The power of soup!

It had been a busier than usual week, and trying to cope with a stiff neck had made it worse. By Thursday afternoon I had used up my supply of energy and patience. All I wanted to do was to get home, put on a comfortable robe, fix a bowl of good hot soup and collapse with my feet up.

So when I pulled into the driveway and saw my daughter-in-law Wanda’s car, I groaned in despair. I had forgotten it was Bryan’s night.

Since his parents’ separation, I had tried to have my six-year-old grandson spend a few hours with me at least once a week. I always tried to make it a special time for him. We cooked his favorite meal – chicken and cranberry sauce – or went to his favorite hamburger place. Then either a movie or a walk through the park, and home for some fun together. We’d get down on the floor and have car races. Sometimes we’d make candy, or maybe read some silly or scary book. Bryan delighted in all these activities, and so did I. Usually.

Tonight there was no way I could handle it. I was going to have to postpone our evening together until next week. I hugged them both and then explained how badly I was feeling.

“Bryan, honey, I’m sorry,” I said. “Tonight your Grandma Joan isn’t up to any fun and games. Just a nice hot bowl of soup, a lazy hour of TV and then early to bed. We’ll have our night together some other time.”

Bryan’s smile faded, and I saw the disappointment in his eyes. “Dear Lord, forgive me,” I prayed, “but I’m really not up to it tonight. I need this night to relax and renew myself.”

Bryan was looking up at me solemnly. “I like soup, Grandma.”

My grandmother’s heart knew what he was really saying. In his own way, he was saying, “Please don’t send me away. Please let me stay.”

I heard Wanda say, “No, Bryan. Grandma Joan’s too tired tonight. Maybe next week.”

But in Bryan’s eyes, I saw the shadow, the uncertainty. Something else was changing. Maybe Grandma Joan wouldn’t want to have him come anymore. Not tonight, not next week, not ever.

I hesitated and then tried again. “Just soup and TV, Bryan. No car games on the floor for me tonight, no baking cookies, no books. I probably won’t be awake very long.”

“I like soup,” he repeated.

With a sigh of resignation, I gave in and placed my hand on his shoulder. “Then you are cordially invited to dine at my castle. The meal will be small, but the company will be delightful. Escort the Queen Mother in, please, Sir Bryan.”

It was worth it to see his eyes light up and hear him giggle as he made a mock bow and replied, “Okay, your Royal Highness.”

While I put the soup on the stove and changed into my robe, Bryan set up trays and turned on the television set.

I must have dozed off after the first few sips of soup. When I woke up, there was an afghan over my legs, the bowls and trays were gone. Bryan was sprawled on the floor, dividing his attention between a coloring book and a television show. I looked at my watch. Nine o’clock. Wanda would be coming to get Bryan soon. Poor boy, what a dull time he must have had.

Bryan looked up with a smile. Then, to my surprise, he ran over and gave me a big hug. “I love you, Grandma,” he said, his arms still around my neck. “Haven’t we had a nice time together?”

His big smile and happy eyes told me that this time he meant exactly what he was saying.  And, to my surprise, I knew he was right. We really had had a nice time together.

That was the key word – together. We had done nothing exciting or special. I had slept in the chair. Bryan had colored and watched TV.  But we were together.

That night I realized something important.  Bryan’s visits don’t have to be a marathon of activity. The important thing is that he knows I love him and want him. He knows he has a place in my life, which is reserved particularly for him. A time that is just for us to be together.

Bryan still comes once a week. We still bake chicken or eat out, make cookies or go for a walk in the park. But every now and then we enjoy our favorite together time, our special feast of love – soup night.

By Joan Cinelli 

From 'Morning with Dilbert' Blog

Fame or Fortune or..

As a child of the sixties, it easy to look back at that era with rose tinted spectacles. Of course, in some ways it was a more innocent and cohesive time. Yet within that greater trust and togetherness we now know that there were many dark corners in our national life; areas which are only coming to light today.

 

This can no better be illustrated than the celebrities of back then. Most have faded into well earned obscurity. Others are pillars of society or, even more cringe-making, awarded the status of national treasure. However, a few have been found to have been the proverbial wolf in sheep’s clothing. Whatever – however they are seen today, none have retained their ‘god like’ status of 50 odd years ago.

