Still sick. Still on the couch … and feeling incredibly unproductive. Hope to be back in the saddle very soon, but in the meantime, here’s something I wrote several years back.
This morning, a group from our church is leaving for Mexico. Once there, they’ll cuddle babies in an orphanage and paint the walls of a run-down school. They’ll practice their shaky Spanish with strangers on dusty streets and share the gospel through bits of sentences and songs and drama. And I won’t be with them.
I’ve wanted to go on a mission trip for as long as I can remember. Something in me won’t rest until I’ve left my kitchen and moved beyond my garden and past the tall evergreens at the edge of our farm. I want–I need–to reach past my neighbors and their neighbors and keep reaching until I’ve stood on foreign land and spoken the name Jesus to one person who has never heard that word before.
But God has something else in mind for me today. On this morning, while my friends head south, I have my own important task: today, we’re making muffins.
My sleepy-eyed girl wanders downstairs and brightens at the sight of two china cups sitting on the counter. We settle ourselves at the table and sip Chai tea while we rifle through a stack of stained and dog-eared recipe cards. Tera tosses aside the cards for Carrot Bran Muffins and Blueberry and Pumpkin Chocolate Chip. She’s searching for her favorite, and when she finds it–when she spots the card with one red blotch on the top corner–she holds it up and grins. Raspberry Buttermilk.
We grab plastic bowls and pull on our boots. She walks ahead of me across the lawn and toward the corner of our garden where the vines await. I notice how cautiously she walks, how carefully she skirts the stinging nettles growing in stubborn patches near the raspberries. At five, she’s already nettle-savvy.
The hard-to-corral raspberry vines strain against the thin wire enclosure. They spill over the tops of the groaning pen, bending with the weight of their crimson bounty. The fattest berries surrender at a touch. Tera clutches her pink, plastic bowl with one hand and uses her other to pluck the plump red berries. About every third one goes in her mouth, but I don’t mind. It’s an unspoken law of berry-picking: the picker eats.
When we have enough, we head back inside. I turn the oven on and pull a chair to the sink. Tera climbs up and watches as I ease the berries out of our bowls and into a colander. I show her how to rinse them gently so they don’t disintegrate. She accepts her task with a serious nod.
She watches as I peel the lid from the flour canister. I can see the question in her eyes; I hand her the sifter and she smiles. She scoops it into the silky pile and gives a tug on the black handle. Particles rise in a dusty flour cloud.
I supervise as she dumps a white mound into the cup and levels it with the flat edge of a butter knife. A memory tugs at me; I see myself standing on an oak chair, holding my grandmother’s sterling silver knife and leveling a long-ago cup of flour.
We measure out sugar and baking powder and salt. She mixes tentatively at first, but confidence soon rises and she stirs faster. On one turn, her spoon skids against the side of the bowl and a big whoosh of floury powder flies over the rim, sprinkling the counter with a layer of white. She looks at me with wide eyes.
“It happens,” I say. “My grandma used to say that good cooks always spill a little.”
She smiles at that, and watches as I scoop the powder into my hand and dust it off into the sink.
“Grandma taught me something else,” I tell her.
“Clean up as you go.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means before we get the eggs out, we need to put all these containers away. If we take care of these little things right away, we won’t have a big mess at the end.” She thinks we’re talking about baking, but there’s a life lesson in there I hope she catches. I’d like to teach her to keep short accounts, to clean up messes quickly, to take care of little problems so they don’t turn into big problems.
There’s no buttermilk in this house, but I know a trick. Tera makes a face at the pungent smell that rises when I uncap the big jug of vinegar.
I nod. She watches as I pour a tablespoon into milk.
“I would never drink that,” she says.
I tell her what is about to happen. I tell her the milk will curdle and turn sour. She watches–fascinated–as my words come true.
“Why do we have to put that in?” she asks.
“I don’t know,” I say. “I don’t have any idea why we need the sour milk or the salt or that gooey egg. I just know every bit is important in the end.”
I hope she remembers. I hope she understands, one day, that life is not straight sugar. God uses tears and sadness and disappointment and loss – and laughter – to make a life that means something.
We pour melted butter into the bowl and scatter the raspberries over top. I tell her to stir only ten strokes. She counts out loud as she lifts the batter with slow and gentle circles. At the end of ten, she looks at me with raised eyebrows.
“That’s it,” I say.
“But it’s not all smooth.”
“It’s okay. The muffins will be all the better if the batter’s a bit lumpy.” It’s just one more thing she has to accept. But life is full of such mysteries, full of truths we can’t always analyze or trace back to something concrete and understandable.
I set my stoneware muffin pan on the counter. She sticks her fingers in the shortening and pulls out a gooey scoop, then slathers the muffin cups with all the artistry she uses to finger paint.
I let her dip a cup into the waiting batter. Cream and crimson dribbles flow in rivulets down the side of the cup as it hovers over the pan. She tips it slightly and pours. Batter fills, then overflows the circle below. She sighs with exasperation.
“We can fix that,” I say. We use a spoon to transfer the excess into a neighboring muffin cup. She tries again, slowly. Minutes pass. She fills the cups, one by one. When she’s finished, no two have the same amount of batter.
I put the pan in the oven. We turn on the light so we can watch the show. Over the course of twenty minutes, a sweet smell fills the kitchen – and on the other side of the oven glass, red and cream-colored puff balls rise above the rims of the cups.
We have to wait while they cool. Tera eyes the largest muffin, a monstrous wonder in the very center of the pan. I’d like to give it to her–and I’ll make sure she gets the biggest from the next batch–but first, there’s another lesson to be learned.
“Do you know what I always do?”
“I give the biggest muffin to Dad. Would you like to do that?”
She grins and nods. I scoop the mammoth muffin onto a plate, pour a glass of milk, and set it all on a tray for her to carry to her father. Her head is high as she maneuvers herself down the hall with her offering.
My daughter is learning. She’s watching, and listening, and emulating, and soaking in every good thing I have to offer. As much as I would have loved tossing a backpack in the church van and heading south today, I’m glad I’m here instead.
God has entrusted this girl to me. And in this season of my life, there’s not a single job more important than raising her. Maybe someday I’ll take that trip across the border. Maybe someday, I’ll be His voice to a hard-of-hearing world. For now, He’s asked me to be His voice to my daughter.
I’m to nurture her with my love so her heart is open to receive His. I’m to woo her with the grace and patience and forgiveness He wooed me with. I’m to root her through the passing of heritage, so she’ll value family, and one day realize the gift it is to be part of His family. I’m to teach her to serve, so she’s ready to say “Yes, Lord,” when He calls her name.
I long ago surrendered to the One who loves me beyond reason. I don’t worry about next week and I don’t question the work He puts before me today. He might open my front door one morning, beckon me outside, and send me beyond my borders–but until that door swings wide, I’ll serve Him within these four walls. I don’t know what my tomorrows might bring, but on this day, on this morning, my purpose is very clear:
Today, we’re making muffins.