Learning by doing: It's the foundation for so many things in life.
When do I learn more? Is it when I am reading an article about photography or is it when my finger presses the button and the shutter captures the moment in time? Is it perfectly captured with that very first click? Or will I have better results when I change the angle, change the shutter speed and try again and again?
When do I learn more? Is it when I'm sitting in a chair, reading a cookbook? Or is it when I am up to my elbows in bread dough?
We all learn in different ways. Some experts say there are as many as seven different ways to learn. Others say learning styles fall somewhere in three broad brush strokes - listening, seeing and experiencing. Maybe the best learning takes place when there's a little bit of all of those things involved in our educational experience. I think it's that way for me.
When my son Brent was interested in 4-H photography, I added photography leader to my "resume." I am the first to admit I don't know everything there is to know about photography. I took one photography class in college. When I first started my job as a reporter at The Hutchinson News, I often had to be my own photographer when a "real" photographer wasn't available to go with me to cover a feature story I was writing. I learned by doing.
As a 4-H parent, I probably learned as much or more than my kids did. I learned from other parents, leaders, extension agents and from workshops. I also learned by doing activities with Jill and Brent.
I began serving as a 4-H foods leader when our daughter, Jill, was a 7-year-old 4-Her.
As a 4-H cook myself (many, many years ago), I wasn't a successful bread baker. I didn't do it often enough to get proficient at it. Baking once a year for fair competition is not the way to get better at something.
I didn't get better at baking bread until Jill and her friend, Holly, began exploring bread baking in 4-H. We all learned together. We started with homemade pretzels. We put together a demonstration called "Fit To Be Tied." Their pretzel-making expanded to a little enterprise during our Stafford community's Oktoberfest one year. Believe you me: When two girls and two moms are making hundreds of pretzels, there's plenty of learning going on.
It continued when Jill & Holly did another demonstration on shaping rolls. I don't think I'd ever shaped a dinner roll in my life before that endeavor. We all learned together.
I became the leader because I wanted Jill to benefit from 4-H cooking, just like I had years before as a child in Pratt County. An adult spent time with me and my friends. We learned by doing. We learned by being together. I wanted to pass on that gift.
I think that's why I am still a 4-H foods leader, even though my own children are grown up and I'm no longer doing it for my own family.
But am I under any illusion that I know it all? Absolutely not. That's why it's so important to ask for help.
This summer, I asked a fellow Stafford homemaker and farm wife to lead a 4-H cooking meeting and show my older 4-H foods members how to shape bread loaves.
When I make yeast dough, it's usually shaped into dinner rolls or cinnamon rolls.
But Sharon makes bread for her family every single week. And she is a shining example of what I have been telling my 4-H cooking kids for the past 15-plus years.
You only get better with practice.
The three girls who were at the cooking meeting in June took that to heart. All three of them practiced and all three of them did well in the 4-H foods division during the Stafford County Fair.
But if they wait until next July to start baking bread again, they will lose any proficiency that they gained this summer.
And I will personally never get any better at shaping bread loaves if I don't do it myself. It won't be without obstacles. It doesn't just happen because I want it to happen. There will be disasters and mistakes along the way. But there will also be rewards.
It takes practice and perseverance. I know I won't get better at bread baking unless I practice it. The same goes for my Christian walk.
God's Word - the Bible - gives us an instruction manual. If I want to make a quality loaf of bread, I will start with a quality recipe and quality ingredients.
If I want to live life as Christ would want me to, I can't just leave God's Word sitting on the book shelf. I will have to open it up and find direction.
But just like I asked for help from a more experienced bread baker, I don't have to make this Christian journey alone either.
I frequently hear people say, "Well, I don't need to go to church. I can worship on the golf course. I can worship while fishing at the lake. I never feel closer to God than when I'm tending my garden."
I have no doubt that we can worship at any time, at any of life's intersections. I personally do some of my best praying and thinking and listening for God's voice while walking down our country roads.
But I also know that I can learn and I can grow by being with others. I teach an adult Sunday School class at my church. I learn when I'm preparing for the lesson each Sunday. But I learn just as much as I interact with the other people in the class. The message God wants me to learn may be revealed through what someone else says during a class discussion.
I learn from our minister's message every week. I am blessed by the lyrics and melodies of the worship service, whether the songs are the old hymns from 200 years ago or more contemporary praise songs.
I can study my Bible at home, and I will grow in my knowledge and faith. But I can also learn from the insights and interaction with other women in a Lovely Branches Ministries Bible study. This fall, the Bible study will be titled, "Get a Grip," and we'll be studying a book called "Manage Your Moods" by Women of Faith. The study will give us Scriptural reinforcement for focusing on our heart, or our emotional well being. All women in the area are invited to participate in this study. If you're not in this area, you can find a Bible study at a church near you.
In the Bible, Jesus used everyday items, familiar to his disciples, to teach the lessons he wanted them (and us) to learn. For the disciples, bread was central to every meal. It was literally the staff of life, one of the things that gave them their daily sustenance.
Jesus said: "I tell you the truth, it is not Moses who has given you the bread of heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.
Then Jesus declared, "I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty." (John 6: 32-35)
There's nothing more fragrant than the aroma of homemade bread baking in the oven. There's nothing that adds more depth and dimension and fragrance to our lives than the Bread of Life - Jesus Christ.
***If you click on the colored words in the text above, it will link you to recipes. On the Fit to be Tied link, there is a recipe and step-by-step photos of making pretzels. The other link gives you two tasty bread loaf recipes - along with the knowledge that not everything coming out of my kitchen is perfect!