 

Nevertheless, despite the experience of history, we continue to thrust divinity onto celebs, politicians and other ephemeral worthies. It seems then that the time-honoured wheel of human psychology demands we ever confer immortality on humanity.

 

Now I think I said not so long ago that when I did my Naval Instructors course, we were taught to start each lesson with something to engage interest. Well, that day in Lystra, Paul and Barnabas certainly did that (Acts 14.8-18). Yet, I have to say, by conducting such a spectacular curing, Paul and Silas did rather ask for the adulation they gained. I am not saying they courted it, but it was pretty obvious what the outcome would be. Nevertheless, they quickly realised their danger and to their credit soon put it right. They made clear they were but agents of the living God; a caring divinity that stood just outside of the pagans’ line of sight. And as a result of rejecting this unmerited fame, they returned to being the type of followers which earn the highest honour – that of being called ‘disciple’.

So where does the Lystra story leave us? How do find our place within the short lesson from Matthew (Matthew 10.37-42)? How indeed do we find greatness within the sometimes uncertain framework of being Christ’s disciples?

 

Well, rather as Paul did, we need to keep our eyes open. For there is little point trying to serve as Christ’s disciples to someone whose mind is closed. Instead, like Paul let us spot faith no matter how ill-formed or ill-informed it is and use it. Let us respond to an openness to things beyond self. Let us work within that space created by the sense of beyond. Since after all, few here would claim to absolute certain of their doctrine on this issue or that, yet we can lay testimony of Jesus’ present and curing in their lives.

 

Next, we need to let matters not lie there. Instead we need to move the another’s spiritual awaking to a sharper focus. It needs to be – front and centre – aimed at the life and teaching of Christ. Because in the false deifying of Paul and Barnabas the greatest danger was not in them becoming too big for their boots. No the real threat was the distraction – the distraction from a God who nurtures humanity, provides for humanity and wants every human life to have meaning, purpose and worth.

 

But then what can we cure?

 

The university faculty gathered for their weekly meeting. A professor of Archeology brought with him a lamp recently unearthed in the Middle East. It was reported to contain a genie, who, when the lamp was rubbed would appear and grant one wish.

 

A professor of Philosophy was particularly intrigued. He grabbed the lamp and rubbed it vigorously. Suddenly a genie appeared and made him an offer. He could choose one of three rewards: wealth, wisdom, or fame. Without hesitating, the philosophy professor selected wisdom. “Done!” said the genie and disappeared in a cloud of smoke.

 

All the other faculty members turned toward the professor, who sat surrounded by a halo of light. At length, one of his colleagues whispered, “Say something. What wise insight do you now have?”

 

The professor, much wiser now, sighs and says, “I should have taken the money.”

 

Today, most people would have taken not the money but the fame. It seems worth is popularly measured in fame and attendant wealth. And if they don’t have it, then they feel their lives are humdrum, unfulfilled even worthless.

Consequently there is a huge amount of people around who suffer from a lack of self-value. Moreover, there are many whose  abject sense of  inner poverty is a genuine handicap to living a full and free life.

Here then is an affliction,we as Christ’s disciples can aspire to cure

 

 

For the sixties are well behind us. And the years may not have brought fame and wealth. They most probably have not brought outward beauty. Yet they may well have brought the internal beauty of wisdom. The wisdom to see that in using  our godly gifts we  can bring real healing. The wisdom to know we can bestow worth and meaning and purpose with simple listening. The wisdom to offer, through Christ, the quiet encouragement that transforms – transforms the everyday into  the outstanding – transforms the commonplace into the priceless and transforms the  ordinary into true greatness.

 

Above all, we need the wisdom to be ourselves.

 

Since others will then see a priceless dignity in our ordinary discipleship,  they will find the living Jesus in our cheerful everyday-ness and they will rediscover in our godly contentment their own way to inner valuing and meaningfulness.  For Thomas Moore said that by learning to discover and value our ordinariness, we nurture a friendliness towards ourselves and the world that is the essence of a healthy soul.

 

So go and don’t just have an ordinary day, instead be someone else’s great day!

 

 

Are you like coffee beans?

A carrot, an egg, and a cup of coffee…You will never look at a cup of coffee the same way again.

