My right hand is sore and partially purple from my fling with the Kitchen Aid mixer last night. Yes, I flipped the wrong lever while trying to remove the paddle and nearly mixed off my hand with the whirling. Thankfully, I pulled the plug on myself immediately, ending my misery and stopping what could have been a major disaster. My husband, bless his compassionate soul, reminds me that it’s always wise to unplug electrical appliances before trying to fix them. I am dangerously over-educated.
It’s not just my hand that hurts. My back aches too. For hours already this morning, I’ve been processing tomatoes, trying to keep up with the ripe crop out back. Plunging into hot, plunging again into cold, slipping skins, squeezing, simmering, stirring in homegrown basil and parsley and garlic.
Anna walks into the kitchen wanting to talk, not help. Out it comes.
“I wonder what my purpose is.” She says it as a statement, not a question.
OK. This is deep. Try to listen intently while you’re peeling and squeezing with your purple hand.
She talks but I find her hard to understand. She uses decent vocabulary but often not in coherent sentences, especially when she’s trying to express her heart.
“I don’t understand what you’re trying to say. Can you say it another way?” I ask her.
She tries again with more words, different words, still words that don’t make meaning when strung together. I start guessing at what I think she might be trying to express, feeding her words, watching her face for a sign that I’m on track, asking if I’m getting it right. I want to hear her—to understand her—to love her, but communication is difficult. Still, we go back and forth till I grasp what she wants to say.
Basically, she wondered whether her life matters—if she has purpose. She wants to know she has value—that she adds something positive to the world—that whatever she does has some meaning—to someone—to anyone. She has watched all the girls she knew in high school grow up and move on, mostly to college, some to full-time jobs. Some are dating. Some have married. All are driving, except for her. She likes her simple life on the farm, living with family, and she is grateful for her job as a janitor at a childcare center three hours a day. Still, she wondered if she has value because she cleans toilet, sinks, and floors.
So we talked about cleaning toilets first.
She cleans toilets at work. I clean toilets at home. Neither of us like cleaning toilets very much but, somebody has to do the dirty work and when we’re the designated workers, how can we work with good attitude, even joy? I remind Anna of a song I taught the inner-city kids at our nature camp this summer.
So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. I Corinthians 10:31
When we serve others, no matter how, we serve Christ. Knowing this can make a sour work attitude sweet in no time! But toilets? Really?
As Anna and I talked about cleaning toilets, I learned that she prays for others while she scrubs her toilets. She learned that I think metaphorically when I scrub mine—like how we need to be scrubbed and disinfected on the inside by Jesus just like the porcelain bowls. We laughed, realizing our similarity to toilets which just can’t clean themselves! What could be a more holy experience?
We talked about how we find meaning, purpose, and joy when we do our work—whatever it is—as if we were doing it for Jesus. Because after all, we are working for Jesus, no matter what we do. Whenever we serve someone else, in whatever way, we are serving Jesus also. He says so. Matthew 25:40.
Anna reminded me that we are all part of one body and we all have different tasks, no one more important than the other. I Corinthians 12:22-26.
After our meaningful conversation, I invite her to stay and help me can salsa. She declines and heads out the door. I let her go, knowing how she likes to relax before her three hour shift. Still, I am a bit peeved that she will enjoy the outcome of all my stove slaving without volunteering to help in the least. What could be as important as making salsa right now?
After the first salsa jars are removed from the canner and set on the counter, I take a break and step out of the house for some fresh air. To my left, I catch a glimpse of Anna on her belly. Six weeks shy of twenty-two, she’s lying on the driveway drawing flowers with chalk. Purples and pinks and sea foam green form petals and leafy stem. She doesn’t see me standing there so I watch from behind the burning bush in full autumn flame. Peacefully, joyfully, she outlines and fills, pressing chalk into cement, transforming hard and blank into soft and beautiful. She pulls up to her knees and examines her work from a higher vantage point. I can tell she likes what she sees, just like God in Genesis. Back down on her stomach she goes, continuing her driveway embellishment.
After a few minutes, I make my presence known. She looks up at me with a bright smile.
“Oh, hi Mom!”
“Decorating the driveway?”
“Yeah!” she giggles. “Look at this!” She shows me a piece of chalk. “Half is one color and half is another color.” She likes how she can use pink and blue just by flipping the chalk.
“Neat!” I match her enthusiasm with my voice tone. “Your flower is very pretty!”
“Thanks! I think I’m going to draw a sign over here where people park.” She points toward the garage.
I smile at her, then head back to the kitchen, thinking about work. I thought about our earlier conversation—about body parts and functions and gifts differing—all the same body serving.
I needed to hear her this morning. I needed to hear God through her.
I make salsa. She makes driveway art. I cook. She colors. We both clean toilets. All work that blesses is blessed.
Salsa done, I went back to the driveway, humbled. She was gone—off with the dog on the trails. I grabbed my camera and captured some joy and love from her completed canvas. And I gave thanks for people in this world who teach me much about the kingdom of God.
I walk from driveway onto back deck and am humbled again. There on the table lies a sketch pad with more art created this morning. When I try to bless others, I am always outdone. What joy there is in appreciating gifts differing!