Tag Archives: grace

Full Mind, Full Heart…

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There are a lot of things in my head right now. The song is “I Can Her the Bells” from “Hairspray Jr.” which we saw at the middle school four blocks from our house on Friday. Several alum from our elementary school plays were there and in good form. The steps under my feet and in my head are for “Make ‘em Laugh” which we will choreograph this week.

I’m rereading Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell, a fantastic novel that throws together everything that interests me into a lovely disastrous science fiction salad, languages, medicine, with some alien life forms thrown in. I am emotionally tired from our community group’s project on Saturday to feed breakfast to seventy five people through City Hope, our church’s community center in the tenderloin district of San Francisco.

I met a young lady named Ari. When I had talked her inside off the wet street she left moments later with tears in her eyes. She had been looking at my kids. Out of prison for five days, her seven-year-old son is with his father in Alabama, her two-year-old daughter is in Petaluma with friends. We talked about being mothers, she talked about the weight of the family she was raised in, the weight of caring for children on her own, the weight of her addiction that led her straight back here to the streets of San Francisco.

She came in again, she ate, she met my children, I connected her to our pastor there. We found out where she could get clothes. She went to use the bathroom. I sat with her bag.

When she came back she said, “I’m glad you watched my bag. It would’ve been too hard not to — if I had had it with me.”

“You have drugs in there right now?” I asked.

“No,” she said after the slightest pause.

And this is how far I’ve come, I’m still naive enough to be surprised that a drug addict has drugs on their person. But, as it turns out, I’m not naive enough that I didn’t recognize that she was lying to me in the second instance. So, that’s something.

The emotional response in my body brought to mind another instance of similar discordant realization. We were in Manila on a mission trip. We were touring lots of areas and different ministries. One night we went down to the slums to meet some of the thousands of orphans left on their own to form families. We had a group of about twenty boys, six to ten year-olds. We told them Bible stories, learned their names, fed them. We had been there for hours when I began noticing that they were leaving one by one and coming back after a while. They would come back a little happier, red eyes, a little less attentive, distant.

“What’s wrong with him?” I asked one.

“He’s high,” the boy answered succinctly.

As it turns out these beautiful brown boys were taking turns leaving to huff glue out of discarded glass jars.

One of our set up guys at church has been clean for two years. He posted on Facebook. “Two years off the needle by the grace of God.”

Another time in college a young man, long blonde hair in a ponytail, a smattering of tattoos, was a friend of a friend of someone in En Christo, our ministry to the poor and homeless in Spokane, Washington. He showed up for a month of Saturdays, handing out bagged lunches to the residents of the hotels we had established relationships with. He gave a powerful testimony of God’s saving grace to release him from his addiction to heroine. He was witness, it could be done. He didn’t show up one Saturday. We heard the next week, through a friend of a friend, he had died of an overdose. I don’t remember his name. I remember thinking he was cool.

I am thinking of the second grader, a little brother, who told me he has begun reading the Bible when he’s bored at home, mostly the story of David and Goliath.

I am thinking of my volunteer who has rekindled her years of ASL and is practicing the story for this next week so she can communicate with two deaf boys who have been coming to our program.

I am thinking of two third grade girls who haven’t had a friend in their all-boy children’s worship class. Two Sundays ago they finally found each other and told their mothers about their new friend.

I am thinking about the two first grade boys who are a little intimidated about transitioning out of their comfortable Kindergarten class where their little brothers are. One is autistic and finally yesterday didn’t look like a caged animal when I gave him another tour of the “big kid” room.

I am thinking about all the slogans I have read off the posters of all my friends who went to many women’s marches all across the country. I didn’t think about going. I served breakfast with my community group to seventy-five inhabitants of the tenderloin and met Ari and was tired and went home and thanked the Lord for whatever combination of grace, provision, chance, will, or wisdom that has allowed me to have a house and the right to mother my children.

I thanked the Lord for a rug to vacuum, dishes to do, so many bananas that they had gotten old, and the baking space, that no SRO hotel room has, to make banana bread. There was so much joy in making banana bread for my people, so much flour, so much sugar. I thanked the Lord for the bathroom I had to clean even though I swore on Tuesday that anybody but me was going to be scouring it this weekend. I was grateful for the fridge full, the laundry basket full, the arms full of my children.

