The Art of Being Nice

My kids once had a bus driver named Mrs. Nice.  Really, I’m not making this up.  Of course, in our house, the jokes abounded:  “She’s a Nice lady.  Her kids are probably Nice kids.  When her husband proposed, he said, ‘You would be Nice if you married me.'”  Terribly original, I’m sure.

Dictionary.com defines nice as pleasing, agreeable, or delightful.(A nice visit)  Or amicably pleasant, kind (they are always nice to strangers).  We teach our grandson to be nice to the dog, which means to pet her softly and not pull on her ears or tail.  He’s still working on it.

Paul encourages the Ephesians to be nice, too.  He says, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32)  Sound impossible?  He goes on to urge them to “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children . . .” (5:1a)   That makes more sense.  We can only really be nice to each other when we allow the source of Love — God — to love through us.

I’ll be the first to admit that sometimes I don’t feel like being nice.  Oh, I don’t think I could ever be downright nasty to someone.  I’m not that bad.  But always being as kind and patient as I should be, as God would be?  With certain people, in certain circumstances, I can be just plain —  well — not nice.  How about you?

It’s easy to make the excuse that I’m just tired, or busy, or distracted.  Sorry.  Didn’t mean to be unkind.  I’m so glad that my Heavenly Father is never too tired or busy or distracted to be nice to me.

So I’m still working on not pulling ears or tails, even a little bit.  Thankfully I have the best teacher in the Universe.

Copyright 2012 – Mary E. Egidio –  permission is granted to share this post, but with attribution, and not for commercial purposes.

What About Lent?

Growing up in the Roman Catholic church, the observance of Lent was a given.  Lent is the 40 days before Easter (excluding Sundays), and is generally observed by “giving up” something.  At least that’s how I remember it from childhood.  I generally gave up candy, but I can remember trying to convince myself that licorice wasn’t actually candy, but medicine. And, of course, there was the no meat on Friday thing.

I had been gone from the Catholic church for several years and had become an Evangelical Protestant, when I was visiting with some Catholic friends from my home town on Good Friday and made the mistake of ordering pepperoni on my pizza. Their surprise didn’t escape my notice. I hadn’t even thought about it being a Friday in Lent, much less Good Friday. But as I enjoyed my meal, I remember feeling a sense of freedom.

So the question comes up every year: should Protestant Christians observe Lent?  For the last several years, my home church (not Catholic) has observed Ash Wednesday with the distribution of ashes, and has encouraged members to practice some form of self-denial.  But this year, I particularly appreciated my pastor’s insight on Lenten observance.  His comment was that we shouldn’t be giving up something just for self-denial’s sake, but that by giving up something we could be using that time or energy to do something else for God’s kingdom.  Pastor Brett shared that he was giving up an hour of sleep each day so that he could spend that time praying for us, his parishioners.

This is the example Jesus gave us.  The Creator of the Universe came and walked among His creation, in humility and servanthood.  He denied all that He was to show us the depth and height and breadth of the Father’s love for us. He used the time to teach and heal and touch and restore, and ultimately, to pay the price for our sins.  Then He conquered death and the grave so we could know the promise of new life.

As we prepare to celebrate our Lord’s resurrection, why shouldn’t we share in His denial and sacrifice, as well as His servanthood?

“I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.” Philippians 3:10-11 NIV

How I Ended Up in the ER One New Year’s Eve (but it wasn’t my fault)

ER signIt all started with gnocchi.  Leave it to the Italians to turn potatoes into pasta.  That’s what gnocchi is, if you were wondering.  Yes, now that I look back, the whole thing was the gnocchi’s fault.

Actually, it was Lidia’s fault.  This particular New Year’s Eve, Chef Lidia Bastianich, my husband’s favorite, was on television demonstrating how to make gnocchi, by taking perfectly good mashed potatoes, adding flour and an egg, and rolling them out into a strip.  She cut the strips  into little pieces with a knife and then rolled the dough along a fork to achieve ridges that hold the sauce or pesto.  Let them dry, cook them like pasta, and presto, another high-carb Italian favorite is born.  Sounds simple, right?

