Shameful confessions aside, one of the shows I like best is Master Chef. I'd never watched any cooking shows before this one, and there's this one phrase that they use all the time. I wonder if it's part of every cooking contest, but one thing the contestants aim for is to "elevate their dish." Basically, this means that instead of making macaroni and cheese, you make macaroni and cheese with, say, a truffle sauce. To 'elevate' food is to give it finesse, give it flair, make the flavors new again and make the dish a product of imagination and love. With the right skill set and the right open mind, a good chef can elevate even the most basic of foods.
That idea sticks with me. Not just because I love to cook, and I love to try new dishes. But because the thought that something like a stupid hotdog, in the capable hands of a talented chef, could become a surprising and delicious meal. That's fascinating. And challenging. And pardon my love for a good metaphor, but isn't that the key to living a good life? What can I do to elevate my daily living, to re-imagine its place and reassign its value?
How do I make the basic into the beautiful?
Most religions have some pillar based on this very idea, actually. Buddhists call it utthana-sampada, or working diligently at all you do. Mormons work hard to do good because they are aiming towards their own godhood, attaining deification.
And Christians offer themselves up to a life of being "holy."
Or, the way I learned it, being set apart.
All of these theologies encourage an elevation of the mundane, an understanding that everything matters. Every act, every word, every moment of every day has a meaning with roots deeper than we can see. Some elevate for the sake of understanding, some for the sake of castles in the sky. For me, as a Christian, the reason for elevation isn't a reason at all. It's a calling.
It's not about 'inner peace'. Or karma, or any sort of celestial reward system. For me, learning to sanctify the act of hanging tiny t-shirts in a closet, or nursing my baby, or teaching my daughter to be kind: it's all a matter of re-branding. Re-branding the mundane for the sake of the Holy, for the sake of my soul and my place on this earth as a loved daughter of the King. Elevating that which seems lowly by way of a changed heart, because I know for a fact that all of this matters very, very much.
And while I know this is a short season of my life, this home bound, inward universe of raising my young children, I'm learning a lesson that I couldn't have absorbed anywhere bigger than my house.
It was easy for me to feel gratified in past occupations. It was easy to elevate my day to day activities.
Running an after school program for elementary school kids? Easy to see the purpose, easy to accept the love and thanks of the families we served. Attending college the last 3 years? It was easy to push forward because finishing my degree seemed pertinent, to me and to my future.
I've served coffee at Starbucks, I've directed summer camps, I've worked at churches and insurance offices and even a Japanese karaoke bar in Hawaii. Some of those jobs were draining and some of them were exciting, but every single one of them came with some sort of extrinsic value, like paychecks or community support or free drinks.
But now? Being a mom? It has a different sort of value system. It's more difficult for me to elevate. It takes purposeful heart checks throughout each hour to remember the incredible investments I am making in my family, in my kids and every person they will ever meet.
I miss having a paycheck. Or feedback. But I have to say, there is a sincerity to my every day movements that has not been there before. I think it's the lack of external motivation, the lack of accolades from any sort of public opinion or authority figure, from professors or managers, because it's just me. It's just me and these kids and honestly, they won't even remember most of what goes on during these early years of their development. These days belong to us, to our ins and outs, to our moods, to our small but meaningful accomplishments. These days belong to me and my God, and the act of elevation is a discipline that is at once softening me, and also hardening a core of truth about What Is Holy and What Matters.
I think at some point, we all fight that hollow feeling of What Am I Doing Here? We work at jobs we hate, we are in relationships we don't understand, we forgot what we meant when we started out and everything looks like cold noodles and hot dogs.
We have to elevate.
We have to know that when we are loved so enormously by a God who gives every sparrow a nest and every heart a new mercy with each sunrise, our moments surely matter.
When we sit in a planning meeting.
When our hands are dirty with another day of work.
When we pay our bills at night.
When we feel stuck.
When we fight against the injustice of poverty and yet it never seems to be enough.
When we write into the void.
It matters. More than we could ever know, it all matters.
I'll try to remember that later, when I gather baby Sam in tight while he cries through another night of teething. When he sighs with desperate relief because his mom is near.
Elevating. It's not feigning relevance. It's not inflation or vanity;
it's the heart of God, one day at a time.
"Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart." - Paul the apostle