The Saturday before Thanksgiving, I threw my back out. I woke up, brought Rocco to his high chair, tried to do some stretches in the living room to ease some stiffness and, then, just like that, la, la, la, found I couldn’t walk. Tim was still asleep and Rocco was asking for more breakfast, but suddenly it was all I could do to hobble back to the bedroom, wake my husband and, frantically, ask him for help.
“Morning, honey, something’s wrong, seriously wrong, I CAN’T STAND UP!”
I’m a freelancer, which means a big chunk of my work life is spent assessing projects, looking at what’s required and estimating what I can give in response. In other words, knowing how to hold up my capabilities against what’s demanded is a pretty practiced skill, one in which I’m not prone to overestimate. That’s how I knew with confidence, standing in the streaks of morning light, talking to my husband with my back hunched, even saying I could meet him in the kitchen would have been a stretch. The very core of my body was in panic mode. No matter how I moved, it hurt. I looked at Tim, ran through my mental to-do list for the day and moved, slowly, awkwardly, back to bed. The errands, laundry and cooking we’d planned for the morning were out. Tim would have to handle Rocco and make the venison tacos and do all the things I could no longer do for myself.
All that remained for me to do was to slow down and rest. I hated it.
Providentially, this all happened on a Saturday when we had no concrete plans to cancel, just a wide-open day of self-imposed tasks (mine) and making venison tacos (Tim’s) to share with you here. So while I laid on my side with a pillow between my legs, just like I’d done when I was full-term with Rocco and trying to get some sleep each night, I didn’t have anything to do but the hard, real work of releasing the expectations I had held.
Eventually, meat simmering on the stove, we took a nap for two hours while Rocco slept in his room, something that hasn’t happened since the hazy newborn days, when I was too tired for to-do lists and too injured for high expectations. Our friend Terry came over that night and worked on me long and hard enough, bless him, that I was at least able to stand up straight again. Monday and Tuesday, I went to the chiropractor. Wednesday, I was still in some pain. We had to cancel plans, we didn’t go home for Thanksgiving and I spent a solid chunk of days watching Tim bring me food while I wished he didn’t have to.
Also providentially, it so happens that this injury hit me right in the midst of a few days in which I’d been meditating on some verses in Romans 5: “Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” I had these words on a little 3″ x 5″ card I’d been looking at every day, so when it turned out I was bed- or sofa-ridden, the phrase “rejoice in our sufferings” was what kept flashing through my mind. Then, my November Bible reading was taking me through the epistles, where, over and over again, the idea of suffering having value and purpose kept coming up*.
The idea of actually rejoicing—being thankful for, glad about, pleased by—an experience you’d describe as suffering, whether that suffering is hurting your back, losing someone you love, not getting the job or being rejected by a friend, is so counterintuitive, so countercultural, so exactly the opposite of what my mind wants to do when I face something I don’t want. To believe that physical pain, emotional pain, rejection, injury, slander, unkindness or even just the weariness of daily life is a good thing, a thing that is producing endurance and character and hope, is not natural and not easy. It’s work. And, to the chagrin of my task-driven personality, it’s a work without a tangible, obvious reward. You don’t get a gold star or a pat on the back. You can’t even see a sparkling tub or organized closet at the end. Faith is about a hidden value, the unfading beauty of the inner disposition of the heart.
Tim made the tacos that Saturday, like he’d made them before, like he ended up making them again last night. Each time, I watched him do it. And yesterday as the meat simmered, the house filled with the same savory aroma I remembered from the slow Saturday before, I was buzzing around organizing and cleaning and completing online tasks, back to the pace I’m used to keeping. I definitely hated throwing out my back and being immobilized. I hated having to be dependent and slow. But even I can see it was good for me to throw out my back the week before Thanksgiving because it forced me to stop, to slow down, to remember my days aren’t measured by how much gets done.
I loved these tacos. In case any of you out there finds yourself the recipient of a windfall of delicious, steak-like, non-gamey deer meat like we have this hunting season (thank you, Pastor Ray!), I would be happy to come over and eat these with you anytime.
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 pounds venison meat, cubed into chunks
2 cups chicken or beef broth
1 tablespoon butter
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup coconut sugar
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon paprika
1 1/2 teaspoons chipotle powder
2 teaspoons oregano
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
3/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1 teaspoon dried thyme or several springs of fresh thyme
Warm olive oil in a Dutch oven, add venison and brown it briefly over medium heat. After the meat is browned, add broth, butter, vinegar, coconut sugar and all the spices. Cover and place in a 250F degree oven for 2.5 to 3 hours. Meat will be fork tender when done.
* We have made these several times, and you can very easily tweak this method for the spices you prefer.
* You can even just throw everything together in a crockpot and leave it on all day.
* Our favorite toppings so far for these tacos have been pineapple, goat cheddar, cabbage sliced thin, red onion, and salsa—but have your way with ’em. We also really like the hard-shell organic tacos from Trader Joe’s. Have you tried those? So good.
About Shanna Mallon
Shanna Mallon is a freelance writer who holds an MA in writing from DePaul University. Her work has been featured in a variety of media outlets, including The Kitchn, Better Homes & Gardens, Taste of Home, Houzz.com, Foodista, Entrepreneur, and Ragan PR. In 2014, she co-authored The Einkorn Cookbook with her husband, Tim. Today, you can find her digging into food topics and celebrating the everyday grace of eating on her blog, Go Eat Your Bread with Joy. Shanna lives in Nashville, Tennessee, with Tim and their two small kids.