A couple of weekends back, my brother and sister in law’s family of six came rumbling up our sun-dappled driveway, camper in tow. Almost as soon as the diesel truck engine killed, three eager bodies bounded out of the back seat, excited to join their cousins in play. Hugs were given, backs were slapped, baby cheeks kissed. And with the first slam of the screen door, the weekend began.
There were giggles and arguments. There were summer suntanned legs jumping circles around the trampoline. There were endless pushes on the swings underneath the maple tree, bodies sailing through the humid August air. There were acts of generosity scattered about like the water cups we left everywhere.
The adults rested best we knew how – simple meals, paper plates, life unscheduled. A beach day. A farm day. A meal out. Ice cream so blue it matched Ellis’s eyes. Late at night after the children were in bed, we sunk into the cushions of my worn-in sectional and had uninterrupted conversation, and it felt like luxury.
I love gatherings. I love the connection that flows through the compilation of people and shared experience. Somehow the hours that pass in the presence of others are like in-season blueberries – they taste sweeter, fuller than than the hours alone.
I also want to be honest. Planning, hosting, or attending gatherings with my four children is work. Capital W. O. R. K. work. Our house is in a constant state of flux. Entering it means the likely chance of sitting on rogue My Little Ponies or stepping on hidden legos that blend in with my rug. The sink is usually full of dishes, the fridge is half empty, and the bathroom never has toilet paper.
On the other hand, leaving home requires half a day’s packing and the Spanish Armada to carry all the bags, clothes, and supplies each child needs (or thinks they need) at this stage of life. Case in point: Sunday, we brought no less than two stuffed horses, one stuffed pig, four My Little Ponies, three miniature backpacks, two packages of kinetic sand, one ziplock bag of wikistix, one car seat carrying one infant, a diaper bag, a purse, and a jumbo pack of gum to a one hour church service.
You see what I’m saying.
Gathering with people in any fashion is suddenly like doing the limbo; it requires lots of “just do it” attitude and a fair amount of back-bending in order to get to the cheering on the other side.
That bugs me. I’m already paranoid that people won’t want to hang out with us because big families of small children are overwhelming. I wonder if my constantly distracted (hey stop eating that) demeanor is making me a bad friend. I worry that even when I try to connect with people, my imperfect efforts are not enough.
The other day, we were driving in the van and listening to an audio book of bible stories. Most of the time, I move all the sound to the back of the van (brilliant feature, Toyota) when the kids are watching a movie or listening to audio books, because let’s be honest. Even if it’s not silence, it’s at least a little bit more quiet, or a chance to catch up on a few phone calls, and every parent needs more of that.
But that day I forgot, and ended up listening along to the tale where Jesus feeds five thousand people. In the story, a huge crowd met up on a hillside to hear Jesus teach, but apparently no one had brought lunch. Clearly not in the days of McDonalds, and nowhere near their own homes, the people were starting to get hungry. So Jesus asked his friends to go find whatever food they could.
Just then, up walks a little boy. He has five loaves of bread and two fish in his lunch. I’m sure he knew it wasn’t enough to feed everyone. He probably questioned if it would be enough to feed himself for the whole day. Here the CD narrator pauses for a moment, and then the little boy’s voice pipes up.
“I have some.”
I’m still driving, but sudden tears blur the edges of my vision. Somehow I’ve stepped into the little boy’s sandals up on that hillside. I look down into his woven basket, taking in the meager amount. I look behind me and see crowd and their need. And then I lock eyes with Jesus, who reminds me of a simple truth.
Even if it doesn’t seem like enough, I always have some.
Some means under-abundance. Some might require me to offer a messy, lived in home in lieu of a sparkling, well-managed house. Some means I usually leave the house with mismatched clothes and one wet wipe left in the diaper bag. Some means that right now, as mama of four, I work hard to do things most people don’t have to think twice about.
But Jesus says none of that matters. He wants my five small loaves and two stinky fish not because they’re enough, but because I’m willing to trust Him to work with the little I have.
Slowly, I’m relearning the value of offering myself within the context of getting together with people. Circumstances and surroundings don’t matter nearly as much as how I listen to and love the other person.
I’m finding that even though it’s work, or that it might be easier to hunker down alone with my kids, I’m blessed by the grace I find in others.
Imagine what could happen if we all pulled the real, crinkly some out of our back pockets. Imagine our personal offerings becoming a collective sum, with all of us feeling whole.
That’s a gathering I’d do almost anything to be a part of.