I used to be a brat. I still am. But I also used to be entitled, and gratitude is a road I’ve had to walk.
There’s a Fred Rogers quote that has become famous in the midst of the tragedies that seem to roll in and crash over this world like constant waves:
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping. To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers — so many caring people in this world.”
When things get dark and scary and lonely inside of our life-walls, sometimes we forget to see the helpers who have been next to us the whole time.
Here are some of mine:
My grandma, the most kindred of all my kindreds, who had a “no-hitting-house”, a “hugging-and-kissing-house.” Grandma, who invited those of different faith into her home to have coffee, with no other agenda than to be friends. Grandma, who could look beyond any shell, no matter how scarred or cracked or thick and scaly, and love the soul beneath it. Grandma, who was a bit of a rebel with a belly-laughing soul.
Grandma, who lost her thumb and her leg and her health, but clutched her indomidable spirit tightly (in her good hand, naturally) and refused to give it up.
She taught me what love looks like, how it touches others and matters more than rules and correctness ever will. She taught me what it looks like to love “the least of these.” She taught me how to laugh at myself. She was the embodiment of joy.
My Grandpa, who promised to care for me the moment he found out my mom was pregnant. Grandpa, who tugged on my ponytail and flipped through all 28 channels in search of a 30 minute show, spending exactly one minute on each channel in his quest. Grandpa, who was always down for a round of cribbage, who always had a twinkle in his eye.
He taught what an earthly father looks like, what safe people feel like, how love laughs and works and chooses to stick together.
My mom, who raised me as a single parent, living in gracious fellowship with those who often looked down on her for ever having me in the first place. Mom, who is an example of the fruit of the spirit lived out loud. Mom, who turned off the TV to have conversations with me when I was little and she was already exhausted. Mom, who has always looked to God first.
She taught me what true intimacy with the Lord looks like, what strength and independence looks like, how grace lived out can truly affect and soften others.
My aunts and uncles who took me in when I was a RIDICULOUS teenager. Ridiculous. These humans didn’t birth me, but were connected to me because I was their sister’s kid. And they showed me a level of patience and love that I am only able to understand and appreciate now, as an adult.
They taught me what family is, what choosing to love a sometimes unreciprical teenager looks like. They showed me that family means something, that we leave legacies and we don’t let each other fade away.
Friends and their parents who gave me a place to sleep, food, and a sense of family when they didn’t have to. Friends who included me in their family gatherings and in their holidays, whose welcome mat stretched out longer than it was required to.
They taught me what selflessness looks like, what Matthew 25:35-36 looks like when lived out loud. They taught me kindness and generosity.
The church, where I felt like an insider and an outsider all at once. The church, who I love even though sometimes it hurts. The church, full of people who are trying to do their best at life; who look for answers or try to give them; who sometimes lay their lives bare and raw, and other times polish the outsides of their life-cars because they can’t bear to show what might be underneath the hood.
The church, wounded, broken, waiting, hoping.
The church has taught me that we still show up, regardless of our woundedness. And we all handle it differently. But we are not alone. I learned that the church was full of people who love, treasures of human beings with helping hands.
God, who is so good and so kind. God, who IS Love. God, who showed His love by sending His son to die for all of us who scorned Him, who still spit in His face daily. God, who has given me an identity in Him, who looks at me and sees His daughter. God, who has been there the whole time; who fed my mother and I when we had no money and prayed for food; who places all of the helpers in our lives; who sets us free. God, who has loved me and even LIKED me when I have felt like the most unlovable of all. God, who has reached His hand down into the pits I fall into and pulls me up. Every time.
God, who remembers me.
Through my relationship with the Lord, I am learning faith. I am learning how to be still and listen and let go. I am learning that the fruit of my life comes from the inside out, from engine-work and not from the car wash. I am learning how to love others. And I am learning that I fall. Over and over again. But He is my master-hand-holder and load-bearer.
I am learning who I am, where I fit in this world, how to hope, how to love.
We live in a broken world. We are a mess. But there IS beauty. Sometimes it’s closer than we think. And sometimes, we don’t even know to appreciate our helpers until they become memories.
Sometimes by then, it’s too late to say anything at all.
I was an ornary and dysfunctional teenager. I was dramatic: broken pieces trying to stick together for just long enough to get where I needed to go next. Shortly before my grandma passed, I apologized to her for young-me and how awful I had been. I thanked her for being there through it all.
She looked at me, smiled, and said “Oh, Thalea. I loved you.”
I think Grandma carried the secrets in her back pocket all along.
Who have your helpers been?
What have they taught you?
Who might call you their helper?