I wrote last week about Martha and Mary, and admitted my tendency toward Martha’s mindset when I cook meals. Well, I was challenged to live that out as Thanksgiving approached.
I used to really get excited about preparing Thanksgiving dinner. It was more than just cooking – I loved all the prep too. The first stage, planning, would start right after Halloween. During the first couple of weeks in November I’d pour over cooking magazines for new recipe ideas. I didn’t really need to, since my husband and kids wanted pretty much the same dishes every year. But looking at all the pictures inspired me.
The next stage was list-making, and boy was I good at that part! I’d categorize and prioritize, cross-referencing ingredients until I had a full shopping list. Then I’d map out a schedule for cooking, baking and roasting.
Like a well-oiled machine, I set to work. Monday was cranberry sauce and chopping up veggies for the stuffing I made on Tuesday. By Wednesday evening, the pies were baked and the turkey was pre-cooked. Everything sat ready in stacked Tupperware containers, a checkmark next to every dish on my list. And I would feel equal parts satisfaction and exhaustion.
Last year, though, things changed. It was actually during my usual session of celery and carrot cutting when my wrists started to hurt. I decided to push through the discomfort, but by the time I got the stuffing together the enjoyment was fading. The meal came out about as good as others had, but I was in pain.
This year I knew I had to scale back. But as I walked down the grocery store aisles lined with all sorts of mixes and packages, I felt my heart sink. Each possibility of a yummy thing to make my family and guests beckoned me. But I knew there would have been too much stirring, chopping or grating for my joints. Lifting up little prayers for strength, I kept walking.
Letting go of my old all-encompassing approach was hard. Not to be over dramatic, but I felt a sense of loss about making changes to such a familiar ritual. And I was afraid of letting people down.
I shouldn’t have worried. Because in the end, I felt better and that helped everyone have a better time. And I got to have more of Mary’s experience, which I should have been focusing on anyway. All in all, it was a good trade.
I subbed yesterday at an elementary school here in town. It just so happened that they were holding their “Celebration of Family Day.” All the students had invited their parents to come and eat a Thanksgiving-style meal and do some arts and crafts with them. The kids were so excited!
While I sat for a bit in the Teacher’s lounge, I saw various staff and PTO members setting up. Each of them took their roles very seriously, whether it was manning the sign-in station or serving turkey. it was fun to see the anticipation they felt, and the sense of joy they showed in their work.
It reminded me of the Veteran’s Dinner that was held at my church a couple of weeks ago. The menu was also Thanksgiving-themed, but instead of doing arts and crafts, the attenders swapped stories about military service. The spirit of cheer was as infectious at this meal as it was at the school, though.
At both these events, it was clear that the organizers wanted to make the the guests feel warmly welcomed. From the decorations to the dessert, all the details were carefully planned and carried out. And the main goal seemed to be to create a special time of fellowship that would be treasured long after it finished.
All that made me wonder – do I put as much thought into the atmosphere of a regular, “every weekday” kind of meal at home?
I simply can’t make a roast and fixings every dinner. And my kids are too old for making paper hats. That’s fine – those things are only elements meant for certain occasions, anyway. I’m thinking that the most important way to make any meal special starts with having a genuine desire to honor the people coming to sit at the table, and letting them know how much I always value their company.