This is real life. It’s messy. Despite our education, experience, skills, natural ability, and altruistic desires – there is no foolproof plan or method to guarantee avoidance of the occasional unexpected and unplanned disaster. We cannot learn, grow, mature, or prepare enough to leave failure behind forever.
The photograph is also my kitchen on Tuesday morning, because I was too exhausted at the end of Monday night to clean despite the willingness of the girls to help me.
It’s ironic that Monday afternoon I posted about the significance of food and cooking in my home, and that very night I had the biggest food-fail in my home to date. I’ve been cooking community dinners twice a week in my home for over four years now. And Monday night was the worst…and the best. Both a series of unfortunate events that made way to relearn some good truth regarding restorative grace and friendship.
First of all, my husband had to work really late. I was was trying to be a full-time mom, cook, and bible study leader at the same time. In addition, it was raining. Which means that we couldn’t sit outside at The Table that was built for 20 people. Fifteen ladies, plus my three boys and the dog, were inside my cozy 1400 square foot home.
Earlier in the day I only had time to go to one grocery store, and needed to get all the ingredients for what I was planning to make in one stop. The store didn’t have some items I needed, including cooked lentils. So I purchased dried beans knowing that I still had enough time to soak them. And they only had one rotisserie chicken left, so I decided to buy a second small fryer to make homemade stock, providing more meat and better broth for the soup. I rushed home to soak the beans, threw everything into a pot for the stock, and resumed finishing other tasks on my agenda for the day.
By the time I got back to starting the soup some women had started arriving to help me prepare for dinner. It was then that I realized that I had made a grievous error. I had only allowed enough time to make the soup with cooked lentils. In the haste of the day, I had forgotten to make the time adjustment for making soup with the soaked beans, which require significantly more cooking time. One of the ladies graciously offered to go to another store for cooked lentils, while the rest of us got to work on making two pots, each filled with a double batch of soup. And then more calamity ensued.
My kids repeatedly interrupted with reasonable questions and needs, the young ladies needed organization and instruction for cooking, some things burned, burners were turned down and then neglected to be turned back up, the store bought stock I had purchased as a back-up was used accidentally rather than the homemade stock that I had made, every grocery store near my house was sold out of cooked lentils (Seriously! My friend went to three stores and returned with cans of “Adzuki” beans), we ran out of garlic bread and I opened up a box of crackers, one of my boys spilled his bowl of soup all over the floor, five minutes after getting that mess cleaned up the dog threw up A LOT all over the rug. And my husband still wasn’t home.
Kneeling on the floor cleaning up after the dog, I felt tears of frustration building and rising just behind my eyes. After putting the dirty towels into my kitchen laundry bin, I took a moment to stand in the corner of my kitchen to take some deep breaths, quietly eating a bowl of soup, and listening to the clinking of spoons, warm conversation, and laughter of 14 amazing young women around my dining room table. My three boys found me in my corner and drew me into their carefree chatter while I finished my soup, feeling my body and everything inside me begin to relax. Calm in my spirit was restored as I allowed the joy and love in my home – that endures though mess, and trouble and failure – to return into focus, washing away the frustration.
It is wonderful and satisfying when I can pull off a great meal for a crowd that is on time and beautiful and seemingly effortless. But it is also very good to be reminded that what makes these meals seem almost magical is not my skill, it’s all the love behind it. Love poured in and love poured out by everyone gathered around my table. Everything that I hope to accomplish through serving community meals in my home – nourishing body and soul – happened anyways.
Life is messy and unpredictable. But fortunately the depth of love and joy and friendship we can share is not dependent on perfection, the only thing that is absolutely necessary is that we are willing. Willing to open our hearts and our home and invite others to come in. Not to see what we can do, but just to be who we are, together.
Ryan and I feel called to open our home and make it a place for discipleship to happen. Not just to talk with people about how we live our life but to actually live life together – for better or worse. And shared meals is a huge part of that. Not because we want to be great, but because we want to be real. I think that is what community needs most, to be invited in to places and lives that are real. Places where the messes aren’t hidden but exposed, so that together we witness and experience how restoration happens.
Thursday night, our guys came over. And since my fridge was full of a half gallon of homemade stock and a large bowl of soaked lentils, they were served pot of Rosemary Chicken & Lentil Soup and baked from scratch Gruyere Rolls. The food was beautiful and delicious and ready on time. The weather was perfect. And we enjoyed and leisurely meal and good conversation around The Table in our backyard.
And you know what? The love, and the laughter, and the fellowship that was shared was just as sweet as it was on Monday. Because authentic, soul-satisfying community is not dependent on the quality of the meal. It only requires a door that is consistently open, regardless of what’s going on inside.
I needed the reminder that the most significant factor that has transformed our Monday and Thursday meals from something that we host into something that we experience as a knitted-together family, is that my husband and I are committed to connecting with others deeply by sharing the beauty and the joy and the messiness of our lives. Offering our messiness invites others to do the same.
And to complete the circle of irony this week, while I was enjoying dinner with our Thursday night family I received a text with this photo from a dear friend, who used to come weekly on Mondays but not longer is able to because she is a mom now too.
She told me that she saw it at the store and it reminded her of me. She also asked me if I could use it. I replied with an enthusiastic yes! I cannot wait to place it somewhere prominent in my kitchen to serve as an everlasting reminder of the truth that has been lived in my kitchen and around my table this week.
To keep eating, loving, and laughing together, through all circumstances. It is both a recipe and an invitation for a truly meaningful life.