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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Comfort Food

The word comfort brings images of a large soft pillow or an overstuffed chair. A fleecy clouded sky on a lazy summer day when all is right in the world. The word comfort envelopes a young mother when her baby responds with a first smile. The word comfort as an elderly couple holds hands as they walk on a fall day.

Comfort sings a love song of blessings from God deep inside. Comfort is living a quiet life filled with routine looking up. Comfort is a package tied up with a ribbon of security and safeness as you fall asleep at night with prayer of thanksgiving to God in your heart.

Comfort holds you in an embrace with joy as you give even a smile, a hug or a gift to someone. Comfort sings a melody that cascades like a bubbling brook when you share freely your possessions or gifts with others.

Comfort can be physical. Combine the word comfort with food. The memories are evoked of the foods that bring sweet shared memories. Comfort food for me evokes childhood memories of pluma moos, cinnamon-filled Schnetje and home canned golden peaches. Fried chicken and mashed potatoes and gravy, watermelon and roll-koka. Fresh whole wheat bread with home churned butter melting. Mirangue 2 inches high on chocolate or butterscotch pie. Homemade angel food cake made with egg whites, separated from egg yokes - eggs from our own chicken. Other recipes -

I remember the picnics with the teen boys from Dad's Sunday School class. Mother made molasses gingerbread. I watched as the boys grabbed piece after piece, praying there would be some left. If there was, Mom toasted the left over gingerbread topped with fluffy marshmallows in the oven. Then there was the homemade peppermint ice cream once a year on July the 4th - Mom's birthday. It was made richer with the cream and eggs from our one cow and chickens. Homemade borscht soup, of Russian heritage, warmed our bodies and hearts on a cold winter day.

Over all these comfort moments of eating arched the rainbow of Mother's love as she prepared the food, and taught us how to make even hash from left over food.

Comfort can be emotional or it can be spiritual. Man cannot live by bread alone, even Grandmother Suderman's Zwieback and Christmas Peppernuts (without anise) or Grosmom Siemens' molasses cookies cannot provide spiritual comfort. These ladies also 'served' God's spiritual food with their examples of love and giving - providing the kind of comfort that brings spiritual strength. The kind of comfort that bridges disappointment and hurt.

My Mother and my two grandmothers taught me about Jesus. He knew that we would need comfort to find our way through the labyrinth of life in the world. Sometimes the disappointments, terror and uncertainties can cause discomfort that threatens our very lives.

It was my thought to provide recipes of the comfort foods I enjoyed, but the spiritual comfort is everlasting and more to be desired than physical comfort food. The words sink into our minds and hearts providing us everlasting comfort that cannot be taken away.
  • Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. Psalm 23:4
  • The LORD is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid? Psalm 27:1
  • My comfort in my suffering is this: Your promise preserves my life. Psalm 119:50
  • May your unfailing love be my comfort, according to your promise to your servant. Psalm 119:76
  • Shout for joy, O heavens; rejoice, O earth; burst into song, O mountains! For the LORD comforts his people and will have compassion on his afflicted ones.
  • John 6:48 - I am the bread of life. Isaiah 49:13
  • Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God ; trust also in me. John 14:1

When we walk into our kitchens to prepare a meal, it can be crowded with memories of our past, our mother, our grandmothers and aunts are there with us. Food is never just food. It's also a way of getting at something else: who we are, who we have been, and who we want to be. Molly Wizenberg (2010's Homemade Life)

As you eat, rejoice, give thanks to God, for the real comfort food comes from our Lord.

Recommended - Mennonite Foods & Folkways from South Russia, Vol I - Norma Jost Voth

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Our Family

Recently, I searched in a closet and found pictures of our family from long ago. I began scanning these pictures of the four little people that made us a family. God blessed us with four children in as many years. For about 10 years our lives were a haze of diapers.

Our children grew up and found their mates and suddenly we became grandparents.

The Mathematics of Family is simply Loving Addition. Little did we realize that our four children would become doubled. Now we enjoy having a family that numbers 29....flung from Wisconsin to California, Illinois to Georgia.

