Dear New Mom: when you can’t quite reach.

There are a lot of blog posts out there that begin just like I’ve titled this one. “Dear new mom, there are things you need to know…” About sleepless nights, crazy hormones, raging appetites, how it’s okay to cry even when nothing’s wrong and how it’s okay to not know what you’re doing. The letters are quite possibly overdone, but I still tip my hat to those who aren’t afraid to drop yet another article with that title into cyberspace. There’s something about those words that catch our eye, and we young moms immediately gravitate towards them; craving to find experiences that match ours, to give substance to the things we struggle with, and to know that someone somewhere gets it and is giving us permission to own the huge things that we’re feeling.

Confession: I’ve struggled to enjoy the postpartum days + months. After the birth of our first daughter especially, I found myself swaddled in darkness for several months, scrambling to find a little bit of something familiar and safe. There is an unwritten standard about the feelings a new mother should or shouldn’t have, and there’s an unmerited, unspoken guilt when her new baby doesn’t always make her croon or when she is hanging out on the borders of postpartum blues, or God-forbid, the unlawful depression .

Here is where it gets confusing because we start throwing in all the disclaimers and buts. We think newborns are the sweetest, softest, best-smellingest things, and can hardly get enough of the rise and fall of her chest or the scent of her pure breath. Discouragement and emptiness are hard things for us as fresh mothers to acknowledge and understand, because they come hand-in-hand with an alive, fairly-bursting happiness that we’ve never felt before, and it doesn’t make sense why so many ranging, raging feelings coexist.

This is not a post that defines depression, lists five steps to restoring joy, or begs for a sympathetic pat on the back. I feel like I’m not defined by these shadows anymore, and I love feeling the sun on my back again, but I know my heart’s health is maintained through this telling: the acknowledging of need and failure, and how I sometimes strain on tiptoes to reach, and still can’t. This is a post about grace and one of the things its whispered to me.

Whether you know it or not, you’ve set an invisible bar for yourself: a certain level of performance, achievement, and knowledge that you have to obtain in order to prove that you’re a good mother.  Anyone who knows me well, knows that I’m from a big, (mostly) happy family, and that I’m the eldest. Of ten children. I didn’t always love that fact, but now I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world, and am so rich to have the gift of a close, fun, quirky family who loves fiercely. I’m a huge fan of children, and if someone were to ask me what a dream snapshot of my future looks like, I would probably paint in words the picture that immediately comes into focus when I think of my family: all of us around the table, plates scraped clean, leftover food growing cold, the siblings laughing and talking all over top of each other, mama listening with the occasional chuckle, daddy reclined in his chair at the head of the table, arms crossed over his head.  I’ve always loved babies, and there was nothing but sheer delight when we discovered we were going to have one of our own. Throughout the pregnancy, I heard dozens of comments like, “Oh, you’ll have it easy since you’ve been around kids all your life,” and “You’ve always been good with babies,” and “You already know how to do everything!” While I certainly didn’t feel underprepared, it took me several months into motherhood to realise that I had been silently setting a level of achievement for myself based on my experience and what everyone else was expecting from me. I felt like I was somehow messing up if I didn’t know how to do something or if I felt lost in my role, and was wearing myself out by trying to live up to my own expectations.

Leave your reputation and the standard you’ve set for yourself in God’s hands. Once I realised that my baby was a unique entity, that no previous experience or exposure could fully prepare me for this baby, I was able to look at motherhood itself with a much broader vision and began to own it instead of feeling insecure about my capability. While feeling at home with drippy poo or complicated onesie snaps certainly helps, there is nothing that can prepare you for the way that your child will or will not sleep or the things that will help your baby’s stomachache. And while you can think upon and replay in your mind the way your parents or a respected friend would respond in a discipline case, your child was created to drain you of all your own pat answers and make you holy: holiness is no cookie-cutter situation.

This is the first of a few posts, I think, this delving into the new-mama drama; sifting through it and trying to find answers and normality for the things we moms find uncomfortable to talk about. For me, this was the first tiny stepping-stone out of the darkness, the recognition of a standard already set for me and my subconscious striving to attain to it. I’d love to hear from you: can you relate to this or other aspects of postpartum discouragement that you’d love to see talked about more?

