There’s an older woman at my parish. She attends daily morning Mass, leads the rosary, and heads up half the committees. She’s the one you ask to pray for a sick relative and you feel better because now you’re sure God knows all about it.
Most parishes have one like her; at least every one I’ve ever been to. After Sunday Mass, she has a kind word for all the families and if she forgets one of your kid’s names, she points to her head and warns the children to never grow old because you forget things. And they promise not to. Good, she says and pats them on the head. Good.
Anyway, she recently told me that her husband was terribly sick and one cold morning she woke up for early Mass to find snow on her car. For all the years they’d been married, he’d always cleared the snow off her car but this time he told her she had to learn to do it herself because he didn’t know how long he had. So she went back to her bedroom to get dressed but when she came out her car was cleared off. She looked at her husband who was sitting in his chair with snow falling from his boots and he just shrugged and grumbled “I’m still here now.”
There might be a more beautiful story but I haven’t heard it.
I’m always befuddled when people dismiss common people in cookie cutter homes in carbon copy towns. In my experience, houses may all look the same but every home is different in ways you can’t imagine.
One day my kids and I were at the Wawa. One of them must have been wearing a Notre Dame football sweatshirt because a woman who was pouring herself coffee told us out of the blue that she and her late husband loved Notre Dame football and used to travel to South Bend once a year. She’d lost her husband a few years prior but the kids and grandkids would still gather on Saturdays to watch the game. At the end of each game they would write the score of the game on a balloon along with scribbled messages of love and watch it float up into the sky like an inflatable prayer. Sometimes, if things weren’t going well at halftime she’d send up an emergency balloon to let him know that he should probably start praying a little harder. Now, there’s nothing theologically correct about that but it doesn’t stop it from being beautiful.
There are a million beautiful and terrible moments in people’s lives and most of the time we have no idea. There’s sicknesses, betrayals, forgiveness, and love all around us. To dismiss anyone’s story as just a regular run of the mill story misses the point. If there’s a regular person, I haven’t met them yet. Seems we’re all irregular. Broken. But from what I understand God loves using broken pieces.
I once wrote a true story about a high school girl who was as lost as one can get in the world without a blindfold. Another student asked her to attend a Christian rock concert. She said yes and that changed her life forever. Her heart moved her that day right in front of the stage to profess a love for Christ. She was so filled up with love she didn’t know where to put it all so she became a missionary in Afghanistan, was kidnapped and held hostage for weeks after 9/11, escaped, and was saved by United States soldiers in the dead of night. It’s an amazing story. But it started with something small. An invitation out of the blue to a concert.
One man told me the most important moment of his marriage was when he and his wife hadn’t shared a kind word for weeks and they could hardly look at each other except to say “excuse me” as they passed each other in the hallway. It’s funny how polite we sometimes get when we’re mad. But one night she just reached a toe out under the sheet to let him know it was all going to be ok. And it was. It’s those little moments of grace that go on behind the doors of regular folks.
Look. Really look for a second at the soccer fields on Saturdays when kids are playing. Don’t scoff. It’s a soccer field full of marvels and wonders. A field teeming with them. And you can miss that. You can miss so much. Every minivan holds little miracles in booster seats.
Last night in the dark I couldn’t sleep so I went to the front room and just stared out into the blue when I heard footsteps creaking down the stairs. It’s a funny thing about being a Dad, you know their footsteps. I turned around to see a little girl in dinosaur pajamas and hair as messy as a lion’s mane. I never know what that one’s going to do. She always surprises me like a firecracker on the 5th of July.
She said she had a bad dream about monsters. She assured me she knew there was no such thing as monsters but just all the same she wanted to snuggle up against Dad for a while. Without waiting for a response she lay her head against me. I stroked her hair as she fell back to sleep.
Listening to the cadence of her breathing and staring out into the night, I said a prayer. It wasn’t worded as much as felt: Thank you. That’s the gist of most of my prayers nowadays. Gratitude overflows in me when I’m not busy feeling sorry for myself.
We’re always told you can’t take it with you but I think maybe you can pocket a few moments. This is one I’ll take with me. I’ll take it out to show St. Peter that maybe, just maybe, I did something right because there’s a little girl who felt like things got better when she put her head up against me. It’s just a little moment in which broken pieces reflected God’s glory for a moment.
I believe in an interventionist God because I could never have orchestrated all this. The dinner table smiles, the naps, the late night sicknesses, the tiny heartbreaks, the report cards, the diapers and diplomas. I’m thankful for it all. There’s God in them moments.
What seemed like wrong turns and tangents brought me here. And where am I? I’m in a cookie cutter house. You’ve passed by thousands just like it with a basketball hoop in the driveway, an abandoned bike on the lawn, and five children sleeping upstairs. But this has been the setting of love and love isn’t just a plot point. It is the point. And how we share love, how we serve love IS our story.