Saturday, October 9, 2010

Making it Home: How a Crock Pot Saved My Life

Do I exaggerate? Of course. There’s no way a crockpot could have saved my life. A bread machine was also involved.  A bread machine, a lamp timer, a mother, a father, and a church, in fact. 
Let’s see if I can tell this story properly.  In the summer of 2006, I moved to Texas to begin graduate school. I had always loved school; after my first week of kindergarten, I cried when I wasn’t allowed to go back to school on Saturday. Thus, while  I was grieving for the loss of my undergraduate friends, teachers, and world, I was excited about beginning my PhD in English Literature. I was even excited about living by myself; I had very good roommates all through college, but the idea of setting up my own household, with all my own pots and pans, my own curtains, and my own cleaning schedule was very satisfying. 
I rented a little garage apartment, and soon I had all my worldly goods (including over 900 books) arranged in my little nook. As I stocked my cupboards with food and dishes, I prayed that my nook would be a place where I could practice hospitality, where others could come to feel at home. Everything seemed perfectly arranged for a bright, companionable, studious little life. 
By November, however, my nook had not become the home I had imagined.  Nothing about my life, in fact, felt like home.  My new friends, though lovely, were (at that point) let’s-grab-lunch kinds of friends, not the let’s-drive-out-and-see-the-stars, let’s-study-around-this-common-table kinds of friends I had made so quickly in college. My classmates at school were kind and interesting, but my courses seemed designed to convince me that my sense of vocation was naive, and my work as a scholar either impossible or futile. 
And then, every night, I would come home to a dark apartment.  I realize that it takes little effort to flip a light switch on, but somehow that darkness seemed to condense all my anxieties, dissatisfactions, and fears into one terrible mass. 
It was usually at this point--after trudging up the stairs, dropping my bag, and fumbling for the light--that I would cry. I know it sounds excessively pitiful to say I cried every day my first semester here, but they were honest tears.  In part, I was crying for myself.  2006 had been a difficult year even before moving: I had broken up with a very serious boyfriend of several years, my grandmother had died,  I had graduated from and left my beloved college, and I had once and for all moved out of my parents’ house.  An only child and an introvert, always quite happy to be alone, I was, at 22, really and deeply lonely for the first time in my life. 
However, I wasn’t crying only for myself. Of course I knew that there were lonely people in the world, but until that fall I had never had a sense of what it actually means to come home, every night, to an empty apartment.  To darkness. No one to ask about your day, no one to tell about his or her day, no one to eat with. Some times I would become almost frantic for these unknown others. I wanted to find them, to knock on their doors and grab their hands and hand them a handkerchief. I wanted to keep them from feeling as wretched as I felt. 
These desires to find “homeless” people usually roused me from self-pity, but then I would look down at my supper of tepid tea and granola bars, I would remember the dingy look of my apartment when the light first came on, and I would think, Do I even have a home I can offer to others? Granola might be okay now and again, but why should I bring people into a home that is dark and cold? 
More troublesome than the granola, however, was my spiritual and emotional life. I had no contentment, waning joy, little hope--how, I thought, could I be of any good to anyone? 
Enter the crock pot. I cannot claim that I was actually thinking about spiritual concepts of “home” when I decided to start using the crock pot my mother had given me.  Really, I was just tired of cold and scanty suppers. I knew how to cook, but when I would come back from campus at 8 or 9 PM, I was either anxious to begin my night’s studying immediately, or I was simply too tired to cook. The crock pot solved this problem. Before leaving in the morning, I could put in all the ingredients for a stew, or a bean ragout, or a soup, set the pot on “low,” and return eight hours later to a warm and ready meal.  
It was heartening, to say the least, to come home to the smell of warm food. A few weeks later, when my parents came down for Thanksgiving, I mentioned how depressing it was to come back to a dark apartment each night. My parents offered a very practical solution: a timer for a lamp. The timer my father bought me is the same kind people will use for their Christmas trees, or radios when they are out of town. I could set it to turn the lamp on just before I arrived home each night. And then, at a yard sale, I paid $2 for a bread machine. The bread machine also has a timer, so I could synchronize  a loaf of bread, crock-pot stew, and the lamp.  
Light, soup, bread: I had never realized how precious they were. For the rest of that school year, I blessed that timer and crock pot every night, prayed that their inventors had lived long and happy lives.  
What then, did this salvation-by-crock-pot teach me about home? about church?
First, I realized that I could not wait for someone else to make a home for me. When I was a child, my parents created a safe and delightful home. As a teenager and college student, I was shy, so my more outgoing friends usually initiated our friendships; planned our parties; called (sometimes carried!) me away from my books to supper or a spontaneous road trip.  For years I had been saying that my wholeness came from my life in Christ, and for the first time, I was testing the truth of that claim. If I was to be a person a hope, a person of peace, a person of love, I needed to find that personhood in God. If I wanted to invite people into a bright, welcoming home, I needed to realize that I had the power to make the lights shine. 
Second, I realized that one way the church (not just the local congregation, but all the saints) makes a home for me is by reminding me that I am already “at home” in Christ. My parents knew that I had electricity, a lamp, and light bulbs. They simply gave me a tool that helped me use what I already had.  Calvary Baptist Church rescued me from darkness by showing me that I was already at home in Christ;  by affirming my decision to become a teacher and a scholar; by saying, “We see Christ’s love working in you. Would you use this love to serve the church in such-and-such a way?” 
My crock pot and my timer reminded me that my nook was beautiful, and that I had something to offer others. My church reminded me that my wholeness was in Christ, and that until I recognized that truth, I would never feel at home in any church or calling.  