I realized that I was being domestic even while I was admiring signs, even while City Hall was lit up pink. I laughed at myself.

My favorite quote, the last sentences of Middlemarch by George Eliot. The great heroin Dorothea, who is described as having the energy and righteous ambition of another Joan of Arc, spreading out her energies into domesticity like the delta of the river Cyrus. “But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.”

I think about how distasteful it is sometimes to my ambition to rest in the small things, how difficult to be satisfied in diffusion.

I think of the one hundred sixty-nine kids in the school play that I get to know and encourage. I think of the eighty-five to one-hundred fifteen kids that we have in children’s worship on Sundays that we get to know and welcome. I think of the three who I kissed awake this morning with many kisses, the little one’s cheek smelling like his sweet mouth from falling asleep sucking his thumb.

This morning I don’t feel so far away from every other woman in the world. This morning I see more parallels than differences between me and Ari who is somewhere just outside this coffee shop window, maybe still trying to find her cell phone so she can see that last picture she took of her little girl. I feel my energies splitting and irrigating many tiny fields, for each of which I am very grateful.

Two Illustrations from Nature…

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It is the weekend my Dad died nine years ago. It is the week a dear friend died one year ago. A coworker just had a miscarriage. A close friend is going through a divorce.

Illustration number one: This week I was at a work retreat up the coast. There was pine, dry grass, and dirt that acts like chalk on your shoes. The sunrise was obscured by a heavy fog being blown over the hill. As I climbed the hill I stepped into a copse of pine. I turned my head into the breeze to catch the wind in my ears and I caught another sound. It was so loud I looked around for what could cause this “pat pat pat”. Droplets had formed on the tip of every needle of every pine. I thought of the fog, how like grief, heavy, pervasive, and obscuring the view at three feet. And I thought of the trees, every day reaching out and into; by will and persistence making tangible something good and life-giving, watering themselves.

Illustration number two: Today we drove down the coast. We stopped just south of Linda Mar at a battery held aloft still by a truculent chunk of granite. High above the water and rocks, the walkway around seemed to drop out of sight with a certainty that made me hold my three-year-old’s hand tighter. Surely it would mean death to ever step past that edge. And yet, as we walked closer, we were surprised to find slopes, not gentle, but like many things in life, surprisingly survivable.

 

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Land’s End Landscape…

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I have been coming to Land’s End Trail of mornings. I sit on a bench in the chill and mist and watch the grey ocean spread beneath me like the dull side of a piece of aluminum foil crumpled and pressed smooth. It rolls out to the wide Pacific on my left, and on my right under the bridge and between the fingertips of reclining landmasses. My nose threatens to run and my shoe grinds a bit of sandy dirt as I settle.

The fog is thick and heavy just above the water, a single stanchion of the Golden Gate Bridge visible as if I am under Lady San Francisco’s skirts catching a glimpse of a sacred ankle. The shoulders of Marin are a curve more sensual today, the tops and less modest tips hugged by the lacy undergarment of fog.

Two lights, one standing on the last rock before the ocean, the other midway between that and the bridge blink on and off slowly, conserving energy for their eternal task. A fog horn sounds from somewhere, its own little joke, since visibility is perfect on the water. Small dots of light scratch white lines into the grey past the point. If the law would have these craft leave their lights on until an hour or two past sunrise it would be hard to know by the filtered light exactly when that was. A single fishing boat is in front of me, a red light at the top of its mast, deciding to rest inside the arms of the bay, comfortable to sit here with me.

To my right I can see where the ocean is making the shore, the never-ending group project of seven seas. Black rocks and blurs of darker textures spill across the sand here and there as it curves to meet the red bridge. The bridge swallows it all into its width or expectorates it, possibly the initial seed of fruit from which the earth springs forth. The road to the top is a perfect Bob Ross zig of paint scraped between the darker green of Presidio trees and descending speckle of beach shrubs. The road looks from this angle to curve straight down to the bridge, but I know it disappears over the hill, taking a turn and under a damp stone underpass before drawing its line of red light to join the others who for some reason are leaving the city at this hour.

