She blends, chops, sautés and stirs all while answering questions. She smiles warmly, interacting with the eight people who have signed up for her cooking class and are now seated around her kitchen counter. Jen Harrison is a rock star in the kitchen warming her audience up with irresistible appetizers, something good to drink, a little light music in the background and a lot of information as the evening rolls on.
Jen makes it look easy because she is living out her passion to inspire confidence in others that they can prepare healthful and delicious meals on their own. And inspire she does. Her students leave convinced of making better food choices and committed to breaking out of a humdrum cooking routine.
And as with all lives that have been touched by the hand of God, Jen Harrison leaves those around her hungry to “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8). She spins off names of wonderful herbs and exotic spices that some of us barely knew existed but the secret ingredient to her recipe for life is her faith in and personal relationship with Jesus. Her story is a great one.
Passionate about good food and the art of preparing it, Jen decided early on to pursue that interest. By fifteen years of age she was working part time in a restaurant and at age twenty had become an assistant manager working sixty and seventy hours each week. Thrown in with a much older crowd, Jen would join others in the restaurant industry after a long shift to unwind with a few hours of drinking and smoking. She refers to this part of her history as a dark period when she began to make some unwise and unhealthy choices.
After four years the owner decided to sell the restaurant she had been managing. Around this same time Jen found herself pregnant by a man who no longer wished to be a part of her life. Determined to be the best mom possible, Jen became a paralegal in an attempt to create a more normal lifestyle for her and her daughter. She also had a true encounter with God which changed the trajectory of her life forever. While working for a large corporation, she met and married the man who is her husband today. Devout believers, they are both strong influencers in the community around them.
Jon’s job took them to Melbourne, Australia for two years then to Tokyo, Japan for three where she was exposed to all sorts of diverse culinary experiences. In addition, their family visited Thailand, Malaysia, China and Kenya during their time abroad. Now they often host visiting missionaries in their guest house which not only gives Jen a chance to cook a meal for them but also provides her an opportunity to learn more about the food from the regions where they live. She’s pretty much a walking encyclopedia on all things food.
What I love most about Jen’s story, however, is that she says God took the dark part of her life and used it for good. For example, she has regularly prepared meals for a group of teen moms who meet at Mosaic Church. She recently requested donations of twenty crock pots from those of us who have attended her classes so she could gift one to each of the twenty girls in the group. She also prepares lunches for volunteers of her church which has a huge outreach to the homeless, gives one on one coaching to people who need it and provides counseling for those who have dietary challenges.
And she gives fabulous classes in her home! Being with Jen and watching her prepare food is a feast for the senses. Empowering people who have felt intimidated by their lack of culinary skills may have been the goal, but the class feels more like a festive occasion (where you just happen to learn a lot in the process).
What I love most about Jen’s story, however, is that she says God took the dark part of her life and used it for good.
Exuding warmth and welcome, Jen lives out Romans 12:13, “Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.” She says when you have someone in your home your relationship changes. They feel as if they know you then. So she seeks to break down that barrier which keeps us from inviting people over because we feel we’re not good cooks.
Having confidence in our ability to produce at least a few good meals also makes it more likely we will take a meal to someone in need. “Food is a free pass into someone’s world and can be a gateway to someone’s family” Jen says, “It’s the universal language and vital for life.” One of her long term goals is to work with relief ministries such as Samaritan’s Purse who provide food for people in times of natural disasters.
I love that Jen uses her skills and knowledge of cooking to bless the lives of so many. It reminds me of another woman named Dorcas whose story is recorded in Acts 9. She is referred to in scripture as “a disciple” and “full of good works”, so much so that upon her death the disciples sent for Peter who was in nearby Joppa. When he arrived (v.39) “. . . all the widows stood by him weeping, and showing the coats and garments which Dorcas made, while she was with them.” Here was a woman who used her gift of sewing to minister to those around her, most especially widows who tended to be a more vulnerable and marginalized group. Peter was so moved by her good deeds that he raised her from the dead. Keep cooking Jen, keep cooking!
The main takeaway from Jen Harrison’s life is that we EACH have something to contribute, a gift we have been given or a skill we have acquired. Choosing to use that gift to bless, inspire and encourage others is an opportunity we are given. Collosians 3:23, 24 gives us a nudge in that direction, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.”
Indeed, knowing Him and serving others for Him is a secret ingredient to a happy life. Ecclesiastes 9:7 instructs, “Go thy way, eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart; for God hath already accepted thy works.” (v 10) “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might. . .” So whatever your skill or talent may be, I encourage you to offer it to the Lord as a gift He can use to bring life and light to the world around you. Bon Appetit!