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March 2014

A little bit of love in a muffin tin

JiffyNever be without a box of Jiffy muffin mix.

That was the bottom line for my mom, who loved to give guests something fresh from the oven.

As a mom who worked outside the home, quick and easy was a welcomed choice, and you couldn’t get any quicker or easier than Jiffy. Still, we loved the small yellow muffins hot out of the oven, sometimes with a pat of butter or a dusting of powdered sugar. But on weekends, when she had more time, she would sometimes make ma'amoul, a Syrian pastry, or Syrian bread – both worth the time and effort.

She was proud to share her ma’amouls with my cousins when family came to visit. I suspect there was a bit of a rivalry between aunts as to who could make the best ma’amoul, but if it meant my mom would keep trying to make it better, I was happy to be the taste tester.

Today, it’s the one family favorite I continue to make.

My mother-in-law, Muriel, on the other hand, preferred Entenmann’s. My sister-in-law once said to me, “If I ever bring an Entenmann’s cake to a party, shoot me!” We were both about home-made in our younger years. Not so much anymore!

I have often recalled the many animated, and sometimes, loud “discussions” that took place at the table set with a plate of muffins or ma’amoul or coffeecake, and sometimes wonder what it was like at Mary’s house during those years of Jesus’ grounding. (You know, after Mary and Joseph find the 12 year old in the temple after he was missing for three days? You think there’s not a reason why we don’t hear from him again until he’s 30? Mary was no push-over.)

Of course, my less than theological version of Jesus’ time at home, working as a carpenter alongside Joseph, does not do justice to a time that served as a profound experience of Jesus’ growing “in wisdom and grace,” before beginning his ministry at exactly the right time – God’s time.

Still, I wonder what it was like for guests at the home of Mary and Joseph while Jesus was there.

What did Mary serve her guests? What did she bake? Did she participate in the conversations? What were the loud discussions around the table?  And assuredly they would be loud if they were about religion! Did guests from Nazareth, their home town, chastise Jesus, as one of their own, for thinking he knew everything? What was the dynamic between Jesus and the guests, or even Jesus and Joseph?

So many questions, so few answers, other than those that might be expected from the culture of the time. But thinking about the unknown life of the Holy Family, reminds me that they were just that – a family, like mine, with the same challenges and joys. And Mary was a mother, like me, dealing with all the same issues and relationships that we each deal with, from putting muffins on the table to following a child to the cross.

I often think how good it would be to have Mary to tea, and muffins, and talk about the old days.


A mother's presence is full of lessons

Frogs on love seatAs we continue the work of restoring our home in Ortley Beach, so heavily damaged from Sandy, it’s interesting to note what survived the storm that took whole houses from their foundations.  A sentimental survival from our yard was a small cement statue of two frogs sitting on a love seat. My father, who gave the statue to my mom on the occasion of their 25th anniversary, had the umbrella under which the frogs sat painted with the anniversary dates of their wedding.

The statue is beat up, but the cracks and chips only serve to remind me of what life, and marriage, is all about. It also is a reminder, for me, of the two different people who were my parents. Two people who taught me many things, but each in their own way.

While my father taught me much with words, written and spoken, my mother taught me by her presence. Her gracious hospitality, her devotion to her family, her integrity, generosity and willingness to sacrifice for those she loved are all lessons I learned just from being in her presence.

A look at Scripture reveals the same for Mary. There are only four times in the Bible when we “hear” Mary’s words – when she speaks with the angel during the Annunciation, when she meets Elizabeth and she speaks the words of her Magnificat, when she finds Jesus in the temple  and when she intervenes at the wedding in Cana.

Throughout the rest of the New Testament we come to know Mary simply through her devoted presence with Jesus throughout his ministry.  We do not hear her speak, but we know she was there, in all the moments of his life, in the joy, in the disappointment, in the pain, in the grief.

As a mother, I have turned to Mary often as I travel those moments with my sons, and now their families, as well, continuing to draw strength and wisdom from Mary’s example.

When I consider the last words of Mary recorded in Scripture, I think that perhaps there was no reason to record any more, for her few last words reflect the most profound wisdom ever offered: Do whatever he tells you. 

What else is there to say?