The Gift of Belly-Button Lint

My parents came for a long-awaited visit two weeks ago. It seemed so luxuriously long…five whole days…and the timing was perfect, coinciding with swim meets and birthdays and pre-Christmas shopping. They would have plenty of time with the kids and I’d get days of much-needed morning coffee time with my mom.

But our car blew a gasket and died the death that, at 240,000 miles, was long overdue. We’d been trying to save for a new used car, but the little we managed to put aside was eaten up in doctor’s bills and prescriptions and unexpected everything. Even if it hadn’t been, it wouldn’t have been nearly enough. My master plan was to just not have a car. Sure, doctors and grocery stores and pharmacies are a good 45 minute drive, and sure, there’s no public transportation nearby, but I didn’t see any alternative.

My parents knew all these things. After the Navigator was pronounced dead, my dad immediately started looking at used cars. After two days of looking, he found one and bought it for us.

When he told us, I burst into tears at the kitchen table. I’m not the type of person who feels guilty or uncomfortable when people give me gifts. I guess it’s a combination of pride and greed, but I usually don’t think, “gee, I don’t deserve this.” I usually think, “free stuff! Awesome!”

Not this time. It was too much. Even if we saved the maximum we could from each paycheck to pay them back monthly, it would take six years. We couldn’t even hope to pay them back, any more than we’ve been able to pay them back for all the cars they’ve given us throughout the years, all the grocery trips, the “loans”, the tuition, the lifelines we keep having to grasp at. The scope of the thing hit me for the first time, and I felt so helpless. So needy. So tired of needing, tired of knowing that even though we’re working as hard as we can to get to place where we don’t need so much anymore, if we ever get there we still won’t be able to give back. We’ll only be able to stop needing so much, maybe.

In the meantime, my mom spent two days doing all the laundry I had fallen behind on in the midst of life.

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Simcha wrote a funny post once about how stupid this song is, particularly this version. But this is one of my favorite Christmas songs, especially this version. It reminds me of The Clown of God…you give the Christ child what you have to give, even if it’s the only thing you have to give. Shane McGowan singing this song breaks my heart, because I recognize that kind of brokenness. There is an exquisite beauty in giving the only gift you can, even if it’s not particularly appropriate or noteworthy. The little drummer boy played his drums for the newborn Christ because he was a drummer boy, and that’s the only offering he knew to make.

Joanne said something to me when the car drama happened and I had a total breakdown, something that I can’t get out of my head. “One thing I am starting to understand: being on the receiving end of gifts that cannot be repaid in any measure is one hell of a lesson in grace.”

Yes, it is. It’s awful that the gift of a car seems so much more overwhelming to me than the gift of God Himself, birth, life, and death, all given for me. A car is tangible; I can wrap my head around the measure of the debt and count out in years how long it would take to pay it back. The gift of mercy is so unfathomable that it often seems unreal.

My parents poured their lives out for me too, though. For my siblings and I. Their blood, sweat, and tears gave us a foundation to stand on. The surety of their love is a gift I cannot pay back, in any measure, no matter how many years I spend trying.

But I’m pouring out my life for my kids now, and I don’t expect repayment. The very idea is abhorrent…they owe me nothing, these little minions, because I’m not “investing in their future” or “setting them up for success”. I don’t even really feel like it can be called “giving.” It’s just loving them, as natural as breathing and just as essential. I couldn’t do anything else.

They give me gifts, too. Pictures and kisses and sometimes belly-button lint, presented as the rarest of gems. It’s not an appropriate gift, belly-button lint, but it’s adorable and precious (and yeah, disgusting). Sometimes one of them will wrap up something I already own in printer paper, tie it with a ribbon, and put it next to my pillow in the morning. I really love those mornings. I love them more than the mornings when I get belly-button lint. But really, I love that I wake up to innocent, hilarious expressions of love. It’s not the gift that matters, it’s the giving. It’s the loving.

I guess this post is my way of playing my drum for my parents. For all they’ve given me, yes, but more for their love and what that endless love continues to teach me about Christ. I know all my gifts for the Child Christ are meager and probably wildly inappropriate. Certainly they’re not fit for a king, let alone God. But I think He loves them anyway. Even the belly-button lint.

  • Sus_1

    “One thing I am starting to understand: being on the receiving end of gifts that cannot be repaid in any measure is one hell of a lesson in grace.”- Joanne

    Oh my! I should cross-stitch this!

  • Beth Turner

    We had a similar things happen to us this Advent, tears and all. Yes, the mercy of God is so overwhelming, hard to fathom, and unfortunately sometimes makes us turn our head away in disbelief and defeat!

  • Hale Momma

    Beautiful. Thank you for the gift of your authentic words. No pretense. Just real.

  • Elizabeth McD

    It’s not an easy lesson to learn, but I whole-heartedly agree with Joanne’s comment. Sometimes receiving is so hard, yet to accept gifts of love (especially those of significant magnitude) is indeed a lesson in grace. There’s a lesson i humility there. We went through a period that made us realize that we needed to be humble and allow those who loved us and could help to help. I think you share a valuable lesson — we don’t expect our children to pay us back. We love them and care for them. That’s how our parents, and clearly how much more infinitely our Father loves us. Blessed Christmas! Thank god for loving parents!

  • Aileen

    Great lessons here, Calah. I love what Joanne said. Whenever my daughter starts to protest if I want to help her, I tell her to put herself in my place with her own kids. I know she’d want to help them as much I want to help her.

    Aileen

  • Lydia

    Oh man. I, too, received a much needed (not as needed) car for Christmas, but not from anyone who thinks even remotely well of me. It was the gift of my in-laws, who do not like me, do not like our religion, but have more money than the Almighty. Accepting gifts from them is HARD for me, especially since it isn’t tempered by any affection. I’ve learned to see it as their version of alms-they have no love to give, but lots of stuff, which is their equivalent. We’ve got love, happiness, Jesus. They don’t, and they lash out, only to come back with cars. And a house. Seriously. I have yet to make sense of this, because I would much rather not accept anything from them.


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