Friday, January 30
I'm not even forty.
And he wishes I was his mother? Not, possibly, his sister? Or a favorite cousin? Nuh uh.
These floating encounters address all sorts of issues, let me tell you. I'll let you know if I have even a scrap of pride left when this strange river ride is over.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go shine my walker and pop my heart medicine.
Saturday, January 24
Betty showed up on our doorstep on a chilly winter Friday evening sometime last year. January, maybe? Or February? We had a house full of teenagers at the time (Despite our absence from church, our boys are still involved in Friday night events.).When the doorbell rang I opened the front door to find a diminutive, harshly-aging, tired-eyed woman.
Thin, dry, badly colored hair crowned her life worn head. She was so small. So done in. She held a wicker basket full of various loonie-store wares. She'd clustered used tea-lights and holders into one bundle and tied it with a worn Christmas ribbon. Foil wrapped Christmas chocolates were pulled together into another small, brightly colored package. An assortment of patch sized Christmas fabrics was tucked between several other mismatched oddities.
Would I, she wondered, be interested in buying some of her wares?
The house was throbbing with energy and activity behind me. One of the youth mom's was sitting just feet from me on the living room couch. The timing was bad and the situation so peculiar. The woman was so obviously embarrassed by her own request. I couldn't imagine that she'd had any success in peddling her used and outdated items anywhere else on the street.
I asked her to Wait right there, okay? while I went in search of some cash.
As I ransacked the giveaway tin, yanking out a few not-enough bills for my new acquaintance, I was rapid firing questions toward Heaven. What to do? How to help? Was this enough? And why on earth was this woman on our doorstep, of all places?
I met the tiny woman at the door and asked her name. Betty. The name suited her somehow. Petite. Feminine. From another time.
How did you come to be on my doorstep, Betty? I wondered as I rifled through her basket, choosing the used tea-lights and their colored glass holders.
Just drove. I don't even know where I am...Do you know where I am?
I tucked my bills in amongst the bits and scraps left behind in her bin. I asked more questions. Questions about where she'd sleep (she had a home in the trailer park) and if she had food at home and what more she might need.
Betty told a heartbreaking story of a cross-Canada flight from a cruel husband. Two of her children, she said, were dead and the living one lived far away. She was alone. She was alone. She was alone.
I asked if she need clothing or a hot shower. No to all.There was nothing left to ask and nothing more to offer. Betty, I fumbled, the few dollars I've given you today are not enough. They cannot touch your heartache or help you in the long run. I'm going to just go grab a little more cash, and then, would it be okay if we talked with my God together?
What was she going to say? One of the indignities that comes with reliance on the gifts of another is that you are obligated to abide by their conditions. I wrestle with this aspect of giving every time. But I scuttled back to the giveaway tin, grabbed a larger sum this time, and slipped it underneath her remaining merchandise.
I held out my hands in an offer of touch. Betty took hold of my two in her tiny one. She hung on so tightly. So tightly. And I talked with Jesus while she stood on my front porch and wept.
I offered an embrace as I said a mumbled, Amen. Betty clung to me, thanked me effusively, and was gone.
I wrestled with the significance of that encounter for many, many weeks. Why had she found our doorstep that night? Where did she find the desperation and the courage to bring her second-hand goods to the door to sell? Did God meet her that Friday night? Will He pursue her? Love her? Rescue her? Was her story true? Does it matter? At all? Was I faithful to my Jesus?
I was ruminating on her story, still, a long time later when I chanced to mention it to my friend, Trina. If you know Trina, then the next bit of wisdom will not surprise you at all:
Sandi, she said as I finished my tale, can't you see that Betty is us? She's just exactly like us. Eyes moist with tears, she ably contained the sadness, the frustrated anger, the intensity behind her own words.
She continued, We go to God with our "gifts," our offering, our goods-for-sale and ask if He'll please accept them. Because they're the best we can give at the time. They're all we have. And He doesn't poke fun at what we're bashfully offering in our worn wicker baskets. He doesn't slam the door in our face or turn away in embarrassment Himself. He takes that basket in His own hands and accepts every bit we've given.
Betty didn't arrive on my doorstep so that I could help her. God put her on my porch so that she could help me.
In Betty were embodied lessons in humility and honesty, servanthood and grace. She was a living picture of how freely accepted we are by our God. The One who gives Life, gives Grace, gives Freedom does so without scorn or favoritism or arrogance. He gives because He is Love.
The gifts I offer Him, my "goods for sale" are antiquated and shoddy. They don't warrant a passing glance. But He takes them in hand, acknowledges their craftsmanship (knowing the artisan so well as He does), and says, Yes, Little One. These are lovely. I'll take them all. I'll pay full price ~ I'll pay the ultimate price.
This lifestyle of listening and giving is all about learning, I think. As you have so generously responded with your thoughts on when to share and when to withhold, I am reminded that we all have something to contribute to each other's process in this. And we all have bits that we need to learn because, like Betty, our offerings could use a little work. But Betty is where I'm coming from.
The Jesus we are growing to know and love gives to us without any assumption that we'll do right by Him. In fact, He knows we'll likely abuse, ignore, even scorn His gift. And He gives it anyway while accepting the meagerness that we give Him in return.
