just a dime
Sunday, she jams all of her money into a fish. Three dollar bills, 2 quarters, 5 pennies, 9 nickels, and one dime—I watch her push it all deep inside with two fingers, hurried, urgent.
My mom gave her the change purse for just this purpose. That one dime lodges in the innards of the fish at the nose, and she removes her hand, sewing up the opened side with a tug at the zipper. She tucks the fish–pink like her tongue, pink like the scar on her ankle–securely in her palm as we walk out the door.
In the worship assembly, we sit side by side—Kevin, Riley, me—wading through the quiet moments to the foot of the cross. She watches, holding the fish, while we eat bits of cracker—this is My Body—and sip grape juice from tiny clear cups—this is My Blood, remembering, tasting of grace. She will soon take this step too. We can feel her readying. We talk with her about it at odd moments, when she blurts that we need to teach her, when she asks to understand so that she can be buried in the water. Kevin’s eyes fill with tears whenever she says he will be the one to lay her down, raise her up new.
Adam sits beside me, lifting a hand to his lips, pretending that he too shares the meal. Then I see the preparations for the offering, and I lean over, whisper that he should take the dollar out of his pocket. Otherwise, everyone will wait while he shifts and reaches, trying to pull it from free from a fold of fabric. I’m not thinking about the fish. I don’t know about that dime, lodged deep. By the time the plate reaches our row, Adam holds the dollar in his fingers, ready to lay it on top.
Then Riley slides open the side of the fish, pulling out her crinkled dollar bills. One, two, three. She reaches in deep for coins, dropping them two at a time. But the dime. It’s stuck in the nose of the fish, and Kevin and I have already started to shift, realizing that she takes too long, that someone stands at the end of the row ready to collect the plate and move on. Riley puts the plate in her lap, turns the fish upside down and starts shaking the purse, first gently, then more desperately. She wants to give everything, even that dime, but it won’t budge, and her fingers won’t reach that far into the fish.
Kevin and I lean toward her, both thinking the same thing. “It’s okay,” Kevin whispers in her ear, “you can save that for next time.”
Next time would come in the same service, but this doesn’t occur to us as we pass the plate to the end of the row and turn our bodies back to worship. But Sunday we take up a second offering, an effort to help struggling children, children orphaned, children in need of shelter, children needing love. The minute the plate reaches our row, Riley resumes her fight with the fish.
For just a moment, our thoughts betray the depths of human weakness, the blindness we all live. It’s just a dime. The thought prods, moves us to glance again at the person waiting patiently to collect the plate, makes us lean into her, ready to tell her that her offering needn’t warrant so much effort, that the giving isn’t worth so much patience. But the Spirit flashes, chiding. Indeed, He will remind you of everything I have said to you (John 14:26).
Before we can whisper into her ears, we hear the whisper of Christ. She gave more than all the others. We see the widow walking toward the wooden chest at the entrance to the temple, those two coins–worth less than a penny, but all she has–secure in her palm, ready for giving. Our human eyes see only a dime, while God sees the wealth of heaven–faith flung far in full surrender, flung far beyond the tiny things we see.
All this passes between us, Kevin and me, in one connected glance. I reach over and take the fish from Riley’s hands, bending back the taffy pink leather to expose the dime, pulling it free, placing it in her palm. Happily, quickly, she drops the coin in the plate and sits back, and Kevin and I exchange another glance, chastised together, taught. I wonder how that dime will be multiplied, when He will pick it up, dividing it into all the wealth of grace.
Last Thursday night, we arrive at the middle school to pick up Riley’s schedule. We pull in the drive, and I gasp, taking in the size of the building, the football field out front. “Riley, your new school has a football field,” I breathe, putting my hand on her knee. She giggles. Then she laughs, reaching up to touch the smile she feels in her cheeks.
