When a Meal Becomes a Work of Art

This year, I gave my husband the gift of an Italian cuisine cooking class at a local cooking school for his birthday. We spent the evening creating a meal of white bean tapenade smeared on crostini, porcini roasted beef, and bianco risotto cooked in saffron and vermouth. Together we sliced and diced vegetables for the radicchio fritelle, and quartered strawberries for the crowning glory of the meal, a mascarpone torte with prosecco berries. It was every bit as wonderful and full-bodied and delicious as you might imagine.

On the drive home, I asked my husband what he thought of the end results of our labor…

Join me at Grace Table for the rest of this adventure in art and eating Italian.

How to Navigate a Season of Endings

As summer approaches, bringing with it big changes in the life of our family, I find myself feeling out of sorts. I am graduating from my MFA program, and I don’t know what’s next in my writing life. I will no longer spend long days reading books with a critical eye and writing papers based on them. No one will be waiting at the other end of an email for my next essay. I will have a new degree in creative writing, and no tangible way of putting it to use on paper.

Just as I graduate, so will my seventeen year old daughter. Her entire life spreads out in front of her like a blank canvas. Everything is before her, and this stands in stark contrast to my own experience. I often wonder what lies ahead for me when my own canvas is already full of color, spread in thick strokes towards the outer edges. So much lies behind me. So much of my canvas is already painted.

No one told me that releasing a daughter into the world makes a mother dig deep into her own story of becoming. It is both a rejoicing and a mourning–for who I could have been, for the surprise of who I am today, and for what my girl will be. I don’t think I have the words yet for what it feels like to let her go or how hard it is to set my younger self free in the process.

I’ve reached a season of endings, and I can only see the faint outline of new beginnings ahead. Perhaps you are out of sorts or in a season of endings too. I don’t have five steps to fix it, but I do have a few guiding principles I hope will keep us moving forward into the unknown with more freedom and less fear.

Treat yourself and your open-ended questions with kindness.

In his poem Unquiet Vigil, Brother Paul Quenon writes “Be Kind. Myself, to myself, be kind.” When I read those words, I was most struck by the punctuation. Be Kind. Period. No caveats, no qualifications. Be kind to myself no matter how complicated, effervescent, difficult, or joyful the feelings. Be kind to the past me, the present me, and the me who exists in the future. This feels impossibly hard some days, but with practice, it grows easier.

Learn to love the questions.

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”~ Rainer Maria Rilke in Letters to a Young Poet.

I want to place these words like beads on a length of string and finger them like beads of prayer. During a season of change, the questions I ask are more important than the answers I think I need. The answers rarely announce themselves, but rather they arrive in the quiet of living into the questions.

Hope and wait quietly.

“It is good that one should hope and wait quietly..” ~Lamentations 3:26. I often wait with fear as my loud companion. Fear drives away quiet, whereas hope invites it in. Living into the questions with a spirit of kindness allows for hope to have its way. I can ask myself questions about the future without giving in to the cacophony they can create in my soul. I do this by entering into a season of unknowns with a posture of open handedness rather than entering with closed fists. I can’t receive my past or my future when I grasp for answers or fight the questions every step of the way.

In this season of endings, I want to enter open, free, unencumbered by a need to orchestrate my own feelings into something like a mathematically correct, classical symphony. This is jazz, baby. There are no neat resolutions, but I’m improvising my way through the notes, receiving them as they come, with hope and kindness and love for unexpected melodies.

Discovering Ourselves in the Face of a Stranger

We noticed a small knot of locals—a group of elderly men sitting together on a bench nearby, chatting in Italian, laughing heartily at jokes that escaped us. My husband and I stood in silence, eavesdropping, while water lapped against the wood dock and the late afternoon sun warmed our skin. Then the men’s conversation slowed as gray heads leaned close and one man began to sing, with the others joining in an a cappella chorus…

To read the rest of the story about discovering ourselves in the face of a stranger, join me at In Touch Ministries. While you’re there, have a look around at the other articles. This month’s issue is fantastic.

What the Garden Teaches Us About Slow Growth

***I spent some time in the blog archives recently and discovered this post on growth and hope and belonging. I thought it was worth revisiting this spring as I wait for my garden and a few quiet corners of my life to bloom.

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We have a ridiculous number of flower beds around our house, which is wonderful when someone else is doing the work of maintaining them, but disheartening when I have to do it myself. I want the results of regular planting, watering, and weeding without all of the hard work. My husband and I have spent hours planning, dreaming, sketching, and wandering around green houses. Sometimes we stalk other people’s gardens, and come home to tell one another about our latest drive by viewing. But, when it comes to getting my hands dirty, to digging deep, pruning, and standing in the hot sun with a hose, I bail out. Give me all the flowers! Give me none of the work.

