My mom has no good cooking tools. Open her utensil drawer and find nary a wooden spoon. No ladle. No big forked spoon for spaghetti. Just an old-school carrot peeler, a waiter's-style wine opener, a scorched spatula, and a couple of metal skewers. ( I may be exaggerating slightly).
The lack of sufficient stirring implements drives me batty, for a number of reasons that I shan't share on the Internet and would only make sense to me, but they are generally related to wishing she would take good care of herself. I have hounded her about it mercilessly for years.
Last year, I was helping with our traditional split pea soup dinner for Christmas Eve, and razzing her about the fact that I was scraping the bottom of her huge stockpot with a metal soup spoon (for eating with!) instead of a sturdy wooden spoon (for cooking with!), when my youngest brother observed, "It appears that the soup is being stirred."
Where does my baby brother get the nerve, being wiser and kinder and more grace-extending than me?
His comment was delivered without a trace of sarcasm or nastiness, and therefore, it penetrated to my soul. Was not the soup being stirred, though it was not being stirred my way?
We have all kinds of little things that irk us about our relatives, don't we, especially those they've done for years or even decades? The way Grandma always shows up 15 minutes early or Papa twiddles the fringe on the rug with his bare feet. Things that in a stranger, or even a good friend, wouldn't bother us in the least.
I think part of the reason these habits or mannerisms bother us so much is we think we see through all their habits down to their motives, and then all the way down to some kind of systemic dysfunction. A daughter looks in her mother's utensil drawer and reads it like tea leaves. But I'm willing to believe that I could even be reading it wrong, to say nothing of the fact that it isn't my job or right to be "reading" it in the first place.
In our ability to see through those close to us, there is a danger of looking right past them, to cease to see them as a whole, to overemphasize small foibles that don't matter and miss the big picture of the love and sense of belonging they extend to us. It's possible, then, for a friend or a stranger to see them even clearer than we do, with fresh eyes. That is unspeakably sad.
As I've been formulating this entry in my head over the past few days, it began as a piece on how I would be giving my relatives the gift of grace this Christmas, shutting my mouth about the silly little stuff I could nag them about. But friends, it's my soup that's been stirred. And what rose to the surface is a revelation of my own pride. Grace is something we extend to people who don't deserve it, and my family deserves a lot -- a lot more than I often give them.
The gift I'd rather give them is gratitude: for all the support, generosity, togetherness, laughter, and affirmation they've given me. For the great example set for me by my immediate family: not just my parents, but my brothers as well, especially my youngest who gave me some truth that took me a year to ponder.
My dear ones could look into some of my drawers (especially my vegetable crisper or makeup drawer) and draw all kinds of conclusions of the flawed way that I live. But I hope they won't. I hope this Christmas they'll look at me and see the best, the way God did at Christmas, as the angels declared to the shepherds, "Peace on earth and good will to men, in whom He is well pleased!" I'll take the gift of grace from them and count it among the best I've ever received.