Behold the box cake. Sugar and spice and cream cheese frosting is nice.
In the past year God has been taking me on a journey regarding food. I love food, but I don't love it too much. I thought. I'm far more guilty of restriction than gluttony. From the age of nine, from the moment my dad made a comment about my burgeoning body and then it was confirmed by the church ladies, I've been conscious of how much space my body has taken up in the world. Controlling my food was my way of controlling my space.
In our home it was survival of the fittest, and as the only girl in a brood of seven boys, any vestiges of femininity were ridiculed, shamed, or belittled. I see now it wasn't thinness I have been after all these years, it was fittest, it was survival in a wold where boys were kings. I am not alone in this story, even if my details are different. Most women learn early how to survive in their setting. Men do too, of course, in other ways. But this is a story of how I learned.
I learned by researching about seasonal food, local food, good, healthy food. I learned about macros and calories and enzymes and there's whole shelves of my bookshelves devoted to food, the making of it, the growing of it, the cooking of it, and the literature of loving it. I think God loves food too: he created people and put them in a garden and he closes his Word with a feast. I felt justified in the space thinking about food has taken up in my life.
But food has always also been the enemy for me. Along with my delight in the seasons and locale of its origin, came a stringent legalism around it. Because my body lives in a broken world, it carries with it the brokenness of my parents and their parents and their parents and all our parents back to our original parents. None of us come out of the womb unfractured, we're beat before we're even born. And most of us will spend most of our lives trying to beat the body we've been given into submission—not to God's will, but to our own. I wrote in Handle With Care,
"This obsession, though, is not actually with the body, as it might seem. The obsession is not care for the body as an embodied self, or an image bearing being. The obsession is being beyond the body, beating the body we’ve been given, adding or subtracting to our substance, pressing back aging and sagging and the effects of bearing babies and hard work. The obsession is not the right care for the body as an image bearing being, but a pursuit of the body of our dreams. What we ultimately want, if we can admit it, is immortality. We desire eternal youth, vitality, beauty, and rigor."
I have loathed the body I've been given by God and done my best to shape it into the body I want primarily by controlling my menu. Counting calories was my religion, weighing in was my proof (of my goodness or badness), food was my morality. If it was seasonal, whole, or from a local farmer: good. If it came from a box, was quick to make, or contained additives of any kind: bad. And I judged myself on these ethics.
It was pervasive in my life. So much so that I eschewed buying an Instapot when they came on the scene because it seemed a tool of convenience, and convenience was the enemy. Flagellation was the friend. Making my body my slave was the only way I could make my body my friend.
"Sometimes it is my favorite child," the poet, Jane Kenyon wrote in her poem Cages, "And sometimes my body disgusts me." She goes on, "This long struggle to be at home/in the body, this difficult friendship." This difficult friendship is the only way I have known to speak about my body, and therefore my relationship with food.
Over the past two years almost all of my reading material has been concerning the body, mind, spirit, and soul. But primarily the body. As I wrote Handle With Care, I was opened to a whole new way of thinking about not just the body in general, but my body in particular. And I have been befriending this body.
I know women who say they are totally comfortable with their bodies, they love their bodies, the mirror is their friend, and they flounce from the bathroom in the morning with one last look to confirm it. This is not my story. I wish it was. I envy the women for whom it is. I do not love this body but I am learning to.
When I was nine years old, something was sealed in me by a careless comment from a parent. I had mustered up my courage to ask a question about wearing lip gloss and was told to go douse myself in toilet water instead, and the lesson that sealed itself in me that I was worth the price of sewage. The water in which we eliminate was used to eliminate me and the stain of that has never left me. I see now those words, regardless of intention, were abusive and wrong. But the damage was done.
But God, in his great mercy, can undo damage and that is what 2019 has been for me. My body, having once been my enemy, has begun to be my friend. I notice when she is anxious or scared, arrogant or assuming. I care when she is on her period and when she is not. I intuit when she is hungry and when she is full. I have lost my religion of macros and calories and weigh-ins, and learned to receive everything God has made as good and with thanksgiving. I go to the gym now because it feels good to move and strengthen and not because I care one whit what the numbers on the treadmill say.
So, behold the box cake. Because I’m thankful for the Hello Fresh meal delivery service we've used in the past few months where I'm prioritizing other more important things. Because I've been wanting a spice cake to celebrate the coming of autumn but didn't want to buy all the ingredients. Because it took me three minutes to whip up and put in the oven, and where once I would have judged myself for not giving more time to the slow work of baking a cake, now I am learning to be kind to that critic in my head. She was just trying to survive in a world where being fit was more about the size of her body and the scale of her beauty and less about being chosen, made righteous, part of a royal priesthood, and God's instrument. Scripture defines "fitness" as one who has been prepared for every good work, made of honor and sanctified.
I was prepared and called fit by the God of the universe and today, I used that fitness to make this spice cake and tonight I’ll use my fitness to serve this cake to the people around our table, and this indeed is good work if it is anything at all.