When I was diagnosed with cancer, several friends--work friends, school friends, church friends--rushed in and organized meals to be brought into our home on the weeks following each treatment. I was brought lots and lots of wonderful meals that fed me and my forever hungry children. I really love to cook so relinquishing this duty was not easy for me. Often times, even more lovely than the food that filled our stomachs, was the sweetness of the individuals delivering the meal. Some of them were dear friends who would give me a hug, offer up some love and wish me well until the next time our paths crossed. Some of them were nearly complete strangers who I had only every passed in a hallway at the kids' school events. They knew about me from afar, but decided they wanted to do something to help. They would express their sympathy about Eric, ask about me, about the kids, about how all of this was working. I was grateful for the meal, but I was more grateful and impressed by their willingness to step their foot into our somewhat messy life. These people were gifts to our lives during those long winter months.
I want you to know that we were delivered some really wonderful meals and please read this post to the end before you think of me as some kind of foodie snob or that I am one bit ungrateful for anything, gourmet or not, that was brought to our front door. If you were one of the many people that might have brought ham, then you're clearly wondering if this was your night. Go ahead and wonder. The story is not so much about ham, but about hope.
It was a frightfully cold night and my taste buds were reeling from my latest dose of chemo. The meal that was lovingly dropped off that night was ham. Fantastic. Something salty is always the best option for me to be able to taste at least part of it. I had kept all the dishes covered to hold the heat in while I quickly set the table after coming through the door from work. After we had gathered, offered up a quick prayer to bless the food, I started to uncover the ham. The kids asked what we were having and I said, "Ham!" as I uncovered the first dish. What I uncovered was like no ham they had seen before. It was a processed pink color and the "string" indentations across the top were not fooling anyone. They both leaned forward and stared, "That's not ham," one of them said. "Yes, it is," I said. "It's just not like ham that you're used to." "Is it even cooked?" they asked, doubtful that I had any idea what I was talking about. "Of course...it's warm," I said as I touched it to confirm my theory. I shaved a couple of slices off the one end and laid it on their plates. They gave me a look. I gave them a look back. "It's just fine. Just eat it. I'm not making something else for you. Someone made this just for us and we will eat it."
You have to understand that these were some dark, very dark days after Eric's death. We went through the motions that we could remember from life before and we prayed that each day would be a little easier than the one we were leaving. I knew my kids were missing their normal and I was equally frustrated that I couldn't be in the kitchen preparing their favorite meals and serving those meals to a table filled with my people. There was emptiness and sadness everywhere we looked. One of those kind of days where a bad ham can send you right over the edge.
We sat in silence, chewing our ham. I think one of the kids asked if they could warm something up from the fridge and I probably said fine. Out of the blue, Bea said, "I want to know what it feels like to punch that ham. Mom, can I punch the ham?"
I sat for a minute and thought about the question--was it okay for my daughter to punch our dinner? My first thought was "would Eric let her punch the ham?" I worried that my chemo-clouded brain was probably not qualified to make this decision. I asked her to repeat her question, certainly I had misunderstood. She said more forcefully, "I want to punch the ham." Knowing resistance was futile, I said, "Sure, punch the ham."
She walked around the table, looked squarely at the mostly uneaten ham and wound up for a solid punch. The ham made the same noise that a well-toned stomach makes when you slug it--not that I've done that often in my life. Henry and I exchanged looks and smirked. He followed his smirk with "I want to punch it, too." I shrugged my shoulders and nodded in approval. He landed a blow that was slightly louder than that of his sister. We all laughed. Now everyone was looking at me and I just smiled and nodded and got in line to blow off some steam at this unassuming piece of pork. Yes, I, too, slugged the ham. By this time we were laughing harder than we had laughed in weeks. Weeks where we wondered if we would ever really laugh again.
Needless to say the ham got slugged repeatedly and might have even gotten juggled... Once our laughter subsided and we had wiped away all the happy tears that had taken the place of so many sad ones, we gathered around the table and thanked God for this most amazing meal and for the wonderful hands that had brought it to us. Although this ham wouldn't win any culinary awards, it was, by far, the most memorable meal that graced our table. God knew that we needed something more than nourishment on that cold winter night. We needed a way to remember the joy and laughter that had previously been so taken for granted around out table--and he needed a ham to make that happen. We needed to break through the sadness and once again experience the freedom to throw our heads back and laugh. It was a turning point for our somber family and as I look back I am filled with gratitude.
Moral of the story: Sometimes God Gives You Ham