There was the woman who was fourteen days shy of her due date for her very first baby, jittery and fully in nesting mode. There was the sister, destined now to be the favorite, who wanted to shower her sister-in-law with love. There was the first-time-mom with the three month old cooing in the car, gooey with love for the baby she waited so long for. There was the guy whose dishwasher had just given out, and the mom of three small ones desperate for a cup of coffee. I became part of their stories for a moment, and them of mine, when they pulled into my driveway. We leaned on each other in the give-and-take round robin of passing goods along. We are all searching for something, lacking one thing with an overabundance of another. I may just have exactly what you need. A bag of clothes, a dishwasher, a coffee pot. An ear to listen, a smile to give, an knowing nod.
Community shows up in unexpected places.
Space is at a premium, here in my little home. This family of five, and a dog – we live amicably in this shoebox house, we do. But every once in a while the walls bear down on me a little harder, I feel squeezed a little tighter. It’s like when Grant gets himself dressed in the morning and comes down with pants that just last week seemed to fit fine, but are now stop an inch above his ankle bone. His limbs push out with growth, and there is just no stopping it. We tug the pants down, make them work for one more day, until I can get some new ones. Sometimes, that’s how this house feels – I am caught off guard at the squeeze, the sudden burst of family growth. Just last week, those kids had kicked that ball haphazardly around the family room without issue. Now it hardly bounces with out careening into something of significance: the pictures on the wall, the TV, my head. We are tugging at every inch of space, hoping to stretch it just a little more, make it last a little longer.
The people take up space. Our activities – ball bouncing, and book reading, and puzzle mending, and dinner making – all take up space. And our stuff takes up space. The backpacks are full every day of worksheets and art projects, and only the precious ones make it through the daily purge. There is the mail, and the library books, and the Easter baskets. Sometimes my greatest job is clearing this stuff off of one space, to free it up for something, only moving it to the next space. I can start to resent all of this stuff.
Which brings me to the basement. I have three children, this is no secret. These children were once babies, who grew into toddlers. OK, well one still is. But they grow. And keep growing. And don’t stop growing. My basement is stacked with plastic bins of clothing. Teeny tiny newborn clothes, infant outfits, boy things and girl things, onesies and pajamas, sweaters and jeans, fancy pants and play clothes, sneakers and flip flops and Mary Janes. All of it in plastic bins that are not even well organized.
When space is at such a premium, why am I holding onto all of this stuff?
There are certain small fears that crawl into the creases of my brain. Lodged in there, they are hard to notice, even harder to excise. You see, I’m holding onto these bins of clothing, all the stuff of babyhood, for copious reasons, known and unknown. It’s hard for me to see my baby years as done, so there is a mourning, certainly. But if I’m even more truthful, if I look closer in at myself, what I see is that I’m afraid. I’m afraid that if I part with all of the tools for this phase of parenting that I will find myself needing it again. And I won’t have it.
Silently, slowly, I have heard the whisper: trust.
I step out of that boat I’ve made for myself, the one of brightly colored plastic bins. I take the invitation to give freely of what I have, to open my tight fist of false security. There are so many options when it comes to this type of thing, so it was hard to know what to do next. Goodwill feels too impersonal, perhaps even wasteful. Consigning sounds like a good option, but is above my organizational pay-grade. Not only that, but I’ve never been the one to chase the buck. Freely give, freely receive, right?
Folding little baby girl clothes felt like a prayer. It was a prayer of thanksgiving, a prayer of blessing. It was a giving thanks, and an offering. I didn’t know who would wear them next. I couldn’t picture a face, I didn’t have a name.
I have known the generosity of community. I know the blessing of a perfectly timed bag of clothes. But mostly this has been through the families that are already woven into my life. There is beauty in watching Renee add her own flair to an outfit that has been worn by other little girls who have climbed on our swing set. But this time the community that I was touching was outside of my own safe borders. It feels like taking a step into the world of Jesus to take from strangers, to offer to strangers. It feels wildly out of control and somehow wildly holy.
I’ll never know when Patrice gave birth to her little Walter, Jr. I’ll never know if she labored for days, of is she barely made it to the hospital. I’ll never know if he liked sleeping in the crib, decorated with the same blue and brown polka dots that Griffin sleep with, or if he prefers to sleep in his car seat. I’ll never know how Jess surprised her sister-in-law with all those clothes, if she stayed for hours helping to fold and sort nearly a year’s worth of pajamas and onesies. I can only wonder how Russ struggled to get that dishwasher in, or how Annie could face the morning now with a fresh pot of coffee. I imagine little Emmy’s car ride home, that three month old staring at these brightly colored boxes, hearing them slide in the way back with each turn of the car. She may have been hungry after that drive, and I bet her mama fed her well.
We make room for the next thing, the winter fades to summer and we clean house. And it making room, we pass it on.