Food as a Love Language

Norman Rockwell

Freedom from Want by Norman Rockwell

It seems like I’ve spent the past month in the kitchen. I baked Christmas cookies, cakes and pies. I made soups and snacks and egg bakes. I prepared a bountiful Christmas dinner followed by a taco bar for New Year’s Eve and game day fan food for the big NFC North division football game between the Minnesota Vikings and the Green Bay Packers. I’ve grocery shopped, sliced and diced and rearranged those plastic storage containers in my refrigerator countless times. You likely did the same. But it wasn’t always this way for me. I haven’t always been as intently focused on food. But this focus will likely last longer than the 12 days of Christmas. Because I’ve come to understand something that once made me scoff.

For years, my mother-in-law has seemed obsessed with food. It’s partly a generational thing. Or a regional thing. Or a raised on a farm thing. Whatever the reason, family gatherings are always scheduled around the next meal. Eager attempts to make sure she prepares each of her son’s favorite foods. Genuine disappointment whenever guests refuse second or even third helpings. This behavior used to make me chuckle. “What’s the deal with all the food?” I wondered.

I grew up in a small household of only girls. We didn’t think much about food. My mother freely admits she doesn’t like to cook. But it’s not like we starved. It’s just that my young life was fueled by more cold cereal and TV dinners than my husband’s. No big deal. Right?

Well, food has become a bigger deal to me. Why? Because I have teenage sons.

As my sweet boys grow taller than me and develop separate lives that I’m only partly privy to, I become like an awkward girl trying to get their attention for a few minutes a day. Gone are the days of having chubby-cheeked toddlers snuggled on my lap. I no longer lie next to little pajama people at night telling stories or singing songs. They are learning to cope with life’s challenges without running to their mommy every time they wince from a bit of pain. And these are good things. Thank God my boys are becoming men. Beautiful, compassionate, hard-working men who I’m sure still love their mother even though they offer me fewer hugs in public.

But you know what makes them light up? Food. I’ve discovered what my mother-in-law has known all along. That one sure way mothers can show love to her boys who no longer want to be snuggled and covered in kisses is to make their favorite foods.

And so, I bake cookies and pies. I make pasta and soul-comforting soups. I stock the pantry with snacks and the freezer with frozen pizzas. (By the way, one frozen pizza used to feed my family of four in a pinch. Now, it’s an afternoon snack for a ravenous teen boy.)

I will simmer roast beef in the crockpot and make stacks of pancakes on Sunday mornings. I will shower my boys with a food storm of love until they move away and dream of their mom’s home-cooked meals. I will pray God’s blessings over all of our shared meals and create dinner table memories with my children. We will break bread together. We will connect and converse. I will get to peek into their lives while they partake at my table. I will cherish the opportunity to love them with the bounty of my kitchen. I will bless them with abundance. And one day, I will likely be distraught, like my mother-in-law, when my sons are middle aged and their wives scoff at the idea of second helpings.


The Inmates Don’t Run My Asylum and Other Thoughts on Parenting

Photo Credit: Amber Gehring

Photo Credit: Amber Gehring

Last week on the blog, I asked you for a bit of parenting advice. Today, I’m going to share some. Because I had an epiphany when someone recently complimented the hubs and me on our ability to get our teenagers to church on Sunday mornings when most teens might prefer to sleep in.

In case you didn’t know, non-compliance doesn’t have to be an option, especially in matters you deem important. Yes, parenting is certainly a challenge since children, much like adults, usually have their own ideas about what they prefer to do with their time. But unlike life for adults in the wider world, life in our home is not a democracy. I like to tell my kids, with a smile of course, that I prefer the tyrannical dictatorship style of household governance. If you think you want to go this route, I suggest you begin early.

Don’t misunderstand. I can be as cuddly and gushy as the next person when it comes to being enamored with my own offspring. We often hug and kiss our children and tell them we love them. I’m usually not a yeller and I am, in my opinion, extremely tolerant of messes and mistakes. We’re open to hearing out any well-reasoned arguments. But I am rarely, actually never, open to extended debates with children. Because ultimately all Johnson asylum authority is centralized at the top of this house’s laundry pile. She who feeds and clothes the inmates deserves some modicum of respect.

I do not claim to be a parenting expert. And these tips are by no means exhaustive or meant to be the final word. Just some thoughts on what’s worked for us so far. So here goes…

Do not argue or debate with your kids. It should be clear from get-go street (as my mom used to say) that you are in charge and will not be lured or bated into defending your rules. Keep your cool. Simply state the reason for the rule and let that be the end of it. To me, it doesn’t matter if a child claims to not understand my reasoning. Because let’s be honest–most moms like to brag about how their kids are so brilliant or gifted, which to my mind means they probably do understand your reasoning. They just don’t agree. There’s a difference. And compliance does not require agreement.

