Buckets and Buckets of Popcorn . . .

I am a huge C.S. Lewis fan. I am also a huge fan of allegorical writing, so Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters speaks to me often, in many different ways. For those of you who are unfamiliar with The Screwtape Letters, it is a small book written during the European War (the first years of World War II), comprised of letters from Screwtape (one of the Devil’s henchman on earth) to his nephew, Wormwood, who is a “Young Devil in training.” Lewis uses these letters to shed light on the ways in which the Devil (or the Enemy or Evil, if you like) capitalizes on human frailty to lure mankind away from God. I heartily recommend this small book to all!

In my Lenten quest to grow in gratitude, I find on a daily basis that I take God’s gifts and use them to “medicate.” By Screwtape’s own admission, God is the Creator of all pure pleasure (even “a bowl” of freshly popped corn, drizzled with butter – “a bowl” being the operative phrase here!) Screwtape refers to the abuse of God’s gifts of pleasure as an “anodyne” (something used like a drug that reduces pain or as a “medicator,” which is a more modern term). It is my abuse of God’s gifts, when used as medicators, which keeps me from a state of gratitude and in relationship with God. Take food, for example (since my “Lenten project” is to eat on a thrifty food budget). If I am eating a reasonably sized portion of whatever it is I have prepared for dinner, then I am feeding my body and spending a reasonable sum of money to do so, and I can be grateful that God has provided me with a job that pays me enough money to purchase and prepare an enjoyable meal. On the other hand, if I am “medicating” with food because I am “depressed” or “lonely” or “broke” or whatever it is that “ails” me on any given day, it really doesn’t matter what it is that I am eating, nor does it matter how much I spend to acquire it: I am just “shoveling it in” as fast as I can. Do I then feel grateful or experience gratitude for what God has provided? Not at all. Rather, I am filled with self-loathing, angry at myself that I have spent money I do not have and for having eaten WAY more than I need and having gained extra weight, on top of everything else! So now, I am not only not grateful for the food God has provided, but I am bitter because I do not have enough money (having spent it on food I did not need), and I look terrible in my clothes, which are too tight!!!

The gift of pleasure in enjoying a tasty meal or a bowl of popcorn and gratitude for that gift has been totally lost!! As Screwtape instructs his nephew, Wormwood: “An ever increasing craving for an ever diminishing pleasure is the formula” (for drawing Humans away from God). Whether I am eating too much or drinking too much or spending too much money or craving more of this or desiring more of that, if I am not grateful for what I already have, then I miss the opportunity to experience pleasure in and express my gratitude for the gifts that God has given me.

So today (on a little lighter note), I am grateful that the gumbo I made for Fat Tuesday is almost gone (finally!!) As pleasurable as this gift has been (in $.95 per serving increments over the last week), I am looking forward to being grateful for something new on the menu!!

“Give Us This Day, Our Daily Bread”

dark bread on white
Whether Catholic or Protestant, Christian or adherent to some other faith, almost everyone is familiar with the words, “Give us this day, our daily bread,” taken from the Lord’s prayer (Matt. 6:11). Interestingly, I heard this “preached on” once, a long, long time ago, where the minister explained that we were asking the Lord to give us the bread we needed to sustain ourselves for that day. An answer to this prayer did not necessarily mean that we would be provided with enough money in our bank account to go shopping at Costco, where it is usually impossible to walk out the door for under several hundred dollars. It also did not necessarily mean that our cupboards would be full of food. However, the answer to a request for today’s bread might, in fact, mean that if one is careful (and it helps if there is a smidgeon of creativity involved), there just might be enough food in the cupboard, or enough money in the bank account (or your son’s ZIPLOCK bag, if you live in my world), to meet one’s needs for the day.

Having begun my quest to feed myself for $5.30 per day during Lent, I felt it was only fair to try it for a few days before I made my first report. It has been interesting, to say the least, and enlightening to the extreme. You will recall that the point of my Lenten “project” was to develop gratitude for what I have, rather than continually whining about all the things I do not have in life.

