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It’s no big surprise to anyone that I was pretty wiped out a couple weeks ago when I finally came home from having been in 17 cities in 5 weeks –It’s a weird feeling to do a thing like that and it would be an understatement to say that I felt depleted and like I’d somehow been consumed whole. All the so-called “self-care” tricks didn’t seem to be helping. I slept and exercised and tried to spend time with friends and yet I was left wondering if it is worth it to put myself out there like that and I secretly vowed to never ever write anything ever again. Perhaps a bit dramatic but at the time it felt like the obvious conclusion.
Near the end of the tour I had preached at Seattle Pacific University’s chapel service and afterward a young woman in her 20s came up to me crying saying that somehow something I wrote had helped her when her husband died a few weeks earlier. She was crying too hard for me to totally understand what she was saying so I hugged her instead and asked if I could give her a blessing which she accepted. I didn’t think much of it until later that week when I came home totally spent and vowing to never do this again and the next morning I had a message on my public Facebook wall. Here’s what it said:
I was the recently widowed ball of emotions you blessed after your sermon in Seattle. As a lifelong Lutheran, (she wrote…) grace has been a part of my faith that I’ve never really noticed, until my husband died and I began reading Pastrix. I have 5 month old twins, so besides the obvious grief aspects of my husband’s death, I was also having a difficult time having become the Tragic Charity Case. I’ve read the last paragraph of chapter 8 of Pastrix over and over. Now I see God with tears running down His face when I’m brought to my knees sobbing and I hear Him whisper in my ear, “Child, see what I’ve brought you,” when someone drops off a casserole, or a gift card, or just scrubs my toilet. And maybe that is the meaning in this shit storm. God is here and I feel Him like I never had before.
What this young widow didn’t realize is that her note to me was the casserole from God I needed saying “child, see what I brought you”. And ever since I keep seeing these widow’s mites, these easily overlooked gifts, these casseroles from God in the form of simple things.
The young widow in Seattle reminded of the thing I tend to forget all the time – which is that God shows up in my life over and over again. And yet so often this goes overlooked or under-appreciated by myself because all I can see is what I wish I had instead. My desires some times keep me from seeing the gifts of God in the present moment. Desires for an event to unfold in a certain way or my desire for a person to act a certain way, or my desire for things in my life to look a certain way. It’s like I already have a picture painted of what everything should look like and I hold that up against reality and then judge reality according to how much it resembles the picture I painted. And every single time I do this I miss something important, or beautiful, or redemptive because even though it’s right in front of me, it wasn’t what I was looking for so I don’t see it. Or all I can see is what is missing.
I wonder how often God shows up and I miss it because I was looking for something else at the time. I know the story of the widow’s mite is one that is familiar to a lot of us. How often have we heard it used for sermons on the importance of giving – how even if we are poor we should still be giving to the church and how its important to give sacrificially. Well, I guess that’s one reading of this story. But what really struck me about this story this week had nothing to do with money – what struck me is that Jesus notices the stuff we tend to not even see. I mean, the main action that day revolved around the scribes in their fancy robes and their fat wads of cash. It is so easy for us to only see the big, flashy fast moving object and yet Jesus sees the smallish things, the tiny copper coin of a thing, the widow who is so easily ignored. Jesus sees what we hardly notice is there. Maybe we should pay attention to the fact that the stuff he uses in parables, how he tells us what the kingdom of heaven is like through simile comparing it not to mountains and superheros and massive SUVs, but to common, daily almost unnoticeable things that are hardly worth mentioning – coins, tiny little seeds, yeast. Jesus notices what we have a hard time seeing – that which doesn’t even stand out. It’s like turn the page and the guy can pretty much always find Waldo right away.
It feels like a reminder to us that God arrives in our lives, moves in our lives, provides what we need in our lives in more ways that we even notice because we happen to be too busy holding up our picture of how we want things to be. Perhaps we are too busy judging ourselves and our lives to notice where God keeps waving her arms trying to get our attention and saying child, here, I brought you something. I know speaking about how God shows up in our lives can sound perilessly close to a kind of bad theology a lot of us try and steer clear of. Like a few months ago when I was behind a brand new, shiny caddilac SUV who’s vanity plate # said bcauseIpray Like the rest of us are complete idiots and could easily also have a cadilac SUV if we just prayed. I too recoil from this idea of God as divine vending machine who dispenses cash and prizes to those the most righteous. But that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about telling our stories about those easily unnoticed and sometimes sneaky ways God brings us what we need. For me, those moment happen the most when I’m smack in the middle of being particularly self-pitying.
Like when on Monday and Tuesday I was in NY, Weds in Philly, Thursday DC, Friday Atlanta, Saturday here at the Tattered Cover, Sunday here at church, Monday Chicago, Tuesday St Paul, Weds Minneapolis, Thursday the speakers for the conference me and my friend Rachel were putting on Came into the Twin Cities and Friday and Saturday we ran the conference. Ok, So Saturday, the 2nd day of the conference, between sessions we decided to have a book signing. So there’s what felt like a gazillion people in line and I am just way too tired to do this. I don’t have anything left and yet it was still another day until I got to be home. In front of me that afternoon was book book book book book and then suddenly – bag of dark chocolate. I look up and our own Brooke is standing there – she was attending the conference but since there were 1,000 people there, I hadn’t seen her yet. I look up and she’s like, “could you use this about now, pastor?” I immediately stood up, walked around the table hugged her and literally started sobbing saying I’m so home sick, I’m so homesick” Brooke just held me and rubbed my back saying “you’re almost done. You’re almost done” There was a long line of people waiting for me to sign my book for them watching me instead stand and cry while someone hugged me saying it’s going to be ok. That tiny piece of home, that small moment of House for All Sinners and Saints, that casserole from God got me through the rest of the conference.
All I have needed thy hand hath provided.
The other aspect of having a God who notices the things we ignore, is that this same God works through the small things we so easily don’t even take notice of. The casseroles, the notes of encouragement just when we need them. And kind of like Paul writes in Hebrews, “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it”. I think it is also true that sometimes we are the ones doing God’s bidding for someone else and we don’t even know it. When you suddenly think “I should reach out to that person” or do that kind thing for someone else, or just ask this person how they’re doing. Those nudges are meant to be paid attention to for when you do these things you never know when unknowingly you are the casserole of God. You are the one being used to show God’s love to God’s child and this too is a gift.
I’ve had small kindnesses mean everything to me and the person who offered them has no idea. This is also to be swept up in this kingdom of heaven. For that kingdom is here, it is within you, it is for you and it is at hand. Amen.