This past autumn, our third in this home, I slipped on my blue gardening gloves, grabbed a spade, and dug over a hundred holes in the cool earth. I placed a single bulb in each hole, planning carefully for waves of pink and purple in one corner of a bed, yellow and white in another. Cupped all winter by the frozen earth, I imagined a riot of color in the spring, when the garden shakes off its slumber and wakes up.

This is my year of restoration, and I want the garden to represent what could be when empty places are no longer left blank, when they are filled with the promise of life and fragrance and color. Driving around town, I see daffodils everywhere. Tulips bend in the breeze. Sweet grape hyacinths gossip in clusters beneath towering trees. And my garden is quiet. The bulbs are slow to grow this first year of their birth. They are just pushing through the soil, while my friends boast fists full of bright yellow heads cut from gardens of their own.

My husband says the first year is always the slowest and hardest–the bulbs are just learning how to grow here. Each year will be easier. They will expand and root themselves into the places we planted them. Reclaiming and restoring the garden takes longer than I expected. As spring arrives and then summer approaches, we will have to make choices about what stays and what goes. What is restored to life and health after a long winter, what needs pruning back, what needs moving.

I’ve come to expect this now, and as I enter the spring of this year, the year resting on my cornerstone word of “Restore“, I’m beginning to see the results of the effort I’ve planted along the way. Small growth, little buds of dark green, not baskets full of blooms yet. But something is stirring. There is growth, but it comes at a cost. It’s hard work, the hardest I’ve ever known, to pull up the things that no longer serve me, to release the past, the dead and rootless, and to water, water, water the life growing beneath the surface. The first year is the slowest and the hardest. I’m still learning how to grow here.

If you find yourself in a similar season of incremental growth, take heart. Life stirs beneath the surface. Water where you’re rooted. Plant new life, prune back the old. You are a garden, bursting with the potential for life.

Easter: On Resurrection and Ruination

The three of us sat on stiff bleachers with maroon banners hanging over our heads, surrounded by thousands of fellow parents and our soon-to-be college freshmen. The university’s band played a song of celebration a few feet away, and I smiled as I watched the drummers beat out their joy at playing for a full crowd.

Just beyond the thick stone walls of the gym, tree branches swayed in the blush of first bloom. Students sat on checkered blankets sunbathing in the quad. Runners ran circles around buildings. Taxi cabs honked in the distance.

It was a typical spring Sunday for city dwellers, but for those of us who sat waiting, the day held the potential for a pivotal decision. If not for the few parents entering with palm fronds from the chapel, I would’ve entirely forgotten it was Palm Sunday.

Excitement thrummed under the surface in the room, as the president of the university took to the stage to welcome the potential students of the class of 2021.  As we sat with our daughter, I realized that this day could lead us to take our final step towards her future. I expected the president, a jesuit priest, to give us a rah-rah message, one meant to encourage our child’s enrollment with stats and impressive facts about the University. Instead, he met us at this fork in the road, and said something so surprising I’ll never forget it.

“We want to ruin your kids for life. We want to awaken them to the world, so that every day they wake up bothered.”

It wasn’t the message I expected at an admitted student’s day, but it was the Palm Sunday message my soul needed. I have faithfully prayed these convictions over my children and their future, but I fear that I haven’t been as faithful to live these convictions out  in our everyday.

I spend a great deal of time managing my children’s expectations, seeing to their comfort, eliminating pain where possible, serving their life to them rather than teaching them live in service to something greater. All the while praying that their convictions would come from a sincere relationship with Christ, a relationship that should be marked by ruination.

I want my kids ruined for life because of Jesus. I want them awake to the pain and injustice in the world around them, and I want them to wake up every day bothered by it. I want them to realize they have a role in the re-making of the world and in bringing God’s Kingdom here on earth. I want them to wake up every day knowing and walking in the truth of it.

In part, this is the message of Easter–that a life given over to Christ means suffering, sorrow, and bearing the burdens of others, but it also means a righting of wrongs. It means glorious resurrection. In my day-to-day, and in the daily lives of my kids, I’m not sure I have preached the message of Easter with my life as much as I’ve given it lip-service.

As I listened to the president priest, I knew we’d found a home for our daughter. I also knew more work must be done in my own home and heart. I forget that working out my salvation is a daily practice. I came away with his words ringing in my ears as a call to worship with the whole of my life.

May I too, wake up bothered. May I too, be fully awakened. May I be ruined for life for anything other than Jesus.

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Wishing you the happiest Easter! May your day be full of light, joy, and homecoming.