I’m fully awake a few ticks after 6 a.m., but I’ve been semi-conscious for a few hours. To say my oldest daughter hasn’t slept well is putting it nicely. When she hasn’t been exploring the different positions to rest her feet on me while she sleeps, including my stomach, my back, or placing them just inches from my face, she’s been up and down with a series of requests that would make a diva blush.
Water, orange juice, Buzz Lightyear, a book about going to the dentist, all said through tired eyes under a mop of curly blonde hair.
While I think I’ve got my toddler’s bedtime mise en place in order, her keen ability to spot my holes is uncanny. There’s a bathroom break somewhere around the witching hour. An experience that requires the substantial fluorescent bathroom lights switched on, jarring me a few steps closer to being fully awake. A few ounces of flood lighter, we crawl back into bed as she solicits a snuggle, which I’m happy to supply, but her erratic nighttime dance isn’t over. She’s bending my arm like she’s got a brown belt in Gracie Jiu-Jitsu. Finally, I “tap” and call it a morning. I head into the kitchen to make coffee and preheat the oven.
Because of her nocturnal activities, I hope the kiddo will sleep in at least an hour. Maybe I can get a few chores knocked out? The dishwasher needs emptying and reloading, but I can already hear my infant daughter in the other room fussin’ and realize my spouse probably took one on the chin last night too. The coffee pot is only half full when I snatch it to fill my cup. I tiptoe past the dishwasher, promising to do it later that morning, and peek in on my spouse and new baby. We make eye contact, passing between us the exhaustion we feel without the need for words.
I hear it all the time from wrinkled faces that I should cherish these moments, and rest assured on my better days, I do. However, there are those other days. Days where the toddler decides the act of brushing her hair demands an apocalyptic meltdown, to which I’m sure the neighbors up and down the street can hear, or those times the newborn lets loose teakettle-like wails when I place her somewhere other than in my left arm.
Oh, on those days, I’m counting the hours so that my partner and I can officially hit restart. No, my spirit doesn’t break every day, but it happens more than you might expect. It happens to parents all the time. Moms and dads, caregivers and guardians — all are in a state of constantly being broken down with no promises of being made stronger the next time the wave hits.
And hit they will.
It’s safe to say my family life at times is like a dark carnival lifted right from the pen of Ray Bradbury. Sure, there’s promising excitement at every ride and attraction, but there’s also the chance that things can take a dangerous turn rather quickly. The jollification rug gets pulled out from under me, and I’m left wondering if the funhouse is really that fun at all. It’s a wonderfully complicated mess.
“It’s safe to say my family life at times is like a dark carnival lifted right from the pen of Ray Bradbury.”
I glance at the oven and it’s still flashing “PRE,” so I plop down at the dining room table knowing the clock is ticking and time is slipping away if I want 30 minutes of self-care to go along with the coffee. Coffee meets a need. The act of shuffling around in a semi-dark kitchen pouring water and grinding beans helps me prepare for the bumps and bruises I know are coming my way. At least I’ll be coherent when they happen. Coffee hones my edge. It puts me on my toes with a body-wide buzz, and for this, coffee gets a lotta love.
I sit in anticipation. I sit and wait to hear the sliding barn door open, followed by my daughter’s feet pounding the kitchen floor making my coffee vibrate like a scene from Jurassic Park. Her presence culminating with a Sherlockian grin that declares “the game’s afoot,” I know I’m going to need more than a few cups of prepared percolation. I need a different sort of strength today.
I need blessed assurance.
I need divine devotion.
I need some everlasting arms to lean on. Maybe some to fall on and into.
I need the good news of biscuits.
The beep of the oven brings my musings to an abrupt end. Out from the pantry and recesses of my kitchen comes soft flour, grated frozen butter, a dash of salt and a heavy pour of tangy buttermilk. I have them collected in a metal bowl within minutes. A dozen or so stirs later, I have a concoction consisting of slightly wet and soft dough. With flour-covered hands, I pinch pieces of dough off and arrange them in a cast-iron skillet, one coated with bacon drippings. In the hot oven they go for about 15 minutes. What comes out afterward isn’t just a biscuit, it’s the answer to my needed prayer.
While I wait, I think about how these “prayers” aren’t just for me. The last couple of years I’ve seen plenty of folks needing some savory, flakey, crispy on the outside, warm and fluffy in the middle, intercession in their lives.
“The last couple of years I’ve seen plenty of folks needing some savory, flakey, crispy on the outside, warm and fluffy in the middle, intercession in their lives.”
I’ve realized too when it comes to evangelizing in the traditional sense, I’m awful. Rarely do I invite anyone to church, and you’re never going to catch me leaving a pretentious tract anywhere. Both forms of proselytizing make my skin crawl. However, gifting biscuits offers me a meaningful alternative. Showing up with biscuits in tow at a parishioner’s home after they’ve been released from the hospital or dropping some off to the owners of a local yarn store because their names keep coming up in conversations that week feels natural.
In the same spirit, curious visitors and steadfast Sunday worship attendees choosing to stroll into the church’s sanctuary on the first Sunday of the month when Communion is broken and poured will find biscuits awaiting them at the front of the line. The point is “good news” should show up everywhere; in the place one might expect and those places where it’s not anticipated.
I string these thoughts together until I hear the stirring of my oldest. It won’t be long now. Like one of the ancient Erinyes, she’ll be upon me soon with a wild and free spirit found only in those of preschool age. I rise to meet her halfway, being very aware of the stiffness from yesterday’s romper room activities.
The door slides, she spots me and sprints in my direction. We embrace, colliding in the kitchen. I ask how she slept. She regales me with what might be a combination of memories and dreams before her receptive eyes see the remnants of my baking endeavor. She stops midsentence, “Bread and butter, daddy?”
It’s one of her favorite snacks. It’s a small meal that connects us. Her question signals a holy moment. My answer will be bestowing on her, and one day her sister, a symbol I understood to be “good news” given to me by those who loved me. A warm biscuit made with caring hands.
I hold her a little tighter and tell her yes.
Bread baked for her.
Broken for all of us.
Justin Cox serves as senior pastor of the United Church of Lincoln, Vt. He received his theological education from Campbell University and Wake Forest University School of Divinity. He is an ordained minister affiliated with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and is currently enrolled in the doctor of ministry program at McAfee School of Theology. Besides reading, baking, and amateur gardening, most of Justin’s time is spent with his spouse, Lauren, and their two daughters. His ramblings may be read at blacksheepbaptist.com.
Contemplative pandemic cooking: Feeding souls and neighbors | Opinion by Justin Cox
A rural church reimagines the Lord’s Supper as a farm stand | Opinion by Justin Cox
Raising kids at the end of the world | Opinion by Eric Minton