Monday, November 17, 2014

Let Go of Your Agenda

Remember The Great Pumpkin Fire of 2010? Well, last week, I had another pumpkin pie adventure that was a lot less dangerous but much more frustrating....

It was my second time to buy sugar pie pumpkins, but the first two I'd used to make pumpkin milkshakes, pumpkin mini donuts, pumpkin oatmeal, and pumpkin pancakes. The second two sat on my counter for about three weeks because Ethan had declared that I couldn't make any more pumpkin things until I made some pumpkin pie. Ain't nobody got time for 'dat.

Last Thursday, I'd planned to take Allyson clothes shopping, but we were way late with dinner, and I didn't want to keep her up. To ease her disappointment, I suggested that we'd make the pie instead--because surely that wouldn't take up the whole evening. (What was I thinking?)

While we ate dinner, I roasted the two miniature pumpkins whole. After the dishes, I ground the pastry flour and whirled up the ingredients from my no-fail whole-wheat crust recipe in the food processor. I formed the dough into a disk and let Allyson cut it in half with the bench knife. I put half in the fridge and tucked the other half in the freezer for next week's pot pie.

Next I washed up the food processor bowl and pureed the now cool pumpkin flesh. I guess it was around this time that Allyson alerted me to a disaster with the kitty. "Mama! CiCi found a noodle and she's eating it."

I wiped some sweat from my brow with the back of my wrist, keeping my pumpkin-slick hands away from my forehead. Darn it! Why hadn't I picked up that bow-tie noodle that Allyson had dropped under the table during dinner? I sighed heavily. "Well, take it away from her."

"I'm afraid to. She's growling at me," Allyson called from the living room.

I smiled. A kitten growling? My daughter was obviously exaggerating.

"It's gone. She ate it."

"Well, one noodle won't hurt her."

"It's as big as her whole stomach," Allyson pointed out.

"Well, nothing we can do about it now."

While the crust chilled in preparation for rolling out, I prayed and read the Bible with Allyson and Ethan, smiling at my own efficiency and time management skills. But my smile fizzled when I looked at the clock afterward. It was now approaching 9 o'clock, and we still had to roll out the crust, prebake it, mix the filling, and bake the pie for over an hour.

"I'm afraid you won't get to eat any tonight," I told Allyson. "Maybe I can just finish it tomorrow."

"No!" Ethan called from his room. "You said we could have pie tonight."

I heaved another sigh. No way I was making my 10:30 bedtime this time. Maybe I could skip the pre-baking; whether or not this step is actually necessary seems to be the subject of vehement debates online.

I sent my sister Melody, the pie master, a text. "Do you prebake your pumpkin pie crust?"

No answer. I thought back to the last successful crust I'd made. I was pretty sure I'd prebaked that one. Better stick to the plan.

"Okay, time to roll out the dough," I said.

Allyson followed me back to the kitchen. "Can I help?"

"Sure, baby," I said. "Just let me get it rolled out. You know pie crust is tricky."

"I can do it," she said, taking the wooden rolling pin from me.

Reminding myself that this pie wasn't going to be in the state fair like my Melody's famous pumpkin pie, I stood back and watched Allyson struggle with the cold, stiff dough. "Don't make it too thin," I said. "Make sure you get it even."

Wonder of wonders, the crust turned out great! It was soft and pliable, but firm enough to hold its shape. And unlike the other times, there was plenty of overhang around the pie pan. We worked together to trim the excess dough and roll it under, and then we crimped it all around between our index fingers and our thumbs. Oh, it was a masterpiece. I didn't take a picture, so you'll have to take my word for it.

Following some instructions I'd found online, I made an egg-white wash and let Allyson paint it on with a pastry brush. "Gently," I warned, clasping my hands anxiously. "Not too thick!"

After we'd poked holes all around the crust, I carefully lined it with some foil and poured a handful of barley grains on top to weight it down. No risk of a parchment fire this time! As I slid the crust into the oven, I smiled smugly. "We're getting pretty good at this," I said, squeezing Allyson's shoulder.