A young woman went to her mother and told her about her life and how things were so hard for her. She did not know how she was going to make it and wanted to give up. She was tired of fighting and struggling. It seemed as one problem was solved, a new one arose.

Her mother took her to the kitchen. She filled three pots with water and placed each on a high fire. Soon the pots came to boil. In the first she placed carrots, in the second she placed eggs, and in the last she placed ground coffee beans. She let them sit and boil; without saying a word.

In about twenty minutes she turned off the burners. She fished the carrots out and placed them in a bowl. She pulled the eggs out and placed them in a bowl.

Then she ladled the coffee out and placed it in a bowl. Turning to her daughter, she asked, “Tell me what you see.”

“Carrots, eggs, and coffee,” she replied.

Her mother brought her closer and asked her to feel the carrots. She did and noted that they were soft. The mother then asked the daughter to take an egg and break it. After pulling off the shell, she observed the hard-boiled egg.

Finally, the mother asked the daughter to sip the coffee. The daughter smiled, as she tasted its rich aroma the daughter then asked, “What does it mean, mother?”

Her mother explained that each of these objects had faced the same adversity: boiling water. Each reacted differently. The carrot went in strong, hard, and unrelenting. However, after being subjected to the boiling water, it softened and became weak. The egg had been fragile. Its thin outer shell had protected its liquid interior, but after sitting through the boiling water, its insides became hardened. The ground coffee beans were unique, however. After they were in the boiling water, they had changed the water.

“Which are you?” she asked her daughter. “When adversity knocks on your door, how do you respond? Are you a carrot, an egg or a coffee bean?

Think of this: Which am I?

Am I the carrot that seems strong, but with pain and adversity do I wilt and become soft and lose my strength?

Am I the egg that starts with a malleable heart, but changes with the heat? Did I have a fluid spirit, but after a death, a breakup, a financial hardship or some other trial, have I become hardened and stiff? Does my shell look the same, but on the inside am I bitter and tough with a stiff spirit and hardened heart?

Or am I like the coffee bean? The bean actually changes the hot water, the very circumstance that brings the pain. When the water gets hot, it releases the fragrance and flavor. If you are like the bean, when things are at their worst, you get better and change the situation around you. When the hour is the darkest and trials are their greatest, do you elevate yourself to another level? How do you handle adversity? Are you a carrot, an egg or a coffee bean?

May you have enough happiness to make you sweet, enough trials to make you strong, enough sorrow to keep you human and enough hope to make you happy.

The happiest of people don’t necessarily have the best of everything; they just make the best of everything that comes along their way. The brightest future will always be based on a forgotten past; you can’t go forward in life until you let go of your past failures and heartaches.

When you were born, you were crying and everyone around you was smiling.

Live your life so at the end, you’re the one who is smiling and everyone around you is crying.

By - Jack Jack Kornfield

From 'Morning with Dilbert' Blog

An Oscar winning performance!

Oscar was named after the Sesame Street character who lives in a garbage can because that is where we first became acquainted.  I was working at a pizza-delivery chain and had been assigned garbage duty.  While tossing bags into a dumpster, I heard a faint meow.  I began digging through the trash, and several layers down I found a cat – bruised and thin.  I wasn’t sure if the cat had crawled into the Dumpster to scavenge for food or if he had been put there purposely.  Our establishment sat directly behind an apartment complex, and unsupervised and abandoned pets were common.

Back on solid ground, it became evident that the cat had an injured leg.  He couldn’t put any weight on his right hindquarters.  The situation created a dilemma for me.  Finances were tight, and I was moving back home to my parents’ house – with two cats already in tow.  Dad barely tolerated the two established felines.  His reaction to another injured stray was sure to be less than receptive.

I took the stray to the vet, hoping to patch him up.  After shots and X-rays, the vet discovered the cat had a cracked pelvis.  I posted notices, hoping someone would claim the cat or adopt him.

Meanwhile, the response at home was swift and firm: No more cats!  Dad insisted I take the cat to the Humane Society immediately.  I protested that the cat would be put to sleep.  Luckily, my mother intervened.  She agreed the injury would make the cat unadoptable, so we would keep him long enough for his hip to heal.  Then he would have to go – no arguments.

