make me a servant
She spreads the towel smooth with her fingers, dropping it gently across clean things still drying. She dabs her fingers on the corner of a paper towel, turning to examine the countertops. “Let’s see…is there anything else?” She says this to no one, speaks it softly to herself in the quiet. Ever since she found her voice, Riley has worked things out aloud. If I were standing there beside her, she would ask if there’s something more she can do to help me clean up, but I am already drifting to sleep. I don’t even know she’s standing like that, ready to serve before rest, noticing little things I felt too weary to touch. I only know now what this looks like because I’ve seen it in person, on days when she easily asks again, “What else can I do, Mom Jones?”
No, it’s in the morning that I notice the sinks empty and glinting, when I wander into the lonely kitchen trying to shrug free of complaint. Riley sleeps now and deeply, but everywhere I find evidence of her, falling like fresh light across the table, the ceramic handles of mugs, the deep wells of spoons. I came not to be served but to serve. The words of Jesus lately carve my thoughts, even miraculously now, before I’ve poured the coffee, before the steam curls. It seems that “What can I do for you?” was one of the earth-walking Savior’s favorite questions. But don’t let your right hand know what your left hand is doing, He also taught, and now, standing alone in the kitchen, I see how it could be that someone loves this way without any need to draw attention, how love can be offered in secret. Riley doesn’t even set out to surprise me.
If you’re a parent, I know you’re wondering how we’ve accomplished this. The answer is solid: We haven’t. As I grew up, it took repeated and purposeful teaching on the topics of selfishness and shared responsibility to train me to look for ways to help, for things still to be done. I remember my mom saying, “When you do it and I don’t have to tell you to do it;” I recall my dad saying no one got to relax until my mother could. I can almost still hear their voices, still feel the weight with which they delivered each word. While autism has limited the effectiveness of similar conversations between my daughter and me, it has not ever limited her heart. What I could not have taught her with words and what I’m certain she hasn’t seen in me, God has created in her spirit. She just loves by helping. What’s more, Riley finds her desire to serve others merely factual; she is neither enamored nor apathetic about the truth. If I mention it when she wakes, she’ll appraise me with a question, only gradually remembering. Until Riley, I’d always been confused about those Jesus-story servants, the ones who didn’t seem to know they’d done anything remarkable to serve Jesus. “When did we see you hungry and feed you (Matthew 25: 37)?”
How could they not know?
Of course, that’s also how I figured out my own place in the story.
Transformation is an enigmatic gift, a mystery of the Spirit. Jesus said, “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” I think of Elijah now, who moved so easily in the Spirit that Obadiah thought if he walked away he might lose sight of the prophet. “I don’t know where the Spirit of the Lord might take you,” he said (1 Kings 18:12). The Spirit is a secret giver too. Later, I’ll walk and watch scuttling leaves and think about the crisp wind, the way I only know it by the things it moves, the way it feels rushing past my ears, against my cheeks. We know the Spirit the same way, by evidences everywhere of people changed, restored; by people becoming who they never could quite manage to be without Him. At the moment when I’m just too spent to touch another thing, when I finally yield, the Spirit quietly sets to work.
I pour the coffee, stopping by the window to search for the first rays of light in the sky. I breathe without giving the action a single thought. Riley serves just as naturally. Therein lies the difference between those of us determined to serve and those who have simply become servants. Make me a servant, the song says, maybe remembering the prodigal, and wisely so, because the only way we’ll ever serve unpuffed by pride is to be so changed.
I turn away from the window and gently fold back Riley’s sweet-smoothed towel to find my favorite skillet, the one I’ve used so often I can remember the cool feel of the handle in my fingers even before I reach to lift it. Then I rummage in the fridge for the eggs, which jostle in their paperboard cradle when I set them on the counter. And so, I set about whacking and cracking and building a breakfast, and all the while, a certain refrain pours from my heart and across my dry, cracked lips:
Make me a servant; make me one too.
Make me a servant, Lord; make me like you.