It’s Sunday afternoon and spring has sprung in all its glory in our city. My daughter and I are walking to the shops down our street while husband and son play a game of tennis. Upon leaving the house, my daughter asks that I cut an apple in small pieces for the little birds on our way. I in turn ask her to try to not moan too much while we walk there and back, a tall order for a little girl who wears her heart on her sleeve. Then we are on our way. We stop often as she puts down pieces of apple all along the route. We are in no hurry. On our way back, she asks for a piece of bread just bought as ‘the little birds need more food for the night’. She sings and dances as she puts bread in nooks of trees so ‘they don’t need to come all the way to the ground’. The sun breaks through the trees to tell of the sacredness of this moment. Back at our house, broad-chested, she declares that not once did she moan there and back! Indeed you didn’t, my little girl. I am so proud of you for that and am truly thankful that you didn’t moan. Not only am I thankful for the sparing of my ears, but also because you are such a wonderful little girl.
I think back to her first birthday. Butterflies and flags, balloons in a green forest. Her unique laugh that fills the air like a shiny bell ringing in all its joy. Then, the opportunity to smash her butterfly cake that she takes on with her trademark eagerness. I remember catching myself just sitting and staring at her. Her hands hungry to discover, her eyes wide with amazement, little face cake-smeared. Her dramatic gestures that tell of a profound love for life. Her brother running around, trying to catch balloons that gently sway in the breeze. I remember the distinct feeling that I didn’t want to be anywhere else but there. I remember thinking that there will never be a sacred moment like this one again. I remember feeling thankful.
Tonight, while washing my son’s feet, I again feel that I do not want to be anywhere else but here, smelly feet and all. In a crystal clear moment, I thank the Lord for the opportunity to wash my son’s feet. I think of my friend Lize who is in hospital for longer than two weeks now and is not able to wash her daughters’ feet tonight. I think of my mother and so many others who are not able to wash their sons’ feet anymore. I wash between his toes and he laughs with his crooked two front baby teeth that will soon be gone, teeth that are now out of place in his enlarging jaw. I watch him walk to his room, bones sticking out everywhere after influenza had the better of his body last week. But he is better now. The sparkle in his beautiful green eyes is back. I am thankful.
Last week, in the hall of a Dutch Reformed church in Pretoria, we prepare for the concert of my daughter’s little playschool. The teachers and a few of us mothers are decorating the stage for this big event in the little ones’ lives. Then, just after seven pm, the sound of choir voices from the church behind the dividers fills the air. Sweet, sacred, simple choir music. And my heart skips a beat. I draw the divider back and pear in. There I see men and women singing old Christian hymns. And for a moment, I see my grandfather in their midst, sitting in his unique way with his chin on his chest, singing loudly with his formidable tenor voice. For a moment, he is there before he is not there anymore. For in this very church, many years ago, he dwelled countless times. Here he served and worshipped the Lord. Here he prayed for his children and grandchildren and, at the time, didn’t even know that his family would expand to include twenty-one great-grandchildren and counting. Here one of his great granddaughters will have her concert the next day. Oh, how I wish that he could have known her. But in the midst of this sadness, I feel thankful. He paved the way for us in so many ways. Amongst other things, he paved the way for his great granddaughter to lay her hands on her brother and pray for him when he is sick.
And for a while, time stands still. Could sincere thankfulness be the real key to slowing down speeding time that I feel is running rampant in my life? Could it be the way to truly experience the sacred moments that are indeed in abundance in the long days of motherhood? I think of how Ann Voskamp in her book ‘One Thousand Gifts’ writes of her conversation with her angry son. In the end, she says, “Feel thankful and it is absolutely impossible to feel angry” (freely translated). Thankfulness transcends all emotions.
And so, my dear children, I pray that you will truly come to understand the importance of leading lives that revolve around thankful hearts. Believe me, as you get older, this becomes more and more difficult to grasp. May you learn to take your time, may your desire to feed the birds along the way speak louder that your need to hurry somewhere to fill empty cupboards back home. May you always look back on times of illness and be thankful for how it made you stronger. May you be thankful for those that has gone out before you to pray for the very life you have today. May you take the time to lay hands on others and pray for them. May you know that the days might be long, but that sacred moments are indeed everywhere for you to find. May the sacredness of these moments cultivate your thankful hearts and may your thankful hearts also lead you to sacred moments.
And this is all I need to know now.