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.

chocolate orange cake_GT

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.

Chocolate Citrus Cake
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Prep Time
30 min
Total Time
2 hr
Prep Time
30 min
Total Time
2 hr
  1. 1 cup of sugar
  2. ½ cup butter
  3. ¼ cup orange liqueur
  4. ¼ cup water
  5. 1 (2 layer) package devil’s food cake mix
  6. 1 cup sour cream
  7. 1 (4 oz.) package chocolate fudge instant pudding mix
  8. 4 eggs
  9. ½ cup vegetable oil
  10. ½ cup water
  11. ¼ cup coffee liqueur
  12. 2 T. grated orange peel
  13. 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  14. 2 cups chocolate chips
  15. Confectioners’ sugar
  1. 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.
  2. Bring to boil. Remove from heat; cool completely and set aside.
  3. Grease a 10 cup bundt pan and dust with baking cocoa.
  4. Combine cake mix, sour cream, pudding mix, eggs, oil, ½ cup water, coffee liqueur, orange peel and cinnamon in a mixer bowl.
  5. Beat for 3 minutes on medium speed or until smooth.
  6. Fold in the chocolate chips.
  7. Pour the batter into the pan.
  8. Bake at 350 degrees for one hour or until cake tests done.
  9. Remove cake from oven. Spoon cooled sugar mixture over the top immediately.
  10. Let cake stand for 30 minutes.
  11. Turn out onto a serving platter.
  12. Cool completely.
  13. Sprinkle confectioners’ sugar over the top!
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Screen Shot 2016-03-06 at 10.05.05 PMExplore Rhythms of Rest a bit more in Shelly Miller’s upcoming book, Rhythms of Rest: Finding the Spirit of Sabbath in a Busy World, available NOW for Pre-order.

Shelly Miller / Posts / Blog
Shelly Miller is a veteran ministry leader and sought-after mentor on Sabbath-keeping. She leads the Sabbath Society, an online community of people who want to make rest a priority, and her writing has been featured in multiple national publications. Her first book, Rhythms of Rest: Finding the Spirit of Sabbath in a Busy World, will release with Bethany House Publishers in the fall of 2016 with a second launching in 2017 with Lion Hudson. Find more of Shelly’s writing on her blog, Redemptions Beauty, and connect on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram where she loves to share photos of the beautiful places she visits while living as a committed immigrant in London.
  • Avatar
    Lynn D. Morrissey

    As soon as I saw today’s title (not yet your name), I just knew you had written this post, because I know how you have surrendered to God’s rhythms for your life over these past couple of years. And as I read on, despite the pain and disorientation that can come of letting God rearrange those rhythms that have become familiar and reassuring, I could see His powerful testament of the rhythm of resurrection in your life and your family’s. I can’t imagine how hard it has been to acclimate to a new culture (even though I obviously know and understand why you are an Anglophile at heart), especially because with this acclimation has come a full surrendering of your mother’s heart to allow God to work out His plans for Murielle’s life. . . . which at this point means letting her set her own table in the States, while you set yours in England. That has to be so hard. And yet I see such hope and depth in this process. You are experiencing as a great reality that the Lord God is the One who makes provision for the feast–both for you and your daughter. Murielle’s boyfriend is baking her cake! What a sweet treat for your mother’s heart to know that God is just as present with your beautiful daughter as He is with you. And now, with this poignant glimpse into your life, you invite us both to your table and to Murielle’s! I join you in this wonderful celebration today (from my table in St. Louis). I know beautiful Murielle will be reading here on such a special birthday for her. So, Murielle, I wish you a joyful birthday, filled with sweet surprises and the pure and lavish blessings of God’s love. I wish you so many wonderful returns of this day. And Shelly, I wish you the rhythms of rest and joy and fulfillment, of blessing, hope, and resurrection. God is doing something so special in your life and Murielle’s, and I feel like an eager aunt who is seated at the table with the privilege of being included in the extended family and sharing in the cherished family stories!
    Much love,

    March 7th, 2016 11:10
  • Jody Collins
    Jody Collins

    That recipe sounds delicious! Perhaps I’ll bake it and re-christen it “Murielle’s Cake”.
    What a bittersweet (pun intended) post.

    March 7th, 2016 23:26
  • Avatar

    Dear Shelly,
    Such an apt post for where my life is right now…after five years of trying to move, next month it maybe a reality. The reality and weight of finally having a dream fufiled creates a type of hole too, wouldn’t you agree? I find myself mentally exhausted with a brain that won’t stop making mental lists, and simultaneously taking my time to make dinner. Chopping, dicing, stirring, calms me down somehow when I find myself in that transition from work to home with house stress always looming in the back round; this is my witching hour. This month is going to be in a word, nuts, if we want to finalize by April 1. Interesting enough I find myself somehow involved in many volunteer tasks preparing food for others, for groups, and organizations. At first I freaked, but after a moment I really see it as God’s grace. Lots of intentional pauses of serving through cooking and baking. Only The Heavenly Father could orchestrate such a thing, Amen? Your bunt cake will most definitely find its way into my oven as I am bringing a meal up to my brother and his wife and their new baby boy.
    A little FYI for you: I clicked on the link to pre-order your book and it does not go to amazon but Grace Table Library, which is fine, but there is no link provided at that site either. Just letting you know. Best blessings on your book release!

    March 8th, 2016 12:14
    • Avatar

      Hi Leah,

      Thanks for reading along with us. You can pre-order Shelly’s book from the GraceTable book page, by clicking the image of her book on our bookshelf, I believe her book is near the bottom of the page. 😉 Thanks so much!!

      March 9th, 2016 9:33
  • Avatar
    Joy Lenton

    Shelly, you have given us a feast for body and soul here. Such a lovely, heartwarming story of family, faith and food. These words gave me pause for thought: “Can it be that the disruption is a gift of God’s grace?” Sometimes a life interrupted can be divine direction nudging us to pay attention. The more I witness what God does in the in-between moments and watch how pauses can be profitable for the soul, then the more I believe and see disruption as a gift of grace rather than a frustrating nuisance. Congratulations on your book release! May it bring insight and inspiration to all who read it.

    March 8th, 2016 13:56
  • Avatar
    Nancy Ruegg

    Experience has taught me that disruption is indeed a gift of God’s grace. Our family moved five times during my husband’s pastoral ministry. Some transitions were difficult and painful, but those were the ones through which I learned: 1) He must be my security–not a church family. 2) Challenges foster strength as I rely more readily upon him. 3) Gratitude greatly improves attitude. 4) Plan B is often more beautiful than Plan A, but you have to give it time. Looking back, I see those lessons (and more) as gifts of God’s grace, as he matured me in the process. Thank you, Shelly, for drawing my attention to these gifts once again. And praise God for his nurturing care, growing us day by day.

    March 10th, 2016 17:38

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