Deep In Monkey Bread

Have you ever tried to make monkey bread with actual monkeys? OK, well neither have I, but I did with the closest thing to little monkeys you can find – a four year old and a 21 month old. A lazy Sunday morning, snowed in again, this time by a second blizzard, seemed like the perfect setting to make monkey bread with two short helpers. There was nowhere to be, no time limits, no rushing. Just us in the kitchen, white lights plugged in, scented candle lit, the silent white snow drifting from the sky to the ground.

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It was not quite the calm, Pinterestly, smiling fun I had in mind. I was tired, a little bit over the snow mounting up to the kitchen windows, and generally not feeling patient. The culinary scenario often goes like this these days: I begin the kitchen process. Oldest child drags her small chair to the counter. Youngest child drops everything she is preoccupied by and leaps like a flea for her chair, pulling with all her strength, frantically yelling “HEP!HEP!HEP!” (Meaning she wants to help, help, help, as well. NOT,  that she needs help.) We situate ourselves, usually with them in the exact place I need to stand in order to achieve any progress and me, waltzing around them, stretching arms between them, or giving the oldest directions for things she can handle.   And quite typically one or both of them falls off their chairs during the session. I often find myself grabbing the youngest off of her chair, holding her, and attempting to cook one handed.

There is no efficiency to this cooking style, no therapeutic relaxation. I am lucky to read thru a recipe, understand it, and get an edible result from it. Hopefully, the girls will at least learn how to cook someday and will not sustain long term trauma from falling off chairs, associating cooking with hitting their heads on the floor.

There are days when I can reasonably handle this arrangement with my tiny chefs. There are days when I banish them from under my feet so I can just make a meal unstressed. There are nights when I cook after they’ve gone to dreamland and I remember there can be a therapeutic quality to the whir of the Kitchen Aid, the stir of a spoon in a pot, the aroma of finished.

Monkey bread blizzard day was not a day I could handle well. Like I said, over tired, over snow, I really just wanted to put the bread in the oven and sit on a couch with a cup of coffee and hypnotize myself with the spiraling snowflakes. The recipe was a tiny bit involved, with many steps and re-reading of the recipe.

IMG_0378There were approximately 2,067 questions from the four year old. There was near tumbling off the chairs. There were don’t touch instructions. There were repeated don’t touch instructions. And a few more. And saving from more near tumbling. And explaining and showing how to make the tiny dough chunks. And how NOT to make the dough chunks. And requests to not eat the dough. And fishing dough out of the baby’s mouth. And more directives not to eat the dough. And answering more questions. And explaining that I was not upset, but that listening to instructions is important. And please don’t reach for the knives. And please don’t play with the dough. And please keep rolling the dough if you want to help. And please stop eating the dough. And getting more dough out of the little mouth. No, do not bite my finger. Please stand on the chair right, you will fall off. Why will you fall off? Because you are not standing up correctly. No, it is not ready yet, it has to rise, then we bake it. Why does it rise? Because it has yeast in it and that makes it puffy and light. What does rise mean? To get higher in the pan. No, we are not baking it right away, I just said that. Please roll the dough in the sugar. Please don’t dump sugar over it. No, not all the sugar in one spot. No, roll the dough in the sugar. Ok, take turns. It is her turn. Because you just had a turn. Don’t eat the sugar. Ok, ALL DONE! Good job, go play.

Are you stressed?  I’m exhausted just remembering it. But, the beautiful thing is that I still love my kids. Of course I do. It would be unnatural if I didn’t just because they asked questions and did not listen. And I will cook with them again. And I’ll get frustrated again and wonder why I cook with them.

And as I was standing there, rolling my eyes at the refrigerator instead of in the direction of the girls, I thought about how much I question God. About how much I want to do things my way. About how often I don’t trust that the plan is good enough. How I think that I need to tweak the plan somehow. That perhaps if I rolled the dough and dumped more sugar over it, it would taste better, because more sugar is always the best, right? Because I cannot trust that less is sometimes more. Because I cannot believe that the plan does not include me being utterly happy right now, this very moment, and throwing forever to the wind. Because, obviously, if I do not have everything that my surrounding culture tells me I need, even the best-intentioned culture, then God’s way of doing things is not good enough and I am missing out. Because living in the wilderness or the desert is clearly God sending me on a dead end path, not the path to milk and honey, glory and delight.

