A bowl, kringla recipe, and story

I’ve made mom’s kringla recipe every year since 1984. My first Christmas without her on earth.

recipe

That first year, I went overboard by baking kringlas for the cookie exchange at work. TWELVE dozen kringlas. For those of you who are Norwegian and have rolled them out one by one, you’d call me crazy. I was. I was also grieving.

I mistakenly thought that by making mom’s favorite cookie, she’d feel much closer to me. I assumed everyone would want to hear the story behind these sweet Scandinavian ‘pretzels.’

I was wrong. The cookies didn’t bring her back nor did they open the conversations about why I would choose to make 12 dozen of those intricate cookies.

This morning, I made my annual batch of mom’s kringlas.

Everytime I mix her recipe in her yellow bowl, I can hear the story that she used to tell me as I sat at her side while she rolled and baked kringlas in our farmhouse at Millbrook.

bowl

Kringlas were not simply a sweet treat for her. They were a part of her Norwegian heritage. She ate one every morning – not at her home, but at her maternal grandparents when she was on her way to school.

I can just see her toddling down the street to school as she paused for a yummy kringla with her grandma. She always covered it with butter and honey. She never left without a hug and sweet little kiss from her grandma. Kringlas set the tone for her day.

Kringlas became almost legendary in our home. Mom used to make them year round, and the conditions needed to be just right so that the perfect kringlas could emerge from the oven. Long before the days of central air, the temperature and humidity greatly affected the outcome. And plating a platter of beautiful kringlas was a right of passage into womanhood where I grew up.

Therefore it goes without saying that I believed the perfect kringla equaled the perfect Norwegian.

When mom died, I was terrified that mine wouldn’t measure up. But I was more terrified that her story would die away just like she did. Thus 12 dozen.

I’ve right sized it now. Mom’s recipe makes 48 kringlas. Just enough to satisfy my family each Christmas.

I’ve also right sized the story. Because only Ron had the privilege of meeting my mom, my family can only connect with her Norwegian legacy so far. That’s ok. I’ve realized that as I dig my fingers into the dough and roll them out, I’m ‘hanging’ out with my mom as I prepare for Christmas. How precious is that? It’s ok to keep her words tenderly tucked inside my heart.

I have her bowl. Her recipe. And her story.

And I’m delighted to watch the family I love gobble these kringlas up!

baking

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“It just needs a little love”

Can’t you just hear Charlie Brown cautiously defend his little tree? When his friends were more focused on calling him a blockhead, he saw the little tree and all that it could be. Even more. He saw the simple beauty of the tree just as it was.

That’s always been my favorite scene in the Charlie Brown’s Christmas show. Who doesn’t want something to go Charlie Brown’s way? Who doesn’t want him to be the recipient of kindness? Who doesn’t want the overlooked tree to be glorious?

Last week, a snowstorm made its way through the suburbs of Chicago. First we had rain, then ice, then really heavy snow. It was magnificent!

But, the weight of the snow took its toll on many of the trees. Trunks were sliced in two; huge branches were lying atop the snow. They’d just shed their leaves. Now they were severed from their life source.

holding on

My little puppy and I meandered through the obstacle course created on our morning walks. So many broken branches. So much of the fragile insides exposed. Destroyed.

When I was putting my Christmas lights on our outdoor shrubs yesterday, I kept looking at the huge broken tree down the street. I found myself scheming with ways to wind its broken branches with sparkling white lights. Charlie Brown’s words kept haunting me.

“It just needs a little love.”

Logistics (and maybe even logic) prevented me from connecting every extension cord we own to wrap that broken tree with lights. But, I still think it would have been magnificent.

After all, aren’t I a little like that broken tree? Aren’t we all?

waiting

I’ve written many times this year about the number of people I know who have been beaten up by storms. The weight of the burdens is close to breaking them.

Instead of digging out my extension cords, I’m imagining what it could look like to get up close to them and wrap them in ‘beautiful Christmas lights?’ Instead of stepping around them or ignoring them because we feel uncomfortable, how can we help them hold on with some love and care?

I don’t know the answer. Yet. I’ll keep asking the question until I get some ideas. broken

Maybe they, like each of us, just need a little love. A little hope. A little sign that Jesus is right here with us.

It won’t take their burdens away, but perhaps they won’t feel so alone.

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It shouldn’t be that hard

But it is. Every year when I pull out my buckets of Christmas decorations, I KNOW where each piece should be placed. I don’t have to think about it. I just refer to my memory, and away I go. I was so stuck in my patterns that Ron literally made a photo CD that would tell me where everything should go.

