The Hardest Times - Skillful Cook
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The Hardest Times

Elderly woman with a young girl.

“This is what I know: God can make something beautiful out of anything, out of darkness and trash and broken bones. He can shine light into even the blackest night, and he leaves glimpses of hope all around us.” - Shauna Niequist, Bittersweet

To be honest, I never know if I should write posts like this. You know, just because it's a food blog and this post is not about food and sometimes those what-do-people-actually-want-to-read-about? kind of questions cloud my decision making. But the weird and kind of reassuring thing about life is that the hardest times come for everyone. Whether it's you reading this blog, or me writing this blog, or the elderly man who sits on the same bench by the lake everyday, or a regular A-list Hollywood celebrity - we all experience loss and death and pain. And life still continues on around us, and it feels more than a little unnatural. And maybe, hopefully, there is comfort in knowing that this is a shared experience. Even if the timing of our losses don't all line up exactly, we can know that we are not alone in this. I am not alone in this.

Recipe cards.

Last Monday night, in the middle of the night, I woke to my phone ringing. It was my uncle, giving me the middle-of-the-night news that is never good news - in this case, that my grandma had unexpectedly passed away. My grandma. No, no, no. Hadn't it just been a few days ago that we were sitting with my grandma, talking about Pinterest and recipes and the latest Shauna Niequist book? No. This can't be real.

It came too soon. My grandma was not exceptionally old or sick. She lived a full life, yes. But unlike the extended and prepared goodbyes of long-term illness or hospice (which are also never easy), it all happened so fast and we were zero percent ready to say goodbye. She still had so much life in her. In just a blink, she was gone.

Following on the heels of my grandma's passing, the Jacob Wetterling news broke. We cried and turned on our porch lights and looked down the street to see our neighbors doing the same. All of Minnesota's hearts were broken.

And as if the world weren't already heavy enough, soon after, we learned that a vibrant 21-year-old named Rene Dreiling, a former resident of the orphanage where we worked in the Philippines and a close friend of my siblings, lost his life while hiking solo in the Grand Tetons. And we cried again for this young life, this spark, gone too soon.

How. Why. No, no, no. Can't even breathe - it just hurts everywhere right now.

This week, between the tears and the hugs and the moments of big, heavy sadness, the shared meals with extended relatives and the poring over pictures and hand-written recipes and memory books, the lighting of porch lights for Jacob and the prayers for Rene's family, the feeling like I could never possibly get up off the couch and do any sort of work or normal life thing ever again, I've been holding tightly to this belief and this hope that God doesn't cause our pain, but instead redeems all of it and will someday set the world right. I love that image - SETTING THE WORLD RIGHT. There are so many wrongs to be righted, so much hope we hang on that idea, and thankfully, as our pastor Greg Boyd says: God is always unequivocally on the side of life.

People sitting in a living room.If not for this tiny sliver of end-of-the-rope faith, I really do not think I would've been able to get out of bed this morning.

Sometimes I like to think of this blog as a mirror. In sharing about myself and my life and my current struggles, my hope is that I am holding up a mirror so that any of you out there who are walking a similar journey right now can see yourself and your story and your emotions reflected in this space. I mean, I really don't hope that you're in pain. Please, no. I hope you're in a joyful and abundant season of life. But because of the humanness of this experience of losing someone, I do hope that you can look in and say - yes, I know that feeling. I've been there, too.

And in that, a little spark of human-to-human connection is made, and those connections, I think, help to outweigh the overwhelming sadness. For me, and maybe also for you.

People sitting around a living room.

I had the honor of speaking at my grandma's funeral on Sunday. Here's what I wanted the world to know:

In Memory Of My Grandma

When I think of my grandma, the first image that comes to mind is her happy, punctuated laugh. If you’ve known my Grandma for any length of time, you probably know the laugh I’m talking about - it starts with the slightest pause and a knowing smile and it lands with a loud “HA” as she throws her head back and leans into the joy of the moment.

Two women smiling.

When I think of my grandma, I also think of food. Admittedly, maybe this is because I have somewhat of an obsession with food and cooking and recipes, and I guess in that way maybe my grandma and I were very similar. There are so many memories I have with my grandma that hold a lot of significance to me, and it’s the specific foods we shared and the feelings I had in these moments around the table that really anchor each of my memories most vividly.

The Hardest Times.