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Portrait of an Evening

Journal Excerpt, Family Holiday, June 4

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“It is the third day of winter. The days are warm enough to blush the skin and the nights cool enough to warrant slippers and steaming mugs. Oh Queensland, your beauty! It is golden hour and the shadowy green lawns are strewn with yellow highlights as the sun ducks beneath the horizon. The eucalyptus trees are glimmering and the afternoon is a symphony of bird-song, colour and water rushing over river rocks. Around me, voices hum and chat. There is the loud chewing of pretzels and the slurping of chocolate milk. Here, two people sit with foreheads wrinkled in concentration over ColorKu, and there a little brother whoops over the discovery of another fish in the creek. My little girls are napping: one, hair and legs strewn over pillow and bed, those dear lips slightly parted in heavy, peaceful breathing, having finally succumbed to holding still enough to shut her eyes. The other is tucked up onto my chest. Her soft breath is warm and puts goosebumps on my skin chilled by twilight. Three little boys kick a ball down the hill, the birds are chirping good-nights and the cows in the neighbouring pasture mosey slowly along the fence towards home. The french-press has been brewed now and an array of hot teas are fanned across the table. Mama just brought me a blanket for my legs and the dying sun is level with my face. There is talk of a campfire and the inevitable s’mores, and we all know that a proper holiday requires all participating members to be doused in the scent of wood-smoke. I relish the gift of this moment, this grace of rest and renewal. The country is God’s place, I’m sure. I feel His presence especially much now, but I think I’m just finally quiet enough to be aware. I whisper a prayer now, a longing for refreshment and a new vision: “Restore unto me the joy of Your salvation!”IMG_6799

 

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Weekend: Noosa, Belmondo’s Organic Market + Boreen Point

So, number 27 on my bucket list, if I would have a number twenty-seven, would be “Photo-journal my way through the Sunshine Coast.” There are several fantasy occupations that have always rotated through my dreams: midwifery, photojournalism, and attending culinary school. I’m crossing my fingers that all three of these will one day become reality, and as for this photo thing, while I’m not a photographer by any stretch of the imagination, I love recording those tiny moments that make my eyes sparkle and saving them to later re-live the memories already faded.

We’re living on the Sunshine Coast for at least a year, while David does his year of internship at the local hospitals. Before our move, this felt like a dream (so close to family! Ten minutes from the beach! Endless things and places to see and eat and hike!) But, as happens to all places that slowly become ones’ home, it became simply that: home, not a tourist destination.

Now, as the months wind down and I am able to move out of the obligatory housebound days of all things newborn, I can’t wait to explore, see this slice of our world, and then leave, feeling like we made the absolute most out of our time here. Yesterday my sister and I rolled out a big sheet of brown paper to hang on a spare wall: a to-tackle list full of lookouts to look at and mountains to climb and waterfalls to see and coffee to drink. We’ll be checking them off one at a time, and a few of the haunts might show up here.

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Last Saturday, Heidi took me out for the day to celebrate the next day’s birthday. It wasn’t a bright day with a blue sky as we had formerly hoped, but when all four of us were buckled into the car (this, as it happens, is a rather large feat) and rain pattered on the windshield while the wipers worked vigilantly to clear it away, we decided there could be nothing more perfect than clouds and rain showers. It lasted just long enough to make our road trip cosy, then the sky cleared and we were able to stroll around town with the sun in our faces.

First on the agenda: digging for treasures in a couple op shops and feeding a screaming baby in the car before breaking at Padre Coffee Roastery:

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Places that serve coffee, freshly-roasted and ground on the premises and presented in bowls instead of lousy small mugs, always get an automatic five stars.

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After coffee, we spent the rest of the morning just around the corner at Belmondo’s Organic Centre, a sweet little marketplace with a bulk food section, sourdough bakery, deli, fruit + veg shop, florist, roastery, and so many local products: gifts, pottery, cheeses, etc.

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Because of the afternoon’s choice of weather, we didn’t get to go on the walk through the National Park like we wanted to, so the photos below are from a few months ago when we went to the same place. Noosa is a favourite spot (extra special of course since it’s where we had our first date and where we spent the day of our engagement!) but it can be very crowded and touristy and a nightmare as far as parking is concerned. The Great Walk through Noosa’s National Park is only a short drive away from the main street, but so quiet, peaceful, and definitely worth checking out if you are in the area anyhow and tired of crowds!