Now I want to hear from you.  If you have ever lived alone, what were some practical things you did to feel “at home” in that place? Have you ever been a part of a church that recognized and named the good things in your life?  Have you ever been part of a church that has made you feel incomplete? 

                                              My nook, lamp-lit. 


  1. I feel very proud of you, Bethany. I often took to stovetop potpourri to make my barren apartments feel more like home - apples and oranges with copious amounts of cinnamon and cloves simmering away. But I never even hung a picture in any of my apartments. They felt transient and I felt like a visitor in them. Still, I cooked for people every chance I had and I made my home more in the choir room at my church in Alexandria than anywhere else. I imagine the time I spent in my church was much greater than the hours I spent in my apartment. My church was my home, my family, and even those I didn't know well provided comfort and familiarity that I desperately needed. Lovely post. I'm a fan:).

  2. Wise and lovely words, Bethany. I married when I was a youngster, so my time living alone has not been extensive-- mainly happened when the air force called Scott away occasionally. I agree about the power of light. A psychiatrist once told me, "Take off your glasses, go outside, and let the sun shine on your face!"

    Crock pots are wonderful things. One of them saved my life in the seventies when I was a lonely new mom.

    As to your final two questions...I would say Yes and Yes. Same church.

  3. It wasn't until this past three years that I really understood how little time I spent nurturing my relationship with Christ. I strongly believe it takes a crisis in the life of a person who grows up in a healthy, loving, Christian home to recognize her need for that relationship. Somehow I knew that crisis would occur, but I couldn't imagine what it would be. Like you Bethany, I have wonderful, loving parents who supported me. When I married, it was to a man I felt was spiritually sound. I had never lived on my own and I still do not, but three years ago to the present, it feels like it. My husband is still physically present, but has abandoned me in all other ways- he does not even speak to me unless it is necessary. I have two teenage children who give me joy, but they are certainly not the ones I need to lean on for comfort- I am the one that they lean on. Without going into details regarding my husband and the reasons he has behaved this way, I have chosen to remain in my marriage because I feel this is what Jesus would expect me to do (based on scripture, excellent books, and many discussions with my parents). I will trust that whether God restores my husband or not, I will be a follower of the Lord.

    Some of the practical ways I have dealt with the loneliness:

    I have never been good at prayer, but I am great at calling my mom so she can pray with me. I also read Stormie Omartian's prayers in The Power of a Praying Wife. I also have a couple friends I was able to confide in that have been shoulders to cry on. However, I also recognized the need to 'move on' with my life as it no longer revolved around how my husband felt about me. I now recognize that I had allowed him to be my spiritual focus, not Jesus. When my husband removed himself, I was left with nothing unless I was willing to rebuild my relationship with Christ.

    I contacted a few tried and true friends (your parents) to keep my marriage in their prayers. Until now only a few people are aware of my situation- I also asked for prayer and help from two of my church's elders and my kids' youth minister. I have hopes that my husband may respond to the efforts of these men to restore him.

    I started running for exercise. I quilt. Both activities I prefer to do alone which give me great pleasure. Well, not the actual running, but the good health.

    Our church focuses on servanthood and offers practical ways members can help others. I currently volunteer with the local pregnancy care center doing data entry (I'd make a terrible counselor, so they let me skip the training and go straight to the computer).

    I am also thoroughly enjoying watching my son run cross country and try to help out whenever the coaches need someone.

    When I am not running my business at home, I substitute teach at our local junior high and high school. I get to see my kids, learn about their teachers, and get some much needed adult contact. I feel substitute teaching is pretty much volunteer work as it doesn't pay much, but I am told how much I am appreciated there.

    Bethany, we have opposite personalities. I am an extrovert and will tell everybody anything (just ask my kids), so it doesn't take a whole lot to take away my lonely feelings. I don't cry easily (though I am while writing this). But despite handling pain in different ways, it's still pain and sadness. I am so thankful I have a Savior that cares for me and waits patiently for me to turn to Him.

  4. Bethany,

    Know that your older brother in Christ, here in Boone NC (David Gross)is praying for you and with you.

    If you need a shoulder to cry on from time to time. know that I am here for you. Know that GOD is in your life and watches over you at all times.

    Here is a saying that I find helpful at times of difficulty, and it has helped me to keep my head up. "When facing a difficult task, act as though it is impossible to fail. If you're going to go after Moby Dick, always take along the tarter Sauce."

  5. This makes me want to time travel back to those days and surprise you by being home before you a couple of nights during that semester...waiting there on your doorstep, so you didn't have to enter the darkness alone.

    I think that's it, really. The dark part isn't so bad. It's just being alone in the dark that hurts so much.

    I only lived on my own for one summer, and it was the worst summer. Yuck, yuck, yuck! And, now that you mention it, the church I was attending did *not* create any sense of belonging. That probably would have helped a lot.

    I love you, friend. I'm *thrilled* you're blogging!

  6. I am very in favor of crock pots. also rice cookers. and coffee machines with timers.

    I use timer lights, as well. And I had a really nifty setup once that put a light deep in the house on a remote, so I could pick it up as I walked in and have light all the way across the room.

    I also make home by borrowing married friends and their kids. :-)

    Nothing deeper than that, this time. But thanks for your reflections.

  7. Thank you for all your good words, friends. I'm still ruminating on all you shared, but I am so thankful that you are willing to participate in this conversation with me. Seeing your comments is even better than coming home to a warm crock pot :-)