Breakfast Conversations

Grandma’s breakfasts were simple and delicious. Growing up, a visiting breakfast with grandma was never complete without a batch of her famous Overnight Caramel Rolls (although I think if she were here today, she’d want me to make sure you all knew how easy they were - something Grandma insisted about all her recipes). A smart grandchild would always wake up just a little earlier than their siblings and cousins to run into the kitchen and snag one of the extra-sticky middle pieces. We’d go back for extra finger swipes of the sticky caramel sauce from the bottom of the pan while grandma would refill mugs with 8’oclock hazelnut coffee or freshly squeezed orange juice and ask us intently about every detail of our lives. And I mean EVERY DETAIL. I’m not talking about knowing what sports we played or what we did for work. She knew the first and last names of our friends, which cities we’d been traveling to that month, the books we’d been reading and what we liked about them, where we liked to go for coffee, and the color and style of our prom dresses. My grandma was deeply curious and interested in the details of our day-to-day lives and she never stopped asking thoughtful questions.

Elderly woman and man sitting at a table smiling.

She loved to hear about others’ lives and stories, but when it came to her own life, I’ve always known my grandma to be a very private person. So a few years ago, it would again be at the breakfast table over coffee, caramel rolls, and an Arizona sunrise, that my grandma would allow me to be the curious one as she shared some quiet reflections with me about losing their daughter, Susan - a loss that is always felt but rarely talked about in my family. She got out Susan’s pink photo book and pointed out pictures of Susan in dress up clothes, or sitting at the piano, or blowing out the candles on her birthday cake, always with a big smile on her face. She told me sweet and funny stories about her little girl’s personality, interests, and quirks, and I wish so badly that I had every word of that conversation recorded. I will miss breakfasts with Grandma - not just for the caramel rolls, but for the meaningful conversations that came along with them.

Christmas Traditions

If Grandma’s food and tradition and love were to all be perfectly packed in to one day of the year, that day would be Christmas. My earliest Christmas memories are rich with the smell of grandma’s homemade lefse being spread with butter and sprinkled with brown sugar and cinnamon, and grandma running around the small Worthington kitchen in a red Christmas apron. I can hear the stories and the songs, the bells on the tree, and the laughter pouring out from that old folding table in the back also lovingly known as the “kids’ table”, where, away from the supervision of the adults, Jenny, Melissa, Kristin, and I would load obscene amounts of butter onto our third helping of grandma’s already buttery dinner rolls. I can feel the cold wind as we made our way out the door to church, and then a familiar glowing warmth as we’d see Grandma up in the front of the church, beckoning us down next to her, where she’d sit her little granddaughters on the bench and give us all the smile and nod, which, to our great wonder, meant we could press a few keys on the organ as people filed out of the church.

Young girls sitting at a table.

An Open Heart

Food was not only a way for grandma to serve others - it provided some real-life examples for us to experience what I would call her Open Heartedness. She loved to learn and think and try new ways of doing things in life, and that could often be seen in a tangible way through food.

When my siblings were adopted, during one of their first visits to Arizona, my grandma asked them what kind of foods they liked. After not getting much information out of them, she took matters into her own hands and found a recipe online for biko, a sticky rice dessert made with coconut milk and brown sugar that is popular in the Philippines. I’m pretty sure she had no idea what she was doing, but that wasn’t about to stop her from getting some Filipino food up in that Arizona house. She made that biko with Roselyn’s help that day, and in doing so, she expressed her open heart not only for my siblings but for the country where they were born.

Four people smiling at the camera.

Three years ago, my grandma and grandpa invited my husband Bjork and I to attend a play with them at the Guthrie called Clybourne Park. We knew nothing about this play, but we knew a good meal was part of the deal, and we weren’t about to pass that up. So after sharing grilled salmon and cobb salads and introducing Grandma to quinoa and edamame at the Good Earth, we took our seats in the back of the Guthrie and watched as the actors’ performance tackled hard issues surrounding racism and prejudice and gentrification in probably the most provocative and moving theater production that I’ve ever seen. Here’s the thing I keep thinking as I reflect on that day: I’m pretty sure most grandmas do not eat quinoa or edamame, or invite their grandchildren to the theater, but beyond that, I’m even more sure that they don’t usually take their grandchildren to plays like the edgy, tense, and thoughtful Clybourne Park. I am so grateful that my grandma was not afraid of the new, the challenging, the deep thinking side of life, whether that meant trying quinoa and edamame and biko for the first time, or gently encouraging her grandchildren to engage in conversations about race. This is my Grandma’s open heart.

Grandma was steadfast in her devotion to Jesus, and she embraced those who were different front her with an open heart and gentle spirit that was, at its core, Christ-like. I think I speak for all of the grandchildren when I say that she is someone who showed us how to live and love well.

Three people smiling at the camera outside.

Grandma, you are one of a kind. We loved you and we liked you. We’ll miss you forever.

Friends, here's what I think you should do today: call your grandmas and your dads and your moms and your kids, and just check in and see how their day was.

It doesn't have to be fancy, right? Just another normal day, loving and giving and saying the things we need to say.

