25 November 2012

We Went Hiking Again

But this time, we went way, way farther.  Seven miles or so, we think.   In the crisp air and sunshine.
It's one of those amazing worlds my husband inspires me to enter, that world of hiking longer than I think I want to, that world that tests me to push ahead.
And you know what?
I don't even feel a whit sore.  Maybe I'm in better shape than I thought.  It certainly hasn't been for lack of trying.
We also went Christmas caroling.  Some dear new friends live next to the trail head and we {I} couldn't resist.  And they loved it--almost as much as we did.
Will you tell me about your favorite carols?  The ones you could sing by memory at a moment's notice?
Beginning in December, I'd like to tell you about some of mine.

05 November 2012

The Bag on the Doorstep: Thank you, Pathfinders

We almost didn’t see it.  In fact, one of us stepped right over it, and then the brown paper caught the other’s eye.

Because it’s that time of year, when boy scouts and girl scouts and post offices and Pathfinders (the co-ed children’s club operated by my church world-wide) leave bags at the door and ask each household for some food.  A little non-perishable something to share with someone who doesn’t have enough to eat this winter.

Maybe I used to put something in the bag to be shared, if I had extra on hand.  I don’t remember.  I never thought much about the bags….before.  

Before a move across the country to my husband’s graduate university.  Before I looked for months on end and didn’t find work.  Before that Friday-before-school started that saw me talking with the chair of the music department about me applying for school, too.  Before that Monday when school started, me in tow, desperately holding on for dear life, the newest student employee in the music library.

Our pastor had told us what it would be like—at least, what it was like when he and his wife were at the same school years before. 

Once they had completely run out of food, but they returned their tithes and offerings to God anyway, and knelt down to pray, committing their need to the Lord.  As they finished, someone knocked at the door.  They opened the door to find two large bags of groceries.  Our pastor, a fast runner, ran to catch up to the giver, another man running away as fast as he could, just to say thank you, but to no avail. 

He finally gave up the chase and he and his wife thanked the Lord.

So perhaps it goes without saying that things were tight that first semester.  I earned a little, and my husband earned a little more with his assistanceship.  It wasn’t quite enough to make ends meet, but ends seemed to meet anyway.  Help seemed to come every time we needed it.

Once, a friend of my husband’s happened to be on campus one day, traveling through.  Did he need a place to stay?  Well, yes.  So we shared our space, or simple food, the little guest room that was barely unpacked.

He didn’t know it, I don’t think, but we hadn’t found a place to buy honey at a price that would fit our small budget—a staple for the bread I make, among other things.  He just happened to have some in the car from his mother’s bees, and left a little jar behind as a thank-you.

It was a gift that took my breath away.

Then once a friend from Alaska visited my in-laws in Washington state, and brought some Palmer carrots (known for their crisp sweetness).  My mother-in-law couldn’t bear to keep the treasure for herself, so she sent us a box.  All the way to Michigan.  They survived, and I didn’t have to buy carrots for weeks. 

Somewhere along the way, there were green beans from my in-laws’ garden, cans of olives and California almonds tucked in packages from my parents.  I remember them all because they were significant enough to me to write them down, in their own section of my thankfulness book.

Then one day a fellow student told us about the student food bank on campus.  All you had to do was show your student ID.

Food bank?

We had never gone to a food bank before to do anything other than help or donate.

Nonetheless, it became one of the blessings from God that semester.  I had to work the evening shift when the food bank was open, but my gracious husband took a deep breath and went to the line, bringing home whatever they had to offer.

Sometimes it was great.  Other times, the food bank food was less than healthy.  But it was free, and we needed food, so we were grateful for whatever people had given to benefit us.

Now I don’t even remember if it was a weekly pilgrimage, or just an occasional boost for us. 

We certainly weren’t alone.  It was common talk in our music department lunch room.  My husband and I commented one time that we didn’t even have money for cheap haircuts, and amidst the “oh-I-knows” resounding in the room, a friend offered to teach me to cut my husband’s hair.

She understood.

Another friend spoke one day of how she was in school without much financial support from her parents.  We talked about food, bills, needs.  I told her our pastor’s story, and we were both encouraged.

