• coming up short

    by  • April 23, 2008 • Uncategorized • 13 Comments

    The assignment was simple: meet at the catering shop to pick up the food and then go to the site to cook dinner for eight people:

    Appetizers:
    curried crab cakes with cucumber yogurt dipping sauce
    endive leaves with roasted beets and bleu cheese

    Salad of pea shoots and mixed greens with dill, chives, and mint with a sherry vinaigrette

    Pecan crusted loin of lamb
    Potato and artichoke gratin
    Asparagus, roasted peppers, and pearl onions

    Strawberry shortcake with vanilla ice cream and strawberry sauce

    The way things are supposed to work is the folks at the shop prepare as much as they can ahead of time and then pack up the stuff I will need to do on site. What I assumed that meant was the potatoes would be done and simply need to be reheated and the lamb would be about halfway done and need to be finished.

    I was wrong on both counts. The problem was I didn’t do enough checking beforehand and was, therefore, also late getting the meal out because things weren’t ready when I thought they would be. On a night when the task was easy and I should have done well, I turned in an average performance. We got the meal served and I think those who ate it were OK with things, but I felt like my performance was substandard. I did less than my best. Whatever the shop might have done differently, I didn’t do my job well tonight. And I don’t do well when I feel like I haven’t done my best.

    It derailed me. I could feel it happening. I apologized to the staff that had to serve the meal. I could hear myself continue to say, “I’m sorry I didn’t do well tonight.” I know part of that was longing for someone to say, “It’s not the end of the world.” No one did. I could feel the grace leaking out of the room, being replaced by the suffocating sense of my unworthiness, which is all too familiar. Can it be that my self-worth swings on whether or not the potatoes are cooked?

    Short answer: yes.

    I’m a good cook. I’m a passionate cook. I’m intentional when I’m in the kitchen and I work hard. Tonight, I didn’t do well. I missed some things I should have caught and put out food that was less than what I want to present and all of a sudden I feel as though I’m only judged by that damn lamb and those crunchy potatoes. I felt devastated, defeated, depressed.

    As I drove back to the shop to drop off the dirty dishes and leftovers, I began trying to talk myself back into sanity. Wynne and Glen were at the shop. Wynne is the pasty chef at the restaurant and someone I’ve gotten to know a little; Glen is the guy who smokes all our meets and makes the sausage and is someone I’m just getting to know. They asked how the evening went and I told them. They both did a great job of listening and helping me find a sense of myself again. I made some movement, but the real progress was made on the walk I took with Ginger and Ella once I got back to the house. Ginger listened well and asked great questions and, as we turned from Broad Street on to Knox, I could feel my feelings beginning to shift. Part of what helped was being able to articulate what I learned tonight that will help me not make the same mistakes again. The other part was simply getting enough distance from the event to realize the dinner may not have been the best, but it wasn’t the end of the world. It was then I remembered one of the staff had responded when I had apologized for my cooking tonight. “Don’t worry,” she said. “You’ll get another chance.”

    She’s right. I cook again Friday night and twice on Saturday – and that’s just this week. I don’t get tonight’s lamb and potatoes back, but I can also let them go. (And I wrote those sentences as if the present realizations that are easy for me to incarnate.) A half a century into my life and I remain encumbered by a sense of self-worth that is inextricably tied to my feeling useful. For Descartes, it may have all been in the thinking, but for me, “I do, therefore I matter.” I desperately want to trust that I matter, by the grace of God, because I’m breathing. I certainly believe that’s true for everyone else. Yet, one botched meal and I feel like a failure, two or three days without posting and I think people will quit reading.

    I grew up being taught that we are all headed for judgment before God. The image that has stayed in my mind is standing next to God while we watch a movie of my life and the whole time God is groaning and taking notes making me question whether or not I would get out of that room and get to heaven, whether I would measure up or be enough.

    Judgment has become far less significant in my understanding of God over the years, though the scene above still has its hooks in me. When I’ve tried to picture it differently, I’ve often moved to a scene where God says, “Good job,” or something similar, but that doesn’t really make it any less about being enough or measuring up. In my breakthrough moments, I picture Jesus meeting me and, opening his arms, simply saying, “Welcome, Milton.” No measures, no tallies, just welcome. As if I belonged.

