Why Eating Meatloaf on Christmas Reminded Us of How to Love Others

They say a picture is worth a thousand words.

This picture speaks at least that many.

You see, there is much more going on here than meatloaf in a pan.

As I pondered on what to make for Christmas dinner at our for our intimate family gathering, ideas rotated through my mind.

My immediate thoughts gravitated to something “nice.” Roast? Lasagna? But finding a common dish to meet the palettes of all of our kids became a challenge.

And then….meatloaf presented itself. It’s not particularly recognized as a special holiday dish. In fact, I make it every couple months. But, to my family, meatloaf connects us to my husband’s grandmother.

“Granny” made the best one. In fact, one of the best testaments to her meatloaf comes through the story of it being sold at an auction for charity at a bar. (Someone bid $20 for it!)

Every time, we consumed it at our family gatherings at her home, we were reminded that it was literally shaped by love.

Her hands dug into the meat mixture; her fingers pinching the individual ingredients until they were no longer separated.  The process mimicked her approach to those who graced her presence. She dug her hands into their lives. Sometimes through the gift of food. Other times, through time or financial resources. Always through hugs. Occasionally, her dining room table (and her home) became an ecumenical mix of family and visitors. Each of us became beneficiaries of intentional shaping through her hands.  All of us coming to the table as individual ingredients but finding the substance which bound us together: Granny’s love.

Many of our life shaping memories are rooted in the moments at her home. Christmas ones are some of them. Trekking to her home on Christmas afternoon wasn’t always high on the list of my kids who would have preferred to stay in their pj’s playing with new gifts. And Granny would have understood. But, we also knew that our opportunities to share life with her were becoming limited.

Four years ago, we celebrated our last Christmas together. Voids remind you of the ways your life has been shaped by others.

So, I decided to make her meatloaf this Christmas. I’ve made it other days of course. But, on Christmas, it seemed particularly fitting. One I had added all the ingredients in the bowl, her words silently spoke to me: “You have to get your hands messy.” This is not my favorite part. I have traditionally avoided physical contact resulting in foreign substances covering my body. Perhaps, it comes with my anxiety or just a personal quirk. Regardless, I am aware that it is part of the process of creating: food, art, relationships.  It comes with the territory of being God’s image bearer.

Reluctantly, I did; allowing her words to come to life in my hands. Truthfully, it was not quite like her meatloaf. I added a twist but it didn’t really matter. Her recipe never matched how she made it each time anyway.

I baked it in her pan; the one which holds her fingerprints. The same round warped pan that found us hovering around it in her small kitchen as she cooked and talked.

As we savored the meatloaf, we remembered the ways her hands shaped things: both meatloaf and people. Sharing food defined much of how Granny expressed her love for others. Souls and bodies found nourishment through her hands.

Loving others means getting our hands “messy.”

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