Bread, Death & Messes

Honey Oatmeal Bread

Okay, so I guess this is my first attempt at a recent blog post in quite a while. The stress of, and transition into full time ministry has taken up most of my time over the past several years, so for the one or two of you who actually follow my blog, thanks for understanding.

For any who aren’t aware, my family & I moved to Tracy, Minnesota, in 2016, when I was appointed to serve at the Tracy United Methodist Church. I have been immersed in tending to my duties as a solo pastor in a rural community in Southwest Minnesota since that time.

I have finally started taking Fridays as my sabbath, and have generally spent them sitting in my closest Caribou Coffee shop, reading, journaling, and working on various reading and writing projects.

And last Friday was no different. I woke up that morning, courtesy of the alarm on my Fitbit, like I have every Friday for the past few months. Since school started, the family and I got ready to go, and I drove my daughters to school, and my wife to work. She works at the elementary school where my kids go as the reading tutor.

Like the past several Fridays, after dropping them off at school, I headed out to our neighboring town of Marshall, and stopped at the Caribou there, ordered myself a medium iced pumpkin mocha (because I’m basic, and the high for last Friday was 84), and sat down to read, and think.

I goofed off for a while, sipping on my drink, and texted with a few friends and colleagues. I tried to read, and engage in some prayer, but that proved difficult because of the background music, and since I had forgotten my headphones, after I finished my coffee, I decided to head out.

I realized the other day that I haven’t done any baking in a while, aside from the occasional batch of chocolate chip oatmeal cookies I’ve made, from King Arthur Flour.

They have become my favorite cookies, and not only does my family also love them, my buddy, Clint Evans, who died over the summer from cancer, loved them, too.

I’ve found myself as of late step away from baking for a while.

Maybe it’s from grief, maybe from feeling like I haven’t had the time.

Probably a combination of the two.

Or maybe they’re related.

I guess I can work that out in therapy.

I was going to stop by the local library, where there is a book shop where you can get recent books for cheap, but my plans were foiled when I got a text from my wife saying she was getting sent home, since she’s come down with a cold.

The trouble with sickness for her, is that the medication she’s on really wreaks havoc on her immune system, so she gets sick easily.

In just a few seconds, my plans had changed, and I headed back towards home to pick her up at the school & take her home.

My mind wandered as I made the 25 minute drive from Marshall to Tracy, and I went back and forth between thinking about different things (church stuff, and how I should bake bread today), and singing along with the Pentatonix cover of “Cheerleader.” (Don’t judge me).

It felt good to sing along, even if it was only to myself, in the car, on the way home.

So, I picked up my wife, and we headed home.

We walked in the door, and after wandering around the house for a little while, I found myself in the kitchen once again, wanting to make bread.

And I picked up my apron, a blue apron, with white stripes, a gift I received from my parents for my birthday last year, and put it on, like I have done so many times before.

And I opened my recipe book, like I have done so many times before.

And I got out my ingredients, like I have done so many times before.

And I looked at the recipe, like I have done so many times before.

But what’s funny about it, is that I have made this recipe so many times, I don’t really need to look at it anymore.

One cup of instant oats, two cups of hot water.

Honey, yeast, egg, salt, butter, and flour.

Five and a half cups of flour.

The bread recipe I use is the same one my religion professor, Dr. Brian Hartley, made for me and my classmates in our worship class, on the day we learned about the Eucharist, on a beautiful Spring morning at Greenville University, where my wife and I went to college.

My classmates and I sat on the steps outside of the music department (the old Free Methodist Church-turned into classrooms, faculty offices, the chapel, and practice rooms with pianos and soundproofing on the walls) after class, and ate the rest of it. It was delicious.

It’s Honey Oatmeal Bread, and it’s both simple, and delicious, and he received it from a Catholic priest who serves in a monastic community somewhere, if I remember right.

I like it because it’s easy to make, and sweet, and goes well with the bittersweet grape juice we serve during Eucharist at church.

As I prepared and mixed ingredients together, I wondered how many other times this bread had been made by “Father Dominick,” or in other monastic communities, or churches, before.

And then I remembered that this was the first time I’ve made this bread since Clint died.

He had tasted it a few years ago, when I had first gotten into baking, and had invited his family to our house so our kids could play, and so my wife and I could spend time with another clergy couple. He told me he loved it, and every time I saw him after that, he told me I needed to make more for him.

I’ve shared a little bit about what Clint meant to me in a previous post, (read it here), so I won’t get too much into it now.

But when I remembered I hadn’t made this since before he died, I realized that’s what made last Friday different.

Because he’s not here.

So many times, I’ve wanted to reach out to him, to call, or text him, or ask him a church-related question. And a few times, I’ve even reached for the phone, to call, or text.

And then I have to stop myself.

I’ve been on a journey through grief for the past few months, and I’ve shared quite a bit on Twitter about my experiences with it.

But sometimes, even months later, it hits again.

And, while I am sad that Clint is gone, what struck me about making bread last Friday, was how much I missed it.

The anticipation of measuring & mixing ingredients.

The feel of mixing the wet ingredients together, and of flour on my hands.

The messiness of cracking an egg, and trying desperately to make sure it all simultaneously ends up in the bowl, and that I don’t get any eggshell in it.

The sound of the stand mixer kneading the dough.

The anticipation of letting the dough rise, as the yeast works.

The sweet smell of the clove honey in the dough once it’s all mixed together.

I’ve made this bread so many times before, so I wasn’t expecting to be surprised by any of it last Friday.

But that scent, of sweet clove honey, that permeated through the dough, and invaded my nostrils, just as the scent of the bread baking in the oven, surprised me with joy last Friday morning.

I was reminded once again, of the words of the Psalmist, from Psalm 34, verse 8:

“O taste and see that the Lord is good; happy are those who take refuge in him.” (NRSV)

It reminded me that pain, or weakness, or vulnerability, and joy, and peace, and love aren’t mutually exclusive ideas.

And, as I looked down at my hands, after kneading, and before washing them, and saw, and felt the sticky, sweet-smelling dough, on my fingertips, in between my fingers, and on my wrists, it also reminded me how messy people can be, how messy life can be, at times.

But perhaps, that’s the point, isn’t it?

We’re all messy, broken people, in some way or another, aren’t we?

And, while I’m trying to learn to be kind to myself, maybe, just maybe, the bigger lesson here is that God is okay with the mess that I am. That we, as human beings are messy.

God showed up in my kitchen last Friday morning, as I made bread.

Maybe, I needed to be reminded of miracles, again.

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