But the real spring in her step and gleam in her eye came the next Monday, when she had something to tell me.  The Pathfinders had knocked on her door that Sabbath with large bags of food.

“Heidi,” she said, “I didn’t even need it!  I didn’t even need it!”

Your definition of need does change in those circumstances.  But the point was clear.  Her cupboards hadn’t been bare, yet God had poured out blessings on her.

“I need to get back to returning my tithe,” she said, recognizing that God’s blessing goes beyond what we have in our little (or large) bank accounts.

I remember that pay day we had looked forward to.  The one that was supposed to be larger than usual, because my husband had taken an extra job as a ref for flag football intramurals. 

It was about the best-paying job on campus, and he had worked hard.  It kept him out late, in the dark, wet, and cold.  I usually tried to be in bed before he came home, but I would be sure to put out his slippers, an extra blanket to curl up in while he read worship, water in the teapot, a space heater, so that he could warm up when he came home.

The day we received his pay stub, however, I waited up.  I cried.  I tried not to say too much, but I think my mother-in-law caught on that things weren’t going quite right.

You see, they hadn’t gotten the paperwork done in time, and my husband hadn’t been paid for his extra job.  At all.

Now it was my turn to trust.

Pay periods were every two weeks, but I couldn’t see how we could make it that long.  There were bills due.  I had figured out exactly how much we would need to cover everything, and we didn’t have it.

Tears came to my eyes.  I sobbed out the story to my husband when he came home.  We determined to take it only to the Lord, and trust Him to provide.  I’ll freely admit that my husband was the strength that gave me the courage to hang on.

And it was hard—that trusting in Him to provide—be we laid it at His feet and went to bed.

I remember we had managed to save aside $20 to spend on food that week, maybe that much for each of two weeks.  It would be simple eating that week, and we’d need the food bank for sure.

But do you know, it was just the next day that we got a  surprise check from a family member?  Just that week that two more surprise checks came from family members?  Just when we knew we couldn’t really afford fruit that my aunt from southern California sent us a box of her home-grown pomegranates and persimmons?

Tears still come to my eyes as I write it, overflowing with awe and gratitude.

Even more followed—a honey jar from my uncle with the historic family honey label on the outside, not long after the first jar from a friend ran out.  A trip to Costco on someone else’s tab—the garlic lasted us until spring, the whole wheat pasta for nearly a year.  New snow tires, more gifts gratefully received.  Then at Christmas, more honey, more financial help, the gift of travel to visit family, a gallon of fresh honey from friends who told us where to get the next gallons for $20 each (one-fourth the price of honey in the store).

That second semester, we didn’t go to the food bank.  I was promoted to the music library assistanceship, which paid a little more.  Well, twice as much, actually, because the hourly wage was higher and I was required to work more hours. 

Just enough more to give us what we needed to spend on food, and (usually) to pay the other bills.  It was God providing again.  Providing financially, providing for me to learn things I would never have otherwise learned, providing relationships developed through my job.

Now we’re done with school.  We’re gainfully employed.  We’re in a spacious home with a giant garden space we can’t wait to get into next spring.

We’re the ones getting the empty food-drive bag on the doorstep, not the ones needing the full bags dropped off.

I can’t wait to go fill it up:  natural peanut butter, canned vegetables and fruits, olives, whole-grain pasta, oats, everything healthy and non-perishable and wonderful that I can possibly afford.  Maybe even some maple syrup or some honey or some dried bananas and mangos.

Really, all those things I needed and longed for back then.

Because now that I know what it’s like, it means everything to me to give someone else the kinds of gifts-that-meant-the-world other people have given me.  Maybe there’s someone else out there just like me who would long for just the same things in the kitchen cupboards.

Maybe you know what it’s like to have less than enough.  Maybe you don’t. 

But even if you don’t I hope you can imagine it enough to fill the bag on your doorstep.  And to realize that maybe they left you one bag, but one bag just might not be big enough for  the blessings you can afford to pour out on someone who needs them. 

I’m sure they won’t mind if you leave them five bags to pick up.