Devotion, emotions, the kitchen and God

My love of the kitchen goes back to my infancy, back when grandma and grandpa still looked after me while my parents worked. I lived a happy childhood in the big grey family home located on the mountainous, sparsely populated fringe of southern Mexico City. We lived on a very quiet house located on a very quiet street were hardly any cars passed by; getting the mail was the biggest event of the day (the mail was delivered by a guy in a motorcycle), and really—aside from the variations in weather that could go from intensely sunny to oppressively gloomy or even stormy from one day to the next, there was no change or variation in the tenor of life. It was a very gentle time.

My life centered about everything related to the house. Whether it was seeing to the upkeep of the family home, plants, and sundry pets with my grandfather, or “helping” with laundry or the cleaning with grandmother, I learned to love being at home—especially in the kitchen.

I was grandmother’s assistant. I remember the infinity of peas we shelled together, as well as the never-ending rivers of various soups we prepared: vegetable soup, tortilla soup (which we call chilaquiles), potato soup, fideos, coditos, chicken caldos, alphabets, et al. We peeled potatoes and carrots by the truckloads, de-feathered chickens galore, and when I, the humble neophyte, was deemed ready, I was given a knife and taught how to strip a cactus of its thorns. After all the kitchen activities were completed, with kitchen wiped clean and the dishes put away, grandma would make some tea, in preparation for the family to arrive and find the house filled with the delicious aroma of chamomile.

Grandfather was instrumental in fostering in me a love for experimentation the kitchen. When Grandma was not around he would steal in there and make various concoctions using mysterious herbs he’d gathered in the mountain. I witnessed many explosive reactions in the kitchen when he jammed up the blender with fruit for a refreshing mid-day drink. He would leave a mess then just as he did whenever he chopped up an onion and made a giant omelet for the two of us—wrong, the three of us. He always shared his repast with the cat (as did the cat with us now and then: whenever grandfather bought him a can of sardines, grandpa and I ate our share with gusto along with plenty of warm tortillas and pico de gallo). Grandpa taught me that food was meant to be shared.

My formal training in the kitchen began with mother once I was a teen, but by that time I was already aware of the most important rules of the kitchen, besides “safety first” of course:

Cook from the heart. If you’re not happy, your food won’t be good

And the corollaries to that are as follows

  • If you’re angry, eggs will be spoiled, and hot food (as in spicy food) will burn the mouth
  • If you’re feeling lazy or don’t feel like cooking, your rice will not properly cook and will burn on the bottom.
  • If you’re sick, don’t even step foot in the kitchen. Everything will go to the dogs.

* * *

Everything in me was averse to cooking one day last week. I was tired from being in front of the computer working on a design, and trying to communicate with a finicky client on a rush order. I was getting a pounding headache too. I did not want to deal with the kitchen, and cleaning up after cooking on top of that. But I didn’t want to eat tacos from across the street, and besides, my mother who was coming from work deserved more than Del Taco. So on I went to the kitchen and gathered all my ingredients on the countertop.

And then I thought.

How am I gonna cook if I’m feeling like this? The way I’m feeling, my rice is not gonna cook well, my food could go to the dogs (figuratively speaking, for we have no dogs). I can’t do it!

I looked at my ingredients: the finest vegetables and legumes, red-ripe tomatoes, smiling white onions, gentle mounds of rice, tumbling potatoes. Perfectly good ingredients bought with hard-earned money. They deserved my respect.

And so, rather than it being an exercise of fake it (i.e. happiness) ‘till you make it, I began preparing the meal with care. I wasn’t particularly happy, and I was still tired and my head was hurting more and more with the heat of the oven, but I concentrated on doing my best on preparing every dish. The result was food that really tasted good.

I revisited my idea on the attitude of cooking. And I thought that perhaps it could be tweaked a bit, or maybe changed altogether.

* * *

Devotion goes past emotion.

How else can a chef consistently make good food even when his personal life is bleak, and he knows that the woman he loves won’t call him again? Or how can a musician play the performance of her life when she knows that on a hospital room in a far off country a loved one is dying? It’s all about devotion. Giving something the time and care and energy that it deserves in order for it to be done right, even when life is not making it easy for you to do so, is devotion.

* * *

We moved to California, and ever since I’ve never returned to my family home. I was blessed to see my grandparents every few years or so, and the love that I had for them only increased with time and distance.

When my grandma died after struggling with cancer, my world as I knew it seemed to shatter. It was seriously one of the most difficult times of my life, and for a while I thought I could not comprehend God. I could not draw to him. How could he take her away like that? Why did she have to go through such intense suffering, such anguish? Life did not make it easy for me to do the right thing: which was to draw to him and trust him.

When we as humans rely on emotion or on “feeling” a need in order to draw closer to God, we will just drift. Devotion goes past the emotion; it goes past discipline, too. Emotion will mean that you will be led this and that way because your fickle and volatile heart dictates what you do. Discipline often makes it necessary to remove the heart from the equation, because it’s doing what one ought to do for the sake of the better good in the end. But devotion is all about the heart put in its proper place.