Visits become family holidays. Weekly letters

became weekly email epistles, from

photographs on paper to digital photographs that chronicle the smiles and joys of life.

In the 1950's picture-taking didn't chronicle every moment of family. When Paul acquired a camera, some of these are from his eye on the Fort Dodge Road east of Dodge City. The hill where Coronado's Cross sto

od, where we found a wagon wheel left from long ago, the wagon wheel tracks up the hill just north of our old two story house were subjects of Paul's photography in 1963 - 1964.

The night we listened to the rumble of the impending flood waters across the road, when we climbed the hill looking for the promised-tornado to appear, where Booger chomped on lemon drops and cracker jacks, where Ashy, Chocolate, the kittens flourished, along with Tiger the Rooster. When the boys discovered the secret laundry chute from upstairs to downstairs bathroom and decided to chance it. The time that Dad (Ed) stationed his boys on three sides of the house holding guy wires, and he climbed up the ladder, and held the Ham Radio Antenna steady in a 20 mph hour wind. (After that, the boys teased their Dad that when the wind was right, they needed to get on the roof to fix antenna's). Where Tim, always in a

hurry, buried his dead pet cat - all but the tail that waved in the wind. Where Brownie, the beloved 'outdoor' dog came to the kitchen picture window with a dead rabbit in his mouth. The huge basement that was a workshop and playroom - where Tim wondered and stuck a skate key in an empty light socket - where Dan learned how to turn the sounds of 'dit-dah' into language he understood.

No matter where we lived, the family feeling never changed. Our love, built on so many memories of the past, and genuine caring, never flags. It continues through the years, strengthening all of us.

Since those early years, we have learned that there are many families that draw us. We would never have known what to look for without the years with our own family. The qualities of discipline/preparation, unconditional love. Are those two ideas compatible? Yes, indeed, they are. And when I find these two components, I'll find a strong family. Our church family, small groups, the groups of children who were in my classroom, all have had this combined quality of unconditional love and discipline/preparation.

The later years are blessed by twelve grandchildren and six great grandchildren. What causes this blessing? Being one in Jesus and one in purpose to belong to the Lord who created us and loves us. Hebrews 12:2 - Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Just as Ed and I learned from our parents, we taught our children and they in turn, teach their children.

As the years pile up, we understand more and more what Ed's Dad and my parents meant, by focusing life into one last plea that their children be faithful to our Lord, in their actions. It is difficult to leave this earth, but more difficult yet when there is no hope of the reunion on the other shore.

(Four generations including Dan)


Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Contentment is a Melody

As I listened last Sunday to our minister reading Philippians 4:12, the word CONTENT suddenly became a billboard in my mind. The Apostle Paul used this word, "I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want."

The King James Versions uses the word 'abound" - to be copiously supplied. I remember how often Mom said that she was so spoiled. When I asked her about her comment, she replied, "God spoils me on every hand - giving me so many blessings." This was during her terminal illness. She accepted her physical condition and dwelt upon her spiritual life. It was hard for me to grasp that she could be thankful when each day was filled with pain. She taught me to see God in all things, and above all - rejoice.

