Lately, students come to my Zoom office hours to talk. It’s wonderful. I sit and listen. I ask all my good questions. I see their dorm rooms or apartments from the square on my screen. I notice that it doesn’t feel so odd anymore. It’s a cozy time as the wind blows outside in the changing leaves. We’re not together in the same office, but the wind blows where they are, too, across the town.
Earlier in the day, I received the email that my turn came up to participate in Penn State’s mandatory COVID-19 Asymptomatic Surveillance Program. Since PSU randomly tests 700 people a day (students, faculty, and staff), I knew my number would come up soon. So I journeyed to the big Beaver Stadium, only not for a football game. I stood there with a few others to log onto a special website on your phone, scan the barcode of your testing kit, and complete a health screening. My COVID-19 test was the saliva test where you spit into a test tube until you fill it up. Then you shake a blue liquid into it before you toss it into a big box with all the other COVID tests. Health care workers hover around you to make sure you’re doing the test correctly, but you do everything yourself. I receive results in 48 hours. It all felt like I was in a science fiction movie. Thankfully, every case I’ve heard of on campus from students and friends involves asymptomatic positive cases, or at the worst, a sore throat or headache for a few days. I’m glad to hear that news.
I’ve been making my own mulling spices—or technically simmer spices— for years. I love humidifying my kitchen, too, to help ease the dryer air of both autumn and winter seasons.
The house smells so good!
This Sunday, I added my favorite combination of ingredients to create the perfect simmer pot: I cut up one orange and added it to my pot of water. To this, add a teaspoon of cloves, cinnamon, ginger, pumpkin pie spice, nutmeg, allspice (basically, all your spices related to autumn!), and a final teaspoon of vanilla extract. Bring to a boil and then turn down the heat to simmer all afternoon.
Within a few minutes, the spicy aroma will waft through the rooms of your home, and you’ll feel wrapped up in a cozy fall day.
(Remember to check the water level every 30 minutes to make sure you don’t need to add more water to your simmer pot.)
Before I realize the damage they can inflict on my young Plumcot tree, I find myself enchanted by their network of secret tunnels. What do they do in there? I imagine the cozy warmth of it. I imagine an entire underground network of secret living.
I do love things that burrow, tunnel, or den. Beavers. Foxes. Rabbits. I love the hidden world they create for sleeping and living in secret. I’m not the only one living and sleeping on the property. I look out to the ever-increasing vole tunnels and consider their underground life.
My little flair moment came early this morning as I complained about my blocked path from the parking structure to my campus classroom. The sidewalks were completely blocked! As I followed the detour signs that would force me away from my route and lengthen my journey on foot, I paused to glance down.
And there? The largest and most beautiful acorns sat waiting for me. Freshly fallen from a glorious oak tree on the far side of the parking lot, they scattered around my feet.
You know I love acorns. You know I look for the largest ones I can find. This year, however, most I find seem small and unoriginal. It’s rare to discover intact, large, and perfectly capped acorns.
I gather a few, and I rejoice in The Blocked Path that takes you to someplace you’re supposed to be, to see what you can only see there, to gather the gifts only available in that place you’d never go otherwise. If your way seems blocked, take a moment to discover the gift waiting there.
Something I love about this fresh season of work and opportunity involves being just busy enough that I don’t have time to overthink or get nervous about certain events. Radio interviews, giving talks over Zoom, teaching, and joining various social media events has become part of the schedule of the day. I like it! It’s just work! I don’t have time to worry so much about them like I used to.
The downside is I don’t feel that same desperate dependence on God like I once did as I would cry on my knees in hotel rooms and beg God to just get me through the next speaking event. I was so afraid of what people would think. It mattered so much to be somebody great. Now? The feeling beforehand is more like thanksgiving, like enjoying the blessing of it, like I’m just out here spreading joy, and like just asking God to empower and anoint and bless the listener. It’s a confidence that God is with me and always here. It’s a humbling, quiet kind of moment with God.
I remember back to that first NPR “This I Believe” radio interview where I felt nervous for days and days. I carefully picked out my outfit (even though nobody would see me on the radio). It was such a big deal. I was so nervous. I felt so important.
Here’s what I’ve learned: Praise God you get used to your calling. It’s not a snare when you get attention; it doesn’t feel special in a way that will become an idol. It takes time, but after 10 years, you learn. You gain confidence. You know who you are and you aren’t worried so much what people think about you. You develop a consistent message, and you know what to say on the spot. After 10 years, you know how to write a talk, walk onto a stage, handle a microphone, and manage an interview.
Sometimes, you just need experience. You have to feel the adrenalin that makes you sick and know how to reframe it as a blessing of focus and clarity. Every time you do something that terrifies you, the same thing will become easier. So hang in there! Keep doing the thing that makes you nervous! One day, it won’t feel so terrifying, and you’ll learn to love it and see it as the work of the day.
