On Sunday morning, I’d sit in a hard pew sandwiched between my two wavy-haired, lacy-socked sisters – passing notes about whether or not we thought our mother might let us stop for roast beef and milkshakes after service. We’d sing “Victory in Jesus” from red, dusty hymnals and I’d secretly pray to the Lord that Yolanda didn’t stand up during our benediction postlude to offer a testimony about how God had healed her third hernia that year. (She did, still, always because He did, still.) I grew up thinking I’d never been healed from anything, and that perhaps God didn’t hear me. Perhaps I wasn’t good enough.
On Monday afternoon, I’d swim up and down lane three, training with a group of boys who would joke about lighting trees on fire between sets. I’d roll my eyes, re-position my goggles and return to the quiet water where I contemplated why fire was so fascinating to them, and why Ryan looked at Melissa in that way, in the way no one looked at me. Perhaps I wasn’t pretty enough.
On Tuesday morning, I’d arrive in Geography class, weary and anxious. I was an A- student, but only because I knew how to play the game. Do your homework; keep your head down. Smile at the teacher. Memorize test answers, forget application. Be respectful. Move along to the next chapter, turn the page, quickly now. I grew tired. Perhaps I wasn’t smart enough.
On Wednesday evening, art class. Mrs. Beatrix would teach from her garage (or was it a spare room?), rows of easels and supplies lined in an odd mix of halfhearted order; slightly off-kilter. She clapped her aging hands twice to signal our beginning, and then, quiet. We worked in single strokes, slowly, methodically, and I hoped that by mimicking Mrs. Beatrix’s pace, I could churn out a perfect portrait. Still, my work was mediocre, like the room’s easels were aligned: slightly off-kilter. Perhaps I wasn’t creative enough.
One Thursday morning, two decades later, I take Bee to her Chinese lesson. Her teacher greets me in a uniform of comfort – wide smile, purple sweatpants. We hug and exchange a few words; I give her the snack I packed – berries and an avocado. I thank her and leave, the glass door closing softly behind me. I face a two hour window of productivity before I am expected to return, readily greeted with a plethora of new Mandarin words seared into Bee’s vocabulary. A pressure creeps from my large to do list as I rush to the car. Perhaps I won’t accomplish enough.
Friday night now. I glance at the menu, a rare date night with Ken. We talk about work, and life, and schedules, and we dance around subjects as we people-watch and study expressions, scanning the room, observing relationships. Our forks clink our plates and there is silence for a bit. A thought arises, but I swallow it with my dinner salad: perhaps I will never be enough.
But then, a Saturday afternoon. Years ago, when I lived in Los Angeles. There was a man on the beach, one whose eyes told stories of not enough; one whose soul spoke of life and loss. The ocean was his bath; the sidewalk his bed. Want to split a sandwich, I ask?
No thanks, Ma’am. I’ve enough.
And again, on a Sunday morning. In a hard metal chair, at a church service in a preschool gym. My dress flowered, my blush pink. A verse read aloud: Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.
Today, Wednesday. It is dark, and snowy, and the air hauntingly crisp. Bee and I take a walk in our neighborhood, and we see enough, and better, and more. And I think of the man on the beach, with his numbered hairs, who had enough. Who had more, because he understood something I didn’t.
We walk along, and I think – high above – we have heard sparrows.