"It sure ain't pretty, but I hope it at least tastes good."
I can still hear Mamaw's sweet voice uttering some of the most hysterical words I'd ever heard from her mouth. She had just served up some of her famous (at least with me, it was!) cherry pie to my brand-new husband while he was home on leave for Christmas. Poor Pete hadn't been raised with a Southern grandmother like I had, but he certainly married into an eatin' family! Fried chicken, sausage gravy, greens, and homemade biscuits were foreign to him, as was the staple sweet tea that came alongside every meal. But that one particular day, Mamaw's cherry pie had been just a tad "off". Something happened to the crust on top, and it became a very ugly pie, in her expert (don't you DARE say that a Southern cook isn't an expert!) opinion. She even contemplated not serving it, but there was no WAY I was going to let that pie go to waste.
It was the last of her pies we ever tasted. In my memory, that cherry pie was just as sweet, just as delicious as any gourmet restaurant pie, and even though it wasn't pristine, it was still wonderful. I can't imagine not being afforded the opportunity to eat that pie just because it didn't meet up to Mamaw's strict standards. What a loss it would have been!!
I spent many a day learning to cook alongside my Mamaw, and I have such sweet memories of those days. She was always making something special, but usually not for herself. I remember distinctly wondering what it was SHE liked to eat--because aside from fried shrimp at Morrison's Cafeteria, I really don't remember one meal that was just for her. In fact, I remember very little that Mamaw did for herself. I also vividly remember helping her prepare those meals and the dishes she used both to prepare and serve them in. I remember being embarrassed by the dishes. It's not something I'm proud of now, but I used to imagine those meals being served on my mother's fine china or a beautiful set of Pfaltzgraff dishes on a well-pressed tablecloth. As I stood on that little stepstool next to Mamaw washing up after she'd just served another masterpiece to me, I made mental notes to myself that one day, when I had a kitchen of my own, I'd make SURE to have better things in my cabinets. I remember thinking that heavy, black cast iron skillet was the most disgusting piece of cookery I had ever laid eyes on and that Mamaw's food would just be so much BETTER if it had been prepared in a shiny, new nonstick pan instead of that thing that was probably older than my mother, rough around the edges, and covered in years of grease that I was absolutely SURE was poisoning us. How on EARTH could a skillet be cleaned with nothing but hot water??? The grease didn't fully come OFF!!!!
What I didn't realize was that Mamaw was giving me one of the most profound, most beautiful object lessons I would ever receive in that tiny little kitchen. And that I would long to grace my own "pretty" (haha ...) kitchen with those mismatched, cracked and chipped, and "ugly" dishes--and especially that beautiful cast iron skillet I detested so much!
Mamaw's cherry pie wasn't the most delicious thing in the world because it was a world-class beauty of a pie. Mrs. Smith made much better looking frozen pies. But Mamaw's pies (along with every thing else she made) were delicious because of a single ingredient--LOVE. Everything she made was made with love, and as cliche as it sounds, you could taste it. No recipe could replicate it in someone else's kitchen. And that cast iron skillet? Well guess what--it was the ULTIMATE kitchen tool. Nothing stuck to that thing!!!! Mamaw used to make the most delicate fried eggs in that skillet, and not ONCE do I remember her doing what I do at least once a week--scraping and scrubbing burnt, stuck egg off of the bottom of yet another "nonstick" pan. Fried chicken, grilled cheese, eggs, everything was cooked in that skillet. And whaddaya know ... my expensive hard-anodized steel pans don't do what Mamaw's cast iron skillet did--that skillet was fortifying every meal prepared in it with just a little bit of iron. Wow.
We live in a society that devalues things that aren't "pretty", and that's really a shame, because in many cases, the hardworking, practical things far outshine the "pretties". Mamaw probably could have bought twenty cast iron skillets for what my one (now useless, considering how badly everything sticks to it after just a year of use) "good quality" Calphalon skillet cost. In my quest to "have the best", I overlooked one huge fact--the "best" sometimes can't even begin to compare with a well-seasoned, old and ugly pan that gets the job done with no frills.
Guess what? The church is NO DIFFERENT. We surround ourselves with beautiful furnishings, the "best" curriculum for our Bible classes, and make sure that all of our menfolk are dressed well when they are scheduled to serve communion. We are quick to welcome the beautiful new families who are such an encouragement to us and enjoy their pretty, well-behaved children.
But what about the chipped plates among us? What about the old cast iron skillets with years of grease build-up? What about the cracked pots in our number who have "seen some stuff" in their day? What about the recovering alcoholic? The repented adulterer? The woman who had an abortion in her younger years? The former gang member? The homosexual? Ooooh, ouch. Do we actually have homosexuals in the church???? Ahem ... do we have promiscuous teenagers in the church? Do we have pornography addicts in the church? Is it any different? How about the guy who was converted to Christ in prison and is now coming to worship faithfully now that he's been released?
What does God do with those people? Does God put the cracked, chipped, greasy pots in the back of the cabinet and only use the best, prettiest, and pristine Christians to do His work?
Ask Rahab the harlot. Ask King David the adulterer and murderer. Ask Saul-Paul, the Christian-hunter. Ask the smelly fishermen following Jesus around.
While you're at it, ask Judas what happens when someone never makes it out of the pit of sin that they're stuck in. But you might not understand him very well, he can't get too many words out with that noose so tight around his neck. The noose he put there himself.
We do well to teach about the dangers of sin, sure. But what do we do with people once we pull them out of it? Do we add them to the attendance roster and then step away for fear of being contaminated with their past? Or do we ENCOURAGE them to use the "grease" that coats their lives to serve others with? It's one thing to teach people to live righteous lives; it's another entirely to presume to know we have it all together just because we aren't the ones with chips and cracks in our lives. The beauty is in how God can mend those cracks, not in how He avoids them!!!