Donny was playing with his toy dishes as he talked about the iced tea that his grandmothers like to drink. He wondered when he would get to drink some, and refused to understand my explanations that we neither had iced tea in the refrigerator, nor did I intend to make any. Finally, realizing that he had all the child-size kitchenware at his disposal, I suggested, "Why don't you make some pretend iced tea?"
"I'm afraid not," he replied, very seriously. "I don't have any ice."
Naturally, I laughed at him and his somber predicament. This is the boy who tells me that the pitcher of water in the bathtub is bread, but now he can't even make pretend ice. I guess an imaginary ice maker will be in order for his next pretend birthday. The season for real iced tea is drawing to a close, and the cold beverage would definitely clash with the hot meal I made last night.
I was inspired by a discussion of the word "dumplings" between my husband and son. I had never eaten - or even seen - a dumpling in my life, but Don suggested that I should find out how to make them. Accordingly, I jotted "make dumplings" on my to-do list (because writing things down is the only way to ensure that I do everything). Yesterday, I dug through my favorite cookbook (otherwise known as the Internet) in search of a suitable recipe. I landed at my favorite cooking site, All Recipes. Not surprisingly, I found that most recipes were full of butter, vegetable oil, and other items that are unfriendly to my allergen-free and health-conscious diet. Finally, after reading dozens of reviews, I settled on this recipe, which I was able to adapt according to what I could eat and had on hand.
But I was tired yesterday. Even a brief rest while the boys were napping did not seem to help. As the afternoon wore on, I felt less and less motivated to start a big dinner project. Maybe I could save the dumplings for another day and just warm up something simple for one night. Still, the chicken was already defrosted, no easier dinner options presented themselves, and the rainy weather made this the perfect day to usher in autumn meals of hot comfort food. Mustering up my energy, I put on a pot of brown rice and began my venture into the world of unfamiliar cuisine.
It wasn't long before my two square feet of kitchen counter space were completely strewn with measuring cups and various pot lids. Rice was cooling on the back burner, my homemade (and dairy free) cream of chicken soup was simmering with browned chicken breast strips and carrots, and I was stirring the oil and (rice) milk in a bowl with the other dumpling ingredients. As tablespoonfuls of sticky dough plopped into the soup pot, I wondered if it would be silly to pray for the dumplings to turn out well. I hate to waste time, money, and ingredients on a dish that no one will eat, and I wanted my husband to enjoy his dinner. After all, he recently told me how he bragged to the guys at work that if he wants to try something new, his wife finds out how to make it and cook it for him! Of course, now I have to live up to my own reputation. The required twelve to fifteen minutes of boiling passed, but I still was not sure if they tasted right, having no other dumpling experience for comparison. It seemed like ages before Don came home and was finally ready to sample the new dish.
God was faithful even to my silly little prayer; apparently the dumplings turned out well, because my usually picky husband ate three helpings of the meal. Later, there were dishes to be washed, stories to be read, babies to be rocked, and goodnights to be said. Even after the kitchen was tidy and Hayden was fast asleep, Donny's loud whisper made his usual request: "Scratch my back and sing me some afraid songs." Sometimes, I rush through a song, wanting to move on to the part of the evening where I get to relax. But tonight, I lingered a little. I realized that it is a privilege to sing to my boys and tuck them in at night. It is a privilege to be the one who meets their constant needs. And it is a challenge to do so with a joyful spirit, but I am so blessed when I give of myself to my little ones.
And eventually, I did move on to my favorite part of the evening, which involved curling up in the arms of a satisfied and thankful husband. His sincere appreciation was enough to make me want to ladle gravy over his dinner plate every night and made the extra few minutes in preparation well worth the effort. Not long after, I realized that my sluggishness and fatigue were gone. In place of the lack of motivation I felt in the afternoon, there was a contented merriness. Knowing that I had blessed my husband gave me joy that could never be found in a long nap or a microwave dinner.
So what does my dumpling story have to do with iced tea? Throughout the day, it would have been easier to make excuses than to do something for someone else. I don't know how. I'm too tired. I don't feel like cooking. I can't do it that way. I could have echoed Donny's woefully serious words: I don't have any ice.
In our culture that emphasizes "me time" and looking out for our own needs first, it is easy to fall into a pattern of making excuses. My flesh wants to tell God, You want me to do that? I'm afraid not. I have nothing left to give. I don't have any. But just as Donny's lack of pretend ice was ridiculous to me, God sees through my hollow excuses. He knows that if I will just draw on His strength to get up and do what is necessary to make the iced tea, I will be able to enjoy the refreshing sweetness of blessing others.
The moral of the story: serving others (the comfort food of dumplings and gravy) refreshes me (like a glass of iced tea on a hot day). This proverb says it well:
A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed. - Proverbs 11:25