styrofoam lipton and married names

I’m still getting used to this new last name. It’s bulky, only a letter longer than maiden Ritschard, but so many more syllables.

Can-na-ri-a-to.

My signature is sloppy, spilling over the lines with the bulk of all these new vowels. “You’re just finishing writing that name by the time the test is done,” he jokes.

This man, fingers wrapped tight against styrofoam, soaking in pleasure and comfort as if from a ceramic mug. Enjoying Lipton like it were the Emperor’s tea.

Steam curls in slow swaths, and his eyes see. “But it’s a beautiful name. Just beautiful.” We joke of test-timing and long last names, he asks of husband’s job and new marriages.

A few weeks later, I am absorbed with customer, call the next. “Do you remember me?” he asks. Of course. You saw my name. His Lipton comfort is wrapped in fingers drinking warmth. “I was watching you,” he continues. “And I know why your husband married you. He saw your gentle heart and he loved you. Am I right? I just know these things.” Echoes of words from my husband’s mouth, this Father-heart speaking words of life to another man’s daughter.

Cannariato.

“Is that Spanish? Italian?” Another man, inquisitive about this mouthful name, so new to me, Italian, so Italian that he thinks I must speak the language. I laugh, a Swiss, non-Italian laugh. I probably should learn with such a name, but my husband’s the Italian. I know the next comment before it comes. “You look so young to be married!” I explain: It’s a young marriage, built on a few months, full of hopes, full of work to be done, challenges to be met, and love to be deepened. “Wonderful! I am a priest,” he replies, “and I’ll be praying for you.” Words so easily spoken, but somehow I believe him.

These interactions are so simple, inspired by this spelling-bee name, but they trouble me with life and warmth. I’ve heard it said before; New York is a lonely city, even when you are surrounded by people, and it’s so true. I walk through my days looked at but never seen, passed by but never noticed, spoken to but never known. Community is a relic of the past, pushed to the side in the flurry and fury of speed, money, possessions and desires. Everyone self-protects, self-promotes, self-provides. I haven’t  had a girls night in ages, and the women I do know spend their time in bars flirting with strangely muscled men, taking hits off the highs of chemistry and pheromones.

I’m desperately lonely, and it means so much to me when two strange men see my name, my character! Their Lipton-kindness warms my heart, troubling it with new life and grace. It’s the kind of grace that sinks in, makes me think, makes me grow.

Can it really be that simple? Can deep ministry really come out of simply seeing?

I’m running, a few days earlier, through crackling leaves and sun soaking its last rays into earth, when I pass a woman. She’s sitting on the curb, waiting…waiting for a bus or who knows what. I’ve only lived here a few months, but the New York survivalist is sinking in. Take care of yourself. Look after yourself. Every else will only lie, steal, cheat you out of what you deserve. I am passing her by, leaving her in her life and I in mine when I feel that gentle tap on the shoulder. Jenni, look at her. Just look at her and smile.

I don’t know if my quick smiling glance mattered to her. I don’t even know if, from the depths of her own world and her own agenda, she even noticed. I don’t know.

But here’s what I’m learning: I’m dying to be seen. I’m dying to be known. And doesn’t the God of all Love and Mercy comfort us that he has seen us since the very knitting of our bodies, since the inception of our souls? That he has known every hair on our heads, every thought in our hearts, every step of our feet? This is the God of all Love and Mercy, who, upon the Day of Overcoming, will show us the name that he has kept for only himself to call us. This is the God who knows us better than husband and wife know each other in their marriage bed, better than a mother knows the child she has loved and nurtured and wept over and prayed for and protected, better than the therapist knows his long-time client. This is the God who sees and knows and names.

And I am called to be like him.

So, I will look. And I will smile. I will call them by name. And I will make sure that, despite New York dead lines and speed limits and agendas, despite personal gain and hard shells, I will see. I will look at them like they are my fellow human beings, made in the image of God, seen and known by him and dearly loved. And hopefully, from my small life, and my small sphere of influence, and this small gesture, I smile Lipton-life into someone like these two men spoke into me.