It was really my husband’s fault.  Watching Lidia, and hankering for the gnocchi his dear-departed Italian grandmother used to make, he decided that gnocchi we must!  Fun project for a quiet New Year’s Eve, er, evening alone. No kids in the house.  Just the two of us.  He pulled out some leftover potatoes, made the mixture, rolled out the dough and started cutting. I know. Very romantic.

Did I mention it was my friend Cheryl’s fault?  She decided to give my son, who was, at the time, an aspiring chef, a good knife set.  Not super good, but  nice cutlery, which, of course, included a sharpening rod.  She doesn’t remember doing it, but I can assure you, she did.  That’s why she deserves the blame.

Then there’s my son.  You can’t be a real chef if you don’t do that trick with the blade against the sharpening rod.  Dzing-dzing-dzing.  Nice and sharp.  Yes indeedy. Definitely his fault.

So back to the gnocchi.  You must realize dough made from potatoes forms a starchy, sticky coating on the knife one uses to cut it.  My father always told me to wash a sticky knife immediately so as not to let it get dull.  Can’t blame him, though.  He’s no longer living.  But I had to wash the knife.

And what is the cardinal rule when one puts a sharp knife into soapy dishwater?  Hmmm???   Let’s say it together, shall we?  “Hang on to the knife and wash it right away.”  And did I follow that rule?  Nooooo!   And then because I’m fifty-something, I forgot the knife was even in there.  Until I swished my hand around in the soapy water to see if anything else was in the sink to be washed.  And then my finger found it.  Oh yeah.

I grabbed for my finger as I pulled it up out of the water and immediately applied pressure with my other hand.  I let go long enough to take a quick peek, then said, “Honey! Guess what? We’re going to the ER.”

Nine o’clock in the evening on New Year’s Eve is not an ideal time to hit an emergency room.  Even stupid Mary who puts her hands in soapy water with a knife knows that much.  But luckily, we had options.  We live in the south end of our city, and a town to the south of us has a hospital on the north end of their town.  Their hospital is actually closer to us than our city’s hospital.  I’d heard of other folks who’d gone to that ER and survived.  I knew if we went to our city’s ER with a cut finger, we’d be waiting all night.  So off to Bartow Regional we went.  It really wasn’t a bad place, if you don’t mind everyone talking like they’re from the Andy Griffith Show.

They butterflied (bandage, that is) my finger, gave me a tetanus shot and we were home by 11 o’clock, with plenty of time to watch the ball drop over Times Square.  I’m not sure I remember even eating the gnocchi.

Turns out I’ve ended up in that same ER two times since — once with my daughter, and once again myself just recently.  This time it was much more serious, and I was admitted to the hospital.  But that’s another story.  And that wasn’t my fault either.  Blame that one on the pineapple.

Copyright 2012 by Mary E. Egidio   Permission is granted to share this post, but with attribution, and not for commercial purposes.

Thanksgiving

Another Thanksgiving has come and gone at our house.  I think this one will go down in the books as one of the most unusual.  It was unusual because this year, both of my children are married, and their spouses were with us for dinner.  That was especially joyous, since their work schedules usually make it impossible for all of us be together at once. 

I generally insist on having Thanksgiving dinner around 1 pm.  This allows time to play games in the afternoon and eat turkey sandwiches later on. But the pie baking got delayed (my fault!), which caused the turkey roasting to be delayed (no, we don’t deep fry turkey at our house, thank you!).  We had to juggle oven times to get all the side-dishes properly cooked.  My new daughter-in-law shared her grandmother’s sweet potato casserole and macaroni & cheese recipes, but an error in the cookbook resulted in several phone calls and a longer-than-expected cooking time.  Of course, a fussy grandbaby only added to the general confusion.  Just as frustrations were beginning to build, in walked our son-in-law — off work earlier than expected and able to join us for dinner — a wonderful surprise.  The meal was hours later than intended, but as I looked around the table  at my family I realized all these delays were for a good reason. 

