The things that define us

I first fell in love with the Barefoot Contessa in my friend Amy's kitchen, with it's filtered northern light in morning, harsh western light in afternoon, yellow bowls stacked on shelves and the scent of lemons strong in the hot spring air. To me, certain things are tied to certain people, and the things themselves take on such meaning when I see them, touch them. I know that man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart. (I Samuel 16:7) What about things, then? Can they be a reflection of our heart?

Amy and the Barefoot Contessa, her yellow bowls, her farmhouse in the desert, her 1950's color scheme and the way she warms tortillas in a pan on the stove. Their family is on my mind these days because it is the anniversary season of their son Caleb's death, at age 5. Some people react to that sort of tragedy by eschewing the things in our world, taking a completely utilitarian approach to the life that intervenes between the loss of their child and the eventual reunion in heaven. I suppose you could even call that reaction Godly, "kingdom minded" in a way. Matthew 6:33 tells me, "Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added unto you." What things, I wonder? The preceding verses say that the "things" Jesus meant are food, drink, clothing. Matthew 19 tells of the rich man who, having kept the commandments, asks what more he must do to gain eternal life. I have heard this passage used over and over again as argument that we should sell our belongings, as Jesus instructed the rich man to do, and follow God onto the mission field instead of making homes for ourselves. For some this is, of course, the right decision. On the other hand, the key point of the passage is not the command to sell belongings and follow Christ - what Jesus is after is the willingness to do so. Matthew Henry addresses this in his commentary on the passage:
Christ knew that covetousness was the sin which most easily beset this young man; though he had got honestly what he possessed, yet he could not cheerfully part with it, and by this his want of sincerity was shown. Christ's promises make his precepts easy, and his yoke pleasant and very comfortable; yet this promise was as much a trial of the young man's faith, as the precept was of his charity and contempt of the world. To sell all, and give to the poor, will not serve, but we are to follow Christ. The gospel is the only remedy for lost sinners. Many abstain from gross vices who do not attend to their obligations to God. Thousands of instances of disobedience in thought, word, and deed, are marked against them in the book of God. Thus numbers forsake Christ, loving this present world: they feel convictions and desires, but they depart sorrowful, perhaps trembling. It behoves us to try ourselves in these matters, for the Lord will try us.

Isn't it possible that the yellow bowls stacked on the counter - the beautiful things we eat from - are one of the "things that shall be added unto us", blessings from the hand of God? Isn't it possible that favorite recipes in a favorite cookbook are one of the things God provides us when we seek His kingdom first? Is it possible to spend time perfecting a homemade potato chip recipe while seeking God's kingdom first? If we cannot fathom giving these things up...then they are the "things" that stand as barriers in the narrow path of God's will, so hard to find and even harder to walk. Yet if they are things that light our souls with joy, easily given up if we are so asked, things that bind us together and express love and reflect Truth in beauty...

Matthew 6:33 teaches me that it is not the things that matter most - it is what we are seeking. The shared joy of my memories of Amy's kitchen glue us together, as saints seeking the kingdom of God. The shared memory of trial and error as we perfect our family recipe for potato chips binds my children to me in joy and shared mission. The cookbook that started it all is consequently part of that picture - whenever they see "Barefoot in Paris", they will think potato chips in an unseasonably warm, sunny spring kitchen on an April day. They will recall Mama in her favorite apron, the sizzle of the chips frying, the paper bag and towel service, the sea salt crystals catching light like diamonds in the sun.

I could feed them boring food. I could give away the lovely things that will be irrevocably tied to my memory. I am so thankful that the God I serve is not that harsh. I am thankful that He does not only call me to utilitarian service. I am thankful that He lights the path with joy, and pleasure, and memories, and friends. I agree that heaven in the point on which to focus, the end of the journey that matters more than anything inconsequential along the way. But if life didn't matter, if the way in which we live, the things that define us, reflect the way we live did not matter at all, wouldn't we be in heaven already?