Thursday, March 31, 2011

Recipe for Soft Heart Marinade

From the time I can remember, I've simply loved baking.  Aside from my grandma's birthday cake ala floor at seven years old, I have had some pretty good success.  The kitchen was a good classroom for life lessons like 
"clean up as you go,"  
"start with good ingredients if you expect a good result,"  
"you can't get apple pies from bananas," and a jewel: "directions weren't written down to squash your fun -- they're written to make you your squash taste good!"  So between our AAA TripTik book, the Bible and family blue recipe book, I learned early on that there are some pretty good tools to help you get to where you want to go.  Just for fun: Check out these really bad recipes.  Someone asked me today "How did your heart get soft and sensitive to the needs of others?" At the risk of being too transparent, I'll share with you what I believe were some of the key ingredients for the Stephanie Smith "Soft-Heart" Marinade recipe.
My earliest years included groceries from food stamps and an appreciation for whatever God provides.  I never remember truly being without -- it was just a matter of priorities.  Even as little kids we understood it was our responsibility to be good stewards of what we had. We had many family discussions about how blessed we are and how there will always be people with more... and others with much less.  

I grew up in a home with two parents who expressed love, modeled service, led our family to pray together, and we spent a lot of time around the piano singing.  It sounds surreal, huh?  Life wasn't all lollipops and hugs but I do recognize that I was born into a very special family.  My dad is especially handy;  I'd often tag along when he was always fixing things for people or at the church.   I think of all the stranded motorists Dad helped, the yard work he'd do for a glass of lemonade and I can only hope that someone will be there for him as he ages.  I saw the joy my mom's banana bread or cookies would bring when we'd deliver them   On Sundays she still goes to the retirement home, playing request after request on the piano. 

I quickly observed that things that seem small to us can have tremendously large effects on another person's spirit.  I'll call this ingredient affirmation of purpose: I found I could bring people hope. My parents modeled that you should never be too busy to see a need or try to help. From really young, I was taught that you're never to little to do something to help and to do my part. And the more I saw that I could help, the more I could actually SEE THE PERSON. 

Bulk time: Although it got harder as I became a teenager,  we almost always ate dinner as a family where I learned my parents' values as we talked.    Each summer we'd spend two weeks driving in our family's red van, camping at National Parks across the United States and stopping at historical markers & museums. Under quiet starry skies that seemed to go on forever, I recognized that there must be a Creator.

My neighborhood had a high Jewish population which then gave me several "cups" of Jewish traditions, holidays and values.  Hearing personal stories about the Holocaust created a profound impact on my worldview as I began to understand the tremendous costs of war and hate.
Remarkably there was a constant stream of adults investing themselves in me -- I'll call them spices: music teachers, Sunday School teachers, neighbors, club advisors, cabin counselors, scout leaders and teachers.  They didn't just spend time, they poured themselves into me and stretched me.

And I remember a specific June night where I specifically prayed that God would come and soften my heart because I recognized that if I was to go into medicine, I needed to be more compassionate.  (That event even warranted a journal entry). Oh be careful what you pray for!

I've been surrounded by really great genuine friends that chose to be transparent and share very personal places in their hearts.  Specifically add a dash of international friends that I met at Camp Towanda in Pennsylvania after my freshman year in college, and later some lovely people from the Hmong Baptist church where we were members.  Mix in three darling sisters from Nigeria who are some of my most treasured friends from my college days.  Add a five friendly EAST Bloomington diverse neighborhood families who represent several different countries and languages spoken at home.  For balance, mix in a regular dose of time with our best friends across the street who have a son with special needs; he brings so much joy.

Add a professional career in medicine, years of opportunities to minister to people when the unexpected interrupts life.  There are so many specific first aid and hospital experiences that have shaped and softened me.   Add a five months on the front lines doing flood and tornado disaster relief in Minnesota; I don't see the news the same way anymore.  The time we spent in New York City after September 11 volunteering at Ground Zero is still too raw for me to write about, but God allowed my heart to be pounded and pounded and pounded.   Then He let my heart "set" for several months, aging perfectly before my first Winter Olympic experience in 2002; that defining year too was the time all these ingredients began to really cook.

And somewhere in there I became a mom...that's something that is a mix of spices that I can't easily put a label on.  Our son brings so much joy and so many lessons.  (And my parents were suddenly a lot wiser!)  The past few months include new thoughts and connection, preparing...

Looking back, the last ten years, I've been time in the oven.  There have been times that I felt really ready for the next stage, but God has left me in the heat for awhile longer.  Does the piece of meat yell to the chef when it's done?  This one has!  But apparently I'm not done yet. 
In full disclosure, I've messed up and brought some pretty painful humility.  Four years ago my husband and I personally experience deep grief.   And then I had to figure out how to work at marriage as my husband grieved in his way too.  (Grief is the process of growing another chamber on the heart called empathy). This November I spent a week on the 150 mile Commemorative Walk with Dakota elder ladies which added a huge cup of perspective.
 I'd say the latest ingredient God has been adding lately is other's wisdom -- provided by world war II veterans I've met at the Fort Snelling Memorial Chapel  and First Nation elders, my spunky 91 year old Grandma and some very amazing people who have been affecting the world in major ways, some of which I've been writing about the past two months.  Toss in some stimulating book recommended by the above-mentioned people. I feel like the heat in the oven has gone up about 100 degrees during the past two months. 

So God mixed all these ingredients, marinated my heart for thirty years, cooked me for ten I have a sense that it's about time to serve.  Not sure what's next but I'm confident that the Great Chef knows best and I'm encouraged by the words of Mother Teresa:  "God doesn't require us to succeed, He only requires that you try."