    I want to believe the last scenario. Lord, help my unbelief.

    Peace,
    Milton

    About

    Blogging since December 2005

    http://donteatalone.com

    13 Responses to coming up short

    1. Anonymous
      April 24, 2008 at 8:31 am

      This articulates beautifully something I struggle so hard to express. I say in unison “Lord help my unbelief”. Thank you for being real

      🙂

    2. April 24, 2008 at 11:46 am

      I can only say this.
      From reading your blog these last months, I’d rather wait for food you cooked than be served quickly by too many chefs.

    3. April 24, 2008 at 12:00 pm

      Milton cooks. I make music in church with volunteers mostly.

      I internalize much too much rehearsals and worship services and performances that don’t soar. The gap between what my mind imagines and what my ears hear (vision vs. reality) is often frustrating. What’s more, when I know that something I did or failed to do contributed to a second-rate performance, I do my first-born thing and take on all the responsibility. Silly me but old habits are hard to break.

      Milton’s good words are words I need to hear. Maybe it’s okay to grieve failures, screw ups, and other sundry mishaps. But it is far better to learn from such moments and to let them go.

    4. April 24, 2008 at 2:16 pm

      Good morning, brother. 🙂

      Had a similar night directing my choir last night. Sigh. But at the end of the day, I love them and they love me, and we make good music together in service to God and community. And I have to remind myself what I tell THEM when they’re scared or unhappy with how they’re singing: God asks us to make a joyful noise, not a perfect one. I think God gets really excited when we’re so caught up in the use of our gifts (singing, cooking, writing, whatever!) that we’re lifted into a spirit of play.

      Some days, that just doesn’t work.

      But it doesn’t mean you’re any less worthy of God’s amazing grace.

      Oh, and BTW–you have a Following with this blog; not only will we eagerly await your return, we’ll pray for you as we do, hoping you’re not having to wrestle depression. We’re with ya. 🙂

    5. John Brashier
      April 24, 2008 at 2:25 pm

      Milton,

      You are a good man! You are a passionate man! And you are intentional about making your faith the whole sum of your being!

      Thanks for helping my unbelief!

      Love ya, JB

    6. April 25, 2008 at 2:45 pm

      Oh, so do I. I SO want that to be the final scene. I’ve never gotten comfortable with it. I am your blood brother in this race to do and be shown acceptable.

      Featuring this piece today at CCblogs

      g

    7. KQ
      April 25, 2008 at 6:04 pm

      Your musing on judgment brings to mind an experience of mine: in the middle of the night, I was in some odd wakeful/dreaming state. An angel came into my presence, and my life began to flash before my eyes. It wasn’t what I expected; I did not see a movie of my life. Instead – and I believe this is the criterion upon which our lives are judged – it was my relationships that passed before me, My Life. My roles as mother/daughter/sister/friend/worker/congregation member each came to me, and I was asked if I was finished with each one, if each relationship was at peace. I was then given the option to stay where I was, or to move on with this angelic presence… There was still work left unfinished, and I asked to stay.

      I don’t believe that it was a dream. And I no longer fear judgement.

      Milton, I will wait forever to read your next post. Thank you for your words.

    8. April 26, 2008 at 1:59 am

      thank you for describing so well what I often feel. that devastated ‘failure’feeling when I’ve forgotten something obvious, or forgot to read the reminder note I wrote. Silly stuff, silly insecurities, but real enough at the time to leave me drained. Your words help me realize we are all in need of grace and it is always there.

    9. April 28, 2008 at 9:24 pm

      A half a century into my life and I remain encumbered by a sense of self-worth that is inextricably tied to my feeling useful….”I do, therefore I matter.”

      I’m with Real Live Preacher on this one: “I am your blood brother in this race to do and be shown acceptable.” You can get a clear sense by the number of similar responses that many of us have bought into cultural expectations that are based on today’s proformance as a measure of our usefullness.

      Two thoughts, first I think that ChoralGirl speaks a profound truth when she emphasizes being caught up in a spirit of play. My reading of Scripture leads me to believe that God’s intent and hope when he created us and imaged us was for us to be playful co-creators, with him and with each other. The “product” is not nearly as important and the joyful community that creates together. Of course that kind of thinking will never land any of us a spot as “Top Chef”, or top preacher, or top whatever.