This year I wanted to be more intentional. To simplify. To be creative. To consider the story behind the Christmas décor before I just put the item where I have put it for years on end.

To embrace change.

If you are familiar with the Myers-Briggs personality test, one category describes me VERY well. That is the J vs. P (JUDGING vs. PERCEIVING).

I am Judging (J). I am so high on the scale, it’s not funny. Thankfully Ron also falls on the J side, but he seems more adaptable than me.

To others, I seem to prefer a planned or orderly way of life, like to have things settled and organized, feel more comfortable when decisions are made, and like to bring life under control as much as possible.

Please don’t confuse Judging with Judgmental, in its negative sense about people and events. They are not related. (I try not to be judgmental, but I probably have a ways to go.)

To understand Judging, the following statements generally apply to me:
I like to have things decided. (I don’t think of it any other way)
I appear to be task oriented. (My husband and kids will affirm this.)
I like to make lists of things to do. (Can I get an AMEN!)
I like to get my work done before playing. (I learned this from my mom as I waited to go to the swimming hole.)
I plan work to avoid rushing just before a deadline. (This made college a breeze)
Sometimes I focus so much on the goal that I miss new information. (I’m sorry, Ron)

The older I get, the less I have under control. It is irritating to say the least. So, I am trying to train myself to be more comfortable with change. That is SO hard.

Thus, Christmas decorating.

moving santa

This Santa has been in our powder room every year since I bought him.

This year, he tried out the family room mantle, my writing office, and the kitchen sideboard.

He finally made his way home to my kitchen counter.

This may not seem like a big deal to you, but it is a big deal to me.

You see, I had to slow down. Try new things. Imagine different possibilities. Be comfortable with a new way.

For a (J), that is a big deal.

But, he is in view from my chair at the kitchen table (which by the way, used to seat 5 and now seats 2). He represents a bit of victory in embracing joy in the midst of change. I see him differently than I did when he sat on my powder room floor.

This Christmas is defined by many changes. Much more significant than where my Santa sits.

Could it be that moving him around will help me be more agile in the days ahead? In the months ahead? In the years ahead? Not just the next 25 days leading to Christmas, but in the many, many days of life that I can’t control.

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Grief

Too many people I love are facing the weight of grief this holiday season. When the commercials and billboards scream “If you get this, then you’ll be happy,” they shudder with the reality of the truth. Stuff and glitter and bright red bows do not make a soul happy.

The juxtaposition of what many may remember as the best time of year now echoes the empty chair. The empty bed. The empty arms.

That sucks.

As I try to wrap my brain around the reality of this season for so many that I love, I was struck with some of my memories of the Chicago marathons I ran. And I couldn’t talk about those marathons without one common element – Susan. My dear friend. The woman who always has her fist in the air cheering for me!

In my first marathon, she appeared at four spots throughout the race. Her fists were pumping and her voice was yelling encouragement. The love I felt that she was with me was palpable. But, I cared enough about my ‘time’ to keep moving. If she wanted to ‘be’ with me, she had to hop out on the streets and run alongside of me.

Which she did at about mile 21. I was so worn down and her quick neck massage and southern energy was just what I needed to finish the race.

And yes, she was at the race finish. I don’t fully remember seeing her, but if my memory serves me correctly, she was seated on a pillar in Grant Park to cheer me as I made my way to the finish line. Only Susan.

As much as that touched my heart, something she did for me a week later blew me away.

She had this crazy idea that after stuffing our six little children into her van, we could drive the marathon route. Not so she could just see it. No. She wanted to listen to me verbalize aloud what had been racing through my mind as I ran those 26.2 miles. Running 26.2 miles is one thing. Driving 26.2 miles with 6 little kiddos was another. But I talked and she listened. It was a holy car ride.

When we stopped for lunch in Chinatown (about mile 19), I realized that few people knew how to enter into my world like Susan did. She had fully set aside her agenda for that day and decided that my thoughts and feelings about something as inconsequential as a marathon mattered. That day will go down as a day where I felt loved through and through.

But, it got even richer. Even though she lived in Colorado, she decided that the next year, she would run that same race at my side. So she trained for her marathon in the mountains of Colorado (and I might add by running up and down her stairs in her house while her children napped) while I trained for that same marathon in the suburbs of Chicago. We planned to run the next race together.

And we did. For about the first 14 miles. Until my gut got the best of me and I had to let her go ahead.

I.will.never.forget.what.she.said.