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We went as far as Hell’s Gates: there are gorgeous views of the cliffs and spectacular ocean views on both sides. Note: only the first little bit of the track is paved/wheelchair-accessible/pram-friendly: the rest is sandy or brushy, so only suitable to do on foot. 

IMG_4823Did I say spectacular views? The ocean behind him was pretty nice too! Also, how was she so liitttle?

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The day had a spectacular finish. David met us in Noosa after work, armed with a quilted blanket and wicker picnic basket. Kezia went home with Heidi in his car, and the two of us + baby headed out for the evening to Boreen Point, a little section off of Lake Cootharaba.

photo5Boreen Point at sunset. The temptation to trespass onto this private jetty and have our picnic there was pretty strong. 

We arrived just as the sun was slipping behind the mountains. The air was still and fresh, hardly anybody was in sight, and the only sounds were tired birds and the mini waves licking the sand.

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After we finished our little picnic and watched the last of the day’s light die ahead us, David took me just around the corner to the Boreen Point Pub, an old building that once resided in Gympie, was cut in half, and transported south to be restored and put to use again. I loved it: the building sat on a hill, with gnarly trees to the side and a vast lawn sloping down the front. All the tables were scattered along the open verandas and under the trees, and it was so fun to sit there with the typical big plates of pub food, listening to the locals chatting around us with their broad accents and friendly demeanours. The whole area had such an old-town, Aussie-outback feel and we loved it. Apparently they have fantastic Sunday lunches there also, with pigs on the spit and up to 300 people spilling across the premises. Live music plays and the adults eat pork and chat at the tables outside while all the kids play in the yard. What fun!

There was one thing I loved most of all that day.  Intimate dates made of fancy restaurants, deep talks, and the stereotypical romance are rarely in the picture right now with a dependent three-month-old who does not care for noise, crowds, late evenings, or God forbid, going an hour without milk. But you know, this is a good kind of different. Out there in the country, after we ordered our food, Ela had a meltdown, induced by a busy day and no proper naps. David took her from me, put her in the baby carrier, and walked back and forth across the lawn and up and down the street to settle her to sleep while I sat there at the table, my heart at rest and basking in romances far greater than goblets or fancy menus and polished crowds. I stared out into the dark where I could just make out the silhouetted form of my husband, bouncing, patting, swaying, walking. The man I love caring for and singing to our child while my heart surged with gratitude for this stage of our lives and for the father of these children. That was what I loved most that day.

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All in the Day of a Toddler: Jesus Talk

It started last week, when she found the hardcover edition of The Passion of the Christ, settled onto the couch and paged through it slowly, pure face etched with concern as she ran fingers down the images of wounds and blood. I noticed what she was looking at and contemplated the fact, usually reluctant for such graphic images to be in the hands of my not-yet-two-year-old. Then, she patted the pictured face gently and said quietly,

“There Jesus. It’s okay Jesus. I’ll kiss it better now.”

Since then, she’s been mesmerised by His death and what it means. We’ve gone through our stack of Bible storybooks time and time again, paging through them slowly. She listens with wide eyes as I simplify the words for her and paraphrase the passages for her understanding.

Yesterday morning, she awoke after several fitful, restless cries, and I went in to hug the bundle of fuzzy pajamas and tempestuous bed hair to myself.

“Mama, I’m scawed!”
“What are you scared about sweetie?”
“Jesus! He’s a bit sad! Does He feel betta now?”
“Did you have a dream about Jesus?”
“Yeah! Jesus cry a bit! But He’s betta now.”

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All throughout the day, she kept her favourite book tucked under her arm and followed me around, asking to talk some more about Jesus and inserting applicable comments about Him into every snack and toy and colouring page. We sat often, her begging for more details, and me, searching my mind and vocabulary for details she could understand: the nails, the cross, the grave, the three days, the stone that rolled away, the facts of living again and going to heaven.

“Jesus in heaven now! Isn’t that cute mama?” And then I faced an unexpected paradox when she cried and crumpled onto the floor because she couldn’t go to heaven as well right there and then.

