April 2, 1973, the day we opened Pearson Animal Hospital in a tiny three-room office space on Main Street in Hartselle, was also the day we found out I was pregnant with our first child. By the time, October 15, 1978, rolled around, we had three small children. Steve's practice was growing, and he was very busy. I was teaching dozens of piano lessons every week. Just like every young family, between working, parenting, and being active in our church, we were busy people. Sometimes Steve would already be off doctoring cows or dogs before the rest of us were up and functioning in the mornings. Lunches together happened if there wasn't a crisis involving an animal. Something very deliberate had to be done for the sake of our family.
We decided to make supper together around the table an important priority. We did our very best to wait for Daddy to come home from work before we ate (even if that meant a small snack when he called to say he'd be a while longer). We made the right decision. So much LIFE happened around our table.
We laughed. We shared stories about the day. We coaxed kids to eat their vegetables. We modeled table manners. As they got a little older, we'd ask questions and go around the table answering: "What was the best thing that happened to you today?" "What did you learn in school today?" "What was the most embarrassing thing that happened to you today?" "What did you hear the preacher say this morning in church?" etc. etc. etc.
(I wish Steve was in this photo, but you can see his plate was fixed. He was the one taking the photo).
Remember this was before cellphones. We had a wall phone hanging in the kitchen with an extra-long cord. Occasionally, Steve would get a call from a client in the middle of dinner. Let's just say we learned to keep eating even when he was asking such questions as "Describe the worms." "What color is the _____?" "Has the dog thrown up yet?" "Is there any diarrhea?" "How big is the cut?" You get the idea. But, if you ever have the chance, ask one of the Pearson children to describe those phone calls. It's hilarious!
We encouraged the kids to invite their friends over, and those friends became a part of our supper ritual. We realized these shared mealtimes were becoming central to our family dynamic. So much discipling and faith-sharing was possible when we had people in our home for meals or even when we sat across from each other in restaurants. The nourishment to our bodies was often secondary to the nourishment of our spiritual lives and the opportunities to tell about what God was doing. We tried to do this in very organic ways, by the way. In other words, we didn't whip out a "4 Spiritual Laws" tract and start going through it. That's not a bad thing, you understand, it's just not what we did.
Through those teenage years, we went through a lot of boyfriends and girlfriends, learned their food preferences, and tried to incorporate those dishes into the menu when possible. I hope those young people got more from their time with us than a good meal.
During the 1992-93 school year, we had an exchange student from Germany living with us. It was one of our children's first chances to observe that people in other parts of the world talk differently and do everyday things in a different way. We watched as Sebastian used his knife in a way we had never seen before. We saw him dip his French fries in mayonnaise rather than ketchup. We heard him talk about the breads baked fresh every day in his neighborhood back home, which made him not too fond of the bread we had. He introduced us to Nutella for the first time. Simple things, but eye-opening things.
I remember one Thanksgiving when Laura and Steve had been taking a Dale Carnegie class together and met a Muslim man they wanted to invite to our meal. He came in bearing flowers and a pie from a store, and we found common religious ground by talking about Abraham.
One tradition we started in those years -- that is still carried out today whenever we can make it happen -- is our Christmas morning brunch. We'd get up early to open gifts with just the five of us, then Steve's parents and my parents would arrive to join the fun and share a meal around the table. I found dishes that could be prepared ahead of time and just put in the oven while we were opening gifts. There would be a sausage/egg/hashbrown casserole, Hot Curried Fruit (thank you, Cotton Country Cooking), coffee cake, biscuits, Percolator Punch, coffee, and juice. Can't you imagine how wonderful those aromas were? And the fellowship and love we shared was so very sweet. Maybe I'll write a post someday with all of those recipes.
(I'm pretty sure this was a Thanksgiving meal in the early 1990's. I love seeing both Steve's dad and my dad in this photo).
A recipe I want to share today was one I served many times to our kids and their friends through the years. It's called Hungry Jack Casserole, because that was the brand name of the biscuits it calls for. But, truthfully, a store brand works just fine. Occasionally, I would triple or quadruple these amounts, depending on how many hungry people I was going to feed. Maybe add a salad or some corn on the cob, and you're all set. :)
HUNGRY JACK CASSEROLE
1 lb. ground beef 2 T. brown sugar
1 t. salt 1 T. onion, minced
1 16-oz. can pork and beans 3/4 c. barbecue sauce
1 c. shredded cheddar cheese 1 can flaky biscuits
Brown meat; drain. Stir in brown sugar, beans, onion, and sauce. Pour mixture into and 8" x 8" Pyrex dish. Cut or tear biscuits in half. Place cut side down around the edges of the casserole. Spring with cheese. Bake at 375-degrees for 25-30 minutes or until brown and bubbly. Serves 4-5.
Note: This is great if you have daughters with hungry boyfriends who visit a lot at mealtimes. Try doubling this (everything except the biscuits) and use a 9" x 13" dish.
In Luke chapter 19, Jesus used a time when He was a guest in someone's home (most certainly involving a meal) to reach out to a seeker named Zacchaeus and teach a valuable lesson to those who were observing.
19 Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. 2 A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. 3 He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.
5 When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” 6 So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.
7 All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”
8 But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”
9 Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”