“Even if I can’t see you, we are still in this race together.” Always.

I was only a couple of minutes behind her throughout the remainder of the race. I kept her orange hat in my line of vision. It was the marker I needed to remind me that we were still doing this together. Even though we were not side by side, we were in the same race.

What in the world does a marathon have to do with grief?

I think my experiences with Susan give me a picture of ways I can walk with someone when grief takes away their breath. And energy. And joy,

First, I can stand on the sidelines and as they pass by my heart or mind, I can give them a word of encouragement. Not bad, right? That may be just what they need.

Second, they may be too weary to run. They may be in recovery mode, but would love the opportunity to have someone sit by them in the ‘van’ to listen to their heart. To their memories. To their moments that they do not want to forget. Would it cost us that much to give up some time to just listen? I hope not.

But, finally, I don’t know how to always walk side by side. But, I do know that my marathon where I ran next to my dear friend in the orange hat will always be my favorite run. Where I will never forget how we leaned on one another. And encouraged one another. And finished the race that was laid out before us.

That’s what I think it means to enter into grief with another person. We have some choices. We can cheer for them from the sidelines. We can listen. And we can even walk step by step along side of them.

Thanksgiving may have some empty chairs in your home. The people still sitting and trying to eat turkey and stuffing and pie may need us to enter into their grief in concrete ways. I’m not sure what that looks like for me, but I think my marathons have some images to grab hold to.

For those of you who have sad hearts when the world seems to be giddy with the holiday spirit, I am sorry. Perhaps this blog will be a form of ‘standing’ on your sidelines while you are simply trying to put one foot in front of another. Perhaps you feel the fog of each day like this.

marathon

But, I pray for each of you who read this, that you will find someone who comes alongside of you like this.

instep-e1542662252102.jpg

I’m sorry that the image is blurry. The conversation and the moment is not. Susan and I tracked step by step by step. And I will always treasure her orange hat which marked the way forward for me.

I have told my daughter so many times that everyone needs a Susan. An encourager. A fist in the air friend. A person who will jump into the stuff you are running through. My prayer as I write this is that your heart will not feel forgotten this holiday season. May you find a friend who has the equivalent to an orange hat to help guide your way.

 

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Knock.Knock.

My grandson, Carter, loves to tell Knock. Knock jokes.

“Knock. Knock,” he says with a smirk on his face.

“Who’s there?” I answer just playing along.

“Interrupting cow,” he replies. The tension is mounting.

“Interrupting….” (I never get to the interrupting cow who part because he interrupts me mid-word).

“MOOOOOOOO,” he squeals.

We giggle and do it over and over and over.

This is what I’m wearing on my wrist right now.

KNOCK.KNOCK

A simple rubber band on my wrist to remind me to ‘bother’ God.

Whenever I tell a Knock.Knock joke I have to start at the end and work my way backwards to know how to get my partner on the right side of the dialogue. So do I start the Knock. Knock? Or do I have my ‘victim’ start the Knock. Knock?

Prayer is the same for me. I start at the end with what I want and work my way backwards to see how I can get God to do what I want.

If I do ‘this,’ then maybe He will do ‘that.’ How’s that been working for me, you may wonder? Well, not that great.

I’ve been asking God for two decades to remove some specific challenges for two people I love with all my heart. Well, truth be told, I bargained with God for two decades to remove some specific challenges for two people I love with all my heart.

Instead of bolding knocking upon His door (which He invites us to do), I tentatively just happened to mention that these two people were worth His attention and healing.

And when I didn’t see answers or movement, I slowly but surely began to stop knocking. It’s like I was asking Him to go first. For Him to Knock to see if I was ready to listen.

I’m wearing this bracelet on my wrist for the third day now after receiving it in church last Sunday. It is to prompt me to be bold. To knock. To bother God with my requests.

This bracelet represents two asks I have of God right now. Two requests that I’d grown weary of asking because He didn’t seem to respond. So, I am being brash and knocking a little more loudly.

As our pastor said, this may not be about the answer. It may be about the process. It may be about being willing to acknowledge that I am dependent and that He has the ability to move in ways I can’t imagine.

Honestly, I’m afraid to hope that the outcome will change. Yet, I sit here at my kitchen table with my left wrist wearing the Knock.Knock wristband gazing out at the garden that has slowly, but surely come to life over the past ten years. I didn’t know how it would turn out, yet I planted seeds and cuttings and tiny perennials. I transplanted, watered, weeded, and nurtured those precious plants.

