You changed my sorrow into dancing.
You took away my clothes of sadness, and clothed me in happiness.
(Psalm 30:11, NCV)
Since 2009 a group of my friends from high school have gathered each December for a cookie exchange. The first few years we gathered in the small apartment of my friends who host, but over the years as there have been more spouses, children, and friends of friends who attend, we have moved the gathering to their clubhouse. Though the clubhouse is sizeable, we tend to remain close together, huddled over appetizers with drinks in our hands. Thanks to the thoughtful nature of our hosts, there is always warm apple cider for folks like me who don't drink - and plenty of alcohol to pour into it for my friends who do.
If I tried to write about all the moments that have brought me joy through the years, I'm not sure a post like this would contain it. For four of the six first years I won the Miss Congeniality Awards: Most Creative, Best Decorated, and the like. I appreciated those awards, but I wanted my name engraved on the platter, an honor only given to the overall winner. In year six I came close, but ultimately lost to the very cookie I had voted for. We still laugh about that. I did finally win in year seven with a Cheesecake Cookie that remains a family favorite.
Though the event is fun, the judging is serious. There are rules that must be followed to make sure the event remains a cookie exchange. That means that no matter how delicious or beautiful your entry is, if it isn't baked it won't win. This has been a hard lesson, especially in early years. Judges won't be fooled by store bought cookies. And a chocolate chip cookie - no matter how perfect - just doesn't have what it takes. When a person joins us for the first time, there's just no way to adequately prepare them for what is about to happen.
If I'm being honest, there have been years that were tremendously hard to attend. More than once I've sat in the parking lot a few extra moments before I entered event to make sure that the tears I had just cried were well hidden. Yet even in the hardest year, something special has always happened. My spirits are lifted simply by being with people who accept me. I never want to leave, but when I do, my face muscles hurt from laughing so much. My tears of sadness have been replaced with tears of laughter. I am covered with the perfume of all the friends who have hugged me... and some frosting.
This year so many of us need this kind of exchange. I understand why we won't be gathering and even respect the decision. But it doesn't stop my heart from longing to once again feel that kind of joy. Instead, I sit here in the early morning light with a strong cup of coffee and leftover cookies thinking of them. This one's for you, girls.