The children’s eyes sparkled with anticipation as I brought out my cardboard box filled with cooking supplies at our
after school Bible Club yesterday.  I donned my blue floral apron, and began
taking packages of flour, cornmeal, sugar, a carton of eggs, a stick of shortening, and a container of milk out of the box, setting them
on the small table in the front of the art room where we meet.  Chairs scraped the floor as expectant children scooted closer to the
front of the room with excited chatter.  

I quieted the room by holding up my bulging yellow cookbook, stuffed full of hand-written,
spilled-upon, much-treasured recipes.  “This is my cookbook.  There are hundreds of different recipes in here. All of them are
different, and all of them are absolutely delicious. Look, here is one called ‘Strawberry Cake,’…and over here is one my mother
taught me to make when I was about ten years old called ‘Thirty Minute Dinner Rolls’…Oh! Here’s my very favorite oatmeal
chocolate chip cookie recipe, and here is one for cornbread!”  

“Have you made all of them?” a wide-eyed eight year old gasped.

“Pretty much all of them,” I nodded.  “And guess what? In heaven, God has a book sort of like this, too! Instead of
food recipes,
though, his has ‘recipes’ for each person’s
life.  They’re all different, picked out special to match just right with each girl and boy and
man and woman. God has good plans for each person, and he knows how to mix in the ingredients for each person’s whole life.”
As I spoke, I began measuring and mixing.  I held up my mother’s cornbread recipe, written in my older sister’s handwriting, which
she copied for me before my move from dorm into apartment before my junior year of college. “Today, we’re going to use one of my
special recipes and make some Thanksgiving cornbread. And at the end, you will get to try some that I baked earlier today. Let's
start with the flour.  Have you ever tasted plain old flour? Lots of times, ingredients don’t taste very yummy all by themselves. But
each one is very important.  For example, this shortening is really oily and nasty, but the cornbread won’t taste good without it!”

“What’s it taste like?”

I scrunched up my face. “Sort of like butter but without any flavor at all.  And this cornmeal is dry and crumbly and boring and
makes you want to spit it out if you taste it before it’s cooked. A day full of ‘cornmeal’ might be a long one with lots of sighs.”

“How about sugar though? Some of our days are sweet and just plain fun! I love those days, don’t you?
But did you know that lemon juice is also part of my cornbread recipe? It helps to form something called buttermilk. Has anyone
ever tasted plain lemon juice?” Hands shot up all over the place and heads nodded enthusiastically, obvious indicators that stifled
lemon juice war stories were ready to spill out of lots of little mouths.

“When your moments tastes sour, like lemon juice, do you sometimes feel like maybe God doesn’t love you right then? Do any of you
ever think, ‘Everything feels so super bad right now.
I guess God must not love me.’?”  A few children nodded quietly, and one heavy-set little girl’s hand shot up as she blurted out, “I

Sadly nodding, I said, “You know what? Sometimes I do too.  Sometimes I just feel so sad, I don’t like myself very much, and I start
to wonder if God really loves me…or even
likes me after all. But that thought is a sad, sad lie! Do you remember when this lie first
came into our world?  Who else heard those words, ‘Does God really love you? He sure isn’t acting like it…’”

I called on a fifth grader with a raised hand, one who rushes to Bible Club early every week to help pass out snacks or name tags or
help situate kindergarteners at their appropriate tables. She and her older sister live with their grandparents, as their parents have
been on drugs and troubled for most of these girls’ lives. “It was Eve, in the garden.  The devil told her that.”

“Yes!” I smiled into her eyes as I picked up the sparkling golden fake pear from my props box, which I used during the Garden of
Eden lesson several weeks ago. “’If God
really loved you, he would let you eat this beautiful fruit,’ Satan said.  When we hear the
words, ‘God must not love you very much,’ we need to remember they come straight from the devil, who hates people, and who
especially hates children.  But Jesus loves children, and Jesus loves you, each one of you, so, so, so much.  And Jesus is the
strongest!” I hold up my pinky finger. “Jesus’ little pinky finger is way stronger than all of Satan’s muscles.”

