We once read a story by a woman heartbroken over her friend so poor that she had nothing to eat but potatoes for a whole week. As we ate nothing but potatoes in the little blue house week after week, month after month, we would chuckle at the difference in perspective. Having nothing to eat but potatoes all the time can be very wearying but we were always thankful to at least have food. We learned from God then that real poverty goes much deeper than some temporary, mild discomfort. Real poverty, of soul and body, awakens an awareness of just how fragile we are and how much we need to rely on God for our day-to-day existence. Our recent experience with lefse underscored this reality.
Since we had little to eat but potatoes in the little blue house on PEI, we tried every recipe in the book to disguise them from our taste buds; often without success. One way that succeeded was when I made lefse. Lefse is a Scandinavian flatbread, much like a tortilla, made with potatoes. It is surprisingly difficult to make. The reason for this difficulty is that the potato base makes for a very sticky dough. There is a specific process, and a few tricks, to work with the starchy tuber to turn it into proper lefse.
It takes a great deal of effort to prepare, then cook, the potatoes and then mash them to just the right consistency. Once complete, the mash must be chilled. A balanced dough made from mashed potatoes and flour that is just the right stickiness is the next step. Finally, the dough must be rolled out to the right thickness and then cooked at an exact temperature. Fail in any of these steps and you have nothing but frustrations and a sticky mess to clean up. Succeed and you have the most mouthwatering delicious sweet flatbread that can hardly be described.
...and the cleanup
I knew cooking and preparing the potatoes would be a messy occupation. However, being undeterred by this prospect, and stirred on by a gnawing hunger, I transformed 50 pounds of potatoes and 5 pounds of flour into this tasty treat. After a long, hard, exhausting day the operation was a success. We were all delighted to have food that had little resemblance to the tiresome tuber.
When Wanda came in for cleanup however, her happy emotion was replaced with something just a little less so. My wanton redecoration with flour was not wholly appreciated I guess. We often say that the wilderness is a war zone and to Wanda it seemed I had intentionally exploded a bag of flour in the dining/laundry room. It is no exaggeration that we found flour in undiscovered places for many months afterward. Because of this we agreed that lefse would now stay in the ‘special occasion’ category.
The hardest path
As humans we have a great potential to avoid difficulty wherever, and whenever, possible.
We are hard wired, it seems, to choose ease and comfort over difficulty and pain. When ‘self’ is in control the default of taking the easiest path possible becomes something of an uncompromising obsession. Even without ‘self’ it is hard to accept the hardship and challenges that confront us in life. It should be no surprise then that the path of the wilderness is chock full of limitations, restrictions and deprivations designed to test our character and kill our ‘self’ nature. God intentionally gives us the hardest path we can withstand to harden us to difficulty and to teach us to rely on Him. His purpose is not to frustrate but to instill in us patient endurance and faith.
We need to learn how to follow Jesus patiently through difficulty and endure long to find the reward of faith on the other side.
Now with all the trouble and mess that lefse is to make you can understand why I was not eager to make this troublesome treat again. That is also why, when the urge rose within me this holiday season to have lefse, that I started looking for bakeries and shops where I might buy some lefse. Like most humans I was seeking the easiest path first. I was not hopeful of success however, as there is no Scandinavian population where we live. Since I did not want to raise false hopes with my family, I kept my enquiries quiet and discreet.
Even though God had blessed us with abundance, this Christmas season I did not feel that having lefse was even possible. Little did I realize He had other plans.
My mistake, if you can call it that, was to let it slip that I desired lefse this holiday season. With this knowledge in hand my family then began plotting, yes plotting, to get me my desire. It was not unlike David wistfully longing for the sweet water from Bethlehem’s well while the Philistines occupied the town. His mighty men overheard his cry, went to Bethlehem and fought their way through enemy territory to draw some water for David. Their love for him was so great it led them to sacrifice themselves for his benefit. It was overwhelming for him. In my case, however, it soon became clear that there was no hope of my family being able to buy any lefse locally. The same roadblocks I had faced stymied them. Our quest seemed to be at the end of the line.
The subtle silver thread
Often, as we walk with God, the stirrings and ideas that spring up within us originate in His heart. It may seem strange but when you realize that God loves you deeply and personally you see that the ideas He gives often have a very practical purpose. Let’s take our example for a moment. Here I was longing for a treat I have had in Christmas’s past and have not eaten in at least 4 years. Even though I had this longing there appeared to be no path forward to satisfy it. It seemed like I was headed for more frustration and disappointment. I say ‘seemed like’ because even though we could not see a way to get lefse God had a plan we could not see. This is where the practical purpose comes in. You see, the goal of lefse was always secondary to God’s primary goal to take this opportunity to build trust and faith in us. To do this however we had to follow the subtle silver thread of His lead to see where it would take us.
We had to push beyond the easy path and face the challenge before us.
