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Cook? She had no idea how. Still, Easter Sunday was her chance to impress her new beau.
I stared at the sweet glaze, the evenly arranged pineapple slices and cloves, the straight crisscrossed lines. The ham, roasted to a tantalizing dark brown, was perfect. Picture perfect.
That’s because it was a picture–on a recipe I’d clipped from the newspaper the week before. My own ham, the one I was supposed to serve for Easter dinner the next day, looked nothing like it. The crisscrossed cuts I’d made on the ham’s surface were jagged and irregular.
Who am I kidding? I thought. I’m no cook!
Just then, my-five-year-old son, Russell, bounced into the room and nestled up beside me. “What’cha doin’?” he asked, a Ninja Turtles figurine in hand.
“Making our Easter ham,” I said. “Is it okay if John comes to eat with us after church?”
“Okay, sure,” Russell said, before skipping off to the playroom.
One less thing to fret over, at least. Ever since my first date with John, I’d worried about how Russell would take the idea of someone new coming into our life. I’d been divorced for two years now, and Russell and I had become our own little unit. I wouldn’t jeopardize that relationship for anything.
But John was different. He was good for both of us–which is why this ham had to be perfect. I wanted to impress him.
I’d met John when I was teaching a night course in business communications at the Kings Bay Navy base–I’m a high school English teacher by day, so I thought some interaction with adults might be nice.
I noticed I had a comedian in my class. John made all the other students crack up, even when I was trying to get them to concentrate. Frankly, he could be a distraction.
One night, as I sat at my desk grading papers, John approached me with a question about an assignment. And an agenda, as it turned out.
“It’s been a hard week,” he said, changing the subject. “I quit my job.”
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“Oh, no!” I replied. “So sorry to hear that.”
“It’s okay,” John said, his blue eyes twinkling. “I went back to work the next day before I told anyone I’d quit.”
In spite of myself, I laughed. I mean, the joke wasn’t even funny. But something about John telling it was. I decided I had to know this man better.
He didn’t ask me out until the semester was over. On our first date, midway through the movie, John put his arm around my shoulders. It felt totally natural when I laid my head in the crook of his arm.
But I didn’t expect what came next. The strangest sensation, a jolt of electricity, shot through me. Was I ready for a new relationship? Was Russell?
We only saw each other on weekends. One Saturday night I got stuck chaperoning the junior-senior prom, something I never thought would appeal to John as an activity for a date. But he was game.
While I was inside the gym watching the students on the dance floor, he buddied up with one of my coworkers and monitored doors. John had my colleague in stitches the whole evening. He fit right in.
“I learned a lot about you tonight,” he said with a grin later on. “Insider tips.”
Then came a test for me: I accompanied John to his 15-year high school class reunion. I’m shy by nature, so he walked me around the room and introduced me to his classmates, people he’d known all his life. John gave my hand a reassuring squeeze with each introduction.
Then it came time for class awards, and John received a trophy–for Most Eligible Bachelor! My heart almost stopped. I looked all around. I wanted every woman in the room to know that he was no longer eligible. And that’s when I knew John was meant for me.
The feeling was only confirmed by how famously John and Russell got along–they played video games, watched movies, even went on “Boys’ Day Out” adventures when I was busy with work. John was more than just a good guy. He was a gift from God.
Now that picture of the Easter ham taunted me, seeming to say, Your ham is supposed to look like this. But it didn’t. It looked pathetic. Maybe my relationship with John wasn’t that perfect either. I’d been wrong before. Maybe I wasn’t ready for another serious relationship. Maybe I never would be.
Lord, if this relationship is your will, please let me know.
A feeling of peace inched through me, like the sun slipping out from behind the clouds. I was sweating the small stuff, driving myself crazy. I folded the recipe in half to hide the photograph. My ham might not be picture perfect, but I’d do my best.
A third of a cup of molasses, the recipe for the glaze said. I opened the pantry. No molasses! Only honey, and not even a third of a cup’s worth. My eye fell on a can of soda pop. I recalled a conversation I’d overheard in the teachers’ lounge.
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“I add a little bit of soda to my glaze,” one teacher explained. “It intensifies the sweetness.” Intensified sweetness had sounded odd at the time, and pouring soda on a ham seemed completely nuts. I decided to go for it. I grabbed the can, popped it open, eyeballed the amount I thought best, poured and said a quick prayer.
The next morning, I woke up early and put the ham on to bake. I’d wait until we got home to heat up the glaze and add the pineapples. The doorbell rang. The butterflies in my stomach fluttered. I opened the door. It was John, there to pick Russell and me up for church.
“You look so pretty, Lori,” he said at the door. “And what’s that delicious smell?” He inhaled extravagantly, closing his eyes.
“Thanks,” I said, laughing at John’s typical antics. No wonder Russell liked him so much. No wonder I did.
When we got home from church, I rushed to the oven and took out the ham. It looked a tad awkward, with its oddly spaced cloves, but even so, it smelled delicious. I added the pineapple slices, tacking them in place as best I could with toothpicks. Perfect?
No, but not bad. When the ham was ready, the three of us sat around the table, holding hands for grace. “Thank you, Lord, for Lori and Russell,” John prayed, “and for the delicious meal we are about to eat. Amen.” I held my breath as John took his first bite.
“This is perfect,” John said. This time there were no antics. John was, well, genuinely impressed. I almost fell out of my chair with relief. And a reassurance that could only come from the One who looks out for us all, even struggling cooks.
“You’ll have to promise to make this for me again sometime, Lori.” I kept that promise, but not until the next Easter. And by that time, of course, we were already married.
Try Lori's ham recipe for yourself!