Oscar must have somehow understood his situation.  He seemed to study the other two cats and their interactions with my father.  We suspect he bribed Tanner, our golden retriever, with table scraps in exchange for etiquette lessons.  When the other cats were aloof, Oscar was attentive.  He came when his name was called, and he would roll over on his back to have his belly scratched.  As his injury began to heal, he would jump on the ottoman by my father’s favorite chair, and, eventually, into his lap.  Initially, Dad pushed Oscar away, but persistence paid off.  Soon, Oscar and a muttering Dad shared the chair.

At mealtimes, Oscar would come to sit with us.  Positioned on the floor by my father’s chair, every so often Oscar would reach up with one paw and tap Dad on the knee.  At first, this provoked great irritation and colorful expletives expressed in harsh tones.  Oscar, however, refused to be put off.  Repetitive knee-taps soon led to semi-covert handouts of choice morsels.

Oscar greeted my father at the top of the stairs every morning and waited for him at the door every evening.  My father sometimes ignored Oscar, and, at other times, stepped over him, complaining the whole time.  Oscar mastered opening doors by sticking his paw underneath the door and rocking it back and forth until it opened.  Soon, he was sleeping in the master bedroom at the foot of the bed.  My father was completely disgusted, but couldn’t stop the cat from sneaking onto the bed while they were sleeping.  Eventually, Dad gave up.

Before long, Oscar, aspiring to his own place at the table during meals, began jumping up into my lap.  He was allowed to stay as long as his head remained below table level.  Of course, an occasional paw would appear as a reminder of his presence.

Three months passed, and the vet pronounced Oscar healthy and healed.  I was heartbroken.  How could I take this loving soul away from what had become his home, from the people he trusted?  Sick at heart, I brought Oscar home and told my parents what should have been good news: Oscar was a healthy cat with a healed hip.  “I’ll take him to the Humane Society like I promised,” I said dully.

As I turned to put Oscar in the carrier for the trip, my father spoke, uttering three magic words: “Not my cat!”

Oscar is home to stay.  He now has his own chair at the table and sleeps – where else? – in the master bedroom between my mother and father.  He is their official “grand-kitten” and living proof that deep within the most unlikely heart, there is a cat lover in all of us.

By Kathleen Kennedy

Faithful Old Friend

She was just an old golden retriever.  Her name was Brandy, and for eleven years she was the sole companion of an elderly woman who lived in a bungalow colony in the country.  Neighbors often saw the two of them together in the garden.  The woman would be hunched over picking flowers and there was that old dog, close at her heels or lying in the middle of the grass watching her pull weeds.  When the woman died, some relatives came and collected anything they thought was valuable and put a “For Sale” sign on the front lawn.  Then they locked the dog out and drove away.

Some of the neighbors left food out for Brandy, but mostly the dog stayed near the house that she knew and waited for her owner to come back.  A young mother who lived next door noticed the old retriever, but she had never been around animals before and while she thought the dog was friendly enough, she didn’t feel it was any of her concern.

However, when the dog wandered into her yard and began playing with eighteen-month-old Adam, she wanted to shoo the dirty thing away.  Adam was her only child and the light of her life.  But he was having so much fun feeding Brandy cookies she decided to let her stay.  After that, whenever Adam had cookies Brandy came by to visit.

One afternoon, the boy’s mother left Adam in the soft grassy yard to play while she answered the phone.  When she returned he was gone.  Just gone.  The mother was frantic. Neighbors came over to help in the search.  Police arrived and looked for three hours before calling in the state police and helicopters to do an extensive aerial search.  But no one could find the child, and as the sun set over the horizon, whispers of abduction, injury or even death crept into conversations.

The search had been going on for six hours when a neighbor, who’d just returned home, wondered where Brandy was.  Adam’s mother, hysterical with worry, didn’t understand why anyone was asking about the old dog at a time like this.

When someone suggested she might be with Adam, a trooper recalled hearing a dog barking deep in the woods when they were doing a foot search.  Suddenly, everybody started calling for Brandy.

They heard faint barking and followed the sound until they found the toddler, standing up fast asleep, pressed against the trunk of a tree.  That old dog was holding him there with one shoulder as one of her own legs dangled over a thirty-five-foot drop to a stream below.

Brandy had followed Adam when he wandered off.  When she saw danger, she’d pushed him out of harm’s way and held him safe for all those hours, even as the child struggled to get free.

