Grandma’s No-Bakes

This week, I have what I hope will turn out to be a “Christmas gift” of sorts for devoted ESI readers. I’d like to share an old family recipe, along with an associated story.

When I was a little girl, I would often visit my Grandma, who lived not-quite-in-the-country, but in a small town with a town square, bricked streets and just one four-way stop. One of the many things I loved about going to Grandma’s was that, more likely than not, she would mix up a batch of her No-Bake Cookies:

Grandma’s No-Bake Cookies
2 cups sugar
2 tbsp. cocoa
½ cup milk
1 stick Oleo (butter)

Boil above ingredients to soft ball stage. Then add 3 cups quick-cooking oats, ½ cup peanut butter and 1 tsp. vanilla. Mix well and drop by teaspoons onto cookie sheet to cool.

Grandma’s no-bakes were a highly-anticipated treat for everyone. While I’m sure she had other things she made that other family members would call her specialty, for me it was her no-bakes that were “her thing.” She always took a big batch of these cookies to our annual family reunions, and they were always gone well before the homemade pies and cakes that her sisters brought.

So it was that whenever my little brother and I would go for a visit to her house, this was the treat I’d want her to whip up. In my memory, they were “just for me,” a special way in which she expressed her love to me. At the end of our visits, she would often say to me, “Now, you come back-a see me soon, and I’ll make some more no-bakes.”

No-bake cookies are really more like candy; you bring the sugar, butter, milk and cocoa to a boil, and stir it until it thickens to a certain point – called “the soft ball stage” – where you can add the remaining ingredients, and then let spoonfuls cool to the point that they resemble cookies. Boil it too little, and you end up with muddy little piles of chocolate goo. Boil it too long, and you get crumbly rock-like cookies. But there’s a small window of time in the middle there where the outcome is a peanut-buttery-and-chocolatey pile of warm, delightful, waist-expanding calories. Aaaaaaah!

As I became a teenager, Grandma taught me how to make the cookies myself. I didn’t try too hard to recreate what she did until after she died. And then, stricken at the idea that one of her many gifts might be forever lost, I made batch after batch until I felt confident I had them “just right.” Interestingly, I find that I still have to make them fairly often, so I don’t lose the ability to recognize that all-important soft ball stage.

In the years since my grandmother died, I have been told over and over that “no one makes Grandma’s no-bakes like she did,” except maybe for me. Aunts, uncles and cousins have taken the exact same recipe, following the directions just so, and the outcome is simply different. I’m not sure why this is, as it’s the same recipe in all of our hands. We’re adding in the same ingredients and following the same directions. But the outcome is often different, even if “just a little bit.”

It occurs to me that my family’s experience with this recipe is similar to the impact of God’s Word in the lives of different people as they read it. Scripture is described as the living, active Word of God (Hebrews 4:12). Two people can read the same verses and it can impact them in entirely different ways. There is something intangibly different about each person’s experience as they take in God’s Word, just as so many of my family members have had different experiences in the kitchen recreating Grandma’s special no-bakes.

Just as the soft ball stage in this cookie recipe lies between the two ditches of a baking disaster, there are also “ditches” to avoid when trying to live out a faithful Christian lifestyle. For example, most people are familiar with the equally-dangerous ditches of “Legalism” on the one hand and “Worldliness” on the other. If you focus too intently on “following the rules” as the essential ingredient to your salvation, you can become a legalist and run the risk of “forgetting” that salvation is a free gift from the Lord, something that we could never earn, not in a million years. If, on the other hand, you focus too little on living a life measured by those “rules,” it can become increasingly difficult to see any difference between your life and someone who denies Him; you indulge yourself in the temporal every bit as much as those around you, and your witness can lack credibility.

Both of these “ditches” lead to the equivalent of a baking disaster, rather than a life truly pleasing to the Lord.

No one has ever asked me why my No-Bake Cookies “just happen to be” closest to those prepared all those years ago by my Grandma. There are probably many reasons why this is so, but I would say part of the reason is that I invested a lot of time in that relationship, and can recall many, many afternoons spent playing in her kitchen and watching her work at something she loved to do for others. I believe the effort that flows into my work at the mixing bowl today is directly tied to my desire to sit at her feet, so to speak, and watch the process unfold time and time again. Anyone can toss the ingredients listed above into a bowl; not everyone can be emotionally linked to the experience.

It is the same thing with the Word of God. For example, I can read Romans 7 and get much out of it. My husband, however, reads it with an outpouring of his own heart, and brings to that reading his experience of having spent 20 years of his life enslaved to alcohol, absolutely hating that bondage…and yet holding it close at the same time. I cannot begin to grasp the depth of meaning in that passage, at least not today, in the way that he does.

In the same way, Warren can read John 14-16 and hear Jesus speaking to His disciples just prior to His crucifixion, and certainly find the wisdom in the passages. A few years ago, though, going through some deeply painful trials, I fell into those passages while reading the gospels and the words came to life for me. I felt Jesus very near, almost imploring me to receive the comfort He was offering when He said He was going to prepare a place for me (me – Michele Renee) (John 14:1-3) and that until then, life could get hard (John 15:18-20) but to stay close to Him (John 15:1-5) and to trust Him – because though life may have temporal seasons of difficulty, He’s already taken care of all of it in the ultimate sense (John 16:33).

Whenever I pull out the tattered, faded old recipe card for No-Bakes, there is a sense in which I am “just” making cookies for my family, but there is also an accompanying sense in which I am reconnecting with a piece of my life that is long gone, yet imprinted deep into my soul. As the years have gone by, I have noticed the same thing happening as I read the Word of God. There is often a sense in which I am “just” reading the Bible, but I find that more and more, I am also learning to connect with Christ at a soul level.

It has taken time, much “practice in the kitchen” if you will, but His Word increasingly connects my day-to-day life with eternal Truth, as I seek to know Him more deeply in spirit and in truth (John 4:24).

If you’re not already reading God’s Word regularly, seeking to more deeply understand Him and know Him and apply His Truth to your life, I would encourage you to join The Crossing’s Bible reading plan for 2012 or to somehow make a practice of spending time with Christ, learning at His feet.

And if you try making Grandma’s no-bake cookies, let me know how they turn out.

Hebrews 4:11-12
Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

John 15:4-5
Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.

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