Yesterday I decided to haul not only my four youngest children along on the big weekly grocery shopping trip, but to break out the stash of green reusable grocery bags I used to take along on trips to the commissary. Seriously, they’re GREEN, as in green in color, not just because they’re reusable. And it isn’t that I have any serious conviction about recycling, although my upbringing conditioned me to save and reuse and generally be thrifty, anyway—and with our family size, we can accumulate an alarming amount of plastic bags in a very short amount of time. But they’re durable, handy for carrying, and can hold so much more than plastic.
After two months of living in a new town, one without a commissary, I knew taking them along would proclaim as little else that “we’re not from around here.” I also suspected it might throw some unsuspecting bagger off his groove, if he wasn’t used to reusable bags.
Did it ever, on both accounts.
This just topped off what is invariably a memorable-but-I-wish-I-could-forget shopping trip with the youngest four of the Barbarian Horde. I think half of Jamestown shops at this particular grocery store at that particular hour on a Wednesday afternoon, to begin with. Then imagine my four tall-getting-taller ducklings, packed out in heavy winter coats and boots, tromping around behind me, in front of me, beside me ... milling when I’m trying to stand out of the way of other shoppers and examine what’s on shelves that aren’t yet—quite—familiar. Since the move, they’ve had this habit of standing just wayyy too close whenever we’re out in public, like I might disappear at any minute.
I suppose, after moving 1800 miles away from all they’ve ever known, I can’t blame them. But they make it awfully hard to maneuver when out shopping.
After 45 minutes or so of trying to direct them in and out of traffic—calmly—while searching said not-yet-familiar store for various needed items, we arrived at the checkout, and I broke out my bags.
Watching the bagger fumble with them, I felt compelled to apologize. Repeatedly. Then between curious glances from another bagger who came over to help (apparently the first one dropped one of our items and had to run back for a replacement) and the cashier, I felt compelled to explain. This led to questions about which base we were located near, and our move, and why I like the bags. While the second bagger received our thanks with a grudging nod, the cashier said it was nice to meet me.
Well. Nothing like being memorable, I guess.
Which leads me to think, for probably the thousandth time, about how God has told me that He’s placed our family as a “spectacle” before the world. Yes, that exact word. And it’s in regards to several areas of my life, from the fact of our being a large, noisy family, to the large, bright birthmark I can mute with makeup but I can’t ever quite cover.
I’m not sure how I feel about being a spectacle. I’m not comfortable being the center of attention. I wouldn’t mind being an example, I suppose, especially if I knew I was a good one—but really? A spectacle? For what purpose?
At some point I turned to the kids yesterday and asked them if it was necessary for us to always be a traveling freak show. They flashed bright smiles (beautiful and intelligent, every one of them), and answered a hearty YES.
But you know what? I suppose that’s exactly what God intends. We are indeed freaks. Not just flawed human beings, but cracked and sometimes broken, off balance at times in ways we cannot control. Headstrong and prideful. Desperately in need of redemption.
Good thing I’m personally acquainted with the Redeemer, yes?
And there’s the heart of it. I wonder, while catching glimpses of amusement and annoyance, and sometimes just avoidance, on the faces of my fellow shoppers, do we reflect Him while we tumble around in our big ball of chaos? Am I just a crazy, frazzled mom of way too many in their eyes, or can they see flashes of grace in us? Are we His instrument for challenging and stretching others, as I’m so often challenged to not respond in annoyance?
I may never know, at least not this side of eternity. But in the meantime, it’s something that makes me press deeper into God’s mercy and grace.