I am overwhelmed often. Not so much by the normal messes or new attitudes or pre-nap grumpiness, but by the fact that I am responsible for not just a child, but her eternal soul. She stares at me, brown eyes wide with interest and wonder, mouth slightly ajar as her little mind absorbs like a sponge the words I speak to her. She makes innocent statements that deserve acknowledgement and asks questions that make me bite the inside of my cheek till an answer is rapidly secured. Yesterday, I didn’t always have an answer, just a feeling of love so fierce that it physically hurt as it welled up inside, and a sense of urgent care for this tender little heart I’m supposed to shepherd. Yesterday, I didn’t always have an answer, but could only bury my face in those downy curls and whisper desperately to Jesus that I didn’t know how to tell her about Him, but could He please let her love and know Him in wilder, deeper ways than I ever knew?

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Birthday Bucket List: Twenty-Six Things

There’s something about milestones and significant events, be it the start of a new year, a death that crowds the mind with new resolutions and perspectives, the change of a season, or in my case this year, the turning of a year older, this slow inching towards 30.

I’ve never been much of a goal-setter. But this year, I feel a pull in two directions. As mothers, we give. All day, every day. I do not fool myself into saying that we do so willingly or lovingly or cheerfully every single minute, but we don’t have a choice in the matter, and so most times, we love embracing what we’re supposed to do. Yet I, for one, know how easy it is to settle in predictable routines, to wallow in the mundane of Henry’s Bed the eleventh time, the rhythm of morning semolina and bottles, the cycle of doing so many little things yet hardly anything at all. That scrambling for security and identity, the reassurance that I am still my own person under these roles and duties.  My purpose this year is to stop believing the lie that forgoing and forgetting about self is somehow more holy, the epitome of selflessness, or the ultimate purpose of motherhood, but to realise that I was first created an individual, with dreams, passions, goals and hobbies woven into my makeup. Unless those very things are nurtured, catered to, and remembered fondly, my personhood dies slow, unnecessary deaths.

This to say, I can feel that I need to remember to do what I love doing; pursuing the creative things that make me blossom as an individual. 

At the same time, I feel like the same thing of being caught up in our routine as mothers has just as much potential to breed selfishness as selflessness. Though I easily forget to shift inwards, to tend to myself and what makes me who I am, I just as easily forget to keep an outward focus, to make my world bigger than my family.

Without further ado, Twenty-Six Before Twenty-Seven: 

