Holy Encounters in the Kitchen
In our homes and business, kitchens can be sacred spaces as busy hands prepare meals and stories fill the room. Surrounded by refrigerators and stoves, our common conversations with friends, family, and even strangers can become holy encounters.
When I visited and served in Charlotte, North Carolina, friends welcomed me into their homes and their kitchens. On a peaceful Sunday afternoon, my friend Jenny sat at her kitchen island and sliced apples for a homemade dessert. After laying the apple slices in a glass dish, she opened a top cabinet and pulled out a children's recipe book. Since childhood, she had made the same apple crisp dessert. Between scoops of sugar, we talked about family, faith, cancer, and mission. While catching up with Jenny, I enjoyed glancing at all the blue accents in everything from placemats on the table to word art on the wall scattered about her home. Until I stayed in her home, I did not realize that we loved the same color
Soon the afternoon turned into evening, and we enjoyed dinner and conversations with her husband John and their daughter Julia. During the visit, Jenny's gift of hospitality helped me remember the simple gifts of mealtime blessings, childhood memories, and recipes passed down from generation to generation.
Throughout the week, I volunteered at two non-profit agencies where I had served years ago before moving to Virginia. A few afternoons, I served at Charlotte Family Housing (CFH) which provides transitional housing to families with parents and children. Although I spent most of my time reorganizing the welcome supply closet, occasionally I filled my water bottle in their renovated kitchen. On the second floor, families reside in one of the fourteen rooms, and on the first floor, CFH’s kitchen provides families with their own mini-fridge, cabinet, and shared prep space.
CFH’s kitchen recognizes the value of each family and the need for separate spaces while living in community. As individuals and families move through seasons of hardship, small things like appliances can make a huge difference in setting boundaries and reclaiming independence once again. After completing the closet project, I have prayed for more places to be like Charlotte Family Housing in honoring individuals and valuing families by providing creative spaces and holy boundaries. My prayers have extended beyond places to people with the hope that everyone, regardless of race, gender, age, social status, religious or non-religious affiliation, and sexual orientation, will experience God’s goodness and grace by setting holy boundaries in creative spaces.
In my kitchen, most meals take less than an hour to prepare, but in a kitchen over 200 miles away, teams of people spend nearly two hours in meal preparation at Rebound, a ninety-day recovery program for 120 men at Charlotte Rescue Mission (CRM). Prior to arriving in Charlotte, I had called CRM to volunteer in Rebound’s kitchen. The volunteer coordinator named Derrick asked me when I would like to serve because he had slots available on Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday. I quickly responded, "All of them."
When I walked into Rebound’s kitchen, nearly a decade had passed since I had last volunteered there. Although the people were different, the kitchen remained the same. On the way to the sink to wash my hands, I walked past tall racks with an array of kitchen utensils dangling in the air. Along the walls, I saw shelves with large square cooking pans and stacks of rectangular chafing dishes. In the back storage room, the wired shelving units held rows and rows of donated breads and desserts. After I dried my hands and placed on latex gloves, the assistant chef named Lamott led me to the cakes, cookies, and pastries and then instructed me to prepare 100 desserts for lunch by placing the sweet treats on individual plates.
I learned a lot about Lamott while cutting desserts and frying bacon. Over the next three mornings, he told me his fishing stories that occurred by a lake, along the coast, and in a boat. He spoke about his weekends spent with family and his favorite crab cake recipe. He talked about his recent visit to the doctor and his Saturday visits to the Uptown Farmer's Market. One of my favorite stories Lamott told happened before sunrise by a lake. He always went to this special spot by himself. One morning he heard some rustling in the bushes several yards away. After a few moments, a coyote emerged from behind the bushes. Lamott stayed calm, stood very still, and watched the coyote walk by in front of him. Once the coyote faded into the distance, Lamott breathed a sigh of relief and decided to fish at his special spot another day.
Nothing seemed to bother Lamott. At the beginning of the morning shift, while he chopped onions, I asked how many cookies should be on a plate. He calmly said, "Let's go with three." Later in the week when the lunch hour drew near and tension increased in the kitchen, I asked for Lamott to check to see if the sausage and biscuits were ready. At the same time, other volunteers sought his advice on cheese grits and fried potatoes. Regardless of the circumstance, Lamott attended to each request with a calm reassuring presence.
In his book Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory, Tod Bolsinger writes, “To stay calm is to be so aware of yourself that your response to the situation is not to the anxiety of the people around you but to the actual issue at hand.” Bolsinger’s words remind me of servants like Lamott who stay calm and connected in stressful situations. When issues arise, many leaders simply talk about solutions whereas others achieve results humbly in the background, desiring to do a job well for the Lord rather than receive recognition from men.
On the last day I volunteered in Rebound's kitchen, a banner notification appeared on my phone from the BeReal App. In 2022, the app gained popularity especially among young people. Over the summer, I downloaded the app and enjoyed being real with my teenage daughters at random times each day. Once I receive a notification, I take a picture using my phone’s front and back camera and then post a picture of my current activities. Toward the end of my morning shift, I received a BeReal notification. I went over to Lamott and tried to explain the app that young people enjoy. He understood and happily agreed to a photo with me.
Shortly after posting the photo, I waved goodbye to the clients and the excellent staff like Lamott, Derrick, and Verne. Upon leaving, I hoped another decade would not pass me by before I could fill another volunteer slot in their kitchen.
On my last night in Charlotte, I stayed with a longtime friend named Chrissy. Over fourteen years ago, we were pregnant at the same time with our second children. In those nine months, God nourished our friendship as we shared similar aches and pains along with many joys and surprises. The night my contractions began, Chrissy encouraged me to go to the hospital. She and her husband Neal came to our house and picked up our daughter River and our dog Lady. The next morning, Haven arrived, and a few weeks later Chrissy's son Liam arrived. At the door that night with Chrissy, it felt like only yesterday when we held small babies in our arms.
Early the next morning, I walked toward the coffee maker in Chrissy's kitchen and noticed my favorite coffee creamer on the countertop. It was a great surprise to learn that we preferred the same creamer. This little connection of comfort soothed my coffee lover’s soul.
As I served again in Charlotte, God overflowed my cup with abundant joy. I am grateful for the lessons I learned about holy boundaries set in creative spaces, friends who brought me care and comfort in their kitchens, and a calm chef named Lamott with whom I hope to cook with again.