Cooking Lessons, St. Joseph the Worker, and Me

Whatever you do in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord, giving thanks to God through him, alleluia.–Colossians 3:17

Last week was one of the hardest at my job in a looooong time. I have a hard job as it is, which I have discussed briefly before, but last week sucked the life-blood out of me. I came in early and stayed late by hours and felt very discouraged that nothing I did or said would make a difference and I was always going to be a hamster in a wheel, never getting anywhere and running until my little feet fall off. This isn’t true, of course, as most days things go as smooth as possible in a world that revolves around chaos.  My job is actually quite an important one in which I make many heavy decisions that can have serious repercussions for many people. Truthfully, I actually like my job just fine and I do get to help lots of people, but, you know, when it rains it pours and all that. I don’t know if Daniel Day-Lewis actually backed out of a movie in which he would play a claims adjuster, but his sentiments expressed about it are spot on with how I felt last week.

Friday morning I took a few hours off in the morning to go to the dentist. Since I knew I was going to have to stay late to make up the time missed anyway, I decided take a detour on the way to work and go to Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament for the first time in goodness only knows how long. I absolutely needed the quiet time with Jesus to calm my busy mind and I knew it would do more good than harm to put in that time with Him and make it up later at work. I knelt in thanks for a good while, then I poured my heart and soul out to Jesus, just asking for strength, courage, and a pleasant attitude, among my other intentions for others.

It is amazing how God works. Sometimes you feel you wait years before you hear an answer (and sometimes you literally do) and sometimes He lobs the answer at you like a perfectly thrown football, spiraling right at your wide open hands. Sometimes, His answers are in motion before you even ask for them (hopefully more on that kind later). As I got up off my knees and settled into my seat to start my Rosary, I saw a lady out of the corner of my eye reading the missal. Inspired, I picked up my own missal out of the little pocket of the seat in front of me and turned to the readings for that day’s Mass, which I missed earlier.

I make it to daily mass perhaps once or twice a year, due to my work schedule, and the liturgical year moves faster than I can keep up much of the time, so I had no idea that Friday was celebrating St. Joseph the Worker. As I sat there reading the explanation of the feast day and the accompanying Scripture, I was floored. It was a glaring reminder that my work will be blessed if I keep in the attitude of Christ.

I went to work that day with a much lighter spirit and accomplished much. Even though I stayed late (again), my weariness was not so profound. This was an answer to a prayer, but really only a Tylenol version–something to get me through the pain. The actual answer came at the end of the day when my mother-in-law came to stay with us for the weekend.

As I have mentioned before, Ma De Lara doesn’t speak any English, but my Spanish is improving my leaps and bounds, so I am not uncomfortable to be alone with her. I guess she decided to up my game, because she had me take her grocery shopping for ingredients to make gorditas zacatecanas. She has been giving me cooking lessons on her visits because she wishes to make sure the culture lives on through me and any future baby De Laras.

Ma De Lara delegates the most menial tasks for me–peeling potatoes, gutting chiles, flipping many (thousands) of tortillas. I am not experienced enough or trusted enough to flavor the meat or cook the rice in her presence yet, but my attention is sharply recalled to her deft hands if it is diverted elsewhere–eventually there will be a test. The cooking lessons last for hours, because no Mexican woman worth her salt does anything half-way and the men are very hungry when they come in. It feels brutal–hot from the stove, my lower back aching, my hands perpetually smelling of onions and peppers, and my eyes itching without me being able to scratch them.

Ma cheerfully does her work, occasionally praising or admonishing me in Spanish, as I struggle to keep up with her pace. I think of how this is all she has ever done: cook, clean, raise 7 babies, and pick crops. Sixty-eight years old, and she still does the same tasks (less the crop picking–although we did go pick peaches and blueberries this weekend) as she cares for all of us and helps to raise her grandbabies.

St. Joseph is always the quiet one–he doesn’t say much in the Gospels and not much is known about him. Outside of being the earthly father of Jesus, he wasn’t important. Aside from his earlier lineage, most of his ancestors were probably just normal people. Nothing to suggest that he would be anyone special–many other Jews could claim similar heritage, and indeed many of us today can claim to be descended from royalty or nobility. We can assume he was a man of honor and empathy, because when he learned of Mary’s pregnancy, rather than exposing her to the law, which would have condemned her to death, he thought of just letting her go quietly her own way. We know he was obedient because he listened to God’s command without question when he was told to take Mary as his wife and again when he was told to flee Bethlehem for Egypt. He was a wise man, considering his honor, empathy, and obedience, and also because we know that he was hand-selected by God to be the earthly custodian of Jesus, who “increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.” The human side of Jesus would have had to learn from somewhere. He may have been a carpenter, but more than likely he was a day-laborer or a handyman (tekton), which is hard manual labor no matter which way you call it, and probably means he was not a man of wealth. St. Joseph probably had little inkling as to his actual importance–and perhaps it would be better that way, because I cannot even imagine how intimidating it would have been to KNOW you are the foster father of God.

Ma is like my own living, breathing St. Joe. She is certainly not a parent of God, but she is a contemporary embodiment of the virtues of St. Joe. She is not classically trained in anything in particular, but is a Jack–er, Jane-of-all-trades. She works tirelessly for her family, taking life in stride. Although not highly educated, she is very wise and respected, and we all turn to her for advice. She loves Jesus and Mary with her whole heart and is a very devout Catholic with very strong prayers. It is a comfort to me, as much as it makes me smile,  to see her wave crosses in the air and whisper prayers of safety for us as we back out of the driveway. She is very empathetic and I have never heard her judge a person for anything in my life–when wronged by someone very close to her, she simply removed herself from the situation and refuses to be goaded into saying mean things about that person, and instead mumbles, “Pobrecita, may God help her.”  None of her children may be very prominent or “important” people, but who knows that she isn’t in some great lineage that does produce someone of notoriety someday–more importantly, she recognizes that although she is small in the scheme of things, her kindness can go far and accomplish much. She presses this to her children, who, for the most part, exhibit this virtue as well.

Although our jobs are very different, and tiring in different ways, and neither terribly important to the universe (unlike St. Joseph’s actual job), the cooking lessons and getting to know my mother-in-law a little better first-hand instead of through a translator, have been, and continue to be St. Joseph’s intercession and God’s answer to my prayer for finding value in my work.

Whether it be flipping toasting tortillas with her bare fingers, climbing ladders to clean the trim on the house because it is cochino, bending over picking berries in the cruel Florida sun, or painstakingly plucking feathers from tonight’s future roast chicken, the woman does it with a song of gratefulness in her heart. I am ever so lucky to have my own beautiful, sainted mother and this adopted one to give me shining examples to live by. I suppose I should suck it up at my air-conditioned desk job and learn to be thankful I am not on the other end of the phone.

P.S. If you ever ARE in the unfortunate circumstance to be in an auto accident, do be kind to your adjuster, though. Trust me when I say we get absolutely no benefit from your misery, either.

2 thoughts on “Cooking Lessons, St. Joseph the Worker, and Me

  1. You are such an inspiration for each of us. You walk the talk! When given a challenge, you accept the challenge by turning to the ONE who gave you the challenge and allow His Grace to flow through you, which flows through to those around you.


    • Thank you, friend! That is a big compliment coming from someone that inspires me so much! I am sooooooooo far from walking the talk all the time, but I just keep trying 🙂


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