(First off, I want to thank everyone who read and commented on my last post. I couldn’t believe how many people stopped by. So thank you! Thanks especially to Hilary (http://thesmittenimage.blogspot.com/) for putting me in her “Post of the week” and to Grayquill (www.grayquillmusings.com) for recommending me. I am excited to share another story I wrote today about someone very special to me. I could have written much more, but this is just one little bit. I hope you enjoy it, and have a very happy New Year!)
I roll the lemon cookie dough into balls and place them on the waxed cookie sheet. I really don’t want to make cookies, but it’s someone’s birthday at work the next day, and I volunteered a few days earlier to make them. Now, at 7 p.m. after a long day, the earlier baking enthusiasm has long worn off and it just feels like more work. I also made them the day before, for a cookie exchange, so this is the second cookie-making-episode within a 48 period. The faster the better, I think, and then I can do what I really want: read the book on Alaska I picked up at the library the day before. I make them as quick as possible, mixing together the boxed flour, eggs and oil, and setting the oven for 375 degrees. As the oven heats, I finish rolling the dough.
Janet walks into the room, and asks about what I’m doing. I explain. Janet wears a rumpled sweat shirt too large for her and khaki pants that no longer zip, so she frequently pulls down the shirt over the broken zipper. She wears her brown hair short and doesn’t style it. She does, however, often comb her fingers through it, which leaves it looking wild afterward. Janet, nearing 60, has almost no money. Whatever money she does have comes from the government. Recently it informed her she’d get $100 less dollars per month—a huge sum to her—meaning she’ll eat less and must live on less than she already does, which isn’t a lot. The government cut back on some of her support programs. Once she lived on the street, homeless. She found food where she could, at stores, like Value Home Centers, that gives away free popcorn. That was before she met Jesus Christ in her early twenties. He changed her. He brought order and clarity to her mind. As she grew in her relationship with Him, she began working, got and apartment and started going to church every week.
“You know,” Janet says, “Some people really struggle with jealousy.”
A long time ago I came to expect Janet’s abrupt shifts in conversation, her laughing at silly things and her special view on nearly everything. I appreciated her there with me, keeping me company as I swipe a spatula underneath the done lemon cookies and transfer them onto cooking racks. The cookies would have taken much longer without her. I wait for her to continue.
“But I never did. Because, the way I see it, it doesn’t do any good. Sometimes I think, I would like to have a house like most people and nice things, but that isn’t for me to decide.”
When Janet was not yet even born, her mother drank alcohol heavily. It affected the baby inside her. When Janet finally came into the world, she wasn’t quite right. Her eyes slanted upwards. Her bones were especially slender, noticeable at the wrists and in the feet. She was slower than other kids, too. High functioning, but still slow. She would have been born perfect but for the alcohol that warped and changed the baby. But what is perfection, anyway? I believe once we set standards for perfection, we begin excluding other people, begin excluding life. One time I did a story on a baby with spina bifida—Emily—and doctors advised her parents to kill Emily before she was even born. Why? Because her spine didn’t go down all the way. She wasn’t the ideal baby. But they chose not to. And I believe that in their arms, love has made her more whole than most people will ever be. They are happy because they’re together.
I think about all this as I listen to Janet talk. She’s often glad to just to have someone listen.
“I don’t know why some people have a lot of nice things, and I don’t,” she says, “but, like I said, that’s not for me to know. God chooses that. If He blesses me with something, then okay, but if not, then I’m okay, too. And, really, I have everything I need.”
She continues, “Would I like to have my own car and drive places? Sure. But I know I cannot.”
The most Janet can do is ride a bicycle. To get anywhere she bundles herself in many layers and walks, even in the winter. Everything for her is harder than it is for other people. I feel a lump growing in my throat, and I set my spatula down on the counter. How often have I been jealous of other people? Wished for nicer things, for something different than the things I’ve been given in life. Here is someone who, in the world’s eyes, has absolutely nothing—not money, not a job, nor a car or even a family—nothing of status. But she has a better grasp than almost anyone I know on being content—and thankful even—for the few things she has been given. She knows what she has is a gift. I glimpsed, there in that kitchen that evening, as I grumbled about making cookies for someone’s birthday, something incredible. And I thanked her.