BBQ, Sweet Tea, and a Whole Lotta Jesus (Excerpt)

“Lessons in food are lessons in culture, so the more food discoveries I made, the more at home I felt.”

– Daniel Vaughn, Texas Monthly Magazine BBQ Editor

It all started thanks to our love of barbecue and a YETI cooler. Every four years, the state magazine Texas Monthly publishes its Top 50 BBQ list. The barbecue editor—yes, that’s a real thing—Daniel Vaughn, and his team scour the state looking for the best ’cue. They endure months of taste-testing tender ribs, savory beans, and mouth-watering brisket meals all in the name of “the best Texas barbecue.” For those who took the challenge of visiting all fifty stops on the list, YETI (the Mercedes-Benz of coolers) rewarded barbecue aficionados with a slew of coolers, drinkware, buckets, and accessories worth about $1,500.

After reading the barbecue issue and perusing our vacation route around the Lone Star state, Scott and our boys Will and John Paul had mapped out—unbeknownst to me—all the joints along our driving route. I figured one place would be fine, but there was no need to go overboard—that is, until I took a bite of some south Texas chicken tortilla soup (made with smoked chicken) and dove into Tex-Mex-inspired chicken enchiladas. Then and there, I decided this barbecue pilgrimage was happening.

As much as I love me some good barbecue, hauling all six kids around the state to sample the top fifty joints in Texas seemed insane. But the call of brisket and sweet tea was strong, y’all. Following that week-long vacation where we got a taste of some great joints, we spent the next nine months in search of the very best. Lucky for us, nearly a dozen are within an hour of Austin (Valentina’s, Franklin’s, La Barbecue, and Stiles Switch are some of our local favorites).

In our quest to eat really exceptional barbecue, we also found a whole lotta Jesus. I suppose it started as a food challenge before it barreled through crazy and ended up as a true pilgrimage, both gastronomically and spiritually speaking. Our ten-month Texas barbecue tour fed not only our bellies but also our souls.

Daniel Vaughn was right. The food gave us a lesson in culture and led us to experience some amazing spiritual moments. We began to feel even more at home in our state, in our family, and in our faith. Barbecue encouraged us to hit the road, while Jesus met us at every single stop—proof that he loves brisket and ribs as much as we do, right?

We enjoyed lighting candles, praying for others, going to confession, and listening to the mariachi band at a Lenten Mass at the Basilica of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle. We received a wedding blessing at a Sunday Mass in the tiniest church in Marfa, population 1,724. Knowing we were visitors, the priest hauled us up to the front while the entire congregation witnessed his blessing on us for more than two decades of marriage. We made a pit stop in Shiner (home of Shiner Bock beer), but not before making time to visit the local church and pray before the Tabernacle. I’m also certain our future cause for canonization was furthered when we visited three barbecue joints in Houston on a Friday during Lent and didn’t eat a single bite of meat. We just packed it all in our YETI coolers and ate it on Saturday morning for breakfast!

The destination is always important, but it’s relationships along the way that change us. The people we meet on the journey are always the very best part. The road there changes and challenges us to step outside of our preconceived ideas of how great God is and to really experience his big, bountiful love. The final destination is just barbecue sauce on the brisket.

I’m quite positive that thousands of miles and countless hours in the van have been not only opportunities for sanctification (we won’t get into pulling the van over somewhere near Atlanta, Georgia, and screaming at one another) but they have also been a gift to grow in faith and in relationship. I’m not referring to the self-serving martyrdom of road trips here. I’m talking about seeing the gift it is to spend that kind of time with the people in your life you deeply love. About one day into every road trip, I always wonder if it was the worst idea ever dreamed by man. But the imperfect time away has the ability to show us, in a real and tangible way, that life is chaotic and unpredictable and God is right there in the middle of it.

In Pope Francis’s apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, he speaks about “the art of accompaniment.” In other words, it’s not just about going somewhere with someone but rather about how present you are to one another along the journey. The destination is of no real measure or consequence if you haven’t set your heart on Christ.

Sometimes our travel takes us to the places of our dreams, and sometimes it serves to remind us of who we are and where we came from. Our family excursions have rarely taken us to exotic places, but they have reconnected us with people we adore and given us new relationships to cherish. The everyday holy is real, we just have to open our eyes to appreciate it. Whatever road life has paved for you, consider this: Forget about the destination and focus on the journey. Wherever you go, do it with intention and purpose. Travel with a heart anxious for accompaniment. And remember that the drive is always sweeter when Jesus is riding shotgun with you.

Excerpt from Live Big, Love Bigger: Getting Real with BBQ, Sweet Tea, and a Whole Lotta Jesus by Kathryn Whitaker. Copyright © 2019. Used with author’s permission.

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Kathryn Whitaker is the author of Live Big, Love Bigger, an award-winning book about living an intentional, hell yes, kind of life. She's a sixth-generation Texan who was raised as an evangelical Protestant and then converted to Catholicism on the eve of her wedding. On social media and her blog, Kathryn shares her honest take on family life and living the Gospel, all while drinking Dr Pepper and cheering on the Texas Aggies. She has appeared in USA Today, EWTN, radio and TV stations around the country and is a frequent guest/sometimes host on The Catholic Channel on SiriusXM. Kathryn and her husband, Scott, live with their six children in Austin, Texas.

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