Recipe for Joy (and a chance to win it)

Recipe for Joy: A Stepmom’s Story of Finding Faith, Following Love, and Feeding a Family looked interesting, but I’ll be honest: I almost didn’t read it. There are a number of reasons why, but none of them are as huge as the feeling of “Wow, I am SO GLAD I read that!” that I felt late on Saturday night, with the whole house asleep, as tears streamed down my face and I closed the back cover.

This was great read that makes me consider that maybe I do like memoirs when they’re told as expertly and entertainingly and heart-wrenchingly as this one.

Did I mention there are some recipes? That I felt nearly motivated to try?* And that the author is practically my neighbor? (I found out that last bit quite by accident. She doesn’t know I know that yet. Shhhhh…she’s still safe…for a little while longer…)

The book’s arranged in courses, beginning with a toast and continuing to appetizer, soup, salad, bread, main course, and ending with dessert. At the end of each chapter, which are beautifully written and not, in fact, forced in any way, there is a relevant recipe. By the time you’re done with the book, you have a full meal. And it looks like one my family may even eat.

Later I would describe the two years after I left San Francisco as some kind of fairy tale in which I had been sprinkled with pixie dust, plucked out of one situation, and put into another completely different life. My sister put it another way.

“God whispers what he wants most people to do,” she said. “But he has to shout at you because you’re so stubborn.”

It was true. My prayers to God stayed whispers in the beginning, but he made it perfectly clear where he wanted me to be. Yet, I questioned him constantly. Not only did I not have faith in God, but I had little faith in myself.

Davis was never going to get married or have children, and the surprise and delight she has found in both of those vocations seeps through her descriptions and writing. But don’t think that they’re sappy or irrelevant to you.

I’d always seen motherhood as a losing proposition. Few women get it just right. And stepmotherhood? No one wins at that. You’re constantly compared to the biological mother. And when she happens to be a mother who died so young and tragically and bravely, it’s a losing hand before the cards are even dealt.


In December, in a dark theater at a holiday pops concert of the Columbus Symphony Chorus, Ken took my hand and slipped a ring on my finger. “Will you marry me?” he whispered.

The moment felt like the actual calling from God, as though he were saying, “I want you to marry this man. I want you to be a mother to these children.” It couldn’t have been any clearer if the angel Gabriel had come and told me himself that this was God’s plan for me. Did I have the courage to say yes to Ken, to say yes to God?

I’m not spoiling anything to tell you that yes, she did marry Ken. She embarked on something for which she felt ill-equipped, and as I turned the pages, I couldn’t help but nod. A lot.

Robin Davis, under the guise of a memoir, shares a beautiful story of conversion and ongoing trust in God. She bares an intimate part of herself, shares recipes, and poetically makes you love and hate and interact with her experiences.

Somewhere along the way, I decided that if I was going to do this stepmother thing, I was going to do it perfectly. Perfect is a dangerous word. It’s full of expectations, most of which I’ve since come to believe aren’t based in reality. Perfection as I’d perceived it precluded emptying oneself to become obedient to God’s plan. Being perfect takes up an awful lot of space, and so it doesn’t allow for that emptying thing to happen.

For me, God’s will became supplanted—again—with my own will to be a perfect wife and stepmother. I wanted to be a straight-A mom right out of the chute, like a student in cooking school who wants to be Julia Child the day she graduates. I allowed myself no leeway, no room for learning or, God forbid, mistakes.

I found this to be a book that plumbed my heart in ways few books have. It spoke to me as a daughter, to me as a mother, to me as a fellow woman. Davis dives into her story and doesn’t slow down. I could sum it up in one sentence (and some of the synopses I’ve seen do just that), and yet the gift within these pages is found in the love that’s within the very core of the story itself.

“You need to live in the moment, not rehearse the future,” Julie told me. “When you try to live in the future, you’re destined for disappointment. Life will never be exactly the same way you imagine it.”

You deserve this book. You will walk away from it changed.

And look at this: I have 5 copies to give away!

Leave a comment over at my personal blog by next Wednesday, April 24 at 7 a.m. Eastern, with your favorite family meal or family mealtime tradition and you’ll be entered. 

Find out more about the book at the Patheos Book Club. I especially enjoyed this interview by Deborah Arca (and the video at the end is worth watching—really!).

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