8 Lessons Cast Iron Has Taught Me About Grief and Hope

There is a resurgence of home cooking and interest in cooking shows it seems.  But at the same time, it is also my understanding actually cooking skills are lacking in the generations that are coming up these days.  The Boy Scouts of America has not only re-vamped their "Cooking" Merit Badge for this reason, they also made it a required badge for the Eagle Scout Rank.

When I became a single parent following my wife's death, I knew all about cooking but the kitchen was something she took over years ago.  I had a hard time adjusting to the kitchen at first until I started using my cast iron dutch oven.  Then I started using the cast iron I inherited from mom.  As I used it and learned, I started adding other cast iron unique to us.  Along the way, I've learned a few lessons about cast iron and life.  I'm always amazed how little things can offer powerful lessons...

1. The hotter the temperature, the better the seasoning will bond.

I'm not an expert but I have read a good bit and practiced a good bit so I think I've got this.  When you are seasoning your cast iron, you've got to get the oven up to around 500 degrees so the oil and iron BOND.  This creates the non-stick surface cast iron is known for.  Grief and suffering can do the same thing.  The lessons get bonded to us and our lives and help us fulfill all we can become.

2. No matter the years, you can keep cooking.

Many skillets and pans will reach a point that they are no longer any good.  They make their way to second-hand stores, yard sales, or thrown away.  You CAN find cast iron in some of these places but rarely.  Why is that?  Cast iron doesn't go bad.  The lessons of years of grief and suffering don't ruin us - keep going.

3. Reseasoning is not a chore, it is a caring act.

Cast iron care can be seen as tedious; a chore.  I suppose it is but then so is being a parent or a spouse if you look at it that way.  Dry it. Keep it oiled. Reseason it if you need to.  Cast iron will not fail you but you can fail cast iron.  Don't stop caring for your heart and soul.  It will not fail you - it is you.

4. Cleaning with soap doesn't mean you got it clean.

It is so easy to think "easy."  We want things done quick and fast not right and thoroughly.  We think soap will be a shortcut to cleaning cast iron when in fact it destroys the seasoning and oils that protect it from rust.  We think we can make something clean by using some new idea or technique when in fact it only break our heart and soul down

5. Cast iron goes from the burner to the oven and back: it is multitalented.

This is one of the "coolest" (pardon the pun) things I have discovered about cast iron cooking.  It also points to one of the hardest things about dealing with other human beings: we like to put everyone in their place and give everyone a category.  People don't work that way.  We change and life changes us.  We can go from getting cooked on one side to being cooked all the way through.

6. People don't use what they don't understand.

I had misconceptions about cast iron.  Most folks do.  I was told you can't use water to clean it.  I wasn't taught about caring for it properly.  Different ideas exist about seasoning.  With so much information, it can be overwhelming and just easier to not use it.  I think this applies to religion and faith too.  We don't fully understand it so we just put it away and forget about it.

7. Cast iron never needs to be tossed away.

But once you really learn about it, you realize cast iron never needs to be tossed away.  It can be taken back to the "beginning" and re-seasoned for use.  If it gets rusted, it can be cleaned.  If it was seasoned improperly, no sweat, redo it.  It naturally adds iron to our foods, something we all need.  No stick surfaces aren't new either - cast iron always had it.  Even if a skillet gets warped, it is still perfect to move from the stove top into the oven.

8. Cast iron should be passed on.

My mom found out a few years ago that cast iron skillets just were not practical for her to use anymore so she gave them to me.  I really did go through all these thoughts I've written down here because even though I knew about cast iron, I didn't really "know."  Other than my Boy Scout dutch oven, I stayed away but my mom was right to pass them on.  Cooking with cast iron has brought a connection to tradition and brought a new spirit to our kitchen and our family.

There are always places to learn new lessons.  Sometimes, those lessons point to new life and hope.  Look. Listen. Learn. Live.

Time Matters in the Valley of Suck (and During Holy Week)

This time matters.

I cannot let this time pass without writing.

As I come to accept and understand writing to be my call and my work, I have learned there are many reasons why a writer might not write. Sometimes there might be a block. Sometimes it is simply a desire to focus on living and not writing.  For me, hunting season is a choice too.

And then there are times far too important to let them pass by without a comment, without saying...something.

This time matters. In the life of the Church; the life of the Christian, the season of Lent and Holy Week is THE time of preparation.  It is THE time of reflection.  It is THE time of holy moments.  It is THE time to get your head out of your north end when you're going south.

