The 50-Gallon Jug of Water

Photo by Abhishek Saini from pexels.com

She carries a 50-gallon jug of water with her. Although I’m unsure when she started doing this, it’s safe to assume it has been for years, if not decades. In all reality, it was awaiting her the day she was born.

It’s not a role she wanted. Who would want such a burden to bear? Nonetheless, it was passed onto her, and she has had no other option but to carry it.

We met nearly two years ago when she started taking care of my son at church. I was somewhat aware of the water jug at the time, but I didn’t think too much about it. It’s not something you just ask about, so I put any thoughts of it to the back of my mind and instead focused on what good care she was giving my son.

Several months later, we attended the birthday party for a mutual friend and had a real conversation for perhaps the first time. She mentioned to me that she was attending a new church now, which left me feeling disappointed. Nonetheless, we exchanged numbers and promised each other we’d hang out. It took a few more months, but we finally did and discovered that we had more in common than we could have imagined.

My son got sick a few short months after that, and our family life got turned upside down. But she was there for me throughout that time. She came over once a week to keep me company when I couldn’t get out for Liam’s sake. I probably would have sunk into depression had it not been for those weekly visits. Our afternoon get-togethers helped to alleviate the loneliness during that season of life.

After many months of weekly visits, my thoughts about the water jug started to resurface, and I wanted to ask her questions about it but second-guessed myself. Would I only be bringing up a conversation that was too painful to talk about? Would I unintentionally say something offensive or ignorant and only add to the weight of her already overflowing jug? As a result, I said nothing. As it was, we had so much to talk about anyway. We deeply connected on several areas of life, so we enjoyed talking about those topics instead. Besides, she probably knew that I cared about her and her struggles. We had shared so many of our struggles with each other as it was. Surely, she knew I cared.

But then Dallas happened, and I could no longer keep silent.

As we added ingredients to a mixing bowl for the dessert we were making one afternoon, I asked her about it. How was she feeling in light of this tragedy? What were her thoughts?

In response, she gently took me by the hand and helped me to wade into the waters from where her jug had been filled. We didn’t enter far. She no doubt knew I didn’t know how to swim in this river. But we got our feet wet as she expressed her heart to me about these issues, and I listened with empathy and gratefulness that she had trusted me enough to share. This whole experience was a baby step for me, but it was a good first step that I envisioned would lead to many more.

A half a year later, news of what had happened in Brunswick, Georgia reached our doors, and I found myself acquiring my own water jug by that time. It wasn’t very weighty in comparison to that of my friend’s. Just a gallon at most. But it was one I had acquired as an emotional response to hers in knowing that all these events were only adding to her already overflowing jug.

I walked around my house that week, feeling exhausted by the weight of my own jug. I wanted to cry. I wanted to sleep. I just wanted to make it all go away. And all I could think about, as I carried my one-gallon jug around, was how heavy her jug must be and how much of a part of her life it was. This was her life. It had always been.

I thought to make a care package for her. It was nothing ornate or incredibly special since the pandemic was in place and my ability to get to the store was limited. Nonetheless, I did the best I could and hoped it would show her how much I cared.

As I drove to her place the next morning, I called her to confirm she’d be home when I dropped the present off at her door.

She told me how sweet it was of me to give her a gift and how she should really be doing something for me since it was Mother’s Day.

The words gushed out of my mouth as I explained to her why I wanted to give her this care package. I told her about my newly acquired water jug and how I was grieving over the heaviness of her own as I carried around my lighter burden. And once again, all I could think about was how this was her life and had always been.

She cried, and so did I. And after dropping off the package on her porch that day, I drove away asking God to comfort her heart and to show me how I could love her well in the midst of so much wrong in this world. I wanted to help bring about real change, and I needed God to show me how.

I wish I could say that carrying my gallon jug alongside my friend has been a means of bearing her burden, but I don’t think it is. And even as her other friends have come alongside her and carried their own gallon water jugs in solidarity, I don’t think these acts have diminished her load. How can the weight of the water be made less, after all, when the water doesn’t cease to keep being poured into her jug?

Still, I hope she finds comfort as we walk beside her and express our concern and desire for a better future for her and others who share her same path.

I imagine a day where she and many others like her will lead the way up a grassy knoll. They will lead, and those of us with smaller-sized jugs will follow. And then, in one sweeping motion, we will all pour out our water and shatter our jugs once and for all with shouts of joy and triumph.

And as these shouts of celebration reverberate on that hill and saturate the sky, the walls will crumble to the ground. Every stone and brick of hatred, racism, oppression, prejudice, discrimination, and injustice will fall down and break to pieces, never to be built up again.

But until God brings that day to fruition, let us “learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause” (Isaiah 1:17 ESV).

Sweeping Up Pine Cones

I was probably on Facebook when it happened. I confess I have been escaping to it far too often nowadays. I finished looking at the image on my screen, then I set my phone down and turned around to investigate the mysterious rustling noise that was following the pitter patter of my toddler’s footsteps.

