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.