Say yes when you can and no when you must. This has been some of the most beneficial parenting advice I’ve ever received. But it often requires me to not give immediate responses to my children’s requests. I sometimes pause and ask myself if there is any harm in saying yes even if my initial instinct is to say no. If your go-to response is “no” simply because you don’t want to think about a request or might be inconvenienced by a request, that’s unfair. Even dictators must let the masses have their way from time to time to avoid an all out revolt or worse, simmering resentment and strained relationships.

Your no must mean no. This is why you must think before you respond. Because once you establish a “no”, you must be willing to engage any defiance and endure any backlash with determined stoicism and resolve. So once you’ve said no to that toy in the store, DO NOT, relent to your toddler’s torture. Let ‘em scream bloody murder for all you care. You’ll get no evil eye roll from me. I’ll applaud and clap you on that steely spine of yours. I get it. You’re trying to establish authority and teach your youngster that no amount of squall can sink your ship. Stay strong sister! Because if you allow nagging, screaming or tantrum throwing to wear you down and make you buy that damned toy just to get your kid to shut up, you’re only teaching your kids to nag, scream and throw tantrums every time you say no. On the other hand, stick by your no, and after a while, sometimes a long while, kids do learn we mean business and will accept our rulings without the theatrics. An added benefit to not buying my kids stuff every time we  ventured into a store is that today, they are thoughtful consumers who carefully consider whether an item is truly worth spending their (or my) resources on. Score one for the dictator!

Teach responsibility early on. If you do everything for others, they’ll let you. (This also applies to your career, volunteering, and probably your marriage. But let’s just focus on the kiddos for now.) We all remember the Barney “Clean Up” song and how we happily encouraged our kids to pick up their toys only for the little rug-rats to gleefully dump the toy bucket over again. But why stop when they’re little? I tell you the truth–I will leave an empty granola bar wrapper on the counter for an entire DAY while waiting for my teen son to get home from school so he can throw it away himself rather than throw it away for him. You must think that would drive a person insane. Yes, well… I’ve already alluded to living in an asylum. But in this asylum, the inmates clean up their own messes.

When you’re wrong, say you’re sorry. This is a tough one for dictators like me. But, apologizing when we’re wrong does not undermine our authority. It legitimizes it. So, if you overreact, get angry, apply too much pressure or inadvertently say something that hurts your child’s feelings, apologize. Be tender. Be humble. Always, always, always be loving. Loving does not equal weakness just as being weak does not equal love.


Gift Giving Doesn’t Make You a Materialist

For years, I’ve heard well-meaning folks lament the commercialization and materialism associated with Christmas. Heck, I’ve even joined the chorus of those who’ve vowed to cut back or cut out gift giving lest anyone get the idea I’ve bought in or sold out. But this thought process can devolve into actually hoping you don’t receive any gifts so you won’t feel obligated to return the gesture. In order to justify a sanctimonious abhorrence of elevating materialism above spirituality, you might even find yourself saying things like, “She doesn’t really need anything,” or “I can’t afford to buy everybody a gift.”

But generosity is at the very heart of God’s command to love our neighbor as ourselves. And who says we have to buy gifts at Christmas? Some of the best gifts I’ve received have been of the homemade variety; things like spiced nuts, candy, cookies and granola. It doesn’t have to cost a lot to give a gift. Gifts of service are equally nice. Shovel your neighbor’s sidewalk or offer to babysit. “We love because He first loved us.”

Gift giving does take a bit of thought and planning, which is another thing some folks complain about. I know you’re busy. We are all busy. But if I’m honest, being too busy to think about, purchase, make or wrap a gift is really just my way of saying, “I’d rather do anything else besides something special for you.” Maybe we should re-read the old tale, The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry and let the notion of self-sacrifice sink in a bit before we get all uppity about gift giving.

Not a crafter or cook? Well, a store bought gift need not be expensive. The old adage, “It’s the thought that counts,” still counts. Let me clarify: scooping up a cache of crap only to decide later who gets each of our hastily purchased do-dads does not constitute being thoughtful. Being thoughtful requires us to pay attention, to listen and to take note of what gives others joy and then selecting gifts accordingly. Being thoughtful does not require us to overthink it or be anxious about choosing the perfect thing. It’s not a contest. And if it’s not perfect, be comforted in knowing that being generous or charitable is not a waste of time or money.

