I’m pumping gas on my way home. Black night, 25 degrees, a mean wind that licks you cold on the cheeks. No gloves. At six months pregnant, I can button but the top two buttons of my puffer coat.
I aim for $15 in the tank.
I’ve just left church, the warmth of my Mom-group Bible study, where we’ve nibbled banana crumble muffins and sipped decaf and talked about Psalms. The psalms, the same songbook Jesus sang from; but mostly, we’ve talked about those wet spaghetti things we call feelings. About how we are rational creatures, but also relational creatures, and God itches for us to climb up into His lap, for us to be candid about every heart twinge, cloudy doubt, and sea squall of the soul.
Every note, we agree, is a precious key on the piano. Yes. God can handle any song we pound out.
I am tangled in this knot of sticky thoughts for most of the drive home, and when I twist the front door, hands still raw and cold, I leave on my half-on coat but kick off the boots. I meet my husband in the kitchen, heave my purse down on the island.
“How did it go, with little guy going to sleep?” I ask, glancing up to the ceiling, as if I can see my 4-year-old through the walls.
“Good,” he smiles, and he’s hiding something. “He actually wanted to do something special at bedtime tonight.”
“He told me he wanted to ask Jesus into his heart. So we prayed.”
Being a mom–now soon to be a mom all over again–keeps sobering me to the idea that I’m really just a mid-level manager. I’m really just stewarding something, hopelessly trying to steer the launch of some product that somehow also intends to launch itself. My kid isn’t some art project for tacking up on the fridge; he has a little heart, one that he owns. A little heart fitted with a little front door, and drilled into this door, a little peephole; one he squiches one eye as he looks through. I try to remind myself to be patient, that he alone decides when and why to lock or unlock it. To bolt or double-bolt. It’s a heart a mother aches to try to lead and knead and fight for, but ultimate, one that he owns.
He guards this door. I don’t.
Of course we have been praying. Every night, before bed, I press his hands into a little prayer sandwich, nestled between the two of mine. Like I’m trying to fold him inside me. Sometimes I brush my lips right by his ear, as we pray, to smell him, and we always slip in the hope that someday he, Patrick, will make the brave decision to open the door. To invite God to wipe off His boots and come in.
“After we prayed,” my husband said, “He looked down at his chest and asked if God might be a bit squished in there.”
“He worried he’d have enough room.”
I have to write that down, I think, and I creep upstairs. I push open the door we keep two inches cracked, the hall light barely glowing the room, and I can see him sleeping on his side, hands tucked tight beneath one ear, like a kitten balled up. He is a small hill at the head of the new twin mattress we set up just last week.
And yet the first thing I think is How did he get so big?
How did it actually happen?
I smile, again, in the dark, thinking of how he must have looked, at bedtime, bowing down and surveying his row of little ribs. How he must have crinkled his brow, thinking God just a bit claustrophobic, God’s big turret legs bent at the knee. God bottled tight as genie, one cheek mushed flat against the gold of the lamp.
I was in Target’s checkout lane several years back when a boy, maybe the same age that Patrick is now, looked up from the candy display, unglued eyes from the gummy worms and the Snickers bars and locked gaze with his mom. He asked: Who was doing that?
He pointed smack at her belly, an insinuating finger. When I was inside of you, in there, being built? My bones and stuff. Who was doing that?
I don’t recall quite what the mom said, but I remember how she said it: in soft, dodgy sputters, with half-believing little shrugs. They weren't big-T Truths; they were the paper kind you'd crack out from a fortune cookie.
But the boy’s words seared into me, because they were intent, prosecuting.
Who was doing that?
I remember how his words stamped hot into my heart. I remember because there was more heat in his question than there was in her answer.
I stroke the swell of Patrick’s cheek before breakfast the next morning. I ask him about it, about his prayer. His cheek still reminds me of marshmallow.
“What made you want to?” I ask.
“I want to go to heaven,” he says.
“Someday,” I tell him. Maybe warn him.
I won’t pretend he understands the full sweeping theology. Propitiation, I think. That was the word… the big, lawyery word that leapt out at me in our study the night before. I remember blinking at it, when it flashed on the TV screen, and thought: what a fat sinker of a word. Weighty word, heavier concept. Stop any stranger on the street, and they’d grope around explaining it.
I look at my boy in the white morning light that comes hot off the snow. I look at him and wonder, How well? How well do I honestly understand half of the miracles I dare to believe?
I think about this for days. And it’s only yesterday, looking down at my own chest and into my white journal, laying it all down so I never forget, that it dawns on me: that I have somehow lost the same wonder and worry. My preschooler can barely pencil his name, but knows enough to hesitate whether or not he is someone God can stretch big and wide into. He knows that he is small, that he is trying to shoehorn infinity into a soul the size of a seashell.
“Does He have enough room in there?”
I laughed. I laughed when I told my mom, my sister. But there’s a piercing purity in the question, and I wonder if I, as pastor warned just weeks back, have become a bit of a legend in my own mind. If I have forgotten my true size and scale. If I have in some way forgotten God’s.
Isn’t is a suburban proposition, that the God who jingles Neptune and Mars like spare change in His pocket would dare to dwell in so tiny a cul de sac? In a girl built of breath and bone?
That He could build galaxies and still be delighted to make home in the dusty part in me?
And when, exactly, did I come to think of this as metaphor, not miracle?
When did I forget the mystery, how He actually beats and breathes and lives in our hearts? When did I last worry, or wonder, or gasp at the insanity of it: the truth that I walk around daily with a piece of God crackling within? Not a docile, flickering, birthday candle flame, but a fire fierce enough to waste a forest?
Does He have enough room in there?