Questions crowded my mind about contentment....questions that demanded answers.
  • What is contentment? When do you know it is within your grasp?
  • In my 80 years had I experienced true contentment?
  • Is contentment circumstantial coupled with a new experience that exhilarates the mind and soul?
  • Has my family felt this contentment in the past?
  • Is contentment a mind condition or a soul condition, or just a feeling?
  • Is it something one learns? Is it like humility -- when you recognize your humility, you are no longer humble?
  • How do we know when it is achieved?
  • Is it, like the Apostle indicates, that contentment is a choice?
This illusive quality of contentment is the topic of the six steps to achieve contentment that John MacArthur wrote about in his article posted on (J. MacArthur is a noted teacher and pastor). After thinking about the six steps, I realized that one without the other, is like a puzzle with missing pieces. They are are of one piece and listed below.
  • Learn to give thanks in all things (Ephesians 5:18-20; I Thessalonians 5:18)
  • Learn to rest in God's providence (Romans 8:28; I Peter 4:12-13)
  • Learn to be satisfied with little (I Timothy 6:6)
  • Learn to live above life's circumstances (II Corinthians 12:9-10
  • Learn to rely on God's power and provision (Hebrews 13:5;, Ephesians 3:16)
  • Become preoccupied with the well-being of others (Philippians 2:3-4; Proverbs 11:24-5; 19:17; II Corinthians 9:6)
Ephesians 5:19-20 - Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Is this realistic? All the 'what if's' crowd my mind. Losing something that is necessary and precious to us - and yet be thankful to God - for everything. I think about my ancestors, the Brunn's, Suderman's, Loewen's, Siemens, Leppke's, who followed their dream of the freedom of worshiping God, trusting God through centuries and lifetimes and countries. Were they thankful for the ship, in which they crossed the Atlantic ocean. Were they thankful during the birth of a baby on this ship and the storms they encountered? Were they thankful for the sparse food they brought with them?

The Siemens record shows that on August 16, 1874, the Jacob Siemens family left Hamburg, Germany, with a passenger list of twelve members from the age of 79 to 1. They had paid $28.00 for 9 adults and 50 cents for 3 below the age of 14. On August 21, 1874, it is recorded that they had a terrific scare when fire broke out below. All passengers were ordered on deck as the ship's crew worked several hours to put out the fire and they could return to their cabins.

On September 2, 1874, they landed at Hoboken, New York, and boarded a train in New York on the 4th of September. Then they arrived in Topeka by train on September 8th. They were taken to an empty factory building. On October 1, they arrived at Hutchinson, Kansas and purchased 35,000 acres of land - at the cost from $3 to 5 dollars per acre.

How many times were they tempted to go back to Russia? How many times did they doubt their move? How many times did mothers wonder how they would feed their children? How many times did they long for the familiar? Yet they chose to thank G
od, trust in His providence, live above the circumstances of their present, relying on God's power and provision?

They were content in their faith in God and their trust in Him! They obeyed the scripture - Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you....I Thessalonians 4:11.

One other life story I found, concerns my great Uncle Solomon Loewen, the baby brother of my Grandmother Anna Suderman. His life amazed me. The curiosity of God's creation led him to teaching Biology (also termed as bug-o-logy), zoology and other sciences at Tabor College in Hillsboro, Kansas. In his chronicle of life, complete with drawings such as the wing of a horse fly - Tabanus. He typed this document on the computer that he acquired at the age of 92 to make faster progress. His last fall, most called an accident, but he didn't consider this an accident. Uncle Sol wondered why he had to go through this experience and studied the questions one by one in the light of the scriptures. Yet he said, "Life has been a pleasure even when I have been 'down and out'." He discovered that his walk spoke louder than his talk. He said, This experienced has reduced me to dust and I have been impressed about what God can do 'with dust'. Psalm 19:1-6 fascinated him to no end. (Quoted below)

Yes, we are all pilgrims on a journey through this life. This journey can become difficult when the things of the world get in the way of our perception of focus on the building blocks of contentment. But when we rest in the Lord, and give Him reign over our lives...always learning...trusting, serving others.... we find peace and joy, and yes, contentment. We find our melody for life.
The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship.
Day after day they continue to speak; night after night they make him known.
They speak without a sound or word; their voice is never heard.
Yet their message has gone throughout the earth, and their words to all the world.
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Tuesday, March 09, 2010

"Please, Pass the Bread"

I can still hear my Dad’s voice saying this same prayer.. The prayer before the meal was …..Kumm Herr Jesu, sei unser Gast un segne uns, was du uns bescheret hast. Amen., (Come, Lord Jesus, be our Guest, 
And bless what you have bestowed.)

