Pepper Jelly, Patronymics, Pennsylvania, and Passionate Papa

Over the kitchen counter at the Christmas party at a friend’s house, now about100 miles from where I live, Doug asked me about the cream cheese spread I’d made. I told him the ingredient he wondered about was pepper jelly, something I’d first tasted in Pennsylvania Dutch country and enjoyed so much that I bought a Pennsylvania Dutch cookbook to get the recipe. He said they’d lived in Pennsylvania, asked if I came from Pennsylvania Dutch ancestry, and when I told him I did, he asked my maiden name. ‘Van Curen,” I replied, and his wife Janet’s eyes widened.

“That was my grandfather’s middle name!” she said, as amazed as I was.

Given what I knew about the history of the family name, and that part of the family had moved from New York, where the family started as Van Keulen (meaning “from Köln”) in the early 1600’s, on the ”Island of Man Hats”, moving to Pennsylvania before some ventured west to Ohio and Indiana, I replied in surprise, “Then I suspect we must be cousins, several times removed!”

There aren’t that many of us ”Van Curen,” ”Van Keuren,” or any other spelling of the name in this country, about 381 families in the 1990’s according to another distant cousin. What are the odds I’d run into a distant cousin in the Southwest nearly 400 years after our mutual ancestors set foot on American soil? The British, in charge of the census and taxation in the country in the early 1700’s, wanted to do away with the Dutch custom of ”patronymics,” naming a son with his father’s first name as the child’s surname. For example, a man whose name was “Mathijs Jansen ” would have a son whose last name was “Matthyssen.” The family went back to the name “Van Keulen/Van Ceulen” in 1715, changing the ”l” to “r”. Hard to keep track for taxation, so the British anchored the surname as Van Keuren and the spelling became Anglicized to Van Curen.

Three hundred and two years later, on the other side of the continent, Janet and I realize we’re related! And what was God showing me? That nothing is impossible for Him, that He is still here for me and with me, that His love is unfailing, that he is my Father, and that in Christ Jesus Janet and I are related TWO ways! The Bible, and Jesus himself, make our relationship with God, and to each other through Jesus, crystal clear:

He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. 1 John 1: 12-13 NIV

Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.  So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. Galatians 3: 25-29 NIV

But he replied to the man who told him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” Matthew 12: 48-50 ESV

Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many. 1 Corinthians 12: 12-14 NIV

You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you. Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live. For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. Romans 8:9-17 NIV

So what? So even if you don’t have a single living blood relative, even one removed by several hundred years like Janet and I probably are, you have millions of brothers and sisters in the Family of God. And that tells me I should have kind regard for my sisters and brothers in Christ, and more than that, I know my “Papa” would love for me (yes, and you) to encourage people who don’t know the love and relationship Abba offers us through Jesus to come to recognize him and receive him as the ONE who makes that very real relationship with Almighty God very real and very possible.

The LORD is near to all who call upon Him, to all who call upon Him in truth. Psalm 145:18

Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. Hebrews 3: 19-23 NIV

So what business of mine is it if people don’t hear about relationship with God through Jesus? Is that my concern? I’ve heard a lot of sisters and brothers in Christ say, “My faith is a very personal, private matter to me…” Well…. Maybe you don’t feel comfortable telling people about your Savior Jesus, or maybe you don’t want to risk ridicule and rejection, BUT I’m thinking If it concerns my Father, it oughta concern me! Here’s why I believe I do have a responsibility to “let my LIGHT shine” (and by “my light” I mean let Jesus shine through me with HIS light so the focus is on HIM, and be quick to say it’s HIM, not me, as the motivation to do good)

 But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.  But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. 2 Peter 3: 8-12 NIV

Maybe my discovery with Janet came at Christmas time because God wants to remind me to show grace in the aisles of the crowded grocery store, thank clerks and other service people for their help, and wish them “Merry Christmas”. Maybe just as importantly, God wants to remind me (and yo9u by this post) that he IS my loving FATHER, my PAPA, who gave me the greatest gift I ever could receive when he sent Jesus into this world as a helpless infant, feeling and knowing what it is to be human, with the purpose to give his life for mine so that I can live forever as God’s chosen, delighted in child. THAT is something to joyfully celebrate! And hey bro, sis, let’s celebrate the daily chance to help this family grow!

