Memorial Day Reflections on Ezekiel 37:1-14

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For as long as I’ve lived with my husband, this is the weekend we visit his parents’ grave to place flowers and tend their plot. Since I met my husband long after his parents’ passing, I rely on his memories when we commemorate their lives. As we visit their grave, I honor a woman who did not fail to cook a hot breakfast for all eight of her children. I honor a man who served in World War II and rose from the darkness of the Kentucky coal mines to the blazing brightness of the (almost equally dangerous) Ohio steel mills.

Before we leave the cemetery, we linger on others who’ve passed who also migrated from the Hollers of Kentucky to the Rust Belt. My husband reminds me: Here are my neighbors who lived their whole lives without a hot water heater. Here is my sister-in-law whose death from breast cancer still haunts me. Here is my old neighbor who died in a bar fight.

As we drive away I notice some names that belong to the Scot-Irish branches of my family tree, Hanthorn and Craig. These people are almost undoubtedly connected in some way to my second great-grandfather Rollie Craig. His father, the only Craig who migrated to this area, died so young that Rollie was his sole heir to carry on the family name. Rollie did well in upholding the line. He had 72 great-grandchildren at the time of his passing.

Of course Memorial Day is a time to honor our service members who sacrificed their lives to uphold our freedoms. Our local cemeteries all full of American flags, placed both by families and civic groups. My family tree has many people who served, but we were lucky that all of my direct ancestors returned home alive. In a way, I owe my life to their fellow soldiers who took enemy fire instead of my ancestors.

The photo above shows a headstone belonging to a fallen Civil War soldier who is buried at Woodlawn Cemetery in Lima. Back then, some people had unusual names. I had a fourth great aunt named Experience. It is unknown to me whether Reason and Experience encountered each other in Antebellum Lima.

This weekend has definitely brought to mind a passage of scripture I encountered only recently. If I studied this passage in school or heard it in church while I was growing up, all memory of it was gone by the time I read it this year. In Ezekiel 37:1-14, the prophet visits a valley of dry bones with the Lord. God asks Ezekiel if He can bring those who are fallen there back to life. In verse 3, Ezekiel answers, “O Lord God, thou knowest.”

This passage reminds me that faith is a blessing. To have enough faith to answer that question without hesitation or doubt would be to live a life transformed. The prophet Ezekiel lived through terrible times, including the fall of Jerusalem and exile in the Babylonian captivity. Throughout it all, his faith sustained him.

This passage from Ezekiel also reminds me that God has the power to right all wrongs and forgive all sins. He will transform all of our losses. Only his timing defies our human understanding.

I will close this post by quoting this passage of the Bible, from the King James Version which is in the public domain:

37 The hand of the Lord was upon me, and carried me out in the spirit of the Lord, and set me down in the midst of the valley which was full of bones,

And caused me to pass by them round about: and, behold, there were very many in the open valley; and, lo, they were very dry.

And he said unto me, Son of man, can these bones live? And I answered, O Lord God, thou knowest.

Again he said unto me, Prophesy upon these bones, and say unto them, O ye dry bones, hear the word of the Lord.

Thus saith the Lord God unto these bones; Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live:

And I will lay sinews upon you, and will bring up flesh upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and ye shall live; and ye shall know that I am the Lord.

So I prophesied as I was commanded: and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and behold a shaking, and the bones came together, bone to his bone.

And when I beheld, lo, the sinews and the flesh came up upon them, and the skin covered them above: but there was no breath in them.

Then said he unto me, Prophesy unto the wind, prophesy, son of man, and say to the wind, Thus saith the Lord God; Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.

10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood up upon their feet, an exceeding great army.

11 Then he said unto me, Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel: behold, they say, Our bones are dried, and our hope is lost: we are cut off for our parts.

12 Therefore prophesy and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God; Behold, O my people, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel.

13 And ye shall know that I am the Lord, when I have opened your graves, O my people, and brought you up out of your graves,

14 And shall put my spirit in you, and ye shall live, and I shall place you in your own land: then shall ye know that I the Lord have spoken it, and performed it, saith the Lord.

Communion

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Like a growing number of Americans, I am a lapsed Catholic. It’s not that I ever lost my basic Christian faith. Rather, I hit an invisible wall of sorts around the time I turned 18. For whatever reason, I could no longer face the sacrament of reconciliation. It’s not that I had cataclysmic sins I needed to confess. I could no longer imagine that there was a priest who could truly listen to my sins. The more time that passed, the more it seemed impossible to do a true inventory of my conscience; the sacrament would not be valid on the grounds that I couldn’t possibly confess all the sins. And without reconciliation and penance, there could be no Communion.

Until today, I’d been stuck in place since the early 90’s. I’d attend Mass very occasionally and think of going to confession so I could take Communion the during the next Mass. From time to time, I’d consider joining a Protestant church to circumvent this issue entirely, but then I wouldn’t go to a different church for fear that I’d be betraying the Catholic church by doing so.

