Sunny kitchen. Garden out back. Home-cooked leftovers slid in the fridge. Pink applesauce in there somewhere. Rambunctious unlovely–but not unloved–dog hopping around the house. And yellow-gold peaches in a pile.
Walnuts falling off trees (even though you can’t hear them from inside) drop like loud snowflakes across the lawn. What’s left of a dessert of some kind is on the kitchen counter, handy for unexpected guests or mealtime snacks. Though these made-from-scratch beauties would brighten any fast-food-junkies’ life, they’re just left-overs in this house, just extras, just just becauses. They aren’t the real desserts. The real desserts are whole pies for neighbors, high-rising angel food cakes for the birthday of anybody who’ll come over, icing cakes for company, custards for lunch guests.
If a pie’s been baking, there are cinamon-crispy crustlings on a saucer in the oven, scraps not gone to waste thanks to a Depression-era wisdom, treats to delight the lucky child(ren) in the house at the time.
The big-eyed dog gallops around the house again and the clock keeps ticking. But now it’s time to pick up those peaches, look at them like artwork–oh, and they are!–and make that peach cobbler. The cobbler pan is practically quivering from excitement. The dishes have all been hand-washed in the sink, dried, put back in the cupboard. There’s no rest before neatness in this house. The table has been unburdened from its load for lunch; now it’s time for cobbler-making.
A cobbler is either a shoe-maker or what happens when fruit is lulled to sleep, and in the middle of a hot summer day, you’d rather have the garden’s nap than the shoes.
The dough-blanketed pan is the first part. The lullabyer rolls the dough out and it wants to please her, almost as if it’d thin itself down in deference to her song even if her rolling pin never touched it.
She slices peaches as if the knife couldn’t even cut her. And it doesn’t; she’s quick and she’s sure and the slices are all curved and falling like swan divers into the pool of dough.
She talks all the time; coaching, sharing her recipe. She won blue-ribbon at the fair for her angel food cakes; but what’s different about her than most is she not only will give you the recipe if you ask her once, she wants you to make it just as good as she does.
The phone with its old spiral cord waits to report another-someone-lonely calling to hear her voice. People usually call her because they think she’s lonely, but by the time they hang up, if they are really thinking about what’s happening, they realize they were the ones really lonely and she was the one who had the comfort to give.
She sprinkles heavy the sugar on the peaches, and they soak up the sweetness. She tucks them in their sweet dreams with another blanket of dough.
Then come the more peaches. The second round of eager divers.
Somewhere in the house are journals. Journals and journals. Logs of people marryin’. Logs of women bringin’ new people into the world. . . And logs of people dying.
Logs about the days she’s had. Logs that date back to the farm house and the dairy cows and the one car and her husband the teacher driving rolling hills to get to and from school.
The peaches on the bunk bed are tucked in all sleepy in their sugar, and it’s time for the warmth now. She puts the pan in the oven–she keeps putting pans in ovens when her arms almost give out from the effort and you think she’s going to drop her prize dessert and burn her precious arms on the hot rack–and she sets the timer. The timer that winds itself back down and seems slower and more special than its electronic kin.
There’s a Bible by an old recliner. God’s Word is like a raincloud to her, and it showers verses on her head. But she isn’t like most people. She doesn’t put up an umbrella. She lets the Words fall on her. She lets them tell her how to live. She obeys them, because she can’t fathom Christianity of any other kind–and the testimony of how she lives doesn’t let you get by with thinking there’s any other kind of Christianity, either!
You’d never know from how she acts about herself that she’s one of the strongest Christ-followers you’ll ever meet. She’s free to share her faults; she doesn’t see herself as anything out of the ordinary. Why, wouldn’t anybody give Jesus every crumb of love they have once they realize what He’s done for them?
So she wasn’t too important when she was a girl to take care of her little brothers . . or when she was the mother of three children to serve breakfast to the hungry homeless in her farmhouse . . or when she was the nurse at a local hospital to stand up for the dirty, bloody, long-haired, long-bearded man who didn’t want his hair cut . . or when a neighbor got sick to bring a pie over.
The cobbler’s done now; it’s burbling and bursting over with peachy dancing juice. She takes her square potholders–she doesn’t need mitts–and pulls out the pan. The hot peach smell comes galloping out like the dog. (The dog-who-thinks-it’s-lovely-because-she-has-made-it-think-so.) She’s good at making something think it is lovely . . when maybe it isn’t to just anybody . . but it is to her.
There’s cooling and cooling and plenty of time for talking. If there’s no company, there’s plenty of time for thinking and praying. She doesn’t notice the marvel of prayers. It’s second nature to her to pray-and-do: pray for ways to pick up those who’ve had a spill; ways to be there for the sick and needy; ways to lift up the hearts of her friends; ways to bring her lost loved ones (and she loves lots of ones) to meet Jesus . . and follow through with the do. She organizes her day with precision for servanthood. But she never sees herself as doing much that anybody would take notice of;
. . she doesn’t know she’s baking peach cobblers for Jesus.
The cobbler’s cool now and she serves it up to her family, her friends, her neighbors–anybody who wants a piece. She serves it up the way she serves up her love. She’s a missionary, a God-sent missionary, but she’s too humble to know it. She’s a missionary to the close-by. It’s where God has stationed her; it’s her special life work. It’s the masterpiece He’s been making out of the ingredients of her willing spirit, and she doesn’t even know it. She doesn’t know the wonder of how God uses the reach of her arm as she holds out that saucer of cobbler.
She holds out a saucer of a cobbler that’s so sweet the hummingbirds she dearly loves should be pecking at the window to ask for a taste. She holds the cobbler out for anybody to take, anybody who wants it. She’ll bake enough for everybody she can, if they’ll just ask her.
This sharing is just right for her, because it’s in fitting with how she believes Jesus is. She’ll tell you how Jesus wants everybody to be saved. She’ll tell you how Jesus wants you, and she does mean you. The passion of her life is to try to get you to understand it’s your salvation for the taking. Salvation, she’d tell you, is a gift. A gift from Jesus to you. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you’ve done; in the way that peach cobbler was for whoever reached out to take a piece, salvation is for whoever reaches out to receive it from Jesus.
The afternoon has been ladled away by time. The evening’s come, the house is quiet, the dog is crated, and Lena is ready for rest.
This bit of writing, meager as it is, is in honor of Lena Ethridge, a daughter of God and Heaven’s cobbler-maker since January 29, 2013. When I came to Christ as an adult, Lena strengthened my faith like a bricklayer laying bricks for a fortress. I owe her as I cannot yield in words. There is so much more that could be said of the love she had. I want her ‘peach cobbler love’ in my life.
On January 29, the verse-of-the-day in my inbox was a summary of the work of Christ in Lena’s life. She was the last place servant. After you read this verse, I think you’ll understand the title of this blog.
“Whoever wants to be first must take last place and be the servant of everyone else.” (Jesus, quoted in Mark 9:35b, NLT)
Photograph by dmott9 (DM) profile on http://www.flickr.com/people/dmott9/
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