It was Thursday.
I pushed a wet cart through crowded aisles. There were children everywhere, grabbing items off shelves, poking each other, petitioning to visit the toy department. They were all my children, of course, so I mostly tried to ignore them. Maybe if I pretended I hadn’t heard another request to visit the bathroom they would forget they had to go. Maybe they would decide it wasn’t worth asking for the 397th time if we could go back to the chip aisle that we had (somehow) bypassed to stock up on Cheetos. Maybe the baby would fall back asleep until after we checked out. Maybe this hadn’t been the brightest idea to go shopping with the crew on a rainy school day.
But I’d been waiting for pay day to really stock up on some basics, and there wouldn’t be another chance to shop until early the next week. We were out of bread, milk, butter, diapers, cat food, and vodka chocolate creative meal solutions. Sure, a little – no, a lot – of planning could have made a big shopping trip less of an emergency. But there are simply weeks that we go through more food than we expect, or four kids suddenly need new pants, or someone’s sick and mama just can’t leave when she might have had a chance to shop solo. We roll with it.
So there we were. Rolling with it. We rolled through an unimpressed gentleman’s personal space (why is the bread aisle so narrow?). I considered the price of the better looking loaves while the three and five year old helpfully loaded the cart with assorted salad dressings (thanks, boys, but, no). The local bread store often had better deals, but there was no way I was braving another location with my horde of helpers. Making our own would be more cost effective, but between soccer practice, homeschool co-op, friends visiting, piano lessons, doctor appointments, and an occasional visit home to throw in a load of laundry, feed chickens, run through reading, writing, and math with 5 kids, manage a backslidden potty trainer, and feed the baby, that was just not in the budget. The time budget. Mine was stretched pretty thin.
This is actually not a post about how my life is too busy and I need to slow down. I cut out all extemporaneous activity last year in an effort to survive an exhausting pregnancy, so this year has been a welcome chance to dive back into social life. I need community and so do my kids. There are still plenty of days I never leave the house. There is still time at the beginning and end of the day, when children are sleeping, that I carve out a few moments of quiet. Those are all necessary and good – vital really. I need time alone with Jesus. My first Love. And I need time to vacuum without all the kids underfoot. My second love (just kidding… sort of).
But with such a purposely full life, there are times the introverted disorganized me gets a tad flustered. For example – Walmart on a rainy Thursday afternoon with six energetic boys, a wheelchair, a baby, and an imposing list. I’ve had a dozen years of increasing practice at this, so I do not recommend it for a beginner. Even so, fatigue was setting in as the cashier handed me the long receipt. Decision fatigue, physical fatigue, saying-no-constantly-fatigue, hunger fatigue, budget fatigue… I grabbed the eager little hand reaching for the “need-a-penny-take-one” container at the register, counted heads, and began the arduous trek across no-mans-land from the check-out to the exit. An older man with a much lighter step (and lighter cart) slid alongside our parade. I hollered the command for single file so he could pass. But he didn’t. He glanced over at me and smiled. “Quite a crew you got there,” he commented. “A healthy growing family.”
I looked up and returned the smile wanly, having no particular desire to discuss my family planning habits with (yet another) total stranger. But the man didn’t seem dissuaded. “I work for a local bakery,” he continued, “and I have several bags full of extra bread that didn’t get sold this morning.” I didn’t respond, being occupied with the three year old who had suddenly insisted on riding under the cart when the seven year old had abruptly stopped his wheelchair in front of us since he realized he’d have to drive it through a wet parking lot. Pretty normal drama. The man paused. “Would you mind if I gave some bread to your family?”
“Oh!” I said, pulling the three year old back to his feet and waving an older brother ahead to push the chair. “Oh, well, we can always use fresh bread! But don’t you have a use for it? Were you planning to sell it?”
“No, it’s for you. Where are you parked?” He asked the rhetorical question, since my kids were clearly streaming toward a large rusty nine-seater with a handicap sign. I nodded toward the obvious, and he pointed his cart down the next aisle to find his own car. Questions surged through my head. Was this legit? Was it safe? No man in his right mind would consider mugging a woman surrounded by six boisterous bodyguards and a baby who attracted the attention of the whole parking lot. Was it wrong to take bread from a stranger? My pride had learned long ago to accept the fact that we looked like a ragamuffin, cheaper-by-the-half-dozen, government-subsidized project, even if we weren’t. Of course my growing mancubs could find a use for fresh bread. But it was always humbling to accept a gift.
I turned to the task of finding space for the kids, wheelchair, and boxes of diapers in our crowded vehicle. A couple minutes passed. A cart came toward us. There were four brown grocery bags in it. The man handed me one. “Is that for us?” the eleven year old asked. “Sure is.” the man replied. “Here’s some sliced for sandwiches, there’s rolls, all fresh today. Bet you boys could turn this into good energy.” The older boys took the bags and worked on fitting them into the trunk.
“Thank you.” I offered sincerely.
“Glad you can put it to such good use.” he nodded to the boys in the back seat opening a bag of rolls, then turned and strode back toward his car.
I finished stuffing groceries into every available corner of the vehicle, then climbed into the driver’s seat. The aroma of fresh bread wafted up from behind me, competing with the usual smell of sweat, diapers, and mud that I usually smelled when I drove. I glanced over at my older son in the seat next to me, chewing a soft roll contentedly. “Sometimes manna doesn’t fall from the sky,” I commented, “Sometimes it gets delivered.”
I hadn’t expected it. I hadn’t asked for it, other than in broad prayers for provision. It didn’t solve all my problems or make my life any less busy. But there’s something about the gift of bread. The Israelites had to gather the manna, grind it, mix it, and bake it into bread every day of their journey to the promised land. Six days a week for forty years, the gift of sustenance appeared. Thank you, God. You provide for Your people. For my people. Even on a wet Thursday when I’m doing, imperfectly and so awkwardly, what You’ve given me to do. We roll with it.