WELL . . . although it is only Day 3, I can tell you that I have eaten every single thing I normally eat. For example, I have eaten homemade oatmeal with organic coconut oil, brown sugar and cinnamon, French roast coffee, gumbo (with rice), and romaine salad with toasted walnuts, bleu cheese and homemade balsamic vinaigrette, just for starters. The thing is, in calculating the cost of these foods, I was required to utilize a specific quantity, so that I could break down the cost per serving.

I have a FASCINATING piece of insight to share with you: if a person eats a serving size, as designated on the back of almost every ingredient (and I am not talking about convenience food items; even olive oil lists a serving size as 1 tbsp.), it IS possible to stay on a $5.30 per day food budget. Granted, I cannot cook everything that I want to cook. If I want gulf shrimp (frozen), I am going to pay $9/lb., and even if I eat only 3 oz. (3-4 oz. is considered a serving of most meats), I am still spending $2.25 on that one item, which is almost half of my budget for the day.

So where is the gratitude in this? For me, the gratitude needs to come in appreciating what I have in my life today and not thinking I need to have the things or the answers for tomorrow. Today, all my needs have been met. That is not to say that I shouldn’t be planning and preparing for the future. I should; we all (probably) need to plan and prepare for the future. But to worry and stress about what I need or want tomorrow, and fail to be grateful for what I have today, is simply a waste of time and energy and demonstrates a lack of faith that God is able and willing to meet my needs.

SOOO . . . it’s a good thing Lent is 40 days – I’m afraid it’s gonna take most of that for me to even start to “get” this gratitude thing!!

Celebrating Ash Wednesday With Don Cheadle (the cat)

Don CheadleLast night, I was talking to my sister while I was walking across the street to pick up a couple of things to make gumbo for my Fat Tuesday celebration. I had borrowed some change from my son’s ZIPLOCK bag because my bank account was empty, and I was recounting to my sister how I was counting out quarters in the checkout line to make my purchase and how the gentleman behind me had his wallet at the ready in case I was short (truly!) Robin was horrified, and I told her, “That’s the whole point, though, Rob. I am walking across the street from my beautiful little condo in Dana Point, California; I just bought chicken and parsley and green onions and a red bell pepper and okra to make gumbo so that I can celebrate Mardi Gras; and I am talking to you on my cell phone with my Bluetooth … and I think I am poor??? In what world does that equal ‘poor’?” Where is my GRATEFULNESS for the things I have in life????

When considering gratitude – or, sadly, in my case, obviously, the lack of gratitude – I decided to begin a list of some of the things with which I have been blessed and to start recognizing that I do have things for which I need to be grateful (and that I really will be fine if I don’t eat three squares today on Ash Wednesday!!!)

1. I woke up! I woke up healthy; I woke up warm and after a good night’s rest while sleeping in a comfortable bed in a lovely home a mile from the beach. If I added not one more thing to my list, I already have more than the greatest share of the world’s population.

2. I had some great coffee and petted my kitty, Don Cheadle. (Yup, you read it right. You can thank Cody for that!)

3. I went to church. I picked the church I wanted to attend and I celebrated the faith in which I chose to believe. (If I am not mistaken, I believe that is called “freedom???”) Again, how many throughout the world are not even free to attend church at all or to choose which church they will attend or how they will worship?

I haven’t even begun to consider the many, many blessings of my life, and I already have more than most. For me, this Lenten season is about recognizing how blessed I am. If there is any sacrifice or suffering involved (remember my $5.30 per day food budget???), the point of the “sacrifice” or “suffering” will be to remind me to be grateful: to be grateful for the things with which God has blessed me and to be grateful for who God is in my life and what He has done for me.