My little four year old is learning about her world. My little 21 month old is copying and trying her best to keep up. Both of them are incredibly determined that they can exist without help, that they have life figured out, right here, right now. And while, I am often impressed by their life savvy, I clearly know they do not have everything figured out. I know that they need to learn that all the sugar does not need to be dumped onto one section of the dough.

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I am not so foolish to think that my children understand their neediness at this age. They are naturally learning and will learn by hearing things over and over and by falling off chairs and getting up again. And I am grateful that God is patient with me. I am comforted knowing that no matter how often I believe the lie that my way or the more shiny way is better than God’s, He will still look at me and see Christ’s blood. He will still wrap me in His arms and call me His child. He will see the work of the Cross and remind me with gentle love that He knows better than I, because He has given me everything I need for life and godliness in Christ. He, the Author of my faith, the Finisher of my faith, the ultimate creator who created an unfathomable redemption plan will not rob me of happiness. I need to remember that my Father invites me to participate in this life of faith, to increase in knowledge, because He loves me more than I can fathom. And my tiny chefs, who try to roll dough while doing ballet while standing on a chair are my constant reminders that a perfect Father plans a perfect path in perfect love.

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Snow on Snow

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The snowflakes keep falling from the sky. Snow has fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow*. The sky seems to have settled into a permanent shade of chalky gray. Not a shade I would want to paint my walls, exactly, but it is a still, calm color.  The snowdrifts are feet high, not inches high.  I look up at the sky and down at the ground and straight out my windows and I see the same whitish shade.  It is punctuated only by brown tree branches and the faint color of neighborhood houses.  It is not the winter wonderland often seen in photographs, a snowy world where the trees turn white with icy sparkles. Instead, its a bit like living in a large milk carton.

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I am trying to be fine with the repetition of each white day.  There are days that feel leisurely and slow and a bit like living in a candle lit Hallmark commercial, with warm stews simmering on the stove and family gathered together.  There are other days that feel like I’ve awoken in a white walled asylum and should just don an orange jumpsuit. And find mini-jumpsuits for the small inmates.  The sameness can make me restless.

And yet, every snow fall is different.  Every snow flake has a different size and form.  Every snow storm has a different atmospheric influence and temperature.  The vast whiteness has a form.  The canvas stretching across in front of me is composed of millions of particles, all unique.

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There is something comforting about sameness. About repetition.  About eternality.

And there is something refreshing about new.  About different.  About individuality and love.

The snowflakes fall, looking the same, but they are all individual, unique, and fresh with each appearance.

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And then there is God who makes it snow, who creates these innumerable snowflakes.  Eternal, forever, the same yesterday, today, forever.  And new, merciful, loving, and creative every day. God, the one who brings the seasons, is the same at the beginning and end of each season.  Eternal God before horrific acts are done to His martyred children, and eternal God after.  The God who gives new mercy every morning, welcoming home His children waking in Heaven and giving grace to His church still on Earth.  

If Abraham had been in a snowy climate, I think God might have asked him to number the snowflakes instead of the stars in the sky in Genesis 15.  Snowflakes and stars and grass and leaves and waves and flowers and people have this repetitive nature.  It is fairly difficult (in most cases) to number them and yet every single one is different.

There is comfort in the thought that God never changes and that when mercy is extended it is never revoked.  That sameness will keep one’s mind steady in a dizzying world.  But that mercy is not just old mercy that never changes. It remains the same, but it is new every single morning.  It is fresh, renewing over and over.  It is the same and it is new.  It is the mercy that holds the souls of men and women who belong to God from the beginning of time and the mercy that lands upon men and women today.  It is the fullness of God, giving us grace upon grace, like snow upon snow.  Repeating and replenishing at the same time.

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“But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him.” (Lamentations 3:21-25 ESV)

*paraphrased from Rossetti

Cosmic Sledgehammer or Eternal Redeemer

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I used to think of God as a kind of harsh teacher who would send one lesson after another, periodically spaced, into my life. In this picture, I envisioned that I would head through a hard event and if I could learn the corresponding lesson quickly, the event would end, I would get everything right and then God could be happy and love me. I would then be free to scamper along merrily, until it was time to learn a new lesson. Then He could hammer in another scenario and I would repeat the scene of learning and pleasing Him. These events would repeat one after the other, Him smashing down the hammer of learning, and me responding appropriately and with complete surrender to make sure He was satisfied.

