The almost-ten-year-old: Afton’s looking at the largest baking bowl we own, full of flour and some other white ingredient…which, from the look on his face, is probably called “regret.”
I ask him what it is. He says it’s four cups flour, and four teaspoons – or was it tablespoons? – of baking powder. Uh oh.
“What are you trying to make?”
He points to the cookbook. “Jalapeño cheesebread, but it’s a double batch.” And that sounds awesome, but he’s using a cornbread recipe and he’s actually quadrupled it. I try to explain that he’ll have to switch recipes and make the cornbread instead, and it’s okay, because I can help figure out the ratios and such…but, no, he says. It’s not okay. Panic is setting in, and he starts speaking desperately, without punctuation:
“I needed four cups but I was using the half-cup scoop so I did eight scoops but I don’t want any cornmeal and do I really have to make cornbread because I want it to be like French bread but I don’t want to have to wait for it to rise!”
The rising thing always gets me, too. But no, I tell him, you can’t make French bread, cheesy or otherwise, with baking powder. It needs yeast; it has to rise.
There is a quiet, tense pause. Then he says:
“I think I can separate the flour from the baking powder with static electricity.”
And this, my friends, is why people are afraid to homeschool. They say it’s because they can’t teach high school math, but the truth is they’re terrified their nine-year-old is going to blow up the kitchen by separating flour from baking powder using static electricity.
(That night during dinner cleanup, we asked him where he heard about that. He shrugged and said it was from a science book. I turned to Vin and said, “That does it. No more science.”)
But four batches of cornbread later (perfect, cheesy, drool-worthy, jalapeño cornbread…), he learned a lesson that we all get eventually: things don’t always work out the way we expect, and we don’t always end up where we planned.
We’ve lived here for eight years, but we never expected to end up in Wasilla. Initially, we resisted moving at all and justified it with reasons that sounded good – but it turned out that what we were staying for in Anchorage was exactly what God was trying to get us away from. He had something so much better for us, if we’d trust Him enough to let go.
And we did let go. But we thought we were supposed to move to Eagle River, and when we started looking, there was nothing available there. We searched and prayed and eventually went with plan B: we found land in Palmer. We made plans and a million phone calls, and hired subcontractors to build a house, and ten days before we were supposed to break ground, our bank went under…so that didn’t work out, either.
Sometimes when things don’t work out, fear starts to take root: What if this is the beginning of a pattern, and the next bend in the road is even worse? What if we think He told us to do this, but we heard wrong? What if we’re just waiting for the next shoe to drop?
But…what if none of those scenarios are the case at all?
What if the things in our lives that aren’t working out only seem that way because they’re not finished yet?
What if we are judging the end product by the messy middle phase? Like cake or cornbread that needs to bake for an hour, but we pulled it out of the oven when it’s still doughy and unset – we followed the recipe, used all the right ingredients, but we checked its progress too early. It’s not done yet because there’s no shortcut to waiting for it to rise.
I still don’t know why He didn’t just tell us right out to move to Wasilla nine years ago. Maybe He knew it was too far off our radar and we had to warm up to the idea; maybe there were timing issues; maybe He knew we were stubborn (no way) and wanted to test our obedience. Maybe it was a million different things.
Maybe He wanted to teach us that even when life doesn’t go the way we plan, it still works out. He knew we would need to remember that in the years ahead.
The end product might not look at all what we signed up for. It might not be what we wanted at all — no one plans ahead anticipating disease, disaster, divorce, or other heartbreak. That’s fair; He doesn’t want those things either and He grieves with us. But He is the master at taking the most screwed up recipes — all of our accidents, failures, and near-misses — and even when it feels like we’re having hot water for dinner, He’s redeeming it all into a gourmet feast.
Life needs yeast in order to rise.
And sometimes, things are hard simply because that’s the nature of expanding our comfort zone, living and learning deep and wide. It’s not because we are failing; it’s because we are not those who shrink back…even from homeschool.
That same kid, a few days later, is right back at it — and this time he has a project he wants to tackle with the sewing machine. The fabric is stretchy, the machine is unfamiliar, and he looks up at me.
“I prayed first,” he says, and hits the pedal.