Behind me to my left the grit trail runs straight disappearing abruptly into the cypress forests, standing on long stems, all looking like they have been treacherously betrayed by their hair product and a sudden gust of wind. Small dark birds bounce or zip, its hard to tell, across the path. And I can hear the incessant hiccough of a sprinkler on the golf course. I cannot tell if the smell of humidity is coming from there or from above. Occasional strings of birds indistinguishable from each other at this height fly low across the water until they complete a picture of a zipper with their reflection, unzipping and zipping as they ever alter altitude. The much larger pelicans fly closer so that I can make out colors and single indignant feathers.

I dab at my nose and shift my weight on the wooden bench to the other buttock. I wonder how long I’ve been sitting here. It’s grown warmer maybe; but I’ve gotten colder as my blood has cooled down from walking.

The lights are going out on the cars driving over the hill. My fishing boat has turned off its red light and is pulling out into open water. Lady San francisco has hiked up her skirts past her knees, and the view is a bowl in front of me, so much, with rivulets spilling out to the west and east and into my lap.

Dominic…

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I was having an unprecedented moment alone in a cafe. I had a book open and a cappuccino by my right hand. A special needs man walked in. I’ll call him a boy for the purposes of this post because I never caught his name, but he was early to mid twenties, white, in a sweater a mother might select, with hair parted on the side like a young boy’s. His care giver, I assumed she was, was a petite middle-aged hispanic woman, almost two heads shorter, her hands folded in front of her at the wrists, a black purse hanging from a forearm. They talked over the breakfast menu like conspiring thieves. She didn’t feel the necessity of eye contact but whispered back over her shoulder. The young man was excited and loud. His voice echoed through the whole cafe, “Think there’ll be berries on mine, Denise? Think there’ll be berries?”

She moved this way to see the menu and he followed by a step to maintain distance. They ordered. Setting her purse on a chair she told him she’d be right back and headed to the restroom. He sat, his leg bouncing, glancing at the bathroom, setting and resetting the silverware. A server came over, a big hispanic man, tattooed to his neck, and looking every inch like an ex-con (because this suburban white girl has been told what ex-cons look like).

“Hey, man,” the server said followed by some subdued conversation.

“Hi, Dominic,” the kid gave him a high-five, loudly again, “Hi, Dominic. Where’s Denise? Where did Denise go, Dominic?” hand now bouncing off his leg which was bouncing off the floor.

“She’s just in the bathroom, man. No worries. Here she is.”

“Denise! It’s Dominic. It’s Dominic, Denise!”

Denise smiled and offered her hand primly. Dominic shook it, placing his other hand on her shoulder as if to stabilize her against the enthusiasm of his shake. And he returned to work.

I heard the young man telling Denise how the guys had made him his own custom smoothie. “My own smoothie, Denise!” How they had promised he would get Nutella and raspberries on his crepe. “Nutella AND berries, Denise!” They must come here all the time, I thought. I looked around at these fine people who took such care of this young man.

Everyone who worked at this cafe was apparently a relative of Dominic’s, face or knuckle tattoos not a preclusion from employment, biceps-the-size-of-my-torso a must. All of them were beaming over register and hot food line at this kid.

Their food arrived shortly after.

“Try this, Denise, You’ve got to try this!” Denise ate bites off of his fork and made faces of approbation, content to let his volume speak for both of them. Dominic came to check on their breakfast.

“It is so good, Dominic! Look, they gave me Nutella and raspberries, Dominic!”

Dominic came back at the end to take their plates. I watched Denise insist on her young man getting a picture with Dominic. Her only moment of command, “Stand there.” The boy posed proudly, Dominic smiled, chest out, chin up, with an arm around him.

They left and about ten minutes later. I was done and putting my book away in my purse.

“Are you done with this?” a voice.

I looked up and smiled. “Thank you, Dominic,” I said.

