Yellow Cake

Boldly, Tanya || Yellow Cake
Photo Credit

Tinkling bells signaled our arrival as we entered the old corner grocery. It was small and dark and smelled like cardboard, but the penny candy and sunshine radiating through the front windowpanes made it warm and inviting.

As we walked, the worn cotton wood floor squeaked in protest of my grandpa’s heavy footfalls. It never did that when I walked on it, as if it thought I was too slight and insignificant to bother with. It wasn’t the first to feel that way or treat me like that. Except that day it didn’t matter what the floor or anyone else thought of me, because it was my birthday, and I was hitching a ride on grandpa’s hip.

I loved it when he carried me. He was a man of great stature (in both importance and height). He was well over six feet tall, and stocky and muscular, but he was also a bit paunchy around the middle, having succumbed to middle age, fatty food, and beer. He was the perfect mix of strong and soft. I was convinced his arms were made to carry me. In them, I felt safe and protected. I dreaded the moment when he would have to let me go.

The boisterous grocer (whom I desperately want to call Eugene, although I don’t remember his name) looked like the long lost cousin of Colonel Sanders and Orville Redenbacher. He had white hair and wire rim glasses, spoke kindly, and had never met a stranger. He called out to my grandpa, asking what he was looking for.

I felt my grandpa’s baritone answer rumbling about his chest before it left his mouth. “We are looking for cake,” he explained. “Today is her fourth birthday. We have to make a cake for a big girl. Not some baby cake.”

I smiled and bashfully hid my face in my grandpa’s neck. He smelled like cigarettes, greasy metal, Old Spice, and sweat. I am pretty sure that is the exact smell of heaven.

“Four years old!” exclaimed Eugene the grocer with an added whistle. “She will be driving before you know it.”

“She’s almost long enough to reach the pedals now!” my grandpa retorted.

I squeezed my bony legs around his belly and locked my ankles on the other side of him as proof of my burgeoning tallness. It was something I was just able to do having finally grown enough and I desperately hoped someone would notice. No one did.

Instead, Eugene pointed us in the right direction. We stopped in front of a colorful collection of boxes and pondered our choices. Then I saw it: the lonely box of yellow cake mix. It needed someone to love it, and I was just the girl. I let Grandpa know. He picked it up and then asked what kind of frosting I wanted.

Frosting? What kind of frosting goes with yellow cake? The box paired it with chocolate, but I noticed that most of the cakes had a frosting that clearly went with it. White cake had white frosting. Strawberry had strawberry. Chocolate had chocolate. German chocolate had that weird coconutty stuff. But there was no yellow frosting for my beloved yellow cake. Instead, they were trying to convince me it went with chocolate.

I became fretful.

“Grandpa, there is no match,” I whined. “There is nothing to go with yellow cake.”

Grandpa always had an uncanny ability to sense my moods and know what I was thinking, even if I didn’t.

“Who said they have to match?” asked Grandpa.

“But all the other cakes their own frosting. They all go together. Chocolate already goes with chocolate. It’s not supposed to go with yellow. Yellow is supposed to go with yellow,” I lamented as tears began to streak my dirty cheeks.

“Says who?” He asked.

“I want yellow frosting. Yellow should be with yellow,” I reasoned.

“Well baby, there isn’t any yellow frosting. Sure, chocolate taste good with chocolate, but who says chocolate can’t go with the yellow cake, too,” he consoled. “Anyway, look at us: we don’t match, but we go together good, I think. There is no yellow and your cake won’t match it’s frosting, but it doesn’t mean you still can’t have a good cake. Now, which one of these is your favorite?”

“Chocolate,” I whimpered.

“Well then, what are you waiting for? Get some chocolate! In fact, you better get two. Now that you are four you might decide you want extra.”

I grabbed two cans of Betty Crocker chocolate frosting and we made our way to the checkout. Eugene, anticipating our needs, had already switched aprons and abandoned the butcher’s counter for the cashier’s desk. He made small talk with Grandpa as he began to ring us up.

