Hope Tastes Like Coffee Cake
I stand in the kitchen on a rainy October day eating blueberry coffee cake.
My mom has been diagnosed with cancer. Life throws us this new ingredient over the summer. We add cancer to the mix of the already-full-bowl of kids and family. I count up - it's 36 doctor visits I've been to with kids, mom and myself in the past three months. I jot notes on slips of paper, struggling to remember my school Latin to understand the words the doctors throw at us. I find business cards from doctors on the floor of my car. "Free cup of coffee for our guest!" slips from the hospital jammed into the bottom of my purse. People turn toward me as if I have an answer.
I make blueberry coffee cake.
The recipe is from a cookbook I bought 14 years ago. My dad had been diagnosed with cancer. Questions swirled in all our minds about how to best encourage, help and be there for him as we faced even bigger life questions.
A part of me responds to these overwhelming questions completely pragmatically. Well, there has to be answers to some of these questions, right? Like, what is good medication? Who would be a good doctor to choose? What is good food to eat while you're going through chemo? My response is to look up cookbooks with recipes specifically to help with different side effects of cancer. "I'll make food for you," I tell him. The coffee cake is his favorite. I rarely have the right words to say, I rarely have the right reactions, or any words of wisdom, but I tuck pieces of blueberry coffee cake into mismatched Tupperware and knock on his door.
I throw away the cookbook after he dies. I don't want to taste the food again. It makes me remember what I am choosing to forget.
My mom is diagnosed with cancer this past summer. I think of the blueberry coffee cake. I remember the taste. I find the book at the library, it's an updated version, but the recipe is there. I make the coffee cake once a week. It reminds me of... something.
A favorite quote:
"All truth is paradox. Everything true in the world has innate contradictions...Paradox means you have to be able to keep two wildly different ideas in your head at the same time."
- Anne Lamott, "Almost Everything: Notes on Hope"
I hold the contradictions in my hands. I process the news. The information. The details. The questions.
I try to let go of "OR" thinking, and hold on to "AND" thinking. Situations aren't "either/or" "Either this is good OR this is really really bad." I find the older I get, the more situations are "AND": "I am confident in my hope, AND this is really hard." "I do not have all the answers, AND I am able to offer what I do know with all my heart is the truth."
The doctor finishes her talk with me. She has given me further details on my mom's diagnosis. I sit there, smiling - rather irrationally. I'm not sure what I'm supposed to say. There's a long pause. She stands, throwing her arms up in the air, and gives me the most delicious hug I've ever tasted. "I'm so sorry. This is so hard. So hard," she says. She knows the facts (intellectually), and she knows it's hard (emotionally). To me, her words and actions define the paradox. She acknowledges both the reality and the difficulty. I feel understood.
So what is hope like on a fall October day when we face the drizzle, the chill and the falling leaves?
I take the ingredients, stir, pour, measure, bake. I take a bite of blueberry coffee cake. It tastes like hope.
But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. 2 Corinthians 4:7