Sometimes it really is as simple as cake

My chocolate cake wins awards.

I don’t mean to brag, that’s just the honest truth. Well, it has won one award, so I like to call it “My Award-Winning Chocolate Cake.”

A number of years ago, we were members of a small town Oklahoma Baptist church, and our Sunday School class decided it would be fun to have a dessert bake-off. I brought my chocolate cake – the ultra-unassuming, super decadent recipe given to me by my mother-in-law – and I’ll be danged but what it didn’t win Best All-Around.

So even though we try not to each much sugar these days, and even though the glory days of clouds of powdery processed white flour floating through the air are long gone now, I still keep all the ingredients on hand for my Award-Winning Chocolate Cake. I make it for parties and potlucks, new neighbors and new mamas, for all manner of happy occasions.

But honestly, even more than I make it for happy folks, I find that I pull out my trusty 9×13 glass cake pan to bestow cake on the heartbroken, too.

Like when my precious friend and neighbor — who had, only a week before, told everyone that they were delighted to be expecting a surprise baby — sent a group text to inform us all that she was losing it, I didn’t know what to say or what to do. We always want to do or say the perfect thing in those moments, don’t we? I didn’t have anything perfect to offer her. But I could make a cake. I left it on her porch and texted back, “I’m so very, very sorry. There’s a warm cake on your front porch. Let us know what we can do.”

And just a few months ago, one of my best friends had found what she thought was her absolute, end-all be-all perfect house in the perfect historic neighborhood that she had been daydreaming of creating a perfect little life in, but just a few weeks later, their contract on the house fell through and all those perfect dreams were crushed. Once again, I was left fumbling for words, so I pulled out the butter and the sugar and got to work.

Those of us who choose to walk a path with intention through life can be a little prone to overthinking. (Wait. Is that just me?) We know we want to live lives connected to our communities, our neighbors, our friends, but sometimes we get so bogged down in good intention that we collapse under the weight of our own standards and do nothing at all.

In 2013, I read an essay by one of my very favorite writers – D.L. Mayfield. It’s called the ministry of funfetti, and I am here to tell you it changed my life. If you have a few minutes, go give it a read. She talks about how easy it is to begin to believe that only in doing the biggest, wildest, scariest things will we live lives of meaning, become people truly loved by God. But she takes that erroneous assumption down, and in her humble, humorous way, she notes the unrecognized ministries that change the world in the smallest, simplest ways:

“I think about those blogs I used to read, and all the feelings they would bring up. And now I just want to sit down, over a good direct-trade cup of coffee, and say to those writers: spray all the things gold. Bake all the tarts. Make all the lemonades you want. And take all those little lovelies and run, run in the direction of the world’s brokenness.”

I think of her words so very often as I mix together sugar and cocoa and flour and butter (so much butter). I think of how cakes are so great for celebrating with the jubilant, and how they are so great for offering a little sweet in the midst of sadness. Words are good, but sometimes they fail, and when they do, there’s always cake.

It really is as simple as that.

(Oh, and here’s the recipe if you’ve been meaning to add a very non-health-food Award-Winning Cake to your repertoire!)

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36 Comments

  1. Vee

    Hi Megan and Tsh,
    Thanks for the post.I like the idea of having your own ‘signature dish’ to offer to your friends and family. Another simple idea but can have profound impact on someone’s everyday life!

    • Megan Tietz

      Thank you, Vee! The littlest things really can be so profound.

  2. Angela

    I was just thinking about how much I missed your ‘voice’, Megan! I love this essay, and I’m going to do a little thinking on what my ‘signature dish’ will be. In the military, we have meal trains for people who are facing major events, so I’ve provided plenty of food, but I don’t have one special item that I’m ‘known for’.

    • Megan Tietz

      I love that bring up how the military family community takes care of one another through things like meal trains. I can only imagine that there are so many aspects of that life that you have to really live to understand. What a beautiful network of support you are providing for each other. Thank you for sharing that!

  3. Jamie

    Love this! Thank you for your words, Megan! I am so going to use this!

    • Megan Tietz

      Sure thing, Jamie! Thanks for stopping by today!

  4. Jessica B

    I rarely comment on blogs, but yes. Oh so yes. Something is better than nothing. I believe that overthinking to the point of paralysis and non-action is a common, yet unrecognized lament. Often I think our mothers had it right with “whip up the quickest, cream-of-soup casserole and run it to their house stat”. No one is going to complain that I didn’t use free-range chicken when I show up with something to warm the body and spirit in times of diress. Thank you for this great reminder to take action, even if it’s simple.

    • Megan Tietz

      I love that, Jessica! I think you are so right – our mothers (and grandmothers) didn’t overthink it. They knew that when you don’t know what to say, you feed people instead! Such a great point. Thanks for popping in to share that today.

  5. Lori

    So very true! As a fellow “over thinker”, why, oh why, do we make it so difficult!? It really is simple. Some of the times I’ve most felt loved are when people show up with food in my times of crisis. The simple breakfast goodies left on my porch as I returned from my mom’s funeral, the casseroles during time of grief and sickness, and just this week~ flowers, kleenex and a lego set for my very sick little boy with the flu. I love your idea of a signature dish, one that you always have the ingredients for. Thank you so much for sharing.

