Who says I can’t cook? Well, up until about a month ago, I would have said that about myself. I also would have added that I am not crafty either just to make sure people kept their expectations low for me in those areas. How did I come to adopt these labels about myself? And what does it serve me to maintain them?
Throughout my childhood, my mom never put a ton of passion into cooking. She reserved most of her passion for other things, like being an attentive mother, helping people in need and showing kindness to anyone she met. We were certainly always well-fed, and I still find comfort in some of our “staples” growing up, most notably chicken, rice, corn & beans. It is exactly what it sounds like, and I still love it. One exception to my mom’s lack of passion for cooking is her commitment to making the best turkey soup possible every year with the leftovers from Thanksgiving. She dances around the kitchen adding things and tasting it as she goes. I love watching her do this. Every year, my step-dad tells her it’s her best turkey soup to date.
As I got older, I neglected to take the time to learn to cook, or really to learn anything else that would lead to becoming a self-sufficient adult. I remember the summer before I left for college, I was standing in our laundry room with my older brother and sister while they showed me how to wash my own clothes. I thought we had a pretty good system up until that point. I brought my clothes to the laundry room, my mom washed them, whoever needed the washing machine next would switch them to the dryer, and then my brother would iron my clothes as needed. I didn’t see the problem with this arrangement. Here lies the root of some of the labels I have carried for far too long. I am actually too good at being helpless sometimes.
Growing up, I was the classic youngest child, and I milked it for all it was worth. At some point along the way, I began believing that I wasn’t good at certain things to perpetuate this image of needing help. As I got older, I turned the image on and off as it suited me, feeling extremely competent in some areas of my life and eager to receive help in the areas that I had decided weren’t important to me. Don’t misunderstand me, I believe in the value of people with certain skills or expertise helping others who may not have the same gifts. But I took this to a whole new level. I taught myself and those around me to lower their expectations for me in some areas where I may have been fully capable if I challenged myself to care or try.
This mindset perpetuated through my young adult life as well. Although I did reluctantly learn to do my own laundry, I still avoided activities like cooking or really any creative outlet by saying that “I am just not artistic” or “I don’t really cook”. Because of my personality, I quickly made these labels into jokes, and before I knew it, others had picked up on the joke as well. I have vivid memories of people close to me laughing about my lack of domestic and artistic abilities, and I laughed right along with them because, let’s face it, I taught them to do that.
Throughout my college and young adult years, my labels of being “not artistic” and “not a good cook” suited me just fine as I sought to become a professional woman. I didn’t need to be a crafty person or a great cook. In fact, I had convinced myself that those identities didn’t fit into my image of a strong, professional woman. (Other than Martha Stewart, but she had just gone to prison.)
When I got married, I began to feel a faint desire to be a little more domestic (although I don’t think I ever admitted that to anyone else). I began cooking dinner more and trying out new recipes. I actually enjoyed it, and I found myself thinking about how food is prepared and how I could replicate my favorite restaurant dishes. My husband is passionate about a lot of things, but cooking has never been one of them, so he seemed excited about this spark of interest I was developing. Since he was doing about 85% of all the household chores (and still does), I figured cooking dinner was the least I could do.
Over time, the excitement of cooking began to wear off and it started to feel more like a necessity again. I realized that my husband, although appreciative of my efforts to try new recipes, would probably eat a piece of cardboard if he was hungry enough, so being adventurous with ingredients or spending more than 20 minutes on dinner seemed like an unproductive use of time since I was just cooking for the two of us. So I went back to our “staples” and gradually lost my passion for cooking.
Fast forward a few years to the arrival of our 4-year-old son. I had to get a little inventive at mealtimes again. This time, the goal was not to cook the most delicious, interesting meal I could find. The goal was to find the quickest, most discrete way to sneak vegetables into my child’s limited food selection. When we first got him, there were so few foods he would eat, but eating as a family was a high value for us. So we all ate spaghetti with pureed spinach and chicken and macaroni & cheese with pureed squash. After a few weeks of this, I found myself craving whole vegetables, fish, and well-seasoned side dishes.
I began to tentatively pick up some cookbooks that I hadn’t opened in years. I found myself scrolling Pinterest for recipes and looking for excuses to cook real meals. I fell in love with the idea of preparing meals with friends and hosting dinner parties and potlucks. I began asking questions about dishes that others had prepared and making mental notes of ideas I wanted to try. I practiced recipes that excited me, making little tweaks to them the second and third time around.
As a working mother, I still rely heavily on my Crockpot, and I am often scrounging to put meals together on weekdays. But once or twice a week, I experiment. A few times a month, I invite friends over for dinner. Every trip to the grocery store now involves buying something I have never tried before to add to one of my “staple” recipes or to become the centerpiece for a brand new invention.
Don’t panic, friends. I have no plans to quit my day job and enroll in culinary school. I still find myself feeling my way around my kitchen, sometimes in the dark. But I am having fun and allowing myself to be creative and a little adventurous. I am tired of these old labels and ready to try on some different ones, like: Karin, who is creative in her own way and who really enjoys cooking with her friends. I am also tired of using these old labels to avoid reaching out to others or pushing myself to grow. God has given me gifts that I try to share with others. But I have been reminded recently that it is not true serving if I am only serving out of my own comfort and competence. I want to be as eager to help someone plant a garden as I am to give someone a personality test. I want to look for opportunities to serve out of my comfort zone and to let go of labels that hold me back from doing so. I can make a meal for a family with a sick parent or a new baby. I can help decorate for a goodbye party for dear friends. I can do crafts with my son and work on DIY projects for my house instead of running to the store to buy something.
What labels have you carried for too long? What would it look like to get rid of them? What’s holding you back? Living with purpose involves being deliberate and intentional about who you are, who you hope to be, and what kind of message you want to communicate to others. It’s never too late to redefine yourself.