A Review of Recipe for Joy, by Robin Davis
By Jennilee Miller
I like personal interest stories and I love to cook. And eat. So it wasn’t a tough sell for me to pick up “Recipe for Joy” when my husband encouraged me to check it out. “It’s a memoir about a woman’s journey of faith and it has recipes in it” he told me.
I took the book with me to the salon for entertainment during my spring primping. Coffee in hand, book in lap, expert stylist in position, I dove into the pages of Robin Davis’s memoir, curious to learn how this successful food writer living in San Francisco ended up married, Catholic and living (happily) in Ohio – three things she swore she’d never do.
I was drawn in by the second page. As my hair marinated in a goo of magical solution that would turn my winter dark-blonde locks into spring-ready light blonde highlights, I was surprised to be a festival of tears before completing page 6—of the prologue. Prologues aren’t usually known for that.
Davis begins by painting a picture of the happy, successful life she was living as a writer in California. She then switches scenes to a living room in Ohio. A man is holding his tearful wife as they process the dreaded news of her cancer diagnosis while their 5-year-old son and three-year-old twins play on the floor around them. The man and the children in the living room are Davis’s future husband and stepchildren; the woman is her husband’s first wife. The pages that follow recount the heartbreaking loss they suffer as the wife and mother fights and loses her battle with cancer.
I was a teenager when my mother was diagnosed with cancer and died after a 7-month fight. The glimpses Davis offered into this family’s suffering and loss were familiar and heartbreaking to read, yet she wrote with such tenderness and empathy. It was the kind of tender tribute that every kid wants to read about their mother, especially from their step-mom.
When it arrived in the mail and I read the back cover, that this was a “story of how food the love of family restored (author Robin Davis’s) faith and how God revealed her life’s real recipe for joy.” I immediately connected to this statement, thinking on how much God has taught me about genuine joy and how deeply different and more satisfying it is than worldly happiness. It’s always a good hook when you feel connected to the author, and between this and the first few pages, I was pretty sure Davis and I must be, as Anne of Green Gables would have called it, kindred spirits. Davis’s writing style is smooth and engaging. She is real and transparent in a refreshing way about the challenges of motherhood, and the special challenges that come with being a step-parent. “Recipe for Joy” was a delightful read.
Sad to say, when I turned the last page, I kept thinking of this book as Strawberry Soup. Strawberry Soup is one of my favorite first courses for a summer meal: sweet, cool, smooth, easy to consume and appetizing. But nutritiously satisfying? Maybe not. When we are talking about a journey of faith that brings someone to God, I’m eager to hear about Christ. In “Recipe for Joy,” there’s barely any Jesus. In fact, I think I made it over 100 pages before there was any mention of him. There was a lot about murmurs of faith, God, the Catholic Church and growing prayers. And, don’t get me wrong: it’s tremendously encouraging to read Davis’s testimony of how God drew her to Himself. Through difficult circumstances and changed desires, the Lord made Himself known to Davis and gave her courage and grace to walk in faith.
But, the path the Bible lays out is that Jesus Christ is the means to reconcile man to God.
This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:22-26)
By the time we got to “The Main Course” chapter, which was about faith, I was eager to hear the author expound more about how Christ had restored her relationship with God. The book beautifully narrates her journey of growing faith, and “The Main Course” is the crescendo. She does talk about the freedom that comes with repentance (in Confession) and her growing prayer life, but the lack of conversation on the topic of Jesus was strange to me. I understand this may be because I am coming to this book from a Protestant perspective. But, I kept expecting a focus on Christ, his excruciating work on the cross, and our need to trust in him. Coming to faith and being made right with God are gifts of grace possible because of Jesus Christ’s blameless atonement on the cross as a penalty for the sins that have divided us from God. I love hearing stories of faith that make much of Christ.
So, there you have it. That’s my beef with Recipe for Joy. It is a deliciously delightful book, and an edifying read at that. I am glad that Davis penned this memoir and I hope it is an encouraging read to those who pick it up. But, I can’t talk much about joy without talking of Christ, and I had hoped to hear more of that.