The year was 2002, a year that lives in infamy, or at least extreme annoyance, in my daughter, Alison’s, life.
That was the year of the cursed perfect turkey.
Prior to that, Alison’s Thanksgiving turkeys ranged from dry to just OK. But in 2002 she took a madcap leap of faith, risked everything and brined the bird — and it came out brown and crisp on the outside, moist and succulent on the inside. Perfection with drumsticks and wings.
Her husband heaped praises on her, and may or may not have offered to do the dishes. Alison roasted a perfect turkey in 2002 — and where do you go from there?
In 2003, despite following the exact brine recipe and using the same pots and pans, that year’s turkey was not perfect, which to Alison equaled failure.
Thanksgiving 2003 was deemed a humiliating defeat and came complete with minor hissy fits and a major meltdown.
I recall her describing mashed potatoes on the ceiling, sweet potatoes in her eyebrows, weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth.
I don’t have a play-by-play of years 2004 to the present, although one of those years she and my granddaughter spent the holiday with us in Florida while her husband was deployed overseas. That was the year we were to eat at the restaurant my husband’s Aunt Pat worked at and the year of reprieve for Alison’s striving for turkey perfection.
However, Aunt Pat got sick and Alison was nominated to cook a turkey, which was delicious according to everyone except Alison, who knew it was not close to the Perfect Turkey of ’02 and, therefore, a failure.
A few days ago, she and I were texting about turkeys. She wrote that she planned to brine hers, plus injecting some flavor solution that she hoped would help, but I could tell that her “hope” was hopeless.
With texting it’s hard to discern emotion, but I knew her texts contained much hand wringing.
I told her, “It’s tough having a perfect turkey to live up to each year.”
A few years ago, she told me she used to love Thanksgiving — the planning and shopping and prepping, the smells, even the Charlie Brown Thanksgiving show where they serve popcorn and toast.
“Now I’ve created all these expectations of perfection, but the problem is, no one but me cares,” she said. “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 curses her perfect turkey in 2002 because it has forever set the bar of turkey expectations too high to reach. She keeps striving to replicate it, but falls short every year.
Her turkey despair reminds me of the despair of some Christians who strive for perfect obedience to please God and miss reaching it.
The harder my daughter tries to make a perfect turkey, the more discouraged she is when she can’t do it. Likewise, the more obedient I try to be, the more aware I am of how obedient I’m not, and the more discouraged I become.
Unless, that is, I remember that it’s not my obedience and goodness that God counts, but the obedience of Jesus. It’s not my perfection, but his that he’s given me.
That’s the gospel of grace, that God has counted me perfect because I trust in the perfection of his Son.
If I know that God loves me simply because I trust in Jesus and that his love isn’t based on my obedience or goodness, it frees me up to try my hardest but not to fear failing, because in his eyes I will never be a failure.
He counts me as perfect, as perfect as Alison’s turkey of ’02.
That’s what grace is, covering a multitude of sins.
Gravy does that, too.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org