Whenever I host dinner parties, I never think of dessert. If a guest doesn’t bring dessert, I usually don’t have anything sweet other than a few oranges, like a proper Chinese restaurant (minus the divine hot towel service and the pink tablecloths). But ever since I got married, that has all changed. Andrew is literally my southern sweet. He has a sweet tooth that involves browned butter caramel cakes with glazes and frostings and things that make me thirsty just thinking about them. On days of rest or special occasions, you can find Andrew humming to himself, covered in butter and flour, baking something very special and very sweet. So when we were planning our wedding, orange slices were out of the question. We needed a cake.
As we planned for our wedding with us both in full-time ministry, we knew the wedding would mostly have a “do-it-yourself” vibe. Neither a cake nor orange slices even made it as a line item in the budget.
In September, eight months before the wedding, I got a Facebook message from Mandy, a friend from college whom I hadn’t seen in ten years. The message contained a short update on her life and ended with this: “I make cakes for a living. Did you know this? Birthday cakes, anniversary cakes…WEDDING CAKES… If you haven’t already made plans for this part of your special day, I would love to make your wedding cake as a gift to you and Andrew. I’m hoping to make it up to Boston this October, and I’d be glad to do a tasting for your guys. It’s just a thought, and of course if you have other arrangements, that is wonderful!” I read it right before bed and I remember groggily looking at it and thinking it was a dream.
It was not a dream. Mandy is actually a real-life sugar plum fairy! She was very serious in her cake offering and magically showed up in my apartment in Boston a month later laden with piles of little cakes of six different flavors and nine different buttercreams that she had made in her own New Jersey apartment and transported in an impressive arrangement of baking pans and tupperware. She set up a professional cake-tasting for us. You were supposed to take small bites of each mini cupcake, but Andrew downed them whole and was in heaven. Andrew is a baker himself, with annoyingly high standards and strong opinions on flavors and moistness, so to see his thorough enjoyment of Mandy’s baking had me at ease — we were going to have a wedding cake! She had bold rich flavors for Andrew and light subtle ones for me, somehow satisfying both the southerner who glazes everything with an extra layer of sweet and the Chinese-American who would almost always rather eat fruit. Mandy was determined that we could each be satisfied because, after all, “cakes have tiers!” What a gift, somehow reconciling our opposing taste buds with buttercreams and green tea.
Now, when we started the guest list endeavor we realized we’d likely have upwards of 250 people. That is a lot of cake. I wanted to give Mandy a way out in case this was more than what she bargained for. “So Mandy,” I said, “what if we have a lot of guests …” To which she cheerfully replied, “Then there will be lots of cake!” As simple as that. The generosity of that response blew me away. We were being thoughtfully, abundantly cared for by a friend whom I hadn’t seen in ten years, a magical sugar plum fairy baker from New Jersey with a heart of gold and a knack with buttercream.
For the wedding, Mandy took three days off of work, drove up to Toah Nipi two days early, labored hours and hours making so many cakes, so many buttercreams. Andrew and I weren’t even there yet! Mandy made us a beautiful three-tiered cake and two huge sheet cakes — the most delicious labor of love. She somehow cut and served all the cake on the wedding day, and even though there were no forks (we forgot that small detail -whoops), cake was abounding and guests were so happy! As predicted, the Asians loved the green tea cake with green tea buttercream and the lemon cake with the strawberry buttercream (my choices!!) and the southerners were keen on the chocolate cake with the caramel whiskey, while the hummingbird cake with the cream cheese frosting was a crowd favorite that spanned people of all ethnicities and tastebuds. Somehow she also made sure that Andrew and I were stocked with cake for the honeymoon. We ate cake all honeymoon long, Andrew indulging in abnormally large slabs of it at any given hour of the day. We froze the rest and ate it for months after the wedding. Generosity overflowing so much that it ended up in the freezer.
That cake. That colossal, thoughtful, time-consuming, delicious cake was one of the most beautiful displays of undeserved love and sacrifice showered on us that day. It tasted sweet like something costly and way out-of-your-league wrapped up and given excitedly with your name on the tag, like getting an Audi when all you wanted was a bike tune-up, like holy grace so undeserved but so undeniably meant for you. It was generosity in the shape of a three-tiered cake with its two sweet side sisters. This kind of generosity makes you question what you’ve done to deserve such a gift. And the honest answer? Nothing.
That cake was a reminder of the sheer lavishness of God’s love, the ridiculous lengths He has gone to to get our attention, to express his love, to give us real life-changing hope. How will we respond to his over-the-top sugar plum fairy kind of love? A love that comes down to be with us, that is entirely self-sacrificing, that promises never to leave us, and to lead us in the way everlasting? I hope we learn to receive, savoring and delighting in the gifts, enjoying the presence of the Father, who uses all things (the waiting, the aching, the receiving) to draw us nearer to himself. Because, after all, that is the real gift that can never be taken away. May the lavishness of his love inspire us to go over the top in our love for others. “How can I give like Mandy?” is a question I now ask. How can I be unselfishly generous? How can I show the heart of the Father, and heap on as much buttercream as possible?
PS: Here is photo evidence of Andrew’s post-wedding mini-moon cake consumption. Half of that chocolate cake was gone when we left 🙂