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Small Ones

Small Ones

As I write, I know I’ve failed. In so many ways. Inconsistencies everywhere. Disappointments. Rolled eyes. Mine and theirs and probably yours.

Yet hope remains at the core. Every day, hope that the next day will be better. Right now, the disappointments of this day grip and need refreshment.

Right now it is nap time. It is mostly quiet. Mostly calm. I am sitting on my bed, legs covered. Leaves sway outside my windows, caught by sunlight and shadow. Waving. Dancing. Ferocious. Caught by the wind but stuck to their tree.

How I made my children sit and wait. How I scolded tiny curious hands and big adventurous spirits. I stood at the edge of the kitchen counter, caught by the wind of frustration but stuck to walls of reality, where small fingers held globs of butter, where lunches were being eaten quicker than I could make them. What’s the big deal? My kids were gobbling carrots. I can’t even remember why I was so angry.

Can disappointments be kindling for new fire? I hope so because here I am and though I see beauty and greatness in my young-mother season, I also see an army of chaos and noise marching to the disappointments of my own unwarranted reactions.

Who was it that said we should celebrate the small victories? That, as mothers, there are always millions of things going on. Work and friendships and laundry and dishes, trying to keep up with spousal dates or even just time alone. Then, hobbies, those things that we are drawn toward. Our passions, our gifts. We are constantly working on things for our own lives and also in the lives of our children. Is there ever enough time? Though one child might throw meatballs at lunch, all the other children clear their plates with glee. That’s a small victory.

We are constantly demanding, “Stop hitting.” “Quiet your voice.” “Stay in your room.” “Choose kindness.” We are always tying shoes or digging out splinters or wiping noses or bottoms or asking for a path to be cleared to the beds. There is always more to do, more to work on, more to demand. Yet the small victories are the ones we will only see if we sometimes slow down and watch. If we sometimes remember.

Small victories always add up to one big victory.

None of my kids can tie their shoes yet, but they can untie their shoes and get them on and fill their own thermoses. Small victories. Baby steps. Like when my six-year-old’s nose started bleeding a few weeks ago, it splattered on the ground and made a hilarious spray of a mess on the floor. I was trying to help the nose but also didn’t want the other children’s feet in the mess so I said (probably yelled) that the two non-bleeding children should stay in the kitchen. As I gave tissues to the bleeding son and took wet wipes to the floor, my four-year-old hugged his little sister and said over and over in the most sure and calming voice, “Stay with me.” And she replied, just as sure,”Okay.” The floor still had to be wiped clean and the nose still needed pressure, but that calming voice of small victories rang.

Perhaps all my frustration is just a result of misplaced expectation. I want too many things and I think I can have them all right now. Instead of being stuck to the visual reality of this every day life, maybe get stuck to the idea that wholeness sounds more often than it looks, remembering that here is where the wind of small victory catches.

Oh, I remember now. Small Victories is the name of Anne Lamott’s newest book (which I have not read but want to because I love her!). But I also read it somewhere else, from someone who was speaking of mothering small children. Perhaps it was Rachel Jankovic. Just trying to give credit to the original.

 

SHOWING GRACE TO THE UNLEAVENED

SHOWING GRACE TO THE UNLEAVENED

I was really comfortable sitting in my van. I was outside of Lowe’s, texting a friend, sitting on a heated seat. Then someone appeared at my window.

“Excuse me,” she said. I looked. She was a stranger, and I know you’re not supposed to talk to strangers. But there’s a compassion in me for the destitute that I can’t shake. Besides, I’ve been reading Jen Hatmaker’s Interrupted, a book that chronicles the Hatmaker’s journey toward compassion for the homeless. There’s a whole book of explanation, but it begins with a prayer and the verse where Jesus says, “Do you love me…. Then feed my sheep.” It’s possible my compassion was swayed because of this book. But also, my only options were to open my window and give this stranger a chance, or ignore her and give her disgrace.

I rolled the window down.

Her face was small. Her cheeks sunken. A face with visible bones. We all have a skeleton, but everyone I know has enough substance to cover. I’ll say it again; her face was small.

Now I’m trying to remember her words. I can’t. Just the gist of them in conjunction with the image I saw. “My daughter and I are trying to get a meal and some blankets. We’re homeless. Could you help us out?” She looked me in the eyes and spoke in meek desperation.

I had just returned something at Lowe’s. I didn’t have the receipt and was expecting store credit, but it was under $10 so they gave me cash. I hardly ever have cash, but at that moment I had $9 neatly folded on top of my purse. $9 that I hadn’t expected. Easy to grab. I handed it to her and looked in my backseat. She said she needed blankets too, and since I never know what I’ll find in the back of my van, I looked. There was one blanket. One blanket that one of my kids had dragged in. And a winter hat that didn’t fit me, but had made my daughter laugh one day. I considered giving the blanket, but it was an Avenger’s blanket. One whose presence would be missed. I said I was sorry but I couldn’t give away my kid’s blanket.

“Okay. Thank you. Keep us in your prayers,” she said.

And we parted ways.

I didn’t say much to her. I was uncomfortable. I was unsure what to do. After she walked away, I finished composing my text and I thought, Why didn’t I give her that hat? And what was her name? Couldn’t I have given her some dignity by shaking her hand?

I drove around the parking lot looking for this woman, mostly wanting to give her my winter hat. It was pink and blue and would have covered her ears.

I couldn’t find her.