 

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Riding Tandem: Training Wheels

“Gosh, I can hear the Bible as I’m riding,” I thought as I pushed a little faster than I wanted to and shot down the hill on two thin tires at 38 miles per hour, keenly aware there was nothing between my skin and the asphalt but a thin jersey and bike shorts. Others must surely have seen the same parallels riding on the back of a tandem road bike; now I entered their cadre, not entirely willingly. I ride with a man who loves cycling. Before I met him I enjoyed riding my bike to the grocery store and back, and noodling around the neighborhood on evening pleasure rides. He, however, is of the “conquer the hills, the faster, the better” squadron, and he knows I’ll love riding once I get more miles under me and build up my endurance. Humph.

I look at the hill he’d love to climb, at least an 8% grade all the 20-mile way to the top of the mountain, and I shudder. I never want to be THAT fit! When we ride independently, I usually “flake off” at the eight-mile mark, cut across a road lined seasonally with wildflowers and with a walking/biking path where I’ll generally find someone to stop, say hello to, and pray with. The surprise of a perfect stranger offering to pray for them delights me. I am God’s carrier pigeon on two wheels, bringing a word of His love to someone in their day, and I have fun being part of the “air drops” He allows me to make.

I remember riding on the handlebars or on the back book rack od my brother’s bike. That was fun, and I didn’t have to do any of the work

But when I’m on the back of the tandem …. new rules apply.

  • Where he’s going, I have to go. (And last week wearing his jersey and staring at his dorsal side, I wryly thought of how Peter must have felt when Jesus told him, “Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” John 21:18 and Amen!)
  • I can’t see or control where we are going.
  • As far as he goes, I have to go. (And I thought of the woman in the cycling club who replied to her husband’s comment that she wasn’t giving him enough on the back of the bike, “If I give it all to you know, you aren’t getting any of it when we get home!”)
  • I have to match his pedaling speed because I’m “clipped in.” (Because against my protests, he did put clip pedals on and even bought me cycling shoes to lock into the clips so I can “give it more power” and use my hamstrings too. My hamstrings were quite happy letting my quads do the work, thank you very much, quit when they got tired, and I liked being able to freely leap off my bike if I started to fall.)
  • Which brings me to this point: if he falls, I fall.
  • When he stops, I stop. (Generally gratefully. At intersections I counterbalance his foot on the ground.)
  • I’m dependent upon his judgment and character.

These may sound like negatives, and in some ways they are, but I choose to rename them “sobering realities.” He has a few “sobering realities” to face as well:

  • He has to put his muscle to the pedals, but if I so choose, I can pretty much rest in his strength when I’m tired.
  • I can take my hands off the handlebars and sit upright because he’s steering.
  • I can communicate my needs/limitations, and he will out of consideration choose an easier or shorter route. (or face my stiff neck, sore wrists and sat-out seat)
  • When my energy is used up, it’s up to him to get us home.
  • If I shift my weight, he has to compensate to keep us upright. (Whew, I have to learn to reach for my water bottle without leaning to either side)
  • He is responsible for my safety.

I have heard the test of a relationship is if you can ride a tandem without killing each other. The rule is: what happens on the bike, stays on the bike. But every time I click my feet into those pedals, the word “captivity” springs to mind: the state or period of being held, imprisoned, enslaved, or confined. BUT that is one perspective, half of the truth. The other truth is that riding on the tandem makes a way for me to be with my friend and do what i couldn’t do, without great exertion, on my own.

I also know this is true about lasting relationship: “Perfect romantic love never does last, of course. Under the best conditions, it evolves into something more realistic and lasting, where two imperfect people discover one another’s virtues and faults, grow to appreciate the goodness in each other but also to accept the disappointments.” I have to add, though I’d rather not, learn to accept challenges to grow, stretch, get stronger.

As I crank my heart out grinding up the second or third of the of the “only one more hill” hills, I sometimes ruefully sing the old song to myself:

tandem-bike-drawing

Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer, do.
I’m half-crazy all for the love of you.
It won’t be a stylish marriage, I can’t afford a carriage.
But you’ll look sweet upon the seat of a bicycle built for two.