Oh, the sweetness of a normal day. ♡

Woman looking at two girls on a deck over water.

“Normal day, let me be aware of the treasure you are. Let me learn from you, love you, bless you before you depart. Let me not pass you by in quest of some rare and perfect tomorrow. Let me hold you while I may, for it may not always be so. One day I shall dig my nails into the earth, or bury my face in the pillow, or stretch myself taut, or raise my hands to the sky and want, more than all the world, your return.” - Mary Jean Irion

Filed Under: Life

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  1. Skillful Cook Logo

    I knew something was wrong or you were enjoying the last of summer. Please accept my condolences during this difficult time. I empathize with you, I lost my brother in law two weeks ago, and our hearts ache with every waking moment. May their souls live forever. Take care Lindsay, your Grandmother lives through you.

    1. Skillful Cook Logo

      Thank you Lindsay for finding strength and purpose in this difficult time, for sharing with us. They’re are profoundly precious, these brief moments you’ll always hold dear, I know. And may they become the light that will carry you forward, because your gran is still with you, in your heart and all around every time you think and speak of her. RIP Lindsay’s Grandma

  2. Skillful Cook Logo

    I loved reading about your grandma, thank you for sharing. And, she did one thing that I am striving to do with my kids, “never stopped asking thoughtful questions.” Today, when I ask them about their day, I’ll remember your grandma. Hugs.

  3. Skillful Cook Logo

    I suspected there was something going on in your life when I wasn’t getting frequent posts. I am so sorry for your loss. But she will live in your heart and the hearts of all who knew her. What a blessing to have had the time with her that you did.
    I understand what you’re going through. I lost my mamma almost 5 years ago and there isn’t a day that I don’t talk to her and ask her for advice. She was a lot like your grandmother.
    Your grandmother’s recipes will live on through you. Take care and thank you for sharing your heart.

  4. Skillful Cook Logo

    I am soooooo so sorry to hear about the loss of your grandma. What you wrote and shared about her, today and over the years, is touching and so beautiful and thank you for being so open. I wish you and your family peace during this time.

    And Jabob Wetterling. Growing up in small town MN, being a school girl his same age when he was abducted, AND he was abducted from the teeny tiny town where my aunt/uncle and my cousins live, made it even more close to home, both then and now. I have thought about that family and that case my entire life and now living in CA, I didn’t hear that news, but I am sure it’s riveting all Minnesotans. Thankfully there is finally 3 decades later a bit of closure. So sad.

    And Rene too…I am so sorry, Lindsay!

  5. Skillful Cook Logo

    I lost my grandmother last weekend, and my heart is so with you. Your words and sentiments are so beautiful and your appreciation of family is a value I also hold so dear. Sounds like you have so many wonderful memories to hold onto during this tough time. Wishing you strength!

  6. Skillful Cook Logo

    Thank you for your transparency and being willing to risk opening up…may God bless your vulnerability as a salve to bring healing to your heart as you hope in Him…and share that hope with your “church.” 🙂

  7. Skillful Cook Logo

    Lindsay, thank you for your post. Your blog may be about food but you are a living person with a real life and reading about real life can be incredibly inspiring.

    I lived in MN for most of my life until about 2 years ago when my husband and I moved to CO. When I read about the unfolding events and details about Jacob Wetterling on Saturday morning it took my breath away. My grandparents lived in St. Joe and I practically grew up there. I didn’t know the Wetterlings but my life changed the day Jacob was taken. I was 7 and on that day I learned what true fear was. Your tears were shared by many this weekend.

    I hope you find comfort in your wonderful memories of your grandmother. She sounds like an amazing woman. Sending love your way.

  8. Skillful Cook Logo

    I’m so sorry to hear about your losses, and thank you for sharing such wonderful memories of your Grandmother, and your time with her.

    I’m 56 and a few months ago, without warning, out for a walk with our dog, I told my husband I didn’t feel right. And collapsed to the ground. He called an ambulance, and a week later I got a defibrillator, and some medications. I survived.

    I told my husband, if that had been my time to go, it would have been quick and pain free. No suffering, no lingering in a hospital, running up debt for him to be burdened with along with my absence, it would have been the passing I’d want when it’s my time. Quick and pain free.

    I’m sure your Grandma is smiling and laughing at all the recounted events, moments and traditions you shared with us.

    Thank you,


  9. Skillful Cook Logo

    I feel sad for two reasons. First, for your tragic loss. I’m so sorry for your great loss. Secondly, I am sad I never met her. She sounds like a truly remarkable woman and your tribute was inspiring. I hope to be more like her. Also, I hope this isn’t too out of line, but I strongly believe that you will be with her again someday. Heaven is all about family and I am sure she will be there waiting for you. God bless all of you at this most difficult time.

