Monday, March 26, 2012

Hope, Joy, and Pineapple Coconut Bundt Cake

Dear friends,

Last night, Lake Baldwin Church's women gathered for an encouraging evening called "Drinking from the Well."  Monica Taffinder, a Christian counselor who is co-founder of Grace Clinic, shared on the topic of "Celebrating Hope and Joy in the Midst of Our Realities."  Many of the thoughts I am writing here are ones she expressed, while others are my own observations.  Then there is the silly little story of the pineapple coconut bundt cake I brought.

Celebrating hope and joy? The reality is that many Christian women experience disappointment, disillusionment and depression.  Many of us face multiple simultaneous stresses, whether taking care of young children or elderly parents, marriage crises, infertility, wayward teens, church conflicts, financial distress, loneliness, or even general anxiety about what it going on in our communities and the world around us.

Hope and joy can be hard to find, especially when we confuse hope with expectation and joy with happiness.

A hope is something that we want to happen, that could possibly happen.  We all desire healthy families, nurturing friendships, personal significance, and meaningful work.  We are supposed to hope for and work toward these things!  And yet our hope is not to be in these things or in our efforts, but in God, who is the good giver. We must trust that he will provide what we need, but not always what we want, and that what he gives us will be not only sufficient, but what is best.

An expectation is something that we think must happen for us to be satisfied.  A desire becomes a demand.  Unmet expectations can lead to anger and depression, so we feel like we have to control things and people to get what we want.  (In some cases, this need for control is a survival function left over from a chaotic or dysfunctional childhood.)  Many of our expectations are tied to our ideals and to our identities: "If I were a really good mom, I would...." or, for those who educate at home, "The children in godly home school families should turn out like this..."  And when we don't, or when they don't?  We try to force it!  Or we become judgmental, grumpy, guilt-ridden, spazzed out, or worse.  Besides our own expectations, we also need to be aware of how we respond to the expectations that others have for us.  Do we allow our ability (or not) to satisfy unreasonable demands from others to determine our sense of value?  Do we strive for perfect performance because we crave approval, or do we evaluate what is sensible, set our healthy boundaries, and choose to live as God himself has called us?  Just because someone else thinks you need to do it doesn't mean that you should do it.  Just because someone says that this is what good Christians do, doesn't mean that it is.  Learn to listen to God for what he wants you to do.

Back to our own hopes and desires, what are we to do when we want something out of life?  I like the picture of holding my desires before the Lord with an open hand, waiting to see what he will do.  That doesn't mean passivity.  We are still supposed to do our part!

What about joy? It's not the same as happiness, which is wonderful but fleeting.  Joy is connected to a sense of gratitude, as well as acceptance (not complacency) and forgiveness (not a denial of the hurt).  Joy and grief can co-exist. In fact, if you don't allow yourself to acknowledge and properly grieve what is wrong in your life, you can get stuck.  Then it is harder to move on toward embracing and appreciating what is right in your life, even though the bad stuff doesn't go away.  

Through it all, we need to stay connected to God, the source of joy.  Unfortunately, some of us equate religious activity with an authentic relationship with God to the point where piety becomes a substitute for intimacy. Merely going through the motions on the outside depletes our inner joy instead of replenishing it.  White-washed tomb, anyone?  Yet if we really truly knew how much God loves us and is for us, how much he rejoices over us in Christ, wouldn't we want to listen to him, trust him, and grow deep in him?  I don't know about you, but sometimes this is a struggle for me.

If our hope and joy are in God rather than in our circumstances or our performance, then we are also free to be bold.  We can move forward with confidence and not worry about a bit of failure or disapproval along the way.  We can take risks, starting with little ones like pineapple coconut bundt cake...