I already knew he had a plastic bag by the sound of things. I headed toward the living room, fully prepared to tear it out of his hands and withstand the temper tantrum that would likely ensue. What I wasn’t accounting for was the cluster of pine cones strewn across the tile floor as I made my way towards my son. I had forgotten about the pine cones altogether up until that moment. A friend of mine had given them to me months ago when she learned I was making a wreath. Since I finished the wreath before she could give them to me, however, I stuck the bag in a desk drawer to save for another day—a Christmassy, craft-making sort of day. Unfortunately, Liam had other ideas.

I let out a slow, audible sigh as the familiar feeling of hopelessness perched on my shoulders and pressed down on me. I already felt exhausted by current news events. An added chore left me feeling overwhelmed. The one true glimmer of hope at the moment was that Liam was due for a nap, so I got him down and grabbed a broom, all the while trying to muster up some energy for the task at hand.

After picking up the pine cones, I swept up the remaining pieces. As unhappy as I was about the additional chore that day, I was grateful for the decision it caused me to make, which was this: I’m not going to feel bad for having a hard time keeping up with the housework. At least, I’m going to try not to feel bad about it anymore.

The pine cone incident was the vivid reminder I needed for what I already knew—that my cute little boy is sabotaging my housekeeping efforts. He does so by making a number of messes daily. He also does so by slowing down any progress I make towards a clean home, squirming his way in between me and the kitchen counters when I’m trying to clean them or whining to be held when I’m in the middle of vacuuming. And let’s not even mention the countless number of times he asks for another snack when I’m trying to wash the dishes or sweep the kitchen floor! It’s no wonder household chores can be so daunting!

I’ve read enough to know that I’m just supposed to say by now that I’ll embrace the mess because my kid won’t be young forever, and memories made with him are far more important.

I certainly want to make memories with him and am, but I can’t bring myself to embrace the mess. Instead, I find myself thinking of how productive I was before I had a child. Although JJ doesn’t seem to mind that our loveseat has currently become a permanent spot for the latest load of clean laundry or that the sink nearly always has dirty dishes in it, I find myself reminding him of my past glory years as well, the years when I accomplished so much! He nods, unsure of what to say, and I silently wonder what became of the woman I once was.

Recently, I have realized how unfair it has been to compare myself to the woman I once was. No one would promote a woman to a new role within her company and give her new responsibilities only to expect her to do her former full-time job along with the new one. In essence, this is the expectation I have placed on myself.  Granted, I can’t just promote myself out of the tasks of cleaning and cooking now that I’m a mom. They have followed me into this new role and are a part of it for me. Nonetheless, I can’t assume I should be able to continue at the same pace I did before having a child when the responsibilities, distractions, and obstacles are greater now than they ever were before. This is something I need to keep in mind when I feel a sense of self-disappointment rising up within me. I also need to show myself grace. Perhaps I don’t have to embrace the mess, but I can be a little more accepting of it and patient with myself as I recognize the challenges I face at this stage of motherhood.

Something else I have recognized is that I do a lot more than I give myself credit for. I’m sure this is true of most moms. At the end of the day, it’s easy to look at our list of chores (or simply the laundry-laden love seat, in my case) and to recognize what we didn’t accomplish. But we fail to remember all the tiny chores we did throughout the day—the yogurt we cleaned off the table and chairs after breakfast, the couch cushions we put back on the sofa several times after our little munchkins kept using them as a trampoline, and the water we wiped off the floor when our toddler insisted on drinking from an open cup. These are all such simple tasks, and yet the house would be a complete disaster if we chose to ignore them.

 Then, of course, there are the tasks we do throughout the day that aren’t a part of the housework but are very much a chore—a chore caused by our children. Some of the more interesting ones involve fishing forks out of the trash, or, worse yet, toys out of the toilet. Or maybe it’s picking out food from a child’s hair. Or the minute task of re-rolling the toilet paper onto its tube. We’ve probably done a lot more than we realize (or can even remember) when the day comes to an end.

As we head to bed and see all the tasks that we didn’t finish on our way, let’s remember our own moments of sweeping up pine cones. Our days are full of them. As such, let’s give ourselves grace over a messy home and accomplishing less of what’s on our to-do list, because we’re accomplishing more than we even realize.

Furthermore, let’s also recognize what all we have become in our role as mothers. We are not a shadow of the women we once were. We have become more than what we realize, and we are acquiring new skills all the time on this journey of motherhood.

What new skills have you acquired as a mom?

Although my son is only two, I can already think of a small (albeit silly) list of abilities that I have mastered. I have become proficient in the fine art of cutting grapes into quarters, for instance. Moreover, I’ve become such a good tickler that I believe Liam would rate me a ten out of ten if he knew how to count.

The interesting thing about motherhood is that, just as we master one skill, it’s time to lay it aside and figure out how to master a new one. Our roles as mothers are dynamic, always changing and requiring something new as our children change and grow. But we adapt to those changes. We become what our children need us to be.

