I started a most fantastic book last week, but I’ll get there in a minute.
Eight years ago, I stood over a sliver of kitchen counter in Pyeongtaek, South Korea, pale and tight-eyed with lack of sleep in the blue light of a computer screen. I was still in my uniform, feet aching in subpar combat boots because I walked everywhere and didn’t know the good brands yet. Outside it was icy and dark, and I had to be up at 0530 to ride my bike to PT in the snow, but I was making breakfast. Because it was morning in Alabama, and I was straining to maintain a connection with my younger brothers from literally half a world away.
My brother Pieter woke up early so that we could share a meal together before he took off on his own bike to the high school down the street. We were testing out fun holiday-themed foods. This time we carved snowmen out of toast, with an orange-wedge nose and two eyes made out of chocolate. Mine was a sad thing to behold, particularly since I lacked several of the decorative ingredients and had to make do with random odds and ends (a half-chewed peppermint for a hat, sugar cubes for buttons). My barracks room was cold in every sense of the word, with the world’s scratchiest, most rock-like green chair as a centerpiece. Yet, we laughed as we held our creations up to the screen for inspection and I waved him off to school.
Tonight, eight years later, my brother and I bustle around the kitchen in my first home, making our first attempt at meatloaf from the recipe John Cal shared for Hutchmoot: Homebound. We swerve around each other as though we practiced it, darting for ingredients and slipping just out of each other’s way, in that dance that’s only possible with someone you’ve known closely for going on forever.
There’s something in me that searches for symmetry—maybe it’s the poet. I’m stirring the meatloaf mixture, my brother hulking over a pot of potatoes beside me, and I’m suddenly struck by the memory of carving snowman-toast on an Army base in Korea. This time around, the meal is truly shared. There’s warmth, and savory scents floating about, and two pairs of hands at a common task. We laugh this time too, particularly when my crotchety old toaster burns one of the bread slices meant for our breadcrumbs, and we race around throwing windows open before my over-eager smoke alarm goes off. We settle down in front of the fireplace, and he clinks his plate against mine. “Cheers,” he says. To the warmth, and the company, and the delicious food we made with our own hands.
I wonder if every shattered piece of delight in this life will have its fulfillment in the many rooms of our Father’s house, and we’ll all sit back in a joy we didn’t know enough to hope for and murmur, 'Ah, so this is what it was always meant to be.' Shigé Clark
Now about that book I mentioned. I have the great fortune of being in the Supper of the Lamb discussion group that started last week, and oh man, am I glad I joined up. In the first chapter, Robert Farrar Capon talks about delight making treasure of trash, and I can’t help but connect that to our little meal of snowman-toast-over-a-Zoom-call. I think of how I could have seen that moment—as trash. A memory soaked with the grief of distance and difficulty. I could have been overwhelmed by how much it was not what it should have been. But at the time, I was too caught up in delight for what it was. As Capon says: “In a real world, nothing is infinitely bad. […] to be good or bad is not as much of an achievement as to be at all.”
My teenage brother—who by common account ought to have viewed making holiday-themed breakfast with his big sister as the lamest of possible activities—wrested himself from sleep before a taxing day of school and wrestling to share a meal with me half a world away, and we carved snowman out of toast together. How delightful.
Yes, there’s greater delight in this moment now. Things are more right in this meal than they were in that one. But the distance between the two doesn’t mock our previous joy. Instead, it fulfills it—blooming into our abundance the fullness of the delight we felt in our scarcity. Meatloaf and mashed potatoes with my brother, the ease we get to take beside the fire and beneath the twinkling glow of Christmas lights, are the fruition of the seeds of hope and love sown with toast under the light of a computer screen.
It makes me wonder what future meal will be a fulfillment of this one. I wonder if every shattered piece of delight in this life will have its fulfillment in the many rooms of our Father’s house, and we’ll all sit back in a joy we didn’t know enough to hope for and murmur, “Ah, so this is what it was always meant to be.”
Thinking back to my cold, blunt barracks room, I can’t help but reflect on this year and all its scarcity. A time when so many meals have become Zoom calls and gatherings have become less than they seemingly ought to be. In such a season, I’m grateful for the power of delight to reshape a thing that might have been garbage, and make it stand, as Capon says, “a million triumphant miles from the trash heap.”
I’m grateful for my snowman-toast, my orange rinds, my livestreams, my masked-up meetings, my broken little feasts—for the great delights that they are themselves, and knowing that every foretaste of joy will be fulfilled far beyond what my meager mind can now imagine. Praise God, from whom all blessings flow, and may we not be quick to toss them in the trash heap.