Cooking with Purpose

For most of my childhood and adolesence, I spent nearly every weekend at my maternal grandparents’ house. Besides traipsing around outdoors with Grandpa, hours were spent sitting at the kitchen table talking with my grandmother as she cooked. Often, I would join her in snapping green beans fresh or try my hand at frying hamburger to stir into her chili. On holidays, I would lie in the spare bedroom next to the kitchen and listen to Grandma hum as she stuffed the turkey in the early hours of the day, long before we would sit down as a family around the kitchen table.

I learned a lot from my grandmother, much more than how to cook for a large family on a blue collar budget. Perching on a chair pulled up to the counter was eventually replaced with standing next to her, chopping onions or assembling monkey bread, watching, listening, soaking in her kindness. Her lessons extended beyond knowing when the fried chicken was done. Much later, long after my weekends with her had morphed into raising my own family, I realized the moments in the kitchen were not intended to teach me about food.

As Grandma Mitchell patiently showed me how to cook, often without a recipe, I knew I had a frontrow seat with a master story teller. I held onto the stories that unfolded, stories of growing up in the Great Depression, of tire rations, of outhouses, of working a factory job, of selling crickets for the bait shop in my grandparents’, of my grandfather being stabbed, of burying her third child as a toddler. Through her stories, I learned the joy that accompanies a life well lived, regardless of the circumstance. Her cooking held great purpose.

My grandmother’s feet no longer kiss the earth, but she is always with me. For the last three decades, gatherings, especially around food, have served as a foundation for my home. My siblings and their families often gather around my table for holidays or celebrations, and when my children lived at home Friday nights found the basement filled with basketball or football players, always hungry. In these familiar moments, I draw deeply from Grandma’s genuine love for others.

As my two children have moved into their own adult lives, my house is still filled with young people: first year students, softball players, women’s basketball players, students needing a home for difficult discussions about race, or sometimes just two or three who need someone to listen. Just as it did in my own childhood, food brings people together, and amazing conversations happen long after the meal is removed and the dishes are piled in the sink.

Currently, cooking has a different purpose for me. The purpose has a more immediate need – higher stakes. As my daughter battles stage four brain cancer, part of her speech therapy includes following writen directions. Following recipes feels like a natural way to meet her therapist’s request. Each night this week, we have selected something for Elizabeth to make. I write out the items she needs as well as the steps she must take to assemble the dish. Because of the location of the cancer, language processing is hard, but like my grandmother, she is kind, gracious, and humble.

As the Gautama Buddha says, “Your purpose in life is to find your purpose and give your whole heart and soul to it.” My grandmother filled me with a sense of purpose one dish, one story, one song at a time. Today, my love of cooking offers a physical way through which I can express my purpose: deeply loving others – those who are biologically mine and those who are not. Bellies are filled. Hearts are filled. In my book, that’s a win-win! #MakeRoomForJoy

My suprehero making roasted potatoes. Grandma Mitchell would be so proud.

I’m joining an open community of writers over at Sharing Our Stories: Magic in a Blog. If you write (or want to write) just for the magic of it, consider this your invitation to join us. #sosmagic

Get Yourself a Square Squad

Throughout the journey of untangling myself – of making meaning of how the ebb and flow of my days impact my life – of understanding my purpose in this world, I have leaned into the uncomfortable act of learning to love myself. I have always had solid self-esteem, and I tend to quickly release negative thoughts. At times, I have observed that I don’t care what people think or their opinion doesn’t impact my decisions.  I have actually said out loud, “My Christmas card list is plenty long” or “love me or leave me.”  The obvious problem with those statements, however, is that I truly DO need people. I need people who allow me to be vulnerable and love me none-the-less. Like everyone else, I need community.

Brené Brown, a social scientist who has spent decades researching shame, vulnerability, and authentic living, believes we need people in our lives whose opinions do matter.  These aren’t the casual acquaintances who like a post on Facebook and with whom you share the occasional cup of coffee. Instead, these are people who truly understand who we are. These are the few people in our lives whose opinions matter in such a way we can be truly vulnerable.

Brown encourages us to identify a few key people we trust, we love, and who don’t need us to be anyone but our authentic selves.  Once we identify these people, we should write their names or initials on a 1” square piece of paper.  The people on this little piece of paper are the people in our Square Squad.  They are the ones who don’t run from our vulnerability, and they are the ones to whom we can turn when we need to process thoughts or ideas. They will offer opinions, but they will not randomly criticize. Instead, they allow us to be brave – to be courageous along this journey.

For me, the people on my square squad also hold me accountable.  They encourage me.  They make me want to be better today than I was yesterday.  They are the ones who show up – repeatedly – even when I don’t realize I need someone.  My square squad has carried me through some pretty dark times in my life including a tumultuous time at work, my daughter’s health battle, and the ending of a 30-year marriage.  Individually, they check in on me, but more importantly, their opinion matters, and when they share it – solicited or unsolicited – I take it seriously.  They offer their opinions, and I’m not offended. If their observation butts up against my own perception, I have to sit with it for a little bit, but the way I process their words is important.  I don’t take their advice as critical.  Because I value their opinion, I step even deeper into being my best self.

