Every year we save a little of the wheat we harvest. My mom, Dianne, has a flour mill, and she grinds the wheat into whole-wheat flour, which she uses to make bread.
My mom’s bread is kind of locally famous. If there’s a food event, bread is what she brings. It’s what people expect and what they love. Everyone “oooh”s and “aaaah”s as she slides the fresh loaf of bread out of a Ziploc bag, slices it and sets it out on the potluck table with dishes of butter and homemade jelly. Then it vanishes.
She’s really good at baking bread. If you compliment her on it, she’ll thank you and then mention that baking bread isn’t terribly difficult (this is somewhat true) and that she’s had 60-plus years of practice (this is completely true; she had breadmaking duties in her family of nine starting around the age of 10, and their bread was mixed up several loaves at a time in a dishpan).
The practice shows. Her bread is almost without fail a light, crusty, delicious icon of baking prowess and practice. It looks amazing from start to finish. Where some people spend half the day mixing dough and destroy an entire kitchen baking a loaf of bread, my mother spends about 10 minutes mixing and rarely gets more than a bowl, a spoon and a set of dough hooks dirty. She may or may not need to wipe down the counter after she’s finished. The dough has perfect texture. It looks beautiful raising and beautiful in the loaf pan and beautiful in the oven — and really, really beautiful when it’s on a plate and spread with butter or strawberry jelly.
I can bake bread kind of like this — and I do sometimes. Mine isn’t as good as hers, of course, but it’s certainly edible; people generally don’t complain. However, often when I bake bread, I make what I’ve started calling disaster bread.
Disaster bread … well, disaster bread is not my mother’s homemade bread. It is far from beautiful. It’s everything-but-the-kitchen-sink bread. It contains a long and varied list of delicious ingredients with delightful baking potential: yeast, of course, but also walnuts, almonds, sunflower seeds, quinoa, rolled oats, cornmeal, wheat bran, flax seed, millet, whole-wheat flour, white flour, and anything else that happens to be on hand. It’s different every time. There’s no exact recipe — no teaspoon of this and quarter-cup of that, because that’s not how disaster bread works. I put in however much I feel like putting in of whatever I feel like putting in, and then I mix until I’m done mixing.
As you might imagine, the result of this is … let’s call it interesting. The dough is lumpy (all those nuts!) and dark (too much whole-wheat flour? or maybe it’s just the molasses) and heavy and has a strange and slightly sticky texture. It doesn’t act the way bread dough should act.
Every time I make disaster bread, I set the lump of dough in the warm oven to raise and I feel a wave of disappointment and anxious despair. It looks like — well, a disaster, a lost cause, a waste of yeast and great ingredients. I find myself returning to the kitchen to peek at the dough repeatedly to watch the disaster in progress. It looks the same! I send panicky texts that say “MY BREAD IS A DISASTER” to my sisters (who both also bake bread, and whose bread is rarely a disaster) and fret to my mom (whose bread really is picture-perfect around 99.99 percent of the time). At that point, I am pretty sure that, despite the great ingredients and tasty potential, this bread isn’t going to raise and isn’t going to be even remotely edible, to say anything of good. It’s probably a lost cause.
Disaster bread is really a rather accurate metaphor for our lives. We — you and I — we are God’s disaster bread. He created us, mixing us up just like I make disaster bread: a little of this, a little of that, some of that over there — there’s no set recipe; every single one of us is a little bit different.
And, if we were all entirely honest, we would all admit that there are times when we do, in fact, feel like disasters — complete lost causes. We aren’t perfectly textured and beautiful and good. We feel heavy and lumpy and disappointing and distasteful.
How can we feel otherwise? We’re made up of good potential: great talents, smart thoughts, wonderful intentions, physical abilities. But we are humans, and therefore we mess things up constantly, thoroughly, astoundingly.
We lie. We cheat. We steal. We say mean things, and we hurt others intentionally and unintentionally. We envy and covet. We fail over and over in ways large and small. We don’t do things perfectly; we rarely even do them passably well. We’re each a waste of all that great potential God mixed into us.
In short, we’re sinners — all of us. The Bible confirms this fact in Romans 3:23: “… (A)ll have sinned and fall short of the glory of God …”.
It doesn’t say just some of us have sinned, or we really are mostly OK with a few flaws here and there. No. It says we ALL have sinned and we ALL fall short of the glory of God. Despite our amazing ingredients and delightful God-given potential, we’re just that strange, lumpy, heavy dough, complete lost causes, a waste of ingredients that have so much potential …
… Or are we?
Read on. Romans 3:24 says: “… and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”
The story doesn’t end with us as hopeless, condemned sinners, just as disaster bread doesn’t end with that lumpy, disappointing ball of dough that I panic over when I place it in the warm oven to raise. Through faith in Jesus, we are never stuck in the despair of disaster bread dough. God never views us as a waste of good ingredients. Despite all our sins, we are justified — that is, we are made righteous and good in God’s sight.
By grace and because of Jesus, God doesn’t ever see us as heavy and lumpy, disappointing and distasteful. That’s all we are on our own, but we have “the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,” and with that, in the eyes of our heavenly Father, we’re perfectly textured, beautiful and good. Jesus does for us what we can’t do for ourselves: he makes us good in God’s sight.
If you’re wondering, by the way, disaster bread is really good. That awful-looking dough bakes into delicious bread. Every loaf is a little different, but it’s always hearty and filling, nutty and a little sweet, nutritious and packed with flavor — superb with butter, and even better toasted. It’ll never be my mom’s homemade bread, but it’s pretty good in its own right.
This column first appeared in the June 2021 issue of Harvest News, the official newsletter of U.S. Custom Harvesters, Inc.