He was surprised I knew his name. I thought how wonderful it would be to be known by name for something kind. I motioned by way of explanation to the empty table where Denise and the boy had sat a moment before and smiled my gratitude for the scene.
He laughed when he got it.

“Do they come in all the time?” I asked as Dominic took my tiny espresso cup in his giant hands.

He looked surprised again. “Oh, no, that was the first time. I’ve never seen them before.”

Mr. Dinty Moore…

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The only reason we were in the grocery store on a Friday evening at four o’clock is because I signed up to bring a meal to a family in our church that had a new baby. I am not normally on the meals ministry because these days I can’t seem to make a meal larger than the appetites of the growing humans I’m responsible for.

Tonight was case in point because my tasty plans had fallen apart to the degree that two frozen lasagnas were cooking in my oven and I was at the grocery store on a Friday evening to buy bread and a ready salad.

By Friday evening my kids are tired after a week of school. Also, it is May, so my kids are also tired from a year of school. The little guy is potty training and missed his nap today and I am dragging them all through food-option-nirvana on empty bellies.

My daughter refuses to walk and is sitting in the cart pulling it around by reaching to whatever half-permanent object is closest. Every time I turn around the cart is five feet away. My little one is standing in the cart and eating grapes off the produce shelf. My seven-year-old has his nose buried in a book and is basically stopping wherever is most inconvenient for everyone else.

(“Put down your book!”)

As we make it to the checkout, things are devolving fast. The toddler has figured out how to lift the bottom of the cart and slide to the floor, which he is doing. My almost-six-year-old daughter is trying to read the US Weekly (“I want to read a magazine!”) which I am trying to distract her from.

(“Read this food magazine.”
“It’s boring!”)

I have fifteen items in a fifteen item express lane and three of my items are a twin loaf of bread, a bunch of bananas, and a bag of grapes. I am pushing it across the board.

The guy behind me strolls up, middle aged, glasses, with ten, I swear, microwavable ready-packs of Dinty Moore beef stew and about seven pounds of zucchini. I don’t know what the heck he’s got going on tonight but this bachelor sure as hell doesn’t have time for the circus I got going on right here.

My eldest has stopped reading his book long enough to make his sister dissolve into a puddle of indignant victimhood on the floor.

(“Just, stand over there and read your book!”)

My baby is back in the cart via “the new route” and is shaking the coin machine at the checkout.

At this point a fellow mother from school comes in (you know who you are). She’s alone, has her cart, takes one look at me, and laughs. That was the picture I was painting at that moment.

So, the middle-aged Chinese lady, that is my sympathetic cashier (“You very busy.”), scans my beer.

“You get some beer, I need to see ID.”

I, getting out my driver’s license and trying to placate Mr. Dinty Moore who is strangely unresponsive as my daughter wails at his feet, crack a joke, “And I earned every ounce.”

And this is why you should never EVER card a mother of three children. Because, people, my driver’s license had expired… on my birthday… in January.

(My eldest was loudly fascinated, “Mom, your ID expired?! What does that mean? It’s expired?! Can I see? So, you can’t get your beer?”
“Go read your book.”)

The Chinese lady grimaced as she slowly removed my beer from the belt. She regretted checking my ID now, thought it was going to be a great treat for everyone, and as much as it hurt me I could tell it stung her a little, too.

I don’t mind admitting that it’s a defeated Barbara who wrangled three kids into the car, without beer, and now thinking about DMV visits. (Argh!)

These days the toddler takes a while to get into his seat. He likes to play this really funny game where he jumps into the front seat right when I open the back door and jump back into the back seat when I open the front door. So, as badly as I wanted to be gone and home it took us several minutes before I could sit back in my seat.

Then, there was a knock on my window.

Who is it, but Mr. Dinty Moore himself and— he’s holding my beer.

“You bought me my beer!” I yell at the window. I rolled down the window.

I swear he said nothing, just smiled, handed me the beer, and walked away.

(“He bought your beer?! That guy bought your beer? Why did he do that?! You couldn’t buy beer because your ID had expired, right?”)

Well played Mr. Dinty Moore. May your meaty morsels be flavorful and your zucchini bread be moist. By blessing a mother with beer you have blessed us all.