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Thursday
Nov172016

Stalled by Grace

This weekend our neighborhood’s pulse will be synching up to the rhythm of our annual jazz and blues festival. It is a merry ole’ time with sizzling turkey legs, picnic blankets, and enough sweat to make us all reconsider our attendance. But it is so good to be together around the music. 

Our local community arts program, of which I am the director, will have a booth tucked away in the pavilion. We’re in charge of the ribbon batons that the children will be curling through the air during the kids’ second line. As I’m stripping the fabric in preparation for the festivities, I imagine them moving through the crowd like Moses and his fellow freemen crossing the Red Sea, stepping on paper plates and being adorable. 

Last week, I took my neon orange list into the arts and crafts store to begin gathering supplies for this upcoming event. I was in a hurry, as I am always in a hurry, my brain consistently four steps ahead of my body at all times. Bumping into buggies left and right as I encountered a brief bout of decision paralysis over fabric shades, I finally landed on the bolts I needed and headed for my spot in the cutting line. 

She was easy to categorize with her attention to detail and repeating questions. I knew I would be—we would all be—here for a while. 

“How many yards?” she would say, as she took both pins out. 

“Two and a half, please ma’am,” the woman three people ahead of me replied, initially with energy and kindness. 

The pins were placed just so in their cushion; the fabric was arranged with precision on the measuring line. “Now how many yards, you say?”

Unfold. Ask again. Adjust. Cut. Ask again. Fold. Refold. Ask. Pins. Next in line . . . Repeat.

I didn’t have anywhere urgent to be except for the next place, but I felt my neck begin to tighten in the concrete fashion that happens when one is unwilling to be surprised by life.  Embarrassingly, it was only when I heard her referencing her body-altering car wreck that I melted some in my grace-withholding. My feet grew some roots into that dusty tile floor, and I got comfortable. 

“What’s your fabric for?” the lady beside me asked. 

“Oh, me? A kids’ booth at the jazz and blues festival.” I put my phone away. “We’re making ribbon batons. You?”

She looked at her friend, “Well, she’s making a mini-me project for her first grader, and I’m going to attempt my hand at making clothes for my kids who are too far apart in age for me to find matching outfits anywhere in town.” 

I shared how my little brother and I were the same distance in age—this was a reality my mom knew well, I said. Another lady approached with upholstery material sticking out of her cart like a sail; she had a story as well. Soon, we were congregated around the employee on whom we all depended for release. And as she snailed along, she told us stories of her twin great-nieces and asked us to pray for her husband’s cancer. All the women held their fabric, still hurried, yet connected for a moment, nodding.

I took a panoramic mental picture and noted how much this scene looked like a watering hole or a well. Take away the scissors and put a bucket. Take away the aisles and replace them with dirt roads. The village is alive and well today in the arts and craft store, I thought. And I almost missed it. 

Often, I find myself romanticizing a primitive communal existence—where folks lived closer, interdependently, and amongst multiple generations. So easily and frequently do I overlook the modern-day opportunities that God gives us to gather, learn, listen, and watch. It happens over dishes and around appetizers; we can find it in the post office line or from our front porch. 

My dear Britney, I felt, take note of this: You should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry. Not simply because it will end in less frustration and hurt feelings, but because it is how we are surprised by life, and grace, and God. 

How might the village—the connection—you seek already be present around you? Like hurriedness, what is keeping you from recognizing it?


 

Britney Winn Lee is the director of a community arts program in Shreveport, LA, where she lives with her husband and the two creatures she is most proud to have kept alive: her toddler and aloe vera plant. She is a program coordinator by day, stroller pusher by evening, and writer by whatever spaces of time can be carved out otherwise. You can find her work here and on britneywinnlee.com, milkdrunkblog.com, and redletterchristians.org

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