Yes, the turkey was tender, the gravy was tasty, the stuffing — which included sausage — was interesting, the sweet potato casserole and macaroni &  cheese were yummy.  The pie crust was appropriatly flaky.  But as long as we were all together, it wouldn’t have mattered if we were eating pizza or peanut butter sandwiches.

I know all too well that even on Thanksgiving, many families deal with issues far more serious than an ill-timed dinner.  Past hurts, broken relationships, missing family members, health and economic problems can all combine to create deep sadness, or explosive interactions.  Others face the holiday alone, hoping for the generosity of strangers to fill the void.

I don’t know what future Thanksgiving dinners will be like at our house.  It may be a while before all of our feet are under the same table together.  At some point, I’ll no longer be the kitchen manager, but hopefully I’ll still be able to put together a decent pumpkin pie.  No matter the circumstances, I hope I can always find a reason to be thankful, and rejoice in God’s blessings of family and love.

“Give thanks to the Lord, call on His name; make known among the nations what he has done.  sing to Him, sing praise to Him; tell of all His wonderful acts.”  Psalm 105: 1-2 (NIV)

Copyright 2011 Mary E. Egidio

A Second Look

Okay, I have to admit it.  I cheated on my driver’s license test last month.  There.  Now I feel much better.  Except I hope my friend the police officer isn’t reading this.

Actually, I cheated on the eye exam.  You see, when I put my eyes up to the machine, I was instructed to read the letters on the third line.  I saw three rectangles in a row, but  the first rectangle was empty!  I could see letters only in rectangles two and three.  Never fear, I knew exactly what to do (this is where the cheating comes in).  I closed my right eye, and letters magically appeared in rectangle number one.  After I read those letters aloud, I simply opened my right eye and closed my left, and read the rest of the letters.  In the busy DMV office, no one even noticed.

Fact is, I’m able to see pretty well out of both eyes, just not at the same time!  (see Body Parts) Friends who know this about me get a little nervous when I’m driving, since depth perception isn’t my strong suit, but hey, I’ve got a great driving record.  If you don’t count that red light in April … but I digress.

A man in the Bible was having some trouble with his vision, too.  He was a servant of the prophet Elisha.  One morning this guy woke up to discover the hills were alive – but not with the sound of music!  Instead, an army with horses and chariots, sent to eliminate his boss, surrounded the city.  He ran off to deliver the bad news, but soon learned he needed to take a second look:

“Don’t be afraid,” the prophet answered. “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” (Our friend had to be thinking –‘So, exactly how many imaginary friends do you have?’)

And Elisha prayed, “O Lord, open his eyes so he may see.”  Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.”  2 Kings 6:16-17 (NIV)

When he took a second look, with a different pair of eyes, he discovered the true picture.  Phfew!  What a relief.  God was in control.  Nothing to worry about here.

Like my eye test, and Elisha’s servant, sometimes I miss it on the first glance.  It’s too easy to focus on the circumstances and the problems, and forget to take a second look with God’s eternal view in mind.  When it seems like the odds are overwhelming, I have to remember the God who created the stars is on my side.  It’s a huge relief when I finally see the real picture and realize God is in control.

You may not see Him yet.  But, trust me, He’s there.  Look again.

Copyright 2011 — Mary E. Egidio  Permission is granted to share this work, but with attribution, and not for commercial purposes.

