The Great Unfinished
Meals at the Kaylor household are often an eclectic mix of cuisines, with my wife Jennifer being a vegan and our daughter Hannah and I being regular omnivores (me slightly trending toward carnivore). It’s actually been good for all of us to eat a more plant-based diet, and it’s led me to try some things that, as a kid, I would have been horrified to even have on the table. I once sat at a table for three hours in a battle of wills with my mother who insisted I eat a bean. I did not. Now I do, which has to make mom at least a little happier in heaven.
Vegan cooking means doing a lot of experimenting, and we’ve all gotten used to the wonderful and weird stuff that comes off the stove. Jennifer is a bold and innovative cook and does a lot to make vegan dishes appealing. Sometimes the results are fantastic, like orzo stuffed peppers or mushroom stroganoff. But other times those experiments are epic fails. Vegan pumpkin cake? No. Just no.
On one Sunday afternoon, when Jennifer went to help with the church youth group, she left a pot on the stove that looked like soup. At least we could identify beans and lentils. When dinner time rolled around, Hannah and I loaded up our bowls and sat down at the table to eat. After saying our blessing, we dug in and, after one bite, we both looked up at the same time. “Do you like this?” I asked.
“What is it?” she said.
“I don’t know,” I said, “but it has no flavor. It tastes like sadness.” We both felt bad because we really do appreciate mom’s willingness to be the chief creator of meals, but we decided neither of us could eat whatever it was. We both had a bowl of cereal instead.
Cut to about a half hour later. We could hear Jennifer’s car driving into the garage. How do we tell our beloved wife and mother that this was another rare, yet catastrophic, vegan travesty? I threw myself on the grenade. “Sweetie,” I said with deep appreciation, “we love you, but that soup was pretty bad.”
“What soup?” she said.
“The soup on the stove,” I said, thinking it was obvious.
To my surprise, she burst out laughing. “That’s not soup,” she chuckled, “it’s the beginning of chili that I didn’t get to finish. I’ll bet it tasted like wet yard work” (Okay, I added that last part, because that’s what it initially tasted like).
“Oh,” I said. “That makes sense.” Idiot husband status confirmed.
We all had a good laugh about this. Chili was later completed and, as always, was wonderful even without any beef in it. Jennifer is a forgiving sort, which has turned out to be an essential component of our 32 years of marriage!
But it got me thinking about even bigger things than what’s for dinner. Consider, for example, how many times we see a problem or challenge in our lives and we scoop up a big bowl full of it and complain to God that it’s tasteless and not good enough. Clergy are notorious for this. We look at our churches and we see blandness and things not working out like we’d hoped. We’re kind of like the Israelites complaining about manna and quail in the desert — seeing God’s provision for the basics as less than nourishing, tasteless, “miserable food” (Numbers 21:5).
We miss the fact that God isn’t finished with it yet; isn’t finished with our churches yet; isn’t finished with us yet. There’s more to be added, more spice to mix in, more flavor than we imagined. We tend to jump the gun and think that the pot of stuff in front of us — be it a crisis, a problem, a decision, a challenge — is all that there is. But God has so much more for us if we’re willing to be patient and persistent and trust the one who knows the full recipe for life.
This lesson has been resonating with me ever since what is now famously known as “The Chili Incident” at our house. It has especially impacted my prayer life. “Lord, help me not to dig into whatever is in front of me and think that’s all there is. Grant me the patience to let you add the ingredients necessary to make it a satisfying, flavorful, nourishing experience.”
I love Jennifer’s finished chili. It’s a vegan masterpiece in regular rotation at our house. I’m grateful for my beautiful, talented, forgiving wife and her sense of humor; and I’m grateful for a God who is willing to laugh at my over-eagerness and grant me forgiveness, too. He’s always cooking up something good for us if we’re willing to wait!