New Year, turkeys, gravy and grace

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My daughter Alison rues Thanksgiving 2002.
That was her year of the perfect turkey. Prior to that, her turkeys ranged from dry to just OK.

Then in 2002 she took a risk and brined her turkey, which turned out succulent and delicious. However, in 2003, even though she followed the same recipe, her turkey wasn’t perfect and that ruined her holiday meal.

This past Thanksgiving she wrote in her blog: “It’s the dumbest thing, really. I plan a menu of traditional foods; it’s never elaborate, but perhaps a bit ambitious when I’m only feeding three people. Then I work myself up into a sweaty, stressed frenzy. By the time we eat I’ve run through the gamut of emotions, including one — or more — massive meltdowns over the state of my turkey, leaving me feeling stressed and dejected, so much, in fact, that I can’t even enjoy the fruits of my labor.

“I create all these expectations of perfection, but the problem is, no one but me cares…I wallow in my sub-par turkey woes, with mashed potatoes on the ceiling, sweet potatoes in my eyebrows and dirty dishes piled high to heaven.

“Worst of all, since I’m never happy with the results, I face the next Thanksgiving with more resolve to finally get it right. Except I fail again — and then I hate myself and vow to make the next year better.

“It’s a vicious cycle,” she writes. “If only I hadn’t made that perfect turkey in 2002, which has forever set the barometer of turkey expectations extremely high. I keep fighting to replicate it and have fallen short every year since.  

“I don’t even like turkey that much, and now I don’t even eat it. But I’m sure I’ll try again next year — because I never learn.”

She goes on to say what a shame it is, because she actually loves Thanksgiving — the planning and shopping and prepping, the smells, the Charlie Brown Thanksgiving show where they serve popcorn and toast.

“Hopefully next year I’ll focus less on achieving perfection, instead choosing to accept that maybe I’m not wired to create a perfect turkey every year,” she concludes. “Oh, who am I kidding? Next year I’ll be my usual crazy, neurotic self.”

This time of year a lot of us think about doing better. I want to lose 10 pounds. I want to less self-absorbed and more extravagant with my love. I want to love God more, be less distrustful. I want to pray more and believe even more that God wants to answer my prayers.

I could sit down and make a list of all my intentions and resolutions and maybe even vow to at least try to be even just a little more faithful than I am, and I may even succeed at some. But who am I kidding? For the most part, just like my daughter, I’ll most likely end up being my usual crazy, neurotic self.

That’s the problem with resolutions and the problem with religion. Even with the best of intentions, I just can’t hit perfect every time — if ever. And it’s the times I can’t that make me want to grab my fuzzy green blanket and a carton of ice cream, crawl into my recliner chair and watch reruns of “Matlock” until Jesus comes back.

However, I like what my daughter said: “Hopefully next year I’ll focus less on achieving perfection, instead choosing to accept that maybe I’m not wired to create a perfect turkey every year.”

She may be on to something. It’s like what my pastor-friend and teacher Steve always says: “The only people who get any better are people who know that even if they don’t get better God will love them anyway.” He says we don’t get any better because we’re too obsessed with wanting to be good and obedient — reaching perfection by trying.

Just like the saying, “The hurrier I go, the behinder I get,” the harder my daughter tries to make a perfect turkey, the more disappointed she is when she can’t do it.

Likewise, the more obedient I try to be, the more aware of how obedient I’m not and the more discouraged I become.

But if I know that God loves me anyway, that his love isn’t based on my obedience and goodness, it spurs me on to want to do better — and often I am, which is a good thing to know at the start of a new year.

When it comes to cooking turkeys, maybe the same principle applies. If not, that’s why God gave us gravy. That’s also why he gives us grace.

Nancy Kennedy is the author of “Move Over, Victoria - I Know the Real Secret,” “Girl on a Swing,” and her latest book, “Lipstick Grace.” She can be reached at 352-564-2927, Monday through Thursday, or via email at nkennedy@chronicleonline.com.