The prayers in my heart matter more than my garden. So it is time to Knock. Knock today. And to Knock. Knock tomorrow. Who knows?

While I don’t know the outcome, I do know the One who will hear me when I bang on heaven’s door.

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Courage in the Waiting

Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the LORD my soul to keep.”

I fell asleep with those words embroidered upon a picture hanging over my head until I was 10 years old.

But before I laid my head upon my pillow, I checked for monsters under my bed and in the closet. If I was really brave, I walked across the hallway and made sure nothing evil was lurking in the attic stairwell.

And if I die before I wake, I pray the LORD my soul to take.”

Waking up in the morning, I typically looked at the next line. Good. He didn’t take my soul last night.

That’s what I thought about prayer.

I matured and grew and realized there were no boogie monsters under my bed. I didn’t fear death during the night. Good thing, right?

But, my view of prayer stayed pretty much the same.

Keep me safe. Keep mine safe. 

If I was safe and if mine were safe, I didn’t really pray that much. Wouldn’t He do what He wanted to do anyway?

I always hated when my parents said NO or MAYBE. I think I transferred that to my God as well. If I don’t ask, then I won’t be disappointed with an answer I don’t like, right?

What happens now when my view of prayer is shaken? When I feel the invitation to knock on His door and literally bother Him with my constant requests? I am so scared that He will still say no. Do I ask? Or do I assume that His mind is made up?

Tulips?

The photo looks like just a bunch of dirt and dead leaves and leftover patches of snow. Yet, underneath are 100 (YES ONE HUNDRED) tulip bulbs. Red. Orange. Yellow. Striped. Solid.

I planted them a couple weeks ago with great anticipation for the beauty they will radiate in the spring. Right now, I see nothing. If you were in my backyard, you’d see nothing as well.

But, I know what is underneath. Beauty that may rise in the spring if the conditions are right. If the squirrels don’t find them. If the bulbs have the capacity to grow.

Why wasn’t I afraid to plant them EVEN IF NONE OF THEM MAY GROW?

Why am I afraid to pray bold prayers when NONE OF THEM MAY BE ANSWERED?

Or at least answered in the way I want?

I sit here a bit haunted by the empty space in my garden that is filled with potential for beauty next May. I want to somehow take that metaphor and convert it into a prayer for what weighs upon my heart. Can I take a tulip bulb that has never bloomed and turn that into courage to beg God for healing in the bodies of my people? Is that ok?

Planting a garden requires hope and courage and faith.

So does prayer. There’s so much at stake so I will try to draw upon my gardening optimism and pray with hope and courage and faith.

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Broken. Restored. Repeat.

It’s easier to just discard something (and even someone) that is broken and try to find a replacement. In the short run anyway.

Ron and I have had a “You are Loved” plate for nearly thirty years. It appears on our table for birthdays, anniversaries, or ‘just because’ meals.  Of all the dishes I possess, this is one of my top three favorites.

A few years ago, it broke during a birthday celebration. My first inclination was to sadly toss it and hunt for a replacement on Ebay.

Fortunately, Ron and Josh had other ideas and persuaded me to fix it. The breaks were clean and you know – Super Glue works miracles.

Held and stored more gently since the repair, the plate continued to hold the favorite meals of its honored guests. Those tiny cracks and missing chips of ceramic didn’t bother us one bit. The plate seemed determined to express its love and resilience.

Ron celebrated a birthday this week, and his fried eggs and toast were right at home on our “You are Loved” plate.

After breakfast, he stood to put it in the dishwasher. The more vulnerable spot just broke off into three pieces.

This time I had no thoughts of tossing it! I knew the deal.

Our plate rested on the kitchen counter awaiting its repair. Broken. But not ready to toss. Still beautiful. A holder of countless meals with accompanying conversations, laughter, love, and memories.

broken

The tiny glue marks from its last break seemed to smile at me.

Keep at it. Keep restoring. Don’t give up. Love may get cracked and hurt and damaged at times, but restoration is possible. Be kind. Be honest. Forgive. Listen. Fill in the broken places with something much more miraculous than Super Glue.

broke

How in the world could I throw away a plate that has reminded each and every one of us in the Bryant family that “You are LOVED?”

Love that survives those cracks and bumps and bruises seems even sweeter than the love that hasn’t matured and strengthened through the realities of living in this world.

So, when we gather again to celebrate our special people, they will get to eat off a plate that has been broken. And restored. And broken. And restored. That will be the message that we will pass on in our family. We love. Period.

restored

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