  1. Blog again: Writing is my main creative outlet and I can scarcely even make plans for the day without making a list or jotting down ideas. When I don’t utilise the pen (er, keyboard) I can feel my soul shrivelling up, and I need this discipline in my life again. 
  2. Invite our neighbours down for a home-cooked meal. This sort of thing feels so daunting to me, so it’s something I want to take on just for the personal challenge. I have no idea how many times I’ve whispered Thank You to God for giving me a talkative husband, capable of sailing through the awkwardest of awkward times and making people feel welcome and loved. I try to not to hide behind him or make excuses for myself, but I love that he’s a safe, comfortable person to partner with in hospitality.
  3. Potty-train Kezia. I gave this a shot a while before baby number two was born, but I couldn’t get her excited about it and I refused to push her. In other news, a stomach bug also hit around that time, and let’s just say that I wasn’t brave enough to clean up any accidents besides pee. 
  4. Learn to make croissants. Almond ones in particular. My husband grew up on them, and he went weak in the knees over the ones I brought home from Van Wegen’s the other week. Now that I have a borrowed pastry cookbook in my possession, I’m itching to see if I can get the same response out of him when he bites into a warm, flaky, homemade croissant.
  5. Make Sunday a complete day of rest with no online access. I have no problem with the internet or social media in moderation, but also know how easy it is to tune out to my real world and those around me when I use it. Besides a day of worship, Sunday is also our primary family day and the time when we see other relatives and friends that are dear to us. Those interactions and friendships are far more important than cyber ones. 
  6. Attend a flower-arranging workshop. Floristry’s always intrigued me, but I’ve never gone beyond the tinkering about with greens and blooms at home. 
  7. Attend the local college to begin the preparation course for midwifery. I’ve loved babies all my life and have dreamed for years of both having my own and becoming a midwife besides. I’ve got a husband who cares and cheers, and is pushing me to study a little every month and work my way towards that goal as I can. (There is a huge amount of flexibility in the university, and I would be able to stretch schooling out over ten years if I’d want to…)
  8. Read a Dickens Classic
  9. Run 5 Ks. I can walk and climb hills like a maniac at nine months pregnant, but running? Ha! I currently pat myself on the back if I can make it through two minutes without feeling like a heaving, gulping, dizzy mess. C25K , I’m coming atcha!
  10. Learn French. ‘Cause David promised me a trip to New Caledonia if I let him teach me! 
  11. Make something out of wood. Baby play gym for starters?
  12. Start a new tradition. I love the predictable things that were part of my own childhood (popcorn and grape juice Sunday nights or homemade pizza on Saturdays…) and I would love to do something now to give my own girls those same memories.
  13. Make macarons.
  14. Practice the discipline of purposeful prayer. I talk to God often throughout the day: on the toilet, while washing dishes, and when putting my baby to sleep at night. However, to move past the sort of conversational level where I squeeze my eyes shut, take a deep breath and ask for some special grace, and into that intentional space of interceding and searching and worshipping is something that takes so much effort for me.
  15. Give something homemade to each of my lady/girl friends from church. 
  16. Go to Fraser Island. When I first met David, he was astonished to find out that my family had lived only a couple hours away from Fraser for over ten years and we had yet to visit. A lot of his favourite childhood memories were formed in this gorgeous place of turquoise lakes, white sands and wild dingos, and as soon as we can find a trustworthy 4-wheel-drive to borrow (no roads there, only sand!) and a spare weekend, we’re off!
  17. Cook a cuisine I’ve never heard of.
  18. Go 3 months without scales. This is a long thought-process that deserves its own post eventually, but years of weight + body image struggles have made me realise that I put way too much time in agonising over numbers, and that this would be a valuable step to take. Random fact: I was that miserable teenager who used to weigh 100 kilos . Yeah, for real.
  19. Do something out-of-the-ordinary once a week for David. ‘Cause dating shouldn’t stop after marriage, and a good relationship takes intention and creativity.  
  20. Send a handwritten card to someone once a fortnight. There is hardly anything that gives me the fuzzies more than receiving mail: knowing that someone didn’t just peck on a keyboard, but actually went to the effort of sitting down with pen and paper and driving to a post box to spread some love. It’s an old-fashioned art that I don’t want to lose. 
  21. Take a personal retreat when both girls are toddlers.  Rejuvenate, rest, refocus. 
  22. Host and organise a ladies’ tea. Shortbreads, floral teacups, and pinkies in the air. We all know we love our inner princess. 
  23. Memorise two passages with Kezia. This little girl astonishes me with the songs she already sings from memory, the exclamations she repeats, the questions she asks. It’s made me become so intentional about the things I say, listen to, and pass on to her, because she absorbs everything like a sponge, and I desperately want to channel Scripture and the beautiful things of Christ into her. 
  24. Try a new pattern. I love sewing, but get stuck in what’s comfortable for me or what I’ve always done, and I’d love to try something new and exquisite. 
  25. Attend an Apologetics conference. Ever feel at a stalemate in your faith, longing for a renewed passion and a clear answer for all the whys about Christianity? Yeah, me too. 
  26. Go camping as a family.

Twenty-six, I’m ready for you!

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Dear Kezia: I pray you’ll go deeper

Dear Kezia,

Welcome to our big world, little one! You are here with every ounce of darlingness imaginable, and only heaven knows the fierceness of the love you’ve evoked in us these past seven weeks of knowing you in person. You were wanted and prayed for and from the moment we knew that you were; that moment when two little pink lines were never such a big deal, when I was so surprised by joy that I could barely squeak out your daddy’s name – you had yourself all tangled up in the deepest parts of our hearts.

There were months of anticipation, waiting, and longing; forty weeks of you nestled under my heart and leaving no question about the fact that you were there and that you lived.  As you are today, you have been from day one: wildly, assertively certain of your existence.