Next, I would hear, “Please, pass the bread.” The thick slices of homemade bread was the staple of every meal. I can still see Dad’s eyes light up as he anticipated the taste-luxury of bread at every meal, as he thickly spread butter on the bread and homemade jelly. (A far cry from sorghum molasses when he was young)

Mother made the bread. She made Rugge Brot (Rye Bread), White Bread or whole wheat bread. I can still see Mother’s hands kneading bread on the floured wooden counter in our kitchen. Once I asked her why she hit the dough so hard. “To make it better.” Mother’s hands were adept at kneading bread, playing the piano, crocheting, sewing, and other activities. When I think of Mom, I think of her busy hands.

She knew there were many chores to do at home, and often told us the Little Red Hen story to motivate us. This story’s moral was that to contribute to an end product we deserved to enjoy the end product, or "if a man does not work, let him not eat". When the little Red Hen found the grain of wheat, and planted, harvested, milled the wheat and made it into bread. Then all wanted to eat. This story showed us the tedious journey from the wheat seed to the finished loaf of bread on the table and how we work together to eat.

Dad told us that during the World War I, wheat flour was needed to feed the soldiers, the white flour was taken and the flour left was the whole wheat. He realized later that the family was left with the healthy whole grain. He told us of driving a truck load of wheat to the mill in Oklahoma! There was a small hill on the way. Unless he ‘gunned’ the motor, he could not get to the top. Sometimes he had to made a three or four tries before cresting the small hill.

All of these thoughts, enveloped in the heavenly smell of baking bread from the kitchen, made questions surface in my mind. In this day and age, there are all kinds of breads to be purchased. The time becomes a priceless commodity when bread makers become a staple. What was the process of preparing bread long ago?

The children’s book – Turkey Red – by my Mom’s cousin, Esther Vogt, comes to mind. The red wheat seeds, carefully chosen in Russia and brought to America, became the future for the Mennonites of this country. Although second thoughts often came to their minds, yet, they persisted in freeing grass-bound prairie that became fields of waving grain. Then grain was cut with scythes and bound in bundles for harvest. In time came the steam engine and the combustible engine. Dad told about going into the fields at harvest time to tinker with the engines, to keep them going. A generation before his Dad did the same thing with the steam engined combine. I remember the steel lugged tractor, the tractor seat – with the driver open to the elements of weather. Then came the air conditioned cabs. A long way from the later 1870’s way of farming.

And just as the little red hen followed the grain each step of the way to the table, the Mennonite farmers did the same. From 1874 – immigration to United States – to the present, the acquisition of bread has taken many paths in the life of the Mennonite farmers. More than a hundred years – the history in the trek from Holland to West Prussia to Russia to America and 'bought' bread.

Such a treasure to read history coupled with food in the book, Mennonite Foods & Folkways from South Russia, Volume I by Norma Jost Voth. A book of delightful reading. The following are quotes from her book:

  • Zwieback (Tweeback) – a double bun served for the Sunday Faspa (late afternoon light snack), weddings, funerals and all holiday meals. Faspa was the meal that staved off hunger between noon and dark during harvest time. I particularly remember Grandma Suderman's Tweeback!
  • Rugged Rye (Rogge Brot) – the Farmer’s Bread. Rye was the first crop planted in Russia in 1789 when the Mennonites arrived. Old Low German Saying - those who don’t eat black bread will not be healthy long. (Recipe page 64)
  • 1874, Mennonite emigration from Russia, expert windmill builders came. In that time Jacob Friesen’s wind-powered grist mill ‘ran day and night’, and capable of producing up to 40 bushels of flower per hour.

From Mom’s kitchen came verenika, many types of bread, peppernuts, cookies, bread pudding, pies - all made with flour. Dad loved the older bread, toasted, just before baking day. He poured a combination of postum and milk topped with sugar over his toasted bread.

From Norma Jost Voth’s book, comes this Breadmaking Blessing - The Lord has given us bread. Without it there is no life. As long as bread is in the cupboard, We need not fast. Lord, bless our bread, For then we have no need. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

As I read from Norma Jost Voth’s book, I understood Dad’s concern about having bread on the table and his delight in eating the bread…To him it was the bread of life and the Bible was his guide and the staff of life to him. Generations before Dad, our ancestors gave thanks for the crops that fed them.