This time matters...God died.

Let that sink in for a moment or two.  This is the first Lent and Holy Week in 22 years without my best friend.  It is the "last" of the "firsts" until we remember Heather's death a year ago.

This time matters...because death matters.

I know the Biblical concepts of death and I believe "death is swallowed in victory," but if you walk past death like it is just another trash can on the side of the road then you are missing out on the significance of just why this time matters...

God died...not symbolically or metaphorically.  We're marking the time because God died and knows what it is to walk the valley of suck and to walk the valley of the shadow of death.  He walked it, not so we don't but because we do and so we truly have a "high priest who knows what we suffer. (Hebrews 4:15)"

This time matters...because a year ago, Heather was walking to her "Golgotha" and I was carrying the cross with her, just like Simon of Cyrene. The story of Holy Week does HAVE parallels and there IS symbolism and metaphor.

But God died.

Deal with it.

Face it.

Life sucks.

Seek God.

God isn't going to stay in the tomb.

God isn't going to stay in YOUR tomb.

For more thoughts on life and God, check out Ken's new book: "Life Sucks Seek God" available on Amazon: http://tinyurl.com/lifesucksseekgod

Images used with permission:

Sick In The Valley of Suck: The First Chapter I Left Out

I hate being sick.  I mean, no one really likes being sick, right?  This week it just seems to suck more than usual.  This should be a crazy, fun week! I published a book! Yeah! Turkey hunting season is about to begin! Yeah! Both my kids are about to be drivers! Yeah (or not)!  But nope, I’m sick with a head cold that is just a brute.  

Life sucks.  Seek God.

And that is the problem too.  When I’m sick, I have a hard time with my spiritual practices.  I had very particular plans regarding praying with prayer beads throughout Lent this year.  Plans for specific things to give up.  But when I am sick, it all just goes out the window.  And without Heather here, my kids have to face the reality of their only parent being sick and the truth she protected them from their whole lives: I am a big baby when I get sick.

Today though, I’m pushing through.  Yep, I’m a real trooper here and trying to think on God today.  Partly, I am thinking about something I may have left out LIFE SUCKS SEEK GOD.  I’m guessing most authors probably feel something similar at times. I’ll probably think of a few more that will go into a future revision.  

Maybe it was my kids sharing with me over the past few days their worries about the future.  Maybe it was my own insecurities of publishing my own book.  Maybe it is just this stupid cold.  Whatever it is, I started thinking about the parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15:11-32.

Here is what got in my head...who sustains the two sons?  I know, it is obvious right? The father.  But stay with me.  Just think through all the father did along the way.  He built up a fortune and birthrights for both his sons. He gave away an inheritance to the younger and continued to always have his eyes on the horizon.  He continued to provide for the older son, trusting him and sustaining him as he took care of the father’s household.  The father clearly never lost sight of this either.  Both sons take for granted the father has been there for them all their lives.  

That is what hit me.  That is what I left out of the book.  I left out grace.

Why do I say that? Because among all the things the valley of suck has taught me is I cannot sustain my faith - only God can do it.  God’s grace sustains our faith.  We can fall back on God precisely because God is THAT FATHER who does not abandon us; does not get upset when we say we wish he were dead or when we thumb our nose in God’s face for providing for us.

Call it grace by any name you like: common, prevenient, or original.  Call it blueberry for all that it matters - while grace may provide the freedom to turn to God, it is still God’s grace and none of us have that in us by any measure other than what God gives to us.  We so do not comprehend the fullness of grace.

And do we really want to dismiss the God of the Old Testament?  The Psalmist clearly understood there to be a God in heaven whose grace was not only supportive but protective in nature.  I think just two samplings are sufficient for this regard...

I  lift up my eyes to  the hills.
From where does my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
who  made heaven and earth.
He will not  let your foot be moved;
he who  keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, he who keeps Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep. (Psalm 121:1-4)

He will  cover you with his pinions,
and under his  wings you will  find refuge;
his  faithfulness is  a shield and buckler. (Psalm 91:4)

I cannot sustain a simple practice of praying simple breath prayers when I’m sick with a cold for crying out loud!  What kind of faithless fool am I??  How wounded and weak am I??  I cannot sustain even something so simple.  No.  I cannot.

And this is why we dare not depend on or put faith and trust into our spiritual practices - they do not make us holy.  They do not make us “good Christians.” Our penance only states the fact of our fallenness, not our ability to forgive ourselves.  

