I love cooking. It's taken me a long time to get to this place, I used to be downright terrified of the kitchen, and bad at it too. I'm not joking when I say I once burned water. This is a real thing that happens when you put a pot of water on to boil and FORGET ABOUT IT COMPLETELY, then the water evaporates and the pot scalds. I had been planning to make ramen noodles. Being a "make do" kinda girl I figured I'd just add some water back in quick and what the heck, the noodles too, after all, the pot was so hot it would immediately boil the water, right?? Yeah. That was a really awesome meal. Growing up my mom didn't do a lot of from scratch, home cooking, there was always dinner on the table but plenty of times it was spaghetti and sauce from a jar, or frozen chicken kievs. For my seventh birthday dinner I asked for salisbury steaks. Now, at 30, my birthday meals of choice would be a breakfast of potatoes and onions and asparagus sauteed in lots of high quality butter and topped with a perfectly cooked over easy egg. Or a toasted ham and turkey sandwich on ciabatta bread with havarti cheese and a sun dried tomato aioli from scratch with homemade sweet potato fries. Ooh! Or a dinner of bacon wrapped pork tenderloin drizzled in honey, with dry roasted broccoli and potatoes with a dash of sea salt and ginger. And warm, homemade, brown sugar pie and vanilla bean ice cream for dessert. And I want to be the one to cook all of it (but not do the dishes) because I take as much joy in the cooking of it as I do the eating of it.
I can remember the first meal I ever cooked for my husband, then my boyfriend. I was using third hand hand-me-down pots and pans and dollar store utensils in this tiny closet of a kitchen I had in my studio apartment. And with every step in the recipe I felt more and more panic because I was realizing that I did not give myself nearly enough time. I have never felt that stressed out in my life. A HUGE part of cooking is timing, knowing how to know whether one minute or two will do when the recipe says "sear for 1-2 minutes", or knowing that sauteing onions takes way more time than sauteing zucchini takes and to maybe hold off on the zucchini till the onions are well on their way. The first time you really decide to cook a meal the first direction on the recipe should be "You will need more time than you think so start sooner than you're planning". I'm more confident in the kitchen now, more in control, but timing can still be a problem for me (over the summer I threw a dinner party that started at six but I couldn't put food on the table till seven!). At least now I understand some of the basics better, enough to understand that timing is a big part of cooking and if I focus too much time on doing certain things as I cook what I didn't give enough time to will show in my completed meal.
This past Sunday we had a holiday party that I'd known about for weeks and was to start at four. At about 1pm my husband Aaron tells me it's a potluck and we should figure out what we're bringing.
A word about potlucks. For those of us who like to cook a potluck is like the Olympics except better. At the Olympics everyone shows up with their best game, does their thing, receives their commendations, but only one person goes home with the gold. At a potluck everyone shows up and gets to enjoy each other's best game and we all get to bask in the affirmations of one another, and then we all go home with each others recipes. I know there are some people who hate potlucks, who don't like eating things from unknown kitchens or who always show up with store bought rolls, and those people are totally okay, I get it, this isn't your thing or your wheel house. But it is mine. And so on Sunday afternoon, with kids who have gotten to nap time later than normal, a husband that's been at church since six that morning and is now laying on the couch, dead to the world, I have three hours to pick a dish, run to the store, prep and cook and get myself and my two kids ready for the party. Because the thought of having to admit to bringing store bought really pained my heart I really was going to try to pull it off. I immediately started surfing my Pinterest boards.
Having decided on hot artichoke dip with toasted garlic bread I headed to the store, jotting a list at stop lights. At one such stop light it struck me, " If I do this I'll feel rushed and hectic and feel like I have zero time and arrive sweaty and frazzled, but if I just buy dip I'll have all the time in the world to get ready and get the kids ready and arrive feeling calm." I felt a pang at the idea of saying no to myself and my desire to show up with a piping hot, well presented, homemade appetizer, but I knew that to get the most out of the night this was the best answer. Just as I was making this decision I saw a man standing under the railroad bridge right before my grocery store. This was a particularly gross Sunday afternoon, cold but not cold enough to turn the pouring rain into snow, windy and gray. I say man but that's a loose term, his face was too gaunt to get a good gauge on how old he was, and he was holding a sign that said "hungry, anything helps".
It would have been super easy to not think twice, I was on a mission, I didn't have any cash on me, he was on the opposite side of the road anyway, plus I was heading into a busy night. I had every reason to smile sadly and move on with my life and forget about how he wasn't wearing a coat and his shoes had holes in them. But a still small voice reminded me that I was headed to the grocery store anyway and that on my way back I'd be headed the right direction to give him something at the light. A still small voice said "You aren't as busy as you were a few minutes ago, remember? You've decided not to make a dish."
When I left the store and drove back down the road I didn't see him at first, he'd switched sides. I had to pull off to a side street and come back around. When I handed him the grocery bag full of food he burst into tears. He grabbed my hand and said "Thank you. Thank you. Merry Christmas."
I cried as I turned back around and headed back home. Not because I felt so good for having been kind, and not even because I felt sad for him. I cried at my own selfish, self-centeredness. I cried at how I have apparently come to view my time as my own. I cried because the pursuit of affirmation over a silly appetizer almost stopped me from seeing the hurting person standing in the street, because I'd almost been too stubborn to have time to make a simple u-turn. I cried because timing is important, even to God, and in agreeing to an unrushed moment I opened my eyes to someone God put in my path that I could impact, I gave myself the margin to exist in God's timing, not mine. I cried because what would it look like in this, the season of Christmas, to step out of our timing, our own hustle and rush, and open our eyes to the people God is putting in our paths for us to impact. Take a minute this Christmas and slow down, don't be so worried about the perfect holiday moment orchestrated and captured, or the perfect dish cooked and presented, or the perfect party, and view people through the lens of who God has placed in your path to impact.
Timing is a big part of a walk with God, and if we focus too much time on doing certain things in our lives what we've neglected will show in the fruit of our faith.
The store bought dip was a hit, by the way. I'm bringing it to another holiday party tonight.