As soon as the rescue team picked up Adam, the old dog collapsed.  A trooper carried Adam back home, while his mother, sobbing with relief, carried Brandy.  She was so grateful to the old golden retriever that Brandy spent the rest of her days with them.  Brandy lived to the ripe old age of seventeen.

But this story doesn’t end with just one life saved.  In Brandy’s honor, Adam’s mother, Sara Whalen, founded Pets Alive, a rescue sanctuary in New York that takes in unwanted animals, including those designated to be euthanized because they are old, blind, incontinent or perhaps not cute enough to be adopted.  While she can’t save them all, Sara feels comforted that she can help at least some of them.  She knows that if someone had put that old retriever to sleep, she could have easily lost the light of her life: her son.

Today, thirty years later, there are more than three hundred animals in her care, including birds, potbellied pigs, old horses retired from the carriage business and unadoptable pets from rescue groups across the country.  The woman who used to think an old, abandoned dog wasn’t any of her concern found that every life has value and has become a beacon for thousands of animals in need.

By Audrey Thomasson

From: Morning with Dilbert Blog

Can you risk looking foolish?

It all started one afternoon, in a small village in Tanga, Tanzania, when Erasto Mpemba and his friends were making ice cream. After making the dairy mixture, they had to put it in the freezer. There was one freezer in the village, they had to take turns using it.

Like most kids, Mpemba did not like waiting. One day, Erasto put his hot milk in the freezer without waiting for it to cool down. Other kids were already cooling theirs, but he could not wait.

After a little while, Erasto checked his ice cream in the freezer. To his shock, it had already frozen. Faster than his friends who cooled mixture first.

“You have stolen my ice cream,” one kid accused him. Erasto’s denial could not quench the accusation. His friends now labeled him a thief.

Determined to clear his name, the following day Erasto set to prove hot milk freezes faster than cold milk. It was absurd. Erasto put containers of the same size in the freezer, one with hot milk and the other with cold. Lo and behold, the hot mixture froze faster.

Elated that he has made a scientific discovery, Erasto shared his observation with the only physics authority he knew, his high school teacher at Magamba Secondary School, Tanzania.

“You were confused, that cannot happen”.
After Erasto finished his Ordinary level, he went for Advanced level where he studied physics. Erasto was relentless, he asked his physics teacher why hot water froze faster. Again, the teacher called him a confused boy.

“Boy, you did not understand Newton’s law of cooling.”

In his Advanced Level class, Erasto learned the scientific process. Erasto repeated his experiment using standard scientific practices. Again, there was more ice in the initially hot water than cold.

“If the teacher says you are wrong, then you are wrong,” Erasto later said in an interview.

When critics were shouting the loudest, something happened that forever changed Erasto’s life. In the late 1960s, Dennis Osborne, a physicist, was invited for a talk at Erasto’s school, Mkhawa Secondary School. Do not ask the professor your stupid questions, the physics teacher told Erasto.

After Dennis Osborne’s speech, students were invited to ask questions. Unfortunately, Erasto had been gagged. But it was not for long. Erasto disobeyed his teacher and repeated his question to Dennis Osborne.

There was a riot in the class. Erasto’s classmates viewed his curiosity as anathema, a cancerous growth that had to be suppressed by all means. The teacher wrongly assumed Erasto had asked to embarrass Dr. Osborne.

Although Dr. Osborne promised to look at the problem, he did not believe it was possible. It was not logical. Decreasing temperature from 68°F to 32°F should be faster than decreasing from 212°F, Dr. Osborne thought. Since he had made a promise, he repeated the experiment in his lab.

After graduating from high school, Erasto and Dennis Osborne published a scientific paper. Erasto’s observation is now called Mpemba effect. To date, no one knows exactly what causes Mpemba effect.

In 2012, Royal Society of Chemistry invited scientists across the globe to write an essay on possible explanation of Mpemba effect. They were more than 22,000 entries. This is how important a young boy’s 1963 observation in a small village has become.

Although Mpemba effect is illogical, it is true. Erasto might never know why hot water freezes faster than cold water, but his curiosity inspires thousands of young people in Africa. Again, his name has been forever inscribed in the annals of physics. At times, success is asking dumb questions and watch other people look for the answer.

