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I’ve been re-reading Andi Ashworth’s beautiful book Real Love for Real Life: The Art and Work of Caring with a great group of women from my church. There are a million books on parenting and motherhood but I’ve never found any quite like this one. Andi focuses on caregiving and how that manifests itself in different ways depending on our gifts and season of life. She talks about the ways care giving enriches lives and allows us to build a life and make a home “with a heart”.
In one of my favorite chapters Andi discusses how caring in our society goes against the flow. Most of our domestic tasks are outsourced–from childcare to cleaning and cooking to caring for the elderly. Time is money and people have so little to share. She writes, “As we give in to the standards society sets for us, we gradually internalize what our culture values: efficiency, speed, control, and quantity over quality. In this paradigm, caregiving seems very much out of place. Caring does not “maximize” our time. Its richest rewards are not tangible. Its results are not quantitative. Caregiving needs are unpredictable, and sometimes meeting them is a slow process.”
I was able to witness a master caregiver a few weekends ago on a retreat with a youth group from Huntsville, Alabama. When I think “youth retreat” I think crazy, fun, skits, and lack of sleep. I do NOT think great food. Teenagers tend to eat without discretion and most would happily eat Kraft macaroni and cheese, pizza and chicken tenders. Yet, Debbie and her team of cooks came ready to make this experience extravagant for each and every student. Debbie is an amazing cook and it is one of the ways she shows love and care for those around her. She set out to make those kids feel loved and special by the time and attention she put into every meal.
Her breakfasts were huge spreads of quiches, homemade cappuccino muffins, blueberry French toast, yogurt parfaits and cayenne maple bacon. Her lunches were gourmet grilled fish tacos with homemade guacamole and corn salsa. Her Valentine’s dinner was beef tenderloin with twice baked potatoes, roasted asparagus, homemade rolls and white chocolate bread pudding. I would watch the faces of these gangly fourteen-year-old boys light up with each new meal, each new feast. These sometimes awkward, often unappreciated and underestimated members of society were treated like royalty. It was beyond what anyone would ever expect. Just one of the dishes would have been enough to sing her praises. But Debbie was not doing it for praise. She truly wanted the kids to feel loved and ultimately to accept God’s extravagant love.
I couldn’t get Debbie and the kitchen team out of my mind all weekend. They were awake before anyone and still cleaning long after we had left the building. From time to time I would see them in the corner quickly eating a meal long after everyone else had eaten. They were back at work moments later, preparing our next feast. It was so impractical, so inefficient. It was an entire weekend, their time to rest after a week of work. They could have made it so much easier on themselves. No one expected that kind of food, yet they spared no expense and took no shortcuts. Why? I mean, I adore cooking and appreciated every bite but I still had to wonder why Debbie wouldn’t just put in some Sister Shubert’s every now and then to save time. She was like the woman who poured the expensive perfume at Jesus’ feet, generously giving out of the overflow of her heart. Some called it foolishness, but Jesus did not.
In a chapter about the art of caring Andi writes, “In small and large ways, when we create beauty–in our environment, relationships, music, cooking, poetry, and celebrations–we push back the effects of the Fall and express our hope for the new heaven and new earth that God promises. When we give artful attention to detail, we point people to a truer and better reality. When we offer beauty, we touch something in the human soul. We remind others of who they are and what they were made for.”
When these kids are grown they may not remember the specifics of the weekend, what was said or sung, but there will be a memory of care and love that was a thread woven into the fabric of their lives. As Sara Groves sang so beautifully, beauty matters. Our small acts matter. Let us continue to push back against the effects of the Fall with the way we love and care for each other impractically and inefficiently.