Having exhausted the path of purchasing lefse outright we began to think about making it. Such thoughts I countered with logical, and very practical, objections. First, to peel potatoes, boil them and mash them in this little motel room would be a difficult task requiring an effort which I was not prepared to exert. Second, Wanda will never let me forget the flour explosion from the little blue house she had to clean up after my last big venture into lefse making. We have no room in this motel to make such a mess. The space for rolling out dough and cooking is a fraction of the space I have had in the past. Third, even if we could overcome the first two obstacles we did not have the cooking tools, a mixer, glass bowl, rolling pin and skillet, necessary to making lefse.
With all these objections in mind you would be right in thinking the challenges were just too great and we would just give up. For most people you would be correct but we are battle-hardened veterans of the wilderness. We saw these difficulties as opportunities and challenges we might overcome. We would, however, require God’s lead and provision before it would be possible. That lead happened when Wanda had the urge to look for a lefse recipe that used instant potatoes instead of fresh potatoes. Surprisingly, she found one.
Now I like the taste of fresh potatoes in lefse but the work involved preparing them was prohibitive. I was willing to compromise and allow the use of instant potatoes because there was no other alternative. In one stroke God had removed the challenge of extended effort and space required to prepare fresh potatoes. After overcoming that hurdle we then began working out the logistics of preparation. We had all the ingredients but lacked the proper tools. Since we had a little money left over after Christmas gift shopping we hunted for the tools we needed. We didn’t need new, so we went to the local thrift shop to see what we could find.
God has led us down the path of taking the small idea I had and turned it into a mission. We had gone past the point of just talking about buying lefse, to making lefse, and now into where we were doing something about it. This is a critical step in faith. When we get an idea, even if we do not realize that it is from God, we need to pursue it into action to turn it into faith. Just having the idea is not enough, we must act on the lead otherwise we will not learn to follow Jesus in faith.
If the idea is from God, He will shine a light on the path forward to bring it to fruition, if not it will lead nowhere. In our case we needed the hand of God to steer us as we progressed in our travels to get just the right tools at just the right prices.
At our local thrift shop, we found everything we needed but the rolling pin. We were giddy at how this little idea was taking form and God was directing our steps of faith. It took us a little longer, and a few more shops, to find the rolling pin but we bought that too. Now that we had our ingredients, and our tools, we had to put everything to work to see if everything would work out. I must admit that by this point we knew God was leading our mission and our confidence in success was strong.
The final test we faced was to put everything together and try making lefse. As I began I was stunned at how simple and quick, it was to prepare the potatoes. What took me 6-8 hours in the past took me mere minutes now. Soon the mash was chilling in the car outside because we lacked the fridge space to chill it inside. Thankfully the temperature was hovering around 0° C and was perfect for the job. After an hour I took the chilled potatoes out and made the dough. This was also easier than expected. Once again the prepared dough went out to the car for a second chilling and I relaxed.
The final, and messiest, hurdle would be rolling out the dough and cooking it. This was the time I would need the most space and end up making the most mess. We cleaned out the tiny counter space we had to make room. It was tight, but I felt it might work. Then I floured the counter and the rolling pin. Being as careful as possible I rolled out the first ball and was amazed at how easy it was. Years of experience had taught my hands what to expect so I could control the texture of the lefse without a great deal of mess.
Finally, I heated the skillet and the first lefse went into the pan. In a few minutes it was done and a quest that had started a few weeks earlier ended. Wanda declared the lefse delicious, and we were all overjoyed at the successful completion to our mission.
Our success came only because of an equal partnership with each other and with Jesus. All of us contributed, in our own way, to the result. Without each person contributing, the luscious lefse would not have happened. This is why obedience to the lead of God is so important to our walk of faith. You see, we need to realize that we are equal partners with God in our journey of faith otherwise we will become angry and paralyzed by our own weaknesses. Too often we make the mistake of charging ahead with our own ideas without God’s lead or we sit on our thumbs expecting God to do all the work for us. Neither of these actions is right.
We need to realize that we must partner with God and follow His lead in all things in order to navigate the wilderness and learn faith.
To give and receive
The wilderness is a dance that will not be successful unless we learn to partner with God in everything we do. Jesus is not focused on just the big things in our lives and around us, He is focused on us. Everything about us is important to Him. Nothing is off the table in what He wants to teach us in how to cooperate with Him. Our task is to follow that lead; no matter how impossible the road ahead looks. We need to trust Him to provide at the right time that which we need to complete the assignment. In our case the reward was a delicious lefse we did not think was possible here, and a renewed respect, and gratitude, for His leading.
This season is a time of giving and receiving. This little ‘lefson’ is our gift to you this holiday. We call out to you today to give to Jesus your complete attention and, in turn, receive His lead with joy. He will lead you to the quiet waters, green meadows and safe places to rest if you commit to follow Him completely. I promise you, no matter how rocky the path ahead looks, you can always trust the Shepherd to lead you to the proper place you need to be. May you also find the tasty reward of faith at the end of your journey.
Homer and Wanda