Cookie Dough Covenants

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

My daughter was nine months old when I ate raw cookie dough for the first time after being pregnant. It was delicious, crunchy, and melted right in my mouth. That night, I began to feel a tummy ache beginning. With a sinking stomach I remembered eating the cookie dough. My worry that I had caught some uncurable strain of Samonella grew as the hours passed, even though no symptoms of food poisoning ever began. In the middle of the night, sick with nothing but a crushing sense of worry, I said a quick prayer.

"Please God, don't let me die. My daughter is still so young and she needs me. If you save my life just this once, I promise to never eat raw cookie dough again for as long as I live."

Feeling that my bargain was satisfactory, I fell asleep. I didn't get sick. I faithfully kept my end of the bargain for years. One day, when telling this story to some friends, my friend Lauren asked me,

"Do you still eat over-easy eggs?"
"Yes," I said, confused.
She laughed. With a gentle smile she said, "Channing, that's really not any different than eating cookie dough. It is still, essentially, eating raw eggs."

I was horrified. I broke my promise without even knowing it! An immediate sense of guilt set in. For a few days I wrestled with the new understanding. I slowly came to a heartbreaking realization. My extreme and desperate cookie dough covenant perfectly illustrated what my understanding of God was, and what I saw was terrifying.

I imagined God to be observing me through some kind of "earth security system," waiting for me to fail not only at my Cookie Dough Covenant but the hundreds of promises I had made. When failure did come, I imagined God to come up with an elaborate scheme through which he would administer my punishment. It would be intricate and hit me always where it hurt most: death. Losing my husband. Losing my child. At the moment of punishment, he would sit on his high and white throne and let loose his swift and justified "godly anger" with a smile.

This story I had absorbed about the nature of God was so entwined with my lifetime of church education, my OCD, and my childhood trauma that it took me years


to eat cookie dough again.

My first post-fast spoonful wasn't revelatory. Honestly, its not really memorable at all, except for one brave act of defiance that went with it. As I tasted the raw dough, crunched the chocolate chips between my molars, and savored the texture of the sugar crystals, I turned my thoughts to God and said,

"I dare you.
Do your worst."

Then I waited. I watched for signs of epic Salmonella poisoning. When it didn't come, I waited more. For what I wasn't sure. A surprise car crash? Falling down my apartment stairs and dying? The apocalypse I was sure to burn in? I looked over my shoulder for months, fully expecting to find death and misfortune following me. None arrived. Eventually I relaxed into my rebellion and decided I had caught God on a good day and got off lucky.

It wasn't until a few years later that I was exposed to new language and understandings about God. Through many books and podcasts I listened to, I learned about two different images of the Divine - the Angry God and the Loving God. I recognized Angry God immediately. He was the God of my Cookie Dough Covenant. He was the God who was always watching me, waiting for me to fail. He was the one who made the rules and turned people to salt for not following them. This was the God who destroyed cities, struck people dumb, and sic'ed whales on proud prophets. Quite frankly, I felt like he was outta control and needed to reign it in a bit.

But I did not recognize Loving God right away. It took me time to understand what unconditional love meant. As hard as I tried, it was impossible for me to see Loving God as male. There was too much trauma for me there. Too many bishops shaming me. Too many men using their priesthood as privilege over me. No, I could not know Love as male.

I went in search of my Heavenly Mother. I found her in all the unexpected places. I learned to trust her, to see her flavor of love work inside and outside of my heart. I learned to recognize Love everywhere - in the trees, the earth, the birds, people, places, my own reflection. Only after resting in this love for a while could I bridge the gap between Mother and Father and bring them into a loving whole. Unconditional Love is the God who has my heart today.

My conversion to Love required me to examine every part of my spiritual beliefs. It still does. Being a faithful, active LDS member often brings me to a crossroads of the paths of the Loving and the Angry God. There are a lot of gospel and cultural practices that I question. This causes me great anxiety sometimes because hanging in the balance between eternal life and damnation is not a comfortable place to be. But if I'm completely honest, I do question the necessity and health of some of the "saving" ordinances of my faith. Baptism? The ritual itself is beautiful. The covenant to love God and serve others is about as good as things get where promises are concerned. But is it necessary? Necessary, defined as "needing to be done to be fully accepted by God and have greater access to blessings"? I'm just not sure. As I move down the checklist of ordinances, practices, and experiences I've been taught are expected and necessary, I become even less certain.

My experience with some of these ordinances and practices have been acutely painful. My endowment was one of the most layered traumatic experiences of my adult life. Wearing the sacred garment causes me to have, at best, heavy and condemning body image shame and at worst, intense and horrific PTSD flashback episodes. Considering these moments in my life, I have to question the validity of claims that these terrifying experiences are "life-saving", let alone life-giving. Surely, surely, a Loving God would not require these things of me. Surely Love exceeds expectation. That is my prayer, anyway.

When I think of Loving God, I think of looking out at the meeting of sky and sea from La Jolla Beach in San Diego, California. I can't pinpoint exactly where one ends and the other begins because they melt into each other in the middle. Waves roll in from this center and crash on the sand between my toes. "I am bigger than even that," the waves whisper. Love, Love. Peace, Peace. Beneath the surface of stillness is a swirling under toe of compassion and acceptance that begs to sweep away my fear.

Last week I took a moment to look deeply into my daughter's eyes as she gave me a hug and kiss goodnight. In them I saw glitters and speckles and various shades of green and brown. With all the love in my heart, I said to her, "You have the most beautiful green eyes. They remind me of mountain meadows, where the grass sways gently in the wind and smells sweet in the rain." She smiled at me and said, "I love you, mom." Later, I thought on that moment. It was totally spontaneous and it was made of the purest love I had in me.

There is not a thing in this world my girl could do that would make me not love her. I've considered as many scenarios as I could think of, checking my love against them to see if it would still hold. I can say with confidence that my love could withstand any of her life's choices. I think God's love is the same. It is a constant presence. Like my friend Rachel wrote recently, "love is what fills my children's snack bags." It does not wait until we do something good to arrive and it doesn't leave when we make a mistake. It fills the snack bags every day, every day, every day.

I guess the question that's really been on my mind is this:

Is my God a God of love?

© Channing B. Parker. Design by FCD.