The year between my junior and senior year in college I spent a month in Russia. Each week we travelled out into the countryside to different orphanages and summer camps and taught bible stories, songs and games. On the weekends though, we lived in a flat in St. Petersburg with guys about my age and their house mom. These guys had grown up in orphanages around Russia and were now going to school or working, but they were also living in this space and learning to manage finances and household things that aren’t always taught in large institutions.
I loved our flat. There were five of us travelling and serving together from America. We didn’t know each other before we stepped on a plane in Dallas, Texas, but we got to know one another fast – there were very few other folks around who spoke English or understood our culture.
As we lived in the flat as guests we began to develop routines like you do anywhere. We ate meals together, we played games, we sat in the same room and read, we went out on walks at night for ice cream, and we spent our free time exploring this new city. Back at Texas A&M I was minoring in Russian and simply could not get enough of the culture. We were there in summer so it never really got dark—the extra daylight gave me more time to observe and explore.
A surprising thing struck me while on this trip: my attitude while washing dishes. At home—in Austin, Texas or in my little, shared apartment in College Station—I hated washing dishes. But in Russia, in our shared kitchen space, I was quick to offer to help clean up. There wasn’t a garbage disposal and I didn’t even mind emptying the little mesh food-trap in the sink drain. I expected to be stretched and challenged by a lot of things abroad, but I didn’t expect a daily chore to make it on the list.
I’ve been thinking about those moments when college Liz stood in front of a sink in St. Petersburg scrubbing housemates’ dirty dishes and scooping slimy food out of the little mesh trap. I did it without a grumble and even then I was struck by how much this contrasted my habits and attitudes at home.
I was out serving and was excited about the novelty of where I found myself and who I found myself with. I wanted to be a housemate that pulled my own weight while I was abroad and out of my “real” life. I wanted to wash the dishes so my friends didn’t have to. I wondered why I didn’t carry this impulse home with me.
I was thinking about this over the past weekend because my grandparents came to visit me and Nick and stayed at our house. I really enjoy hosting, and in particular planning meals and cooking for—and with—people. I woke up early the day they arrived, took Britt to doggie daycare, and was in and out of the grocery store by 8:00am. I bought salmon, veggies, fruit, eggs, bacon, sausage, roast, and coffee. I spent the weekend in the kitchen and around the table with my family, and I loved it. I learned a lot of what I know about cooking growing up visiting my grandparents. Nana and I would stay up late watching Emeril Lagasse and she would let me bake and experiment with whatever I wanted. She always had fun ingredients in the freezer like chocolate shells and marshmallows. It meant a lot to me to open our home to them this weekend and cook for them. I find time in the kitchen with people I love comforting and relaxing.
This weekend my Papa asked me if I have any hobbies. I said I like to read, I like to be outside, and I like to cook. He told me I am good at cooking. I could tell through the weekend that he enjoyed the meals Nana and I prepared. I find a particular joy in cooking for others and offering the gift of time around a table together, but I realized this weekend that I don’t really cook for myself and Nick with that same joy.
All of this reflecting, on my time in Russia at the kitchen sink and my time this weekend with my grandparents preparing and eating meals, has made me think about self-care. Cooking is relaxing for me and I feel better physically when I am eating at home rather than eating out (put something fried in front of me on a menu and I can’t resist…yet I’ve never deep fried anything in my own kitchen.) I enjoy cooking and eating good food, but I don’t take the time to do it for myself. I mostly do it for others. What I realized this weekend is that only relishing in the love and joy of a good meal when we have guests at our table means I am missing out on a lot.
There is a scene in the movie Bridesmaids that I have always loved. Kristen Wiig gets home after a horrible, no good, very bad day. The only sound in the scene is the song “Paper Bag” by Fiona Apple. Kristen stares at a framed dollar bill on her wall and the newspaper clipping from the opening of her bakery, Cake Baby, she looks at her former self and former boyfriend smiling back at her. We know that the bakery is now closed, that relationship is over, and that she doesn’t bake anymore. We then watch her bake one lone cupcake. She rolls out fondant, cuts and shapes leaves and petals from it. She carefully brushes food coloring across each individual flower piece and sticks it onto the expertly piped frosting on top of her cupcake. While she is creating she is totally engaged. She examines and smiles as she works. When she is finished she steps back and considers her work…then, she takes a big bite and looks so, so sad.
There’s a lot happening in this scene and Kristen’s journey to wholeness in the midst of transition and loss is one of my favorites. I love this scene in particular because it feels so indulgent. Kristen is baking for herself, because she can and because she wants to. She spares no bell, spares no whistle. She is not yet at a place that she can truly enjoy this gift of time and care she’s given herself, but one day she will get there.
I want to get there. I want to cook and bake and create beautiful things not just for other people, but for myself. I want to create, enjoy, and call it good, because I am created, enjoyed, and called good. I still want to do these things for others, too. I suspect that the joy I feel in offering my gifts to others will multiply if I allow it to grow by also spending time doing something that I love just for me.
I have begun to practice Sabbath on Wednesdays each week and tomorrow I plan to bake something extravagant as I spend time resting and refocusing on God.
What do you love to do? Do you do it more for yourself or for others?