Sick babies don’t sleep.
Mine didn’t that night. In my delirium, I lost track how many times he yowled and I arose to soothe or nurse him. It was a mystery illness, showing little but a low-grade fever for a few days, and a cranky demeanor. I didn’t get the fever, but the crankiness sure was contagious. Lord save us all.
I took everyone’s temp that morning. My 4-year-old’s fever matched my baby. Well, she HAD been complaining of a belly ache lately, to which I had paid little mind. Children get belly aches when they’re hungry, or full, or gassy, or constipated, or trip and fall onto a toy. It’s a regular occurrence. But this one came with a low-grade fever. The child had to stay home from school. It’s literally the law. Well, of school at least. I tried not to let her see me heave a gigantic sigh. Today, I was not cut out for this mothering business.
We packed up my oldest daughter’s lunch, and I brushed her hair while my 4-year-old rolled a ball on the floor with the baby. They both were acting like themselves today. Just a bit warm. On our way out the door, I grabbed the grocery list I had been making the past week. We ate oatmeal for breakfast because there was nothing else in the house to eat. Tell-tale sign. Mama needed to go shopping: with two sick kids, a pair of droopy eyes, and a dare to the general public to cross her path that day.
Kids buckled into car seats, and we roared off to school. I took my best guess that we had enough gas to get us to school. Our trusty old car had seen better days. The gas gauge had been sticking on Empty, only raising up to the (presumably) right level after about ten minutes of driving and revving up the freeway on-ramp. My husband pointed out a few days ago that we needed to add some sort of tank cleaner soon. Which meant a trip to the auto parts store. Yes, soon. Soon soon soon.
We dropped my oldest at school, and drove to the grocery store. I sat in the parking lot and counted the remainder of our food budget for this month. For groceries in our family, it’s cash. It can be cumbersome to count out bills, but with this system, I never overdraft because I just *needed* an impulse buy of organic syrup and chocolate-covered pretzels. When it’s gone, it’s gone. So, everything goes into my phone’s calculator. It’s the only way to save-face at the checkout counter, because Unbuying Groceries is real when you’re dealing with cash – and it’s not awesome.
The entire shopping trip was a blurry float down the aisles.
I lost my grocery list in the produce section. I made my daughter repeat back to me the items I could remember from it.
The baby whined to be held. Have you ever pushed a wide, full cart with one arm? The trick is to kick it. Give it a good shove with your foot, mid-stride. The handlebar is for keeping it on course. Shove the corner with your foot, while pulling on the other side of the handle bar, and you can turn. These are the tricks, ladies. These are the MacGuyver skills you never dreamed you would learn, long ago when you were breathlessly draped on your husbands chest, longing aloud for a perfect little baby of your very own. In truth, through the haze, I did feel pretty awesome for it: baby in one arm, and wrangling a full, double-wide shopping cart with the other.
Eventually we pulled up to the checkout counter. My daughter scrambled around to the conveyor belt and waited for me to hand her items from deep within the cart, far beyond her reach. It was nice to have her so eager to help. Of course, to a four-year-old, a moving counter-top is just as magical as a treadmill. Or for that matter, a moving sidewalk at the airport. Come to think of it now, I agree. Conveyor belts are pretty magical. But I wasn’t seeing it just then. I wasn’t seeing much of anything, just fighting to keep my eyes open.
The checker guy totaled my groceries and I smiled a little to myself. We came in under budget. Yesssss. Just a few dollars, but it still felt good. Normally I would be automatically scheming a purpose for that money – maybe a fresh loaf of bread at the neighborhood bakery, or a coffee later. But that day, at that moment, my lizard brain could only feel a pang of pleasure, but form no thoughts beyond that.
Back at the car, groceries loaded and children buckled, I pulled out of the parking space. Baby was chewing on a toy, and watching my daughter counting some grimy “treasures” in her hand that she found God-knows-where in the store. I made a mental note to wash her hands with Lysol when we got home.
At the edge of the parking lot, the traffic light glared red. I stopped. Then I noticed a man sitting on a stack of milk crates on the corner. Homeless people and travelers regularly begged money at that spot. He looked old, greasy, and red, in a faded army green jacket. He held a sign of poster board and stick-on letters from a craft store. It honestly looked like a junior high science fair presentation at first glance.
Now, thinking back, I don’t recall all that it said, but the part I remembered reading was: “Anything helps.”
I don’t give often to stoplight beggars, because I would go broke. We have a lot in our area.
But this time, my tired lizard brain sparked up one thought: “I have ‘anything.'”
I rolled down my window, dug in my wallet, and pulled out the leftover two dollars.
We exchanged “God bless you’s,” as is the custom with those who beg money, and the light turned green.
I felt no warm glow. It was an automatic response, much the same as getting a snack for a whiny kid, or picking up dirty socks from the living room floor. Just doing another thing asked of me.
But in that moment, Jesus spoke through the fog in my brain:
“Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” – Matthew 25:40
Immediately I teared up.
I felt like a broke down car that morning, and felt more kin to his plight than on a regular day. I wasn’t feeling abundant, or spiritual, or even friendly. But the gesture happened automatically. From one cranky, down-on-their luck person to another. Maybe my last two bucks were his first two.
Stunned, I realized that Jesus felt more kin to his plight than I ever realized. Jesus is probably micromanaging every detail of providing for that guy. And I was just a small piece of that puzzle. I stumbled into something much bigger than me: the Lord’s holy care for a dear child of his – old, dirty, and sunburned – orchestrated by his own hand.
I was still a sleepless hot mess that day: having to care for two sick children and a clunky old car on coffee and prayer. But Jesus let me play a part in his game for a minute, and it changed things deep inside of me.
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?”