I was almost in tears.
“It’s just a jelly roll” my beloved attempted to console me.
“It’s not about the jelly roll,” I responded.
We sat quiet for a few minutes as we drove over the high point of the bridge crossing the port. The bridge is the best place to get a view of downtown, and at night I find it particularly beautiful with glowing streetlights dotting the panorama, and high-rise buildings with a random pattern of lightened and darkened windows. Although I’ve lived here for over a year already, it is a sight that I still love.
“I’m sure the cheesecake is fine too.”
“No, the cheesecake was messed up and so is this janky jelly roll,” I responded with a mix of anger and fear.
We were on our way to do something that we do not often do: Spend time with some people with whom we are building a friendship. Even though we have been beginning to make friends, we have found it particularly isolating here. I don’t have any co-workers, my beloved works out beyond the suburbs, and we don’t have many people from those usually natural connections with whom to spend time on the weekends.
But this night was different. We were going to spend time with people, and I wasn’t there as a pastor. I was just Matthew, which happens extremely rarely, and I was incredibly excited. We were charged with dessert. Dessert is up my alley. I love baking, and I’m told that I’m not too shabby at it either.
I was convinced that I needed to impress them. I needed to make a good impression, to give the impression that I can do things, and that I’m worth having as a friend because I have things to offer.
A marble cheesecake was the verdict. I worked all day whipping and mixing and measuring, and packing, and browning, and melting, and marbling, and baking, and cooling. After nearly six hours working and waiting it was cool enough, I needed to examine my work to ensure that it was a worthwhile offering. It wasn’t. It did not bake evenly and wide swaths of it were underdone.
Knowing I could not present this, I scrambled for something else that would be tasty, not from a box, and, most importantly, able to be completed in the short time that remained. A jelly roll was it.
I measured and beat, and whipped, and mixed and poured, and baked, and rolled, and unrolled, and slathered, and rolled again.
As I was rolling for the final time, the beautiful golden crust from the top of the sponge cake was coming off, sticking to the parchment that it had been turned out onto. Knowing full well that nothing could save it and I had no other options, I continued rolling and attempted to make the best out of my second failed desert of the day.
As we drove to our destination, I held the jelly roll. I glared at it in disdain. This “Plan B” desert was equally a disaster. My desire to impress was over. I would stand at their door holding this humble jelly roll and I was going over explanations in my mind.
“I made a cheesecake, but it didn’t turn out,” I would say. “Sorry that this didn’t turn out,” I would say. “Bad Day,” I would try to explain.
“I can’t believe this!” I said.
“It’s just fine,” my beloved replied.
“This is a perfect metaphor for my life,” I said, “I spend a lot of time and effort trying to make something, and trying to do it well, but it all just falls apart.”
A tear streamed down the cheek of my beloved as she listened to my newest installment of my verbal self-flagellation.
We rode silently for the rest of the trip across town.
As I rang the door bell, my heart sank as I looked upon my broken offering and disfigured addition to our meal, desperately hoping that it did not reflect poorly upon my prospects for friendship.
As one half of our host couple opened the door, I forced a smile, said hello, and held out my now-hated jelly roll.
Before I could apologize for it, she pulled my beloved and I in for a hug.
“It’s so good to see both of you!” She said.
I tried to coolly apologize for our contribution.
“Don’t worry about it one bit,” she said, “we’re just glad you’re here.”
This was a brush with grace, and I think, a brush with the Divine.
Perhaps this is what we are like in front of God. We stand and hold our best efforts and best intentions in the form of a broken and far-from-perfect offering, and God gives us a hug, saying, “I’m glad you’re here.”