It was my dream for as long as I can remember, back when a girl imagined a Prince Charming and a palace full of children: I’d be the mom who baked homemade chocolate-chip cookies for her children every day after school. I knew my children would giggle with glee at the surprise on the kitchen counter, the chocolate still soft.
Thus, when I married, it didn’t take long to set up a mixer and buy butter, sugar, and vanilla. I filled my cabinets with all the makings for magic. Even before children entered the story, I baked for my husband with all the love I had in my heart.
When divorce and remarriage changed the ingredients, adding no small amount of angst to our family mix, I rolled up my sleeves and doubled both my recipes and my love. Day after day I baked, serving up cookie offerings to children (and grownups) who mourned their losses.
Seeing my boys with cookies in hand, the neighbor kids started to come over (and their parents). Then, the piano students I gave lessons to (and their parents). When my husband started his own business, I baked cookies by the hundreds for new vendors and clients. Not to mention teachers, coaches, and the friends and loved ones enduring cancer or some other crisis.
Soon I was known as the woman who always had warm cookies on the kitchen counter. Visitors stopped knocking at the front door, knowing they could walk in whenever they needed a cookie fix. Once a neighbor mentioned buying me a Krispy-Kreme-like sign, one I could light up whenever I pulled a new batch from the oven.
“That way everyone knows when to come over,” she said with a grin.
She might’ve been joking, but I secretly dreamed of such a gift. What a thought! Baking was my way of delivering love on a plate, a small offering of joy and presence for those who needed it most.
I must’ve made thousands of cookies over the span of close to 20 years, far more than most will make in a lifetime. I didn’t mind. Not at all. It was one of my greatest delights during those twenty years of life.
But then a crazy thing called “cancer” took my tongue and my taste.
In the two years since, doctors continued to be optimistic, trying to encourage with comments like “Hey, but at least you’re alive!” At each appointment they asked me questions like “Can you taste anything?” Every time I answered the same: “A little. But nothing sweet.”
They always shrugged and moved on to other topics. In their minds losing taste was nothing compared to gaining life. But they didn’t know about the neighborhood kids, the warm chocolate chip cookies, and the sign I wanted to hang in my window.
They didn’t know.
It’s been difficult for me, learning to live without one of my five senses. You don’t realize how much you bank on a thing until you have less of it—or none at all. I now have somewhere around 20 to 30% of my taste left. Mostly bitter and sour, very little salt and sweet. Aside from a divine intervention, this is my reality for the rest of my days.
And I will never again know what it’s like to eat a warm chocolate chip cookie straight from the oven.
Recently a dear friend lost a close family member. I ached for her loss, didn’t know what to do. So I got to work in the kitchen, stirring up several dishes to fill up her grief-emptied family. In addition, I baked up three varieties of cookies, brownies and baked treats. Including my old, from-scratch chocolate chip cookies. For hours I chopped and stirred, kneaded and baked.
Midway through, while the cookies baked, I stopped.
Closed my eyes.
Memories of my children, years younger, bursting through the front door after school and running for the kitchen counter, warmed me.
I opened my eyes and smiled. Then I got back to work, feeling only the slightest twinge of melancholy at what I knew I was missing. This surprised me. I expected grief and pain, a temptation to self-pity and a twinge of bitterness at the unfair losses of life.
Instead, I experienced something even more exquisite than the taste of a warm chocolate chip cookie straight from the oven:
An overwhelming wave of compassionate, tender love.
My eyes brimmed, my heart pounded, and a wave of warmth traveled from my feet up through my chest.
Why? Because healing comes when we choose to love from the place of losses.
I have two questions for you, questions that will likely make you uncomfortable, but hold the power of great hope:
- What have you lost that you cannot recover? What is missing that you desperately wish you still had? I’m not so naive to think my silly little loss comes close to comparing with the losses so many of you mourn. I know I can’t possibly fathom the loss of my legs or burying my child. The mere thought makes it hard to breathe. But whatever it is, name it. Acknowledge it. Put it right there on the kitchen counter where you can see it for what it is.
- Now, what might you gain by giving it away? In other words, how could that loss become an uncommon companionship to someone else’s pain? There are scores of people who need to know they’re not alone. You have something to offer that so few others have, something hidden beneath the grave of your grief that promises resurrection and new life.
For others, yes. But also for you.
The unexpected gain of giving away. It’s not easy, and you might feel a twinge of self-pity or bitterness or simply sadness at the loss.
But healing happens when the grave of our losses becomes our quiet offerings of love.
