I made pumpkin chocolate chip cookies, and then I had an epiphany. I realize most epiphanies don't involve pumpkin, but chocolate is a definite possibility.
I haven't made pumpkin chocolate chip cookies (at least that I can recall) since we left Kansas. I realized there are several recipes in my repertoire that I've never made since our stint there. I made the cookies for an event at our church, and it occurred to me that the recipe is emotionally connected to how sad I felt when I came home. I think I've subconsciously avoided making them for at least four years. It made me realize that my ring isn't the only thing to which I've attached negative emotions and memories.
Not long ago one of my husband's closest friends in that church passed away suddenly in an accident. He was a godly man who supported us through thick and thin. He loved his wife and his girls, and he worked hard at everything he did. His integrity and generosity earned my respect over those two years. It's a complicated grief because as much as I want to remember him and his ministry to us, those memories are some of the most painful of my life. To properly honor his life is to see myself weeping on my couch with a newborn and hear him say, "I'm so sorry. I'm just so sorry." It forces me back into the sanctuary of that small country church alone, leaning against the podium steps and wordlessly crying out to God for comfort. I remember my husband, walking through the parsonage door stricken and unable to speak other than to say, "I have to go see TJ." I have had several years to process and pray through our experience. I can detach a bit from some memories, but not these.
My parent's former pastor preached about how Jacob limped for the rest of his life after he wrestled with God. He carried a scar from his encounter with the Almighty, but it became part of his testimony and was remembered by every Israelite for generations. I used to think of the conflicts in the church in purely human terms: this person hurt me or that person attacked my husband. Now I see them as wrestling with God. He made me give up my expectations for what a church should be or how God's people should behave. He wrestled me to surrender and obey with the full knowledge that doing so meant I would lose more than I'd ever lost before. And I kept thinking, "I won't let go until You bless me." I kept wrestling with Him until my husband heard from the Pentagon that he was picked up from active-duty. That was the day the wrestling was replaced with a limp.
My limp looks like never baking pumpkin chocolate chip cookies, gritting my teeth through certain worship songs, or fighting tears when someone asks me about the birth of my second child. It looks like a fierce defensiveness of other pastors' wives, especially one who is lonely, harried, or unfairly attacked. It looks like trying not to miss a single day of Bible study because I know how much it means to a teacher to be faithful. The more time goes by, the more I see how this limp is part of my testimony and how my memories, however painful, have made me a better person. I could not have written the novel on my hard drive without our experiences in that little country church.
So I'll wear my ring, limp a few more steps, and shed some tears over the smell of pumpkin and chocolate coming from my kitchen. I probably won't make these cookies often, but I know I'll think of TJ when I do.