“Here, I’ll help you,” she says, my Riley, who once said nothing.
The kids at our table–this table, finished with glitter and glue and flecks of marker and fingernail polish, finished with a whole history of growing and laughing and living—these kids flat press their little hands on construction paper, tracing, jagged-cutting the fingers into feathers. I showed them how to layer many hands for color, how to add a jaunty beak–just a clipped triangle–to the thumb, how to draw a round blot for an eye. I showed them how a handprint can become a turkey, and that a place to count blessings, to inscribe gratitude. “If you need help writing, Riley can do that for you,” I’d said, which is itself a gift I’ve counted, treasured, lifted in my own hands with thanks.
Did you know that Jesus, the night before he died, taught his disciples to remember him with broken bread and cups of wine? He took that bread in his hands and broke it, showing with his own fingers how his body would be ripped, and gave thanks. With his own hand, He lifted that cup, telling them it was his own spilled blood. Before He said, “Take it; this is my body (Mark 14:22)”; before He said, “Drink from it, all of you (Matthew 26:27),” he gave thanks. How do we hold sacrifice in our hands and give thanks?
Riley presses her hand flat against a sheet of petal pink, looping the pen around the tips of her fingers. She offers her own hand, because the child she’s helping didn’t want to do the tracing, didn’t want to be traced. Could it be that the greatest blessings aren’t the things we hold in our hands but the sacrifices we get to make for each other? Maybe we can trace our gratitude by the openness of our hands, the emptiness of our palms? Riley holds the scissors carefully, slowly cuts along the line of her own traced hand, across the wrist, toward the thumb. It’s perfect, her giving, even if it doesn’t look perfect. She kneels beside this beautiful child–the child still new about the cheeks, and she says, “Okay, here you go.”
I watch as Little presses a hand–soft palm, tiny fingers–in the center of Riley’s offering. My daughter kneels, picking up a pen. “Okay, what are you thankful for?” Riley tilts her head, juts her chin toward the child, listening to the baby voice counting friends by name, food, home–simple, wide-open things the rest of us take for granted, finding them too common now to list. Why do we feel silly counting these gifts out loud–shoes, water, roofs?
Kevin once took family pictures in another country, of people who had none of those things. When he put the prints in their hands, they laughed big, beautiful, thankful. They’d never seen pictures like these; never captured beloved faces for keeping. At home, Kevin told me these were the most generous people he’d ever met. They had nothing but gave everything, offering him their only food, the one tattered chair, while they sat on dirt floors. Could it be that they counted giving a gift, that they surrendered the broken bits of themselves and gave thanks? I think maybe they were better Image-bearers than I am.
Riley writes this child’s spoken gifts carefully, neatly, on her own open fingers, pen on paper. When Riley was the age of this child, she couldn’t tell me she was hungry, much less make a list of blessings. She rarely smiled—doctors called it flat affect, said it was common with autism-–but she did cry; all that bottled-up frustration had to go somewhere. Eventually, when Riley discovered expression, she stood in front mirrors and practiced—smiles, frowns, surprise. Feeling my gaze now (Maybe my remembering?), she glances up and laughs. That laughter, the listening, the understanding, the gentle tone with which she questions this child about thankfulness, all these gifts I write with my own open hands. They could be inscribed on my skin; certainly are already recorded in my heart. For all these gifts, I still give thanks. It’s not the sort of thing you take for granted.
When Riley finishes writing, that sweet Little grabs up the hand, happy, hopping off the chair. “Daad,” Little calls, jetting into the living room, “loook at what I made.” The sweetness of it almost aches, but I can’t help but think of all the times we take credit for the things God has done. We hold the fruit of His sacrifice in our hands and still mistake it as our own accomplishment, and I suppose that’s also why we still measure our blessings by what we hold tightly instead of what we give away. He gave His own body; who are we to hoard Him for ourselves?
Riley stands. The pen rolls as she places it on the table, the table now so scrap-tossed I can’t see the the edges. “Yea! Good job,” I hear Riley say. With her empty hands, she claps.