We found out yesterday that the Church needed to open its doors to the homeless community during the coming days of extremely cold weather here in Nashville. Thank God for faith communities of every creed that are willing to open up their very houses of worship and transform them into makeshift dorms so the most vulnerable have a safe, warm place to rest their heads.
Annie wanted to help. She asked Ryan and I at lunch if she could go to the church later that night to help me set up. The idea of a slumber party at church made the child exceedingly giddy, even if she wasn't the one spending the night. Lock-ins are going to totally blow her mind. And then an idea came across her face so sincerely that she blurted out the most beautiful question, "Do they need stuffed animals to snuggle with?" Because when you are almost six-years-old, every occasion calls for a stuffed animal to snuggle with. Especially a cold, lonely night in a new place you've never been to. But before Ryan or I could answer, we realized it was a rhetorical question and she had no intentions of gleaning any answers for us.
"I'll be in charge of stuffed animals!" she said triumphantly; matter-of-factly.
I assumed she would move on by the time we got home. I might even be able to dissuade her from going with me, that way I could actually set up with some degree of quickness and efficiency. I was wrong.
As soon as we got home she went straight to her room, dumped out her entire industrial sized pink bin of stuffed animals and dolls and began to sort. Every other doll she would bring to me with a heavy look of discernment and say, "I don't know? Do you think Raggedy Ann? Because she's a girl, but she could be for boys or girls because she's tough." Or, "Do you think this GloWorm? Because I bet someone will probably be afraid of the dark." Or, with guilt, "Do you think it's ok if I don't send my lamby, because she reminds me of..."
She carefully, thoughtfully sorted through the dolls and animals trying to determine what a grown man or woman might want to sleep with through her enormous, tender heart and eyes.
And I warned her, repeatedly, that she might not get the dolls back. Ryan and I stood in the kitchen, over hushed voices, he asked what any careful and cautious adult might, "Will she be in the way?" We both longed to discourage her from what might potentially be a situation where she poured her tender heart out only to be overlooked. We wanted to dissuade her from getting hurt, from being in the way.
We scrounged up every- unfortunately pink- fleece Disney blanket in the house and with the help of my next door neighbor, we managed to round up a trunk full of pillows and blankets. And headed back to the church three hours later.
She taped her sign covered in stickers and XOXO (which she quite cautiously attaches to the end of letters to people she would only actually kiss or hug) to the back wall of the church's makeshift dorm, "FOR SNUGGLING LOVE ANNIE." She laid out her most pretty blanket and set each animal out, carefully, thoughtfully. And then she found me and although a few other kids were there running around, what she really wanted to do was help make beds. She picked out pillows and blankets and helped pull bed sheets through the cracks of the chairs to secure them in place. A job I told her she was uniquely qualified for since she had the smallest fingers and could grab and pull what we could not.
As I laid in bed last night, I heard Ryan's very practical adult words echoing in my head, "Will she be in the way?" And I began to think of how often we adults miss it because we are too self-conscious, too practical, too worried we might get hurt or- gasp- might be in the way. Of course even as parents of children whom we long to protect, we allow them to "be in the way," because they are childlike and innocent; their actions are cute and sweet; and there is the whole Jesus to the Disciples bit about "No, you idiots, let the little children come to me." So we let children go and set up their dolls and tape their signs to the church wall, "FOR SNUGGLING LOVE ANNIE." Because who are we to keep the little children from the things of Jesus?
But often, we adults are a totally different story aren't we?
Too many God-fearing, Jesus-loving adults do absolutely nothing beautiful or whimsical or redemptive for the world around them because they live with the voices in their head saying:
What if I am in the way?
What if they don't really need me?
What if I don't have much to offer?
What if I am embarrassed?
What if I the pink Disney blankets I brought aren't good enough? What if I just leave them in the car until I know for sure I won't look like an idiot?
What if I pull out my offering as a last resort?
The questions reek of worry, shame and fear of the opinion of others.
Not radical love.
Radical acts of love and service can't just emanate from our tender hearted children who are completely unaware that they might be in the way; who are completely unaware of being 'self-conscious' yet. While their acts are beautiful, they can't be expected to suffice as the whole. Loving radically well isn't just child's play. Radical acts of love and service are the stuff of adults who love God and seek to make His kingdom known here and now on earth as it is in heaven.
I woke up this morning reminded that I don't want to live small and safe and practical and fearful and shame-driven and worried I might be in the way.
I want to be in the way.
I want to be more like Annie.
I want to be embarrassed for bringing too much. Too little. Too ugly. Too girly. Too useless.
If I am guilty, let me be guilty of showing up with not quite the right thing but showing up all the same.
Because while it is endearing to see a child offer their stuffed animals, what is more endearing is to see the mix-match of adults who showed up last night with their comforters, blankets, pillows and linens. Perhaps afraid, self-conscious, or unsure if their old ______ was needed, but who still showed up all the while with the most intimate of belongings. Sheets, blankets, pillows from their very bedrooms, invisible signs, "FOR SNUGGLING LOVE JENNY."
The adults who inspire me the most on this earth are the ones
who are in the way
or perhaps, more accurately
becoming the way
through which the world knows true love.