Master of the Universe

Hubble Space Telescope images

We recently visited the Kennedy Space Center while on vacation.  It’s always one of my favorite attractions here in Florida.  My husband and I are both fans of astronomy and space flight, and the displays never cease to amaze and fascinate us.  We watched an Imax movie about the Hubble Space Telescope (in 3D, no less!) and sat enthralled while Leonardo DiCaprio described the images of galaxies that lie unimaginable distances from our own.  One nebula contained what scientists call a “galaxy nursery,” where they believe new galaxies are being formed.  Tears ran down my cheeks.  I was thinking three things:

One:  If in my lifetime we went from simply trying to orbit the earth successfully (yes, now I’m showing my age) to being able to capture images billions of miles away, what amazing discoveries will my grandson witness in his lifetime?

Two:  From Job 38, where the Lord speaks to Job in answer to his questioning:   “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?  . . . while the morning stars sang together?  Have you ever given orders to the morning, or shown the dawn its place? . . . What is the way to the abode of light? And where does darkness reside?  . . . Have you entered the storehouses of the snow?” (NIV)  Feeling a bit small, there, Mr. Job?  Well you should.

Three:  And here’s the most amazing thought:  this same God who in His infinite creativity has crafted millions of stars and planets that stretch out across the vast expanse of space – He knows my name.  Yes, and yours, too.  He speaks to me in His Word.  He loves me, even in my most un-loveliness, and made a way for all of us to receive His forgiveness and grace through the sacrifice of His Son on the cross.

In Isaiah, He says, “For I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.  Do not be afraid . . . for I myself will help you, declares the Lord, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel.” Isaiah 41:13 (NIV)

The same hand that formed the universe takes hold of my hand.  I scarce can take it in.

Copyright 2011  Mary E. Egidio  – Permission is granted to reproduce this post, but with attribution, and not for commercial purposes.

Dressed to Be Blessed

I have a ‘vacation shirt’.  It’s a black sleeveless polo that is as thin and soft as a well-worn hanky.  Most of the year, it lives quietly tucked away in my dresser drawer.  But my family knows I’m officially on vacation when they see Mom in that shirt.  It’s comfortable for hanging around the house or walking along the beach.

We all have certain clothes for various occasions.  They’re our church clothes, wedding attire, gardening grubbies, our favorite torn T-shirt for washing the car or the sports team sweats for watching the game.  We have that special outfit that we wear when we want to feel confident, professional, even powerful.  Don’t believe me?  Next time the President of the United States gives his State of the Union address, just count how many women in the audience are wearing a red suit!  Even the president’s tie choice is scrutinized that night.  Leaders understand the importance of dressing for success.

The prophet Isaiah had something to say about clothing, but he wasn’t talking about power suits:  “I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God.  For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness…” Isaiah 61:10 a (NIV- emphasis mine)

Righteousness is a word that appears in almost every book in the Bible.  It describes both the nature of God and His desire for His children.  The Lord is described as a righteous judge.  Jesus encourages us to “seek first God’s kingdom and His righteousness, and everything else will fall into place.”  Matthew 6:33 (paraphrase  mine)

The thought of trying to achieve that righteousness in our own power is overwhelming.  But Jeremiah, when prophesying about the coming of the Messiah, proclaims, “This is the name by which he will be called: The Lord Our Righteousness”  Jeremiah 23:6 b (NIV)

Not only is God the Righteous, Almighty, Eternal — but because of His love for us, He sent Jesus to become Our Righteousness.  He gives us — yes, clothes us, in that same righteousness.  It’s something we can’t earn or strive for or manipulate.  Whether in my sinfulness, or when I’m struggling to achieve religious perfection, He reaches out His hand, gently wraps me in His love, and whispers, “Here, I’ve got this.”  At that point, I have only to let go and surrender to Him, and  find myself arrayed in a “robe of righteousness.”    It is both freeing and humbling to realize it is nothing I have done, but only God’s love and mercy.

That’s some wardrobe!  It’s what the “well-blessed” folk are wearing these days.  How about you?

Copyright 2011 Mary Egidio — Permission is granted to share this work, but with attribution, and not for commercial purposes.