Are you willing to be foolish?

 

(Extract from: The chronicles of the kid next door blog)

You are not what you eat!

We are what we don’t eat!

 Acts 11.1-18

Matthew 5.1-12

I have to say I have never watched it myself. But I am told that the programme – I’m a celebrity get me out of here- usually contains a scene where the contestants have to eat something disgusting. In a way I can sympathies with their reaction having once had to eat octopus tentacles on an official visit to Spain. Actually chopped into slices and deep-fried they are delicious. Yet such experiences raise the whole question what we like to eat and what we don’t, what we think we should eat for our health and not and, indeed, what we should and not eat for religious reasons. For such deliberations brings us to the heart of today’s lessons not just from Acts but Matthew as well.

 

 

So let’s start with Peter. Now he could be a black or white sort of guy. Moreover, he saw details as the foundation of the bigger picture. Even small things could either be seriously right or wrong for him. Thus, pre-Joppa, he knew exactly what he had to eat to be God fearing. He knew what all who obeyed God should eat if they were to be on the inside. In fact, he was trying to do religion then by paying attention to the little rules and hoping the bigger ones would take of themselves.

 

That’s why his vision that day at Joppa came to him as a huge surprise. Certainly, if he hadn’t had this revelation, Christianity would have faded out as a footnote in Jewish history. But that day he was given the keys to the Kingdom; he was made to see what the nub of every religion is all about. He was shown what the sacred must truly be founded on. He was made aware that what really matters to God is often not detail. Rather it is have a go at living the truly good life. It is having a bash at obeying God in a way that serves the big picture. Put directly, it is attempting no matter how unsuccessfully to live out not the minutae of religious observance but the beatitudes of faith.

 

Ah we say – but the beatitudes are not easy. Much easier to be concerned with what we can and cannot eat – what formula of rules we can obey to the letter – what boundary walls we can erect to keep people in or out. Since being poor in spirit and peacemakers and above all merciful are painful. Let’s not even start on being pure in heart! That’s just too hard! In the final analysis we say – the beatitudes are just impossible!

 

 

But, you know, the word ‘impossible’ is a strangely flexible sort of term. Since the famous science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke proposed three “laws” of prediction. These are known worldwide as “Clarke’s Three Laws.” Here they are:

Law 1- when a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.

Law 2 – The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.

Law 3 – Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

 

If we say then that the beatitudes are impossible we are very probably wrong.

 

If we say trying to base our life rules on them will test us to the limit then we are right. But so is venturing beyond them. For then we will discover the possibilities of God.

 

If indeed we say the casting aside of our self imposed boundaries is impossible we forget Christ did magic – it’s just we call them – miracles.

 

And where do we need miracles today?

 

Oh there are a hundred and one such places!

 

Let me take the example I heard of only last week. For Cardinal Vincent Nicols has just returned from Iraq. He remarked that until recently that country was an intricate pattern of religions and faiths. Sadly, this relatively harmonious patchwork has been destroyed and the lives of Christians as well as other minorities are now at serious risk.

 

Here then in at least one place is where we need miracles. Miracles brought about not by obeying to the letter some rule or other. Instead miracles ushered in by living, offering and inviting others into the community of the beatitudes. Miracles opened up by casting barriers aside and embracing our common humanity under God. Because that is the only way to value all human beings no matter what they believe or where they come from.

 

Or as Maya Angelou wrote of the human family:

 

I note the obvious differences
in the human family.
Some of us are serious,
some thrive on comedy.

Some declare their lives are lived
as true profundity,
and others claim they really live
the real reality.

I’ve sailed upon the seven seas
and stopped in every land,
I’ve seen the wonders of the world
not yet one common man.

I know ten thousand women
called Jane and Mary Jane,
but I’ve not seen any two
who really were the same.

We are more alike, my friends,
than we are unalike.

 

We are more alike, my friends,
than we are unalike.

 

So, how do we sum up?

 

Well, I think we need to acknowledge we are less what we eat than who we eat with.

 

We are less Christian when we obey rules and ignore God’s vision.

 

We are less human when we stop believing in miracles – the beatitude miracles – the miracle of the vision of Joppa – the miracles we can make happen through Christ. Since that is the food of God and the very taste of heaven!