When the Warm, Fuzzy Feelings are MIA

photo credit: Felixe via photopin cc

photo credit: Felixe via photopin cc

I watched her from the carpool line as she walked out of the church, a bag of food in her arms. She put it in the back of the pickup truck that looked as if it held all of her worldly belongings. She didn’t seem to notice the long line of minivans and SUVs that were snaking their way around to pick up little ones from school. She noticed none of that. She just bent her head over the back of her truck, hands clasped in desperate prayer and cried.

I had been watching the truck before I even saw her because inside was a grandmother bouncing a curly-haired baby boy in her lap. I have a curly-haired boy. They were sitting in that truck a long time. Baby bouncing, occasionally honking the horn. I kept my eyes on them. I wondered.

Ever since my boot incident and not responding to God’s call to me, I’ve been looking around and thinking, “are you asking anything of me here, God?” And, quite frankly, that’s a really silly prayer because of course He is. Always. He wants me to follow Him in every moment–not just the ones that happen in Goodwill in the shoe aisle with my polka dot rain boots.

So when I saw this truck and the curly-haired baby and the grandmother and the sobbing young woman, I realized something. Time to get interrupted. Act now.

I remembered that a friend had given me several bags of baby clothing to donate where I saw fit. I had been driving those bags around town, often forgetting they were there. I quickly jumped out of the car and looked in my trunk. There were three bags–all boy clothes, all things that looked like it would fit a certain curly-haired child not even 100 feet from my car.

I quickly called into the office of our church where I knew the desperate woman was waiting again and spoke to the person who would become my “sister-in-mission” on this project. I asked if she thought the woman needed clothes for the baby; my sister-in-mission started to cry. She saw what the young woman needed right in front of her. At least the clothes would help.

As we met and I passed the bags over, I was able to hear slices of the young woman’s story and saw her entire life–plastic garbage bags–filling the back of her pickup truck. I knew she was a believer as we discussed that mornings’ devotional from “Jesus Calling”. She asked if I had read it. I had.

“I shower blessings on you daily, but sometimes you don’t perceive them. When your mind is stuck on a negative focus, you see neither Me nor My gifts. In faith, thank Me for whatever is preoccupying your mind. This will clear the blockage so that you can find me.”

She wiped tears from her eyes as she explained that the reading told her to thank God in this circumstance and she was doing it, but still not knowing how her story would end. It was a strong possibility that it would end with her sleeping in her truck that night.

I know God set up an appointment for us that day. My sister-in-mission and I looked at each other, a cry in our hearts, and we knew God had placed her in our path. We were willing to be interrupted. Phone calls were made for over an hour trying to find help, make connections, seek assistance. We invited the young woman back to church, to get involved, to be surrounded by community. Some help was found. But not enough to fix it all.

But here’s the thing: even when we have divine appointments, and actually respond to them, they do not always end up wrapped nice and neat with a bow. It’s not always problem solved, feel good, life changed, fixed.

I pray life was changed. I pray that the woman and her mom and the curly-haired boy left with a hope. We handed her a gift card to a grocery store and she thanked us. Sincerely. But she turned and walked away, silently sobbing, no less desperate than when she arrived. We couldn’t fix everything. We couldn’t fix her life in those brief moments.

What good is helping when it doesn’t feel good? Or if we feel like we’re even helping at all? What happens when it feels like we are emptying the ocean with an eyedropper. Is there a point?

Yes. Yes.

God calls each of us to do our part. It’s not MY story. It’s His story. If he calls me to give a woman clothes and a gift card, I need to do it. Just because I’m not the final person in this woman’s journey–the one who gets to see the victory or the smile or the sigh of relief as she turns the corner–so be it.

Here’s what Paul said to the believers in Corinth about the work God asked of him and Apollos: “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.” (1 Corinthians 3:6-9)

We need to plant seeds. We need to water them. We need to trust that God is at work.

This family is now in my head. Planted, watered, growing. And while I will probably never see them again, I’m praying for them.

My sister-in-mission stood next to me, watching the woman disappear from our sight. I turned to her and said, “Listen, I need to tell you about a pair of boots.” I needed her to know how I had messed up and how I carry that regret. I needed her to realize that even though our work that day did not end up making us feel warm and fuzzy, that she and I were made for that moment. I wanted her to know I felt privileged to have partnered with her on that random Wednesday afternoon.

What amazed me was that she actually already knew about the boots. A divine appointment, indeed. Such is the small, small world in which God has planted us. An important reminder that the ground we walk on (whether a paved church parking lot or the dusty floors of a Goodwill) is holy.

When His Love Language is Hamburger Helper

IMG_2748A few weeks back on Valentine’s Day, I found myself in the grocery store. I had already done a bang-up job on the kids’ treats (mostly dollar store “junk and rubbish,” a disturbingly long-lasting helium balloon and the biggest Hershey Kiss on the planet.)

The kids had responded with a whoop when they found their goodies that morning and were then shooed out the door for school (which marked the beginning of my consuming the above mentioned Hershey Kisses after they left.)

I also bought my husband a card and had written something hilarious yet poetic. Done and done.

Or not.

I strolled down the grocery aisle and found myself staring at a shelf I rarely notice. Jarred Hearts of Palm? Nope.

Hamburger Helper.

I’m no food snob but I probably don’t need to explain why I rarely notice this shelf. But that day I did.

You see, my husband loves it. Loves. It. Everything about it. The meat. The cheesy noodles. The quantity. The efficiency. The price.

And knowing this about my husband, you would probably think that I’ve made it for him countless times to express my love and devotion. It would seem to make sense that if someone you love likes a food, you would make the food. It’s called filling up the love tank. Don’t normal, sane, kind people do things like that?

But sadly, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve served this little delicacy. I’m embarrassed to admit I have neglected this love language of his.

I remember I asked him some years back what he wanted for his special birthday dinner. His response: “Hamburger Helper Beef Stroganoff.”

You would’ve thought he had asked for freshly grilled puppies with a side of unicorn tears by my reaction. “Let me make you REAL beef stroganoff!” I pleaded, snobbishly. “With real beef! It will be delicious! It will be so much BETTER! Than that.

And being the easy-going guy that he is, he gladly consumed my “better” meal. And it was delicious.

But.

Then a few years later, the Hamburger Helper topic came up again. With a few boys under our belts, he thought it might be a good meal to introduce to them. Why wouldn’t our kids like it? He loved it when he was little. It contained two of the three major toddler food groups: cheese and noodles. All it was missing were the Goldfish crackers.

So, I begrudgingly bought Hamburger Helper. But not the normal kind. I bought the “healthier version” with whole wheat noodles. And instead of regular milk, I used soy milk (in fairness to me, we were dealing with a milk allergy at the time but still.)

And guess what? It’s wasn’t great. In fact, it was gross. Big shocker.

So long, Hamburger Helper. At least for a few more years.

Fast forward to this Valentine’s Day. I stood staring face to face with the item that spoke love into my husband. Five days from that moment we would be celebrating our 13th wedding anniversary. And I’ve learned a few things over those years. One of them was making me reach out so I could do something important.

I should make Hamburger Helper for my husband! This will be my Valentine’s gift to the love of my life! And not the gross “healthy” kind. Not with soy milk. I will make it according to the package directions with regular milk and extra ground beef! Yes!

And you know what? He loved it. All of it. The beef. The cheesy noodles. The quantity. The efficiency. The price.

But most of all the fact I made it for him. It filled his love tank. The perfect Valentine’s meal for our crazy life.

As a side note: he bought me a card and a DVD of the Goonies. Weirdly, that fills one of my love tanks.

That’s just how we roll.