I bring my children home in the afternoon, as the sun beats hot on the pavement, and the one talks so quickly the words stick to each other as they pass through her lips. She has stories and I was like and then questions and what are we and then she fills in the space by recounting episodes of her favorite television shows out loud.
And I love that she talks to me. I don’t want her ever to stop. Her voice dances, and thumps, and lilts through the afternoon as the sun begins to fade in the windows. She is my twilight music, the sound of sunset. So, I listen and acknowledge and smile. And I offer her my eyes, to really see all her beauty, even when I feel like looking away.
Then the other, she gathers a snack and starts by reading aloud to me all the notes she’s taken in her agenda, notes about homework and dates and reminders and projects. For this class and this one and this one I have to, she says. And as she reads, I press my hands against the countertop in the kitchen, and my knuckles turn white. The wrong-thinking comes so easy. Before I can grab it, the thought falls across my mind like a shadow: 4 more hours of work, at least.
But I love the way she tries so hard, the determined way she works without complaint. And I don’t want to discourage her, not even for a moment. So, I breathe and I smile at her and I say, “Okay, what’s first?” And I offer her my mind.
My daughters, they constantly reach for me, and my son, well, I constantly reach for him. He slips away, running the stairs to his room, pausing only to ask if I will let him drown his consciousness in electronic oblivion. Except he says it like this, “May I have tablet please?” I find the irony black and sore like a bruise, that this computerized tool should borrow a word that also means a flat pill placed in the palm. It’s tempting to let him spend the afternoon that way, because he thinks it makes him happy, and I feel steeped in too much already.
But I don’t want to lose my son to anything, especially not my own selfishness. So I give him twenty non-electronic minutes free, and then I call him downstairs and give him a job to do. He helps me fold towels, helps me cook, helps me assemble lunches for the next day. And even when he’s having fun, even as he smiles at me and flaps a free hand while he stirs with the other, he looks for a moment when I am unaware so that he might sneak away from me and up the stairs. I use too many words and not enough structure as I teach him, I know, but it feels as though there’s never quite enough time or thinking to prepare. Inadequate– that’s usually how I feel, as the afternoon burns away into night, leaving us dry and thirsty.
But I believe in anyway, the things God does when I’m sure I’m not enough, so I offer him my hands.
“5 more minutes,” my son says to me, as I show him again how to fold the towel, as I make him try again to match the edges.
“No. Not 5 more minutes. First fold towels, then help Mom cook.”
“First cook, then done,” he says to me, and I reiterate what I’ve written plainly for him downstairs: fold clothes, cook supper, eat supper, clean up, then quiet time upstairs before bed.
“Go ahead,” I say, smiling up at Riley, who has paused mid-sentence to wait out the interruption. She reads aloud an article about two new varieties of apple. She reads everything out loud at home because this makes it easier for her to understand, easier for her to process. But she needs more than just the out loud. She needs my listening.
Riley starts again, after a momentary search for where she left off. ”SnapDragon’s harvest window starts relatively early,” she reads, and I toss Adam a wash cloth for folding. I consider the time I will need to saute the sugar snap peas for our supper, when I will need to broil the salmon, whether I should try to add another vegetable or some brown rice to the plate. I think about whether or not Adam tested his blood sugar when he got home, whether or not he ate a snack, what time my diabetic two will need to eat before more snacking will be necessary. ”RubyFrost, formerly NY2, which ripens later in the fall,” Riley reads, and I shake my head at my son, who has balled a towel in a heap impatiently. I try not to speak, knowing this will make Riley stop reading and lose her place.
And then we hear Zoe before she enters the room, before her feet hit the landing. She starts calling me from downstairs, and half way up, she explodes into the second half of something she forgot to tell me when we got home. And Riley stops reading. And Adam says, “No do it again. Do it again is finished.” And I sigh.
But then I laugh with my daughter over this thing she shares with me, and she says, “Okay, just wanted to tell you,” and runs back to the table and her notebook and pencil. And I remind my son that I expect better of him. And I tell Riley to continue. And I wonder how I will ever do it, how I will ever meet their needs, how I could ever be enough. Desperately, I ask not to neglect them, not to let one need weigh more than another. I want to mother well. But in the afternoons, when the day dies away and it’s just me and them, I feel the truth of my skin and bone, the blunt fact that my effort can only be limited. I am not the limitless one. I never will be.
Everyone asks, “How are you?” And I stop the real words with my tongue before they find my voice. I am limited. I am not enough. I am a clay jar.
Lately, the Spirit helps me see that this question we ask each other is itself flawed. I am not good, I am not okay, I am not amazing, I am not wonderful. I am not. The mystery, the miracle, the glory is He. He is the I AM (Exodus 3:14).
“We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us (2 Corinthians 4:7),” Word says. And this word comes too, whispered deep, covering over my weary and sculpting me new, “God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27).” Him in me, that’s the mystery; that’s the hope; that’s the only answer to my wondering. In the afternoon when I long to be hidden away, He says, You are. Your life is now hidden with Christ (Colossians 3:3).
How I am is irrelevant to the following, irrelevant to the multiplying of my meager offering, because the miracle happens in His hands, by His hands. The better question for this crazy, mixed up, too much afternoon, for the morning, for all the moments in between is “How is He?” The better striving isn’t the how will I but the how will He. The important question for a jar like me is In whose palm do you rest; not who are you but whose are you; not can I but can He? And so, the only answer to “How are you” is redeemed. I am redeemed. I am held again in the hand of Power. And I am yielded. Yielded to His grip.
And so, I listen to Riley read about how the RubyFrost is “a fascinating apple, with a beautiful skin;” and I spread a bath towel out in front of my son; and I wait for the next thing Zoe forgot to say; and I count moments instead of hours; and I rest in His palm, where I feel the fruit of Him indwelling, filling up all my empty places. His grace grips me safe, his fingers wrapping tight around the whole of me until all that can be seen is His hand.
He lifts me strong for the pouring, and it’s then and there I say to Him,
You know what they need.
You are what they need.
Please, splash the you right out of me, never-emptying.
Fill them full. Full of YOU.