Being a parent is a very humbling experience in many ways. One of those ways is when you’re forced to come to terms with the parent you always thought you’d be versus the parent you actually are.
My son Hosea started Kindergarten a few months ago. As with anything new, it took a few weeks for him to adjust to the new rules and way of being - and it took me some getting used to as well.
His birthday falls within the first two weeks of the start of the school year, and the tradition at his new school is for parents to come and celebrate with their child on their birthday at the end of the day.
Since there happened to be so many kids with birthdays close to Hosea’s, they spread the celebrations out and I picked a day to come in.
The day arrives, I check in at the front desk, and that’s when I start to realize I’m wholly unprepared for the celebration.
The receptionist asks, “Where are the cupcakes? Are they already upstairs with the teachers?”
“What cupcakes?” I reply. “I was supposed to bring cupcakes?”
“Yes, parents bring cupcakes for the kids to enjoy on birthday celebration days.”
“Oh. I was never told that part. I thought the kids make the cupcakes at school. That’s what they did at his pre-school.”
And so, in walks Hosea with his teacher, both eagerly anticipating the arrival of me with a tray of cupcakes. After some quick explaining and many apologies on both our sides, the teacher invited me upstairs to the class anyway.
I will never forget walking into a room of 20 kids all seated in a circle around a birthday table waiting for cupcakes only to find out that there will be none. And seeing my son sit at the birthday table and have “happy birthday” sung to him even though I didn’t bring anything to celebrate.
I was mortified.
Thankfully, grace abounded, and we decided I could come back next week with cupcakes.
And so the next week arrives. I was determined to make this one a success.
I made chocolate cupcakes and chocolate frosting from scratch, decorated them with sprinkles and shark gummies - Hosea’s choice of flavors and design. I even made an extra two for the teachers, even though they kept saying they don’t eat the cupcakes on the birthday celebrations. I’m sure they will try one of these amazing creations, I thought to myself.
What must be mentioned here is that I was two days off of Hosea’s big birthday celebration in which I organized a party and made a giant birthday cake (also from scratch - as part of a birthday tradition we have). And so the last thing I wanted to do was make 20 more cupcakes.
I should just buy some from Safeway or do a box mix at least, I reasoned with myself. But reason fell upon a wall of pride. I felt I had to prove myself as a dad by making the best cupcakes the kids and teachers had ever seen and tasted. Especially after my terrible faux pas last week.
And so I slogged on, spending the better part of the day painstakingly making cupcakes.
It was time to go. In fact, I was running late. I arranged them beautifully on a tray and headed to the car. I opened the car trunk and as I was putting the tray down, it slipped out of my hand, and the cupcakes went everywhere.
That image is seared into my memory bank. I know it happened in real time, but it felt like slow motion - like one of those moments when your life flashes before your eyes, except it was just cupcakes. I let out a big laugh - because, well, what else could I do - and when I get angry or stressed or sad I start by laughing. A quick inspection told me that most of the cupcakes had fallen top down, or into one another, and that I could not save them.
The only thing I could hope to do was zoom to Safeway on my way and grab any cupcakes I could find. But I was already running late.
So I jumped into the car, cupcake mess in the trunk, frosting all over me, and drove as fast as I could, mind reeling. Andronico’s is closer; it’s more on the way than Safeway; I’ll stop there, I thought to myself.
I zoomed into a parking spot at Andronicos. If this were a movie, you’d see footage of a car doing a 180 spin turn, screeching wheels into the lot. I ran into the store to grab as many cupcakes as I could find. Red velvet. Gross. The worst kind of cupcake. But they’ll have to do because there are 24 of them and there aren’t 24 of any other kind.
I scan the cupcakes in the self-checkout and in my haste I push “cash back” instead of “none” and so $100 comes pouring out of the register - which I almost didn’t see.
Back in the car now, racing to the school. I’m definitely late.
Park in the back, on the other side of the block. It’s a no parking zone, but I’m late and this is San Francisco and sometimes you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.
I open the trunk. What a travesty. Chocolate frosting everywhere. Some cupcakes fall into the street. I wipe the frosting mess off the tray as best I can with the last few wet wipes I have (why is that when I’m in the middle of a wet wipe emergency there are only 3 left but an endless supply at all other times???) I put the red velvet cupcakes on the tray, slam the trunk shut and run around the block and up the hill - tray in hand - to the front door.
At the front desk the receptionist asks for my proof of COVID vaccination. Obviously, I left it in the car because all I could think of was cupcakes. And then I realize I left my phone in the car too. And even though I was here three days ago and you saw my proof of vaccination and know who I am - a protocol is a protocol, and so I ran back to the car to get my phone, then back around the block and up the hill (these darn San Francisco hills) to the front desk. Now I’m very late.
The cupcakes have already been taken upstairs. They’re just waiting for me to join.
And so finally I arrive at the belated birthday celebration redo, out of breath, sweat pouring down my face. And they may not have been the special homemade chocolate cupcakes, but there were cupcakes! And after all this, I’ll take what victories I can get.
When Hosea and I got home, I put on the TV for him to watch and I went straight to my bed, curled up in the fetal position, and cried. I’m not ashamed to admit it.
If you’ve made it this far into the blog - congratulations, you’ve just witnessed the Great Cupcake Saga of 2021.
And here’s where I get spiritual. I know it might seem like a trivial occurence - and definitely a first world problem - but I believe that we can learn to find God in even the mundane, seemingly insignificant portions of our lives - if we take the time to let Him reveal Himself to us.
There are many lessons that can be gleaned from this escapade. The principle of double checking when in new situations that you have all the details. Letting go of pride and not making things more difficult for yourself. Pressing on even though the odds are not in your favor. Everything is okay, even if it comes crashing down - God is still good, and He’s still God.
But I think what stayed with me the most was that I felt I had something to prove with these cupcakes. I felt that my value as a father, as a man, as a human, was less because I failed to bring the best cupcakes (or even any!) to school for my son.
And I realized that this is how I approach God so many times as well. I feel as though I’m not of value to Him unless I bring Him only my best, and only put my best face forward. I know that as God He deserves our best, and we should definitely always offer Him our best. And I know that He loves me even at my worst so I don’t have to have myself together when I come to Him. But in practice, I often feel unworthy.
I feel unworthy of His love. I feel I let Him down far too much. And so I begin to work hard and to “do better” and to “sin less” and to “be more” so that when I stand in His presence, He might love me a little more, He might find me less unworthy.
But that’s a lie.
1 John 4:10 says “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”
The apostle Paul says this: “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8 NIV).
Our Lord loves us no matter what. There are no ifs and buts or whens. There is nothing I can do to make Him love me more, or make Him love me less. He loved me at my worst - and still loves me at my worst.
One of the core tenets of our Christian faith is precisely this truth: that it is God’s love for us that defines us; not our love for Him.
So maybe you’re like me. Maybe you hide parts of yourself from God because you think it unworthy, too dirty and hopeless to be loved. Maybe you strive to earn His favor, trying to balance the credit book of sin and salvation in your favor.
I’d like to invite you to stop striving, to stop hiding. Just sit and receive the enormous, never-ending love that our loving Jesus has for you.
As we head into a new holiday season filled with activities and gatherings and reminders - remember that your worth is not in the Thanksgiving feast that you prepare; your value is not in the best-wrapped presents you give; your identity is not in having the best family Christmas card. It is solely in God’s love for you.
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,
neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,
neither height nor depth,
nor anything else in all creation, [even cupcakes]
will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 8:38-39 NIV [with my addition]