This morning, our Rat Terrier, Lilly, who is 14 years old, woke me up at 1 a.m. She has trouble holding her bladder and lately she's been waking me about 3 times a night, wanting to go outside. She's been a faithful companion and watchdog for us so we feel an obligation to take care of her and as the guys like to remind me, I am "mommy" to everyone, including the dogs (!) in the house!
After letting her out, it took me a while to go back to sleep and then when the alarm went off this morning, I turned it off and went right back to sleep and as a result, Phil and I missed Sunday School. Since I'm the one who usually yells, um, calls our son to get out of bed on Sunday morning, I felt really bad about not getting up and getting us all going. David had to be at work early this afternoon so we already knew he wouldn't be in the worship service and now he wouldn't make it to Sunday School, either.
But when I checked his room, he was already gone! He did make it to Sunday School and that, as a mom, is something that I cherish. Even when his decrepit, sleep-deprived parents missed, he still made it.
Fortunately, Phil and I made it to worship which was truly a very sweet, very precious time with the Lord and so once again, even though the morning got off to a rocky start, I had something to be thankful for.
Then I went to Healing Waters in Shannon Hills, where our GED class is held on Wed. nights, and I got to see their food bank in operation. From what I could tell, they had a handful of dedicated people serving a fairly large crowd in a short amount of time in the cafe area while others were handing out boxes in an adjacent part of the church, boxes filled with everything from canned goods to frozen chickens to diapers. As I looked at the people streaming in, asking for a plate of sloppy Joes and baked beans and then showing appreciation for what was basically a simple, but filling meal, all kinds of questions ran through my mind. Can all these people be out of work? How many of them know the Lord? What other problems are they coping with? How did they reach this place in life?
And then I think God gently reminded me of a time, 40 years ago, when my mom and I were living in a mobile home in, of all places, Shannon Hills. I was regularly babysitting on school nights and on Saturdays in order to earn spending money. My mom, after being a stay-at-home mother for almost all of my life, was trying to make it in the work world but her health was so bad at that time that she finally had to give up and wait until UAMS could work her in (since she had no health insurance) for a badly needed, long overdue hysterectomy which came not too long after an emergency gallbladder surgery the year before.
During this time, we went on food stamps, which helped some but didn't provide enough food for the month by any means, and I also transitioned from high school to college where I worked a full forty hour week to supplement my tuition scholarship. During this time, mom began to hemorrhage and was finally taken in by UAMS on an emergency basis where they had to build her up for a week before they could do the hysterectomy because she was so weak from blood loss. And during this time, my father took an early retirement and skipped the state so that he would not have to help me with college in any way, shape, form or fashion.
And during this time, right before Christmas, my mother's Sunday School class handed her a check and a sack full of groceries. At first, we were stunned and also, frankly, embarrassed. We knew things were tight. (Mom had had the garbage pick-up canceled - you could do that back then; she'd had the phone service canceled; our night-watcher turned off, and the paper stopped. And she had had to borrow money from my great aunt in order to pay our taxes that fall, a big whopping 40.00 bill which we didn't have and couldn't scrape together even though we were both very saving with money. She had also sold some extra furniture that we didn't really need).
And so, sometime in December, we stared at a grocery sack full of canned goods, things like ham, cookies, vegetables as well as items in plastic bags like rice, flour, brown sugar, etc. And we were humiliated. Honestly. Our first reaction was shame and for a while, we just left the sack sitting where it was on the kitchen counter, untouched.
After a while, we repented of that attitude and asked God to give us a thankful heart, which He did. And then mom used some of the money that they had given her to go out and buy some plastic Christmas decorations at Sterlings that had been marked down half of half off two weeks before Christmas. They were cheap and barely made a dent in the money the class gave her but they made Christmas for us that year and I still have some of them. In fact, one of them, a round, red plastic ball with half of it cut away so that you can see a brown plastic deer feeding on flat plastic snow - well, it may not sound so wonderful the way I've described it - but that ornament, chipped though it may be, is still my favorite and it goes on the tree first, before any of the other ornaments. And as I hang it on a fake limb, I remember my mom spreading all our half-of-half off ornaments on the bed and asking me which one was my favorite and I remember how we joyfully sat on her bed and discussed the merits of each design and which one represented the essence of Christmas to us the most. And I remember her saying that the one word which described Christmas to her the most was "joy" while I said that the one word I would apply to the season was "light". And that's why the plastic deer on plastic snow in a plastic, cut-away red globe is the first ornament on my tree every year, always hanging in a position of honor, higher than most of my Keepsake Hallmark decorations.
As I recall, the rest of the money she received went to pay medical bills and we thoroughly enjoyed the extra food that came our way that winter.
I also remember another time, when she was mostly bedridden for a while, and our television went out. To this day, I can see a man from our church, Life Line Baptist - a deacon who limped because he'd had one foot amputated due to diabetes - and I can still see this man, humbly, cheerfully, bringing us a t.v., which meant the world to my mom at that time since about all she could do was watch t.v. or read until her phlebitis went away. I remember vividly that the man seemed just thankful that he could be of service and I also remember that no one (that I knew of) grumbled about why we wanted such a frivolous thing as a t.v. when there were probably so many other things that we needed.
So these memories - and others - came back to me this afternoon as I helped ladle barbecue baked beans and some salad onto paper plates for people who were total strangers to me. People with lined faces, some of them, that spoke of hard living. Others with unlined faces who maybe think that around the next bend in life's road, they'll get what they need - a job, a bit of money laid by, the medical bills paid, the divorce behind them, whatever it may be.
I don't know what they were thinking because I don't know their stories.
And yet, once upon a time, I did. I knew their stories because I lived through a similar time in my own family life. Way back before I got my degree, before I got a job, before I married, and before I launched a successful career that spanned 31 years.
And if we had not swallowed our pride back when our need was so great, if we'd not had extra groceries at a critical time, if we'd not had a deacon helping us, if the church had not been there to minster to us - I'm not sure what we would have done - a teen-aged girl and a divorced, middle-aged, mother whose health had taken a series of nose-dives in a relative short time just as I was getting ready to go off to college.
So I didn't just ladle baked beans onto paper plates today. Or wonder about the strangers who crossed my path for just a few moments while they received the food that the church and the community was providing for them.
No, I also gave thanks that this time, almost fifty years later, I was on the giving end instead of the receiving end.
Truly, I am grateful.