I baked a cake today and almost gave my father a heart attack. He walked into the kitchen as I stood surrounded in a cloud of confectioner’s sugar, chocolate dripping from the side of the oven, flour on the floor, and spatulas haphazardly balanced on dishes. “Oh my God,” he said. “What happened in here?”
I looked around me at the mess and felt so, so calm.
My cake was in the oven and my frosting was settling in a bowl on the counter. The room was warm and sunlight was coming from the window above the sink, bouncing off my mother’s green plants and melting the chocolate already messy on the stove top.
I love to bake. I love to marry dull ingredients and watch them have a relationship so sweet and tender that people sigh when they taste it. I only recently realized why I enjoy baking this much; my friends will know me as a klutz in the kitchen and a disaster at following any sort of written instruction. But when I bake, following a recipe is following a simple map to a place where happiness is uncomplicated.
And man, happiness can be so complicated these days. We feel like we need tablets and laptops and an iPhone 6 and a new dress for the New Year when really, happiness lives most often in the place that gets the most dirty: the kitchen.
A kitchen is the greatest blessing I have received this year, although there have been many that swooped unexpected into my life. I eat in a kitchen, a privilege that thousands do not enjoy. Some of these thousands don’t have a house to put the kitchen in. Or they have a kitchen but they don’t have electricity. Almost exactly one year ago, I traveled to Ecuador and saw women sweep brooms over dirt floors that flooded sometimes. I came home and cried in the shower because my heart was breaking that I had a kitchen and they did not. Today, when I baked a cake in the sun in my own home, I was reminded that I shouldn’t be grateful for the new Galaxy tablet I am getting under the tree. Or for the Blu Ray player in the living room. Or even for a car.
I should be grateful that I have a kitchen and that I have the luxury of hot water, and that my greatest concern at the moment is that the heat has broken in my car. Grateful that my kitchen is filled with cookies and sandwich meat and white bread that we bought at the grocery store with a credit card we can pay for. But mostly, grateful that my kitchen is also filled with family.
That is Christmas. That is holiday. Waking up and praying not for something, but because of something. Praying in thanks and not in greed. I am not praying this season for a new year filled with blessings. Lord, I have them here already. Pray, instead, for the strength to recognize them when they walk into the kitchen and say Oh my God, what happened here.
What happens in kitchens is love. Whether it is a dirt floor in Ecuador or a food pantry or a Fridigaire-filled room, baking is a family thing. A hell of a lot of little pieces need to come together to be something that melts hearts. Eggs and vegetable and oil and vanilla extract don’t taste like celebration on their own. You need to mix them together and watch them argue until they blend into something that makes sense when you taste it.
Guys, Christmas is about cookies. But it’s about eating them with someone else and remembering that sugar cookies, too, are little sweet blessings. And kitchens are worth thanking God for.