Nonetheless, we often fail to see the wonder of our role as mothers. The mundane and monotonous moments of life tell us a different story. But they don’t have to be the voice we listen to.

Perhaps one of the most beneficial things we could do for ourselves in this season of life is to ask God what He thinks of us in our role as moms. How does He specifically view you and me? And what does He want us to know about ourselves as we continue to take care of our children?

Mother’s Day is just around the corner. Although we may not be getting any gifts from our children this year and perhaps have low expectations for the day, God can make it special for us. Whatever He reveals to us, in fact, could be the very best gift Mother’s Day gift that we could ever receive.

We All Need a Hero

Photo by Porapak Apichodilok from Pexels

When JJ discovered that he could check out movies for free from the library last fall, the library quickly became the place to be for a quiet family evening out. We were easily there every Wednesday and had our routine down pat. JJ would head to the movie section while I would race after Liam, who would make a beeline for the children’s section where the community toys were kept. We would then meet up in the movie section a little later on so that JJ could show me what videos he had found while I nodded distractedly and tried to keep a squirming toddler from running off.

We watched some good movies during that time. Both of us like films based off of true stories, so we mostly gravitated towards that genre. Some of our favorites were McFarland, The 33, Operation Finale, Twelve Strong, and Breakthrough.

Since nothing beats free, and new movies didn’t make their way to the library all that often, we found ourselves checking out some of these films a second time a month or so later, then a third and fourth time when family came to town. Some stories never get old.

The more we watched these movies, the more I noticed the following pattern among the majority of these films:

  1. The main characters were just average people living ordinary lives.
  2.  An event or series of circumstances destined them for a greater story which involved an enormous obstacle to overcome.
  3. They chose to believe that the final outcome to their story did not have to be as bleak as their current circumstances suggested.
  4. They persevered in the midst of their trials, which inspired others to find faith and hope as well.

Ultimately, each of these stories were about men and women who emerged to become real-life heroes, not because they sought out the opportunity but rather because destiny gave them the chance to decide. And they took that opportunity; they rose under pressure.

When I was first pondering these thoughts in January, I believed it must be rare to be presented with such an opportunity. Although most of us can share about trials and obstacles we have overcome, most of our stories do not elevate us to a hero-level. We are just average people living ordinary lives.

Little did I know of the story that was about to unfold this year—one that would include a worldwide pandemic, and a quarantine and the social distancing regulations that would ensue.

COVID-19 has presented us all with a unique opportunity this year. We have been thrust into a situation where we must decide if we will emerge and be the real-life hero. We have been destined for this moment. Will we rise or fall?

In all honestly, we may do both. I know I have. I have tried to rise above these present-day circumstances and encourage people through writing, but the next moment I’m crying over a sentimental toilet paper commercial and asking my two-year old for a hug.

The truth is, we all need a hero. None of us are immune to the damage this illness is inflicting on society, nor are we impervious to getting sick or seeing a loved one get sick because of it. And we certainly are not unsusceptible to the range of emotions that the current events of the day can bring.

We all need a hero. We need a hero that will inspire us to have faith and to keep on hoping, one that will remind us that the final outcome of our story does not have to be as bleak as our current circumstances suggest. And we need one to help us overcome our enormous obstacles, because none of us can overcome them alone.

We all need a hero, and fortunately we have one if we are willing to call upon Him. He is ready to answer us even before we do.

We must not think that He is a hero like any other, however. He is limitless, all powerful, and without equal. No one can outwit Him or undermine Him, and His kingdom will never be overthrown. Nonetheless, He doesn’t necessarily choose to save everyone like a super-hero in the movies would. Not in the way we would expect Him to, at least. And we do ourselves a disservice when we try to demand that of Him or command Him to answer our prayers as we see fit.

After all, He tells us the following in His Word:

…my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

Isaiah 55:8-9 ESV

So how are we to find comfort in a hero that may or may not save us from death and everything happening in our world today?

We find it when we realize that we face a far greater obstacle than physical death, but He has made a way for us to overcome it.

The truth is, as much as COVID-19 is a concern in our time, it is merely a side plot for a much grander story in the making. God has been writing this story since before time began, and although we may see ourselves as average people living ordinary lives, He has destined us for a far greater story in which He sent His Son into the world to overcome our greatest obstacle—our separation from God through sin.

We were never meant to be the hero of this story, but we were meant to know the Hero. We were meant to find faith in the One who has overcome our greatest obstacle. And through that faith, we were meant to believe that the final outcome of our story—our COVID-19 story and otherwise—does not have to be as bleak as current circumstances may suggest, because He is the one that helps us to persevere in the midst of every trial we face, and that inspires others to find faith and hope through it all as well.

No matter what happens and what the weeks and months may bring, let’s keep this perspective. Let’s remember that Jesus has saved us for the life to come, the one that matters most. And let’s lean into Him and ask Him to help us be more like Him every day so that we can show others who He is, because just as we need a hero every day, the world does too. We all need a hero, and Jesus is the best one that anyone could ever have.