It took me forty years of waiting.
Forty birthdays came and went.
And finally, dad baked me a cake.
“You go on into town with the kids for a while,” he encouraged us.
I knew he might be up to something, but I went along with it. That’s the job unique to being the birthday kid.
My dad is twice my age, give or take a few months. The year I turned forty, he had settled into the eighth decade of his life. It had settled into him, too. The golden years are fading to ashen gray on the edges, and more than once during that visit I heard, “I just never spent any time thinking about this, about when I got old. Now I’m old, Alyssa. It seems to come out of nowhere….”
I suppose he had always been so busy living that he’s surprised by old, surprised by the limitations, surprised by how close he actually is to the edge of this life and the other. He’s preached Heaven and Hope and Salvation and he’s coming closer to seeing it.
But he’s still joyfully in the present: he’s not buried in the memory-filled passed nor is he overly bound for heaven. He holds the hands of each day as it comes. His standard answer to “How are you?” is, “Well, Fair to Midland, I suppose. I can’t complain.” He bickers with mom a bit, enjoys a few cups of Foldger’s coffee, does a lot less than he used to. He had a brain aneurism twenty years ago, a stroke six years ago, but he still pushes the mower over his half-acre of weeds, still picks bouquets of iris, drives to Safeway, studies the Old Testament prophets enjoys a good joke, and apparently, bakes cakes.
When we returned from town, a cake awaited me. A birthday cake.
The first one ever baked by my dad. That was always mom’s territory.
I grew up in a family where the mama cooked. Now I’m the mama that cooks. I love to create in the kitchen and most of the time I love what cooking represents:
Love, chosen, seasoned, served, shared
Yet, sometimes, when I’m washed out in the current of busyness, beaten down with stress or stuck on myself, even the cooking becomes a chore, just one more thing that my family demands of me, of my time, my energy, my bank account. And I become deeply rooted in me. All parents wrestle with this. We want to love lavishly around-the-clock, the way that we think we should, the way that God loves us. We want to never find ourselves on empty, but we do. Are those times when I give the last dollar in my wallet to my kids, listen to them while forcibly holding back distractions, snuggle with them when my self wants to be alone worth the most?
So at forty, I found myself raising young children and teenagers, too. I found myself surprised by it, to be honest. I found myself loving the fact that I was in my parents home on my birthday. I awoke that morning hearing familiar home sounds and voices and wanted, yearned to be young again. I wanted to turn back and run to the past where I took security for granted. That place where I didn’t need to have the answers and where lapses of wisdom and judgement cost less.
But, instead, I came out of bed and pulled on some sweats and shared a few cups of coffee with my Dad. We wore out some old stories, told some new ones and talked about our Lord. The sun shined on the high desert and we lived another day together.
And my day ended with cake. Baked in a rectangle dish, the frosting a bit lumpy. Actually, it looked like a kid baked it. A kid at heart, God’s kid, my dad.
And a cake never tasted better.
And the lesson? Let life surprise you. Live each day as it comes and find the good in it. There are days and seasons that the good is hidden, like those nubbly, plain rocks that hold a crystalline treasure within their common exterior. But the good, the beauty, the blessing from God is there. And it is sweet indeed.