Monday, September 30, 2013

Tomato Soup from Heaven

It's autumn. Time to harvest. Makes me remember Papo, my grandfather, and sweet afternoons in his kitchen.

                                                    TOMATO SOUP FROM HEAVEN

                    Only the pure in heart can make a good soup. Ludwig van Beethoven 

I heard the soft creak of our front door. From my upstairs bedroom, the sound was distant but distinct. I’d been in bed for over a month with herniated disks in my back, and I was lonely. I knew a visitor when I heard one.

“Baby Girl?” My grandfather’s voice traveled up the stairwell. Same kind tone, same name he’d called me all my life, though I was now well past a girlish state. I was thirty-something and pregnant with my third son.

“Papo, come on up,” I called. I tried to roll to my side, but even that was painful and difficult.

It seemed small ages before Papo ducked his head through the door frame. He pulled his hat from his head and held it in his worn hands. “How are you today, darlin?”

“Same, same, same, Papo. Ready to do something different,” I said.

“Are you hungry?” he asked.

“What did you bring?” I couldn’t help but smile. And I’d bet my beagle he’d brought his homemade tomato soup. I could just imagine it, in blue-handled Kemp’s ice cream bucket, with the lid pressed on for secure travel. It was about thirty miles from my grandparents’ door to my bedside.

“Why, I’ll be,” he said. “What makes you ask that?” Papo’s grin now matched my own.

“Is there soup in the kitchen?” I asked.

“I’ll bring you some up,” Papo said. He walked into the bedroom and bent, slowly, to kiss the top of my head. Then he disappeared. Out the door. Down the stairs. Into the kitchen to ladle some soup.

Papo’s tomato soup had been a comfort food stitch in the fabric of my life. He was a gardener long before my grandmother’s health failed and he became the cook. The tomatoes for his soup came plump and fresh from dark Mississippi River Valley soil. The weather could be too dry, too wet. The blight would hit and sturdy tomato plants would spot and spoil, yet somehow Papo’s plants would yield juicy tomatoes. He’d peel, cut, and cook the tomatoes and seal them in clear, shiny Mason jars. When we were sick or sad or just plain hungry, the jars would be extracted, one by one, from the shelf in his basement. Then he’d pour them into his heavy, old stock pot. He’d add creamy cold milk, garlic, seasonings, a spot of butter and pinches of parsley and soda. The result would be thick and delicious, fresh and smooth, a slight red that filled the bowls and tummies with something warm and wonderful.

Papo usually served his soup with crisp, salty crackers, and he didn’t skimp. He didn’t let me down, that afternoon, either. A few minutes later, Papo once again climbed the stairs, this time even more slowly than the first. I could see a steaming bowl balanced on a tray, crackers piled high on the side. I caught the garlicky aroma before he hit the bedroom, and my mouth watered.

“Papo,” I said. “It was so kind of you to bring me this soup. It smells amazing.” I tried to prop myself up enough to support the tray on my lap. The sharp shoots of pain were softened by Papo’s response.

“Oh, darlin. I wish I could do more,” he said. His hands shook slightly as he placed the tray over my legs.

I reached out to embrace my grandfather. He once again leaned in, careful to not upset my lunch. “Can you stay?” I asked.

“Your grandmother’s in the car,” he said. “She just can’t make it up the stairs today. But she said she loves you. And we’ll be back, soon.”

I could only imagine what he must’ve gone through, transporting my poor, sweet grandmother to the car. Her legs had just about given out and traveling was a real sacrifice.

“I love you,” I said.

“I love you, too, Baby Girl,” Papo said. Then he squeezed my hands and once again left the way he came. I sat alone, on my bed, and sipped slow spoonfuls of soup. When the bottom of the bowl peeked through, I tipped it forward to scoop every last drop. Funny as it sounds, the flavor was more than tomatoes and garlic and cream. To me, hurting and alone, the soup tasted like love.

A few months later, after a healthy delivery and a healed back, Papo called me to his kitchen. He wanted to teach me to make the soup. He’d instruct and I’d work, under his watchful eye. Then I’d go home and try to make it for my family. The soup would scorch. The soda would turn the kettle to a pink, frothy mess. I’d get too much garlic and we’d pant for water like thirsty dogs. I just couldn’t get it. But my Papo was a patient man, and we kept trying, until one day I hit it right. I didn’t understand it at the time, but those moments stooped over the stock pot were in preparation.

