We were standing around a rather cheap folding table, the kind stored in closets and pulled out for Bunko nights and church potlucks. This event was one of the latter. The legs on the table looked suspiciously thin; I worried that the slightest nudge would cause the table to crumple and the apple pies sitting there would fall onto the white linoleum floor. The old story was that this was a pie baking contest but everyone knew that the judges would proclaim each one “the best” and we’d all happily agree that it was a 20-way tie. Once the illusion of judgement was blown, we’d eat homemade apple pie with store bought vanilla ice cream and waddle home for Sunday afternoon naps.
“What brings you to town?” The woman in front of me struck up conversation with the man in front of her, a visitor to the church.
There was a slight hesitation as he fumbled with a serving spoon before looking up to gauge her reaction. “I’m actually on my way to an alcohol treatment program. I check in tomorrow.”
“Oh,” now the slight pause was on her end. Then, “Good for you.”
She said this with real sincerity and warmth, not at all the sanctimonious “good for you,” that sometimes comes out of the mouths of people who mean well but have never encountered struggle.
I do not know what was said next, only that that there was a brief conversation and then the woman was reaching for a napkin to wipe her crying eyes. In the same moment, this stranger wrapped his arms around her in a hug that was at first awkward but then gained confidence.
“What was his name?” I heard him ask. Her answer was muffled by the pain of addiction and the grief of a hard death. “I’m sure he was a wonderful person. I’m so sorry.” The man replied.
Then, even though no one was complaining that they were holding up the line, the two gathered up their plates and the man dished a generous serving of apple crumb pie and melty vanilla ice cream for both of them as she scanned the room for a place to sit.
This is everything I know about the gospel. The wounded will become the healers and the healers will have their chance to hurt. Jesus says as much, “the last will be first and the first will be last.”
This is not a threat, although we sometimes hear it that way. This inversion of power is simply a promise; it is a promise that no one has to carry the burden alone. If you’re downtrodden by life and dependent on others, this isn’t the measure of your worth. And if you’re shouldering responsibility after responsibility and carrying a heavy load, your help will come from the most unexpected place.
While I don’t understand all this, and sometimes don’t even want it to be true (because I’m usually fine when I’m coming in first), it is a promise we can trust in. Someday, sometime, all things will be made fair in a big, cosmic way. Until then, we’ll take our glimpses of God’s kingdom alongside our slices of apple pie–bits of grace, fleeting but ever so sweet.
I’m linking up this week with the #wholemama women who are writing on “question.” It might be a stretch since I don’t directly even mention the word but at the end of the day, I can’t separate the mystery of unexpected grace from the central questions of faith. So I’m trusting you all to see the connection, to think about your own apple-pie moments and to embrace the mystery of who God is. And then check out the other bloggers over at Erika’s place who have written more succinctly on the topic. Erika wrote the post I planned to write but couldn’t get on the page, Sarah is talking about asking a better question, and Gayle is reminding us of the importance of curiosity and wonder as ways to break down barriers. Enjoy them and the others!