Inexpensive yet thoughtful gifts can include things like:

  • Books!–Fiction, non-fiction, picture books, cookbooks, etc. There are books for every interest imaginable.
  • Food and Wine–A bottle of wine or spirits, a bag of specialty coffee, a jar of honey, a box of chocolates or even a single serving of some scrumptious delight can hardly be a fail. Everybody eats.
  • Little luxuries–Hand lotion, nail polish, lip balm, hand warmers, socks or a gift basket containing a variety of similar items.

    Sweet & simple gifts from friends. #grateful

    Sweet & simple gifts from friends. #grateful

(Got a family too big to buy for? A friend recently shared with me how her family members pitch in to create one large charitable donation each year. Family members select the charity of choice on a rotating basis. What a great idea! Group support of charitable giving not only makes such a gesture more fun for everybody; it prevents you from seeming weird by being the only one making charitable donations in lieu of giving gifts.)

What not to do:

  • Buy items you love without giving any thought as to whether the recipient will also love it.
  • Try to be overly “helpful.” No exercise equipment, self-help books or nicotine gum unless you’re certain these types of items will be appreciated. Certain means you’ve heard it said. Certain is not, “I’m certain so-in-so needs this.”
  • Yammer on about a gift’s cost or how much stress was involved in finding or selecting it. Our exasperation kinda sucks the recipient’s joy out of receiving a gift.
  • Be ungrateful about any gift you receive. Wish lists are a guide, not a directive or command.

Let’s just say I’m back in the gift giving camp. To my mind, the lavishness of department store displays, homes drenched in Christmas lights and abundant feasts during the holidays need not be perceived as sinfully decadent. Take it in. Soak it up. Give generously without a grudging heart. Let all of the holiday excess wash over you as a reminder of the overwhelming outpouring of love and grace lavished on the world by a loving God who sent his son that first Christmas morning. Let the good news of great joy for all the people fill your heart with the sweet assurance of knowing how much you are loved. Share the love. Give a gift.

*Do you have great gift ideas or family traditions? Please share your thoughts about generosity and gift giving in the comments. Merry Christmas!







God Loves You-So I’ll Try Not to Treat You Like You’re Stupid

Photo by Sarah Dibbern

Photo by Sarah Dibbern

I have what some may call an abrasive personality. I’m a loud talker, a loud laugher and someone who finds it near impossible to hide my feelings even if I don’t say a word. A sneer, frown, grin, a raised eyebrow or a loud guffaw all find ways to escape my face before I have time to think better of it. These behaviors are not always the best way to make friends or influence people. And there once was a time that I didn’t really care.

My belief was that if I didn’t intend to hurt your feelings, then any hurt feelings were not my fault. I’ve since learned this is an unacceptable way to function as a human being.

Obviously, we all curate our circles of friends who share our interests, sense of humor and values. But what about those outside those circles? What obligation do we have beyond common courtesy? (And yes, I’ve always been capable of common courtesy despite my abrasiveness.)

The greatest commandment is to love God with all our heart, soul and mind. But we are also called to love our neighbor as ourselves.

Let’s just roll with the notion that our neighbor is every individual we encounter. But what of love? What does it mean to love others? To love all?

Some things I’ve learned about loving others:

  • Be quiet sometimes and let other people talk – even people you disagree with or think are stupid.
  • Try not to think all people are stupid.
  • When you do talk, be helpful, not condescending or rude (unless you are already friends and you’re certain your friends think sarcasm is funny).
  • Use your turn signals.
  • Don’t measure others by your own yardstick. So you’re amazing. But you probably got that way because somebody in your life gave you a hand up or some good advice. Pay it forward and help somebody else inch toward becoming as amazing as you.
  • Acknowledge life events like birthdays, promotions, births and deaths. A card, a gift, a simple note, or your presence at a party or a funeral tell people you care about them and what’s happening in their lives.
  • Say please and thank you.
  • Make an effort not to hurt people’s feelings even if their feelings are too easily hurt and you’d rather just roll your eyes. And when you do hurt someone’s feelings, intentionally or unintentionally, because you’re insensitive or clumsy or clueless or just a loudmouth cranky-pants like me, say you’re sorry.

Lastly, here’s a tip I learned from a friend: When dealing with someone you don’t much enjoy, think to yourself, “This person is a miracle, a marvel and a wonder. God loves them and so should I.”

Somehow, reminding myself that all people matter to God helps me behave more like they also matter to me. And hopefully, better behavior will blossom into better feelings and make me less likely to roll my eyes when you talk.