A few years later, I no longer have the blessing of learning in Papo’s kitchen.  And“How ‘bout some soup, Baby Girl?” no longer travels up the stairwell, through the kitchen, from Papo’s heart to mine. But those words echo in my memory, and they bring precious peace. When one of my five boys is hurting, sad, or just needs some extra loving, I pull the copper-bottom stock pot from the pantry shelf. I reach for tomatoes that I learned to “put up” for all seasons. I stir the ingredients together and get the recipe just right. And I remember my grandfather, dear sweet Papo, full of encouragement and love.
Then I sit at the table with my son and enjoy tomato soup from heaven.

Papo's Tomato Soup:

2 T butter
2 T flour
4 c milk
1 qt home canned tomatoes  (used crushed if using canned tomatoes from the store)
1/4 tsp baking soda
garlic powder, salt, pepper

Warm milk, in pan, over low/med heat. Add butter, stirring constantly. Sprinkle in flour.

Add baking soda to tomatoes.

While continuing to stir, add tomatoes to milk mixture (will froth a bit).

Season to taste with garlic powder, salt, pepper. Stir until creamy.

*Very important to use low/med heat. Don't boil...soup will curdle

Story and recipe as printed in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Food and Love

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Binding the Broken

Isaiah is my fixer. He loves to repair what has fallen apart. He wants to grow up to be like Logan, fixer of the toys. Logan grew up to be like my dad. Fixer of most anything.

I guess it's in Isaiah's blood.

Today the dishwasher produces a couple of casualties: a cutting board, split in half, that has seen too many cycles, and a two-piece wooden spoon.

"I'm sorry, Mom," Isaiah says when he sees the pile of brokenness. Yesterday's stuff headed for the trash.

"No worries, Zay," I say.

"I'll fix it, Mom. Things will be good as new!"

I smile as he darts around the corner. I know where he's heading. The school room closet. He'll grab small, wooden chair and teeter on the seat. He'll reach for the duct tape. Then he'll pull the
lion-face scissors from the cup on his desk.

A few minutes later he returns with the treasures. The cutting board is strapped back together with wide strands of silver tape. The spoon is together again, too, the wide bowl of it covered in tape.

"Of course," he says. "You'll have to hand wash."

This boy makes me smile. With tenderness and love he worked to make things whole.

Makes me think of the Lord.

It's been a not-so-lovely week around here. Lonny and I are waist deep in an issue with one of our sons. It's painful. It's tough. We're unsure of what to do and it feels like our hearts are beating on the outside - unprotected and uncovered. Feels like the broken edges of that cutting board - rough, splintered, and raw.

My comfort is in the faithful kindness of the Lord. He is faithful to bind up our wounds. To pull the edges together. To offer protection. My peace is in knowing that the Lord is with us and He'll hold us and care for us. He'll bind the parts that are broken.

The Lord heals the brokenhearted and He binds up their wounds. Psalm 147:3

Isaiah still stands in front of me. Smiling. Giving. His love for me shows powerful in what he has restored.

Father, place us together today, too, in Your perfect love.

My son stretches his arms forward and offers what he's repaired.

I reach to take it.

And my heart reaches for the Lord.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Last Day of Summer

The house admits that we've been busy. Floors are sprinkled with crumbs. Windows hold smudges. The wash is knee high again. Soccer season started for the little guys and Sam started swim team. Lonny and I spend the evenings shuttling boys to the field, pool, and back again.

Today is Saturday. And our home needs our help.

The little guys empty trash bins. Lonny's scrubbing the walls of our pool (time to close). The big guys have jobs and I begin to think about that cross-over chore - swapping out shorts and T-shirts for jeans and long sleeves. The must-do that makes me half wild.

The workload, the pressing neediness, the weight of it all feels tight around us. But the sun is warm. The breeze is cool. The sky is that long-for shade of blue. And the words are out of my mouth before I can catch them. "Let's jump ship and take a drive. Let's find a park and have some fun. We'll grab something to eat
along the way."

It doesn't take long for the multitude to agree. But even as we're flying down the road, leaving all that work behind, the heavy feeling stays. I know that the upcoming week looks like. Next weekend is tight, too. Maybe we should have stayed home. The responsible thing would've been to tackle that work.

