The Slow-Cooked Life

Many years ago we bought an electric smoker. I really didn’t want to spend the money. We had a perfectly functional grill and a renovated kitchen. We didn’t need it.

My husband Jeff disagreed.

He learned the art of smoking, how to properly season and prepare the meat and how long meat needed to be cooked at low temperatures. He researched the proper temperature for every type of meat, learning that we had been overcooking and undercooking for years.

With the last two moves he has also purchased a new, improved smoker to go with each new house, gifting the old smoker to others just learning how to improve their barbecue skills. Now we cook at least 50% of our dinners on our smoker, everything from brisket to chocolate chip cookies. We’ve learned the art of slow and low, which often frustrates my hungry stomach and eventually delights my taste buds.

In the last week I’ve been considering how this cooking lesson relates to this season of my life.

The last year has been a year of reflection and thoughtful consideration. The closer I got to my 40th birthday, the more I contemplated what I wanted the next decade of my life to look like. I wasn’t living a life of regret; I was looking in the rearview mirror to see just how far God had brought me and wondering where He was leading me next. I didn’t want to turn my life upside down; I wanted to embrace small challenges that I knew would shape the second half of my life. I believed that God had called me to the time and place I’m in now; I also knew that He was leading me to do more and I was eager to see what that would look like.

I’m an introvert who feels lost in big groups of people and doesn’t easily reach out when I’m in new situations, which is why I completely shocked myself when I asked my husband if I could spend money to sign up for a summer writing conference that was going to be held in Houston. He told me happy birthday and left it at that.

So in the first half of this past week, before getting ready to leave with a group of students for a weekend of yearbook planning, I spent three days learning from major Christian authors in a room full of aspiring writers. I learned practical skills to make my writing better (also reframing how I will teach those same skills to my own students), increased my understanding of the publishing process, and discovered how to better utilize social media.

In an unexpected paradox, I was both inspired to keep doing what I’m doing (just do it better and more intentionally) and I lost the urgency to complete things now. Our seasoned instructors reflected on their long struggle to get where they are currently, the years of honing their craft, and the faith and perseverance necessary to make their current reality a possibility.

I walked away with several realizations. I can continue in my calling to teach while slowly working on my writing. My 80,000 word manuscript can and should be honed down to less than 45,000 words, a daunting and liberating task. I can continue to learn and grow as a human being, wife, mother, and teacher all while slowly fulfilling long-held dreams and ambitions. I can just keep living and picking and choosing the opportunities that cross my path.

One of my favorite posters on my classroom walls is the Benjamin Franklin quote, “Either write things worth reading or do things worth the writing.” Through the ups and downs, twists and turns, expected and unexpected, I’m trying to do both. That doesn’t mean that everything is exciting and new all the time. There are seasons when it feels like I’m stuck, life circumstances that downright suck, and I can’t control what other people say or do. But I also don’t have to do everything right now. I have to believe that God will use me for His fullest purpose in the days that I have here on earth. God willing, it will be much longer than my 40 years, but I don’t have to be Lin Manuel Miranda’s Alexander Hamilton, writing like I’m “running out of time.”

Where does that leave me? I was afraid that stepping out of my comfort zone would make me anxious about the future, about what I needed to do and what I wasn’t doing. Instead, I left a conference feeling confident about where God has me and optimistic about where He could be leading me. Because while I hate waiting, the best things in my life have taken a long time to develop. When I was 18 I had no idea that over the course of three years a floppy haired boy was going to slowly win me over and convince me to marry him. When I was 22 I didn’t know that I would have to wait for over seven years of marriage before I would hold my first baby in my arms. When I was 25 I didn’t know that I would have to wait for five more years and go through a painful move before I would finally start graduate school. When I was 31 I didn’t know that I would have to hold on to a money pit of a house for another eight years before we would finally hold a small check in our hands that would help get us out of debt.

It’s often said that the best things take time, a difficult lesson for an impatient perfectionist who wants everything to work right the first time. But I can also look back and see the results of the process. Like the stalactites and stalagmites that we oohed and awed over while in Carlsbad Caverns on family vacation, beauty takes time. Maybe that’s why I keep fighting so hard against buying that Insta-pot; everything in my life seems to turn out better when it is slow cooked.

I just need to be reminded of that from time to time.

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