True story: I did not make my daughter’s cake again this year. She just turned nine.
For a time I used to think I was an inadequate mother for not making my children beautiful birthday cakes. For many mums it is something of a rite of passage. Not me. I don’t feel a need to prove anything, am not skilled at baking and often need the time for other things. I want her to have a special day and feel loved, but preparing a beautiful cake isn’t really necessary.
Like me, Lily likes to be original. She can be fussy about details. No raspberry jam filling. No chocolate, because chocolate cake is unhealthy. No surprises. No candles. And certainly no turning the lights out.
I didn’t want to disappoint her.
I spent the days leading up to Lily’s birthday in suspense. Would she think of a great cake idea and ask me to make it? Would I have the mental and physical stamina to do it?
And what about our visitors? Would they get here?
Our Albanian friends had hoped to visit us last weekend. Their visas were refused last month, despite being invited by the bishop of Coventry to lead a seminar. But they didn’t give up. As the weekend passed we assumed they would not get permission in time and would not be able to travel. We were all disappointed.
Then I got a surprise message on Monday evening. Gjystina and Fredi were in Rome, on their way to the UK. They had secured visas at the last possible moment and boarded a flight shortly after. This despite family illness, traffic, imminent flooding, a closed check-in desk, a conference they were preparing for this weekend and a court case that afternoon. Somehow, against all the odds, they were on their way. They travelled via Brussels and Birmingham, arriving early the following morning for their audience in Coventry. Our friends are faithful and humble people with a heart for the poor and weak. They are true lights in the darkness. Their plans are often hampered, but good things still happen. I collected them the next morning on Lily’s birthday after dropping the children at school. We gave them a whistle-stop tour of Cambridge and planned an event to meet folk at church later on.
Amid all the changes of plans, I was glad I had not tried to bake as well. Then, just as the birthday tea was starting, the lights went out: an unexpected power cut.
We lit candles, sitting in the dark with our surprise guests and an unhealthy shop-bought chocolate cake. I knew Lily was disappointed at the hampered plans and I started to feel inadequate, despite myself.
Disappointment feels deeper in the dark. So many elements we can’t control. But our friends reminded us that we aren’t alone. That we are loved.
And in the dark, the little lights shine so much more brightly.