An hour later we've found a park. Rocky bluffs fringe the Mississippi. The sun is warm our shoulders. We toss a blanket on the ground and break out lunch. Zay giggles when a grasshopper invites himself in. Gabriel shares a joke. We pass food and share laughter and stories. After we've finished, a few of us toss a football. Zay and I stretch out in the end-of-summer rays.

And the worries, the pressure, the to-do list ebbs away. The smudgy windows and dusty tables and needy bathrooms seem far.The overwhelming list of chores?

It's replaced with a list of joy.

I'm joyful to be here. I'm joyful to be with those I love. I'm joyful for the way Lonny talks with Gabe about the nest he's found and for the way Zay is resting beside me, arms tucked behind his head and face tilted toward the sun.

I'm joyful, even that it's the last day of summer.

Because those chores will wait.

And I need to be right here.

This is a day that the Lord has made; I will rejoice and be glad in it. Psalm 118:24

Thursday, September 19, 2013


Morning Friends,

I posted yesterday at Sozowomen for Wedded Wednesday. Please join me there for a few thoughts about
being rooted in the Lord, commitment, and grace.

Thanks. I hope that your weekend is filled with many wonderful things. I'll be back here Monday.



Monday, September 16, 2013

Day of Sweet Rest

I find him on the sofa. Breathing deep. Lashes locking out the world. There’s no rushing. No pulling. Not a hint of scrambling or marching for the clock.

Not today.

It's day of sweet rest.

The week washes away. The hurry. The fullness. The wild wonderful that is our life. There's nothing to bind us to busy. Nothing pressing.

 That will come tomorrow.

But today is quiet. The Lord knows we need it.

 And before Him we’ll be still.
Thank you, Lord, for a day of rest.

For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.       Exodus 20:18

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Filling the Empty

I recognize, as I move through the morning routine, wiping counters and doling out chores and searching for socks in the Great Mound that exists in the laundry room, that I'm feeling a little off inside.

It's not a terrible thing. There hasn't been a tragedy. It's not an overwhelming sadness. It's not that kind of thing.

It feels more like an...empty.

I know I'm not empty. I'm filled with the Holy Spirit. But today if feels that way.

 I can't sift it out completely - refine it until it's thin and pure enough to understand. Maybe it's because I've been a little too full to spend solid, quality time with the Lord (I suspect so). Maybe it's that I haven't been listening to the music that feeds and nourishes my soul. It could be that we're in that sort of militant place of getting our school/fall scheduled hammered out, and for a bit, it will be an "on to the next thing" sort of pace.

I'm not sure. Maybe a few things twisted together.

I just know that I want to be honest with my heart. And I want to be confident that the empty will be filled.

After all, as I Swiffer the floors and fill the day's clear, open lesson plan squares that wild scribbles that will be the boys' work, I remember that...

the Lord works with emptiness.

He spoke over a vast empty and creation was born.

He spoke into the empty of a cave that held no life - the void of death, and a breath-drawing man walked out.

He told tired, empty-handed fishermen to toss their nets over the edge of their boat once again and the bare nets filled with such a bounty of fish that took a mighty haul to get it inside.

I have every confidence that my own empty will be filled, brimming over, pressed full with life, too.

So - I call the boys down. It's time to start our day. There are things to do. Things to be accomplished. A half-million, maybe, or more (smile).

I'm not quite where I want to be yet.

But He's faithful. Powerful. Fully capable.

He provides.

And me?

In His grace, the fullness will come!

Thank you, Lord, for filling me when I feel empty. Amen.


Writing News: I have a couple of devotions in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Devotional Stories for Wives.

It's available now.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Let Him Sing

Morning Friends,

I had the sweet blessing of posting at Sozowomen again yesterday. Hop on over to read about a
hidden talent of my man. No, really - it's about how I'm understanding to appreciate, to hold precious things dear, and to know and see what's important.

Oh, I am so learning as I go....thanks for coming along with me!

I'm hoping you'll see God's love  in gentle and tender ways today. Have a wonderful Thursday.

(I'll be here now until the end of the month or so.)

With love,


"Let Him Sing"

Monday, September 2, 2013

Sweet, Small Stuff

Hi dear friends,

Hope this finds you warm, blessed,  with end-of-summer sun on your shoulders...

I'm posting over at Sozowomen today - another gentle in-the-van moment with Isaiah. Precious - how children can help open our eyes to God's wonderful things.

Here's the link. Thanks for hopping over and joining me there.

Sweet, Small Stuff

Monday blessings.

See you on Thurs!

With love,