in the other, he proceeded to “crutch” back into the den.

Oops! That’s not going to work. The sandwich stayed together, but the milk flew out of the glass and onto the floor. Have you ever noticed that if you spill a cup of milk, it seems like a gallon when you try to clean it up? Well, he noticed it right away that day.

He finally solved the problem by putting the sandwich in a plastic bag and the milk in a leakproof container and throwing them into the den. Quite the engineer, that one!

A year later he was enrolled in college in Florida. His surgery had healed and resembled a large dent in the front of his leg – sort of what it would look like if the impression had been made by a softball thrown really hard. Friends were curious and asked him what happened.

“Cancer surgery,” he told them.

“Yeah. Right. So what really happened?”

“Shark bite.”

“Yeah, man. That can be really tough.”

“But unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings … “ – Malachi 4:2 (KJV)

Tough Guys

“We’re gonna get you,” they threatened, shaking their fists at him.

My son could fight. He could fight without feeling pain. It was scary. Somebody like that could fight to the death. He had made some enemies, and they were ready to challenge him. When he reached the classroom and took his seat, they gathered in the hallway outside and taunted him through the glass window in the door.

It was test day. My son was an excellent student and usually did very well on tests. Not today. He couldn’t think straight. He could barely stop shaking enough to write his name on the paper.

“These guys are crazy. They’re gonna kill me as soon as I leave this room,” he thought to himself. He knew he was really in for it this time.

Several weeks earlier, he asked me why he was the only one to get in trouble anymore.
There had been a few incidents, and he was the one who kept getting caught.

“Mom, there was a bunch of us who did that stuff. How come they always come after me?”

“Well, son, now that we are a household of faith, God protects us and blesses us. You like that part, don’t you?”

“Well, yeah. It’s kinda cool.”

“That’s because we are lining up with God’s word — our speech, our deeds, even our thoughts. As we honor God, He grants us favor. I haven’t heard you complaining about all the good things that have happened.”

“No, ma’am.”

“Well, when we do things that don’t line up with His word, we know it right away. God keeps us on a short leash for our protection. That’s why you’re the one who gets caught. He’s not going to let you get by with that stuff anymore because He loves you.”

“That’s OK for you ‘cause you got all that religion, but it’s not fair that I have to suffer,” he argued.

“As long as you are a part of this family that is committed to God, you’re out of luck. You’ll get busted every time because it’s for your own good.

“Son, you are in church and listening to the word of God being preached. Why, you even sing His words in the scripture choruses! You will be held accountable for what you know. If you know better, but don’t do better, there is a price to pay.”

“Well, it’s still not fair!”

Now he was facing the beating of his life by boys who meant business. He knew he was in trouble.

He doesn’t remember what he wrote on the test paper or if he wrote anything at all, but he does remember what was running through his mind. It was a scripture chorus from church.

               The Lord is my light and my salvation.
               Whom shall I fear; whom shall I fear?
               The Lord is my light and my salvation.
               Whom shall I fear; whom shall I fear?

               The Lord is my strength, the strength of my life.
               Of whom then shall I be afraid?

               The Lord is my light and my salvation.
               Whom shall I fear; whom shall I fear?

It was all he could think of. It played over and over and over in his mind until the bell rang and shook him out of his rumination. He waited to be the very last one to hand in his paper. He dawdled, dallied and lollygagged in very slo-mo as long as he could. Then came the moment of truth.

He summoned up his courage, opened the classroom door, and looked up and down the hallway. Nobody was there.

“They’re waiting around the corner,” he speculated.

When he turned the corner, nobody was there. Not outside, not on the bus. Where did they go?

When he arrived safely at home, he was still shaken up. The story tumbled out of him.

“What happened? Where did they go?”

“What happened was God’s protection. You called on Him by quoting His word back to Him, and He honored that. Your prayer was heard and answered. As for where they went, well scripture addresses that in the Book of Psalms.”

“Where? I want to see.”

“Here it is. Listen.”

“For evil men will be cut off, but those who hope in the LORD will inherit the land. A little while, and the wicked will be no more; though you look for them, they will not be found.” — Psalm 37:9-10

“That’s amazing! It really says that right here! You mean this stuff really works?”

“Yes, it works. God does what He says He’s going to do. His word is real. If you put Him first, there is no limit to the outpouring of His love in your life.”

“Hmm. That’s neat. Thanks, Mom.”

A Gift of Love

Men can’t do it all, but they certainly are willing to do the things they can do. Sometimes they try to do the things they can’t do, and it turns out they do a pretty good job there, too.

Like the time the men cooked a dinner for the women on Valentine’s Day. They had a simple menu – salad, spaghetti, bread and dessert. And a simple venue – the Fellowship Hall at the church. But they decided to bedazzle the evening with lights turned down low, soft music and waiter impersonations.

They dressed in white shirts and black pants. Each had a white linen towel draped over one arm, and each was more attentive than the next.

“Would you care for more water?”

“We have a variety of dressings for you to choose from. What’s your pleasure?”

“Of course we have more bread! With or without garlic?”

Our wish, their command. And we took great delight in commanding them!

It was one of the most uplifting nights I have ever spent. We were treated like royalty. Of course I am told that behind the scenes it was more like Hell’s Kitchen, but they never let on. Every February 14th that rolls around, I remember it with a smile.

 

“By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.”
— John 13:35 (KJV)