While the crust baked, we mixed up the filling ingredients, dirtying the food processor bowl for the third time.

Now I got an answer from Melody: no, she doesn't pre-bake her crusts. Oh well.

Sixteen minutes later, I pulled the delightfully fragrant crust from the oven and gently peeled back the foil... and half the crust along with it! With the foil off, I saw that the beautifully crimped edges had slid right down the sides of the pan.

 "Oh no!!" I wailed. "I don't understand. I followed the instructions exactly. The pie is ruined!"

At this point, we had eaten a lot of the botched crust.

"What will we do?" Allyson asked.

"I'll make the other half of the dough," I said. "And this time I won't prebake it." Stupid Internet instructions, I thought. But something was starting to come together in my mind. I pulled out my cookbook and compared the whole-wheat pastry crust recipe I'd used to another crust recipe I'd looked at to remind myself how to make dough in the food processor.

Uh oh.

The food processor recipe, which used 75 percent more flour, called for 3/4 a pound of butter--three sticks. But the recipe I'd made only needed 3/4 a cup of butter--one and a half sticks. I'd gotten the two recipes confused! No wonder our crust had been so supple. And no wonder it had slid to the bottom of the pan in a greasy heap. (And no wonder it tasted so yummy.)

"Argh!" I cried. "I can't use the other half of the dough. It has too much butter, too."

"What will we do?" Allyson repeated.

"We won't do anything. You're going to bed. I'll to have to start all over. I'll make the dough tonight and roll it out tomorrow. Go to your room and get your jammies on. I'm going to grind some more flour and then I'll be right in."

Alone in the kitchen, I took a few deep breaths. I'd wasted a whole evening and had nothing to show for it. And now I'd have to stay up a lot longer. If only we'd gone to Penney's instead! Could I possibly be any more frustrated?

Just then, Allyson's shrill cry interrupted my pity party.

"Mama! CiCi found another noodle. You come take it from her."

I trudged into the living room, ready to show Allyson how to show a 1.5-pound kitty who's boss.

"She's under the chair," Allyson said, pointing. "And she's growling again."

I knelt and peered under the chair. "You come out of there, CiCi," I commanded.

"rrrrrr-rrrr" she answered.

I gave her rump a little shove. "Get out of there."


"Give me that!" I said, reaching for the noodle protruding from her mouth.


"Owwww!" I howled. "She bit me!"

I squeezed my ring finger to see if it would bleed. A large, crimson drop blossomed on the side of my fingertip, and another tiny bead appeared on the top of the same fingertip.

CiCi licked her chops. There was now no sign of the noodle.

"You bad, naughty kitty!" I said. But I had to admit that she had warned me. Unlike Allyson, I hadn't had the sense to heed her threats.

Here's the sweet little culprit.
I scrounged up the second-to-last Band-Aid, doctored my throbbing finger with Neosporin, and tucked in my sous-chef and her vicious kitten, who sleeps in a carrier next to her bed.

And then I trudged back to my wreck of a kitchen and whipped up another crust. As I worked, I went over the evening's trials in my head. But then something unexpected happened. I had to smile as I thought of the satisfaction Allyson and I had shared in making that beautiful, ill-fated crust. This was no wasted evening!

"It's not about the pie," I thought.

A Walk In the Park
Three days later, God reminded me of my pie adventure while we were walking in the park before church. That morning I'd been excited over a whole hour for my quiet time, but then I couldn't decide how to spend it. When I asked God what I should do, I just kept thinking of the trees in the park, and how long it had been since I'd gone on a Sabbath walk.

"But it's cold out," I said. "Can't we talk in here?"

My head turned to the gorgeous crepe myrtle just outside my kitchen window, and I felt a tugging in my heart. "Okay, I'll go for a walk," I said, "as long as it isn't raining."

I opened the front door and squinted out at the front yard. No rain that I could see.

Layered up with all the gear from my Three-Day Walk, when I'd walked 60 miles in temperatures just over freezing, I headed out the door--only to discover that it was indeed raining. It was just a heavy mist, but my feet were already feeling damp in my Five-Finger shoes. I hurried back inside.

