Eight months ago, I drove home from Mitchell, SD, after staying two nights for a Cabinet meeting. The Cabinet is the leadership team for the United Methodist bishop. Our job most every Spring was to work to arrange for pastors to serve the different churches in the two-state Dakotas area. I didn’t have any way of knowing on March 10 that it would be my last trip out of town for the rest of my active service as a United Methodist pastor or superintendent.
It was. Now, 8 months later, in retirement, I am finding new patterns of daily living, including this on-line column (I really hate the word, “blog” – it sounds like a muddy stretch of quicksand…). One thing that I have pretty much done for over 40 years was to cook supper – at least while I have been home, which now is all the time. We do have a pretty good repertoire of menus and meals, and no one goes hungry in the house. However, it has become less and less inspiring to think about some great meals that will please most everyone. Also, sometimes you frankly get a bit bored of fixing hotdogs or even hamburgers or French toast or paninis, or even roast beef or spaghetti. Add to that mix the fact that it’s not just Cheri and me who are occupying the house – we have two adult sons, who are wonderful to have with us for now, but they have their own particular thumbs up or thumbs down for meals. Someone doesn’t like pot roast or hotdish, and someone else “doesn’t feel” the offering of tex-mex food, and Cheri seems to be the only one who really wants soup. We do converge some items, but just as quickly the opinion polls change, and what was a favorite meal now becomes food non grata.
Yes, I know I can say what my folks used to say in feeding seven children: this is supper, and if you don’t like it, the kitchen is open for you to make something yourself. Now, I like most everything that Mom cooked, although we did have a standing agreement that when she would make navy bean soup, I could pull the option card. To me, it was inedible, and when I would come home from school and smell it cooking in the house, it would drive me to stay outside for the afternoon. It was just a preference. It was visceral.
So, during this time, we try to work on menus for the week, asking for input from downstairs. There are two responses, usually. The first is “Whatever – we don’t care.” This is translated, “We don’t care what you are writing down right now, but when it comes to actually fixing it, you can expect that we will actually turn our noses down at it.” That’s a real frustration, and it makes it hard to carry out the mission of providing good meals for everyone. The second response is more troublesome. One or the other of the guys will say, “Oh – I found a great recipe we should have!” This is translated, “There is a great menu for Kobe beef with sesame bamboo shoots on wild truffles, covered with gold flake,” or “Here is a recipe that includes 45 different ingredients, and 20 steps, and uses up most every pot or pan in the kitchen.” One is always expensive, and the other is always exhausting.
The worst of course is when we do indeed try to fix something new for supper, and we/I follow the instructions as closely as I can, and it ends up being a real stinker. Usually, it is an expensive and complicated stinker as well, and when it is ready to serve, no one in the house even wants to look at it, much less taste it. Those nights, Cheri will proclaim, “Everyone is on their own for supper.” This means most likely pizza is going to be ordered, or frozen pizza cooked, or nachos or in Cheri’s case, there will be popcorn, or cereal, or toast and cheese. Also, it’s important to note that even when there is a great, fantastic meal that everyone loves, at least half the house (the downstairs half) is not interested in leftovers.
Now, this past week, I thought we had done pretty well. Hot dogs and beans and fries, hamburger gravy on biscuits, paninis with a variety of meats and cheeses, chicken chili, pizza, one night on your own, and fried chicken.
However, the creativity has come screeching to a halt. I just don’t know what else to make. Oh, there is tons I could make, but I have no preference – nothing comes to mind that gets me excited about fixing or eating a meal. This is a bit of a danger zone, to tell the truth. What I really want is to finish doing what I need or want to do today, and then walk into the kitchen and have my very favorite meal sitting there, waiting for me. I’m not sure what that is, but I do know it would be something I did not buy, or cook or have anything to do with, except to eat. Stupid pandemic.
So, last night I found myself standing in front of our filled freezer, trying to decide what I might fix for supper tonight. The only thing that had a little spotlight on it was something we hadn’t had for a couple of weeks, although before that, I kind of ran it into the ground by having it “too often.” Chicken pot pies – although these were really turkey pot pies – extra-large, gourmet and well-received in the past. That would work, I said to myself. Everyone can get behind these, right? Except, even as I thought those words, what came across my mind was: Chinese. What I want is some incredibly hot and spicy Asian food. Kung Pao beef, super spicy, or Szechuan pork, super spicy, or garlic chicken – super spicy…
So, I hatched the plan, which I first sprung on Cheri before dawn this morning. “Pot pies or Chinese?” Her response was, surprisingly, “Either one is fine with me…” Now, in Cherispeak, that means, “If you choose Chinese, I will probably just have toast and cheese…” I was frankly willing to tolerate on loss in the battle, and later this morning, I will throw the decision to the other two participants. I’m hoping for Chinese, but in a pinch, I am willing to do pot pies.
Isn’t it silly what we get ourselves into when there are other outside pressures on us? Truth be told, the coronavirus has nothing to do with what we eat for supper. Except that it does, and it’s five months until Spring – hopefully – and we have to eat, and we have to stay safe, and we have to… live, and no one is serving as butler or cook, so we need to go through the process of making good decisions.
The hardest part about living intentionally is when we get tired of staying focused, and tired of choosing. When we wish we could just turn the decisions in life over to someone else, and just coast along blissfully with our eyes closed, we realize very quickly that we are going to run into that brick wall sooner than later. Yes, we know that God will direct our paths, and God will bring inspiration and insight into the living of our days, but it is also true that God expects us to open our eyes, use our own efforts, and not cede our lives to whatever may happen. The energy of enthusiasm is critical for living a significant life. And sometimes, when we get up in the morning, the embers of yesterday’s living seem almost burned out, and we feel burned out, and it takes a large effort to restoke the fire and fan it into flame for today. Yet, that’s our task – that’s our life. If we are not willing to live and to live with abundance and energy, then it’s time to spend time in prayer, asking God for that critical focus, and that underpinning of the courage to move forward and make a difference, not only in our lives, but in the lives of those around.
Maybe we will have Chinese tonight. We will have Chinese tonight. I’m ordering Chinese tonight. Now, on to the day…
Word for the day: ambrosial. Pronounce am-BRO-zi-al, it’s a word you probably have heard before, but it carries with it Greek mythology. From the Greek, a, meaning “not” and mbrotos meaning “mortal,” it indeed talks about something that mere humans should not have. Ambrosia was the food that only the gods were allowed to eat, just as “nectar” was the drink that belonged to the Greek gods. When someone other than the gods would eat or drink it, it promised to bring immortality, but also it would bring the wrath of the gods to the individual. You could then imagine the Greeks describing the immortal food in glowing terms – it would be brought to the feasts of the gods by doves, and served to them. It was more that a feast fit for a king – they believed it was fit for a god.
Slightly different, in our scripture, both incense and the aroma of a burnt offering were pleasing to Yahweh, God the Hebrews worshipped. Since God is a spiritual being, there would be no use in God consuming physical food, so the “offering” after it was burned, would be returned to the one making the offering, with a piece given to the priests for their sustenance.
Today, “ambrosia” is the name of a type of dish, which may include syrup with honeyed fruit, nuts, apricots, chicken and such. It is a sweet and rich dish. For northern plains church potlucks, it’s a dish made with pineapple, mandarin oranges (what else?) colored miniature marshmallows and coconut. Enjoy…
After 43 years of ministry, Randy Cross lived his "fourth life" and shared about retirement, living boldly and intentionally in our world. To be sure, there was some North Dakota thrown in.