The first cake started as a life preserver- not a literal white ring with red markings and “HMS Titanic” written on it, but figuratively, as the thing I was hoping would keep my sanity afloat. See, my 27th birthday came just weeks after we moved from my hometown in Peachtree City, GA to an army garrison in downtown Seoul, Korea. Specifically, it came days after we had moved into our new apartment and weeks before any of our belongings were due to arrive. We had been living out of the same five suitcases for two months, and the act of getting dinner on the table with no pots, pans, or dishes, and the nearest grocery store two miles away, was consuming every minute of my day. So I decided that for my birthday I wanted to make a pretty cake. It would be an act of creativity to bouy my floundering spirits. I bought tin foil pans at the two-mile away grocery store, baked the cake and planned to decorate it with robin’s egg blue frosting and a big funfetti heart. I was just mixing food coloring into the frosting when a tiny head popped into my peripheral vision: “What are ya doin?” “I’m frosting my birthday cake, Elliana.” “But it’s your birthday cake! You can’t frost your own cake!” “But I want to.” “No. I’ll help!” First my pretty robin’s egg blue cake turned the exact color of hospital scrubs. Then the funfetti went everywhere, and lastly, my little helper finger painted right into frosting so that the cake showed through spelling the message “I luv Mome,” and hearts with M+E written in them. My cake was an act of creativity alright, just not my creativity. I wish I could say that as we stuck the candles in and slid the cake into the cool oven for safe keeping I was so delighted and thankful for my sweet daughter that I forgot my desire to make my own pretty cake for my birthday, but instead, I sighed. It was my birthday. Shouldn’t I get to do what I want- something for me? The self pity continued right up until the moment, hours later, that I was preheating the oven for dinner and smelled the melting wax. “The cake!” My husband, who never makes these mistakes but somehow always cleans up from it when I do, raced to rescue the cake from the oven and rush it to the freezer, but sadly, Elliana’s birthday creation of love looked more like a piece of modern abstract expressionism. The scrubs-colored frosting was melted into waves, and the candles looked like they were doing the wave as they all bent dramatically to the left. It was quite a birthday cake, but the real icing on the cake (forgive the pun,) came when Kenny lit the candles after dinner. As my kids sang three different versions of happy birthday simultaneously, my husband turned from the kitchen with the cake in his hands, and all my self-pity shattered- not because the tenderness of the scene, but because of the cake! That cake, which had already been through so much, was now spewing flame skyward! Halfway melting the candles has left so much wick exposed that now Kenny was holding a cake topped by a good ten inches of flame dangerously licking towards his face. His expression as he carried the cake toward me was becoming increasingly more alarmed. But when he reached me I couldn’t blow out a single candle! I couldn’t even try, because I was falling out of my chair laughing. My cake, my life preserver in the chaos of family life, had been finger painted by my daughter, melted by me, and set aflame by my husband, and now we were all in danger of setting off the building fire alarm and it was perfect! At every turn my birthday cake brought to my attention the people who love me. My husband, who rescued the cake, and risked being set on fire by it, my boys who sang through the fiery blaze, and my sweet daughter, who wouldn’t let her “Mome” decorate her own cake. This is what a birthday should be: a chance to open your eyes and see all the gifts God has already put in your life, starting with the people that love you. Push fast forward to six weeks after my birthday. It’s ten o’clock on a Wednesday night and I am covered in white frosting: my hands, my hair, my pajamas- and most of my kitchen. On the counter in front of me is a nearly-pinterest-worthy Hello Kitty cake with pretzel whiskers and jelly bean eyes. Elliana turns five in the morning and I’ve been working on her cake since she went to bed. My husband has long since disappeared into the living room, leaving me to frolic in my ocean of powdered sugar and creativity. I’m making a pretty cake, but not because I need to, just because I know my daughter will like it. Elliana decorated my birthday cake, and now I am decorating hers. Her cake said “I luv Mome,” mine is saying “I love you back.”
