Sloppy Joes

Whatever is in the sauté-pan did not look right.

Mom is at a meeting. I’m in sixth-grade. Tonight I’m responsible to make the evening meal for my dad and brother. And something has gone horribly wrong.

*****

From an early age my mom began teaching me to cook. I have no idea if that is why my intuitive cooking skills are well honed—or if it’s just in my DNA. Either way, my mom is an amazing cook—and I’ve been blessed to have that passed along to me. I can recreate a meal from a restaurant. My measuring cups and spoons, lonely in their drawer, never see the light of day. I read a recipe once and never need to revisit it again. I have great hope and confidence—whatever I make will turn out delicious.

But that night, in sixth-grade, could have been the straw that broke my cooking hope-camel’s back. The recipe was quite simple: sloppy joes. It was a meal both my dad and brother liked, so mom made sure all the ingredients were on hand for my use. As a novice cook I read the recipe, set out all my ingredients and cooking utensils ahead of time, then reviewed the procedures before putting heat to pan. I was prepared and ready. Now all I had to do was simply follow the instructions.

The beef was browned, spices added, then the tomato sauce and water. It was a very watery-mix. Something seemed wrong, yet I still had great hope. I knew that heat reduced liquid, so I presumed more cooking—even boiling—would resolve what I saw. But even after a 10-minute rolling boil, things were starting to feel hopeless. What I had in that pan looked more like pink-ish soup (which reminded my sixth-grade mind of vomit) rather than the thick rich red concoction of sloppy joes.

I panicked. I didn’t know what went wrong. Eventually I succumbed to the notion that I would be serving “puke-sloppy-joes.” I couldn’t even serve the meal like mom did, with the sloppy joe mix piled thickly in the onion Kaiser buns. Instead I had a soup-tureen filled with the yucky pink soup and buns on the side. In my typical humor-fashion, I offered the first self-deprecating joke to begin the roast I would receive from my dad and brother. Thankfully they ate the odd-version but I was still perplexed, “What went wrong?”

Later that evening I relayed the events to mom over the phone. I told her everything. My confidence and hope hung in the balance. And she replied, “Sherry, did you say ‘tomato sauce’…the recipe calls for ‘tomato paste’?” In disbelief, I retrieved the recipe. Suddenly everything made sense. Clearly a can of sauce is far larger than a can of paste. It is more-liquid. And when adding a can of water (mind you a larger can of water than a paste can-size of water) it only compounded the soupy issue.

Now I knew what went wrong. I had either become overly confident in doing it my own way or I hadn’t been careful enough with the instructions—and must have rushed through and made wrong assumptions.

Once again, let me be the first to offer the self-deprecating humor. I have metaphorically made soupy-sloppy joes through-out my life. I had said stupid things to people, jokes that have gone terribly wrong. I’ve careless spent money, taken off full steam on ideas and projects only to end up with a disaster on my hands. I have counted eggs before they hatched. And even worse, in my excitement I’m prone to showing those unhatched eggs to others—setting their hopes too high before I knew if any of those eggs would amount to anything (I can blame the 50% Sanguine in me for that – we can’t help but show others a pregnancy stick with fresh pee on it—patience is not our virtue). ps: that’s just another metaphor—I’m not pregnant—never had hopes to be—but that’s another story.

My sloppy-joes have happened simply because l didn’t slow down. I didn’t stop my mouth before my mind had time to catch up. I didn’t think all the way through an idea—let alone pray on it—before acting. And truth-be-told, I can wear myself out and fear I’ll never get it right. It becomes so easy to lose hope and confidence. But there is good news…

I have found that if I slow down, and for me slowing down feels like it will KILL me, then my success rate skyrockets. I wait for a stir and nudge (a Holy Spirit thing). I wait for God to speak to me through someone’s wise words or in my scripture reading plan. I write it down, think it out. I work on plans and plan to work on patience. I’ve become cautious as to where I place my hope. I want to rest my hope only where it rightfully belongs.

Now days, my hope does not rest in a fancy home, fame, or even an overflowing bank account. While those are all nice things, I’m not following that type of recipe anymore. I’ve started seeing things from a different angle. On all accounts, I have every reason to give up hope—yet something in me refuses. And I want you to refuse too, because I know you’ve got a recipe that didn’t work in your favor.

Yes, it’s been a season (that many are still going through) of messed-up sloppy joes. But that does not define us. Just because those sloppy joes turned out wrong doesn’t mean it has to happen again. Use that mess-up to learn and grow. Seek out the gift in what went wrong—I promise it’s there. It’s always there. You might not see it now, and it might be a while till you do. But trust that in every messed-up sloppy joe is a blessing, and an opportunity to relook at the recipe, figure out what went wrong, and to learn how to restore hope and place it where it truly belongs.

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9 thoughts on “Sloppy Joes

  1. Just half an hour ago I was outside watching the sun begin to light the morning sky which was peppered with tiny clouds, and I felt the amazing strength of full blown hope (over an event in my life) fill my chest and lift my face in smile. Hope is my favorite feeling. It’s MUCH better, even, than the feelings that accompany actual success or achievement. This tells me that there is a reason for hope and that I should not try too hard to put the breaks on it. AND, to savor it as a good memory after it has gone and the lesson of the event sinks in. I don’t count that confident hope as foolishness any more but as proof that I am capable of good ideas (God-given, all of them), and a reason to keep living. My experience tells me that no matter how hopeless a day or season feels, hope will return in time to save me.
    In your sloppy joe story, the best part was when you proceeded to serve the dish instead of having a typical sixth-grade female meltdown. If only you had given it a positive re-name (sans puke) we’d be reading today’s post about your early Iron Chef skills.
    Such a wonderful metaphor, cooking and life lessons. Good job, Sherry.

  2. I have to say that I’ve often tripped over the weakness of being afraid to try again when it failed a previous time. I would very much like to rather just learn and carry on with boldness, not afraid to try again and maybe even succeed with a bang! The humiliation of failure is what trips me up and robs me of my confidence. I’m growing.

  3. Great post, Sherry. I too have a sloppy joe story only mine was with Mexican Stroganof. Whew, it was nasty although I should have known from the name alone. :-0 Love the analogy though. Our mistakes aren’t the problem, it’s what we do with them that matters. I’ll keep on trying. Thanks for sharing your life and thoughts.

    • Mexican Stroganof… interesting! And yeah, you’re spot on with it not being so much about the mistakes – because we can COUNT on those. Raher it’s all about our response. Thanks Judy

  4. I have to admit a few things after reading this.1. I have the Sloppy Joe song from Saturday Night Live stuck in my head 2. I am now hungry and 3. You have a beautiful gift of insight & humor. Thanks for sharing this and for encouraging others to pursue hope.

    • That song is the best… I mean the best (truth be told: it was hard to focus writing this post as that song ran in the background of my mind).

      And for those of you interested… the song/SNL skit is worth a watch (espeically for people like me who think Adam Sandler is hilarious – RIP Chris Farley)

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