Jesus understood the basis of life-giving bread and how it sustains physical life. He also knew we would understand and connect our need to not be hungry and make His Word our staple for eternal life in the following scripture.

Then Jesus declared, "I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty." John 6:35

Even as I write, these words from Psalm 22:30-31 come to mind….Our children will also serve him.
 Future generations will hear about the wonders of the Lord.
 His righteous acts will be told to those not yet born. They will hear about everything he has done.

We pray for our children, grandchildren and the great grandchildren, that they hear the wonders of the Lord and tell their children and grand children of the living bread of Jesus.

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Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Our Perception Colors our World

A blonde, blue-eyed little girl, armed with a wide-open mind attended her first year in school. It was 1935, when America was still in the depths of the depression. The teacher held her class within her power. The teacher distributed papers that still smelled of the ink and gell in the cookie sheet-like pan. The little girl listened to the instructions. "Color the apple red." She selected a crayon from the new box of crayons her parents and purchased for her. She had never owned such a wondrous box of colored sticks. She selected one - her mind rejoiced to see the red color spread over the apple on the paper.

The teacher walked among the wooden desks, her foot steps clicking on the wooden floor. She stopped at the girl's desk and pronounced the color - red-orange incorrect. In horror, the little girl realized she had done something wrong and the girl stopped coloring. She realized that she selected the 'wrong' color. She was horrified. Immediately she wanted to rectify the mistake and asked for another paper to color. The teacher responded, "This is the only one you get." The little girl had to live 'with her mistake' the rest of the day.

The perceptions were at war. The perception of the teacher This will be a good way to find out if the children can follow directions, and I can also learned to see if they know their colors.
The little six year old's perception - "I am so excited, I am a big girl and coloring an apple with my very own box of crayons.

I am not sure what the result of this exchange was, but I know the effect this interaction had on the little girl. She felt like a failure - a failure that held her captive. She was not allowed to change the color she had chosen to color the apple. Years later, the little girl remembered that event as she walked down the fruit aisle and realized that apples are not created equal in colors. Some apples are red-orange.

I have often wondered why God chose blue for the sky, green for the grass, and a combination for the sea. It all has to do with perception. A quote - Truth is universal and the perception of truth is not. We each have our own perception of truth. Whose truth is correct? I love the verse, Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. John 14:6.

Jesus is the absolute truth. Through the ages, this truth has been denied and derided by people's perceptions. And the erroneous perceptions do not negate the truth of Jesus.

Meanwhile man takes truth and follows three steps within his mind - he selects, organizes and interprets information to arrive at his perception. This perception can be determined by our cognitive abilities, our personality, our gender or culture. (

Mark Twain's quote, gives us his view of perception, Get your facts first, then you can distort them as you please.

Therefore, if we search for truth, the absolute truth, we must have a perfect understanding of what truth is. It is not of a variety of shades, but allowing our mind to reach out and touch the mind of the One who holds the Way to Truth.

Even as Anna writes in her blog (, to reach out to communicate, knowing that others have a different perceptions. Hearing the other's perception builds bridges. To refuse to listen or to consider erases communication. Recently I visited with a friend from China. To reach understanding because of the barrier of language and different cultural perceptions, I tried to think as she did. The act of listening was heightened to an intense degree. The environment of productive listening is a smile.

Some of the most delightful areas of listening for me is conversing with children and asking them what did they mean by their comment. Both the speaker and the listener gain by coming to understanding and knowing the other's thinking, and being the learner.

David writes in Psalm 25:5 - guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.

Another scripture concerning perception through our eyes and ears...through which we hear the truth.

It is written: "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him," 1 Corinthians 2:9.

Learning to listen and hear God, makes our perception of His Words of Truth -- His Truth -- and not our own perception of His Truth, when we select what we wish to hear, and organize it in our way, hence, making our own perception in alignment with God's Truth.