I don’t know how to be your mom. Truth be told, I vouched for a boy, because I know the hard work and high maintenance of a beautiful relationship between a mother and daughter, and thinking about you scared me. It still scares me. But after your birth, while you squeaked on my chest, and time stood still while our tears, laughter, coos and exclamations serenaded those first minutes of your life, I’ll never be able to describe the giddy anticipation I felt when we realised we had forgotten to check out your gender after five minutes, or the overwhelming gratitude and sheer elation that welled up inside me as soon as we flipped you over and we knew. Our daughter. 

Little girl, I dream big for us. More than french-braiding your hair, baking cookies with you, reading you stories, singing with you, and walking together to the patisserie down the street. I dream of all that and a hundred things more, yes, of meaning the world to you, of being your best friend- but mostly, I dream of giving you glimpses of your Creator. There is nothing now that pulls me down onto my knees more than seeing your big brown eyes stare into mine with all the trust, dependency, and wonder in the world. I dream of you always needing me like that, but I will let you down countless times, so I pray you’ll go deeper. I am deeply flawed. I’ve pursued things that brought repentance but scarring, and I pray you’ll never believe those lies from Satan-the ones that tell you there are deeper pleasures in life than knowing and being known by God. I’ve been well acquainted with the grip of insecurity, teenage obesity, and depression and I pray you’ll never have a doubt in your mind that you are beautiful; that your worth is more precious than gold. I know rebellion and ugly relationships from the inside-out. I don’t know what we’ve got ahead of us, but I pray you’ll aim higher, and I do know this: I will fight for your heart. In a world where being a little girl is defined by ruffles, embarrassing amounts of tulle, tacky glitter, gold amd enough Frozen paraphernalia to make me nauseous, I pray you’ll know the difference. That you’ll know the true grandeur of womanhood, modesty, graceful beauty and charming femininity in ways I could never grasp. I’ve played it easy too often, sacrificing relationship & vulnerability for a safe heart, and I pray for you a wilder imagination and bigger risks.

Jesus. You hear His name a lot these days, whispered in the dark when it’s just you and me, your heavy breathing, wide-awake eyes, and the clock striking midnight. Mostly, I must admit, I pray to Him about please getting more sleep. But I tell Him too all about you, what I dream for you, how my fears blind me, who I hope you’ll become, how much your dad & I need grace on grace for being entrusted with you.

I want Him for you too. But I pray you’ll discover and know Him beautifully in ways I never even brushed the brink of.  I pray you’ll go deeper.

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Hi, I’m Needy.

I sat quietly on my hard chair this morning, in a room full of noise, sweat, smoke, and strangers. Next to me, a bedraggled kid with spaced-out eyes pushed against me to get through the crowded aisle. I pushed my nose further into my book to quench the nauseating combination of cigarettes and body odour. A minute later, my toes barely escaped being backed into by a severely overweight and bearded woman. I felt my face flush when the man in charge started handing out the flyers—the ones advertising a free dinner under the railway bridge tomorrow night.

A friend of ours once told us about a church down the road which collects leftover stock from all the local grocery stories–perfectly good things that are on the verge of expiring or have some slight cosmetic damage. The church then sets up its own market with truckloads of produce that come through every week, and gives it all away to anybody who comes through their doors. Free groceries! I suppose that’s enough to make anybody’s ears perk up, and I thought I’d check it out. (Disclaimer: I’m not one of those die-hard bargain hunters who’s always digging for the next freebie, but my background is Mennonite. And I am the wife of a med student. I have yet to meet somebody else of this enchanting combination who won’t go to a few measures to save a couple of dollars.)

I went, cloth bags from Aldi in tow. I got there a bit late, so I was number 73 in line. I walked past the 72 other people to get to the back of the queue–some of them grinned toothlessly and cautiously in reply to my smile, but most suspiciously squeezed a bit tighter together as if I was going to dare to butt my way in. Number 74 came up the sidewalk, and decided to stand in front of me, holding her head high as if she was completely unaware that she had just jumped the line. The man beside her swore under his breath. I just shook my head because one number’s difference isn’t enough to complain about. The guy up at the front with curly hair and rings under his eyes proudly held up his “Number 1” card and told everyone there how he had come at 10PM the night before to camp at the gates, so he’d be the first through the door on the morrow. I felt myself shrinking against the fence. What kind of place was this? I stared straight ahead, into a sea of backs. Tattooed backs. Dirty ones. Backs half-covered with frayed singlets–three sizes too small.

