I am learning to cook.
One of the rules Cheryl laid down before we came to Wales was that she was only preparing a meal every third night. If we were to eat the other two nights, Nicola and I would have to figure our way around a kitchen. Slowly, clumsily, with growing daring, we're managing.
It's more pleasure than I imagined. There is an artistry to cooking that I've long admired but feared to attempt. A tasty dish from raw ingredients is like a poem from a pile of words, or a sculpture from a lump of clay, or music from a violin, something that in less skilled hands can be wince-inducing, but with a master's touch can evoke heaven.
I haven't made anything yet that would rank as a culinary masterpiece, and I'm almost slavishly bound to recipes (though learning to be adaptive since I can't always get the listed ingredients), but so far I've not food poisoned anyone, or even made them crumple their napkin on their untouched mound of food and push their plate away. Sometimes, they even have seconds.
I've made jambalaya, and pear-pancakes (with homemade syrup), and Cajun haddock, and roasted parsnips tossed in olive oil and fresh garlic, and apple muffins, and a dozen things besides.
It amazes me, cooking: the alchemy of it, the way flour and baking powder and raw eggs – things inedible or unpalatable by themselves – combine to make something tasty and nourishing. Every time I go into the kitchen now, I'm newly excited by the possibilities (please keep this to yourself – I don't want Cheryl finding out and expecting the Wales ruling to apply to Canada).
I think this is how God works. He takes things in our lives that, by themselves, are hard or impossible to swallow. And he mixes them in such a way, and puts them in intense heat for just the right amount of time, that what comes out bears no resemblance to what went in. What goes in can be revolting. What comes out might be delectable. And yet, it wouldn't be this way without all the ingredients, even or especially the ones we'd never consume by themselves.
Are you going through an ordeal right now, or a time of deep loneliness, or the sting of a loss or a failure? On its own, it's disgusting, and hard to swallow. But see what God does with it, what he mixes it with, what fire he refines it with.
It may turn out to be your best meal yet.