The idea of putting names on a 1″ square piece of paper we can tuck in a wallet or other safe place means we don’t need a lot of people in our inner space. We need just a few who love us unconditionally, and who are comfortable with our relationship that they know their opinion matters. Along this untangling, they impact the direction and depth of understanding of our journeys. Ultimately, the members of our square squads reflect the dearest elements of community, love and acceptance. They make all the difference in the world. #MakeRoomForJoy

If you are interested in learning more from Brené Brown, check out her new podcast at https://brenebrown.com/unlockingus/

I’m joining an open community of writers over at Sharing Our Stories: Magic in a Blog. If you write (or want to write) just for the magic of it, consider this your invitation to join us. #sosmagic

My Spiritual Guide

The Universe has its gentle and not-so-gentle ways of speaking to me. On occasion, it offers me signs so incredibly loud, I dare not ignore them. Fortunately, I have a spiritual guide, a woman whose feet kiss this earth as an educator. As a third grade teacher, she helped my daughter navigate the global turmoil on the days that unfolded after that crisp September day in 2001. Instead of fear and revenge, she quickly shifted the focus to action – to peace – to understanding. In those moments, often learned through dinner-time conversations with my impressionable third grader, I felt connected to Anne.

Through her gentle spirit, she not only taught Elizabeth how to hold fear and hope simultaneously, but also, without knowing it, Anne modeled for me how to turn inward to understand the chaos of the world. I needed a friend like Anne, and the Universe knew it as well. Because our children went to school together, I work with her husband, and we had mutual friends, our journeys eventually merged. This relationship is what the Universe intended. The relationship has pushed me into new, vulnerable spaces.

Over the last two decades, I have learned to draw on Anne’s observations – her reflections – her musings long after our visits or phone calls have passed. Unintentionally, but out of necessity, my life has called me to focus on my spiritual journey. I have danced through most of life, often pouring myself into others, ignoring my own emotional needs. I lose myself in serving others, mentoring, loving. However, losing my grandmother, my daughter’s diagnosis with a brain tumor, a divorce, have all called me to turn inward, to spend time excavating who I am, to consider a world I cannot control, to examine my purpose in the world. This is where Anne has helped me, like she did my daughter in 2001, understand the importance of leaning into fear and hope at the same time despite the delicate balancing act it requires.

My spiritual journey has led me to understand the sacred is in every moment – every day – every uncomfortable experience – every instance that fills me with great joy. As I untangle my life – my heart – my purpose, I am realizing so much about this journey. The Universe, when I pause long enough to pay attention and to listen, has offered me important lessons. With help, I am learning to stay awake to the moments as they unfold, and because of that, I see the purpose of the journey.

I’m joining an open community of writers over at Sharing Our Stories: Magic in a Blog. If you write (or want to write) just for the magic of it, consider this your invitation to join us. #sosmagic

The Morning Walk

A silhouette defines my space on the verdant soybeans,
A tender crop moving gently at the hand of the too still breeze.
She tugs at my wrist, whispering loudly
Look. Pay attention. 
Do you see?
 
I walk alone beside generations of seeking sojourners.
The perfume of the humid soil tickles my nose,
Unnamed birds offer their friendly chatter, and
The rhythmic cadence of insects propose an accompaniment
As nature sings me its anthem.
 
This hymn, this spiritual manifesto for love and life,
Offers a deep melodic thread to the earth – to understanding
A path generations of feet have traveled  
Listen – look – the answers are here.

#sosmagic
The lessons are here. We simply must listen. #MakeRoomForJoy

We Belong Here

“Active Hope is waking up to the beauty of life on whose behalf we can act. We belong to the world.” The wisdom of Joanna Macy, a woman who has lived a lifetime of applying her religious scholarship to six decades of activisim, speaks to my heart – to the spiritual connection I feel with the universe. She doesn’t just whisper her message. Instead, she claims it boldly. Active Hope is waking up. It requires an action – a realization – a call. It demands I listen. My ears, my heart, my soul are hungry for her wisdom.

Because of Active Hope, the vocation of teaching chose me. Because of Active Hope, I build deep freindships with others who also often want to change the world or at least seek to be the best versions of themselves. Because of Active Hope, I mentor young adults outside the classroom. Because of Active Hope, I actively participate in my communities at the local, state, and national levels. Because of Active Hope, I have am deeply connected to and incredibly proud of my adult children.

I AM awake to the beauty of life.

At face value, my interactions with others may seem selfless. I am loyal, and I will do anything to ensure another’s safety, sense of self, and growth. I almost always put my needs aside for another’s. Yet, if one listens carefully, I admit the benefits I receive from these relationships. I often respond to gratitude, “It’s a win-win.” Yes, my familial roots urge me to remain humble, and yet, the “win-win” statement captures the balance received from this Active Hope.

As I lose myself in the service, in acting on behalf of others, life really becomes more beautiful – more joyful. Even amidst the most difficult times of life – the ending of a marriage, the cognitive and physical decline of an aging parent, the magnitutde of the cancer my oldest child battles – Active Hope empowers me with a spiritual understanding. It gently unveils a picture so much larger than myself. In that masterpiece, Active Hope offers me joy in the connections I have with humanity, and ultimately the universe. It reminds me that I belong. It reminds me that we belong to one another.

#MakeRoomForJoy

I’m joining an open community of writers over at Sharing Our Stories: Magic in a Blog. If you write (or want to write) just for the magic of it, consider this your invitation to join us. #sosmagic