I don’t know how we accomplish anything without each other.
The day drifts away and we fall into order at the table, stamps and labels and letters in thick stacks in front of us, ropey veins like roots—more pronounced by the passing of years—rising from the backs of our moving hands. You’d know we belonged to each other just by those hands, and by the tone of our skin, which deepens like paper browning. She is like a tree, Word says, and so we are, three-generations full of the living water. Our moving arms make cross-shaped shadows on the table, my arm the post, hers the beam. I can see it’s the same way on down; their arms make crosses too. Together, we’re the limbs for many sacrifices.
They stamp and label and I fold, pressing careful creases into serifs and clauses so our letter will slide on into the envelopes. A piece of my mom’s fine white hair keeps slipping out from behind her ear, falling free over her forehead, but when I look up, it’s Riley who’s rubbing her face, absently clearing away invisible strands. “You need some rest,” Mom says, without even looking up from the label she’s smoothing into place. “Your eyes have gone black.”
“Yes, they have,” Riley says simply but without regret, just when I’m wondering which of us Mom means, because I can feel the shadows gathering. “Yes, I do.” And Mom, well she wears her tired like a hood. But these are just facts, as plain as the joy we find in breathing side-by-side. We were born for this. Everything we do is better done together.
It’s funny how I never quite figure this in, the together. In the weeks before Christmas, I spend a lot of time on my knees, remembering how to trust that all these things will be added, fighting to keep life in the right order. I am chronically deluded by the allure of self-sufficiency, that lie that makes me forget I’m a vessel. In prayer, God reminds me that I am neither the strength nor the lifting hand. I want to acknowledge you, I often whisper, rather than lean on myself. But isn’t receiving the gift of community also part of opening my eyes to Him? There’s really no self at all in sufficiency; there’s God and then each other. Love God; love each other. Isn’t the whole of everything wrapped up in that? My grace is sufficient, He says, for my power is made perfect in weakness (2 Cor 12:9). And I can’t acknowledge my weakness without admitting that I need Him; I need others.
In one afternoon, the three of us have accomplished what I would have done alone in days and days, and all with no sighs escaping, no longing for something other. The error in my wide-eyed half-blind assessment of how will is so often the I. Somewhere along the way, I forgot how to receive help. I think maybe I even stopped expecting to find any. But God moves through armies not just individuals. “I have many people in this city,” He once said to Paul (Acts 18:9-10), and that’s why you don’t have to be afraid; and that’s how you’ll keep on speaking; and that’s how I’ll keep you from harm. That’s how He keeps us moving: together.
And this afternoon, our hands nearly touching as we reach to send love, as we press blessing into paper with our fingers; I give thanks for my people, for the others that make up such a significant part of His with-me gift. Because even as I pray that He will use me to pour more of Him into other lives, He uses other lives to pour more of His grace right over me. Together, we are the limbs for a thousand sacrifices. And that’s how He meant it to be, that I’d be cross-shaped for you and you’d be cross-shaped for me and we’d be cross-shaped for each other. Sometimes you’re the post and I’m the beam, but we make Him visible together.