Egg Roll Moments (a.k.a. seeing life in the middle of death)
Looking back on it now, I guess it was a pretty dark time for her, but I remember those egg rolls and smile.
I could totally be projecting my own thoughts on my mother, here, but I think those years after my parents’ divorce when my mom did the single-mom-and-teacher thing had to be difficult. It’s not like divorce was as common in the 70s as it is today, or that as many opportunities for suddenly-single women existed, or that she had the cultural and family support so many divorced women enjoy today. Whatever dreams my mom had of a happy marriage had died a horrible death - there’s no way around that. I was at least as oblivious as any kindergartner at the time, so my mom may have suffered in agony right in front of me, or she may have been incredibly strong, and she probably was both at the same time. I can’t say for sure. I lived in the blissful ignorance of childhood.
But I grin when I remember making egg rolls with my mom in the kitchen, great big batches of ‘em. Mom would make the filling of meat and vegetables, and my older sister and I would help her roll them up. We had a little cup of water with a bit of flour in it to make the edges of the wrap sticky for the rolling. We’d arrange thin sheets of wrapper dough on 45-degree angles with the points straight up and down. She’d scoop filling from the pan, carefully placing a thick line of meat and vegetables in the center of my wrapper. I’d dip my finger in the flour water, dotting the left, bottom, right corners of the wrapper, then tracing an upside-down V along the top corner edges. Then, fold the bottom corner up over the filling, bring in the left and right corners and make them touch at the center, gently roll up from the bottom until the roll resembled an overstuffed envelope, the watered edges sealing the wrapper closed around its savory contents. Mom would then carefully lower the rolls into hot oil where they’d sizzle and pop into crispy brown logs of yumminess. I remember laughing and having fun and being proud for being such a good helper.
It’s been a few decades since then, but remembering those egg roll moments inspired me to make a batch of egg rolls this past weekend. I’m sure it wasn’t the same recipe, and I’m fairly certain I didn’t buy the right kind of wrappers. But I found some online instructions for filling that looked authentic enough, and it was the wrapping part I looked forward to. I didn’t have any little hands to help in the kitchen this go around - just me and my memories.
As I rolled each wrapper around shredded pork and carrots, carefully dropping them into hot oil for frying, I found myself thinking about what it would have been like to be in my mother’s shoes. And I thought about how hard those days must have been for her. And I thought of the ways God brought life out of that death of divorce, and how He provided for us before we even knew Him. Mom had a friend named Koko (if I remember her name right) who taught her oriental style cooking because it was healthy and relatively inexpensive. Koko was also in a troubled marriage, or maybe she was recently divorced, too - I don’t know for sure. But she and my mom bonded over cooking and other things that my childish self had no real concept of at the time. And so my sister, my mom, and I learned to make egg rolls and wontons and other stuff, and we made them in big batches. Easy, plentiful, and inexpensive meals. Happy memories from dark times.
This weekend as I rolled batch after batch of egg rolls, piling them high on a big serving plate, I was grateful. Grateful for the way my mom sprinkled a dark season of my family’s history with laughter. Grateful for glimpses of life in the midst of the death of her dreams and a broken home. Grateful for her creativity in involving little clumsy me in the cooking process and probably sneaking a few vegetables past my lips, an impressive feat with her stubborn second child. Grateful for the life I had despite the hardships that I was surely unaware of at the time.
This is the beauty God gives, that no matter how dark the season or how dead the dreams may be, life still breaks through and happy memories can be made. There’s joy and goodness in the middle of pain. Because Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life and He brings life out of every death, I can look back on the hardships my mom and my sister and I went through and smile at the life I find there. Not because death of any kind is ever good, and in a broken world, brokenness creeps in on us in a million forms. But as long as God is on His throne - and no matter how dark things are, He IS still on His throne - then the possibility of life remains. The hope for joy in the middle of the darkness springs up, irrepressible and irresistible. Maybe it’s hard to see in the moment, and maybe only the eyes of a naive child can really see it. But it’s there, I swear it is.
Good for me to remember when things get hard for me and I wonder if there’s any life to be found. Sometimes I’m wrapped like an egg roll around my own pain, all consumed with keeping it together when the heat is on and I’m dropped into the frying pan. And I have a hard time finding laughter, joy, and resurrected life, even if it’s right in front of my eyes. Simple joys like good food, healthy family, and precious moments together can whiz right by without so much as a nod from me. Sometimes, even these basic things seem absent from life and the whole kit-and-caboodle just looks dead. Yet if Jesus is here, then life is here - I just need help to see it. Perhaps only time and the eyes of a child will reveal them. But I can know they’re here, even if I can’t see them yet, and choose to be grateful anyway.
Today, I have a few dozen egg rolls stacked up in my freezer, ready for lunches and quick meals later in the week. And I have a few dozen smiles wrapped up in my heart from the memories I’ve unpacked and enjoyed again. I’m grateful for them both, and grateful for the God who gives them. And I’m looking for the happy memories of life that He’s making right here, right now, even in the midst of the pain.
Because I know He’s here, then I know life is here, too. It might even look like an egg roll.