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Posted Thursday, March 22, 2012, at 7:00 AM


By Rayla Stewart Hogue

Special to the Daily Statesman

There was once a group of college students who were travelling. They had two whole weeks away from school to go from place to place, singing and sharing their stories with the people they met along the way. They had great experiences . . . and fun as well. Their last stop was at the home of one of the girls of the group. Instead of being sent to many different homes for the evenings, they all stayed at her home. The girls remained upstairs and the boys went down to the basement. The girl's parents were exceedingly excited to host the entire group. They opened their doors and hearts to their daughter's friends.

Momma was busy cooking for the all. She had baked pies, cakes, cookies, and candies in anticipation of the weekend before they returned to school. They had given a concert for a church in town and now momma was cooking hamburgers for the whole crew. The table was laden with chips, dips, buns, cheeses, lettuce, fresh sliced home-grown tomatoes, a vegetable tray filled with celery, olives, carrots, and three different kinds of pickles--momma's famous sweet pickles with raisins, her hot dill pickles, and hamburger slices. Soon everyone was filling their plates with burgers, chips, and dips,--eating with a hearty appetite. The hot dill pickles had to be refilled several times and people kept munching on them long after the burgers were gone.

Conversation flowed, leaping from topic to topic and laughter erupted regularly. They were tired from the day's activities and all too soon, yawns replacing the bantering conversation. They soon said their good nights and headed for bed. Their hosts cleared the table, putting away the leftovers--of which there were few--and realized that the whole jar of dill pickles had been devoured. Momma sent Poppa to the canning room to replenish her supply. Poppa, thinking ahead, returned with two jars in hand rather than one. Momma laughed, but put them both in the fridge to cool.

The next day they had a huge homemade breakfast of biscuits and sausage gravy with eggs and hash browns. One on the boys laughed that the only thing missing was one of those fabulous pickles from the night before. Poppa, saying nothing, went to the fridge and returned with the chilled jar of pickles. The boy, enjoying the joke, promptly opened the jar and ate a pickle. As they sat around discussing their plans for the day, he ate another, and finally another before stopping. The young people headed off for a day of sightseeing

They returned midafternoon to the smell of meat on Poppa's grill outside. There were "birdies" (pork steak filled with grated veggies wrapped in bacon), "tube steaks", and burgers. Momma had fixed fried potatoes, corn, and a huge salad with all the condiments one could possibly want to go along. Of course there were cookies, fresh-out-of-the-oven, and pies with homemade ice cream for dessert. Again they ate heartily and as the leftovers were put away, Momma found yet another jar of pickles was empty.

After their meal, they began teasing the boys about eating all the pickles. Each claimed it was one of the others who was putting them away so fast. The teasing was good natured and soon passed. Off they went out of doors to play volleyball while some napped, and others relaxed. Of course being young, it wasn't long until they were hungry again. More food filled the tables and soon they were teasing Lance for his pickle eating fetish. He claimed that they were the best pickles he had ever eaten in his life. In fact, "he figured he could eat a whole jar if given the opportunity." Now the ribbing and teasing really began.

The next day they sang one at a church and then came back to the home to share Sunday dinner before traveling back to school. Momma and Poppa had hurried home as soon as the service was over so they could get the meal on the table for the kids. Oh, what a wonderful meal it was--roast with mashed potatoes and gravy, macaroni and cheese, corn on the cob, fruit salad, and rolls fresh from the oven. Everyone gathered around the table and bowed their head for grace. When they opened their eyes, there sitting on Lance's plate was a quart jar of dill pickles. His eyes grew huge as he opened the jar and ate his first pickle.

They all roared with laughter at Poppa's trick. Every time they passed the food for seconds, Poppa would remind Lance "now don't forget your pickle" and Lance always ate one. They lingered around the table while Lance continued to munch on his pickles. At first he had eaten them in rapid bites, now he slowed down and seemed to savor them. Before he realized it, he had eaten most of the jar. They began to count. There were thirteen pickles--more or less--in each jar. Now his jar held only four.

"Surely you can eat the whole jar, Lance. Come on--you said you could. Let's see you do it."

Lance was determined to meet the challenge. He ate another pickle. Three were left. As he sipped his glass of tea, he reached for another and slowly munched his way through. He was feeling a bit full, so he got up and walked around the house for a moment. When he came back to the table he grabbed the smaller of the two remaining pickles from the jar. He decided a fast three or four bite approach would work well and chomped his way through.

Reaching for his tea glass to help the pickle go down, he began to eye the jar with one last, big, juicy pickle. He started to reach for it with the belching began. Oh, was he embarrassed. Deep, full-bodied belches seemed to overtake him. He drank some more tea. His friends teased him terribly. He had bragged about being able to eat the whole jar. Now he wondered "why had he taken up the unspoken challenge?" It was just one pickle. Surely he could manage one. Taking the last pickle from the jar, he looked a bit green about the gills.

Poppa said, "Now son, don't make yourself sick--it's just a pickle."

Lance brought the pickle to his mouth and nibbled on it. He stopped and looked at his friends around him and then ate the whole thing! "Piece of cake!" he said as a huge belch echoed off the walls and he turned red with a hint of green.

They loaded the vehicles and got in to head back to college. Another one of the boys drove Lance's car since he was feeling a bit under the weather. Momma had run into the house and came out hiding something behind her back.

"Lance would you like one for the road?" she asked holding out a fresh quart of dill pickles and a pint of sweet. I thought you might like some variety. Laughing, Lance wrapped her in a bear hug and took both jars of pickles. "Do you mind if I wait a while to eat them?" he asked as he climbed into the car and carefully stashed the jars.

It was said that Lance kept those jars of pickles in his room until after graduation. He had learned to savor life rather than devour it by eating the whole quart--or even the pint at one time.

Sometimes that is how our relationship is with God. We find one thing that we like and go overboard on it. We devour it--grasping for more and more--filling ourselves with that one flavor. God, however, cannot be contained in only one flavor--or form. God is love, light, color, bright, shining, soft, dark, mysterious, and beyond definition or containment. We are to savor, discover, and grow with God--to embrace God as God reveals God's self--to hunger and thirst for God. Seek God wherever we are.

Oh God of abundance and love, we admit our relationship with you is sometimes gluttonous. We want to keep you to ourselves and for our own purposes. We recognize that you want us to spend time with you and savor the relationship, allowing you to live within us and through us to touch others' lives in your love. So be it. Amen.

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From My Heart to Yours
Rayla Stewart Hogue
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Rayla Stewart Hogue is a native of Dexter. She is a wife, mother, and minister of the UCC (United Church of Christ). She seeks to recognize and embrace the unending hues of God's ethne and religion, and commits herself to living and expressing this inclusive diversity through Sacrament and the spoken, written, and sung Word of God.
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