Fat Tuesday!!!

mardi gras beads

Although I am not Catholic, once my youngest son attended a private Catholic high school, I began participating in some of the Catholic traditions, and one of my favorites is celebrating the Lenten season. Prior to recognizing Lent as a season to be celebrated, the best thing in my Protestant mind about Lent was celebrating Mardi Gras on Fat Tuesday!! I still love to celebrate Mardi Gras. I love throw beads! I love the New Orleans style Dixieland jazz band! I love seafood gumbo and jambalaya and oysters and pralines and beignets and King’s Cake!!! One of these days, I’m going to celebrate Mardi Gras on Fat Tuesday in the French Quarter itself!!

This year, though, I am most excited about Fat Tuesday because it means the Lenten season has arrived. Honest. In the past, I have tried both successfully and unsuccessfully, to give up wine and coffee. (Believe it or not, coffee was much harder to give up than wine!!!) This year, I am not giving up a “thing” for Lent; rather, I am going to work on increasing my gratitude. (For those of you who know me well, this will be a greater challenge than giving up wine and coffee combined!!!)

The way that I intend to (hopefully) increase my level of gratitude is to become more aware of what I have rather than always focusing on what I don’t have!!! I spend so much of my time and energy focusing on what I do not have that I am not grateful (or even aware!!!) of what I do have!! SOOOO, how do I intend to accomplish this feat, you ask?

I have researched the government’s definition of poverty (OK, wow. How does someone who has “nothing” earn more than double the amount designated as “poverty level” in the United States for 2012???? We can already see where my gratitude problems exist, at least in part!!) Next, I located the amount of money designated as a “thrifty” food budget for a family of one comprised of a woman in my age group, according to the Food & Drug Administration. This amount is $5.30 a day. On some days, that may be all I spend. I eat oatmeal for breakfast. Maybe I make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch and have a piece of chicken and a vegetable at dinner. Maybe all of that would only cost $5.30. Maybe. But what about the wine I “had” to have with my chicken dinner? What about the butter I put on my oatmeal and vegetable? What about the herbs I cannot cook without? What about the fact that I “couldn’t possibly” eat bread that wasn’t whole grain? Heaven forbid if the vegetables needed to be organic . . . and that doesn’t even account for the fact that on most days, I want to cook something “fun,” which means I need mushrooms and fresh herbs and specialty seasonings (and even more wine!) and it undoubtedly requires fresh seafood (which must be “wild caught” and NOT “farm raised” . . .). It is no WONDER I’m not grateful!! I want what I want, when I want it . . .

Here is the plan. I am committed to feeding myself on $5.30 a day for the 40 days of Lent. Now, I have purchased groceries and cooked meals for my family for long enough to know that this is entirely possible. It should even be easy, given that I am a decent and very experienced cook. However, the sacrifice – the point of the “project” or “plan” or my commitment to a thrifty food budget – is to learn to be grateful. I can go without what I want for a day or two and then I start “getting itchy.” I want to eat something fun. I want to try a new recipe. I want to have wine with my dinner or while I am watching a movie. And I get frustrated when I cannot have what I want, when I want it (like when I am waiting for payday). And then I get angry. And then I get bitter. “I NEVER get to have what I want. I don’t have ANYTHING. My life SUCKS.”

SOOO, I am going to eat on $5.30 a day during the Lenten season. That is $212 for 40 days (and nights!) I am going to “chronicle” what I hope culminates in a growing and greater appreciation for what I do have, as well as an increased understanding of what it really means to be “poor” and “have nothing.” I hope I learn to be grateful. I hope you’ll join me on this journey and offer your insight and words of encouragement.

LET THE PARTY BEGIN!!! After all, it’s still Fat Tuesday!!!

Now What?

You know, my goal for the last 16 years was to finish college.  And WHOO, HOO!!!   I did it!!!

Graduation Day – May 5, 2012

But now what???  The graduation speeches and cards are all about the future … having a whole lifetime ahead in which to pursue goals and fulfill dreams.  Where does that leave me, I wonder.  The “normal” course is to grow up, graduate from college, begin a career, get married, have a family, retire.