Monday, January 19
As he approached the rear of the cabin he noticed a guy. A big guy. A big guy who at just that moment happened to be picking on a group of four young (12 years old? 13?) boys, his other big-guy buddy looking on with amusement. See this pen, N____r? he mocked. Want me to mark you with it? I've marked him...and him. He jabs his marker in the direction of two of the kids whose young, dark skin shows the evidence of his domination. The smallest of the boys cowers, scrunching himself as deeply into his seat as he can. So? How 'bout I mark you, too?
The woman sitting nearby is shifting uncomfortably in her seat. She sees what's going on. Everyone around can see what's going on. What has been going on for one minute? Ten, maybe? Twenty?
Bob moves further along the aisle toward the interaction. He stops in front of the super-sized laborer guy. Twenty-something. Hands covered in grease and grime ~ evidence of his own long day, his own cares. Hey, Bob directs a quiet acknowledgment in the direction of the bully and glances at the buddy whose commentary has been littered with sexual references and lurid story telling.
Hey, is the response. You wanna' seat? Bully makes a show of scooching aside on the long back-of-the-bus bench.
Bob takes up his offer, insistently manouvering himself between Big Guy and the four children. Thanks.
Yeah. No problem.
So, you know you can't be doin' this, hey? Bob is not a confrontational man. He's starting to sweat. His face is turning red. He's going toe-to-toe with a dude that could...well...there are a lot of things that could go terribly, terribly wrong in the next few minutes.
Awww, we're just havin' a little fun.
No, Bob replies grimly. No. These guys are NOT having fun. What you're doing is harassment and it needs to stop. You can't go around picking on kids and you certainly can't be calling them by racial slurs.
Bob doesn't stop there. He calls them on the content of their conversation and challenges them to consider the public space that they are in. He calls them on everything.
For whatever reason, Bully and Buddy do not invite Bob to step off the bus in order to continue their conversation in the street. Instead, they follow his lead as he shifts the conversation to who they are. Their names, their work, their current situation. Hard working with things not going all that smoothly, it turns out.
The remainder of the ride is short. Bob arrives at his stop and rises to go. They look each other in the eye, Hard Working Guy and Bob, and Bob repeats, No more of that. You can't be harassing kids. My 12 year old boy wouldn't stand a chance against you guys. It's not okay for you to do what you were doing.
Yes sir, the big dude says. Yes sir.
Bob's own boys are noisy in their pride when Dad tells his story. Their Dad stood up for the guy who couldn't stand up for himself. And that's ovation worthy. They know. They know that thugs and gangsters could be hiding behind any face, in any transit seat, especially in this neighborhood. He did the right thing anyway. Yes Sir.
Wednesday, January 7
Tuesday, January 6
Word got out that we'd helped a recently laid-off senior with some grocery money. A very little grocery money. Too little? I'd wondered at the time. But the gentle God-nudge seemed clear: Give just so much. So we did. And, as always, we didn't give it another thought. A floating encounter. An opportunity to serve, to help. An offering to our One ~ so small, so full of hope that it will be cup-of-water efficient.
But now the information was on the lips of an angry neighbor. "You need to stop that!"
"Stop? Stop what?"
"Stop taking away from your own grocery money to buy somebody else stuff."
"But it's not like that," I protest. "Not at all. We have a little set aside for this sort of thing. We have enough for ourselves and just have that teeny bit put aside to give away." How on earth did she find out about this anyway? I wonder to myself.
"Yeah. But my point is that times are tight and getting worse and you need to keep that money that you've been giving away for yourself. Then, when things get better, you can give stuff away again."
I don't know what to say so I mumble something about tough times being the best time to give because people are really needing the hand-up. My friend is unimpressed by my logic. I try a different approach, explaining that our faith and our giving are intertwined: God is so good to us, we want to give.
"Whatever! I give and give and give and I don't get nothin' in return."
"I hear you, but that's not the sort of return I'm talking about. We're rich in so many things: healthy kiddo's, healthy us, amazing friendships, work..."
"It doesn't matter. Stop throwing your money away and keep it for yourself!"
I'm so puzzled by her obvious anger and impatience that I fall silent and eventually change the subject. Endless weeks of subzero temperatures provide much conversation fodder, thankfully!
I leave my friend, feeling unsettled and gloomy. Kindness doesn't come off as strength or smarts. Generosity looks foolish, illogical. And we don't know if we're on the right course or not. Are we hearing God in these give-away moments? Are we being foolish, too soft? We'd stop right away if we thought we were in error. Will the Living Jesus reach into human struggle and bring salvation, rescue, redemption as we live faithfully in this small obedience?
I have no idea. No idea. My wrist is smarting from the sting of the afternoon's reprimand. I feel it's echoed complaint in both the secular and Christian world all around. But, I admit, I don't want to change my enlarging mindset in this. Years ago, when I began the process of losing weight, I asked my God to expand my understanding of His love, His generosity, His mercy. I asked Him to help me stop withholding.
It's natural to hold back on forgiveness and care and mercy and material help. We fear that by letting go we'll leave ourselves exposed to loss and want. What if the way of God is broader, more freeing and wild than we've imagined? What if there's enough to give? And give. And give.
May the giving of our small offerings exemplify the expansive generosity of God ~ the One who gave everything.