By Millie Sweeny
The year was 2016. I had recently chopped off all my hair in an attempt to simplify my life, but mostly it made getting ready even harder, as it is much easier to make long hair look intentional. My mother-in-law was recently buried, and we were recently home in Oregon after a month in Tennessee after her funeral. We struggled to find our new normal in a world without her constant, gentle love and support in our lives. Despite living thousands of miles away, she had been very much part of our days. My son, especially, loved spending his lunch time, eating cheese and ham and blueberries while video chatting with his Gigi. She had died on his fourth birthday.
My husband, devastated at his mother’s passing, was still unable to grieve. He had no space in his life, for he had to put his head down and survive. Surgical residency is a grueling five years, and he was only in the second year. I, meantime, struggled to keep our family together: a four-year-old and a one-year-old, a rickety house on a farm where we supplemented the residence pittance salary by growing our own vegetables, and heating our house with a wood-burning stove. I felt like Laura Ingalls most days, a baby on my chest and a toddler in tow, hauling wood across the yard and snapping beans after they were in bed.
We were stretched taut as rubber bands, fragile and ready to snap.
Each Sunday, we gathered with our small community in the old building downtown. We called one another to worship, confessed our sin, and heard the assurance of pardon. While our pastor preached, I snuggled one small child on my lap and handed crayons to the other. Usually, I was here alone. Andrew was always at work, at the mercy of a schedule he had no control over. I did not contribute anything to this church except my presence, one more voice raised in song and one more body in the pews. I was exhausted, often too tired to have conversations with my friends.
When it was time to take the Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper, the bread and wine whose scent had been wafting through the room all morning, each week I was so hungry for it. Each week, my soul and heart ached for the words of institution, the promise given in the bread and wine placed in my weary hands.
This is my body, given for you.
Mothers know something about giving our bodies. To the stretch and change and indignity of pregnancy, childbirth, nursing. To the long hours in the middle of the night, pacing in exhaustion. To the grasping of small hands, and the multitude of spills and stains that somehow always find us.
This week, when our pastor stood up front, bread in his hands, and called When you are ready, come and eat, I was so ready. My heart was hungry. Weary. I missed my mother-in-law, who had also been my dear friend. I missed my husband. I missed myself, lost in the fog of young parenthood.
We walked up front. Little girl cradled in one arm, little boy holding my hand tightly. In his other hand was a little cup of Cheerios. I am sure my eyes were weary, my arms tired.
My pastor handed me a piece of sweet bread, soft and fragrant. Christ’s body, broken for you.
A soft crashing sound broke the reverence of the moment. My son had dropped his cup of Cheerios. They had exploded, in comical array, across the entire front of the sanctuary. It was impossible to step without creating crunching crumbs underfoot. I closed my eyes, willing the tears to stay put.
I bent down, apologizing. Began shoving them back into his little bowl.
My pastor bent down beside me, easing me back up. It’s fine, don’t worry about it. It’s no big deal. Go on. Don’t clean this up. It’s fine, really.
Humiliated, I took the cup, moved on, went back to my seat. I cringed every time I heard a crunch. Someone else swept them aside, and the service continued.
I did not feel anything then but humiliation, but I have thought of that moment a hundred times since then. No other moment in my life pictures so well what that church has meant to me: a place where it has been literally impossible for me to hide my mess and struggles from those around me. But more so, what that means before the throne of God, whose church it is.
My mess and shame and inadequacy were spilled, in full view, in front of the bread and wine which mark the promise of my salvation. The only thing I brought to that conversation was my weariness, my inadequacy, my loneliness, a literal mess all over the floor. To Jesus, I brought disaster, mortification and inconvenience.
In return, I was given bread and wine, and the promises they carry. Christ’s body, broken for you. The blood of the new covenant.
This, dear ones, is grace, grace, grace.
Each week, I bring the same mess. Some weeks, it is obvious, for I have tears in my eyes, or a frown on my face. Other times, I come forward in joy, hands outstretched in celebration. But no matter how I approach it, the message is the same: Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.
The bread, the wine, the promises they carry in their mystery, the body and blood and salvation of Jesus our Savior are given freely. Come, you who are weary. Come, buy without money, and eat. All it costs is nothing. The pouring out of my mess before His gentle feet.
Bring your weary feet, your weeping eyes, your cups of Cheerios. There is grace and grace and grace in return.
About the Author
Millie Sweeny is a Southern transplant in love with the Pacific Northwest, where she moved with her husband and kids eight years ago. A former writing tutor, she can usually be found kneading dough in the kitchen, driving to piano practice, or taking book club way too seriously. She writes regularly for Story Warren, occasionally for the Rabbit Room, and geeks out about books at instagram.com/millie.sweeny.