On Living and Making Soup

We moved to an old craftsmen style house the year Jeff started his residency. Perched on the side of a hill on a quiet street, the house was right in the middle of the city. Big red oaks grew around it, giving the lot a deep cool shade in summer. I planted caladiums in the front flowerbeds and set a pot of red geraniums on the front step. In the afternoons, Annie and I sat on the porch and waited for her daddy to come home. 

I imagine that house is almost a hundred years old by now.  Usually, at least once in a year when I am in town, I drive by to see if the curtains Jeff and I made are still hanging in the windows. I haven’t been disappointed yet. We sewed them out of the cheapest muslin fabric we could find. They were simple tab curtains. I slid them open and closed along tension rods every morning and evening. 

I can still walk through that house in my mind. The house had stacked rooms like so many older homes do. Two built-in bookcases separated the living room and dining room. The kitchen, at the back of the house, filled with light in the afternoon when sun spilled in the windows from the west.

The gas stove back there was ancient. It popped as it heated the same way the oven did at my grandmother's house. It didn’t cook evenly and heated up the whole kitchen whenever I used it. Despite that, I liked it. My favorite thing about the stove was an aluminum soup pot that was nestled into the cooktop. The deep pot could be lifted out to clean. Nothing ever stuck to it. There’s no telling how many servings of soup had been served up from that pot. It was perfect. 

I still like making soup. I cook it on a fancy gas range in a big enamel pot Jeff bought me a couple of years ago so I could make enough for our growing family. On Sunday, I had help in the kitchen. Jeff and I and Annie and Caleb made a pot of vegetable soup after church. 

Naomi wandered into the kitchen while we worked. Jeff was at the stove browning hamburger meat. Caleb was at the sink taking the eyes off of new potatoes and slicing them in half. Annie was peeling carrots and onions. I had chopped up a hunk of cabbage to throw in the pot and was opening a bag of frozen corn. Naomi used her whiney voice, the one seven-year-olds use to try and manipulate when they are pretty sure they aren’t going to like something, “Is the soup going to have tomatoes in it?”

“Sorry,” I tried to console her. “There’ll be tomatoes, but I won’t use the chunky ones,”  (I’ve been accused of babying my grandgirls a bit too much.)

Later, I thought about how the soup making that went on in the kitchen on Sunday is a great analogy for life. We are responsible for some of what we throw in the pot, but much of the flavor of our lives comes from the life we live with others. Some of it we like and some of it we don’t.

Naomi shrugged off her disappointment and went on. She knows she’s loved and cared for. She could accept that there would be tomatoes in the pot. Besides, she really likes vegetable soup. Later, she gobbled it up.

If you’ve been reading my blog this year, you know I’ve been writing about being intentional. Having intentions and developing practices to follow through on them is something that I’ve needed to do for a long time. I’ve expressed my desire to grow as a person, especially in my spiritual life, even as I grow into old age. Being intentional helps me to know where to focus my attention in a world of distractions. 

Though I’ve tried to simplify my life and focus on areas I need to grow, I can't control all that comes to me. Although I make choices every day about what I do, there are some things I haven't chosen. Learning to accept what we haven’t chosen is part of maturing. It’s not an easy lesson for most of us. It hasn’t been for me.

Many of the circumstances that come to us, things we haven't chosen, are good and right. It’s a good day when we acknowledge this and are grateful. Other times, we feel overwhelmed by circumstances beyond our control. We can’t see how any good can come from what has come to us or those we love. If we’re patient and hopeful, and when we trust the character of God, we will choose to live by faith. We’ll let things simmer. We’ll wait because we’ve learned a few things about life from making soup. 

Last year, I wrote this poem about the same subjects:

A Time for Everything

Some things shouldn’t be offered up
too soon; time needs to do its work.
Like poems---they need to simmer
on a low flame, left unattended 
except for periodic visits from the tasting spoon
and occasionally, rearranged with 
a spoon carved from the strength of a tree;
quickened with figure eights and whirlpools.

Given time, subtlety rises to the top 
then settles in the depths after 
a night’s steep---or to be fair, 
it may take a century before 
simmering things find 
a place at the table.
Depth comes with great patience. 
Leave the lid on,

there is a time for everything.

It seems like yesterday when I was putting a “spoon carved from the strength of a tree” down into the pot in the old gas stove. My Annie is all grown up with a family of her own. So much has been added to our lives since we sat out on the porch swing on Martin Street. There are many good things we chose and much more that we didn't. What I'm sure of is nothing has come to us apart from the knowledge of God.

Time is doing its work. And we are grateful.


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