Things I have learned this week:
- Ear infections can cause horrific, wracking coughs that make it sound like lungs, spleens and kidneys are being hacked up.
- Homeopathic remedies actually work sometimes, and can be made into funny little sugar water drinks for ear infected Quail.
- A Central American country has ancient ruins of gigantic head statues, just sitting without necks or bodies on the ground. Not terribly relevant, this point, but interesting nonetheless.
- You can actually bake straight powdered sugar and nothing explodes.
The last point is fairly relevant, actually. So let’s start there.
So, we have had some odd sicknesses lately. A series of infections in various body parts, lots of antibiotics floating about (and even making it into bodies most of the time, with the noteworthy exception of the time that the Beloved was trying to tilt the bottle to get the last remaining skiff, which turned out not to be a skiff so much as a glug, based on the size of the sticky pink puddle on the counter). It has not been the overt, out-and-out sickness that makes it obvious that what you need is to inhale Vick’s Vaporub (aka — the Magic) and watch Christmas movies until 2 seconds shy of bed sores (couch sores… whatever). No, it has been of the ambivalent variety, where it is not unthinkable to keep doing school, where you actually might keep appointments, and only watch half of your Christmas movie collection (which would be larger if the Quail could find where they stashed my favorite set of black and white holiday movies. Christmas in Connecticut is missing!! Send help!!).
Which leads me, unavoidably, to cake.
Most things do, I suppose, but yesterday it felt particularly appropriate in the light of all the weirdness to call a short school day and one that was motivated by one of the simplest and homiest cakes of all time: the Hot Milk Sponge Cake, pulled straight from the Betty Crocker Cookbook that was given to me 18 years ago, when I was a young and hopeful bride. It is quick to whip up, has only a handful of ingredients, and doesn’t feel like a gut bomb of sweetness. My mistake, looking back with that painfully annoying 20/20 hindsight that is such a stinking know-it-all, is that I attempted to bake a cake and shower in the same morning. Talk about failed multitasking.
One of the perks of having semi-grown Quail is that they can pull things out of the oven, and generally without incident. So I got the pan full o’ promise into the oven and the Quail the Second was posted on timer duty, and honestly, I did not think I was setting her up for failure. I have made this cake dozens of times and have no note scribbled along the side of the recipe indicating that the bake time was inaccurate, so she had no reason to think that there was more to her job than simply pulling the cake out of the oven. When I returned to the kitchen, squeaky clean I might add, the top was golden and all seemed right with the world, so after the obligatory cooling time, I powdered sugared the top and prepared to delight my Quail with their school snack.
However, when I cut into the cake, I discovered not the fluffy, almost boingy sponge cake I was expecting, but rather something akin to golden pudding with a thin crust across the top. I was horrified, because I had already finished the cake with powdered sugar! Can you even re-bake a cake that is covered in powdered sugar??
There was nothing for it but to try, and I am happy to report that actually, the results may have been even better than what was originally intended; the sugar, instead of melting or exploding, actually stayed put and the edges of the cake took on a sugary, caramelized glory that is a delight to the senses. In short, my timeline for the cake left it unfinished; more heat was needed to reach perfection.
And as is so often the case in my life, the lessons here did not stay in the realm of cake. God in His providence brought me a day that left me crying out like the Psalmist: How long?? How long are You going to leave me in this?? Can’t we call it good now, do we have to stay in this wretched, miserable heat any longer? Maybe it is good enough for me to just be sanctified on the edges. Maybe I don’t care anymore about being finished, about being perfected… this feels good enough to me, and let’s be honest, I keep messing up this bake anyway. Sprinkle on some sugar and call it good.
But God said no. He is the Baker, not me. So He will not leave me pudding-hearted when He could instead send trials that will turn me into the glorious image of His Son… over time. This is not the work of a moment. And heat is the means He is using to strengthen me at my core, to bring me to completion, to a sweetness that will not fade away.
Don’t be surprised at the fire, He tells me.
But it hurts… it has been too long… surely we must be done by now… right?
I may cry out that I am insufficient to the task, that the heat is just too much, but He is gentle in reminding me that such is rather the point — His grace is sufficient for me, and His power made perfect in weakness. And I certainly have weakness to offer Him. So as I enjoyed that simple cake that wasn’t, I offer it, and all my other doubts and complaints, all the pain and the misery of this brief moment (what is the time to bake a cake compared to the joy of eternity? Nothing. Like a dream we will barely remember one day) and I bake on, in faith.