One of the most delicious times of the year comes after Christmas Day is past, and the first appreciative look at the presents is completed, and then you realize – if you are blessed – that you have another entire week before a normal world creeps back in.
This year, my considerate sons gave me a large plastic cannister for Christmas. Why? You ask… Well, they are actually more manipulative than considerate. Here’s the story: before my retirement last June, I had spent the previous 8 years as a district superintendent in the Dakotas. I described a great deal of that job as being either a firefighter or a swat team member. The churches on my districts contained a great number of great people, but it also is true that in most every congregation, there are folks who seem to have committed themselves to being “disturbing spirits.” They just have the desire to stir things up, to foment all sorts of struggles or to just be pains in the ear. By the way, it also happens that we have some pastors who can take on the same life’s work. As the one responsible for the peace and effectiveness of all the churches, I would very frequently be called in to negotiate a peace treaty, or just to talk about some difficult subjects. Since it was best handled in person, I spent the last 8 years driving thousands of miles over the 35,000 square mile district to bring that balm from Gilead, or to bring folks to Jesus. That takes a lot of time and a lot of work. Each year, prior to CoVid, I could count that I had spent a month and a half, or more, in hotel rooms. I would have three levels of bags: one was an overnight, another was good for 3-4 days, and the final one seemed to be the one where I packed all my clothes that I owned, good for an indefinite period of time.
Between difficult meetings and hotel rooms, very often I would order food in after I finished the evening, and the easiest food to order was a small pizza from one of the many establishments in a town/city. With the order, since I like a bit of spice in my life, I would take advantage of the pizza place and ask for a few packets of dried red peppers, to put on my pizza. The people who create the order have no concept of how many peppers you can actually put on a pizza, and so I would often be left with ten or more packs of peppers that I would throw in my suitcase and bring home.
Now comes the large plastic container. Spending more than 350 nights away, I probably ended up with more than 3000 packets of red peppers. Some might call that excessive… in particular, my sons offered that opinion. Often. They even called me a hoarder, which I reject, since indeed, I will someday use up all the packets, but will have saved literally tens of dollars in not having to purchase the peppers from the grocery store.
However, the storage of the peppers became a constant bane to the peace of the house. When I would get home, and unload my suitcase, it was simple to just take the packets and toss them up on the high shelf inside the cupboard. There were a lot of them, and there were also a good number of parmesan cheese packets and even other seasonings that the pizza places were sure I would need. Now, I’m not quite sure why it bothered them so, especially if you were to take a video of their own rooms (horrors!), but it did, and so this Christmas, with hotel stays far in the rearview mirror, they bought the container, and with it, the expectation that I would finally put packets in order.
The first thing that happened was that I realized the entire collection of parmesan packets were different than the peppers. Pepper indeed may last through the eons, all fresh in their little packet homes. Cheese, however, carries with it an expiration date. This means of course that when you open up a parmesan packet collected in 2013, and prepare to sprinkle it on the pizza, that it could come out in a green chunk. Not the best Food Channel presentation. So, as a first good decision, we decided to eliminate the cheese from the collection.
Finally having sorted out the toss from the keep, I was able to then start the process of storage of the peppers in the wonderful Christmas gift. As you might suspect, it didn’t take long for the cannister to reach maximum capacity. That being so, a good half of the packets were still on the table. I made use of the antique glass coffee cannisters that we have collected over the years. One of them had already been used to store some of the packets, so we dumped them all out, sorted things over, and filled that glass beauty to the brim with the remaining pepper packets. Standing side by side, the old and the new, it was a stunning sight to see.
After a moment or two of admiration, back up went the cannisters to the same high shelf where the packets were beforehand, and in shutting the cupboard doors, it was as if nothing had changed. Yet, peace reigned once again in the last days of 2020.
So, what did I learn from all of this? Well, not much. I still like hot peppers, and use the flakes on all sorts of dishes. I still have my collection of ready to use packets, in case there is a pepper flake famine. And my sons somehow have the satisfaction of… seeing the packets in a cannister? Ok, if that works..
It is a good lesson, however, in the difference between intentional and accidental. For years, I guess I accidentally collected the free stuff. As I look around our home, I can also see other corners and shelves and areas that have accidentally accumulated all sorts of “stuff” that really serves no purpose, and brings no pleasure. Maybe in 2021, I can approach those areas with the intentional focus used in getting the pepper packets rounded up and domesticated. We are into our sixth year of living in this house, and it was full as soon as we moved in. It might be a valuable work to open up some more capacity in our home, and in our lives, too. I sometimes think of how crammed and overstuffed our weeks happen to be. Even with the virus, 2021 does not have to be like other years. Perhaps the best motto for this year could be: I can do better. WE can do better. So, let’s do so.
And if you need a few pepper packets, send me an email, and we will see what we can do…
Word for the day: querencia. Pronounced keh-REN-see-ya. This is actually a Spanish word, and on the surface, it describes the place in a bull fighting ring where the bull seeks out and feels the safest while being attacked. On a deeper level, however, it also comes from the Latin quaerere, meaning “to seek, or desire.” It’s the place in your life where you feel the calmest, safest and most authentic “you.” You draw your strength from that place. All of us have places like that, although sometimes we don’t recognize them until they go missing. It could be a home or a church camp or a special chair or other location – where do you feel most safe, and find yourself as the strongest? That’s your querencia…
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.