Pink wispy clouds stretched across the sky outside my bedroom window, signaling the day's end. I had been resting inside all day, so I decided to step outside for some fresh air. Down the stairs, out the door, onto the edge of the driveway: "Hi! Hiii!" a small voice to my right called for me. I turned and saw Peter,* my 5-year old neighbor waving frantically over the hedge.
I smiled and walked over to him. "Look at my new pet!" he gave me a wide smile and held out a plastic sandwich bag filled with bits of grass. I leaned in for a closer look, and there, nestled in the pieces of grass was an empty, cracked snail's shell, held together with scotch tape. "I'm feeding it dinnuh because he's hungwy," he explained, struggling to pronounce that tricky "r" sound.
I admired Peter's new pet and praised his tender care for him. "What's your snail's name?" I asked.
He paused for a minute, his brow furrowed in concentration, before looking up with light in his eyes. "Snailio if it's a boy. Snailia if it's a girl," he announced. He resumed his grass-picking before looking up again. "I think I'm going to put candy in Snailio's house in case he wants dessert later." Peter smiled with glee at the thought of the yummy treat Snailio had coming.
"I think that's a great idea," I said, musing that Peter's generosity — so pure and unnecessary — seemed lavish. Moments later his mom called him inside, so he skipped away, leaving me to enjoy the last few minutes of daylight.
Six years ago, I started observing good moms and dads in order to catch glimpses of God's goodness. I watch them cheer over Zoe's first steps, cradle Janie tenderly despite the smell of dirty diaper, and comfort Paulie after a fall on the pavement. I try to imagine God is cheering for me like that, attentive to my wounds after a failure, cradling me close despite the smell of dirty heart. I suppose I am trying to take my cue from Jesus by situating the abstract assurance of God's love in our bustling world of smells, sounds, sight, taste, touch.
Over the years, I've started watching other caretakers, hoping for more glimpses of God's goodness. I watch sisters make their little brothers lunch, teachers patiently repeat homework instructions for the 5th time, aunts and uncles jump up and down with pride and joy at [not-so] little Johnny's X-factor audition on TV, and I imagine God is caring for me — delighting in me — like that.
This evening I watched Peter with his empty, cracked snail shell and his big plans for dessert, and I thought I saw a glimmer of what God looks like in Peter's tender hands and shining eyes. I wondered if I might create a variation of Matthew 7:11 to better understand how much God loves me:
If you then, who are but five years old, know how to give good gifts to your empty, cracked snail shell pet, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!
Lately, this has become a prayer of sorts. When my trust in Jesus is etiolated, I think about Peter and God, and Snailio and me, and I feel hope lifting its tired head. And oh Jesus, thank you for 5-year old neighbors that image you, and pet "snails" that image me, and a promise that your gifts will be wonderfully, unimaginably lavish — because you love us.
*Not his real name.
© by scj