Meditating on the Commands of Christ (72): Finding the Strait Gate

I cannot read Jesus’ admonition to enter the “strait gate” without thinking of “every man” from Pilgrim’s Progress.

This man was so burdened by what he’d read in the Book that he left his hometown in search of the Celestial City.

However, he quickly discovered that he had to enter through a special gate before he could find the narrow path that would actually lead him to the great city.

In Matthew 7:13-14, Jesus explained it this way, “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” Have you found and entered the Strait Gate that leads to heaven?

In Pilgrim’s Progress, a man named Evangelist points “every man” to the gate where he can be relieved from his burden.

But, it’s a difficult climb to get to the gate, and along the way, he meets a man named Obstinate, who refuses to make the climb, choosing rather to attempt reaching the Celestial City by traveling one of the many easier, wider, less restrictive paths.

This part of the story is very sad, of course, because no one can actually get to the Celestial City unless they are willing to pass through the Strait Gate first. It’s not that the gate is hard to find, or that people won’t be allowed in after they find it. All they have to do is knock, and the gate door will be opened, but most people are too proud to ask, and so they wander off trying to find some other way across the chasm of death to everlasting life.

My father became a believer shortly before he died, but for most of his life, he preferred quoting this poem:

Invictus
—William Ernest Henley, 1875

“Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

“In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

“Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find me, unafraid.

“It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.”

It is with great relief and joy I can share with you that just a few years before he died, my father decided to enter in through the Strait Gate, drop his burden of sin at the foot of the cross, and begin his journey to the Celestial City. As his youngest daughter, and the one who had the privilege of pilgriming beside him during those last years, I observed that he was a much more peaceful, pleasant companion after he gave up trying to be the captain of his own soul.

Is your head still “bloody, but unbowed”? If so, will you bow your head today and let Jesus forgive your sins and heal your heart? Will you join with the millions of us who are pilgrims on the narrow road that leads to life everlasting? Don’t be angry with God! He loves us. He provided a way for us to be reconciled to him through the blood of Christ. He offers eternal life for “whosoever will” believe. Will you take him at his word and begin your journey through the Strait Gate to the Celestial City?

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved” (John 3:16-17).

Text for today’s meditation: Matthew 7:13-14, “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.

Hearty New England Clam Chowder

New England clam chowder has been a favorite for Alan and me . . . probably from 47 years ago, when we first tasted the creamy, buttery sensational creation of Paul Bernette, who was the chef at Weber’s Inn.

That’s where we spent the first two nights of our honeymoon, and ever since then, we’ve tasted and admired clam chowders from sea to shining sea! The classic look is white, but I think clam chowder tastes even better if you saute the bacon and veggies until they’re golden brown and crispy, although the trade off is a slightly browner chowder. If you prefer to keep it white, don’t saute the potatoes; rather, add water and let the potatoes boil as soon as the onions are tender.

Rich and Creamy New England Clam Chowder
(Serves 6)

In a frying pan, saute:
4 strips of bite-sized, chopped bacon
1 medium onion, chopped
2 tablespoons butter
2 medium potatoes, chopped
1 large stalk of celery, chopped (optional, but I like celery)
1 tablespoon crushed garlic
1 teaspoon seasoning salt
1 teaspoon Montreal steak seasoning


Saute in until browned and tender, and then add:
2 tablespoons of flour until mixed
1 bay leaf
3 cups of water and simmer until all vegetables are completely tender, about 10-15 minutes

Five minutes before serving, add:
2 more tablespoons butter
1 cup half n’ half (light cream)
Heat until almost simmering, then add:
1 15-oz. minced clams (add both meat and juice)
Bring to a simmer but DO NOT BOIL! (Boiling makes the clams tough.)

Serve immediately with fresh bread and butter, or crackers, and possibly a tossed salad. This makes a very hearty meal, perfect for a cold night!

And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall
never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst” (John 6:35).


Brenda’s Tangine Adventure

Here’s a story on trying to be thrifty that will make you laugh, shared by Brenda, who has been my Anne-of-Green-Gables style “bosom friend” since childhood.

As a quick introduction, Brenda and I met on the first day of eighth grade and have been close ever since.

It was a bittersweet day indeed when Brenda married Tom and “left me!” However, after twenty-five years of marriage, we ended up in the same community and have been able to resume our steadfast friendship for this past twenty-five years! We were over to their home for a delicious Moroccan dinner recently, and the story behind the meal was so funny that I asked her if she’d be willing to write it up to share with you. Because—if you are at all like me—you will resonate with the idea of how often we spend money trying to be thrifty! Here it is:

I started with the best of intentions.

I’m not sure when this project took on a life on its own, but it did. It was like a snowball rolling downhill gathering speed and becoming bigger.  How did having a dinner party for close friends end up with an international cooking experience that involved new equipment, new spices and new cooking methods?

