I read a story by Anne Lamott this morning about a woman who was dying of cancer and yet spent one of her last days arranging and rearranging the bed in the guest room where her sister would be staying so that the sun would fall on her just right. And I think, I have been this blessed. I have people in my life who have dared to move as much of earth as possible to give me moments that feel like heaven.
Against all odds, I find that there is nothing in my life that is lacking. I grew up very poor, at least by American standards. By poor I do not mean that our electronics were the last years model, or that we only vacationed inside of the United States, instead of internationally. I mean, I actually remember standing in line waiting for the big block of government cheese and that until I was old enough to babysit, back to school clothes came from vouchers that were given to us at places like St. Vincent De Paul and The Salvation Army.
I began babysitting at the age of 11, becoming a nanny at the age of 13. I continued working to pay for what I needed, or thought I needed, through high school. In college, I worked two part time jobs and did work study so that I could live on my own. I still struggle to be compassionate towards people whose parents or government have paid for their education and who are not grateful. I find myself wanting to shout that they don’t even know what they have, and wishing that sometimes I could play God and give it to someone more appreciative.
The thing is, as much as I have fought and worked for what I have, I have been given so much more than I deserve.
Yes, I have worked for 2/3 of my life, but what I have to show for it cannot be purchased by the cumulative amount of all my paystubs. Grace has staged quiet interventions on my part, more times than I can count. Woven through my life experiences, I can see the golden glow cast by threads of grace, where the fabric was worn thin. It zigs and zags back and forth, reinforcing and strengthening the whole.
As far back as I can remember there have been people in my life who were unrelated by blood, but that showed me the definition of family. Parents of friends who gave me their time, or ear, or the chance to share in family memories. A friend’s grandmother who taught me to make real lasagna, and paid for me to go roller-skating dozens, if not hundreds, of times. Families who came alongside my family and said, come to the beach with us, no need for money; in whose vans I heard for the first time about the day the music died, and horses with no name. There were people at church that hugged me and believed in me, no matter what I did. People who stepped in to show me that I was worth loving and that life is worth living. People who called me “Sweet Girl”, when I was anything but, with such love and conviction that it made me rise to the challenge, and put some of the hard bitterness I wore around my shoulders down.
Looking back, I see clearly that I have always, in some way or another, had what I needed. And usually, more.
My children are not permitted to say,”No fair!”. We say instead, “I am happy for you.” Whether in that moment it is true, or not, I want them to arrange their hearts for joy. To make so much room for happiness in good things happening, even to other people, that bitterness and jealousy are forced from their clear path onto the rocky places. We talk about this often as a family. That no, baby, life is not fair, and that’s a good thing. Because we almost always come out ahead. I tell them to look at the sun, shining in the sky even though we have done nothing to place it there. We can walk outside and feel it’s warmth, eat the food that it helps to grow, or even ignore it. And still, it shines. Of course, some days, we can’t see it. Some days good people get hurt and bad things happen, and that’s not fair. But mostly, mostly there is grace.
While we cannot force the sun to move or halt in its turning, we can move the bed for each other to make the most of the light. I am so thankful to have lived a life where peopled have rearranged the rooms. So grateful that what remains is warm and bright, where there could only have been shadows.