Cookies were my link into the Labor Ward. Yup. More than one year of prayer and dreaming and trainings and planning. It was cookies that got the dream realized. (ok and a lot of God!)
Homemade baked goods are everyone’s weakness, including mine. Previous blog posts have covered this topic several times about the woes of my love for sugar, yet desire to surmount it. [Note: My sister Gail Madill has seriously stumbled into some ways to battle the sugar cravings. Life-changing stuff. See her Facebook page or website.] Needless to say, sugary, sweet goodies are my weakness.
They are the kryptonite I repeatedly return to. My love for them is the cause of a few extra pounds, and headaches, or sugar comas. They make me do crazy things like eat half a bowl of brownie mix or have three pieces of cake for breakfast. There are few (I actually am struggling to think of another right now) vices that have captivated and controlled me quite so wholly as this one. In short, you might say it’s my greatest weakness.
Yet. Yet The Lord has seen fit to use my greatest weakness for Something. First, I saw it in the Labor Ward invitation. And now, it came in the shape of a cake.
A few weeks ago, our teeny little church planned for visitors. Some folks from our “mother” church were coming for a meeting concerning church matters – like committee and service times. Our little group of usually five families churned out quite a production. We gathered before church to cook rice, recently-slaughtered chickens, cabbage stew, spinach stew, and make beet salad. In my mind, we needed a cake. And I had a mix at home I had needed to use at home, plus, a newly purchased oven. There was 1.5 hrs left before the visitors came and everything was stewing along nicely; so I proposed it, and the ladies agreed.
I popped home, and whipped up two lopsided cakes (apparently the oven wasn’t level!) in no time. Splashing some icing on top, I piled the covered cakes on a platter, hoisted it to my head (for this IS how you carry things to church) and walked the five minutes back to the building.
Shock and awe could describe people’s reactions. The visitors. The church body. Women. Men. Children. No one expected a cake. No one bakes cakes or has ovens (save that one family with a cob oven) or money for the special cake ingredients. They didn’t even realize that sometimes you make cakes from box-mixes, so I wasn’t even sure what type of flour, or how much bicarbonate of soda went into the mix. Who would have thought?!
Well, the surprise wasn’t over.
Before I came to Swaziland, one dear friend Lindsay thought of me during her Nurse Practitioner class. In deciding which country’s health profile to study, she chose Swaziland and sent me her magnum opus. I read it (okay MOST of it!), and was intrigued to find that the most compelling studies revealed three factors in the lives of HIV negative girls and young adults. It seemed that if these three factors existed in girls’ lives, they were HIV negative and well-educated:
1) a strong relationship with their mother. Makes sense. We learn our self-worth from our moms. How we expect men to treat us, how we think about our bodies, and even our attitudes towards relationships and sex come from our mothers’ teachings.
2) a reliable food supply. If we’re hungry, we’re less likely to perform well in school. We’re more likely to look for someone to feed us. In Swaziland, older men take advantage of this and become sugar daddies giving pocket money for food, clothes, or phones in exchange for sex from school-age girls.
3) education. Ah. The beginning and ending of most change in society. With knowledge comes girls’ awareness they can do more than sell fruit or their bodies. They learn to think fast and on their feet, and even learn about their bodies, how actually someone becomes pregnant, and how to debunk myths and lies told by oppressing men and mothers-in-laws. Plus reading, ‘riting, ‘rithmatics and high school diplomas, actually land you better-paying jobs. More food security. And on the cycle goes. It’s also observed that the higher a woman’s education, the less children she has. Greater are those children’s chances of food security and fees for schooling. Hence a broken cycle. Hope.
After reading Lindsay’s findings, I got inspired. Help young girls feel good about themselves, have enough food, and stay in school. Changed lives. I imagined The Lord connecting me with local women who were also passionate about community change. I’d encourage these women and they’d draw in the girls. We’d help them make extra pocket money without sex, or counsel their families on skills in finding work, etc. On and on my dreams went to work with young girls before they ever became pregnant.
And then time moved on. We moved to Swaziland, started learning language, got settled. Eventually, I started working as a doula. Started seeing too many of these girls that needed caught and helped before they got to me. I hadn’t forgotten the initial dream of working with young girls, but had rather started in with young girls and women who were pregnant. Definitely a way into women’s lives, but not exactly prevention of teenage pregnancies or school drop-outs. Feeling heavy with a few stories in particular, I recommitted myself to open eyes and praying for and talking about this idea with The Lord and other women.
A few weeks rolled by, after I started these prayers for open eyes, companions on this journey, and ideas of how to motivate Swazi women in this epic trek towards empowering young girls. Then the visitors came to the church, and I baked my meager, ugly cakes. Later that week, two young women came walking up the driveway. After chatting and asking if I could help them, they responded, “Yes. We wanted to see if you could teach us catering.”
Another invitation. They’ve invited me to help them. To teach them a skill. To share my cake-baking abilities, so they might make a few rands selling cakes to folks.
I quickly explained, “Well, I’m not trained in catering or anything. I only know how to make cakes, muffins, and breads because when I was a small girl, my mother taught me to bake. Just like your mothers taught you to cook lipalishi and sishibo. I’m not a professional by any means, but I can help you with what I know.”
We discussed that the supplies would limit us initially, so I would invite them over when I was baking something for myself – cupcakes for the nurses at work, a bread for a party, or a special dinner for us. Eventually we’d see if they could purchase the ingredients, or I’d front some money, with them paying me back after they’ve sold their goodies.
Most exciting of all is how long it takes to bake and ice a cake. Two hours at least. That’s two hours with these smart, young ladies who will help me with my siSwati. Two hours of language learning for me. Two hours of talking about boys, and marriage, and children, and self-esteem, and our roles in our community. Two friendships that just may be a start to empowering some females. In the end, at least it’s gonna be fun. I love baking with friends, and I’m sure we’ll become that soon.
Honestly, in the last few months I haven’t felt very usable. I’ve struggled with the heart to love people. I do things out of obligations, not a genuine love or care for people. I’ve wondered when this “faking it” will turn to “making it” for me. And I don’t know. I’m not sure. I know God is pouring some energy into me, trying to refresh me, remind me of Who I am, reconnect me to His Spirit. In the midst of my angst and anxiety is the King.
Here is the Lord. Choosing my greatest vice – cookies and cakes – to connect me to people. To use me.
He’s not using my titles or certificates either. These connections haven’t come in my teaching skills, doula certificate, college degree, or personality. These invitations come through my greatest weakness.
Oh Lord, You dirty, dirty little dog. Look at you go. You surprise me and delight me. I can’t believe you’re connecting me to these neighbor girls through cake. Please help us to thrive in these relationships. May the cakes lead to education, empowerment, refreshed souls, lives committed to loving, and hearts rooted in Your Love. May these cakes change our community in ways we haven’t dared to ask or imagine.
P.S. Is this a green light on cake eating? 😉