Because I will be the first to say, the very smallest things can stir and trouble a soul into life.

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three brothers and the dark

I wake in the dark. The alarm has been screeching, screaming in the start of a new day, but my body’s sun-cycled melatonin sings sleep.

Pitch outside, blackest black – the sun not even sending finger-feelers over the horizon yet. It can’t be, yet. Can’t be time to start another of these whirlwind days that leave me pulling knots out of my hair, too fast to count or gain bearings or hold on to.

Everything seems in slow motion – the shower, the bubbling of oatmeal on the stove, the pulling on of shoes and purse, the shoving and gathering of lunches. Yet time goes fast, and before I am ready, we are stepping out the door, locking home and warm bed behind us, and the words open a hole in my heart: “Another day, another dollar.” Archaic expression, so cliche – I’ve never used it before, so powerful to let the darkness in.

More words – words that are ill-thought and come too fast; my heart is a vacuum that discontent is tearing into like cancer. Discontent, Worry, and Insecurity – those brothers come and sit with me in the dark of the morning, seeping into my thought process.

It’s like Madeleine L’Engle describes in A Wrinkle in Time: I’m just standing on the side-lines here, watching as darkness grabs me and overtakes my words, careening over a path of devastation. I am too wicked this morning to rein it in; I let it come, choose to be discontented, worried, insecure. Choose to be hurtful, blaming, bitter.

Hours later, I am dismayed by the explosion of darkness. This is what I’ve being working on! To be content in all things! And here I am, ripping through my marriage and my morning with utter lack of self-control.

Control. This word sticks in my mind. Isn’t this what’s prompted my morning? Another variable in my circumstance, unaccounted for…a variable that I haven’t carefully labeled and boxed and placed onto the “Things I Have Decided to Be Contented With” shelf. Its uncategorized chaos directly melts down my best intent.

And I see another hole, this one poked through my carefully constructed “Contentedness” scheme. It’s not the circumstance that matters. It’s not choosing to be content for that circumstance, at that time.

I need a contentedness that stretches above, beyond, outside of circumstances. Paul’s words to the Philippians whisper through my thoughts. “I have learned to be content whatever state I’m in…through Christ…” Is this it? The secret for contentedness? The secret for enjoying fully life as it comes NOW, even on my dark, anxious mornings? Even when a new piece of the puzzle has no place at all in my tight fists and darkened heart?

Christ. The grace from heaven stretching far beyond what we deserve or desire.

What is discontent but demanding that I have not been given all I deserve, that I must have more? What is worry but shouting that the resurrection has no power, that the grave is ultimate, that the God who provided a way through darkest death cannot provide a way for my tiny needs? What is insecurity but throwing into question the love of a God who would give and give and give…everything, his beloved…for me? 

I am given more than my sinful heart will ever deserve. I am promised that, through the power of Christ’s resurrection, all things will work for good, for God’s purpose, in me. I am assured that the God-man will cross heaven and earth for me to give and give and give.

And yet I expect more? Everything beyond this is grace abounding, without measure! Everything above this is luxuries, riches, treasures of kings! Any gift, any breath, any good thing given me alongside and also with the blood of Christ makes my cup overflow!

No wonder, my heart sighs. No wonder Paul could rejoice in the Lord, again and again, whether in sickness or health, in riches or poor, in darkness or light, in freedom or chains. He knew this one thing that now rings across my heart: Christ has been given! Everything is blessing and bounty and undeserved!

I place this new measuring stick of contentment alongside this day and see only grace, only blessing, only bounty. To even wake on this morning, to even make oatmeal, to even watch the sky blush with new light. To even drive a car, to even be married to this man, to even have a job – it’s all bounty beyond what I deserve. Grace doubly measured out.