America is the land of plenty…plenty of freedoms, plenty of resources, plenty of excess. In our land of milk and honey, it can be difficult to maintain a healthy balance, especially when it comes to food (and faith.) Because I’m weak and have been caught eating chocolate chip cookies for breakfast, I need people in my life to keep me on track. My husband, a heart attack survivor, is always asking “Is this heart healthy?” And our daughter’s philosophy of “we are what we eat” has our whole family thinking about portion control.
Growing up on the farm we girls helped feed the cows, and my children did the same. The normal portion for each cow was one bale of hay, half in the morning and half in the evening. If we milked the cow or she had a calf, she got an additional one pound coffee can full of sticky sweet feed that smelled like molasses. It was believed the grain produced more milk and we doled it out in each of their feed boxes accordingly. The sheep were less orderly. During lambing season, their grain was poured into a long trough and when we threw open the door, they raced in like a Black Friday sale at Walmart, each one fighting for the portion they felt they deserved.
I’ve told it before but it merits repeating that there was a time when possums were coming on the porch at night to eat the cats’ food and Daddy didn’t like it. So eager was he to protect the cat’s portion that he leaped out of bed and ran around the corner of the house with his shotgun with mom yelling at him “not to shoot the house again”.
We would all benefit if we likewise had someone so determined to protect our portions. It’s tragic and alarming, but while we have been eager to get the most bang out of our buck, our portions have become reckless. Look it up. Bagels and cheeseburgers have doubled in size and calories! Everywhere you look they are trying to lure us in with supersized menu items. At an antique store recently I spotted a hamburger press from the 1950’s. At first I thought it was a toy for a child’s play kitchen but quickly realized their full size burgers were the size of our “sliders” today. Go measure your dinner plates…mine are 12” but in the 1950’s they were 9”! When it comes to portions, we’re out of control.
When we shake the hypnosis of fast food, we know bigger isn’t always better. Quality over quantity should be our anthem. Sometimes we just want more though, right? Have you ever added water to the almost empty jar of salad dressing because you needed it to go just a little farther? Mom makes a delicious lemonade where she mixes 2 lemons, 1 orange, 1 lime if she has one, and ¾ cup sugar in a half gallon mason jar of water. She tries to get some extra mileage out of the fruit so when the lemonade is gone, she will refill the jar with additional sugar and water. This “second round” isn’t nearly as flavorful and I’ve seen the disappointment in peoples’ eyes when they took that first sip. When you’ve tasted the real thing, you recognize when it’s been watered down.
And this brings me to my conclusion that faith is a lot like our food intake. Our lives might look like an all you can eat buffet, but what are we eating? Is it a watered down Gospel? Are we consuming “food substitutes” instead of the real thing? And when it comes to “portion control”, are we compromising? The writer of Psalm 73:26 was not a nutritionist but shows us a true recipe for health and happiness “But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” Now that’s heart healthy!
In 1962 there was a little house near the top of Miller Mountain whose yard was bursting with stunning gladioli. My dad and his soon to be mother-in-law appreciated them as they drove to and from Webster Springs as they took garden produce to sell in town. With the wedding only a few days away, they stopped and asked the homeowner if they could buy some of her beautiful flowers. Miraculously, she said to take all the flowers they needed for free and when dad returned home he presented mom with a colorful gladiolus serenade. It was music to her ears!
Serenades are usually expressions of love to draw one closer to making a vow but Mom recalled an old tradition of a post-wedding serenade. About a week after their wedding, neighbors and friends came down the driveway banging on pots and pans and making a loud ruckus. The newly-weds got carried around the house, Mom in a big galvanized wash tub and Dad straddling a fence rail. Then, as expected, Mom treated the women to candies and Dad gave the men cigars. Entertaining is a healthy part of marriage as long as you don’t get carried away.
In the spirit of nuptials, here are other fun lessons I’ve learned over time. When my grandpa’s sister, Lucy, got married, she and her groom, Dencil Craig, rode horses to the parsonage where the preacher came out and married them whilst still sitting atop their steeds! Spontaneity is good in a marriage.
When it was Pap’s turn to marry, he and my grandma Olga held their “ceremony” in the front yard at the Balli Farm with a makeshift altar table decorated with dahlias. There, a more recent bride and groom opted for a panoramic cow-pasture setting instead of the yard, but first had to implement Operation Manure Removal. As any seasoned spouse will tell you, a key to a happy marriage is learning how to get rid of “it” as best you can.
Years ago, in a baking frenzy prepping for my cousin’s wedding, we ran out of salt, and one of the guests (Mrs. Ramey) went to the bedroom and retrieved an entire pound container of salt from her suitcase?? Also true; two of the guests got new false teeth for the wedding! And the river was high, rendering the ford impassable, so the tent poles and boards for the dance floor had to be carted across the swinging bridge in a wheelbarrow… Marriage begins with plenty of salt, a good smile, and balance.
For my sister’s wedding cake Mom made traditional sugar bells. It’s a delicate process of taking egg whites and sugar (with a little food coloring to match wedding colors), pressing the mixture into bell molds, drying them upside down, and finally hollowing them out ever so tenderly to about ¼ inch thick. From this we might be advised marriage likewise is fragile.
Also at my sister’s wedding we stretched a large banner from tree to tree across the road proclaiming “Congratulations Mr. and Mrs. Miller!” Banners of declaration are actually biblical. Songs of Solomon (one of the best serenades ever written by the way) states, “He brought me to the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love.” (2:4) Ancient people fully understood the purpose of banners, which they carried into battle to rally the troops. The signs lifted up high boosted their morale and reminded them who they fought for and why. In some of my friends’ homes they have framed photographs on their walls from their weddings, which to me are like banners, reminding them daily of the Who? and Why?.
Jesus says in John 12:32 “I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.” Would you like to live forever under that banner of perfect love? Can you hear Jesus calling your name in the sweetest of all serenades? “I do”.
Janet Cowger- Fliegel