Today is my daughter’s 20th birthday. And it’s the first time I won’t be with her to celebrate.
Last year, on March 7, I baked Murielle’s favorite chocolate cake with the help of some generous people in the neighborhood. The recipe and special bundt pan normally used at Christmas were skulked away in a corner of the kitchen but I had inadvertently overlooked the need for mixing bowls and the Kitchen Aid; items already packed away in boxes. A few phone calls to friends quickly solved my lack of organization.
In the midst of preparing for an international move to England, we celebrated Murielle’s birthday seated around chips and salsa at our favorite haunt: a Mexican restaurant where the owners know us by name. Dessert was free but we declined the offer.
Instead, we returned back to our nearly empty house and savored dense triangle mountains of chocolate citrus cake. Sliding tongs into crumby bits on the last of the blue Wedgewood plates awaiting packing paper, the familiar taste of that cake provided some comfort amidst the chaos.
The next morning, we all woke up in a hotel room.
We do this with food don’t we? We offer a pot of chicken noodle soup as a salve for a sore throat; a casserole as comfort for grief; a bottle of wine and box of chocolates to celebrate a milestone; a plate of chocolate chip cookies to break down barriers in welcoming a neighbor.
I baked a cake for my daughter as an offering of hope. And every bite savored squelched the sorrow threatening to overtake my mother’s heart.
You see, Murielle wasn’t moving with us. She was staying behind to attend college while the rest of us prepared to fly across the Atlantic. We were beginning a new chapter in separate places. The longest I’d ever been separated from my first born was the space of a few weeks.
I was determined to keep familiar rhythms of family celebration but my motives were somewhat selfish too. I needed to bake that chocolate cake to keep from falling apart.
Some people give up chocolate for Lent. I could say I gave up baking a chocolate cake for my daughter’s birthday and witnessing joy explode on her face. I could say that to garner your pity but it wouldn’t be true.
What is true is this. The rhythm of giving up what I cherish during Lent, reveals my deep need for Him. It is in the act of surrender that the seeds of resurrection germinate.
When those things that have rooted us to a place, a season, a community and our livelihood are suddenly pulled apart, a gaping hole is left. And the emptiness can make us feel vulnerable, lonely, abandoned and bereft.
Can it be that the disruption is a gift of God’s grace?
Empty doesn’t feel like a gift as much as a gaping hole needing to be solved and covered up to avoid pain. But as servants of Christ we are also stewards of the mysteries. (I Cor. 4:1) In the space separating my daughter and I on her birthday reveals the question, “How am I stewarding the mystery?”
And Jesus answers, “What do you have that you did not receive?” (I Cor. 4:7)
Sit in the hollow places and hear the sacred echo with clarity. God is not as interested in what we let go of but how we participate with Him in the working out of our salvation.
Today, my daughter will celebrate turning twenty in the way she chooses. She will open gifts in brown paper boxes from Amazon and our prayers will crown her head.
As I think about who I can ask to bake her birthday cake as a surprise gift, I receive a message from her boyfriend asking, “Can I have the recipe for the chocolate cake?”
Offer food and offer love. Redemption looks beautiful on everyone. That’s why I must share the recipe with you today and celebrate the hope of resurrection.
- 1 cup of sugar
- ½ cup butter
- ¼ cup orange liqueur
- ¼ cup water
- 1 (2 layer) package devil’s food cake mix
- 1 cup sour cream
- 1 (4 oz.) package chocolate fudge instant pudding mix
- 4 eggs
- ½ cup vegetable oil
- ½ cup water
- ¼ cup coffee liqueur
- 2 T. grated orange peel
- 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
- 2 cups chocolate chips
- Confectioners’ sugar
- Combine the sugar, butter, orange liqueur and ¼ cup water in saucepan over low heat; mix well. Cook for 3 minutes or until the butter is melted and the sugar is dissolved, stirring constantly.
- Bring to boil. Remove from heat; cool completely and set aside.
- Grease a 10 cup bundt pan and dust with baking cocoa.
- Combine cake mix, sour cream, pudding mix, eggs, oil, ½ cup water, coffee liqueur, orange peel and cinnamon in a mixer bowl.
- Beat for 3 minutes on medium speed or until smooth.
- Fold in the chocolate chips.
- Pour the batter into the pan.
- Bake at 350 degrees for one hour or until cake tests done.
- Remove cake from oven. Spoon cooled sugar mixture over the top immediately.
- Let cake stand for 30 minutes.
- Turn out onto a serving platter.
- Cool completely.
- Sprinkle confectioners’ sugar over the top!