Monday, December 22, 2014

the light in the darkness

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” – John 1:5

The structure of this short sentence has always fascinated me. “The light shines” – present tense. “The darkness did not overcome it” – past tense. The light is shining now, and the darkness did not overcome it then. Why this juxtaposition? Who or what is John talking about? I’m pretty sure that the “light” is Jesus, but everything else about this verse is a mystery to me. 

When faced with a puzzling piece of scripture like this verse in John, it is easy for me to get caught up in the details, to diminish a statement’s power in my attempt to dissect it. When this happens, I have to take a step back, to accept that I can’t fully grasp the verse’s original meaning, and to reflect on what they mean to me in this moment.

When I read this way, with my heart rather than my intellect, the haze around this passage clears immediately. I might not know John’s intention, but I know lights. Lights are the people who refuse to let the darkness, the sadness and pain of the world, overcome them or the ones around them. In particular, at this moment, the light I think of is Lorraine. Lorraine runs a little food pantry out of her home in Lincolnville, South Carolina. I called her last week to let her know that the food bank where I work is providing 50 free Christmas food boxes for her to give out to low-income elderly people in her community. Based on her response, you would have thought I told her she won the lottery. “Thank you Jesus!” she yelled into the phone. “God may not come when you expect Him, but he ALWAYS comes on time!” She forgot I was on the line for about 30 seconds as she rejoiced in the news I delivered. She brought tears to my eyes.

Lorraine is not a wealthy woman; in fact, she could use one of those 50 boxes herself. And the 50 boxes she’s giving out won’t solve the problems in her community, a place where one in five people don’t have enough to eat, hundreds lack access to adequate healthcare, and poverty rates are exponentially higher among people of color. Lorraine knows all of this, but Lorraine doesn’t let these details overwhelm her. She doesn’t let her light get snuffed out, because she knows people need that light, and she trusts that God always sends a little light just in time. So she shines in the darkness, regardless of the facts.

Lorraine is one of hundreds of lights I know, one of millions of lights across our world. I can shine my light with her. You can shine your light with her. God, who sends the light into the world, shines with and through all of us.

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” Keep shining. The darkness did not overcome the light; the darkness will not overcome the light. Amen.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

good fruitcake (really)

The holidays are pretty different for my family this year. I spent Thanksgiving with my boyfriend Schuyler's family, my first one away from my parents and sister. In October my sister had twins--a boy and a girl!--so we're moving Christmas 200 miles west, from Bamberg to Atlanta. This will be my first Christmas outside of my hometown.

If you know me, you probably know I don't handle change gracefully, or graciously. I like routine, tradition, predictability. But when I reflect for just a moment on the change I've seen this year, I can't help but feel grateful for it. We're welcoming new, healthy, beautiful members to our family (the babies and Schuyler, although I suppose he's not so new to the world as a whole). It feels more like the beginning of a new chapter than the end of anything...although of course it's both.

Perhaps in response to this newness, I've gotten awful nostalgic in my holiday food choices. I baked three pecan pies over Thanksgiving. I made my grandmother's fudge to send to a secret Santa, even thought it turns out her secret recipe is on the back of the Kraft marshmallow creme jar.

And yes, I made fruitcake.

I didn't grow up eating much fruitcake, but every Christmas a brick of it sat on my grandmother's washing machine. (Her washing machine was in her kitchen, for reasons yet unknown.) Fruitcake never held the appeal of fudge. It's not exactly a kid-oriented dessert, what with all the dried fruit and liquor. Now, however, that sounds perfect. Fiber and alcohol in one dessert? Sign me up! Also, I found out last week that if you use real dried fruit as opposed to that day-glo green and red jellied stuff, it actually tastes pretty good. Sort of like alcoholic trail mix, but much better than I made that sound.

If you're feeling a little nostalgic over the holidays, this just might do the trick. If nothing else, everyone knows fruitcake is the classic re-gift.

good fruitcake
adapted from King Arthur Flour
makes one 9"x5" loaf, 6 to 8 mini loaves, or 1.5 dozen muffin-sized cakes

3 1/2 cups diced mixed dried fruit (I used cranberries, golden raisins, pineapple, and figs)
3/4 cup whiskey, rum, brandy, apple juice, or cranberry juice (I used whiskey)

1/2 c (8 tbsp) butter
1 c (15 oz) dark brown sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground allspice
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp baking powder
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tbsp cocoa (optional, for color)
2 tbsp dark corn syrup
1/4 c apple juice, cranberry juice or water
1 c chopped, toasted nuts (I used almonds, pecans, and walnuts)

To prepare the fruit: Combine the fruit with the liquid of your choice in a non-reactive bowl; cover and let rest overnight. Too impatient to wait until tomorrow? Microwave everything for 1 minute (or until it's very hot), cover, and let rest 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 300°. Lightly grease your pan(s).

To make the batter: Place the the butter and sugar in a large bowl, and beat together until well combined. Beat in the salt, spices, and baking powder. Beat in the eggs one at a time, scraping the bowl after each addition.

In a separate bowl whisk together the flour and cocoa. Add the flour mixture and the syrup to the mixture in the bowl, beating gently to combine.

Stir in the juice or water, then the fruit with any collected liquid. Scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl, and stir until everything is well combined. Spoon the batter into the pans, filling them about 3/4 full.

Bake the cakes on the middle shelf of the oven, as follows: 50-60 minutes for the individual cakes; 60 to 70 minutes for the small loaves; and approximately 2 hours for the 9"x5" loaf. The cakes are done when a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean.

Remove the cakes from the oven, and brush them with liquor or liqueur of your choice, simple syrup, or flavored simple syrup. When the cakes are completely cool, wrap them tightly in plastic wrap, and store at room temperature for up to 6 to 8 weeks (how good they are after 8 weeks is yet undetermined).