“This is surreal,” Kevin says to me as we walk down the hall toward the lockers, the classroom doors opening into a “C” around the cluster. We find the locker labeled with her name–a pink sticky note on the front. We meet teachers, stand in empty classrooms, collect her gym uniform. Riley’s eyes wander, wide, and she says little, but I know she slowly drinks in every detail, collecting every sound, memorizing every face, the numbers of the doors, the paths her feet will travel. She wants to stand in the hall far longer than the rest of us, so we wait. And she absorbs.
She comes home and goes to bed. She sleeps deep, cradled in peace. And Kevin and I talk about our pure-hearted girl, how it always feels like her body grows too quickly, before we have time to get ready. “It feels like we’re throwing our little fish into a great big sea,” one of us says, our thoughts blending. We talk about the teachers we knew she’s already chosen to love, about our concern that she’ll struggle with note taking–that the information will all come too quickly, with too many words she doesn’t understand. We talk about the hours of homework, about tagging each other in to help her finish, about relearning things we’ve forgotten. We talk about feeling too small for such a worthy job, about feeling too inadequate for the honor of loving her.
“We just have to remember everything God has done for her,” Kevin says that night, “how far she’s come, all the ways He’s taken care of her.” I nod, knowing, embracing this truth, the feelings familiar.
But school hasn’t started, and I already feel battered by the thought of it.
Riley remains resolved and enthused, and she doesn’t see me cry when she hops out of the car the first day and walks in the big doors, carrying all of her supplies in her arms. She doesn’t know I cry again when I see her standing outside in the afternoon, scanning the line of cars for the sight of me. “I just love her so much,” I keep saying to God, those words all I have for so many feelings at once.
And every day this week, when I ask her about her day, she says, “good, really good.” She tells me of gifts and so much grace. The first day, a letter from her favorite teacher; a teacher who moved, a teacher she used to stop to hug every day before school started, placed in her hands by her new homeroom teacher, and in the letter, an address so they can be pen pals. The second day; joy over taking electives, that she will learn about cooking, that she can have fun in PE. The third day, new friends, and old friends she sits by at lunch. Every afternoon, she pulls back the wrapping and shows me more of God’s glory, more of the small things He has multiplied to overflowing.
And still, the week leaves me bruised and aching, physically, emotionally. Life feels like too much, the responsibilities too great. Beyond all the standard entry paperwork, I work on diabetic care plans, send emails to teachers about epilepsy, try to help Adam communicate beyond complaint. I remember all the emotional battles I fought through these years—the last of elementary, the first of middle—and I pray for my children. I clean and fold and polish, make meal plans and schedules, keep lists. I try not to let all the urgent details keep me from tending to the important things—love, relationships, kingdom now. And some days, I feel like I fail miserably at patience, at hugging enough, at stopping to listen. I feel too small for this life and the living. Truly, I am not enough.
And then, in those moments I reserve just for Him, because without Him I cannot, He touches my eyes, trying again, trying always, to help me see.
Out of a tiny seed grows a mighty tree, a kingdom tree (Luke 13:18,19), and the birds of the air perch in it’s branches. And that same seed is the smallest kernel of faith, faith enough to speak a mountain right into the sea, faith enough for me, even me, to do the impossible (Matthew 17:20).
It is the smallest things surrendered that He multiplies with all the wealth of holy power, so that they become more than we ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20).
And once upon a time, His feet walked the dusty streets of this weary land, and He said, “Go to the lake and throw out your line,” and the disciples, with no money to pay the temple tax, opened the mouth of the first fish they caught and withdrew a coin (Matthew 17:27). And for a moment, they knew Him as everything they ever needed.
And when I’m seeing small with my tired and weary eyes, He reminds me that nothing completely surrendered is ever too little.
To me, it may look like just a dime, stuck in the nose of a pink fish. But when she surrenders all she has, she has given more than all the others.
And when I surrender all I have, offering it happily, quickly, just there—placing it in His hands—it will be more than enough for all my impossible. Because His grace is sufficient for me, and His power will make it so (2 Corinthians 12:9).