The Cookbook Lady

Written by Dawn Hall


faith_dawnhallI love to create in the kitchen! The first year we were married, my husband and I never ate the same thing for dinner twice. I took pride in never allowing my husband’s meals to be boring. On our first wedding anniversary, we asked each other what we could do to become a better spouse. My husband Tracy said, “Honey, could you just cook the same meal twice, at least once this year?” I laughed! My meat and potatoes man wanted plain ol’ meals!

Still, my wonderful husband never complained about all the flops I created. Over the years, out of my love for creating with food, I saved a pile of handwritten recipes on top of my refrigerator. I never thought of publishing them. Never in a million years could I have imagined that I’d sell 600,000 award-winning cookbooks or have my own cooking show. I never could  have imagined the path my life would take.

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In sickness and in health

In the fall of 1994, Tracy had a seizure and had trouble with his balance. It took three weeks of my nagging before he went to see the doctor. The day after Tracy’s 32nd birthday, we learned he had a brain tumor the size of a baseball. Thank goodness we live near a wooded area, because I went ballistic back in those woods. I knew I needed to get all my emotions out so I could be strong for Tracy and our daughters, Whitney and Ashley.

Tracy went in for surgery. The surgeons removed one pound of malignant tumor, but weren’t able to get it all. Tracy was completely paralyzed on his left side. Radiation didn’t shrink his remaining tumor; it only left him bald, weak and tired.

We decided to pursue an experimental treatment to save Tracy’s life, but our insurance didn’t cover it. We were in financial trouble. We took the $3,000 we had in savings and used it to publish a spiral-bound collection of photocopied recipes. I didn’t know how to type or how to use a computer, so someone typed for us.

I remember thinking, I’m nuts! How am I going to sell 1,000 books? But we sold all of them the first week. After the success of the first cookbook, Tracy and I decided to borrow against our house to self-publish Down Home Cooking Without the Down Home Fat. That book has sold more than 250,000 copies and we have now published three others.

Two rallies

With the experimental treatments, Tracy’s tumor shrank and he was back on his feet. He was able to return to work part-time and was even bicycling 30 miles a day! But his condition took a turn in 1999. Suddenly I was shaving him, showering him, even rolling him over in bed. In 2000, he ended up in hospice care.

When Tracy began another type of experimental treatment using blood-thinning medication, he rallied so well that they kicked him out of hospice care! He was doing much better – even driving and walking around with a cane. I remember teasing him, “Babe, you’re going to be chasing me around the house soon!”

Longing, and going home

During Tracy’s illness, a huge part of me longed for something as simple as a long kiss. It was very painful and hurtful. Now that I reflect back, I honestly believe that my husband didn’t want to do something as simple as a long kiss for the last two years of his life because he was preparing to let me go.

Despite the longing I felt for physical contact, one thing that I absolutely positively made myself do, was that I never, ever allowed myself a second glance at anyone that I may have been attracted to. I didn’t want to hinder our marriage relationship or our relationship with God.

On May 4, 2000, Tracy went next door to deliver a gift to our neighbor. It was a warm day, and Tracy unexpectedly passed out in the sun. He hit his head on the cement, broke his skull and had a brain hemorrhage. Although he was considered brain dead, the hospital kept Tracy on life support so his skin, eyes and bones could be donated to others. My husband died a hero.

Grief and healing

On June 29, 2002, Tracy and I would have been married 18 years. In the 13 months since his death, there have been times I’ve felt overwhelmed by grief. I am constantly praying for strength. Each day, I spend an hour in prayer and meditation, and I take a lot of that time to listen to God.

The reality is, cancer happens to the good, the bad, and everyone in-between. People try to figure God out, but God isn’t accountable to us. But he does know how we feel. When we tell God how we feel, we’re just admitting to those emotions. If we deny ourselves the opportunity to express grief, we hinder the healing process.

When you become a widow, and you are in the public eye, you are put under a microscope. But it’s not possible to please all people all of the time. Staying focused on pleasing God has been very freeing for me. And knowing that I was totally devoted and loyal to my husband, I have no regrets and can move forward in my life and whatever God has in store for me.

If you are grieving a loss in your own life, let me encourage you to keep your focus on God. It’s only when we take our eyes off Jesus that we become tearful, afraid, worried. Satan would love to rob us of what joy we can experience in the midst of our trials.

Life can be a roller coaster –– the demands and pressures that modern women face can be overwhelming. What is the answer? Where does peace come from?

You can have the peace that you are looking for; there is a way to balance your life. No one can be perfect, or have a perfect life. But every one of us has the opportunity to experience perfect grace through a personal relationship with God through His Son, Jesus Christ.

Take a look at your life.  How would you describe it? Contented? Rushed? Exciting? Stressful? Moving forward? Holding back? For many of us it’s all of the above at times.  There are things we dream of doing one day, there are things we wish we could forget.  In the Bible, it says that Jesus came to make all things new.  What would your life look like if you could start over with a clean slate?

Living with hope

If you are looking for peace, there is a way to balance your life. No one can be perfect, or have a perfect life. But every one of us has the opportunity to experience perfect grace through a personal relationship with God through His Son, Jesus Christ.

You can receive Christ right now by faith through prayer. Praying is simply talking to God. God knows your heart and is not so concerned with your words as He is with the attitude of your heart. Here’s a suggested prayer:

Lord Jesus, I want to know you personally. Thank you for dying on the cross for my sins. I open the door of my life to you and ask you to come in as my Savior and Lord. Take control of my life. Thank you for forgiving my sins and giving me eternal life. Make me the kind of person you want me to be.

Does this prayer express the desire of your heart? You can pray it right now, and Jesus Christ will come into your life, just as He promised.

Is this the life for you?

If you invited Christ into your life, thank God often that He is in your life, that He will never leave you and that you have eternal life. As you learn more about your relationship with God, and how much He loves you, you’ll experience life to the fullest.

Portions of this article are reprinted, with Dawn’s permission, from an interview and chat published in the Jan/Feb 2002 edition of Today’s Christian Woman, and from Dawn’s book, Down Home Cooking Without the Down Home Fat.

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