My memory fades as we are checking out. I don’t know where we went after that. I don’t remember what the cake actually looked like or how it tasted. I don’t even remember my TWIN sister. (She has to be part of this story. It was her birthday, too.) I just remember being held by my grandfather in the middle of the grocery store as he spoke some of the most epic words of my life. He communicated love and acceptance that transcended time. His wisdom was tailored to fit a four year old, but it is still resonating in my heart more than thirty years later.

That memory is my first. That is as far back as I can go. Yet, it does not escape me that the very first memory I have, as a child who was abandoned, is one of love and acceptance and explanation. That is the way God has worked my entire life.

I cannot count the number of times I have felt like that ridiculous box of yellow cake mix lumped with chocolate because I didn’t have frosting of my own. I felt like an intrusion. My parents weren’t really my parents; they were my grandparents who got stuck with us because no one else wanted us. My home wasn’t really my home; it was a place to wait for my mom to come back, except she never did. Not even my toys and clothes were truly mine; they were loans or second hand finds that I had to share with my sister. My life was defined by encroachment. Even now, there are still times where I feel like I don’t belong, like I am an interloper or a squatter in someone else’s space.

In those moments, I think of the words of my Grandpa. Who says? Am I missing something wonderful because I am too busy sobbing over the way things are supposed to be? What if I enjoyed what I have, even it isn’t the way I imagined it. What if I looked for unexpected joys (like the fact I got to have my favorite chocolate frosting on my yellow cake) instead of focusing on what was wrong (chocolate doesn’t match yellow)?

In a dusty grocery store on my fourth birthday, Grandpa taught me not to give convention the power to steal my joy and rob me of blessings. Maybe what I have doesn’t fit the pattern or look like the things other people have, but that doesn’t make it less. Sometimes, there is more beauty in the unique than the ordinary, and more value in the unprecedented than the expected.

 

 

My One Word for 2016: Discipline.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/biggreymare/2398172541/in/photolist-4DVg9r-dPiSNM-nt4xA6-dpRbkd-7gT96N-r2m7zu-bCqiy5-5zBD5k-7Yyxyt-cL4GY-odRrTs-rx7TX9-h1ZeTT-8LvY1T-5EW43p-bNPvLc-4dGEs-gFhNKF-jVjtjr-f9Xtn3-7CKs5z-7bLUS7-u97n1u-fNuK9r-qRYacS-uvLKdU-f9XtJb-8wr3c-e67hxo-apWagw-phvTY9-d2AWt-2fMECq-cZqjMm-ACWW3N-7UW4At-akEYeW-8rTpN9-s6bcir-uBfiA9-sHC6yq-oHby5z-ejMD8-f9HdVH-7vhPpA-f9nGXa-f9nGPT-dafoMe-4MW54G-azhdVh
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Last year, I set out to do so many Things. I had so many intentions and I made so many plans and I invested so much time into figuring out how to do the Things just right, but now, at year’s end, the Things don’t look the way I envisioned. The budding beginnings of these wonderful Things withered into non-existence due to my neglect. I failed to nurture them into greatness. I failed to see things through.

I just failed.

This forces some treacherous introspection and requires me to confront some nasty truths; the biggest being my complete lack of discipline – a quality that manifests in numerous ways. I give up when things get hard. I succumb to temptation. I get knocked down and just decide to stay down. I find an excuse. I never really start because I am waiting for the right time or for things to be perfect. Worse, I fail to plan anything at all and end up overwhelmed.

On a spectrum ranging from complete laziness to industrious burn out, I find a billion and one reasons not to do something, even if it is something I desperately want to do. Lawlessness is the silver spoon I use to sample each and every one of those problematic motives. Every bite is followed by the repulsive aftertaste of self-loathing; yet, I keep going back for more.

What is wrong with me?

It’s time to put the spoon down and step away from the table. This knowledge necessitates change. So I am making discipline my one word for 2016 (while noting the irony).

I don’t view self-discipline as a stand-alone. It isn’t something you can go to the grocery store and buy prepackaged and ready to serve.

