On the porch in the early morning and the light all new, I lift my hand in the air, bending my fingers into the sign for love. And Adam, looking through the window as he leaves for school, tilts his head, studying the gesture. He looks at his own hand as Kevin backs out in an arc, and he tries, bending the wrong fingers. He waves a random sign at me, more like a softly crumpled fist than a symbol, and I smile, blowing kisses at him with my hand. This is how it is with us. I speak and he tries to reply, and some of the words he loses. But still, we understand each other. We tell our story together.
I hold my coffee mug against my chest with my other hand, a gathered warmth against the slight spring chill. As they disappear around a corner, I drop my hand. And that’s when I notice, because my fingers fall on the jutting tag exposed and chilled by the air.
My pajama pants are on inside out. Nice.
I look down at the faded sea of polka dots, the coral background blotted white on the underside, the rough seam traveling the length of my leg. This happens when a mother dresses in the darkness right before she melts into the sheets and the bed. In the weary night, it hardly seems important if things look the right way. And it makes me smile, because maybe we would all find it easier to talk to each other sometimes if we owned the truth about how we all are, how our need for tender treatment rests hidden on the underside of polish, how we stumble in the dark all empty when everything feels backwards and upside-down and crazy askew.
I think maybe inside-out is closer to the truth.
This morning, I forgot to butter the toast. I stared at it for seconds, wondering why it looked different, why today the bread appeared too dry. And then I remembered something I do every day, the butter, the knife, blurred by the morning fog gathered behind my eyes. And that was before I noticed my pajama pants.
I wander into the kitchen to survey the damage: a paper towel covered with egg shells, the cooking spray still uncapped behind; plates stacked randomly and teetering with gummy forks; the bacon pan cool now, with a dark sheen. In my inside-out pajama pants, I move to the sink, the dishwasher to unload, the task of re-ordering a room that looks about how I feel inside, all disheveled and messy. One thing at a time, I say, just under my breath, taking another swig of coffee. Sometimes upside-down and inside-out only straighten in short, careful steps.
Before I can sweep the floor, after I have rinsed and loaded the dishes and washed the pans, just after I have sprayed the sink with cleaner, a text comes from a friend: Can I serve you? She has written thus, only the words are more specific, the task framed so that I can touch it. She asks to pay the cost herself, and then has the grace to write PLEASE?!! I’m not the best at serving, but I’m maybe worse at being served. And suddenly, in the middle of Holy Week, I realize where I am. I’m in the Upper Room, and water splatters just a little from the basin as Jesus pours it, kneeling. He bends in front of me—me with the fog still gathered behind my eyes, with my pajama pants on inside-out; me with that messy feeling in my soul. He kneels before me in the person of my friend. And my reaction, when He bends to wash my feet is, Oh no, not me, Lord. See, she’s God’s daughter too, and she bends in front of me to sacrifice herself and take care of me. She’s no less busy, no less burdened by life and motherhood. But she writes, Life for you is all upside-down. Can I, please?
She sees me standing there all dusty, and she lays aside her life to wash my feet.
These were the last hours the disciples spent with Jesus, when he knelt and gently took their dirty feet in His hands. Days later, and they likely still felt His touch, still saw Him there in front of them—the King who kneels, the King who dies. They had no idea how upside-down their lives were about to be, how inside-out and scared they would feel, but He knew. He could see their tender vulnerability jutting out already, their misunderstanding, their confusion, their dust. And the last thing He chose to offer them before He turned with purpose to the cross was a clear view of how they would testify together. He showed them what cross-bearing looks like every day, how it redeems the broken, how it washes away the dirt that clings. Everyday cross-bearing looks like setting aside life and station to pour some water in a basin, to bend over another soul’s travel-worn feet.
Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you (John 13:14,15).
It always hits me what Jesus says when Peter shrinks back from the washing, when the disciple says No, you shall never wash my feet. I can see the way the Lord looks up, the King beside a basin in the floor. I can hear the way He says, Unless I wash you, you have no part with me. We can’t be served by the Cross if we won’t admit that we need the sacrifice. We can’t find our way right-side up if we won’t admit we’re all askew. We can’t give the gift unless we’ll be vulnerable enough to receive it, unless we’ll own that it was given to us first. And every time we serve each other, every time we wash each other’s feet, we proclaim the Cross. All of our self-sacrifices say, This is the King He is. This is what He has done for us. We become the sacrifice because He is the sacrifice.
My friend, waits, while I stand there looking at her kneeling, while I curl up inside, wanting to say no.
And suddenly I know what it is to say yes. I feel it, the way Peter felt it when he exclaimed, Then, not just my feet, but my head and my hands as well! Receiving the gifts, the service, the sacrifice of others proclaims our need, our inadequacy on our own, our acceptance of the Truth that changes us inside-out. So, I sit down, and I text back, “What a gift of grace. Yes. Yes, that would be wonderful.” These words I type really say more. They say, I do not have it all together. I am not a solo act. I have seen my King, and I have claimed His cross and His righteousness. Yes. Yes, I take the washing, because yes, yes, yes, I need help. I need the gift of the Cross.
Christianity is about following all the way to the Cross, and it’s also about admitting that I need the Cross in the first place. It’s about saying yes, wash me. Because if I can’t own my loose threads; my ragged, inside-out, dark-stumbling life; my desperate dependence on His grace, His foot-washing gift, His righteousness, then I have no part with Him. And when another soul bends over my dirty feet, proclaiming the Truth by their sacrificial service, it is my part with Him that should move me to say Yes. Yes, I need help. Because we’re His. And that means that we need Him; that we’re clumsy and messy and we lose words. And it also means that we can understand each other—the gift and the receiving. It means that we tell this story together.