Close to Home:
It had been one of those days, one of those “everything takes twice as long to accomplish as it should” kind of days. It was a kind of day where I would hate for you to meet me for the first time, lest you assume that I am always so whiny and overly irritable. I had just come home from an afternoon of squeezing down the aisles of a Super Walmart to a kitchen counter sticky with spilled milk and once mushy Rice Chex now hardened like cement, now requiring the blade of a butter knife to be pried from the Formica beneath them. “Who didn’t clean up their breakfast mess?” I yelled to no one.
It was 5:00 p.m., time to make dinner, so I preheated the oven to 425 degrees. While putting away the grapes and yogurt I noticed that the pizza dough was not in the refrigerator. “Shoot!” I mumbled, pulling open the opposite door where, sure enough, sat one of the most essential ingredients for compiling our supper unusable like a rock in the freezer. Rummaging through the plastic grocery bags, I found a package of tortillas purchased for a different recipe to be used later on in the week. “This will have to do,” I decided, laying them on cookie sheets and topping each one with mozzarella, hoping there’d be enough for my ravenous family. Thus was the opening scene when entering stage left appeared five noisy characters lead by the obnoxious Susanna. “Not in here you guys,” I ordered sternly, “I’m busy.”
Six months ago, while cleaning the upstairs bathroom, I heard deep laughter from a voice I didn’t recognize coming from the porch outside our door. When I ventured down to investigate, five-year-old Priscilla grabbed me by the arm with excitement. “Mom,” she said, “this is the new friend I just met, she was riding her bike past the house. She can burp the entire alphabet! Can I play with her… please?” In front of me stood Susanna, a full head taller than my daughter and wearing a t-shirt pulled taut over a chest that bulged where Priscilla’s stayed flat, saying something inappropriate about a cowboy. Her upper lip was stained with what I could only imagine was orange soda and the smell of cigarette smoke clung stubbornly to her hair and skin.
Somewhat alarmed by Priscilla’s obvious awe of this girl, I asked a few questions to try and figure out where she came from. To my surprise, Susanna was only in the first grade and lived a mere two streets behind us. “Stay in the yard where I can see you,” I finally relented. Soon thereafter Susanna became a regular visitor, ringing our doorbell anytime between the hours of 7:30 am and 8:45 pm. It became sadly apparent that she was quite often left to her own devices. I was leery of her presence, always on alert for behavior irreconcilable with our family values. I stayed distant, never too welcoming, lest she assume that I was tolerant of crudeness.
So when the timer dinged and I called the children over to the picnic table, it was no big shocker that Susanna was not expected home to eat her own dinner. “That’s not my problem,” I determined, because it was one of those days too chaotic and frustrating for thinking outside of myself. I was polite enough to at least inquire if she would be having a meal later, though I asked in such a way, in such a hurried non-committal way, that would guarantee an answer compatible with my intentions. But even as Susanna said “yes,” even as she agreed not to become a burden, she met my gaze and didn’t let it go. She knew what I was doing, I knew what I was doing and we shared that dirty secret while my own kids chewed and swallowed their consistently offered nourishment. “But if Susanna wasn’t eating at home,” declared Priscilla with confidence, her sweet voice as damning as a cock crowing once, twice, three distinct times, “you would give her some of our food, right mama?”
Back in the kitchen I wanted to peel off my skin, to scrub my insides of the guilt from treating a child, a child of great significance to God, with such distain. Like Eve naked, Peter tongue tied, or David with blood on his hands, I both marveled at and mourned my own depravity. “Have mercy on me,” was all I could bear to mutter while I filled a plate to be offered to the guest in our home, to the guest with a name, with feelings, and with a very real need to be cared for. “Thank you,” said Susanna as she reached out hungrily for whatever it was I was willing to give her: a smile, a pizza, a portion of the blessings bestowed upon me, blessings so obviously unearned. “See” said Priscilla, “I told you my mom would share.” Because I’ve stressed to her in the past the importance of being on the lookout for ways to serve Christ by serving others, because every day should be one of those “take up your cross and follow Me” kind of days, the kind of day for loving like I’ve been loved.
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