The tandem truth is that, in sending Jesus, God made a way for us to receive what we can’t do out of our own strength or “righteousness”: ride with him, depending on his strength, endurance, blood, love.

A rabbi’s disciples always walked in the dust of their teacher, following in his footsteps wherever he lead them. Jesus’ disciples did the same, and if I want to be His disciple today, I’m going to have to put in some miles. I can’t keep up with him our my own limited resources and “goodness,” but i can clip into the pedals behind him and ride where he’s going.The disciples were on two feet; I’m on two feet with you, Jesus, and sometimes literally on two wheels in the company of some of your competitive “conquer the mountain, harder, faster, longer, first” children who don’t know you yet, but need to. All I want to conquer is the enemy of my soul, not the pavement! Stop and smell the Texas sage, people! There are lonely folks to be prayed for out there…. but they ride on.  Sigh.

Okay. Once a week, at least, I saddle up as sidekick. Hop on the back of the bike and lock in with Jesus, who genuinely is crazy about you and me,  as you read these verses. Ask the Holy Spirit if and how they might apply to your life today:

Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, Hebrews 10:23-24 NIV

Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Peter 1: 4-8 NIV

 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30 NIV

Since you are my rock and my fortress, for the sake of your name lead and guide me. Psalm 31:3

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. Matthew 16:24

Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me. John 12:26

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him,

and he will make your paths straight.[Proverbs 3:5-6a]

Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. Ecclesiastes 4:9-10

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. Philippians 2:1-4

Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.

He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. Isaiah 40:28-31

Oh, God, that’s what you want for me, isn’t it? Rats! I’d much rather noodle around the neighborhood and never get serious about going somewhere with the faith and gifts and strengths you’ve given to, and invested in, me. I’d rather quit when I feel tired, hop off when I want, go where I want at the speed I want and not be obligated to anyone for how long it takes me to get nowhere in particular. But I have a sneaking suspicion – and last week at a conference I heard a “name of God” for the first time: “Jehovah Sneaky” – that you want me to do something with the talents and desires and gifts you put in me, you want me to follow the road you planned for me, to go as far as You want to go, willingly stop when you stop, and trust your love for me whether I can see where we’re going or not. I recall speaking on this subject ten years ago, but then I hadn’t been required to walk down a road I never wanted to travel, for longer than I wanted to be in battle and in limbo. Now I’ve had to live it, and it hasn’t been rainbows, bunnies and flowers. It’s been hard, uphill, in the dark, in the rain, against the wind, and a challenge to keep my heart free from bitterness, anger, pulling away from you and fear every turn of the wheel.

God, you told me two things over two years ago: “You’re worth fighting for” and “You are my chosen child. Don’t be afraid of what man tries to do to you.” You didn’t tell me where we were going, how long the road would be, or how steep the climb. I suspect my fear and inability to hang on made this trip take longer and be harder than it needed to be. Did I switch places and try to be the one in front? Did I let go of “manna” you gave me because I was grieving too hard? Well, I know you forgive me and your mercy is new every morning. I want to take the back seat now and let you pull me up the hill, pump hard when I can’t, stop when i/we need to, and yes, I desperately need to trust your character to take responsibility for my safety.

A “…BUT…” to pray: God, I know you want my life to count and have meaning. I do, too, but honestly, “clipping in” with you makes me feel _____________________________________________________. I know you understand, because you know I’m human, and not seeing where we’re going , I feel ____________________________________________. But I know you love me and your plans for me are for good, not for evil, so as I ride with you, Jesus, I’ll give my best to _______________________________________________________________________________________ and I’m leaning on you, holding on to your character and love, and asking you to ______________________________________________________________________________________. When I start to lean, slip, get tired or want to quit and go home, please _______________________________________________________________. Thank you that you “know my frame” and you love me even in my weakness, as well as in my strength. I need your renewing strength to _______________________________________________________________________________. Thank you that you wont quit on me! In Jesus’ Name, Amen!

Forgetting Brought Blessing

THIS year I made sure I remembered to bring my iPod docking station to have plenty of volume for the songs I planned the women to sing during the devotions I was to give. I planned so thoroughly – I thought – until I dug into my suitcase on Friday night  at the retreat center and realized what I HAND’T packed: my ipod with the music!