Michele, I so appreciate this. Your story, your surrender to God, your dead end becoming a resurrection beginning. And the practical two questions to help me name my losses and think how to encourage someone else from that place. Reminds me of a green shoot growing from the base of a tree felled by a storm, that the naturalist pointed out on my child’s field trip recently. The life cycle of grace. Deeply grateful, Michele.
I really like that!
I love baking too so I totally relate to you on that level. It is so relaxing and creative and I love to see peoples faces light up when they see my baking and when they eat it.
I really like your questions too – they are thought provoking that help people move forward through their grief rather than staying stuck in it and having a pity party.
I love how you have worded this: something hidden beneath the grave of your grief that promises resurrection and new life. I like that metaphor. I relate to it because my daughter buried her son 8 years ago and grief blindsided us! It has been one heck of a journey out of its grip!
Michele this is a wonderfully powerful post…on so many levels…beyond my ability to articulate how or why. So I won’t even try. I’m just gonna have to sit with it…and let it speak.
Loved this. Thank you for sharing. I’m saddened to hear your taste has been so altered by cancer. Having gone through cancer last year, I’m beginning to get more feeling back in my feet & hands from the neuropathy. I will be praying that your taste will be restored. ?
Thank you so much for this, it does help me.
Our stories of this insane disease in cost are so similar, but we walk in different groups.
I Loved your first book, it was a life saving gift in the time of need for sure from a friend
I’ve never met, where I live it we call that a “God Thing”.
Right now, it’s a day to day thing……I follow you, praying and hoping to understand, still,
so much anger.
Michelle – came across this verse recently and I believe it applies
But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere…2 COR 2:15 (NLT)
He has made you triumphant while in your personal journey and you have spread His aroma (albeit with you caring and your cookies!) to others to whom you have extended your life.
Thanks for being a blessing and…….I almost feel like hopping on a plane to get a whiff and a taste of those cookies…..as one who lives near Hershey (and a Dove Chocolate factory as well) …..I can almost taste them….Bruce
Michele, your transparency is so disarming, and your depth of insight a wonderful gift you share so freely. I appreciate those things in you. Yes, I had an immediate answer for the first of your two questions, but need to do some exploratory work with the second.
I loved the line where you closed your eyes and breathed in the fragrances and remembered. It may seem weird, but my mind went immediately to the line from Debra Kerr (Terry McKay) from An Affair to Remember, “Winter must be cold for those with no warm memories. We’ve already lost the spring.” Thank the Lord for your beautiful memories, and your role in making memories for others.
Victoriously in Christ!
Michele, I can relate to this in so many ways. For so many years, I showed love to my children, their friends and my friends through my famous chocolate chip cookies and other sweets from my kitchen. A year ago, I found out I have Celiac Disease and mine is so extreme that I can’t even touch, smell or be near flour. Changing my own diet was almost easier than the loss of not being able to make treats for other people. I’ve had to learn to show love in other ways, and people have had to learn to show me love in other ways. As far as what I’ve gained? I’ve been sharing my story with people, too, through my blog and in other ways. I’ve been amazed how many people have felt a connection through our shared journey of loss. Thanks for sharing yours!
Wow! I love how God uses our circumstances to share life with others (although I don’t always like the circumstances we have to go through). I bet your chocolate chip cookies are even more savory to each and every person that gets to taste one when they know your story!
From my youngest memories, swimming was my passion! Unfortunately, that joy was stripped from me 15 years ago when I had a benign tumor the size of a lemon removed from my brain (oh, and I was pregnant)! Praise God it was removed and all I am left with is a crazy case of vertigo, which makes me very disoriented when my head goes under water. But, like you, it has given me many opportunities to share my story with people who I never would have. My vertigo also prevents me from looking way up in the sky or way down at the ground…who knew how much one does this in a day! I get to tell lots of people why I can’t do this, and that opens up an opportunity to tell the story of what God did for me! Thanks for sharing your story Michele! You give many of us courage to share ours. Hugs!
Love this Michele, I had no idea we were kindred bakers. Your words are so well crafted and they spoke to me. Thank you.
Michelle – thank you so much for sharing your self, your heart and your life so openly with the world. You truly are a messager from God. You inspire me to capture your courage and intentional Godly attitudes.
I have battled basal call carcinoma on my face for many many years, I am now 60. I have a good plastic surgeon but the scars remain close up. A few weeks ago I found a new suspicious spot again on my nose. I am now going through the familiar process to find out and then will come the possible treatment. The scariest part is, this is on going…is this what my golden years will bring? More fear of the unknown, more Mohs surgery, more hiding out until I am presentable? Questions only God knows. But what I do find comfort in is He will see me through and make good of these trials. I am a better person and my faith and dependence is strong on the One who gives me strength. Your writing lifts me up.
Bless you sweet friend.