The past few weeks have been rough. Nothing horrible has happened, but little toothpick crosses have been piling up, weighing me down. But I don’t want to dwell on the roughness of life. Go ahead and turn on the news for that. Instead, I want to focus on how God gently smooths out those rough edges so that you can make it through a tough day or month or year or even a tough life without becoming so brittle you start to crack.
St. Ignatius of Loyola often wrote of finding God in everything. Everything. Even in the lake of water you discover in your bathroom. Even in the maddening defiance of a sweet but spirited child. Even in the loss of a home. Even in the constant sleeplessness. Even when your arms are aching to hold the baby that’s gone for now (say a prayer for this beautiful, grieving mama).
I love God. I really do. But I don’t always trust Him. I realize this probably means my faith has not yet reached the next level. I’m working on it. He’s helping me to work at it by throwing lots of lemons my way. These are lemons I’d like to squeeze into lemonade, but I’m fumbling around with them, not quite sure how to make their sourness sweet.
The trouble is, if you don’t trust God, then it’s going to be awfully hard to find Him in the quotidian details of everyday life. Is He really with me as I fill my girls’ sippy cups or detangle their knotted hair? Is He really there when I’m having a wakeful night and cannot find rest?
It’s even more difficult to find God when you’re faced with a disappointment, an inconvenience, or a piercing heartache.
But He’s there. It’s just He’s not at all a showy guy. In fact, sometimes He’s really, really easy to miss.
In the past week, there have been no Charlton Hestin-like images popping in to say, “Hang in there, kiddo.” But there have been plenty of subtle pick-me-ups peppered throughout my days. There was the receptionist from a doctor’s office who was on the other line of the phone when my baby woke up squawking and when I had to calm a tearful toddler who said to me out of the blue, “You sound like a good mom. I hear it in your voice.” (Don’t be too impressed. If she’d heard the frantic trill of that same voice just moments earlier, she would have said I sounded like a cloud of locusts.)
There’s the woman who helped me lift a two-year-old up to a water fountain when I was juggling a wiggly baby and an oversized bag (not the chic, cool kind but one that’s stained with drool and sticky handprints and is brimming with diapers, a nursing cover, the contents of a small kitchen pantry, and a silver Sharpie marker in case we see anyone who wants to sign my daughter’s cast). That same day another woman ran to help me carry my umbrella to shelter my children from a torrential downpour.
There’s an email from my younger brother checking in on me.
An influx of get well cards for my daughter from several family members.
An email from my midwife that made me cry – in a good way.
An encouraging card from my mama telling me to keep my chin up (I am, Mama, I am!)
And a text from my husband that pops up on the screen just at a moment when I’m feeling really, really alone in the trenches.
There’s also a friend’s voice that calls out to me with the timbre of an angel when I’m just about to crumble and fall apart. This story deserves more details. See, the girls and I recently paid a visit to our local (and extremely crowded) farmer’s market. We piled fresh, delicious produce high in our cart. We darted through the throngs of people and seized crunchy walnuts, Greek yogurt, and a loaf of freshly baked bread. Daddy was working late that night, so we decided we’d have a big salad for dinner, and both the girls picked out their favorite toppings (the baby just wiggled and giggled and acted cute for everybody; she’s good at that). When we finally made it to the cashier, I noticed a sign that said they didn’t accept credit cards – only cash, checks, or debit cards. Normally this wouldn’t have been a problem, but earlier that week I’d come into contact with a hungry ATM machine that devoured my debit card, and I never carry much cash or my checkbook, so I had this useless, worthless heap of groceries.
“You really don’t take credit cards?” I asked the cashier.
“No. I’m sorry.”
I really, really wanted to cry. “Sorry, girls, but we have to go. I can’t pay for this.” (At this moment, I kind of wanted God to step forward with a wad of cash, but I figured He had bigger problems to tend to like, oh, let’s say a tragic, sprawling oil spill.)
“We have to put the food back, Mommy?” my five-year-old cried.
“But I hungee!” my two-year-old wailed.
The baby wiggled some more.
I bit my lip. Hard. Please don’t cry. Not here. Not now. Pull yourself together. You’re the adult!!!
To save us all, I said I’d take them to one of their favorite kid-friendly restaurants. Aside from someone almost running us over in the parking lot, we held ourselves together pretty well. Once we arrived at the restaurant the girls were excited (they’re much better at turning lemons to lemonade than I am) as we ordered our quesadillas and burritos. Madeline asked loudly if I’d be able to pay for our dinner. That was just a little bit embarrassing.
We were filling drink cups when I heard my name called. I looked up to see a close friend of mine, another wife of a resident who knows what it’s like to feel like a single mom but to be afraid to ever complain about your husband being a doctor. Her children were with her, and her oldest and my oldest danced for joy at the sight of each other. I just about danced, too. I told her how glad I was to see her. And boy, was I ever.
We all crowded in at a table together, and the girls nibbled on their dinner and played a bit while my friend and I shared some adult conversation. Never mind that we kept talking about our kids or related kids’ stuff, it was so nice to be in the company of a good friend.
Her decision to end up at that restaurant was as spontaneous as mine, but I sat there convinced that it was providential, that this meeting of two friends was just what I needed to get through a long, tough day (and perhaps it was just what she needed, too). She was just the person to help me squeeze out those lemons.
I saw God in my friend that day. I’ve heard His voice in the voice of my mom who calls me at a time when I feel like I could use some mothering. I feel His touch when a child cuddles close to me. I believe in Him when my child, full of faith and wonder, sees an ordinary bug as a miracle.
Sometimes, I think, our tough days give us the most. It’s that inextricable, double helix of joy and sorrow, of receiving and giving that open wide our souls the to the small graces, the glimpses of God’s goodness and providence, and the realization that God is everywhere if you look at life through eyes of faith.