"God is always good and I am always loved." That's the truth for the inexplicable times -- when a child dies, when a beloved spouse receives a cancer diagnosis, when a fire destroys all earthly possessions.
I have thought about our punishments -- specifically the curse from Genesis 3. And the insight is this: that the punishments are for our good because God is always good and we are always loved.
I was slow to grasp this because I was a weak parent who could hardly punish my son; God is a good parent, determined to transform us into everything we can be. He will love us and encourage us and spank us and discipline us and in the end we are transformed. In the end we are glad for the transformation.
Before I mention the next God's gift, I have to explain something. I have written about my veer away from politics: that for me in this season it's not the focus God intends for my life. There is something else about which I feel convicted and that is sports.
There is a part of me (who am I kidding? HUGE chunks of me) that is not like most people. I don't get trash talk; I may hate the Red Sox but I don't want to hurt the feelings of a Boston fan who loves and lives and dies with his team the way I love and live and die with mine. I know how it feels when the Yankees lose game seven of the World Series: it hurts. Why would I want to magnify the hurt of someone else by exulting in their pain?
I see this most clearly during football season because I view this set apart, from a distance. My nice, sweet, caring friends who write ugly things on their walls, on the walls of friends. "Have you come to your senses yet?" Meant in jest. Probably taken in the spirit in which it was delivered, too. (HUGE chunks of me that are not like most people.) I don't want to be a part of that. I don't want anything to proceed from my mouth (or my fingers) that brings low. Yes -- of course I fail constantly. That is no reason to give up the quest.
But (always a "but") -- I love baseball the way I love all the things I've named so far on this gratitude journey. It is soul satisfying for me. I see beauty in the game, feel a connection to my dad, travel to heights and depths: I don't want to give it up.
I am a singular sports fan. I love the Detroit Red Wings and the New York Yankees and I live in Prattville, Alabama. I'm not exactly swimming in a sea of like-minded folk. Sports has most often been a thing I share only peripherally: Bruce checks the scores because he loves me, not the Yankees. Someone four pews over at church professes a love for pinstripes. I smile and nod.
So I have a compromise. I'm going to be an invisible sports fan. If the Red Wings win the Stanley Cup you will never know it from my Facebook page or my blog. If the Yankees set a new record for losing games at the beginning of the season, I'll likewise be silent. There are some friends who will post things on my wall -- things that scar my heart as ugliness even though they are meant in jest (not like most people) and I will not respond. No trash talk, no exulting, no cheering. I'll be loving my teams with the passion I've always had, but I won't be sharing it with anyone. Does this seem strange? I think it probably is. I'm trying it anyway.
So I am bending the rule a bit (and might bend it again in the future). But this IS a gift for me, to me, and I am naming it and am thankful for it.
17. Hockey, the NHL, the Red Wings. As of this day owners of the best record in the league. Peaking at the right time, for sure. I came to love hockey because of the skating: I was amazed at the talent and the beauty of men zipping around on thin blades of steel (or aluminum or titanium or secret metals from dwarf mines -- I don't know). As I learned more about the game I became even more awestruck and I fell deeply in love.
18. Indoor plumbing. Wow.
19. Golden light of sun in late afternoon. For thirty-six years Bruce has said, "This is my favorite time of day," all because of this golden light, beams slanting almost parallel to the ground, visible, almost tangible.
20. Kneading -- warm, yeasty dough. I love the process of kneading: of turning the raw ingredients into something delicious (I hope!). As a student of Alton Brown I envision the strands of gluten being formed as I push and press the dough beneath my palms, the heels of my hand. I am also transported back centuries because women (and men) have kneaded dough this way for as long as history can record...
21. Smell of pretzels baking in the oven. How good of God to provide aromas like that!
22. Warm pretzels dipped in honey mustard! Two makes dinner (I can cheat like that every now then, right?)
The recipe is adapted from one on The Fresh Loaf site. My differences: I used a whole packet of yeast (what're you gonna do with leftover yeast?), I used 100% white whole wheat flour, and I used vanilla almond milk (I would've preferred non-vanilla, but it was all I had and I could not taste vanilla in the final product). I boiled mine; I didn't need two spatulas -- I lowered one into the water with a slotted spatula and just let it float while I counted slowly to five. I had real pretzel salt left over from some frozen soft pretzels, so that's what I sprinkled 'em with.
23. Sleeping husbands in recliners. He will sleep, snore a little, wake up and say, "I guess I should go to bed." It's a routine.
24. Cold feet warming up under soft blankets.
25. Paying bills online (when was the last time I wrote a check?).
26. Dark chocolate. Just a square or two satisfies ("Chilies and Cherries in Dark Chocolate" was tonight's flavor) and I am content.