Today I finally attended services at our neighborhood Methodist church. My daughter bought a Bible with her birthday money last month, and she has been reading it almost daily. I decided it would be better for us to attend any Christian church at all rather than remain stuck over the sacraments in the Catholic church.

I had such a positive experience at the Methodist church. The communion service had a portion in which forgiveness of sins was offered to the repentant, and the sacrament itself was “open table” and offered to all baptized believers. This solved my decades-long problem, and it was a relief to feel the grace of that sacrament again.

Unsweet Ramen Salad . . . and a Summer Picnic

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I haven’t posted a recipe in at least half an eon. Yesterday evening my daughter and I attended a summer potluck picnic at Bittersweet at Betty’s Farm here in Lima, Ohio. Bittersweet offers a range of services for people with autism. My daughter has been participating in their periodic social living programs for a couple years now.

Three times a year (weather permitting) there are gatherings for all of the families served by Lima’s Bittersweet. Yesterday’s picnic offered the full array of Ohio picnic fair, from ambitious dips served in Crock Pots to cream pies.

Pictured above are my indulgences from the picnic. Yes, I rested a chocolate chip cookie on top of a slice of gouda cheese, and all was good. I was so delighted to spot a ramen salad on the buffet tables that I filled a bowl with it.

I hadn’t thought to make a ramen salad myself until today. I decided that I’d rather not add sugar to my version. I’m finicky about sweetening an otherwise savory salad because it’s so easy to overdo it.

Here’s my super simple version of ramen salad:

Unsweet Ramen Salad

(good for a picnic potluck or a dinner inspired by such cuisine)

  • 2 – 3 oz bags ramen noodles, your favorite of the simple flavors; I chose chicken
  • 1 16 oz bag coleslaw mix (shredded cabbage and carrots)
  • 1/2 cup additional carrots, sliced (optional)
  • 2/3 cup Italian dressing (use more or less to taste as long as the salad is saturated)
  • 1/2 cup roasted peanuts

In a large mixing bowl, stir together the Italian dressing and ramen noodle seasoning packets. Break up the ramen noodles and add to bowl. Add the coleslaw mix, carrots, and peanuts to the bowl. Stir all together gently, lest the noodles and cabbage scatter about your kitchen. Cover and refrigerate for an hour before serving.

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Now that I’ve shared that recipe, I will offer a few of the highlights of the picnic aside from the food. There was a spirited bubble battle. I so wish I’d brought a camera aside from my cell phone. My daughter is just emerging from depression, and I was thrilled to see her so happy and engaged in the presence of others:

The picnic’s music was great as well. I heard Ike and Tina Turner’s cover of “Proud Mary” for the first time in over a decade. I mustn’t forget to buy a copy of it. How did I go so long without having it in my sonic arsenal?

It’s one of those songs that’s bound to grab people’s attention. I could tell that about a third of the people at the picnic had not heard it before. I was so delightful to see another generation won over by this song’s impossible, arresting charm. One after another just froze in place long enough to “tune” into the song and begin the toe tapping and hand clapping.

Garden, May 20: First Garden Post of 2018

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In this year’s garden, petunias and calibrachoa are very well represented. I need something easy and bountiful this year, so I have chosen plants that prosper easily if given enough water and fertilizer.

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He Is Risen

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Happy Easter!

All is quiet at the Cole house, aside from the rumble of my husband’s snoring in his recliner. He worked most of the night on a water line break, unwilling to resist a chance for overtime now that he’s emerged from his post-shoulder-surgery convalescence. My daughter slept through most of the morning. She had been up late into the night alternating between typing on her Chromebook and reading Ray Bradbury.

Today is a low-key day. We aren’t having a traditional holiday meal, aside from my small ambition to replicate my mom’s baked beans. We will consume “fun” food like hot dogs and chicken strips. I bought a hot dog toaster for the occasion. Have you ever tried this oddball small appliance? You can toast two hot dogs and buns at a time, and they turn out about as well as a freshly roll-cooked carnival hot dog.

Although I attended Catholic school for eight years of my youth due to my mom’s conversion to that faith halfway through my childhood, I seldom attend church. I pray every day and reflect on God, but I don’t feel like I belong when I walk into a church. I just can’t process the intersection between worship and social class. I don’t want to dress up for church (I rarely do so for any occasion). God has seen and loved me when I looked my worst, even when I weighed 260 pounds and grocery shopped in Stewie lounge pants. My faith is strong, but I haven’t encountered a congregation that feels like home.

On Easter, I reflect on God’s infinite mercy. There is no better proof of human imperfection than our failures of mercy. Think of the most odious person you’ve ever encountered in real life or through the media. Christ died for that person’s sins, too. He died for your chance at salvation and Nikolas Cruz’s as well. Forgiveness and redemption are available for everyone you love and anyone you may hate in the past, present, or future.

On Easter, I try to see people through God’s eyes, even though I, like all people, see through a glass darkly in this life.

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