      Second, regarding judgment. I like you began life with a dread of God’s judgment-the time of being weighed in the scale and found wanting. That’s changed. The interplay of the themes of God’s profound (cruciform) love, darkness (the unseeing, unknowing that is the root of all evil), and the absolute clarity that is the light of God’s presence has changed my sense of judgment to become something that I long for! We are so surrounded and possessed by falseness and hiddenness. Rarely will anyone, even a spouse, speak the absolute truth into our lives as best they might try. I don’t think they can, any more than we can.

      St. Paul talks about a longing for that day when we will know as we are known. That for me is the judgment of God: Light so profound that everything is seen in its absolute truth; it’s naked reality. No one will be able to argue about shades of gray, not that there aren’t any, but everything will be seen and known as it really is. How awesomely liberating!! Especially (maybe only) because it will happen in the Presence that loves us with an everlasting, non-merited based love. No more wondering, pretending, justifying, over-compensating; everything about me known. The harmful and evil burned up like trash; gone, forgotten. The image of God remaining to be embraced by its loving creator.

      Wow! I’m ready. Sign me up! But of course I’ll go back and preach another sermon only to wish I could find another hole to swallow me up because of being so incorrigibly unable to speak truth without making a mess of it.

    10. Anonymous
      April 28, 2008 at 9:37 pm

      I guess we all do this in whatever field we fancy ourselves good at. Mine is words. But maybe the Almighty will be so taken with you that God will not notice there’s a movie playing. johnhamilton i-youniverse.net

    11. May 5, 2008 at 10:54 pm

      As a chef/theologian, I could relate to much of what Milton wrote. I have spent nearly 7 years cooking roughly 50 meals per semester for hungry students. So I know exactly the feeling of when things go awry in the kitchen (likewise, getting things put together is usually a recipe [pun intended] for the food being less than spectacular). What always–yes, always–happened for me was the moments of grace. The students were always much more grateful than critical, and we have a microwave oven that came through in a pinch. But the other grace for me has come not in the finished product but in the process. I seldom use a food processor. Rather, I relish (no pun intended this time) the simple and intricate acts of chopping vegetables, meats or other items for the meal. These Zen moments remind me that my efforts are not really about me, but about the students (or whomever will be eating my production). All the same, I still wrestle with the broken records that play in mind of Milton, et al. Finally, the mysteries of God’s grace that is embodied most clearly around that sacred space called table is what keeps me coming back to the sacred space called kitchen. God’s grace abounds!

    12. May 5, 2008 at 10:58 pm

      As a chef/theologian, I could relate to much of what Milton wrote. I have spent nearly 7 years cooking roughly 50 meals per semester for hungry students. So I know exactly the feeling of when things go awry in the kitchen (likewise, getting things put together in haste is usually a recipe [pun intended] for the food being less than spectacular). What always–yes, always–happened for me were the moments of grace. The students were always much more grateful than critical, and we have a microwave oven that came through in a pinch. But the other grace for me has come not only in the finished product but in the process. I seldom use a food processor. Rather, I relish (no pun intended) the simple and intricate acts of chopping vegetables, meats or other items for the meal. These Zen moments remind me that my efforts are not really about me, but about the students (or whomever will be eating my production). All the same, I still wrestle with the broken records that play in the mind of Milton, et al. Finally, the mysteries of God’s grace that are embodied most clearly around that sacred space called table is what keeps me coming back to the sacred space called kitchen. In both of these places, grace abounds!
      6:54 PM

    13. Bev
      May 7, 2008 at 1:48 pm

      MIlton I wish I could have tasted your cooking the other night, but more importantly I wish I could taste your latest meals. Yes the meal was a little later than you planned, but that late lamb could have given a little extra time for the guests to interact. It could have given a husband a little extra time with his wife, it could have given the businessman a time to reflect on his career, it could.. you get the idea. That meal has also reconfirmed your passion and your gifts. We never know what is bubbling below the surface, and the affect we have on others. In fact, I have a sudden craving for strawberries. God bless

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