There’s one thing I’ve certainly learned since launching our bread business a few months ago: Bakers rise early. Every Sunday night, I set my alarm for 3:00 a.m. I depart the house by 4:00 a.m. in order to arrive in time for our weekly Monday morning bake-up. And believe it or not, I’m not the first one there. Walking into the brightly lit bakery from the early morning darkness, I’m greeted with a cheerful hello (or hola) from fellow bakers who have already been up for hours.
But I don’t mind the early start. Since we start early, I’m finished by afternoon and can return home before my little kids get out of school. And besides, I love what I do. I love the process of baking bread.
To me, bread is a little bit of a miracle. Through the alchemy of fermentation, the dense mass of wheat and honey magically rises and transforms into a fragrant loaf. It’s the ancient food of our ancestors, even biblical. After all, when the Israelites escaped from slavery into the desert, the Lord rained down bread on them from heaven (Exodus 16). It was a reminder that though they must pass through trials, they were not forgotten. Baking is long, and it’s slow. We mix it up, then let it rest. We pound it down, then let it rise.
The miracle of bread is a bit of a metaphor for life. Waiting the long hour for the miracle to unfold, I like to walk into the proofing room at the bakery and peek at the bread as it rises, the airy lightness pushing and expanding the loaf in a fascinating transformation. It reminds me of the astonishing capacity for the human spirit to rise. This life is a series of trials. We’re beaten down, our dreams deferred, our heads face-down in the arena, but still, we rise.
Recently, my children had a tough lesson about disappointment. It was one of those evenings that didn’t quite go as planned. We capped off an exciting and exhausting week of fun August activities, the last week before the return to school, by getting tickets to see the long-awaited Incredibles 2 at the movie theater. It was a big event for us. We usually opt to stream our movies or grab new releases when they come out at Redbox. However, to cap the end of summer, we decided to make a trip to the theater a special event for the kids. Henry, age 2, had never been to the movies. He was bubbling with anticipation and mentioned our plans constantly: “I go see Incredibles 2!”
We climbed into our blue minivan and embarked on the 30-mile journey through the gorgeous mountain canyon that connects our rural Heber City home to the excitement of bustling Orem, Utah.
Like Pa Ingalls making the trek to Mankato, we took advantage of our small journey to relish the novelties of the big city. We had fish tacos for dinner at Rubio’s. We shopped at Trader Joe’s.
Showtime. We settled into our reclining seats in the fancy theater. The moment had finally arrived.
As the previews queued up, Henry, who had been resting lethargically on his daddy’s lap, began to whine. As I turned to him to figure out what was wrong, he suddenly vomited all over himself, and also all over his father, completely drenching Taylor.
First, shock. It took a while for Taylor to process what exactly had just happened. He was dripping wet with throw-up. Then, it was clear the movie was over for our family. We all stood up, conspicuously in the second row, and slowly filed out of the theater, still trying to process the shock of what had just happened.
It didn’t take much to convince management to refund our tickets when we approached them to ask for a rain check. “You go home and take a shower,” said the sweet customer service helper with a sympathetic look. She got on her radio and asked the valet to clean up the mess, teasing him with a good-natured laugh.
The night, which began with such anticipation and excitement, was now coming to a very disappointing and disgusting end. My oldest daughter wasn’t just upset. She was angry. “It’s not fair! Why do we all have to go home just because Henry is sick!?”
I explained that we were a family and we all needed to stick together. Henry would be so sad to miss out on Incredibles 2. We needed to return another time when Henry felt up to joining us. Right now, he needed to rest. Dad needed a shower. We would return next week, clean, well-rested, and together.
Then, our conversation got a little more philosophical. I know how much she loves her baby brother. She’s so tender and attentive, 10 years older, really like a second mother to him. I explained that often in life, she will experience terrible disappointments. And although the loss of a dream is always difficult, however small or big the dream may be, these moments are opportunities. They are opportunities to comfort others hurting around us. In this case, it was our chance to comfort Henry. Though we had to delay our fun, we had the opportunity to show him that our love and concern for him is greater than our desire for a good time that evening.
It’s in the space of disappointment, pain, and loss that we find the opportunities to be comforters to each other. In these moments of genuine bonding, we forge the links that comprise true love. And that genuine love, not a good time, is the true source of joy and meaning in this life.
I realize, with a bit of dread, that terminating a night on the town is the very least of the category of disappointments that my children will experience in their lifetimes. I’ve lived long enough to endure more than one sucker punch to the soul. I know the hard truth my fresh, innocent children have yet to fully comprehend. There will be rejection, failure, loss, and betrayal. There will be pain, both to the body and to the heart.
But I believe that through it all, we are not alone. We are all passing through the trials together. There is always someone to comfort, always a fellow traveler to bless. And even if we are abandoned by the people we love, even when we feel entirely alone, I believe we are all children of a loving God, and He will not abandon us. Though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, our God is with us.
As Beyoncé articulated so beautifully in her masterpiece Lemonade, “Nothing real can be threatened." The most real, the most genuine, the most powerful force in this universe is Love.
Of all life’s depravations, it’s the poverty of love that inflicts the most pain.
And though we may lose everything, though our fondest dreams lie shattered, if love conquers, then everyone wins.
In our darkest hour, Love is what God rains down on us from heaven.
I find great comfort in the wisdom of Rabbi Harold Kushner. In Overcoming Life’s Disappointments, he wrote:
To dream is to imagine a world and a life better than the one we know now. Perhaps failure and disappointment can teach us that we may fail at one thing, we may fail at several things, but that does not mean that we are failures as people. The worth of a person’s soul is not measured by the size of his or her bank account or the volume of the applause a person evokes, but by one’s humanity, by one’s compassion, even by the courage to keep on dreaming amid the broken pieces of our earlier dreams.
No matter how battered our hearts and our dreams, there is always within each of us the capacity to bless. A smile, a soft answer, a forgiving heart, an outstretched hand. It’s often the smallest, most simple things that make the biggest difference.
As we allow the force of love to fill our souls, it will lift us. We will find the courage to once again stand. Like bread that must get knocked down before it can rise into something delicious, the miracle will occur inside ourselves, the alchemy of fermentation, as that which we deem corruption transforms simple, earthly elements into a beautiful, fragrant, heavenly new creation. And again, we will rise.