Pineapple Coconut Bundt Cake with Glaze
(the dark spots on the inside 
are hollow pockets -- oops!)
I had signed up to bring a sweet treat to the Drinking from the Well gathering.  Wanting a dessert that is a little out of the ordinary, I decided to make a pineapple coconut bundt cake.  The complication is that I didn't have a recipe!  I could have looked one up on the Internet, but I like to experiment on my own. I figured it would be easy enough to combine two boxes of yellow cake mix (along with the eggs, oil and a reduced amount of water), a can of crushed pineapple, and a cup of shredded coconut.  I poured most of it in the bundt pan, and then the rest into a loaf pan.  I pureed a little more pineapple, mixed it with brown sugar, and boiled it down to make a glaze to spread over the cake after it cooled.  When I took it out of the refrigerator the next day, I was surprised to find that it had sort of collapsed in the middle, and that there were some large hollow pockets inside.  It looked a little... weird!  I guess I had used too much batter in the pan!  Certainly not the perfect bundt cake. Hmmm.  Was it good enough to take to the ladies' gathering, or should I buy some cookies instead?  I scraped off the uneven parts from the middle and tasted them.  Very very gooey, but definitely delicious!   Did it really matter what it looked like?  No!  I knew that my friends weren't going to judge me on my cake's appearance.  I didn't need to feel insecure, so I was more than willing to take the risk.  As it turned out, my friends all raved about how it tasted and laughed with me about my "cake wreck" story.  Honestly, by the time I sliced it, you couldn't tell that it had "issues" to begin with!

Seriously though, I want to say more about my friends at church.  It's not just my cake that they accept.  I have experienced their warmth toward me ever since I stepped out of my car in the parking lot that first Sunday morning in September 2010.  I hadn't even gotten to the building yet before a dear lady heard my car door close, turned around, noticed a new face, and walked back to greet me.  The friendliness from people in the church continued, and it wasn't just the "love bombing" hype that some newcomers experience.  Whether it is inviting us over for a meal, or picking up our kids for youth group, or giving them a partial scholarship to summer camp, or dropping everything to come be with us in a time of need, or taking the time to tell me they liked my latest blog post, we have felt their kindness, hospitality, and generosity. Over the past year and a half I have found them willing to listen and help when I've shared some of the less-than-perfect places of my life, some of the hard situations with no easy answers.  And you know what?  My stories don't alarm them, because many of them have already been-there-done-that, and aren't afraid to say it.  My gratitude for them gives me great joy.  Their acceptance gives me great hope and comfort.  And that is becoming my new reality.

I can't end this post without sharing a music video of Sara Groves singing "Less Like Scars."  (If you are reading this via e-mail or blog reader, you'll have to visit the post on-line to view it.) Honestly, when my husband gave me this CD many years ago, I listened to it a few times but just didn't really "get" it.  It wasn't until later, in the storms of life that it sank in.

"Less Like Scars"
by Sara Groves

It's been a hard year
But I'm climbing out of the rubble
These lessons are hard
Healing changes are subtle
But every day it's

Less like tearing, more like building
Less like captive, more like willing
Less like breakdown, more like surrender
Less like haunting, more like remember

And I feel you here
And you're picking up the pieces
Forever faithful
It seemed out of my hands, a bad situation
But you are able
And in your hands the pain and hurt
Look less like scars and more like character

Less like a prison, more like my room
It's less like a casket, more like a womb
Less like dying, more like transcending
Less like fear, less like an ending

And I feel you here
And you're picking up the pieces
Forever faithful
It seemed out of my hands, a bad situation
But you are able
And in your hands the pain and hurt
Look less like scars

Just a little while ago
I couldn't feel the power or the hope
I couldn't cope, I couldn't feel a thing
Just a little while back
I was desperate, broken, laid out, hoping
You would come
And I need you
And I want you here
And I feel you

And I know you're here And you're picking up the pieces 
Forever faithful
It seemed out of my hands, a bad, bad situation
But you are able
And in your hands the pain and hurt
Look less like scars 
And more like character


Hope and joy!
Virginia Knowles


  1. Hi Virginia, thanks for this very timely article! The expanded definitions of hope and expectations were just what I needed. Also I never heard that Sara groves song and it really spoke to my heart. Thank you ! And I wouldn't
    T care what that cake looked like - it sounds Wonderful!!

  2. This is a lovely post with some very good advice in it! Your church sounds like a wonderful place and it is nice you have found so much friendship and support there. Thank you for sharing so honestly. Your cake sounds delicious - I find sometimes the things that look not so good taste the best. I'm visiting from Ann Kroeker's Food on Fridays. It's lovely to discover your blog!

  3. We can't do it alone and your blog filled me with Jesus today! Praising God for how He is using the written Word to minister. Love that you created the recipe yourself!


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