The morning light is sweet but I am not. It’s 8:58. Exactly 12 minutes from start time in Sunday School, and I am 20 minutes and a full change of clothes and teeth-brushing away from church. I whisper something about being foolish, throw on the only things that I can find in a bleary eyed haze. I run out the door, spit my mouthwash on the side of the steps that have been breaking since I can remember. My car is cold. It shudders and groans as I lurch out the driveway.
Tears prick at my eyes. I’m late, late, late. I speed up through the yellow light at an intersection on Route 1. It’s been a long weekend, I tell myself, maybe it’s okay to just be a little tired. Maybe it’s okay to just be a little scattered. My hair is falling out the braids I slept it, and I can feel bits of it tickling my neck. There is a blue stain on my coat. There is mud on my shoes, and I should have worn socks but I forgot. But my protestations about “having a little grace for myself” (even when I say it as the car rounds the curve to 97), they aren’t a match for the steady, familiar rhythm of scolding.
And all you good girls who read this, I know you know what I mean – how even in the midst of a big smile and a bright laugh, we’re usually thinking about something that wasn’t quite right, something that fell a little short. Sometimes we joke about this – call it “the curse of perfectionism” or even pray that we might have a little real grace thrown into our life. But most of the time, I’m still counting the number of missed cues. I’m still thinking about an unsent email or text or visit. I’m still thinking about what might have been better. I’m still resolving not to mess it up again.
I run into the classroom. They’re already at work, and I get nothing but smiles. No scolding, no “where were you?” And my profuse apologies are quickly put aside, as they want to tell me about the good monster they are making with paper, who only eats flowers, about the colors of the liturgical year and the song we sing about them.
And a three year old girl stops in the middle of her puzzle and proclaims, “I WAS WAITING ON YOU”. She throws herself into my arms, purple and pink fuzzy socks pulled up past her small knees.
I am going to come apart at the seams. Instead I trace shapes and cut them out. I straighten. I use small pieces of Scotch tape to fasten a little identification card to each compartment where we keep the elements of the altar work. When we sit in the circle to sing, and to tell Jesus about our birthday parties, about aunts having babies soon, about dads who paint the basement, the boys squirm and fidget.
But then the teacher asks, “This word on our prayer table is praise. When I think about giving praise to God, I think about giving thanks. What are some of the things we are thankful for?”
They name bunny rabbits and dogs. They name winter and snowball fights. And then that three year old, she looks at me and she says, “Thank you Jesus for you.”
The light is that gentle and that fierce.
I didn’t stay to church. I didn’t think I could bear it, encountering any more of this story about me and God in the midst of His people (even though that’s good and we should).
I drove weeping onto the highway. I drove weeping for being 22 and in the midst of such richness, feeling so paralyzed. For my hair falling out of its braids and my bare feet in their shoes. For all of the things that her prayer reveals in its gentle light: that God would rather sit with me weeping in my car in the back of the Starbucks parking lot. That nothing matters more to Him than this strange chapter of the story where I spend most of my time oscillating between fingerspelling words to practice ASL in my car to dreaming about someday I will be wise to wrestling with the answer “not now”.
God would rather nothing better than me and Him in the Starbucks parking lot. God would rather nothing better than the light creeping in through my shuttered heart. So He sends His children to teach me what I once imagined I would be teaching them.
But when it comes to grace, I have everything to learn.
And the light is gentle.