the worthwhile things
Five o’clock and the day gasping, my children hang on me like satellites in orbit. I stand at the sink, rubbing green beans between my fingers in a colander, the water rushing over, warm. For a breath—just one—I wonder about where these beans grew–what close field, the color of the soil, the smell. I wonder whose hands pulled them clean of the vine, or if they have some machine for that these days, too.
Riley stands beside me, a pencil in hand, a hundred blonde strands of hair falling in her eyes. She keeps pushing it back, trying to tuck the bundle behind her ear, but the hair is still too short, and these things take time. She watches, looking away from the math worksheet on the counter. She stands just inches from the paper towel that holds the discarded ends and strings of the beans, just next to the pot where I am collecting the usable pieces, cut and washed, green like grass.
“Um, save some beans for me to cut. I want to cut some beans,” she says, shifting from foot to foot, her eyes darting from the worksheet to my hands, the movement jerking, nervous, impatient.
I want to gather up the papers and notebooks, the book bag, and throw the whole armload in the garage, away, anywhere out of sight. So many good things leave no time for things she’s desperate to know, things she needs to do– simple things, like washing a pile of fresh green beans and snipping off the ends.
“Oh Riley,” I pause, resting the knife, willing my eyes tender. “I know you want to do this. I know you want to cook with me. I want you to do that too. And there will be things for you to cut, and wash, and things for you to help to make.” I say this, but inside I’m thinking, “Just what? And just when? When will there be time for this too?”
“But you need to finish your homework first. It’s already getting late, and it’s almost time for supper, and you girls still need to shower. Don’t rush your homework, honey. It’s important,” I say this to reassure her, to still the darting eyes, to help her focus without frustration. But I see what she sees–that the cooking is important too, that there must be time for things she wants to know.
I offer her a smile–I understand—and pick up the knife, resuming my task. I have two diabetics and an epileptic to feed, and we can’t eat our supper at nine o’clock. The cooking, like everything else we teach Riley, must be learned slowly, in moments stretched across days and weeks, in unforgettable breaths we snatch away from other good things.
Riley will not learn to cook in five easy lessons, not even ten. She will burn and cut herself, dripping blood in harsh red dots across the kitchen floor. She will ask me a thousand times plus one if kiwis must be peeled and why we don’t normally eat their skin. She will mis-measure the flour, and she will crush an egg between her fingers, the shell of it shattering into the bowl with the yolks. The lessons will take time, and so many repetitions, and I will want to drop whatever I am holding and run out the front door. I will hide in the room farthest from where she stands and clinch my fists and rock on my aching feet and scream behind my teeth. Then I will breathe, and whisper something like “Lord, PLEASE,” and let my eyes fall shut for a moment. And when I open them, when I return to her, she will still be standing there in the kitchen, her hands ready, asking, “Do I do it like this?”
But one day, when my feet feel wearier still, and I sit down to eat a dinner Riley has prepared, and the accomplished smile stretches wide across her face, I will thank God for multiplying the moments, for giving me just the grace to teach, just the time for training.
Most worthwhile things really are worth the while.
God has taught me this ten thousand ways, patiently, over so much time, lesson by precious lesson. If He were human, like me, I suppose He’d have held infinite screams behind His teeth. I suppose He’d have turned away from me sometimes, to clinch His fists. I can be a slow learner. And not patient.
I’m training for a marathon in November, and I love it, and oh–how the training teaches. Steadily, I’ve logged miles running, tearing down and rebuilding muscle tissue, my body new to the requirements of distance. I’ve learned that rest matters just as much as mileage, how to eat for fuel that will build and repair the body, that preparing for a race requires strategy. Training is long, hard work. And just when one muscle stops aching over a new goal, just when I notice a new groove strongly sculpted, another weaker muscle hurts. These things take time, particularly when the body has no memory of such effort. But when I cross the finish line, it will all have been worth it.
I injured my knee recently, and I’ve not been able to run, and the hardest thing of all has been the patience it takes to heal. I have a race date I don’ t want to give up, and even as a newbie, I know the time it takes to be ready. But if this is not the time, another time will come. The training will happen, as it always does, in moments snatched from other good things. The healing is important too, and it must not be rushed.
But this is the society full of false prophets, and that’s what makes us crazy, our eyes darting from glossy pages to the reflection in the mirror, from the thing we must to the thing we want. The magazines make me roll my eyes and mutter under my breath. No fifteen easy exercises will cut your legs like Shalane Flanagan‘s (US marathoner, finished 10th in the Olympic marathon in London). Training has taught me the truth. Absolutely none of the ten minute ab workouts available will rip your core into a washboard. Not just that. And not quickly. No pills or magic diets will melt away the extra weight in 2 weeks or even 2 months. Not with any lasting results. No child potty trains, makes a bed, or learns to scrub toilets in five easy lessons. These things take time. And training. And we will be sore and tired and sometimes, we will clinch our fists and scream behind our teeth. But it will be worth it.
It will be worth it.
I have learned that if I do not feel close to God, if I am ungrateful, whenever I struggle in the clutches of selfish will, I must own my own untrained heart. No speaker, no matter how amazing, and no worship service, no matter how dynamic and engaging, will transform my spirit in one hour—even two—a week. Heart training takes hard core time with the Spirit and the will to abide while the human muscle aches, while divine hands tear down and rebuild. The time must be snatched away from other good things and protected. And sometimes, the training will hurt. Pain radiates through the sacrificed self. Surrender burns hot as He rips away the clutter and sculpts a holy reflection in its place. The training–for it truly is training–will take time and rest, proper nourishment (He is, after all, the bread of life) and strategy.
But in the end, it will all be worth it.