It started raining. We were finally allowed inside. There was a mad rush for the chairs in one direction, and a reckless stampede in the other towards the free cappuccinos and chocolate muffins. The pushing, the shoving, the undignified, less-than-human behaviour: it was too much, and I slipped quietly inside, becoming more embarrassed by the minute. I would just stand up to wait, and I did. For one hour. And then two. My feet and back throbbed, and I tried to push my pregnant belly out as far as possible. But the front row full of capable men didn’t budge-they sat with arms crossed in front of them, holding down their treasured seats as if it was Life’s Most Serious Business. Then the numbers started being called, the piles of fresh bread and shiny fruit began slowly dwindling, and I collapsed into a now-empty chair to wait some more.

And while I waited, I let repulsion, embarrassment, and frustration fester deep down inside me. These people–these homeless, needy, simple people–were the kind that I imagined serving. Ministering to. In my imagination, I’ve been the one with my arm around them, praying with them, showing Christ to them. I’ve imagined before being a person in that same sort of room, only I’d be behind the counter giving, not waiting in line to get. But I was sitting with them. Surrounded by them. One of them. Me in my maxi dress and coral shoes, feeling so out-of-place, and desperately hoping in my mind that all the workers there weren’t associating ME with the others–as one of the crowd.

I sat, feeling more self-sufficient and righteous by the minute, thanking God that I had a cozy home, a clean-cut husband, a reasonable income, the decency to shower daily, and the ability to live above government welfare programs, when it hit me. A tidal wave of shame and regret like I’ve never felt before.

I’ve always imagined serving people like the ones I was sitting with, because there’s safety and a secure identity there. I am The Giver, stooping to their level to meet their needs. It keeps me just slightly set-apart from them. The idea of “reaching out” appeals to me, because it naturally assumes one to be a couple rungs higher than the needy to begin with. It’s clean, it’s safe. People will see me as a godly, humble servant, but will of course know that I’m different than the ones I try to help. It’s predictable, it’s expected. And it’s dangerous.

I sat quietly on my hard chair this morning, in a room full of noise, sweat, smoke, strangers, and a mysterious, overwhelming feeling that Jesus was there. I closed my book, (which I hadn’t really been reading) and looked up with eyes on the verge of filling with tears. I could see Him–in the hands of the people giving food and blessing people, yes; but mostly, I knew He was there. On the uglier side of the counter. Waiting in line too. Among the swarming masses of tattered shirts, mismatched socks, tobacco-stained teeth and the lost souls behind the beautiful eyes of each one of those people. That’s where I felt Him, and that’s where I sat: ashamed, embarrassed, defensive, and then ashamed again. In my quiet, proud apathy and silent, smug resentment of the people who I was being associated with this morning, I let my Jesus down.

There, in those ten minutes before my number was called, I thought hard, and I repented hard. I’m a person slow to accept help. I get things done more quickly and efficiently on my own. Today went against everything inside me: sitting in a room full of people who actually depended on that free food for survival. Being far from homeless or deprived or disabled, but being seen as one of them.

And there, in those last ten minutes, it was okay. Okay to need with them. Okay to accept those 10 potatoes and the soft loaf of bread and glossy plums being dropped into my bag. Okay to admit that we do need to pinch our pennies and that these countless food items really will come in so handy this week. Okay to close my eyes and let the worker there put her hand on my shoulder and pray for all my needs to be supplied. Okay to be where Jesus would’ve been too: on that same, uncomfortable, embarrassing side of the counter. 

I am needy. Much more so than the people I was surrounded by this morning. They lack the physical–a roof over their heads, hope for next weeks’ meals, and a predictable tomorrow. I lack something much deeper.

I don’t want to reach out to people anymore, because reaching means distance. I want to find Jesus in the arm-to-arm, the gritty, the dirty, the being right next to. In seeing the beauty behind the puffs of cigarette smoke, grungy hands brushing my dress, and the grey beard of a woman. I want to know Him by becoming one of them too.

May the dirty, worn floor I waited upon today become holy ground.

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