Over the years, I’ve learned to scan the day for evidence of God’s good gifts. It’s a way of interpreting the day through the lens of God’s goodness. He’s always working to bring good about, but we need to look. We need to open our eyes to it.
With the frosty evenings, I’ve now harvested all the basil. I made a few batches of pesto, but I found myself so sad I didn’t have more stored up for the winter. I told my family how much I would miss my trips to the garden for fresh basil. So all day, I was thinking about planting more basil next year and how I wish I had more to make pesto.
Later in the day, my daughter and I talked about making an apple pie with all our apples. But I forgot the ingredients we needed while shopping. Besides, by late afternoon, we realized we didn’t have much time for pie baking. But still, we thought about that apple pie.
Then, strangely and beautifully, a neighbor who loves to bake wanted to thank my husband for watching her dog for one afternoon, and she gave him the largest and most delicious apple pie. She even included a jar of her homemade caramel sauce as a topping. Still warm in our hands, we all shared a slice immediately.
Then, even more out of the blue, my friend finds me to ask if I need any basil. Their garden produced so much basil that they had bags and bags of harvested basil. Would I please swing by and pick up some bags of basil?
I stand in my kitchen now surrounded by apple pie and basil. My heart wanted both, and both arrived. Sometimes, the Lord designs a day like this of what seems like miraculous, loving provision–of things I didn’t need at all but only wanted.
I love scanning the day for good gifts and reflecting on odd moments of provision that seem divine.
I read a curious little parentheses in Judges 3 before church this morning. We read about how the Lord left a few opposing nations near the Israelites to train this new generation and test their hearts. The verse says this divine tactic was “for all those Israelites who had not experienced any of the wars in Canaan (he did this only to teach warfare to the descendants of the Israelites who had not had previous battle experience).”
The Lord did this to teach warfare. I immediately thought of David’s words in Psalm 144: Praise be to the Lord my Rock, who trains my hands for war, my fingers for battle. How does God train us? What are these divine tactics in our heart today?
I affirm the hard things I experienced in my life had everything to do with learning a special kind of spiritual warfare and a way to battle in prayer. God used difficult things to train me to trust and rely upon Him, to listen to Him, and to know His power. I think of how the Israelites might have approached God and said, “Can you just remove these people? They bother us! Take all the hard things away!”
But God leaves the hard things.
It’s a wonderful way to reframe what’s happening to you. It’s not mean. It’s preparation for victory ahead. The hard and confusing things train us. They make us battle ready. They equip us to know the enemy and recognize the schemes of the devil. (I don’t make this stuff up about a scheming devil. It’s in the Bible. Paul tell us to put on the full armor of God to take our stand against the devil’s schemes in Ephesians 6. In 2 Corinthian 2:11, we’re to remain confident that Satan won’t outwit us because we have become aware of his schemes.)
Scripture teaches us how Satan operates and names the things coming against us. You know what this is like and how you’ve grown: You’re trained in hope because you’ve encountered the spirit of despair. You’re trained in truth because you know the spirit of error. You’re trained in contentment because you’ve taken a stand against jealousy. You’ve been trained to pray through illness, financial hardship, loneliness, or depression. You’ve been trained to pray through anxiety. You’ve been trained through broken relationships or disappointments. It’s all training to know how to pray, grow in faith, and experience the overcoming power of Christ. It’s training to listen to the Holy Spirit like never before in your life.
I consider how the hard thing is left there by God to train us for war. I consider that, while God doesn’t inaugurate evil, He uses it for good (Romans 8). And one way He makes it good? He teaches us through suffering, and we grow strong in Him.
Today, I harvest. With the frost coming this evening, I gather the last of the Serrano peppers, the raspberries, and the tomatoes. I also cut down the Brussels sprouts and roast them for a snack. The eggplant and green tomatoes left might still ripen, so I leave these plants. I harvest the last of the dill which I’ll freeze this time.
The chopped Serrano peppers freeze perfectly and add so much flavor to sandwiches, salsas, soups, and stir fry meals,
I take the time to reflect on what went well in this last season of life. Living with flair means to take inventory; we evaluate, we give feedback for what we’ll change for this time next year.
The verdict: Too many cucumbers and not enough basil. More beans. Brussel sprouts? Maybe. Ground cherries? Absolutely. I’ll plant two more bushes. Two Serrano plants is too much. Yes to the Thai Basil; yes to the chives. Yes to the dill.
Meanwhile, I’ve tucked seeds away for next spring. And I’m slowly growing another Plumcot tree since you need two to cross pollinate.
Now I turn to the indoor work of the autumn and winter seasons.