Rather, it is gained through the pursuit of other things. Much like gasoline, it is the fuel required to make the car go, so you can arrive at your destination. You wouldn’t buy a gallon of gas just to have one, they way you might by a television or a necklace. It’s value lies in its ability to aid other endeavors. You wouldn’t need it if you didn’t have a vehicle, and you wouldn’t have a vehicle if you didn’t have a need to get somewhere different from where you are.

The real problem is this: how do you get to the gas station when you have no gas?

How do I acquire discipline when I lack the discipline to acquire anything?

It is a trick question with a simple answer: It comes with the car. The dealer always fills up the tank before you drive off the lot.

God made me for a purpose, and He equips me to achieve that purpose.

Self-discipline, self-control, temperance, however you want to say it, is a fruit of the Spirit. My only hope of ever combating my fleshy lack of self-control is through the intervention of the Spirit. I must continually and prayerfully seek His intercession. He will enable me to go where He is leading. That is step one.

But self-discipline is not only a divine gift, it is also a human task.

Meaning: I can’t just sit here waiting for God to miraculously and instantaneously snap His holy fingers and grant me perfect virtue. That is rarely the way it works. Instead, I have to practice.

So don’t lose a minute in building on what you’ve been given, complementing your basic faith with good character, spiritual understanding, alert discipline, passionate patience, reverent wonder, warm friendliness, and generous love, each dimension fitting into and developing the others. With these qualities active and growing in your lives, no grass will grow under your feet, no day will pass without its reward as you mature in your experience of our Master Jesus. Without these qualities you can’t see what’s right before you, oblivious that your old sinful life has been wiped off the books. 2 Peter 1:5-9 (MSG)

That passage will be my spiritual anchor this year, but here are a few more practical ideas I am kicking around to help hone my “alert discipline”.

  1. Set goals and clearly define them. I need a map to figure out exactly where I want to go. Then I need a plan so I can figure out what is required to get there. That should keep me from going adrift on the breeze. Idleness comes too easily when I don’t have a plan to which I can moor.
  1. Pursue accountability. It is much easier to disappoint myself than others. That typically means I share nothing, but in doing so, I loose all accountability. I must make room for the support and encouragement of others. God has blessed me with good people. I need them to act as guardrails ensuring I don’t plunge off a cliff.
  1. Stop putting things off. I spend a lot of time waiting for the Right Time, and it stands me up every time. It is never going to come. Things will never be perfect. I need to work on finding the sweet spot, where I have adequately planned but I am not just waiting around for every last detail to fall prettily into place. I will probably need the people’s help with that, too.
  1. Get back up. How good I am at falling down is exactly how bad I am at getting back up. I just lay there pondering and pontificating, but certainly not progressing. Succumbing to failure is easier than standing back up. Obviously, that hasn’t worked out well for me.
  1. Know my limits. I have to learn to say no to some good things so I can concentrate on the best things. I have to move items off my plate before I try to put more on it. Otherwise one of two things happen. I pour a lot into trivial things without rationing anything for the essentials, or I get so burdened I can’t focus on anything.
  1. Take care of me. Fortunately, I know what I need to be successful. I have to make time for those things. Prioritizing proper nutrition, exercise, quality time with my people, and rest is imperative if I want to maintain a steady course, because they are vital to my physical and mental well-being. Hopefully, by taking proper care of myself, I can better withstand temptation. Further, habitually doing these small things inherently increases my self-discipline.

There you have it – my meager game plan. This will be trial and error, but I have to start somewhere.

Do you have any tips or suggesting on how to achieve self-discipline? Do you have one word you are working on this year? I would love to hear from you!

Scar colored lenses.

Version 3

Natalie was invited to her very first birthday party. It was kind of a big deal. For nearly six years she had to stay home while her big brother and sister attended these lavish affairs. Today was different. Today, it was her turn and she was going to par-tay.

