Refined in the Fire: What marshmallows reminded me about following Jesus
During my college years (at least prior to meeting Rachel) I spent my free time doing one of two things: playing video games or watching Food Network. Growing up, my mom was always cooking and baking. My dad was always grilling. We ate family meals together around the kitchen table, even if it wasn't until 10:00 pm. But, there were very few times that I chose to cook with either of my parents.
But when I discovered Food Network, it ignited a passion for cooking that I didn’t know that I had. Sure, I’ve always loved eating, but there is something about starting with a few normal ingredients, cooking them well, and seeing someone else smile when they take the first bite that makes all the time and energy spent cooking worth it.
It was during the first few months of watching Food Network that I came across Good Eats, the smash hit show by chef Alton Brown. I couldn’t get enough. In 2007 the episode “Puff the Magic Mallow” taught viewers how to make homemade marshmallows. It seemed so interesting, challenging for me to make in the dorms, and completely unnecessary.
Why would someone need to make homemade marshmallows? I thought. But the next thought that crossed my mind was, “I need to try it!” But I didn’t.
For the next decade, I would watch that episode or think about homemade marshmallows way more than a normal person should. I've made homemade truffles and cheesecake, ice cream, and tiramisu, but never marshmallows. Even when people were figuring out how to make sourdough and all kinds of complex recipes stuck at home during COVID, I still didn’t make the mallows.
A few weeks ago at Bible Study, the opening question was about decisions that we make that are not the easiest way to do something but turn out to be better. That’s my cooking in a nutshell. By default, I choose to skip the easy way in favor of the more complex one. And then I brought up marshmallows and my dream to make them.
And that was it - I settled it in my mind to make them. Fifteen years after desiring to make marshmallows I finally took the plunge and made my own. It’s quite simple - if you want to try the same recipe I used, here it is. And if you want a good video tutorial and another recipe (which I didn’t use).
The moment of truth is always the first bite - and the first bite was, good. That’s it though, just good. After fifteen years of waiting, it tasted like a marshmallow from a bag. I used homemade vanilla extract (always choosing the most complex) and it wasn’t that special. The texture was 100% better, but it was just a marshmallow.
That night though, I took them to a grill out at my parents and we roasted them. Everything changed. What was a marginal improvement a few hours earlier was now a completely different food. The vanilla shines when the fire is put to the marshmallow. The outer crust has all the vibes that come with a crème brûlée and then there is a gooey inside that is so smooth.
When roasted, a homemade marshmallow and one from a bag aren’t even in the same stratosphere.
The more I’ve eaten the roasted marshmallows I’ve made over the past few weeks [shelf stable for months in an air-tight container in case you are wondering] the more I’ve thought deeply about where I’ve seen similar comparisons in my life.
We are all created in God’s image. Male or female. Christian or non-Christian. Young or old. Outgoing or shy. From the United States, the United Kingdom, or the United Arab Emirates. Genesis 1:27 says “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”
Most of us in good times are the same. We’re good - in the way that people say it when they see an acquaintance walking in the mall. “How’ve you been?” “Good!” Christians and non-Christians alike often default to that status over our lives.
For me, I don’t think casual acquaintances are seeing how Jesus and the Holy Spirit are at work in my life through the “Good” comments in the mall. I hope and pray that they do, but when my reaction to a situation is the same as most other people, it’s probably not getting them to think about my faith.
However, I will say that something changes in a follower of Jesus when they are tested in a fire. Much like how the roasting of the marshmallow brought out a new depth in the vanilla extract, God uses the fires in our lives to highlight to ourselves and others His goodness in our lives.
We all go through struggles. No matter who you are and what you believe, we will experience pain, suffering, and loss. The fires test us in ways that the good times never can. And it is in the fires that we can recognize God in ways that we won’t during the good times.
People throughout the Old and New Testaments share story after story of seeing God move during the fire. God sent a ram to Abraham and Isaac. Joseph's brothers sold him into slavery only to end up as the second in command of Egypt when a famine hit his family. David continually wrote about life in the fire. The book of Daniel is filled with fires, both literal and figurative. The disciples saw Jesus calm a storm, walk on water, and cast out demons in the middle of trials.
And people have been experiencing the same thing for the last 2000 years. We are refined in the fire.
Here’s where the marshmallow analogy kind of falls apart though. God didn’t create Christians using the homemade recipe and everyone else with the mass-produced commercial recipe. God created us all with the good recipe, including homemade vanilla extract. We all have the ability to lay down our own dreams, desires, pride, self-confidence, or fear and turn that over to God.
As long as there is still breath in your lungs, there is an opportunity to fall down at the feet of Jesus, confess that you are a sinner, and call Him Lord. Even if the fires in your life have driven you away from your Creator, there is still time to turn back to Him.
Going through a fire changes people. It always has and it always will. The fire hurts, no matter if you are growing closer to God or further from him because of it. But, for those that follow Jesus, for those that trust “Thy will be done” it is through the fire that we grow more deeply in love with our Creator.
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