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:
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.