Saying Grace Before…

+ Kessenich Family Reunion Sept 14 BlogWhen I was growing up, my family always said grace before dinner. Night after night, my father, mother, sister and then I each took a turn. My husband and children and I carried on the tradition, although, influenced by the Quaker Meeting we attended, we usually held hands for a moment of silence as our grace instead of speaking words. It was a good moment in the day. Grace created a time, even briefly, to touch in with Spirit and each other, to be conscious, to be thankful.

A few weeks ago, I decided to call in the blessing of grace long before the meal was ready to eat – in fact, before we’d even bought the groceries or begun cooking the food.

The occasion was the Kessenich family’s five-day reunion in Wisconsin. My husband’s family (his very large family) is a group that loves to eat and takes meals seriously, so we’ve worked out a system over the years at the reunion to make sure there’s a good dinner every night. Two couples are assigned the responsibility each evening for planning and cooking dinner. It’s a big job that takes the better part of your designated cooking day, but then you’re off-duty for the other days, so it works out pretty well.

About a week before we left for Wisconsin, Lawrence and I got an email listing us as Monday’s scheduled cooks along with Lawrence’s brother Paul and sister-in-law Ann. Though we’ve done this a few times before, I’m still not particularly at ease cooking for a large group (this year, the four of us ended up cooking for forty-four people!). It’s not always a seamless endeavor – tension can mount, tempers can flare, and feelings can get bruised (the proverbial “too many cooks in the kitchen”) as we coordinate the planning, buying, cooking and serving of dinner for the Kessenich flock.

When I first saw confirmation of our cooking assignment, I felt some tension and anxiety set in. My usual questions rose up. How many people would be there that night (the number is different every night as people arrive and depart) and how do you estimate how much food to cook for forty-plus people? Will there be enough? What would we cook? Will my mid-Western in-laws like my menu choices? (One year the quiches I cooked weren’t a real big hit, though my brownies were spot-on.)

It was in this first moment of initial panic that I called in grace and asked Spirit’s help. I asked for two things: to not freak out (it does, after all, always work out) and for inspiration about what to cook. (I like to be prepared, and by thinking ahead about the menu, I could bring the recipes or any unusual spices I might need from home along with me.)

Menu inspiration came quickly. Noticing from the email that no one had yet planned to cook chicken, I remembered that my “go-to” dinner this summer has been a delicious, easy, olive oil/garlic/lemon juice marinated chicken with grilled vegetables. How about a Middle Eastern kind of theme, I thought, with some hummus for the vegetarians, feta cheese on the side to put on the vegetables, and some rice pilaf? It sounded good to Lawrence and me. I checked in with my co-hostess, Ann, who seemed to like the idea, too, and the menu was set.

I thanked Spirit for the menu inspiration. Just planning that much ahead of time took care of the “freak out” mode I’d been in.

The family reunion was in full swing on Monday when it was our turn to cook. Anne and I made lists and drove to the grocery store. En route, I suddenly wondered if the Pick-n-Save in this somewhat small town in the middle of Wisconsin would have enough chicken breasts for forty-four people. It hadn’t occurred to me to call the butcher ahead of time, as I would have done at home. I whispered a little request to Spirit and immediately remembered another grocery store where we could go if we needed it. Backup plan in place, I exhaled…

Knowing that grocery shopping for a meal of these proportions could be a little stressful, I decided to follow my “ask for grace before” plan. As we parked the car, I suggested to Ann that we sit for a minute before we went in to shop. “Ann,” I said, “let’s set our intention (my code phrase for calling in Spirit’s help) to have an easy shopping trip – to locate the food we need in this unfamiliar store, to estimate accurately the quantities we need to buy, and to think of anything we might have forgotten to put on our lists.” We smiled, squeezed each other’s hands, and went into the store.

Grace served us and we were in and out of the store pretty quickly, having found everything that we needed (even enough chicken).

Back at the cottage, some of the teenagers helped us unload the car and carry in the vast amount of food we’d bought (more help!). After eating lunch, we got ready to work. I gathered the four of us for a moment of thoughtfulness, as Anne and I had done before shopping.

“Let’s set our intention,” I said, “to have this cooking go really smoothly – to work easily and effortlessly together, to communicate well with each other, to share the tasks evenly, and to prepare a delicious meal for the Kessenich flock. And let’s have fun while we do it!”

Paul and Lawrence each added a few qualities to the intention – patience, humor, and to be timely with our goal for a 6:00 serving to the hungry family. We said thanks to the Universe/God/Spirit, did a “high-five,” shooed outdoors the kids who were filling water balloons at the kitchen sink, and started in.

Everything went well. Granted, several factors helped a lot: the gorgeous weather made the indoor cooking comfortable, we had two large grills to use, and a few extra people pitched in here and there and helped with the work load. We even had a few minutes mid-afternoon to regroup and strategize our timing (and I had time to drink my fortifying afternoon cup of tea). I felt the presence of Spirit helping us along, keeping things on an even keel. It was a blessed process.

Dinner was ready pretty close to the hour we’d targeted and we gathered in a circle (a very large circle) to say grace. We included both traditions by speaking out loud the familiar prayer the Kessenich family says at mealtimes with having a moment of silence in the Quakerly way. It was a lovely coming together before eating the meal that had been graced from its planning to manifestation.

After dinner, the cooking team felt satisfied. We’d done a good job, stayed even-tempered, and had some fun along the way. Ann commented afterwards that she would normally be exhausted after such an endeavor (I can identify with that!) but that she felt fine and wasn’t tired at all. Yay, Spirit!

Asking for blessing and grace during the whole process had helped us turn a potentially tension-fraught situation into one that was easeful and gracious. We’d worked hard, for sure, but the work hadn’t been effortful. By setting our intentions and asking for grace, we’d been conscious of the best ways to be (relaxed, focused, cooperative) and Spirit had helped us along the way.

Calling in help – grace, blessing, support – as we step into a situation really helps to head off problems. Of course, there are times when we can’t anticipate difficulties, and I certainly keep Spirit on “911” for those moments, too.

But, when I know I’m up against something that is making me a little (or a lot) tense or anxious, getting help in each phase of the process is a powerful tool. Feeding the flock of forty-four was not a desperate situation, but it was a formidable challenge for me. Staying in touch with the powerful grace of the Divine made the task manageable and even pleasant.

And, boy, was I glad when it was someone else’s turn to cook on Tuesday!


  1. Beautiful blog entry, Janet. I like the idea of setting intention and plan to adopt it. One question, though: how come no potatoes? Don’t forget your roots 😉 Love you.

    • Spiral Energies says

      Thanks for your comment, Patricia. Ah, the lack of potatoes on the menu for our evening meal was because someone else made potatoes the night before!

  2. It tasted delicious!!! I needed this blog today more than I have time to explain! A wonderful piece of reflection. Thank you! : )

  3. kathleen mcleod says

    hello dear friend,
    i am so happy to hear your story. i could see how this could be a big disaster and piles of stress, but your choice to use your inner spirit guide you has
    been so well developed and used well. it not only served your team of four and the guests of 44 but it now has been a favorable memory of the summer
    visit at the kessenich’s in wisconson. wow, that is some big family!

    my 2 weeks taking in some extra care and cooking for dad while he was visiting pales compared to your amazing gathering. good to hear a successful
    visit. yea, i agree having the next days off was well deserved!

    • Thanks for your comment, Kathleen. Kudos on the extra work you were doing for your dad – that sounds like a loving task, but also probably had a little work involved. I’m sure you handled it with grace.

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