Life sucks and we seek God because God is precisely where we are going to receive our help.  God’s grace alone has sustained me.  The habits which nurture holiness are gifts of grace to growing a more intimate relationship with Immanuel.  They do not save us or redeem us.  They make us aware of how much more we need to seek God when life sucks.

To get Ken's new book Life Sucks Seek God click here to buy on Amazon in paperback or Kindle.
Image used with permission: http://www.freeimages.com/photo/tissue-box-1420439

Life Sucks Seek God - First Thoughts On A Book I Didn't Want to Write

Order on Amazon:

Everything changes.  Nothing changes.

Writing a book changes things and yet nothing changes at all.  The work of writing a book, be it an eBook or traditional hard-copy, or published or self-published is so much like the journey through the valley of suck.  Once done, it is done.  You put it out there with hopes it might make a change in a person's life.  Hopefully many people's lives.

This was not the first book I intended to publish but I am glad it is available first.  All along, since I started this was to offer something I could not do on a blog - a concise and practical help for nurturing faith during difficult times and situations.  There are much longer books on the subjects of suffering and pain. There are more pastoral books that comfort and provide care.  This is not those books.

I cover two things primarily in Life Sucks Seek God.  The first is my very real and very simple path to coming to believe in a God worth trusting in during the worst of times in my life.  The second part is to take that faith in God and combine it with simple descriptions and directions for spiritual habits - "faith hacks" - if you will.  These are for everyday use not just my rambling.  I help you with the very things that have helped me through the years and especially the trials of the diagnoses and death of my wife, Heather.  It is also about the days, weeks, and months after her death.

Heather's prayer was that her life and fight would be used to help point people to God.  My prayer is this book might be used to fulfill this prayer she had.  This was a ministry I never wanted and one I would gladly relinquish but I can't. This is why it is free now and will never be more the .99 in the Amazon Kindle store and available to be loaned too.

Sign-up for the mailing list (to the right of this blog).  I will let you know when new items are available such as the study guide for use in small groups and info on future writing projects.

Life Sucks. Seek God. Upcoming Book Release from The Valley of Suck

In just a few weeks I will be releasing my first book!  The valley of suck has far too many twists and turns than I had ever imagined and throw in a book (or two) and you never know what might happen.  But here it is!  This is totally new content, no copy and pasting out of my blog.  This is real and practical.  It gets to the bare-bones reality of true soul healing habits, what has sustained me through the valley of suck of being a caregiver, and now widower and single dad.

This also isn't a "book jacket" hype session but an invitation to be part of the launch for the book.  Being part of the launch means I'm going to send you a FREE pre-release PDF copy of the book to review before it is released on Amazon!  There will be more info along the way and I want to keep you in the loop.  So if you're interested, please enter your e-mail below.  This is no marketing gimmick and I won't be selling out your e-mail or wasting your time.  If you would like to help me get this information to people, please let me know and give me a hand!

Subscribe to join the launch of "Life Sucks. Seek God."

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Don't Trust Me - 5 More Lessons from Grief in the Valley

Do not trust me.

Well, don't take that too literally. But in many ways, yeah, don't.  Don't trust any of us going through the valley of suck. This can be a scary place when everything you thought you knew gets turned upside down.

It changes you.

It can change everything about you.

The processing of grief is different for everyone as I have come to learn. For me, grief has become a counselor.  I'll admit, grief is scary and ugly at first.  It comes at you and doesn't ask for permission when it shows up.  Over time, you get used to it.  When you're going through memories and closets and eveyone else has left you, grief is right beside you and will remind you of why you loved and why you still love.  I've tried to learn to listen and grief has taught me a few things:

1. Slow down.
You cannot hurry grief especially the death of a spouse. It IS different. Heather and I didn't live waiting on the day when our kids would fly the nest BUT we also had plans for that next stage. Those plans are gone now. I can't rush what is next.

2. Cry when the tears come.
It is so easy to fight this but I once read there is a toxicity in our tears. Holding them back keeps toxicity in our bodies. Healthy grief, admitting loss, and crying when the tears come, gets that stuff out.

3. One thing at a time.
Similar to slowing down, you gotta take one thing at a time. Don't bite off too much at once. Focus on small tasks - cleaning out 1 drawer. Taking one box or bag to a thrift store.