As we mixed in the milk and the eggs, I cued my ten year old son, and he made his way to the front of the room to unobtrusively
drop a (previously washed) rock into the bowl.  And then another.

“Whoa.  Whoa. Whoa. What are
these?” I tilted the bowl to show the children the two sizeable rocks in that had been plopped into the
bowl. “
These are not part of my recipe.”

“Ew! They’re rocks!”

“Right! Where did they come from? I did not put these in! Look!” I held up my recipe card. “Rocks are nowhere on the recipe.” All
eyes were on me, watching to see what this unexpected turn of events meant. I scanned the room, and my eyes fell on the faces of
two adorable sisters, kindergartener and third grader, whose home life this fall has brought about dramatic personality changes in
them.  Their grandma has asked for prayer for their parents, who are apparently fighting each other and also drinking a lot.  These
once giggly little girls have become quiet, withdrawn, sad-eyed.

“These rocks are like bad things that happen which are not part of God’s plan, not good at all, and just come because we live in a
world that Adam and Eve messed up. When someone comes along and drops a big rock into our nice recipe, it really, really hurts. But
guess what?  When we cry, God is crying his God tears right along with us.  God’s heart breaks for us, because he hates those rocks
even more than we do.
But look! This is how it works…” I cupped my hands to form a ball. “This is our world, this is us, this is where we live.” I then
stretched my arms out and swirled them around. “But God is so big, he lives outside of time, out here, yet he also still lives
time with us.”

I carefully picked out the batter-covered rocks. “When Jesus died on the cross, he already knew about all the rocks that would get
tossed into all the recipes.  He said, ‘Give me all those rocks, the big ones and the little ones and the mid-sized ones,
all those bad, evil
things that hurt you and make you cry.  Let me take then, and put them in a big backpack, and carry them on my back on the cross.’  
As he died, he had all our rocks from all our recipes on his back.”
Setting the gooey rocks on the table, I shifted to pick up a handmade poster, which stated,
“In everything give thanks.” “This verse tells us we are to thank God at all times.  What do we know about being thankful? We all
know that when
good things happen, it’s easy to thank God. When we get good grades, and get the solo in the music program, and
have a big beautiful birthday present handed to us, and it's just what we wanted, it's really easy to say, "Thank you, Lord!"  When
bad things happen, like we lose our wallet, or a friend moves away, or our favorite stuffed animal gets left in a hotel room, it's hard to
feel thankful for anything. Those are times when maybe the lemon juice is being mixed in.  It's a lot harder to say, "God, even though
this doesn't taste good right now, I trust that you are still making something good in that mixing bowl of my life. I still thank you,
even for the sour things."

But the third thing is really,
really hard.  When a rock or two or lots more is tossed into my batter (and there are lots that come into
each person's life), am I supposed to be thankful for
those? When someone hurts me, when an evil thing comes, does God want me to
actually be thankful for those awful things?  The answer is:
definitely no.  Those rocks are not something good to thank him for.  We
are never told to be thankful for the evil rocks themselves. Instead, we are thankful for the hands.  We are thankful that his good,
strong hands are always holding our mixing bowl.  We are thankful that he will never look away and forget about us, not even for a
minute, as he mixes our life together. We are thankful that his hands took out those rocks and carried them in his backpack on the
cross.  And we are thankful that at the end of our lives, he will have produced something beautiful, something amazing thing in us,
and then...we will go on to spend our
forever with him in a place where there are no more rocks. So we are not supposed to be
thankful for the rocks. No.
But we are always thankful for those hands.”

A rare hush had flooded the room. As I spoke, my heart silently entreated each child to open up to the beauty, to the drenching love
of our God.   My eyes fell on my sweet fifth grade helper’s face, and I saw that it was flushed, and that her hands shielded her face
like blinders to hide the tears glistening in her eyes. As I closed in prayer and distributed pieces of my simple cornbread on that
Thanksgiving Eve’s eve, my own heart overflowed with thankfulness, and I worshipped.