Then I started wondering… she said she had a daughter, but where was she? Maybe they lived in their car and her daughter had stayed put when the mother came to ask for money. Or maybe there was no daughter. Maybe it was all a lie. Maybe this woman was not who she said she was. Maybe she was just a beggar. Was I contributing to the discomfort of other middle class Americans by giving $9 to a beggar?

Then, “We are all mere beggars, showing other beggars where to find bread.” -Martin Luther

I was going to make bread today, but it has not risen enough to bake. What’s wrong with it? I know the recipe. I’ve made this same bread for years, but now it’s suddenly winter and sourdough bread responds differently to cold, dry temperatures. For sourdough, 70-85 degrees and humid is perfect. In other words, sourdough bread wants to live in San Diego, but mine can’t. It has to adjust, or I have to adjust it. I just didn’t think about adjusting today, since it’s not very cold yet. So two loaves have been in my kitchen, rising slowly, all day. They are minuscule. Stout. Dense. Like there is nothing in them to procure the loaves I want. Like the wild yeast of my sourdough starter didn’t take. Like the loaves are unleavened.

It’s not Passover. I’m not Jewish. I don’t have personal experience with either, but I’ve read Deuteronomy, and I could stand to read it again.

“Observe the month of Abib by celebrating the Passover to God, your God. It was in the month of Abib that God, your God, delivered you by night from Egypt. Offer the Passover-Sacrifice to God, your God, at the place God chooses to be worshiped by establishing his name there. Don’t eat yeast bread with it; for seven days eat it with unraised bread, hard-times bread, because you left Egypt in a hurry—that bread will keep the memory fresh of how you left Egypt for as long as you live. .” ~Deuteronomy 16, the msg

Unleavened bread. The bread of affliction (from the same verses, in the ESV). The bread of pain or suffering. At the place God chooses to be worshiped by establishing his name there. Unraised bread. Hard-times bread. That bread will keep the memory fresh.

Maybe she was a beggar. Maybe she was a drug addict. Maybe she was promiscuous.

Does it matter?

We are all beggars.

Hard times are hard times, even if we create them for ourselves.

My bread is unraised.

It’s hard-times bread all around.

And I’ve been trying to sort all this out while sitting in a Starbucks. It’s not my place of choice, but it’s the only coffee shop open past 9:00 in my area. They’re playing jazzy Christmas music. They’re creating sweet aromas. The floors are clean and the people are well-dressed and my cup has a picture of snowy trees on it. I’m warm. But not too warm. This should be perfect conditions. Could be my San Diego.

But somewhere a woman has my $9, or something of equal value.

The bread in my kitchen is not unleavened but it is uncomfortable tonight. The yeast to make it rise is yearning for different conditions.

And we all have suffered that.

Still Giving Thanks

Still Giving Thanks

Thanksgiving is over. Are you still full?

We made a turkey, cranberry chutney, two loaves of bread, and four pies.

We asked our boys what pies they wanted, and one boy said “Mince Meat Pie.” After some questioning, we deciphered his actual wish. Mint Pie. We searched for recipes. We crushed up Oreo’s. We purchased cool whip and Andes. The result was delicious. Like thin mints. In a pie. We called it “Mint Meets Pie.”

We were with our wider family all day. We saw friends. We gave thanks. We broke bread.

And somewhere in the middle of it all, I had the thought, how perfect that Thanksgiving precedes Christmas. 

Then, right before we prayed over our feast, my sister-in-law said the same thing.

How perfect. 

It is no accident that before the season of gifts is the season of thanks. That before our focus is yanked toward sale signs, we fill ourselves up with one gift that is greater.

Hopefully our focus never actually makes it to the sale signs. They can provide terrible distraction unless we are filled with thankfulness. I know I need some work in that area. Some reminding. Constant reminding.

It is better to give than to receive.

A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones. (Prov. 17:22)

The words, “Give thanks,” lined the aisles on boards and posters. Now, the signs say “Cheer” and “15% off.” But cheer doesn’t connect with numbers. The most wonderful time of year turned into something akin to dust.

Can Thanksgiving continue?

As in, “Thanksgiving is our dialect.” (Eph. 5:4)

Are you still full?

Do leftovers remain in your fridge? Do you have so much turkey that you need to freeze some, make a pot pie or two, a big pot of soup, a casserole?

And how does our Thanksgiving feast translate spiritually?

Our tradition of abundance.

I’m wondering.

And while I wonder, I’m reminded of words that my 3 year-old son spoke a few months ago. Words that pierced me. I wrote them into an entire blog post, or I thought I did, but those words are missing now. Either I never actually wrote them down, or I have misplaced them. I have been searching because I wanted to share them. And at the same time, I am thankful for the loss. Often, it’s not the words but the spirit of them anyway. Often, the original thought lives on.

“Mom, how do you spell Grace?” he said.

Grace. The name of my youngest child. A girl who smiles and mimics and loves to be a part. A girl who squeezes when she hugs and sings when she wakes. A girl who was given the name Grace partly because it is the only female name my husband and I have ever agreed on, and partly because Grace is the most beautiful word, and now it’s a word that we speak over and over, every day. We will never forget.

When my son asked me how to spell Grace, I knew what he was asking. The answer, “G-R-A-C-E.” But the only thing in my head was “In order to spell Grace, you have to spill Grace.”

In order to understand Grace, we have to recognize the need for it. And I’m speaking both about my daughter and about the free and unmerited favor given. Two things that God has given purely because He is good.

We receive the gift of Grace when we realize it is given freely. But Grace is made whole when we give thanks for it. Because it’s better to give than to receive. And when it’s all intertwined in a great big Holy circle…

Well, are you full yet?