Grace /gras/ n 1: unmerited help given to people by God 2: freedom from sin coming through divine grace 3: a virtue coming from God 8:CHARM 9: ATTRACTIVENESS, BEAUTY 11: ease of movement
I had a nasty temper. I mean really ugly, un-controlled, violent anger volcano-ing out of my eyes, mouth and hands at the least provocation, anger that had been a part of my internal make up since childhood. God is worked miraculous victory, changing me from the inside out – but those memories of ugly rage, sinful lashing out, and agonizing feelings still shape the way I see myself. So you can imagine how much it meant to me when a woman named Grace for whom I have great respect- a woman who to me embodies quietness, gentle grace and productivity that is precious in the sight of God, gave me an unexpected mother’s day gift along with an encouraging note. If the weight of a compliment is measured by the character of the giver the words of that note were solid gold, which I shall treasure for the rest of my life. The gift that came along with this blessing of words was a book titled “Glimpses of Grace: Treasuring the Gospel in Your Home.” I looked at the book, read the back with much excitement and then stuffed it in my carry-on bag and ran out the door to Hartsfield International Airport. I had a short flight from Atlanta to Detroit, then a layover, then a fourteen hour flight from Detroit home to Seoul. It was a long trip to make alone with three kids, and moving around the airport was especially tricky as we had used our trip back to the states to buy all our summer clothes and were thus hauling seven bags in addition to our pillows pals, souvenirs, and a homemade bow and arrow, but I wasn’t terribly worried. I had done the reverse flight just a few weeks before and the kids were great travelers. So, with a little patience and plenty of digital entertainment I figured we would be fine. But then, the flights were full and we, travelling on standby, didn’t get on. No big deal, this sort of thing happens when we fly stand by. We would just try the next flight- except that flight was full too, and the next, and there were no more flights until the next day and they were already full too. When we didn’t get on the last flight I felt devastated. I was tired and hungry and I wanted to go home to my husband. There were these kids who had already been sitting in an airport for an entire day and were tired of carrying their heavy bags and there were all these people and no one could tell me how I was going to get home. Was it awful? Were we miserable? Was this where my nasty temper took charge with angry growls at the children to sit down and stop complaining? It could have been- for a brief moment it almost was- but then, there was grace. As we sat after that last plane I read the book, my gift of grace from Grace. I read about the gospel, and God’s gift to me, and getting home didn’t seem so desperate any more. God took any frustration or desperation from me and let me enjoy the challenge instead- he freed me from my ugly temper- he gave me grace. Then God gave all three kids great attitudes even though they did enough walking and ruck marching for Dallas to develop raw spots on his shoulders where his backpack straps rubbed him through his t-shirt- God gave us grace. We had no trouble getting a hotel, and even though it was past bedtime, we pulled bathing suits out of our bags and tumbled into the hotel pool- where we soaked in grace. The next day was another entire day spent in the airport. Time and time again fellow passengers complimented the kids on being well behaved, or talked and laughed with us about our adventure. Stressed gate agents stopped and talked to me about their day and did everything they could to make us comfortable. My three kids and I ended up stuck in the Detroit airport for two days. We flew out of Atlanta on Tuesday morning and on Thursday night we flew back to Atlanta to try another route home. Between those times we spent hours sitting in the USO waiting for flights, we traveled up and down the concourse at least six times carrying our entire luggage from gate to gate to gate, and we experienced a glimpse of grace. It was grace- a free gift from God that helped us, that kept me from being slave to my temper, grace that gave us gracious attitudes toward one another. It was grace that attracted people to us and made it easy for us to move through the airport. Because God is gracious, even though we didn’t deserve it, He gave us the ability to move through this adventure with grace. See, grace is like that- it’s the nature of a gift, but it’s also the nature of the giver, and the nature of the work upon the receiver, just like my book, Glimpses of Grace, was a gift from Grace and helped me be graceful during my adventure in Detroit. So, this today, I am saying “thank you Grace, for grace.” And as a side note, I did eventually get home to Seoul- I’m there now writing through a jet legged haze, sitting next to one of my biggest gifts of grace.
On May 11, 2013 my baby sister married a boy named David who has captured her heart as wonderfully as my beloved husband has mine. My heart can’t contain how happy I am for her as love positively glows off of her and I hope this is the begining of a powerful work of God in both their lives. Spilling my champaigne with nerves I was able to share a few words at their reception in the traditional Maid of Honor toast. My dad asked me to write them down, so here is my last hurrah at being a bossy big sister.
“David, I haven’t gotten to interrogate you the way I would really have liked, but I know you must be a man of exceptional character because of how hard my sister has fallen for you. So let me take a moment and tell you about this woman that you have married. You already know Kaitlyn is strong, hardworking, tough, and determined, but this is also the blond haired toddler who could climb up on the knee of our Korean War Vet, Marine Corp grandfather and convince him to make Grover’s funny voice every time he read Grover Goes to the Farm.
She is the preschooler who went gaga at Minnie’s House in Disney Land.
She’s the middle schooler who spent a summer living on our porch roof with her best friend calling themselves roof gnomes.
She wore hot pink tennis shoes under her homecoming dress.
And her nephews and neices think it is important for you to know she can run fast, but not fast enough to beat them in a race.
In short, David, this girl is the treasure of our family. So here’s what you’re going to do. You are going to spend every minute of every day intentionally, passionately, whole heartedly loving… your Savior. You are going to read your Bible every day, and you are going to pray for wisdom to lead this family which has been entrusted to you by God and us. You are going to pray for humility to love and forgive Kaitlyn as God has loved and forgiven you.
And you, Kaitlyn- you are going to read your Bible every day. And you are going to pray for wisdom to support David in his decisions and be his vanguard against sin. You are going to pray for humility to follow him, and to experience the joy of being loved by a man of God.