"God, why did you tell me to go walking if it was raining?" I asked, feeling a stab of disappointment.

Just then, I thought of all the rainy walks I'd taken with my mother-in-law up in Vancouver, where it rains practically every day in the winter. Sandi always says that you can't let a little rain stop you from getting your exercise.

So changed into some boots and dug out the pink pancho that I'd never worn on the Three-Day Walk. Oh, I was a sight in my sweat pants, casual boots, long coat, knit hap with flaps, and pink pancho. But it didn't matter because nobody else was crazy enough to be out in the rain. And I think God thought I was beautiful.

We had a great walk. Some of the trees were still green, so vivid against the gray sky, while others were bright with fall colors. I had to pause on the foot bridge to watch the rain drops making interlocking circles in the creek. "Oh, oh," I said. "Thank you."

As we walked, I told God about my frustration lately with being so busy. "I feel overwhelmed sometimes," I said. "And there are so many things that don't get done, important things. Like when I showed up at Dad's birthday party last week without a card or a present. But what could I have done differently last weekend? What could I drop that I haven't already dropped? Should I stop getting together with friends?"

Tears trickled down my cheeks. "I need your help with this. You know I'm no good at organization. Show me how to make my time go farther, like you do with my money when I put you first."

I walked on in silence for a few minutes. In my favorite part of the park, where the branches make a canopy over the path, I heard God's answer. "You need to let go of your agenda."


"I need to relax," I said. "I need to rest in you and accept that I can't do it all. I can't be perfect."

I thought of my "wasted" evening, with its hidden treasure of fun with my daughter. I thought of Mary and Martha--how Jesus said that in spending time at His feet, Mary chose the more important thing despite Martha's legitimate need for help in the kitchen.

"Show me what's really important," I prayed. "Help me let go of all my expectations and let you have my whole day, each day."

Such a weight was lifted from my shoulders. I realized then that I never have to be disappointed about what I can't accomplish, whether that's an unmade pie or an unmopped floor. As long as I surrender my whole day to God, I can be sure that the important things will get done. And the rest of it doesn't matter. It's not about the pie.

As we headed back home, a large, green tree next to the stream caught my attention. My latest scripture memory passage bubbled up in my heart:

Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, 
whose confidence is in him.
For he will be like a tree planted by the water,
that extends its roots by a stream.
It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.
(Jeremiah 17:7-8)

I grinned over the way God had confirmed this passage for me just that week, even though I hadn't asked because this was just Bible study homework. After I'd copied the verses onto blank business cards, I closed my eyes and pressed a hand to my chest. "Help me trust you like that, Lord. I want to be like that tree, with green leaves that display your splendor."

I flipped on the radio then, just in time to hear "like a tree planted by the water... roots going deep... leaves always green." (It was a song I'd heard only a few times, and I can't remember now who sings it.)

I was so surprised I almost jumped. And then I laughed with delight. I'd never received a confirmation so quickly before!

Now, a few days later, I saw why God had given me this passage. I'd always thought of droughts as trials; I know from experience that troubles can make our roots go down deep, deep to the living water. But now I saw that my drought is this constant busyness. It's a dryness that comes from being too busy and needing more time with God. When I get overwhelmed, that's the time to send my roots down deeper, to drink the living water and thrive.

"You tied it all together for me, didn't you?" I said with wonder. "I can trust you with this season. You're taking care of everything, and I don't have to be anxious. I'm going to bear even more fruit now, as long as I keep letting you make the agenda."

If we had more time, I'd tell you about the rest of that amazing Sabbath, which went almost nothing like I'd envisioned but was so much better than anything I could have planned. I will say this... when I went to church last night, one of the first things I heard was, "Tonight we're letting go of the agenda."

I felt a thrill at that sacred echo. I'm so excited to see what God's agenda holds for me.

P.S. I finally made the pie on Saturday. The crust wasn't nearly so pretty as the first one, but it held its shape. The pie was delicious!

P.S.S. I'm saving up lots of cat stories, but for now I'll just share a few pictures...

I think it's love.

My sister Amy syringe feeding CiCi

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