It started innocently enough.  I was going to make Candy Cane coffee cakes for Christmas gift giving.  I needed cherries and dried apricots for my baking project.   The first step on the path was buying my apricots at Costco where a 3-pound package of apricots sells for the same amount as a one-pound package at my local grocery store.  As I look back, this is the point where the snowball started rolling downhill.  Imperceptibly at first, but slowly and steadily it got bigger. I had bought that big bag of apricots trying to be a cost-conscious person.

After I had finished making and distributing many candy cane coffee cakes, I still had 2 pounds of apricots remaining.  I needed to find a way to use them up, since I didn’t want to waste them.  I’m a cost-conscious consumer, after all.

I was going to be hosting a dinner party for friends after Christmas, so this was the perfect time to try something new.  I began looking for a main dish recipe that included dried apricots.  I found one easily online.  Lamb and Apricot Tagine.  A dish from Morocco that used several cups of apricots.

I decided that this was a perfect recipe to treat my friends coming to the dinner party.  We had eaten together at a Mediterranean restaurant, so I knew they were up for adventure in this type of cuisine.  What a great way to impress them while being a cost-conscious consumer.

The recipe said the Lamb and Apricot Tagine was cooked in a traditional Moroccan dish called a tagine.  This clay pot allowed slow cooking that continually steamed the food with a domed lid. I could almost smell the dish cooking as I read the recipe and the cook’s comments. The recipe also included instructions for cooking in an Instant Pot, which I have, but that couldn’t be as tasty as using a dish that had been used for hundreds of years in the Middle East, could it?

After researching sources for a tagine, I found that World Market had them and with an after-Christmas discount, I was able to buy one for under $30.  Not too bad but slightly more than I wanted to spend.  However, the price was much higher on Amazon, so again, I felt like I was being a cost-conscious consumer.

I began to gather the ingredients.  The lamb for the recipe meant a trip  to an international market.  I learned a lesson here-lamb is not a cost-effective meat to use. Then I needed saffron threads.  I found these at the International Market after much searching.  I asked the clerk and found they keep saffron in a locked cabinet behind the counter, which tells you the value of the spice. 

On the advice of my chef son, I also ordered some saffron from Amazon who was happy to deliver a small amount of the spice.  Saffron is really the thread-like parts of a crocus flower that grows in the Mediterranean area.   The most expensive spice in the world by weight but luckily, I only needed a very small amount. 

On the positive side, the use of a tagine on an electric stove requires a diffuser to keep the heat from directly touching the tagine.  Fortunately, I have a gas stove and could bypass the diffuser by keeping the heat very low. 

As I began planning for the dinner party, I realized the tagine would not hold enough ingredients to feed six people.  I was going to have to make two batches of the recipe which would require six hours of cooking.  But as often happens, the day of the dinner party, I didn’t have six hours.  My daughter and family had decided to come for a visit from Ohio and left just a few hours before the dinner.  Necessity stepped in, and I had to  cook one batch in the tagine and one in the Instant Pot. 

When my guests arrived, I shared the whole story of the dinner menu that had spiraled out of control.  I placed two dishes of the lamb and apricots on the table and asked them to compare and decide which method was  tastier.  They felt the results were very similar, and that possibly the Instant Pot version was slightly more tender. 

Lesson learned: Either don’t buy large quantities to save money or go with the flow and be open to new experiences to broaden yourself.  I’m going to go with the latter.  We’ve tasted new food, learned how to cook with a tagine and found that the new method (Instant Pot) may be as good as the method used for several thousand years.

But now I need to get a recipe book that features Moroccan cooking so I can make more meals in my tagine.  So, I may not be done with my cooking adventure yet.  After all, I’m a cost-conscious consumer.

(Tangine! This Saturday I’ll share her recipe) 🙂

And also that every man should eat and drink, and enjoy the good of all his labour,
it is the gift of God” (Ecclesiastes 3:13).

Merry Christmas, 2019

Sitting by the fountain in the Soo Looks Park where we used to sit 50 years ago!

2019 has been an extremely happy year for our family for the most part, although not without some major sorrow and challenges! Alan has been feeling well and is continuing as the medical director at Pine Rest Christian Hospital. However, we will both turn 70 in 2020, so he’s beginning to think about retiring “at some point.” I’m guessing sometime this coming year, but he’s made no promises, so I’m not holding my breath! Besides, I’m happy as a clam writing and enjoying family, friends, community, and church life.

Aaron and Michael’s families joining us on a “Roots Tour”
in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

Aaron and Carleen with their four boys continue to enjoy living in California, where Aaron is now a senior manager at LinkedIn. Carlie is still homeschooling, and the kids all seem to be thriving. They’ve been wonderful about visiting twice each year, for which I’m most grateful because it makes the distance seem not quite so far!

