From across the desk, she looks at me. Young, full, black hair tries to interrupt, but is silenced by a casual tuck behind the ear.
The desk is old, cluttered, and the whole building smells of potato salad. That's what the receptionist said, anyway, while I sat waiting for my turn. My turn to approach Raven's desk.
Everything about the room wears signs of at least thirty years. Including the windows, which howl as the wind makes its rogue entrance, in spite of the glass. I sit in a tottering chair, well past the days of being comfortable, if there ever were any. And I scoot closer to the big, ugly, old, chipping desk. I know there will be papers to sign. There always are.
As a sheep before its shearers is silent, I hold my peace with the car keys in my lap.
Because I can.
The irony is not lost on me, though. Here I sit, an applicant for a governmental hand-out, energy assistance program, when I've got the same degree as Raven there. I've got the mounted paper and the gold ropes that sang around my neck "summa cum laud" when I walked that stage. I did the job shadowing and the internship and the research papers and had ideas that were dangerous. And yet, here I am, on this side of the creaky, crusty desk.
The side of the helped.
Because I remember walking into this very building, in fact, back in the green days of collegiate passion, when I was still zealous for saving the world and before I realized what a daunting task my own salvation would turn out to be. I remember the mentality: There are the helpers and then there are the helped.
Back then, I felt sure which side of the desk was mine.
And even when I changed direction, and turned my messianic heart toward a greater Kingdom with a richer saving, I still knew where my place was. I was the helper. I had the answers. I gave out the hugs, calmed the fears, whispered the prayers with my hands on their shoulders, and jostled the babies.
I was on the giving end because I was part of the haves.
The have-nots were a breed to be pitied, sometimes despised. They had gaping holes of need, giant reservoirs of empty, and more cracks than caulk. They were like those old windows, even now howling, letting in too much February bitterness.
And, in my unguarded moments, can I whisper the shameful truth?, I thought they deserved it.
I, brought up in a two-parent home, raised in Jesus, married to a wonderful man, etc, ad naseum, thought somehow that if their lives were in shambles that bad, then it was probably their fault, somewhere along the line. I hadn't managed, after all, to tangle up my ball of string so desperately, had I? And aren't we all made of the same stuff?
Oh, the self-righteous heart builds such fortified walls. And in the process, turns itself to stone.
I sit on my side of the hand-out and thank God for the blessing. Not just the money or the fact that I refuse to tell her my sob story or let my defense mechanism free to explain away the seven kids and the husband-in-school in order to justify my need somehow. No. Those are not the biggest blessings I gain.
Not what I can give, but for once, what I can get.
What I begin to get is compassion. What I begin to get is camaraderie. What I begin to get is humility and my stony heart begins to bleed. Maybe, after all, it's only by the bleeding that it turns into a heart of flesh.
Because I learn, as I accept Raven's warm smile and gentle conversation, to receive.
And I think that this is perhaps, a great salvation, too.
"Blessed are those who know they are broken."
(my eight word summary of Matt. 5:3-9)
still counting . . .
~ moments like these. taking a child aside for the report that reaches me -- that he hit his sister. having a heart-to-heart while we are knee-to-knee. can i get up now? he asks. you are sitting with me instead of playing because you hit your sister, i calmly remind. that wasn't hitting, he defends, it was punching.
~ watching the way a big brother gentles his arm around his baby brother. hoisting him up higher, sharing his love of animals with the young one.
~ waiting. how it reminds me of the hungers of the soul, not yet fully satisfied.
~ thrifted books with thinning, flimsy pages. ones that boast of words older than dirt.
~ one last snowstorm (fingers crossed!), and how it blankets old winter in holy down one more time. then watching it melt liquid as the warm southern breeze begins to blow.
~ watching an old tear-jerker with the kids. that movie was kinda sad, says the nine-year-old, pensive. what did you, think, Charity? i ask the five-year-old. she looks away, then down at her hands in her lap. she squints her eyes, fully engrossed in the un-self-conscious process of remembering. i did have some tears, she admits. and i love her for admitting.
~ good news from a distant land that is cold water for my weary soul. so says proverbs, and i agree.
Linking with Rachel, Ann, Create with Joy, and Laura.