So my attitude was, I’m angry at you God, I don’t understand you, or your motives, and perhaps I never will. But don’t let this be a matter to break us apart. Please give me solace, and continue to anchor my life, continue to give it purpose. Continue to guide me as I open your word and try to learn your will for me today…

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice…do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard you hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Phil 4:4-7

What is that? You guessed it–Devotion! Despite what life throws at you, your heart and mind is kept safe in Christ. That is a promise we can’t do without.

* * *

Grandma has passed away.

I miss her, but I have placed my hope in heaven. My heart too. One day Grandma and I will be reunited, and I’m sure that my mansion in heaven will have a HUGE kitchen (or an equivalent of such). And guess what I’ll be doin’?

That’s right. Cooking.

Oh, and by the way…

You’re invited.

The Resurrection

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26 ESV)

Liz and I came back home from a long trip, to find that the house was eerily still with a cold, vacant feel to it. Mom and dad were not there.

We set the house in order. Then I think I made some tea while Liz warmed up something for us to eat. After we ate, we sat in the living room, both of us feeling just like the house—silent and sad in the cold afternoon light of a cloudy November afternoon. Soon the door opened, and dad appeared. He looked haggard, and we were so aghast at his doleful air and the way he had aged at least twenty years since we had seen him that we failed to rise to go meet and greet him.

I don’t know how it came out, but he told us: They had had an accident on the 405. He had walked off fine with a few scratches—but mother. Mother had died.

The days after that were a blur. I know that Liz was the stronger of the two, and she had to be strong for the three of us. Father was worse than I’d ever seen him, racked with guilt because he’d been the one driving. I stayed outside of the house, walking around, mad with grief, mourning the death of my warm, beloved, joyful mother.

* * *

I woke up toward dawn. I wondered where I was. Had I not been sobbing in the stairwell of my house refusing the comfort of my distraught sister?

No. It had been a dream.

A dream.

Praise God it was only a dream.

Involuntarily I began to sob in my pillow, first softly, but as my relief intensified with the conviction that my mother was, indeed, still alive, my cries only grew louder. This woke Lizzy up, and she was soon next to me soothing me and comforting me while running her little fingers through my hair.

After we prayed together and she went back to sleep, something told me to read back to what I had last read last night. I reached for my iPod, unlocked it, and saw that the last thing I read before drifting off to sleep had been the book of 1 Kings 17. Yesterday night I as I was drifting off to sleep I had been asking myself what new message—besides that of trusting God and having faith—could the story of Elijah and the widow have for me today.

I re-read the story of the widow. From the time Elijah finds her gathering sticks before cooking her last meal to when Elijah resurrects her dead son. The passage took new life—and I read these familiar passages it with new eyes.

I felt the widow’s grief; it was vivid, it was real. I could see her falling apart on the floor before Elijah, with her limp son in her arms. He had to wrest the body of the boy from her hands, because even so it was precious to her and all that remained in this world that was of any value. As she cried out to him, complaining why he had brought sorrow to the house, I knew that her throat was hurting, and the voice came out only with much, much effort, the way mine had done in my dream when I  cried out to God to do something and save my mother. Finally, I lived first-hand the rush of relief, the overwhelming joy of the resurrection, when I woke and knew that my mother was alive, after all.

God condescended to answer my question in the most amazing and vivid way possible. It was clear and direct. I’ve never had such an experience, and I am humbled by it. Of course, daylight is trying to play off this lesson a bit. The terrors of the night seem to dim a little when the sun is out, but I will not forget. I cannot. I leave it here for you and for me.

Jesus is the life and resurrection. This holds such sweet hope to me for those dear ones that have gone before me—and who may go if he doesn’t return in my lifetime. I thank God that Jesus rose victorious because that means we can all have hope of life even after we die. Until this morning, I never was so thankful for it.

When I awoke again, the first thing I did was run to the kitchen where my mother was rushing about getting ready for work. In that fierce hug I prayed to God. I thanked him she was alive, that she was my mother, and prayed that he keep us all safe. I ask him now that though we have this sweet hope of life everlasting, that He will not tarry.

I don’t know if I could bear parting with my loved ones. So please. Please don’t make us wait any further.

Come, Lord Jesus.

I Should Have Loved You More

Do you know of regrets? I do.

I know of them because I have some in my life. I regret having lost a precious friend. I regret not being true to my convictions in the past. I regret not having had the courage to speak my mind when it counted most. I regret the opportunities I didn’t take, the things and people I didn’t fight for, and not having said and shown my love for others who are now gone.

About a year ago, I wrote a song for my grandmother to try to mitigate the feelings of intense loss that I felt when she died. This sorrow was not entirely because of her death—I know she rests in Jesus Christ and I will see her one glorious morning. The pain was because of an intense regret I felt: I didn’t love her enough, cherish her enough, or show my appreciation to her enough—not nearly enough.

