the chef bakes a cake...
I had a convicting experience in the kitchen earlier today. I'm still trying to process it, so I hope what comes out here makes sense...
This afternoon our friends came by for coffee, so I decided to make a cake. I have to admit, I don't bake much here in India (my roommate Alisha is an EXCELLENT baker--croissants, bagels, cinnamon rolls, biscuits, cookies, you name it!), but I had a box mix that my mom had sent from the US so I thought I'd give it shot.
My first mistake, and the reason I'm a better cook than a baker, was not following the directions, but taking them more as "suggestions." I did ok with all the ingredients, but I don't know what size the pan is that I used, but I figured it wouldn't matter too much, so I just poured all the cake batter in and popped it in the oven. About 20 minutes into the baking time, I realized that the top was getting really brown, so I pulled the cake out to check it. The top was brown, and the edges were done, but the middle was still quite gooey.
I wasn't sure what to do, but then I remembered that when I was a kid, my grandma used to make cake for me and my sister with her little sandwich maker (the thing that was like a George Foreman but for sandwiches). This was my train of thought: you can make grilled cheese sandwiches in those sandwich makers, and you can also make cakes; you can also make grilled cheese in the skillet, therefore you should also be able to cook cake (I know you're laughing now if you weren't already!). So I took the cooked part of the cake and set it aside and then scooped the gooey part up and tossed it into the skillet.
I was making a huge mess by this point, but everything seemed to be working pretty well. I finished cooking the cake in the skillet and put it on the plate with the other pieces. It tasted fine, but looked awful, so I decided maybe some icing would help. I'm not a great icing maker either (once again, following directions is important), but I got Alisha to look up a recipe and gave it a shot. At first, it looked great, but before I could put it on the cake (or the pieces of cake that I'd tried to rearrange in the pan), it started separating. I'm still not sure why it did that, but I smeared it on the cake anyway and popped the whole mess in the freezer, hoping that cooling it down might help.
[Hmm...maybe this is genetic....I'm suddenly reminded of a similar incident my mother had with a chocolate birthday cake she made for my sister several years ago. It was such a disaster that it ended up in the freezer, full of the toothpicks my mother had attempted to keep it together with. I don't think she's made a chocolate cake since then.]
Well, my friends came not long after this, and the cake ended up just staying in the freezer--I was too embarrassed to serve it to anyone, and my roommates got a good laugh out of it when I pulled it out for them later.
The more I think about this cake, the more I think this is how I interact with God, and it kind of scares me. I think I keep trying to take the messes in my life and "doctor them up" instead of just being honest and bringing them to Him. I keep pretending and fixing and hiding instead of letting His grace work itself out in all areas of my life, even those that I'm scared to admit exist. I'm so worried about looking nice and proper that, like the cake, I hide anything that seems too messy.
I think that's why I enjoy cooking--I can glance over a couple recipes, take from them what I like, and pretty much experiment away, because it tends to be a much less precise science than baking. But baking...you might be able to get away with a few things here and there, but if you really slip up, it's going to show because your cake is going to turn our looking funky.
Cooking just allows you to hide more. I love to "doctor up" dishes that might not have gotten off to a good start. You can make so much from so little, and it still looks (and tastes) impressive. Cooking leaves more room for creativity and spontaneity, and even if my spaghetti sauce turns out a little different every time, it still tastes pretty good.
I think God may teach me a number of lessons from this goofy experience, but what hit me as I was washing the dishes was that, just like the cake recipe, I tend to treat His Word more like suggestions than something that truly guides my life. Ouch.
I find myself "cooking" with Him...taking bits and pieces of what I like from Him, His word, His people and mixing them up into something that I think will turn out great, but it just doesn't. Experimenting with His grace, His mercy, His power, etc. leaves me with a mess and a strong desire to do whatever I can to cover it up and pretend everything is alright.
So, as they say in India, kya karna? (what to do?) I've been here for a year now (an overwhelming thing in and of itself), and I feel like more than culture, language, people, students, food or anything else Indian, I'm learning about myself. The good, the bad, and the extremely ugly...It hasn't always been a fun process, and I can't say that I really feel any farther along than I did a year ago, but I do hope the next year holds more of the same.
I'm not really good at ending thoughtful posts like this, so I steal lyrics from one of my favorite songs, Wrecking Ball, by Jill Phillips:
"So piece together these little mysteries
It isn't hard to see the writing on the wall
Triumph and tragedy, only God can be
Both the Builder and the Wrecking Ball.
And He builds it up
And He knocks it down
Just to build
it up, even stronger..."