  10. Skillful Cook Logo

    Longtime reader, first time poster. Thank you for sharing your memories of your grandmother and I’m so sorry for your losses. My grandmother passed away suddenly a couple of months ago and your post truly resonated with me and what I have been going through.

  11. Skillful Cook Logo

    I am so sorry to hear about the loss of your grandmother, Lindsay. I lost both of my parents and three dogs in the last year and a half and it sometimes felt as though I would never get over it. But it gets easier, hard as that is to imagine when the grief is the worst. Thanks so much for sharing your grandmother’s story.

  12. Skillful Cook Logo

    I’m so sorry for your loss, Lindsay. I lost my grandmother when I was 9 but I remember cooking in the kitchen with her like it was yesterday. Such great memories! I enjoyed reading your story and thank you for sharing this with us.

  13. Skillful Cook Logo

    This brought tears to my eyes, thinking of my own grandma. I know how special grandmas are, and I am so sorry for your loss. I am praying for you and your family during this tough time. <3

  14. Skillful Cook Logo

    Lindsay, I’m so sorry. Typing you a message doesn’t seem to convey it deeply enough. Your words about love and loss and your Grandma are beautiful and you do shine a mirror on the lives of others, even though I’m sure this post was painful to write. 😞 Thank you for reminding me to spend more time with the people I love, and the powerful beauty of a normal day.

  15. Skillful Cook Logo

    You have my deepest sympathy and I am praying for you and your family. You definitely aren’t alone, each and everyone one of is there, has been there, or will be there. And someday God really will set things right.

  16. Skillful Cook Logo

    Lindsay, as always thank you for sharing your story. Grandmas have such a special place in our hearts. I lost my Nana six years ago and I still miss her every day. Much love to you and your family during this time! <3

  17. Skillful Cook Logo

    Dear Lindsay – So sorry for your loss. Please accept my condolences.
    Your recount of your grandma was so beautiful and it reminded me of my own. I can only imagine how difficult it must have been to write it down.
    Your post made me realize how much I miss my grandmom and that I wish I had more time with her as well. Take care of yourself and your family during this difficult time.
    Lots of hugs,

  18. Skillful Cook Logo

    Oh Lindsey, I am so sorry for the loss of your grandmother. I lost my grandmother almost 20 years ago. I miss her everyday. My grandma was a strong woman, like yours. And a great southern cook.

    We lost our 7 yr old granddaughter in November. My heart still hurts and not a day goes by that I don’t think of her. Death is part of life. But know I will see my grandmother and our Maddy girl someday. What a joyous meeting it will be. Just want you to know I am glad you shared your talk. What a tribute to your grandmother. You can be sure she loved it. Hugs

  19. Skillful Cook Logo

    Lindsay, I’m so sorry to hear about your Grandma. What a beautiful post and speech. It brought tears to my eyes thinking of when my Grandma passed away. I get what you are saying about the connection and everyone feeling loss at some point, it does help. You are not alone. My thoughts are with you during this difficult time. Much love.

  20. Skillful Cook Logo

    Lindsay, what a beautiful post. Thank you for sharing. My heart breaks with yours. My grandmother was more like my mother and I still weep when I miss her. The world needs more grandmothers that pour themselves into their grandchildren. I hope to be that one day. So very sorry for your losses, sending prayers your way.

  21. Skillful Cook Logo

    Thank you for writing such a beautiful expression of your Grandma. You and she, make me want to be a better person and one day have my grand-sons say the sweet things you did. I love your blog and eat your recipes and am glad you share life this way. I had a dog name Sage and always find joy when you share that part also. Peace be with you, Kelly

  22. Skillful Cook Logo

    My deepest condolences goes out to you and your family. Reading your post, i could clearly imagine the situation you’re in and i am so sorry you have to go through that. Your Grandma is a wonderful person. Thank you for taking the time to write this post. God Bless you.

  23. Skillful Cook Logo

    I’m so sorry to hear about your loss! Thank you for sharing your feelings and please accept my condolences. Your post made me think a lot. I will call my grandma as soon as I stop crying. Thanks again for your post!

  24. Skillful Cook Logo

    Lindsay, Please accept my condolences for your loss. The tribute you wrote to your grandma was beautiful. I’m sure she must have been very proud to have such a lovely young woman for her granddaughter.

  25. Skillful Cook Logo

    Thank you for sharing your Grandma’s story & such a vivid description of her spirit. It’s kind of crazy that a food blog can offer so many people that sense of empathy, community, & comfort that we all need in tough times. I’m getting a little loosey goosey touchy-feely with analogies here, but it’s sort of your way to provide Biko to us, your adopted-random-internet-robot-blog-friends!