And everyone else, who joins with them to celebrate their marriage- here’s what you are going to do. You are going to pray for them, and for every couple like them who is trying to do the impossible: to put to death their sin natures and self interests, and become a living, breathing picture of Christ and his beautiful bride, the church. So let’s do that now. Lift your glasses with me as we lift up this couple. God, we pray for Kaitlyn and David, that your spirit will fill them and bind them unshakably. And now…
To Kaity and David and the Spirit who Binds Them.”
“Mom, today is the first day of the month! That means I cook!” Dallas had been begging me for weeks to set aside one day as a “kid’s cook” day. “David and Ana and I can pick out the menu and get the ingredients when we go to the grocery store and then we can do all the cooking and you and dad can go read your Bibles.” Really, how do you turn that down? So I had agreed to make the first of every month “Kid’s Cook” Day, but today was the first of May, and not only had we not planned a menu or picked up ingredients, but we were leaving for an international trip the next day, we weren’t packed, my todo list was a mile long, we had spent the entire day cleaning the kitchen and we were supposed to attend a pot luck at church in the evening. It was not a good day to turn kids loose in the kitchen. Still, I had committed, however regrettably, to this date, and two big brown eyes weren’t going to let me forget it. “Ok, Dallas. I guess you could make a cake for Bible study. We could grab frosting while we are out this afternoon, but please, please keep the kitchen clean. You know we just spent the whole morning scrubbing it.” “OK Mom. Don’t worry, I will take care of it!” I gave him the recipe. A chocolate cake from scratch. Ambitious for an eight year old, maybe, but Dallas has actually done quite a bit of cooking. So, I handed him the recipe, made him responsible for his little brother, and took his little sister with me to clean the bedrooms. “Let us see what Squirt does flying solo” right? (Finding Nemo) And when I passed through the kitchen a few minutes later I was impressed. Dallas and David had mop and dish cloth in hand. After each ingredient they were mopping up any spills, then Dallas would read the next ingredient and measure it out for David to pour in. Over the next thirty minutes I checked on them periodically and they ran in to ask the location of certain ingredients. Elliana and I were hunched on the bottom bunk of the boys’ bunk bed, scrubbing a smudgy wall with magic erasers when Dallas ran in again.
“Mom, we only have enough baking powder for one cup and the recipe calls for three!” Pause.
“Dallas, did you just put a cup of baking powder in your cake batter?”
“Yes, the recipe calls for it.”
“Go read it again. I don’t think that is what the recipe says.”
“Yes, it is, see, right here, ‘three…’ oh, ‘three teaspoons.’ Oops.”
So we looked in the bowl, and there was the baking powder, dumped right on top of the sugar, salt, flour, and all kinds of other all-white ingredients. I scooped out what I could, dumping it into the trash while telling Dallas “I’ll do what I can but it’s hit or miss. The cake might not work now.” “Just from one ingredient?” “Yeah.” Dallas finished the cake, we mixed it up and it tasted great. It was just the right texture. The kids took turns carefully scooping it into a muffin pan, and I slid it into the oven. Five minutes later I noticed the cupcakes smelled done already- in fact, they almost smelled burnt. Hmmm… Opening the oven to investigate I was hit in the face with a cloud of black smoke. The cupcakes had erupted up in a mushroom cloud of atomized chocolate then collapsed in a ring of sticky, gooey, chocolate sludge. “Kids, I hate to break it to you, but I think your cake might have exploded.” I grabbed oven mitts and started pulling the toxic waste out of the oven, but the fall out on the oven floor was still smoking and we live in an apartment building. If our smoke alarm goes of the whole building evacuates. Envisioning a crowd of angry housewives and toddlers spending the morning in the parking lot because of our chocolate cake I shouted to the kids to grab towels and wave them under the smoke detectors while I turned off the oven and tried to stop the smoking. Chaos erupted briefly as kids ran back and forth across the house shouting and waving dish rags, but in the end the alarms did not go off and a few minutes later I caught up with Dallas:
“So, what happened?”
“I didn’t read the recipe right and the cake exploded!” (Said with the glee and appreciation only an eight year old boy can invest into the word “exploded!”)
“And what were the consequences?” His face turned a little more serious, not downcast, but thoughtful.
“We don’t have a cake, and there’s kind of a mess.”
“Mmmhhmm, and what about all those ingredients you used?”
“Well, I guess they were wasted.”
“Yup. So who is going to take care of most of those consequences?”
“Nope. I am going to make sure we have something for small group. I am going to clean up, and Dad is going to keep working so we can buy more ingredients.”
“See, when you are little we will help you out with the consequences as much as we can, but when you are bigger there will be no one; you will have to take care of them yourself. That is why Dad and I are always harping on you about being self controlled. Go slowly and think before you act because a minute of carelessness always has consequences.”
Then we ate the remains of the exploded chocolate cake. With apples, we called them chocolate bubbles. Dallas is working on perfecting the recipe- intentionally this time.