A couple weeks ago I read a blog entry by Kathy Escobar about what she calls "incarnational relationships," by which I think she means the sorts of relationships we as followers of Christ seek to have with the people we are in contact with in our daily lives. She emphasized using the preposition "with" (as opposed to "for" or "to") to describe our service and mutual submission within a community:
the preposition WITH changes everything. it means “i am with you in this moment, will stand alongside not walking ahead of you but alongside you.” “i am in the same boat, i struggle, too, my struggle may just look different.” “i want to share life with you, not just take care of you or tell you what to do” “you have some things i need to learn from, too. let’s learn from each other.” “i will let you into my life” “i want to be friends.”
When I read that, I totally got it, intellectually that is. But for the past few weeks, I've been light-heartedly remarking to my husband that I want to bless my neighbor by taking her kids to school more than she's driving my kids around--just to be kind, to be helpful. She's got four kids and one on the way; I've got two. It appeared she had more practical need than I did. I wanted to be her superwoman and bless her. She was my project.
But the last few weeks I have been in need of my own superwoman, and A. my neighbor, has blessed me beyond measure. First, my husband passed out from the flu and hit his head on the tile floor, an episode followed by an emergency room visit and days of neck-aches and ibuprofen. Then, in one day, our microwave and our hot water heater bit the dust. We were snowed in for four days with no hot water and a kid who had strep (come to find out). Following was an anaphylactic episode my nut-allergic daughter had at school, which required tears, an Epi-Pen, an ER visit and lots of drugs. And then yesterday, on my way to pick up my eldest from Spanish lessons at school and my youngest from my neighbor's house (who had offered to watch her so I could catch up on missed work), my car got stuck in the snow bank alongside our driveway.
With four minutes till pick-up time, I grabbed a metal shovel, tears stinging my eyes ,and began to hack away at frozen ice chunks that masqueraded as snow. I tried moving the car again. My wheels spun, flinging ice and snow five feet in the air. I called A, my neighbor, and then my father, who has recently moved to town (and only the day before was rushing to the ER when his granddaughter swallowed a walnut).
"Can I help you?" asked A. when I explained the situation.
"Could you pick Una up at school?" I asked, and of course she said, of course.
She and her kids jumped in the car as fast as they could and within ten minutes she and her four children in her minivan appeared, bearing my two with them and all their accoutrements. As I pulled my daughter out of the car, I saw my father's car driving down the street. He parked, pulled a shovel out of his trunk, and began to dig me out of the snowbank.
I think part of what these set-backs reveal is that living life "with" others requires I take some things like a child, with nothing in hand to pay for it. It also means nobody can be my "project," because frankly, I just don't have the skills for it. Taking things like a child is just part of the giving and receiving, part of reciprocation, letting others bless me and help me as I bless and help them in turn. I am so grateful for A. So grateful for my father. They are superheroes to me, and I think divinely appointed ones at that.
After my father and I wrested the car from the snowbank, I entered the house to two screaming children, one overtired from nap-deprivation, another on steroids for the allergic reaction. I popped popcorn in the kitchen and held off crying until my husband walked in the door, and then, over the melted butter, all the frustration poured out of my eyes. In it, I kept hearing what I thought was the voice of the Holy Spirit.
You're out of the snowbank.
You're kid didn't die from the walnut--far from it.
You've got a tax return coming to cover the hot water heater, the microwave, the doctor bills.
In other words, even though you feel completely powerless, even though you got nothing of your own in hand, everything's gonna be all right. You just have to take the solutions like your five-year-old receives the buttery bowl of popcorn from your hands. She didn't clean the bowl it's in, didn't spread the oil and kernels around the pan, didn't watch carefully for scorching or melt the butter or sprinkle the salt. But she's got popcorn and she won't go hungry.