So for your sake, love the people around you more. Do you see that they need help? Do you see that someone needs a word of encouragement, a prayer, or the gift of your time? Do something about it. Do it now.

***

At the end of this earthly journey called Life, do you know who I would regret not having loved enough? Regret to such an extent that I would want to die right on the spot and be covered by the stones of the crumbling mountains?

Christ.

Oh, I’ve given him the best of me, I want to say. I’ve given him the best years of my life,  my time, the energy of my youth, my monetary resources. Meager as they may have been to others, I willingly gave them to him for his service and for the advancement of his Kingdom.

But being this busy, running around trying to fit church activities around a busy schedule—have I had the time to love my Savior enough? Would I be able to meet his eyes and meet the brightness of his countenance with joy?

I know the answer too well…I have not loved him enough, sought him enough, or spent time alone and in prayer with him enough—not nearly enough.

One day the eastern sky will be filled with light; our triumphant Savior will return in indescribable glory. On that day, may we not have reason to say to him…

I should have loved you more.

A lesson in love—What I learned from almost crashing the car

I got a clearer vision of God’s love through my father this week. It was a truth I’d known already but hadn’t quite understood.

You see, while I was practicing going in reverse and doing the three-point turn, I almost hit a parked car—Dad saved me by yelling at me to hit the brakes and by applying the hand brake (he saw the car before I ever did); the result was that the car made a scary noise and, together with my sudden braking, it jolted terribly. Needless to say, I was berated at length as I drove on through the quiet streets back home. It was a terrible drive.

The truth is that the overwhelming feeling of shame at my blunder was worse than the fright of having almost hit a car. I never in my life felt more stupid, and because I dreaded the look of disappointment in my dad’s face I dared not even glance at him. I was sure he would want me to return the car home. In fact, I was expecting him to tell me to get out of the car immediately and forget about ever driving here or in the world to come.

I turn into our street.

“Why are you turning here? There’s still time”

“I thought you’d want me to…” I don’t dare finish my sentence.

“Pull up over there.”

I obey, expecting the worst. We both get out and trade seats.

“Watch first. I’ll do it [again], then explain it step by step [again], then ask me all the questions.”

For the next few minutes he goes over the process again with a patience I didn’t know he had, pulling into as many driveways as necessary and answering all my questions until I finally understand it—in theory.

“Now you do it”

“What?!”

He ignores me and pulls over. We trade places once more. I beseech the heavens to help me before I even take the wheel. He tells me to be calm and helps me though the process.

And this time I am able to do it.

Time is running out by now so we return home. Thank goodnes I can park, at least.

“You’re too tense from this.” He says as I return the keys, “Go out and walk two turns around the park.” (there is one behind our house) “Breathe and relax, then come home and eat your breakfast. You did good.”

This just about kills me. I walk away, after murmuring numerous apologies, and hope he didn’t see me tear up.

Minutes later I’m walking in the park wondering why I’m crying like this. What affects me more? The shock of the near-miss? The shame of my blunder? Or is it the fact that Dad did not give up on me? That he told me I did good despite the near-hit? That he is being too kind to me? Yes, in part. But mostly it is because this brief episode opened my eyes to a sad truth. All these years I have been laboring under a misconception.

You have to understand that I grew up loving and respecting my father, but sometimes I resented him bitterly because his standards and rules of conduct for us (my sister and me) felt to be too high. He trained us with (what I thought to be) outmost rigor and discipline and which I often questioned because, in comparison to how my friends were brought up, it seemed too demanding. It was impossible to please him, and I often wondered if he could just love me as I was—just a girl who tries hard to do her best. Still, It was not good enough, so I became harsher towards myself than he ever was, and I became that more disillusioned in my inability to be better. As a result, there came a time when in my heart of hears I doubted my father’s love and trust AND my ability to ever live up to his expectations.

As I walk around the park and take deep breaths, I think and think over the episode (and pray in thanksgiving that I didn’t hit the car) a sudden truth sparks in my mind. This has taught me something deep about my heavenly father, and it makes so much sense to me

Do you think God is going to give up on you because you have failed in the past? Are you trying so hard to get his approval? You could never do anything that will make him love you more or less than he already does.

Do you think he has left you to struggle in this world on your own without any guide? Didn’t he suffer his only Son to come down to earth to lead in example, answer questions, and teach us to lead sinless and holy lives? He has sent the Holy Spirit to continue to guide us. We are never alone.

Do you think God is going to judge you—a contrite sinner—and treat you the way you deserve when you come into his presence seeking forgiveness? If you do, then you are also laboring under a misconception. Re-evaluate your view of God. He is not the stern, demanding deity you might think he is. He is your father. Yes, he will correct you, but he will never, EVER, give up on you.

And finally, Do you think that his law is harsh and expectations are impossible to live up to? By yourself and out of your own efforts it is impossible. But he is more than willing to help you in this respect! All you have to do is give him you hand with faith that he will lead you. Whosoever comes to me I will never cast out, for I have come down from heaven…that everyone who looks on to the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day (John 6:37,40)