When I was in grade school, every so often my grandfather would come home from work, and loosening his tie, announce to my mother and grandmother with a slight bow: Ladies, I am giving you a cooking reprieve. Tonight, we are going to Giovanni’s.
The best part was that it was usually an average night, say a Tuesday. My brother and I would would grab our coats, grinning. The week had just grown infinitely better, and homework could wait. Giovanni’s was the finest.
We stepped into the dimly lit restaurant, drippy candles and Italian music tastefully swirling, not too loud. Goblets of iced water sat heavy upon starched white tablecloths; bright lemons clinging to the sturdy edges. I ordered chicken parmigiana, slightly crunchy under a layer of warmed tomato sauce, heavy on the oregano, concealed under melted cheese.
We would eat until full, as the tuxedoed waiter returned with the dessert menu. Everyone begged off, announcing how they just couldn’t. Everyone but Grandpa.
My grandchildren and I will each have a dish of spumone, if you please.
Oh Bob, really, said Grandma. Everyone is too full! The children will get sick.
They most certainly will not. He smiled broadly, confidently tucking a fresh cloth napkin into his dress shirt.
Spumone is a tri-layered Italian ice cream. Giovanni’s created their version with green, pink, and brown layers. Candied fruit and nuts were tucked within, and the entire delicacy was topped off with a perfectly thin drizzle of chocolate liqueur. It was delicious.
I have not tasted spumone since Grandpa died, decades ago. But if I close my eyes, I am back at that fine Italian table, music soft and dreamy, with a spoonful of dessert, enjoying my grandfather’s delight in treating us to good food.
Both Grandpa and Giovanni’s are gone, but the memory of spumone brings it rushing back; an association, quite alive. Grandpa made everything better.
Of course, not all associations are so pleasant.
Last week found me in the endodontist’s chair, for two root canals, which I opted to complete in one fell swoop. I might have casually mentioned that I had experienced a poor dental experience as a child. That was all the endodontist needed to hear. His eyes grew wide, and he paused his careful drilling.
Let me tell you something, Kristin. I am sixty-five years old, and I still remember the horrific dentist my parents took me to as a boy. He had equipment that I promise you was from the Civil War era, and he refused to numb me. I thought the pain that day might send me skyrocketing through the roof.
He paused momentarily, shaking his head.
I went home crying, begging my mother not to take me back. But she did, the very next year. To this day, whenever I pass by where that office once stood, my hands start shaking uncontrollably.
Well, this suddenly gave me something to consider, which is useful while undergoing such an uncomfortable and lengthy procedure. As he continued to drill, explaining each step of the root canal and asking how I was holding up, I paid attention to the soothing music, gentle assistant, comfortable furniture, and shiny equipment. They even offered me a blanket, should I grow chilly.
Ninety minutes later it was over, and the doctor walked me to the front desk. Now you’ve got me thinking about that horrible childhood dentist, he said. Leaves me wondering why I even went into this line of work after something so dreadful?
It makes perfect sense to me, I offered. You are giving people the very thing you wanted but did not receive.
I am reading through the Bible this year, Genesis to Revelation, from beginning to end. Five chapters per morning, Monday through Friday. On the weekends I choose a shorter text, sometimes a Psalm, sometimes a few verses from the New Testament. Reading through the Bible is not a race, and I do not have to do this, but it is so, so, good.
I am in Leviticus now, which has a reputation for being difficult, with all of the rules and regulations and diseases and sacrifices. It is not easy to read, but it has awakened a sliver of my heart that had grown sleepy; lazy. Reading Leviticus has quickened my fear of God: He is Holy and perfect and righteous, and he hates sin. He stands in complete opposition to anyone who refuses to humble themselves and repent. I need to have a strong fear of God. This holy reverence results in my heart bending in contrition, obedience, and love. He is Ruler of all, and I ought not forget it.
Something else about Leviticus: it has caused me to long more for Jesus. I want to hop right into its pages, in the midst of that ancient story and encourage the children of Israel. I wish to cheer a people who must have been so tired, to hang in there and trust God: a Savior is coming. He will be the consummate High Priest, sweeping away all of our sins upon himself; the once-and-for-all-sacrifice.
I arrived at Leviticus 20:26 this morning and paused, savoring the ancient words.
You shall be holy to me, for I the LORD am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine. (ESV)
My association with Leviticus?
I am His.
My Grandpa, whose father grew ill and died while he was young, grew up with little. Meals were mainly soup, very thin soup, sitting heavy on the back of the stove. While Grandpa did not starve, he was often hungry. His mother did not have the luxury of spoiling him with choice meats or extras. But I do remember him saying that she would pick a wildflower or two, arranging an attractive vase upon her modest table. She was a lady, after all, and although poor, swept the floor clean and dusted the furniture to shine. And she always set the table.
So, like the endodontist, my grandfather gave what he had wanted, but could never have. Those dinners at fine restaurants were a way of healing an ache; like a sewing machine going backwards and re-stitching a nagging tear in the fabric. Grandpa never once considered soup to be a complete meal, and asked my grandmother to prepare meat-and-potato fare instead.
We all have our own aches, deep down, that we long to crush.
Those Israelites grew weary, as do I. So I am reminding myself that our Savior will soon return. He is cheering us to run our race in faith, trusting in him until we are safely home.
For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. 1 Corinthians 13:12