I’ve been weeping a lot this week. Which, for me, is not normal. But take a look at the scratched photo above (scratched because he’s our fourth and his pictures never made it into albums). Just look at that kid, the one with the ’90s choker and the homemade haircut. The one with the dimples. If that was your boy and if that boy grew up and one day (TODAY) got on a plane and flew to South Korea to teach English for ONE WHOLE YEAR, I think you’d be weepy, too. My heart cannot decide whether to melt in tears or to burst with pride. Heck, I think I’ll bake brownies and do both. Speaking of brownies, I hope you’ll cut me some slack and read an old post today. Of course you will, especially if there are recipes at the end.
When our boys were too young to get into any real trouble but old enough to be safe on their own, we let them have free range of the neighborhood. Every few weeks they and their friends formed a club. The same collection of boys, gathered under a banner of ever-changing club names, convened in our backyard or in the tangle of trees and kudzu by the community pool.
One week it was the No-Ma’am-Bake-Me-Some-Brownies club. Which meant exactly what it sounds like. These kings of the neighborhood were too manly to be bossed around by some woman and too immature to consider baking their own brownies.
I don’t know why, but I thought it was hilarious. You’d think their disrespect would have triggered an angry lecture from me about women’s value in general and my value in particular, especially since not so long before, while Bill was out changing the world and I was stuck at home with four small children changing diapers, I actually said these words to Bill: “All I’m good for is baking the brownies.”
I said it more than once. It became code for, “I don’t do anything more valuable than make sure all those people who have more important things to do have something good to nibble on at your meetings.”
I wonder when I began to not mind being the official brownie baker so much. Back then I would never dream of buying a mix, because brownies were so much better from scratch. That sounds suspiciously like the preference of a woman who must, somewhere deep in her heart, like baking brownies.
I admit it, I liked it then, and I still do. But when did being relegated to the kitchen cease to feel like an insult? And when did I decide I kind of liked it there?
I have to add that my husband never once told me this was my job. Neither did anyone else. But, in those days, there wasn’t a lot left over in my life, neither time nor energy, for much else. Things changed, and somewhere along the way I discovered brownie-bakers have their place among the world changers. I began to feel less marginalized, and I discovered I had plenty of other gifts. By then our son’s attempt at knuckle-headed, boy club humor gave me a good laugh.
This morning I read about Stephen, the first martyr of the church, and his story made me wish I’d understood the massive potential of brownie-baking sooner.
At first glance it appears Stephen was nothing more than a lowly brownie-baker just like me. He was recruited to handle the food service complaints of a disgruntled faction of the early church. Stephen and six others were members of a hastily formed club, recruited because the apostles had more important things to do. Compared to all the high profile world-changing going on, this seems very unexciting to me.
But I am beginning to see that when God chooses a person like Stephen for a job, even if that job is to feed grumbling Greek widows or to bake a batch of brownies, it is never about the job itself. The scriptures say Stephen was a man who was “full of faith and the Holy Spirit.” When a task, any task, is performed by someone like that, no telling what will come of it.
Acts 6 implies that Stephen did not in any way see his role as a limitation. It was simply his means of decanting the Gospel to a thirsty world. He was “brimming with God’s grace and energy… doing wonderful things among the people, unmistakable signs that God was among them.” Or, as another translation puts it, he “did signs and wonders.”
As a result, Stephen was put on trial, not for serving food, but for the kind of person he was while serving food. The kind of person who, rather than question the role he’s given, fills it up with wonder and wears it as a sign of something far greater than the job itself. A person who knows that dying is mandatory in any act of service, from baking brownies to preaching to thousands.
No one will deny that being a mom is hard, sometimes thankless work. Even if you go to another job that satisfies your intellect or your sense of worth and purpose for a few hours every day, there is still so much to be done at home that feels inconsequential. Not exactly a “signs and wonders” gig. But I am learning that what we do is always a reflection of who we are. If God is with me, I will do “wonderful things,” no matter how wonderful—or not—those things may seem to me at the time. And I’m learning you cannot complain and still have “the face of an angel” like Stephen was reported to have.
When I look at Stephen’s short but astounding life, I realize I missed so much. When I ask myself if I ever had any shining moments, any brief flashes when the wonder of God came through, the funniest pictures come to mind.
Like the time when the boys and I made coffee and cookies and served it in our best china on a tray to the four sanitation workers who were stranded on our street one January morning. Or when I drove the getaway car for our guys as they rang doorbells in the housing projects, dropped off gifts on doorsteps and ran, their faces painted with streaks of green and black, their hilarity infectious. Or those times we took “sad food” to friends or neighbors to comfort them. (And, yes, brownies were almost always a staple in those deliveries.) Nothing special, except that now that I remember them, they glow with a certain wonder. They remind me that I have a cup full of God’s grace, and that cup spills over in rare, surprising moments.
I’m compelled to add that, before we had children, my husband taught me to see the potential in the lowliest of tasks. During his three years in seminary he cut grass, painted buildings, and did maintenance at our apartment complex, a job which included scraping the toxic gunk out of refrigerators and—get ready for grossness—blowing residue out of dishwasher drain hoses. (Don’t make fun of him for washing our dishes before he puts them in the dishwasher. He has a good reason.) One day I overheard some seminary “lawn guys” talking about how absurd it was that they were cutting grass when they had Master’s degrees, and I realized that I’d never heard my husband say such a condescending thing.
I, on the other hand, said it. I said baking brownies was beneath me, and whenever said it, I missed what could have been. So often I couldn’t seem to die enough to see that I had been assigned a task, and that the nobility of that task was in who assigned it and why, not in the task itself. Who knows what signs of God’s grace, what wonders of his love can spill out of our homes if only we’ll embrace what he has given us to do in the moment, even if it’s just baking brownies?
Basic One-Bowl Brownies
(This is a Baker’s redux from my Augusta friend Lauren Washer)
4 squares unsweetened chocolate
3/4 cup butter or margarine (1 1/2 sticks)
2 cups sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup flour, sifted
Microwave the chocolate and butter in a large bowl for about 2 minutes. Remove and stir until the chocolate is melted (this may take a bit more time depending on your microwave). Stir in the sugar. Add the eggs and vanilla and combine. Stir in the flour and mix well. Pour into a greased 9×13-inch pan. Bake at 350F for 20-25 minutes.
Or, here’s a fancier version, thanks to my friend Karen Guess:
Crunchy Brownie Bars
3/4 cup flour
1 1/2 cup oats
1/4 tsp. salt
3/4 cup butter
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
Mix well. Press into 9×11 greased pan and bake at 350 for 10 minutes.
Any recipe or mix for family size. (I use the recipe above) Pour over crust and bake as directed.
1 stick butter
3 cups powdered sugar
2/3 cup cocoa
1/3 cup milk or cream
1 tsp vanilla
Mix cocoa and butter. Add sugar and milk, beating well. Add vanilla. Ice!