    • Lori

      Oh and thank you for sharing the funfetti link- greatness. I’ve always had a hard time fully wrapping my mind around David being “a man after God’s own heart”. That really spoke to me.

    • Megan Tietz

      It’s so true – in the times we feel most vulnerable, it’s the little things that people offer to us that are often the most remembered. And what a sweet gift someone brought your son! I am going to have to remember that – I’m sure it perked his spirits a bit!

  6. Karen

    Megan, just a quick note to say thanks for the inspiration! (Can’t wait to try the cake!) – Karen

    • Megan Tietz

      Thank you, Karen! It’s a long-time favorite here!

  7. priest's wife @byzcathwife

    I love the idea of a go-to recipe for happy/sad times….I’m going to try the cake!

    • Megan Tietz

      I can practically make this one in my sleep, I’ve made it so many times!

  8. Kristin

    I was just lamenting that even though I make virtually everything from scratch–cakes are my one last hold-out. I can never seem to make a decent cake with out a mix. So, thank you for this. I think I will give it a whirl on Valentine’s Day.

    • Megan Tietz

      This one is pretty easy and SOOOOO worth the effort to make from scratch. I hope you enjoy it!

  9. Kamille Scellick

    Megan–you’re singing my heart right here. Food comforts those parts where we do not have words. Love this!

    • Megan Tietz

      I’ve learned so much from YOU in this, Kamille! (Even though this is hardly the kind of healthy comfort you are so known for!) Thanks for popping in and your kind words. It means the world coming from you. XOXO

  10. Jessica Romaneski

    It’s so perfect that I plopped down on my couch and read this post – right after making a cake for my small group! I can relate to the overthinking thing as I thought about whether or not to just buy a box of chocolates or do something more involved (it’s been very hectic here – three little ones, and we’re all fighting off winter sickness). I decided making a cake would be a labor of love, and I made my grandma’s chocolate sheetcake (which would normally just be for birthdays because let me tell you, it is rich!). You’ve added more meaning to my evening, thanks!

    • Megan Tietz

      Oh, mama. All this winter sickness needs to be over right now! So glad this was powerful for you. Good for you on the sheetcake!!!

  11. Melissa D

    I like to say that there are very few things in life that can’t be made at least a little bit better by chocolate chip cookies. There is powerful love available when you make something for another person.

    • Megan Tietz

      It really is a powerful kind of love to make something for someone – whether they are mourning or celebrating. I’ll take a chocolate chip cookie any day!

  12. Emily

    This was such a refreshing post! My weakness is in comparing what I offer to a friend in need versus what others offer the same person, and fearing what I did was not as useful or special as what someone else did, sigh! Silly I know! I also loved reading the essay you referred to, a very thought provoking post, wow!!

    • Megan Tietz

      Oh yes, I didn’t even touch on the comparison aspect of this. I hope this encouraged you to know that even the most simple of gestures, when offered with heartfelt love, is always so very welcome!

      • Emily

        Yes you have encouraged me in this area, thank you! Not to mention I really want to try your recipe! Plus I rarely think of sending dessert in sad circumstances but it’s such a great idea!

  13. HokieKate

    Beautiful post, thank you. I was just telling a friend last night that my late 20s is opening my eyes to so much suffering so close to me. Infertility, children with cancer, abusive husbands, chronic diseases, unemployment, and so many other terrible trials. So often I don’t know what to say or do besides pray, so I really appreciated this post.

    • Megan Tietz

      Well, praying is good, too! Sometimes a little homemade treat is something tangible we can offer along with prayer.

  14. jeannett

    i want to print this out, and frame it on our walls. BECAUSE CAKE.

  15. Angela

    Chocolate says what no words can say and gives a hug when you can’t be there in person. I have a favorite cake recipe too that we make when we need a little something.

    • Megan Tietz

      Chocolate really can say so much. It’s not a bad helper to keep on hand. 😉

  16. Alissa

    Lovely! And, the words of your text message made me tear up. Isn’t that just what we need when we are broken hearted? To know that someone else KNOWS we are hurting, cares that we are hurting, and wants to love our heart back together. It can be healing, just to know that someone cared enough to pour their energy into baking something for us. I love the ministry of simple food.

  17. Kathy

    What a gentle and lovely post. Thank you.

    Although not an award-winner (that I’m aware of!), I use my grandmother’s simple crumb cake recipe in a similar way. In fact, I purchased a large stash of foil pie plates just for this purpose.

    My family tragically lost a 24-year-old young man (nephew) last year and we were astounded at the kindness of the people in our lives.

  18. Lee

    What a lovely reminder of the importance of the little things! When I worked in residence life, I was always so surprised at how happy a simple birthday cake made from a box mix could make my staff members when I made them.

  19. Katherine Willis Pershey

    Lovely. Thank you for these words, and for baking those cakes.

  20. Rachael Alsbury

    Awesome post. And thank you for the link to D.L. Mayfield. I just read through some of her posts…wow. I think I’ll go bake a cake now!

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