Potluck | November 23, 2016

Grit, grace, gratitude

Photo by Julian Jagtenberg

I doubt that a well-worn Kansas City restaurant was exactly grateful to mark the arrival of our family entourage during the Sunday morning breakfast rush; a party of eight, three of them children capable of emitting 117-decibel cries for prolonged periods, including diminutive 1-year-old twin girls still wobbly in their high chairs. With their energetic 3-year-old brother, they worked the crowd in ways large and small, positive and negative, from our corner table and the immediate area around it.

The waitress who drew the short straw that morning, however, proved to be an unflappable wonder woman named Tara. We were set for an experiment in grit, grace, and gratitude.

Menus were passed, and menus thrown, especially the paper ones that come with crayons ripe for nibbling. A pitcher of hot water spontaneously appeared to heat bottles. Orders were taken, juices served, along with a box of cereal that Wonder Woman volunteered. It is amazing how the challenge of removing shiny shoes and ruffled socks, coupled with an abundance of sugar-coated cereal, appeases babes.

Miniature cars raced across the table, some landing in the next aisle. They were retrieved on different occasions by an amiable golfer, a less-than-amused restroom-bound matron, and Tara. Spilled juice and “recycled” formula required every napkin from our table, but Tara appeared with a roll of paper towels and another pot of coffee. Food followed, including cartoon-character chocolate chip pancakes made to order for the 3-year-old.

The children were tolerable, the breakfast crowd tolerant, and Tara hovered closely, anticipating the next crisis with precision and good humor. Almost coincidentally, the rest of us ate too, enjoying company and conversation amid the chaos. It took 20 minutes to gather our belongings and to make a symbolic effort to tidy up our corner. Tara brought the check and claimed she had enjoyed being a part of the grit and grind of our gathering.

All I could claim was humble appreciation—and not solely because I could now go change my formula-stained church clothes. Tara labored way beyond her job description for us, in kindness, mindfulness, and generosity. We thanked her, tipped her, and wished her a good shift, but remembrance of her evokes my gratitude for the extension of herself, along with her considerable skills. She bade us welcome, for better and for worse, gave us permission to be ourselves, and thus honored our family.

Gratitude surpasses mere thanks; it wells up spontaneously as people show up to accompany us in amazing ways on ordinary days. With “holy day” seasons looming, we might do well to allow gratitude the opportunity to surface and surprise us, and allow it a triumph or two over complaint and lamentation.

The two months preceding a new year often present opportunities to cross paths with people we seldom see the rest of the year—but schedules are tight, children and adults are exhausted, time passes, and old tensions wait in the wings. This season reminds me of Paul’s often quoted and eloquent words to the Philippian church to bring everything by “prayer and petition, with thanksgiving to God,” and to concentrate on whatever is “true, noble, lovely, admirable, and praiseworthy” (Philippians 4). This advice was preceded and perhaps prompted by a call to encourage two sisters in the faith who had “contended at [Paul’s] side in the cause of the gospel,” but were now in contention with each other.

Such realities are present in many families and friendships, yet wonder-filled folk hover about, evoking deep appreciation rather than grievance. We are invited, each of us, to model ourselves after Wonder Woman Tara, with grit and grace, that gratitude may abound.

An ordained minister, Sandy Bosserman is a former public school teacher, pastor, and district executive. She is a member of Cabool (Mo.) Church of the Brethren.