“How are they?” I ask H when he appears in the doorway.
Murielle and I are addressing piles of Christmas cards when his presence interrupts our concentration. I notice he is chewing; testing the warm nut ball cookies his mother is finishing in the kitchen. Traces of powdered sugar dust his chin.
“They’re good,” he reports after a final swallow, “different texture and a bit more buttery, but good.”
I make five different kinds of Christmas cookies (biscuits if you are British), in stages during the first weeks of December. Every recipe is eagerly anticipated until all are finished and arranged on a decorative plate. This year each batch is met with an echo to H’s assessment about the nut balls.
Good, but not quite the same.
English marshmallow has a different texture than Kraft Jet Puffed and green food coloring disappears when heated. Our Christmas wreaths made of cornflakes and melted marshmallow are supposed to be green, but instead, they look like worn out fall wreaths, dried and brown.
We can taste hints of chili powder in the chocolate covered peanut butter balls. Yeah, I have no idea what that’s about.
Last week, we traveled on the bus to Kensington High Street in search of sweet Hungarian paprika for a go-to family recipe; a favorite on Murielle’s bucket list of meals I cook while she visits. When we arrive at Whole Foods, we realize “The Google” isn’t accurate.
Instead of trusting labels, we gather in the spice aisle holding tins of Spanish paprika under our noses; squeezing the sides together while inhaling, attempting to identify a familiar aroma.
Nothing smells quite the same but we risk buying a tin anyway.
Once home, I pry the lid off the tin of paprika, lean in close and inhale a big whiff. “Yeah, it’s not quite the same,” I report to H.
“Let me smell it,” he requests, holding a hand out to inspect the contents.
In the exchange, like a runner in a relay race missing the baton, the tin lands on the floor instead of his hand. The counter, handles on drawers, kitchen rug and an entire arm of my white sweater are dusted with orange powder.
It turns out our feather pillow incident was preparation for cleaning up the mess. In a frozen stance for a few seconds, we assess the situation without looking at each other or saying much. H pulls the vacuum out of the closet and I begin dousing my sweater with Oxy Clean.
Later, as I stir the pot of chicken paprika bubbling on the stove, sip the broth from a spoon before adding salt, H walks into the kitchen asks me how it tastes.
“I think it tastes good, but it’s not quite the same.”
Inserting family traditions into new culture is good but not quite the same. And perhaps this is how you would describe your Advent experience this year – good but not quite the same.
You approach the season with a heap of idealism, however, reality is good but not what you remember or envision.
Could it be that this is exactly what God intends during the days leading up to Christmas?
Because when reality doesn’t match expectations we remember that here — the place where we live and breathe and engage in community — we do not have a continuing city. This “insider world” is not our home. We have our eyes peeled for the City about to come. (Hebrews 13:14, MSG)
When our hope is set on cookies baked or recipes perfected, the cards we send or the family picture, party invites or the perfect dress, we set ourselves up for disappointment.
Our hope is in a Savior who was born to set us free from the same in order to embrace the different He envisions.
When things are a bit out of sorts, we remember that we are in this world, but not of it. We live as though we have nothing and yet, possess everything.
Not quite the same enables us to define what is good from what is God, knowing that what is good isn’t always God. But God is always good.