Natalie’s BFF was having a real tea party with real tea and cakes and party dresses and bells to call servers to wait on them hand and foot. That basically covers every item on Natalie’s list of things she expects to find in heaven, except Jesus. I texted to see if we could just drop her off early. The gracious hostess said yes, and we thanked the Lord that we made it before the explosive excitement building pressure inside Nat took out innocent bystanders. We picked her up a few hours later, and the entire way home she regaled us with details of the party. Her chatter was incessant and I had no worries at all that she had the time of her life.

The next day, I opened a message and found that picture. Admittedly, it is a cute picture of my kid with a fun photo prop. Except my kid was born with a facial deformity. One that affects her smile and has left jagged scars on her delicate skin. That fake grin on a stick became a great equalizer and on the surface, she was just like every other little girl at that party. She intentionally picked a photo prop that concealed every trace of what she had been through.

Why did she chose that prop? Does she hate her face?

Without a word, I closed my laptop. I did not even respond to the message. No polite thank you for the invitation. No gushing about cuteness. No mom praise for pulling off a fantastic party. Nothing but a stunned stupor and deep breathing.

My husband noticed my drastic change in my demeanor and wanted to know what was wrong. I showed him the picture. His response was short and tender, but impactful, “It’s Natalie.”

At that, I let everything go and succumbed to the scourge of tears that had threatened since I first looked at that picture. I wailed. All my facial orifices leaked. It was ugly. And wet.

He is right, of course. It is Natalie, our little girl. Our gift from God. From the beginning, He has been with that child. So many times we have thanked Him for making her strong and plucky and resilient, knowing she will need those characteristics to endure her life. He didn’t give her a hardship and leave it at that. He gave her the ability to endure and even overcome it. He gives us the ability to parent her through it. No, it isn’t easy, but yes, He is faithful though it all. He has never failed.

Further, Natalie has never even hinted at scar insecurity. I just saw a picture and assumed the thing I most fear had happened.  (Coincidentally, always assuming the worst is a trait I despise in other people. That makes me both histrionic AND hypocritical.)

There is one thread of imparted wisdom that I cling to in unsure moments regarding Natalie: “The way you handle it will be the way she handles it.” I decided to stop speculating handle it head on. (After I stopped blubbering, cleaned myself up, and was sure I could maintain my composure long enough to have the needed conversation. So, like the next day…)

“Natalie, come look at this picture Mrs. J sent of the party. You had so many friends there, and those photo props are awesome,” I began.

“I know, Mom!” she gushed. “I really wanted the hat, and the pearls were my next choice, but they were both taken. So, I just chose the lips because they were pink and white and they matched my dress.”

She chose the lips because they matched her dress. That is just like Natalie.

“I think you made a great choice,” was all I could manage to say right then.

“I know!” she quipped over her shoulder as she skipped away in her party hat while carrying her party purse.

That was all. The end.

I had allowed myself to get worked up, thinking my baby despised her scars, when her mind was no where near them. She was only thinking of the party, and her dress, and having more fun than a nearly six year old can imagine.

I was projecting my concerns onto her. When I do that, I am forsaking God’s promises in favor of worry and fear. Perhaps there will come a time when the scars of her facial deformity will make her want to hide. But maybe they won’t. Regardless, God will be there each step of the way, equipping us to handle it.

Scars. If I examine every experience through scar colored lenses, then scars are all I will ever see. Worse, she will learn to do the same and those scars will them become all that she sees.  Hello, self-fulfilling prophecy, let me show you the way out.

When my anxious thoughts multiply within me,
Your consolations delight my soul. Psalm 94:19

Photo by Hollie Feickert
Photo by Hollie Feickert

Let’s socialize

I am really scared to put myself out there, so I have done it in baby steps. It started with this blog. I told myself when I got to the point where I could handle it, I would actually tell someone about it. However, “the point where I could handle it” has proven to be a very arbitrary measure. Also, that was nearly three years ago! Let’s face it – I am a big chicken and I will never feel ready. It is time to let go of my fear and do this.