We do not want hard lives. We do not want to suffer. We do not want to be afraid. There are various levels of suffering in our world. There are places in the world that know of more intense suffering than I can handle mentally. Then there are troubles with money, sad relationships, divorce, infertility, monetary struggles, loss, and general fear. I don’t really feel like I have suffered in great measure. Life has been easy, and almost too pleasant. My cynical side says, “you have it too good, something has to correct itself.” After life goes along smoothly for a time, I begin to wonder what might happen next… But, then, everyone’s life is different and what is hard for one person does not come to another’s door. When the potential for hardship looms, it leads me into a place where I am forced to remember that God is loving. That even in the hardest circumstances, God is my help, my salvation. He is the resurrection and life.

I often live afraid of suffering. I’m more afraid of being afraid of suffering than I am afraid when actually going through something hard and trusting God in the process. But ironically, in some respects, it is easier to be in a place where I have no choice but to trust because the circumstances are so far beyond my control that I have no illusion of having options. I like to think I can control my life and minimize risk. That too is faulty logic. I admire people who say that they want to be closer to God and they know they will suffer in the process. I would never pray to bring suffering on myself. I am too weak. And yet, I know there will be hardness and pain in life, regardless whether I pray for it or pray to avoid it.

The hard part of living in this broken world is to understand why, if God is good, there is suffering. Really, the suffering is not because God is good or bad, but because there is systemic evil haunting us since the Garden of Eden. The fall and the resulting need of redemption is the root of suffering’s stem. The truth behind all of the brokenness is that God is there, always present, helping His beloved children along THROUGH the suffering that the fall has cursed them with, not sending hammers down on their heads to make them stronger or more valuable to Him. His children are of value, otherwise, why the need for a redemption plan? He is the one who said, “don’t”, in the beginning. But we did. So, now He holds us close as we suffer under the effects of that original disobedience.

I once thought God was the sledgehammer. I thought He dangled it over the heads of His children, just waiting for the perfect opportunity to judge us for our missteps, to teach us valuable lessons, to make us more incredibly and mindlessly obedient.

And then I became a parent. And I am by far not a perfect parent, as He is. But in no imaginable scenario would I ever tauntingly discipline my children “just because”. (I have read some sadistic discipline advice that does advocate creating teachable moments for children, to test their obedience, but that is wholly unbiblical or extra biblical, whichever word you like.)  No, rather, when the child falls down because they were told not to walk on the ice, or the second child gets hurt because the first child created a harmful situation, or, fill in the blank…., that is when we remind them of how they could have avoided the situation, remind them that obedience matters, remind them that we all are in desperate need of Christ’s help, and comfort them and help them with every shred of breath we have. Of course there is natural frustration at times, because we are not perfect. No normal and healthy parent wants to see their own child suffer. But we know they will, at times. And so we prepare them and help them and comfort them and encourage them as much as we can through these hard times. And that is how God cares for us, but with infinitesimal perfection.  The effect of the fall wasn’t God’s revenge on His creation. Instead, He took the evil of Fall and created good from it – the incredible path back to His arms through Christ on the cross.

There is no possible way in which a cosmic sledgehammer would create the plan to redeem His children when they had enraged his wrath by disobeying His command. A loving Father, however, would look at His children’s disobedience and find a way to rescue them from the tangles in which they were trapped. A cosmic sledgehammer would stand by and watch suffering of His creation with snark and cynicism. A loving Father sacrificed His son to rescue the poor souls who distrusted and still distrust Him. When children fail to trust, we reach out again and again, assuring them of our care and love. Most religions have a God or god like figure who exacts some sort of penalizing retribution upon disobedience. But our God is one who looks in pity with grace and says, forgive them, they do not know what they do. He looks at suffering children and says, come and rest, give me your burdens, cast your cares on me, I am the resurrection and the life. The perfect Father, the perfect Savior, is the one to whom we trust our lives and our souls, as little children who need to be held.