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.
My nook, lamp-lit.