I now have a blog specific Facebook and Twitter. I even added little social media buttons to the bottom of my posts. If you are so inclined, please like and follow.

You are the best. Thanks for listening and supporting and encouraging.

Mixed signals

Photo Credit
Photo Credit

Inevitably, when I decide to do something, I run into every obstacle imaginable. Like when I announced I was going to write a book. I made it 9431 words before I fried my laptop. Dead. Kaput. Complete with sizzling, smoke, and an acrid odor.

Did I mention that this is the second laptop I have fried courtesy of a “liquid spill” in less than one year? I decided to get serious about my writing last February, and the SAME THING happened. (Not quite…that was Cinnamon Toast Crunch and I was careless…)

This time, it was a really freak accident. I wasn’t intentionally careless. I didn’t do something remarkably stupid. At the time, I was convinced I was being vigilant.

You wanna know what caused the catastrophe?

KIDS.

Yes, I am going there. I blame the kids.

Whatever. They didn’t know that the bag they negligently scooted under the littlest’s feet contained my laptop. They didn’t know they perfectly positioned it to receive the tiniest amount of soda that she was bound to spill as I passed it to her in the Taco Bell drive-thru. They didn’t know that she would understate the size of her spill so I would believe it was just a trickle when it was clearly all of it.

kids…

Anyway, fried via root beer. That was the official diagnosis of the laptop.

Fortunately, the good people at Apple were able to repair the damage. Thank the Good Lord Jesus, my hard drive wasn’t damaged and all of my work is safe and saved, but it really set me back. Pre-root beer, there was progress in the form of nearly 2000 words per day. It was all crap, but I was writing actual words. Words that formed intuitively, without thought or intention or real effort. Words that expressed fledgling ideas that would grow and develop. Words that could be crafted into something tangible, like sentences and paragraphs and chapters and stories that could fill pages and minds. That root beer didn’t just flood my motherboard, it quenched my creative spark and washed all the words away.  Not one has escaped since the drive-thru mishap.

Unless I get incredibly creative and locate a cache of misplaced time, I am destined to fail NaNoWriMo 2015. After I declared my intention to the world. That is the worst. The world will know I failed. It will be documented on the interweb for the viewing pleasure of everyone for all time.

When things like this happen, I really struggle deciding if this is a sign from God that I shouldn’t be doing this, or if it is an attack of the enemy because I am finally doing what the Lord placed me here to do (my Pentecostal is showing). It is hard for me to ignore that TWICE I have committed to writing a book, and both times I have let the smoke out of expensive electronics required to complete said book. Is this God’s way of telling me that my dream isn’t His plan? Am I exaggerating my gift? Is my ‘calling’ really just a human aspiration I flavored with evangelical speak?

Because I believe absolutely in God’s sovereignty and foreknowledge, I am loath to view anything as a random event. I believe God uses everything for His purpose, and further, he choreographed every flitter and flutter of everyone’s and everything’s existence. There is purpose in the great soda flood of ’15.  Maybe it will be revealed tomorrow or fifty years from now, or by the time I finish this monologue. Maybe not. Regardless, there is purpose.

I am unsure. I don’t want to stop writing, but there is no denying my discouragement, frustration, and confusion. I tell myself that those are not things that come from the Lord, but I continually return to those places. My humanity is diseased with pessimism and uncertainty and fear of failing man.

But in Christ there is freedom. There is freedom to experience setbacks and recover, to learn and adjust, to be disciplined and amend. There is freedom to stop and assess and freedom to plunge in with both feet and eyes tightly shut. There is also freedom to wait. I am not bound by human nature, dejection, or skepticism. I am not a slave to man’s opinion or whims.

Officially, I have decided that the setback is just that, a setback. It was a good opportunity for me to ponder things like my pride and motives and intentions. For now, I am going to keep plugging along, giving this over to God every step of the way. I chose to exercise perseverance and trust in the Lord.

Admittedly, easier said than done.

Will I ever get my book written? I dunno. Will I continue to write, anyway? Yes.

Mostly because I don’t know how to stop.