Well, in my dictionary of life, “normal” is the equivalent of “boring” or “average” or “satisfactory” — all of which sound depressingly  … normal and well, dull!  So naturally, I start by doing everything backwards.  Let’s see … I know!  I’ll get married and have a couple of children, barely out of high school.  Well, no surprise there, but that didn’t work out so well (except for the kids part – two of the most awesome human beings around are now MY children!)  Ok, well, if it didn’t work the first time, I’m sure it’ll work the second time!  But to make sure of that, I think I’ll marry an alcoholic, residing in prison.  Seriously.  Oh, and have two more children.  Well, no surprise!!!  THAT  didn’t work out either!  Fortunately, I am now the mother of the other two most awesome human beings around!!

So, as a single mother of four sons, I decided to return to school 16 years ago, announcing that I WILL FINISH COLLEGE, JUST WATCH ME!!  And I finished two weeks ago, graduating magna cum laude!  (I’ve been DYING to get to where I got to put that part in!!!)  But NOW what???

Well, I have been pondering this question now for two weeks, AND …

I have decided that “now what?” is whatever I want it to be, up to and including (a little legal-ese there for you, as a perfect segue) … into law school!!  During the last couple of months, just like every 18 year old senior out there in the “normal” world, I have changed my idea of “what I want to be when I grow up” at least half a dozen times!  “I’m gonna be a doctor!!  Yes, I am!!”  “I’m gonna get my J.D./M.B.A.  Yes, I am!!”  “I’m gonna get my J.D./M.A. (history) or M.S. (psychology)!!  Yes, I am!!”  Maybe I’ll be a writer … maybe I’ll be a researcher … I should go to Africa as a missionary … I should be a marketing guru … maybe I’ll just start my Ph.D. as soon as I get a J.D./M-something-or-other!!!  (Yes, Daddy, anything but get a REAL job!!)  However, I have decided that law school will be my next goal.  So, watch out!!  I WILL FINISH LAW SCHOOL, JUST WATCH ME!!

Ok, correction.  I will finish law school if my Uncle Sam will lend me the money!!!

But, the really cool, really awesome, most amazing thing about “Now What?” is that I get to do and be whatever I want to do and be!  Those four amazing human beings?  They have masters degrees, are finishing bachelor degrees, and heading off to do a year of missions work.  They are happy.  They are healthy.  My oldest son is a great father and husband.  The others are pursuing their education and vocations, they have great friends, and they are ALL wonderful to me.  If I did NOTHING ELSE, EVER, I’ve been more blessed than some ever get to be.  But I do get to do more.

Now what?  I can hardly wait to find out!  Some days I wake up, itching on the inside, I am so excited about what is coming next in my life!!  What I do know is that it won’t be normal.  It won’t be dull.

Happy Birthday, Baby Sistu

Ok, I cannot even blog on time to celebrate my beloved baby sistu’s birthday!  HAPPPPPY BIRTHDAY, BEST BABY SISTER IN THE WORLD!!!

How cute is she?

This is how I see it:

Hi, my name is Claudia.  I am going to grow up and be a straight A student!

(Robin) Whatever.  Are we done yet?  Where’s the beer?

Happy Birthday, Robin.  I love you more than anything in the world!!!

XOXO Big Sistu

Cap and Gown

I picked up my cap and gown at Concordia University this afternoon at Grad Fest.  Yup!!!  After 37 years, I am finally preparing to graduate from college!  I am so excited I could spit!  🙂

It might have been the first time I began to have an inkling of what I have accomplished by completing my degree at the age of 55.  I stood in line to receive my cap and gown with maybe 40 students, most of whom looked like they were 18 years old (although realistically, they were probably 21 and 22 years old).  But I stood there looking at them, listening to them chatter, and I realized, “I’ve done what you’ve done … but I did it while raising four sons, working, participating in my sons’ school events, battling to keep my house out of foreclosure, (losing that battle), moving, …”  The list goes on.  We all have those lists.  And I am not saying that life is easy for these other graduates. They have their lists, too.

But I did it.  Or will be doing it on May 5th.  Against all odds, I will have earned a college degree!!!!   WHOO HOO!!!

Watch out!  I might start spitting at any moment!