4. Give thanks for the old and the new.
Heather ran our home and she was amazing at keeping us all going. It has taken my mind a while to get hold of all she did.  Some things fell through the cracks. She ran the kitchen too. I had a hard time claiming that space. But I took up cooking with cast iron (something she didn't do) and that has allowed me to give thanks for what she did and become confident in what I can do.

5. Be Ready to Say Goodbye to "You."
Grieving the loss of my best friend, wife, and partner has been more than just grieving her.  I'm grieving the loss of me too.  That may sound a bit extreme but I don't have someone to fall back on now like I did.  I've tried to live like I had her there and I don't and I've been hurt in different ways in different scenarios by different people.  So now my skin has gotten tougher. My wits have gotten sharper.  I am still here but I'm not still here.  I'm not the same person.

I am thankful for a faith in Christianity that is full of the reality of resurrection and new life.  C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien understood the power of this in their stories.  We need to adopt it more I think, and come to remember we are resurrection people - it is OUR narrative.  We ought to be dying and becoming new every day.  The butterfly is a powerful symbol for the Church for this very reason.  It is why Heather chose to have her ashes buried with a butterfly bush.

Another great symbol for the church was the phoenix.  It seems lost to us in our day because we simply see it as part of mythological stories and now the Harry Potter series.  Yet the Church saw this idea of dying and rising again of the phoenix to be another great image for new life.  We live to the full, burst into flame, and then, from the ashes, new life begins.

So when I say "don't trust me," please put it in context.  Don't trust that I am the same person I was 1 month ago or 6 months ago.  Don't trust that I'm the same person as I was a year ago and you know what?  I'll extend the same courtesy to you - I will hope and pray you too have changed.  My changes may be more dramatic but then our journies are different.

Know this too: I like the person I'm becoming.  As a matter of fact, I like me a lot.  I was reminded this past week looking at my kids and working with them, how much of Heather is in them.  But then I was reminded that when we live in close proximity to another person, you rub off on each other.  I am more like Heather now too.  I'm thankful her legacy continues.

Image Used With Permission: http://www.freeimages.com/photo/old-bench-1494270

Walking with Saints in the Valley of Suck

"But do not think that you can leave off your search to know God's purpose for you after you've sought Him on this matter for a year or two - or even after ten years! If we do so, we are abandoning our true work of faith like cowards - for our work is to be alway and only obedient, no matter where He leads us. It is well and good that the Lord should see we are not willing to leave anything undone that He wants us to accomplish in this life." - Teresa of Avila from "The Way of Perfection."

It is almost a dis-service to Teresa's words to say anything.  They have stood for a while on their own as well they should.  She is one of the most widely read Spanish writers of all time.  However, to only think of her as a great author is to miss her life of faith and obedience to Jesus Christ.  She knew great suffering as she sought to be faithful.  I have gotten to know St. Teresa of Avila much better lately through Fr. Thomas Dubay's book, "Fire Within," and have gained a much better perspective, not just on Teresa, but on my own life as well.

As I have been working on a book project in recent weeks, I have focused in on the issue of faith in the midst of suffering. I've not only read Teresa's work but other modern authors as well. One thing among many I have learned is this:

Suffering and change go hand-in-hand.

Following the death of a spouse, it is said we shouldn't make any big decisions in the first year. I think this is true BUT only in one sense - in that first year of grief, there are so many decisions to be made, we have to LIMIT our big decisions.

As I progress through the valley of suck, I now found myself facing some of those decisions. Some I have put on the shelf.  Others have had to be faced.  As I have faced a couple of recent ones, I find myself looking to a verse I had memorized years ago:

"We are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." (Ephesians 2:10)

I know these words seem different from other entries into my writings on the valley of suck but in truth, it is more real than you might realize. Heather and I were partners in ministry. We listened and we went where we heard God's voice leading. Some doors opened and other's closed. All along the way we held each other close and together clung close to God. Our obedience to God broke us and mended us.

Heather was no coward. Not in living life and not in facing death. Walking with her through those days and now reading in her journals, I find a woman who was God's workmanship: humble, kind, gentle, sly, quick, joyful, gracious, and courageous.

These are what saints are intended to be for us: heroes of faith. People who in life and death inspire us to greater heights of faith and love.  Consider those in your life who have inspired you.  What was it about them?  They may not be canonized by any church or denomination but it doesn't mean they were any less saintly, just not known fully.

So what will you do with the example set for you? Will you go where God calls or be counted among the cowards Teresa calls out? Will you respond to the call of comfort or the call of Christ?

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