Eating From the Center of the Pie

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Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.

No one expects a present. My football team will lose. There will be gravy on the tablecloth, and leaves will be tracked in through the back door. All afternoon, the dog will nap in front of the oven, and I’ll have to step over her to check on the turkey. A voice on Pandora will tell me—over and over again—that I can upgrade my account to listen commercial free. I won’t be convinced. The smell of collard greens will mingle with the scent of macaroni and cheese, and I will have eaten a full meal, just in the tasting, before the table is even set. It will be beautiful.

I’ve done the freaked-out-over-cooking-an-entire-turkey-by-myself Thanksgiving, and I seriously believe most of us benefit from the experience of a few of those (or the equivalent, if meat isn’t part of your usual fare). Surviving a Thanksgiving where the meat is too dry, the gravy too lumpy, the pie crust is so burnt that we’re all forced to eat from the center of the pie, parallels, in some strange way, the redemptive quality in the mishaps of life.

These days I don’t go to too much trouble making the meal. I know most of the recipes by heart. I cook every dish from scratch, but not a single one is fancy. (If you know me, you know I like the word “fancy,” but if I’m being honest, I think fanciness itself is sometimes overrated.) I’m a good cook, but I’m not going to win any cook-offs on reality television. Primarily because I stick out my tongue when I chop the vegetables.

After twenty-six years, I’ve learned that low-key is the perfect Thanksgiving day for me. I get into a groove.

In the morning, I cook cornbread and sausage. I chop onions and celery to saute in butter, and the cornbread stuffing is just about done. The dog keeps an eye on the turkey, and I peel apples for a pie. I’ve always been good at the pie. Over the years, it’s the rest of the meal that has grown with me. My family has endured tentative attempts at macaroni and cheese and unsuccessful tries at perfecting my mother-in-law’s recipe for rolls. Eventually I mastered the mac and cheese, but I still invite our guests to bring the rolls. No one flinches over the rolls I cannot bake, and we wait while the collard greens simmer themselves to tender on the stove. No rush.

This Thanksgiving, I’ll stand over the stove and stir the gravy, and I will count the things for which I’m thankful. Days of struggle, unanswered questions, hardships, sadness, and darkness will show up on that list, and I’ll be pleasantly surprised to see them there. Like burnt pie crusts, or rolls that fall flat, those tough times have shown me the end of me.

There is a lot of empty space between what I am and what I can do on my own, and who I become when God intervenes. I suppose I’m like many of us, unaware of my limitations, the holes in my faith, the doubts in the back of my mind—until life sneaks up behind me and unfurls a veil of difficulty over the whole thing. Sometimes, a dark night of the soul is the one and only way God can get my attention.

Admittedly, it sometimes takes longer than I’d like—like waiting for the collard greens to simmer themselves to tender. No rush. He woos me from the burned up edges of my faith, and I am grateful to find myself eating from the center of the pie.

Image by mgstanton. Used with permission. Sourced via Flickr.