Sunday, May 30, 2010
An Unexpected, Unconventional Invitation
At first I was skeptical. Self checkout? You mean, I just zip my stuff across the scanner, pay and leave? Just like that? It took me a while to get used to the idea. I was always afraid of holding people up by accidentally pushing the wrong button or sliding the wrong card or not having the sticker on my bananas that told me which numbers to push. But I have bravely overcome my anxiety. I still get things wrong on occasion, but I try not to feel too self-conscious about it.
This afternoon, Avery and I popped into Safeway to grab a couple of things for Sunday brunch. Self-checkout seemed the way to go. But after scanning my sausages, I got an unfamiliar message. I was poised to zip my card when the computer stopped me with the robotic alert, "Unexpected item in the bagging area. Please remove." I looked and didn't see anything strange. Milk and sausage. Each item had been scanned. I nervously glanced at the guy across from me who was amused that my computer lady kept up the broken record chant: "Unexpected item . . . unexpected item . . . "
I hoped that the overseeing clerk would receive some sort of subtle computer signal that I needed help and stealthily come to offer assistance. I double-checked my bagging area, but the message continued. Over and over. And then I realized what the "unexpected item" was. It was Little Miss Avery Kate. She was simply standing and swaying at my side, but her little hand was holding onto the bagging handles, adding weight to the scale. A clerk finally came by to help, laughing, "It happens all the time."
As we left, I thought about how ironic the computer announcement was. Our little "unexpected item." Yes, in fact, she was unexpected. Baby number four caught us off guard. But we very quickly got used to the idea, as one tends to do with an expanding belly. Just before she was born, I had a fortune cookie that predicted, "An unconventional person is coming to stay with you." I tucked the fortune in her baby book and we prepared ourselves to receive this amazing person.
She has continued to amaze and delight from day one. Mind you, she is still very unexpected. There is something eerily Jekyll and Hyde-ish about her. Some mornings she comes down smiling, dressed in her tutu and tiara and ready to be mama's helper. And then there are the wailing, wild-hair banshee days when absolutely nothing goes as expected.
It struck me on our way home from Safeway how easy it is to be irritated by the unexpected, especially in my children. I shuddered when I asked myself, How often do I treat my children like they are "unexpected items?" When I have my day mapped out and my hours ordered, how do I react when they throw a kink in the works? They get tired too soon (while mama's shopping) or not soon enough (at bedtime). They get hungry too soon (right after breakfast) or not soon enough (as we're sitting around the dinner table).
When I was in college I heard Dr. Howard Hendricks speak about the "unexpected" events in Jesus' life. I'll never forget what he said: Human interruptions are often divine invitations. These little people in my life -- God has placed them there so specifically, so intentionally. Every interaction I have with them (expected or not) has the potential to draw them (and me) closer to the Lord, if I am wise enough to see it and bold enough to welcome it. I have divine invitations all day long. Do I acknowledge them as such?
For nearly five years I've shared Avery's funny little fortune with family and friends. A little while ago, I pulled out her baby book to show the bit of paper to Jamie. I was stunned. There was more to the message than I had remembered. It read, "An unconventional person is coming to stay with you. And magic will be created."
I'm not superstitious. But I do know that something beautiful is created when I look into my child's eyes and really hear what is being said and when I really understand what is being needed. It's an opportunity to share in the divine. And I'm a fool if I let it pass me by.