I’d never bought bourbon in my life, but there I was wandering up and down the liquor aisle, searching for bourbon. Weeks prior, I signed up for an online course called Sacramental Baking—a six-week exploration of the intersection between baking and spiritual disciplines. The week’s homework was peach pie with bourbon caramel. Confused by all the labels on the darkly colored bottles, I gave up and reached for my phone to text a friend, “Is there a difference between whiskey and bourbon?” I was never any good at asking for help. Yet in this moment I messaged a friend about this new endeavor.
I’d been following Preston Yancey’s blog for about a year and was intrigued by his approach to his faith. When he blogged about this class offering, I hoped this could be a way for me to reconnect with God—the God who called me to direct the educational ministry at a church in Arizona two years prior. The God who now felt far away. Ministry grew weariness in my soul. I needed a refreshing.
My time in Arizona was as unfamiliar as figuring out what bourbon to get for this pie and texting a friend for advice. Perhaps this was part of why I felt so disconnected from God. I was numb, and I knew I was keeping people at arm’s length. Working at a church meant community was built in, right? Except that as a leader in the church, I felt that I needed to be careful. I needed a buffer between me and those I lead. The last coping mechanism I expected in this moment was to reach out for help. Other people had never been my safe place.
I don’t know why I did it.
Four years prior I left my home of nine years, a safe and comfortable place surrounded by friends and family, to move to St. Louis for seminary. A master’s degree later, I took that job in unfamiliar Arizona. A co-worker told me that moving to Arizona from the Midwest implies an adventurous spirit. But I don’t have one of those. I thrive in the comfortable. I adorn my home with overstuffed furniture and chenille blankets. Flannel sheets are on my bed; wine and pot roast fill my fridge. I craft my life around a desire for safety and comfort. I don’t know why I did it.
The landscape of southern Arizona itself screams, “Go away!” Scorpions sting, the heat is unrelenting, and spiders grow bigger than kittens. Of course, I shut myself inside my house and turned up the A/C, draping myself with the fleece blanket my mom made for me.
I was deemed a severe introvert in seminary and wore that label proudly. It gave me an excuse to crawl inside of myself when things got hard. “It’s how God wired me!” became my internal montra. Plus, people always let me down; I had good reason to stop letting them in. I chose instead to sit in my office or on my favorite chair at home. Sit and cry.
I chose this loneliness. I used the excuse that I was a leader in the church, and that in order to lead well I had to remain objective. I spent two years fighting the intimacy of church community. The people at my church invited me into their life, but I didn’t invite them into mine. They sat in classrooms as I taught Sunday school or on my couch as I led small group. I closed them off to anything more.
And then I found myself looking for bourbon to bake a peach pie, and something shifted inside me.
The Pie That Changed Me
I wrapped up the pie fresh from the oven in a tea towel detailed with my grandmother’s embroidery, and I discovered I was actually excited to share this pie with these friends from church. This was new emotion for me—excitement over an evening with people.
All over a pie.
I sat with two soon-to-be friends around their kitchen table, late on a Sunday night with the pie and shots of leftover bourbon. I watched them take their first bite, Brené Brown’s words echoing in my head: “Daring greatly means the courage to be vulnerable. It means to show up and be seen. To ask for what you need.” So over all the Mmms and the Yummms, I built up the courage to say it.
“I need people more than I ever realized. And baking this food has taught me that.” It came out stilted and awkward. I knew I sounded crazy, but I needed to say it.
I remember looking down at my piece of bourbon caramel peach pie with a scoop of Tahitian vanilla bean gelato. Such an ordinary experience in life, right? Eating pie. Yet I had just completely exposed my heart to people I’d only known for two years because of it.
I was interrupted by a “I can taste some of the bourbon in there!” from Mike, whose head was very nearly buried in his plate. His wife scolded him, “Mike! She was telling us about her class!”
I started over again, and not long after that, their son who was visiting for the weekend came wandering in the kitchen and asked what all the fuss was about. This was no tender, sweet moment of epiphany and truth. There were distractions and a bit of chaos. What was heard by them, I don’t exactly know. But the importance was in me admitting it to myself and saying it to someone else. I needed people. These people. I just wanted my fleece blanket to hide under.
The Start of Friendship
The conversation moved toward the pain of drinking that particular brand of bourbon. “It’s like drinking a tree,” said Austin, as he sat down to join us. Much laughter followed and the comfort of that entire night was covered in the simple ease of how they were treating me—like one of their own.
These dear people accepted me at that point in time. I took a step that night. A conversation likely long forgotten to them, but I still taste that bourbon caramel and remember why it matters.
Cover image by Monika Grabkowska.
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