Saturday, March 8

Keep a Posture of Gratitude

Dear Jacob,

When I was in elementary school, I was a Bluebird.  A Bluebird was a precursor to becoming a Campfire Girl.  And Campfire Girls were essentially a Boy Scout rebellion group.  Girls couldn't be Boy Scouts so Campfire Girls was established by a compassionate farmer's wife.  Girl Scouts eventually came along, but Campfire Girls were here first.

By the 1970's, Bluebirds and Brownies (a group for young Girl Scouts) existed concurrently. And we did the same kinds of things. We didn't sell cookies; I think we sold nuts. We had cute little blue caps and we'd sew our activity patches on cute blue sashes and we simply had cuter uniforms all across the board, hands down, no contest. I have a shrinky dink Christmas ornament that I made when I was a Bluebird. Other than that I don't have anything left from that era of life. Except this memory.

There was a span of ages in my little troop.  It was probably only from age 7 to 9, but it felt like there were girls in there a good five years older than me.  One older girl, Kristen, was having a birthday party and she passed out invitations to everyone in the troop.  We were all excited to attend.  My mother and I went to Kmart one day to shop for a birthday gift to take to the party.  Because I didn't really know what else this glamorous older girl would want I chose a big carton of Whoppers for her gift.

I was getting ready to go to the party and I was a little nervous. Maybe I was going to be the youngest girl there and maybe my mother knew this. The gift was all wrapped and ready on the table and when I went to pick it up my mother stopped me, squatted down to eye level and asked if I wouldn't rather just stay home. To make the deal sweeter she even suggested I might enjoy just keeping the gift for myself. All of this, in retrospect, suggests that my mother was trying to protect one of us in some way. Like her Spidey sense was engaged and active.

At this stage of life I'd say that you and I were completely different kinds of kids.  Here's what kind of young child I was: shy. I hid under the table in Kindergarten. If you had a gregarious personality I was actually frightened by you. If you were an older man who was trying to be friendly on Sunday morning by complementing my dress-my-mother-made I would nervously smile and hide behind her. I didn't raise my hand to speak in class. I liked to read but not read aloud. I could be a happy kid, loud and energetic for a while and then if someone walked in that I didn't know, or if I was left out of the central activity in any way, I would close up in fear. Taking risks was not in my nature and going around the neighborhood selling those nuts for Bluebirds just about killed me.

I chose to have my mother drop me off at the party with my other Bluebird friends that day.  We played croquet on Kristen's front lawn and opened gifts and she didn't seem at all put off that I'd only just given her candy and nothing at all from the Hello Kitty store.  I was the youngest girl there and by the slight interaction the other girls offered me, it began to feel evident that mine was a mercy invitation.

When it came time for lunch Kristen's father manned the grill and we filled our plates with food and then went to him to receive a hot dog. When I got up the nerve I walked over to him with my plate held out. He said, "Well?"

I froze. It was a man. He had a man's voice. He was bigger than me. I didn't know him.  All kinds of triggers were happening for me. I said nothing.

He said, "In our house we ask politely for things. We say, 'please.'"

I said nothing. Tears were forming as I thought, " I AM a polite kid."

He seemed to have some kind of mercy pool in his heart and he let out a little of it and placed a hot dog on my plate. "What do you say now?"

I said nothing and hurried back to the table.

When my mother picked me up from the party she chatted in her friendly way to Kristen's mother and that woman actually told on me. When we were in the car my mother said something about what had happened, about being rude to others and then she said, "That's not the little girl I know." And I was deeply remorseful, not for what I had done, but for who I was.  I hated being shy. I hated the places it led me. I hated the doors it shut and the damage it did.  But mostly, I hated that I couldn't just get away with it and be this way without having to confront it all the time. This was the moment when I realized that I couldn't just be how I was and expect other people to constantly adjust to it.

That man didn't label me as shy.  He labeled me as ungrateful. And I think he was right.  I felt that I deserved to have a hot dog even if I didn't use the expected social constructs to receive it. I felt that it was okay for me to be silent because I was shy. I hid behind the "that's just the way I am" alibi.  Being shy was my excuse for being rude and it poured out in the form of ingratitude.

I read a book a couple of years ago that taught me something about gratitude, about thankfulness.  The word in the New Testament for thanksgiving is eucharisteo.  It's the word we use for the Eucharist, or the cup of communion. This means that thanksgiving is the posture we need to take when we approach the story of Jesus, his death, and his shed blood that God essentially looks through to see us as perfectly acceptable to him.

We can approach his story with skepticism, disgust, or ambivalence and we'll get different, disunifying results. In essence, if we aren't thankful we close a lot of doors and build a lot of walls where God is simultaneously trying to build a community of grace.  In short, we're always working counter to his purposes when we choose entitlement over gratitude.
Non-eucharisteo, ingratitude, was the fall -- humanity's discontent with all that God freely gives. That is what has scraped me raw; ungratefulness. --  Ann Voskamp
I wonder what Kristen's dad would have done if I had stood in front of him confident in my ability to be loved by God, grateful for the gifts he gives me day after day after day?  I wonder what cooperative interaction would have followed?  What inclusion I would have received? What deeper nourishment would have ensued from the day's celebration?  I'll never know.

Obviously, I haven't forgotten this experience and since then I have had many chances to know a different outcome, to respond to people with gratitude and thanksgiving.  To choose to wrestle that posture of shyness to the mat so that I can make my exchanges with others less about me and more about them.

My posture now is to see others as people who are loved by God and this perspective has made all the difference. You, my dear, are loved by God. So, is that kid who bugs you.  So is that parent who nags you. So is that brother who comes in your room. We can choose to respond with thanksgiving even when the scene is grim, the blood is shed, the insult has been given.  I'm still learning this one.  Would love to have you join me.