Michael and Grace’s family in Europe

Michael and Grace are now stationed in Belgium with their five children, so (very sadly) we don’t get to see them often, although they blessed us with a long, happy visit last summer. Michael has been promoted to “Major” Armstrong and works at the American/NATO dental clinics near Brussels, where they enjoy interacting with military personnel from 28 different countries! The children were enrolled in the Belgian public schools this fall (after previously home schooling), so they’re learning French and expanding their understanding of world culture.

Such a fun week with Jon and Gerlinde’s family at Disney!

Jonathan and Gerlinde are now living in Chicago, where (“Dr.”) Jonathan is a professor of biblical studies and directs the Center for Global Theological Education. Gerlinde is still homeschooling the children. We had an awesome trip to Disney camping with their family last spring and feel greatly privileged to see them pretty often now that they’re living so much closer than they used to! (Lived for seven years in Washington State.)

Daniel and Brianna with Samuel, Elanor, and Neil

Daniel and Brianna (like Jonathan and Kathryn) also now have three children, so Alan and I are the blessed “Papa” and “Nana” to eighteen grandchildren. Because Daniel and Brianna live in Grand Rapids, we get to see them the most often and delight in watching every little change! Right now, Nerf wars with Sammy and Play-Doh with Ellie are favorite games, whereas our new “Neil Armstrong” just likes to snuggle and coo! Daniel continues as the dental director at Exalta Health, a ministry in GR treating the medical, emotional, and spiritual needs of un or under-insured folks. Brianna’s father retired in May (in what seemed like perfect health) but was diagnosed with stage IV cancer in August. His 10 children, 6 in-laws, and 15 grandchildren were able to gather in time for his shocking demise, and he passed into eternal rest on the 21st of November. He has been terribly missed.

Stephen home for the Fourth of July and his birthday

Stephen is still hard at work on his PhD in musicology from Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY. He has now completed all his classwork for his degree and is writing his dissertation. Thanks to a scholarship, he spent part of his summer studying in the U.K. Stephen has presented at twenty conferences over the past few years . . . all part of becoming competitive for the job market as (hopefully) a college professor in the next year or two.

Joel at his office

We have the great privilege of having our youngest son living with us at this time. He works as an associate editor at Kregel Publications and adds much joy to our home! He is also actively presenting at writers’ conferences and is constantly working on novels.

Joel teaching a seminar at my Blue Water Writers’ Group

Joel (as a special gift to me) has even shared a couple of his presentations with my writers’ group!

Some of our family gathered for a Fourth of July celebration

There is so much I could say, but I appreciate your taking time to read this much! All the kids and grandchildren are healthy, active in their churches, and growing in grace. The bottom line to me is that God has been amazingly merciful and kind to our family. I’ve been memorizing psalms this year, and Psalm 16 just speaks my heart:

Preserve me, O God: for in thee do I put my trust. O my soul, thou hast said unto the Lord, Thou art my Lord: my goodness extendeth not to thee; But to the saints that are in the earth, and to the excellent, in whom is all my delight. Their sorrows shall be multiplied that hasten after another god: their drink offerings of blood will I not offer, nor take up their names into my lips. The Lord is the portion of mine inheritance and of my cup: thou maintainest my lot. The lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places; yea, I have a goodly heritage. I will bless the Lord, who hath given me counsel: my reins also instruct me in the night seasons. I have set the Lord always before me: because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved. Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoiceth: my flesh also shall rest in hope. For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption. Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.”

Time Mirror

For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed” (James 1:23-25).

Memorandum

And thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, This is the way, walk ye in it,
when ye turn to the right hand, and when ye turn to the left” (Isaiah 30:21).

Black and White Challenge

“Hast thou entered into the treasures of the snow?” (Job 38:22)

My daughter-in-law Carlie tagged me in a Facebook challenge to post seven black and white photos in seven days with no explanation or words. At the time, my life was spinning too fast to take her up on it, but tomorrow the holiday festivities begin with the first family arriving, and between now and the New Year, we have high hopes of seeing all twelve of our children (counting our in-law kids) and eighteen grandchildren except those who live in Belgium. Therefore, my life is going to be even busier . . . possibly too busy to write my blog! So, I’m thinking to have a series of seven black and white photos that depict what life has been like over the past few weeks (albeit interrupted over the weekend with my usual recipe post on Saturday and a scripture meditation on Sunday). Perhaps over the Christmas to New Year week I can post a series of color photos that relate to our holidays and the joy of family (from another popular challenge going around Facebook these days called “Grandma”).

Because my heart is to share the Lord, I’m allowing myself one scripture verse caption for each photo, but I won’t indulge in any other explanations or words. Hope you enjoy!

HAPPY HOLIDAYS!