Friday, January 20, 2012

Limestone, Lentils, and a Life Lesson

The water from my parents' shallow well could win a contest for limestone content. I've never tasted a more bitter clear liquid. When we moved into the house, my parents shopped for water softeners—but were told that the hard water would quickly corrode and destroy any softener. And so, the shiny stainless steel kitchen sink soon acquired a white crust, despite frequent vinegar treatments. The kettles, faucets, porcelain surfaces—any fixture that had frequent contact with the water—soon had distinctive limestone deposits. Not only that, but we girls had to learn that every shower here creates a bad hair day—and there's only so much we can do to improve it.

I've been away from home for some time, living with a well of average mineral content—tame compared to what comes out of taps here. Because (thankfully) we haul in soft water to drink, I'd forgotten how much the hard stuff can affect everyday life—forgotten the tricks we use to foil it. Enter the mystery of the uncooked lentils.

I like lentil stew. It tastes good, it's nutritious, and it's quick and easy to make: just throw water, lentils, carrots, onions, and potatoes in a Crockpot overnight and season it in the morning. When I woke up Thursday morning, however, I was surprised to find the lentils as chewy as ever. I took my stew to the midwives' potluck, anyway, turning up the temperature. Thankfully, I don't think anyone tried to eat them, because after cooking 5-6 more hours on high, the lentils still weren't done.

This morning Mom put the Crockpot on so we could eat the lentil stew for lunch. After a couple of hours, I went to check on them. Still hard. I put them in a pot to boil.

For three hours.

Mom and I began discussing what could be the matter. Had my Crockpot worn out? That wouldn't explain why the boiling did nothing. Was it the salt I added before instead of after cooking? I couldn't remember ever having to worry about that with lentils the way I do with beans.

Suddenly, Mom remembered. "OH!" she exclaimed. "Did you use the hard water?"

I blinked. "Yes." Could we not cook with tap water, here?

Mom chuckled. "I've been using soft water to cook beans," she said. "They never seem to get soft with the hard water."

The stew soon found its new home in the compost—not much hope for legumes brewed in limestone, it seems. We could have continued to boil them indefinitely, and they would have stayed as hard as ever.

I grew up with something else just as hard, ugly, distasteful, and destructive as the Francis tap water: my own sinful heart. No matter how long and determinedly I try, I can't make my heart soft, warm, tender, and inviting. Years of training can't change its rocky core. Left to itself, it wounds others, gives me grief, and leaves a legacy of pain and dysfunction behind.

Thankfully, God doesn't relegate me to the compost. Instead, He makes an incredible promise: "A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put My spirit within you, and cause you to walk in My statutes" (Ezekiel 36:26, 27).

With an offer of such a beautiful existence, who would want to keep their old chunk of limestone?

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