Latter-day Saint Life

A slice of heaven: What Kate Holbrook taught me about the love of God through food

Kate w everyone.jpeg
A neighborhood gathering of women to share a meal.
Britney Mellen

The late Kate Holbrook was my visiting teacher/minister for at least five years. We bonded over shared oranges at her dining table, a chocolate tasting class, French bakeries, and treats left on each other’s doorsteps. The addition of her daughter Amelia as her companion happily increased the frequency of the homemade treats that came my way, a debt I want to repay but instinct tells me they weren’t keeping score.

Today, I found a file on my computer called ‘Kate’s Recipes’; a collection of her favorites with commentary and notes by her. I found a recipe for overnight oats in the collection and desperately threw some together this afternoon, perhaps in an effort to connect to Kate, and ended up leaving a batch with her family and one in my own fridge in a meager attempt to feed some of us who are left weeping.

To lovingly share food with another human, one not only passes along calories that will be metabolically broken down to create nourishment and strength but transfers a sort of non-atomic calorie—cosmic bits of care, thought, and joy that only love-filled food can transmit. The food Kate and her family members gave me nourished my body cells and tickled my taste buds, but the feeling of receiving a carefully prepared soup or dessert or a bakery-made pastry picked up and dropped off by Kate on her way out of town felt like true devotion. It felt like true love. It felt like God.

When our fourth child was unexpectedly stillborn in my ninth month of pregnancy a few years ago, many people showed up on my doorstep and much of the time they bore witness to their love and care in edible form (and it saved me). Kate and her family did this with one small difference; they had brought me food on a monthly and sometimes weekly basis for months and weeks leading up to that event and continued for months and weeks after, even up until the month she died.

Weeks before Kate’s death, her daughter Amelia brought me lovingly sliced pieces of a cake she made for an early celebration of her parents’ upcoming wedding anniversary that Kate would likely not live to see. Think of it—I got to eat some of that cake! It felt holy.

In the final months of her illness, I found myself unintentionally holding back, perhaps in an effort to respect the privacy around her cancer and perhaps out of fear that my big mouth would betray the unspoken agreement that we would not talk about death until it was near. But when it came, it was too late. By the time I got the courage to open my mouth, she was gone. I am left and we are all left to fill the space between us with love and care for each other, the way she loved and cared. One thing I knew for certain: Kate Holbrook loved me. But that is not why she brought me food. She did it because she loved God. She heeded Jesus’s call to love each other unceasingly and I happened to be one lucky recipient of His love through Kate. We are all capable of this kind of love, but Kate testified, and I agree, that the church and gospel Kate loved excels at providing endless opportunities to love others this way, even (and especially) when it doesn’t come easy.

Her life and death inspire me to be a better contributor to the body of Christ. My spiritual home is with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and this is something Kate and I share that transcends even death. Nearly a week after her passing, I am settling into a rhythm of remembering how to forget myself by making myself available to serve, feed, and love the other members of that body. I pledge to Kate that I will do that better and I will do it often. Through my reflections on Kate’s life, the personal journal entries I have revisited, and my discussions with those near and dear to her, I’m realizing that the closest we may get to heaven on earth is to sit at the table with another and peel an orange or snap a piece of rich, dark chocolate in two. A slice of lemon cake on the porch is a sacrament and a loaf of rosemary bread is a life changed.

Chia Bircher Muesli

From the collection of Kate Holbrook. Adapted from Vegetarian Times

3/4 C regular rolled oats
3/4 C milk
1/3 C OJ
1/2 C grated or finely diced apple
2 Tbs golden raisins
1 Tbs chia seeds

Note from Kate: Stir together oats, milk, orange juice, apple, raisins [and chia seeds]. Cover, and refrigerate overnight. I like to make half of this because I’m the only one who eats it. I put it in a Kerr jar and eat it after yoga class while driving to work. I love having my breakfast all made in the morning when I wake up.

Illustration of Kate by Britney's 9-year-old daughter, Ari Mellen. Ari loved Kate.
Britney Mellen
Britney enjoys a piece of chocolate cake given to her by Kate while watching Kate speak virtually at BYU Women’s Conference in 2020.
Britney Mellen

▶ You may also like: ‘Know ye not?’ A tribute to Kate Holbrook

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