Last night, after Ben's basketball game, I decided to surprise the boys and take them out for pizza. Okay, the truth is, my lazy bones had gotten the best of me. After a very loooooong day, cooking for 7 seemed like the equivalent of climbing a mountain barefoot and pregnant with an elephant on my back. As we cruised down the stretch of highway, the bleak early evening darkness defeated by the hopeful sparkle of Christmas lights set proudly in place from house to house, could not distract my anxious heart from the longing I had to hear my phone chirp, telling me I had a message from Steve.
My husband had been in meetings all afternoon, and though his schedule is often busy and unpredictable, I always hold out hope that he will be with us at supper time. I don't mind keeping my preparations warm, and pacifying the kids for a while if it means we can all be together around the table.
As the kids climbed over seats and out of the suburban into the cozy warmth of the pizza parlor, I turned to look down the street, hoping that maybe I would see the lights of Steve's pick-up truck heading our way.
The smell of fresh Italian baking rising from the kitchen made our tummies rumble and our mouths water, a welcome feeling for me after almost three months of first trimester nausea. Filing through the maze of tables and chairs we made our way to the center of the restaurant and found the perfect spot to park by the fireplace. The very moment we all sat down, I couldn't help but notice an elderly lady, sitting in a booth nearby, dining alone.
Over the years, Steve and I have made a habit of inviting the elderly to join our family at our table if they are eating alone, but as our family has grown in size, that habit has waned, as we wonder if eating alone is preferable to eating with a mob. I looked at her warmly and smiled, then turned my attention back to the kiddos.
While I visited with the boys about the day, the basketball victory, who is most likely to match up in the Super Bowl, and what to get dad for Christmas, I could see our "friend" admiring the boys, especially Charlie. The moment she finished her meal, she turned toward me with a smile, and we began conversing. We talked about the first thing that every mother and grandmother always talk about - kids! After she expressed sincere empathy about how busy I must be, I shared with her that I have an amazing team-mate to share the joys with, and that I was waiting on him to arrive to join us for supper. I went on to explain that I after a crazy day, I needed a night off from the kitchen, and it was then that I immediately saw her eyes well up with tears.
Between the tears, she shared that ever since she had lost her husband a couple of years ago, she has found it so difficult to cook for just one person. Looking at her with compassion, I remarked that I couldn't possibly imagine how she must feel, but that I share in understanding of the generous gift of love she gave to her husband every day, for all of their years together. "My husband is the only reason I cook every single day. I do it for him, and him alone." She nodded in agreement, in our common bond, wiping the tears from her eyes with a wrinkled tissue.
As I reached out for her hand, I complimented her on her devotion to her husband. "That kind of love and attentiveness seems kind of rare these days with everyone leading such busy lives and being consumed by busy schedules. Cooking for your family, every day, sitting around a table full of love and and stories and laughter and sometimes tears is as nourishing to our souls as the food is. It seems like such an ordinary thing, the quiet sacrifice of serving your family a home cooked meal night after night. But, over the years, that ordinary gift, that ordinary experience can add up to something pretty extraordinary." She squeezed my hand in unity.
In our brief time together, I felt a deep consolation inside, one that I didn't realize I desperately needed. I confess to feeling weary lately of stay-at-home motherhood, of cleaning up after the flu that has nestled itself, unwelcome, into our home, of lacking the energy to keep our nest tidy and organized, piles of this and that anywhere and everywhere, of noticing every single dang time I go out for groceries - because that seems like the only time I go out - that every other mom in the world besides me seems to be able to find something besides sweats that fit, to have polished nails and freshly combed hair. And, the career moms, oh, do I sometimes day-dream of being in your shoes....if only for something part time.....just so I can reassure myself that I really am capable of doing more than change diapers and fold laundry, that I can socialize on a level beyond toddlers and teens, that I can make a difference in the world outside of my own little one at the end of the cul-de-sac.
The consolation came, when I looked into the eyes of this woman, who couldn't hold back tears nor hide her mind's stroll down memory lane, as she spoke endearingly of her husband with great fondness, great longing, and great loneliness. What she wouldn't do to have him back for one more meal, for one more mess to clean up, for one more load of his laundry to fold, for one more opportunity to be "home" to him - as hidden, and as simple, and as unappreciated by the world as that ministry may be.
While I think that my bouts of disenchantment with motherhood and service to the family, yes - at times - even to my spouse, are normal, shame on me for succumbing to it. How easy it is to forget - until you are reminded by a complete stranger - of how precious what you, in your moments of self-pity can no longer appreciate. To be reminded that everything, in the end, really boils down to love. EVERYTHING we do, unnoticed and unappreciated, mundane and maddening, when done for love of the Lord, and for the love of our family (primarily our husbands) has merit, has meaning, and has a message. Such quiet love, over time, speaks volumes to the power of sacrificial love, love that, like a glue, is strengthening and bonding, strong enough to hold people together, to hold families together, to hold our life in this crazy mixed up world together and keep us pointed toward heaven.
My only regret after saying good-bye to this precious lady, was that we didn't exchange names or phone numbers. I'm deeply hoping that we'll meet again. It would give me great joy to invite her to our home for supper. I have a feeling she wouldn't let me stand alone in the kitchen, and I would be just fine with that. Goodness knows, she could probably teach me a thing or two over the stove - not just about cooking.