Panic hit me like a hammer, and chagrin at realizing I’d left it on the clock radio charger beside my bed that morning. Humbled, I pressed into God – the only thing a meaning-seeking, analytical,  faithful servant (see my tongue in cheek now, but then I was serious ) could do.

The retreat theme was “God is Able.” Was he?

“Maybe, Jesus, you just want to hear our voices? Maybe, God, you’re teaching me that Jesus is enough, and we don’t have to sing to hear your Spirit. Or maybe, God, you just want us to hear you singing over US like in Zephaniah 3:17?”

Humbled up, I told the prayer team my dumb mistake. “Hey,” one of the women I didn’t know smilingly cried,” I have my iPod. I may have the song you need! What is it called?”

My face lit up like the Verde Valley sunset outside, and I told her I’d get her the name, for in all honesty, I couldn’t remember it off the top of my head. I checked my handouts and told her I needed “How Great is Our God.”  She wasn’t sure she had it because as she advised, she regularly dumps old music to ad new.

Sigh. Okay, God, I thought, I’m still prepared to believe you want just our voices accapella, or you just want to sing over us  . .  . “ I knew it would be fine either way, and even thought how much better it would be without the accompaniment.

I was so much in that frame of mind, in fact, that the next morning when another prayer team member, Kathy, extended a Cd into my hand, I almost refused it. She was dumbfounded herself. “last week I was in the Christian bookstore buying CD’s. I hadn’t planned to buy this one, but I saw it and the thought hit me that I should get it along with the others. I really don’t know why I did.”  Right in my face was Chris Tomlin’s CD with the title “How Great is Our God!”

I still can hardly believe that I was so caught up in the “Oh, it will be okay” reverie I almost refused to borrow the CD! Reality hit me that God was putting manna in my hand. Was I going to be “so heavenly minded that I’m no earthly good?” I laughed out loud as I spoke that chuckling “tsk, tsk” from the Holy Spirit, and yes I incorporated the humorous story as the introduction, and  we sang along to the miracle CD on Saturday morning.

Sunday morning was a different story. It was 7:15, the devotions started at 7:30,and I still didn’t have the final song I wanted to use that morning. Written on the handouts was a song I couldn’t do accapella – I tried, and it wasn’t going to be pretty. “Okay,” I sighed, “we can just say the words. . . . or maybe I can find a different song.”

The worship leader had some CD’s in a stack near the CD player, so I threw one in and frantically started skipping through tracks.  At track 5 I caught my breath.: “Be Unto Our God.” I love that worship song, a hauntingly beautiful waltz tempo. A thought leaped into my mind: “Could I? Do I dare?”

My message revolved around my blog post entitled “My Father’s Sweater,” all about standing at my father’s workbench wearing my Dad’s old brown sweater (and yes I’d remembered to bring a brown sweater), and  how we now stand at our heavenly Father’s workbench robed in Christ’s righteousness. I set my mind to ask the women to do something abandoned and silly and daring, and to heck with the consequences.

““I know you’re Lutherans,” I began, ”but you’re loosed Lutherans. Did any of you ever stand or dance on your father’s feet?” I asked, and at a few nodded heads and quiet  affirmations told me I was okay to go for the audacious. “Then I want you to get up, move around so you have enough space to move, because we’re going to dance on our Father’s feet!”

The lovely melody lifted from the speakers, and oh, my heart raced! Lovely daughters of the King of Kings began to sway, twirl, spin and waltz  in the arms of their God! Tears flowed, heads lifted in a wave of validation affirmation, invitation celebration!

“This was the best mistake I ever made,” I gratefully prayed as I danced along and enjoyed the laughter of Heaven. If I’d remembered my iPod, none of these miracles would have happened.

“Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty, Worthy is the Lamb who was slain. Highest praises, honor and glory be unto Your name, be unto Your name.”

Note to self:

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.  Romans 8:28

And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in All things at ALL times, having ALL that yo need, you will abound in every good work.  1 Corinthians 9:8

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever.! Amen.   Ephesians 3:20

A “. . . BUT . . .” to move:  God, you have such a sense of humor and fun, and you can do SO much more than I could ever even think to do by my own efforts – definitely more than my mistakes! Step in, take this dance of my latest mistake in __________________________________________________________________ and make it a beautiful waltz of your Glory and goodness!