By Jan Carlberg
My brothers dubbed one of our aunts, “the casserole queen.” She could concoct something out of leftovers, stuff from unmarked containers, or vegetables hibernating in the back of a refrigerator drawer.
As I write, I find myself picturing others’ failed attempts. My husband Jud was the worst at culinary camouflage. On occasions when I’d be away, Jud would cook and the kids would collapse in horror or humor at what he’d found and swirled into some eggs. He’d proudly present his latest omelet and they’d suddenly find greater appreciation for what I could do with chicken, a can of soup and Minute rice.
We live in a culture that doesn’t care much about leftovers. We prefer new, fresh. I’m no longer as frugal as I once was, always laundering plastic bags and “tin” foil and finding ways to use unusual parts of chickens. The generations before me remain my heroes; they used it up, wore it out or did without, often out of necessity, always because it was “the right thing to do.”
Why? To make it better for the next generation, to help someone who, maybe, had even less. They were saintly sorts, committed to caring. They cared about waste (an act of stewardship), the environment (before it was an agenda), debt (budgets were not suggestions), and people. Especially people.
God must love leftovers. The Gospel recounts the stories of Jesus multiplying a few loaves and fishes, feeding thousands, then saying to his eyes-and-bellies-full-disciples, “Gather up the leftovers, so nothing’s wasted.” God, who made things happen with just words, thought it important to save scraps.
We’ve all got them. Leftovers. Scraps. Extras from when we overdid, overbought, made more than needed or extra on purpose. Easily identified.
What about scraps of time? Hints of hope? Leftover or left out people? Words waiting for the perfect time? Wouldn’t God want, even help us “gather up the leftovers, so nothing’s wasted”?
As winter digs in, daring us to believe there’s such a thing as springtime, I find myself longing to lighten my load. Too soon the day will come when I’ll need to hide in some changing room, try on a swimsuit and hope for a miracle … like no mirrors.
Then, there’s that inevitable day when I’ll leave this world to join Jud and don’t want my kids pulling up a dumpster or two to clear out what’s leftover from my life. Stuff I could’ve used up, worn out, given away or done without.
As my daughter asked me one day, “do you want to spend your (leftover) time tending stuff or living life?” Who wouldn’t choose life?
In Jeremiah 38 we read the story of Jeremiah, God’s faithful prophet, lowered to the bottom of a well by his enemies. His hopes must’ve sunk along with his body. All that seemed leftover for him was to die. Then God showed up through an unlikely man, Ebed-Melech, a Cushite, non-Jewish, probably from Ethiopia.
While Jeremiah’s OWN kind rejected him, God used HIS kind to respond to his down-but-not-out prophet. Ebed-Melech rushed to the palace where he served King Zedekiah and asked to haul Jeremiah up from the well, “where he will surely die.” The king granted permission, but Ebed-Melech moved from the mechanics of hauling to merciful helping. He went to a place in the palace and gathered old rags, worn-out clothes (scraps and leftovers), then lowered them with the ropes to weary, discouraged Jeremiah. “Put these old rags and worn out clothes under your arms to pad the ropes, Jeremiah.” And he did. I call him, Ebed-Melech the Cushion.
As we find ourselves in a new year, perhaps sunk in some mud, overwhelmed by the stuff of life, issues in our church, home, workplace, country, is there a place for sacred scraps? Could God use our bits and pieces? Leftovers, stuffed away but still useful for cushioning the ropes?
Let’s “gather up the leftovers, so nothing’s wasted” and leave a legacy; or at least, a love note on a scrap of paper, that just might make all the difference to a leftover or left out person.
Sometimes, life’s better when we think smaller.
A Note from Jan Carlberg:
When Linda asked for my bio, I considered contacting Gordon College to send out “the usual,” those paragraphs that make me look better than I am, then didn’t. Why? It doesn’t matter. What matters is to “Love the Lord, my God, and love my neighbor, as I love myself.”
Having said that, I hope neither my photo nor lack of bio deter you from reading what I’ve written, then putting to good purpose that which is easily discarded.
No matter how it looks or feels, LOVE never fails. So scoop up a scrap of it and pass it along.
For any who wish to read other stories and reflections, please head to my usual posting place and subscribe (free) at jancarlberg.com
I’ll look forward to hearing from you.