When it comes to spending the little bits of time known as our lives, what is real significance? John Piper wrote, “Life is wasted if we do not grasp the glory of the cross, cherish it for the treasure that it is, and cleave to it as the highest price of every pleasure and the deepest comfort of every pain.” Wise words. But how are they lived out? There are as many answers to this question as their are souls walking upon this earth. I've had my days of dreaming big... I still do. There is no limit to where an adventure in God's kingdom may lead. But the more days that pass, the more I come to realize that the significance I am really longing for is found in the smaller moments rather than the grandiose. When I reach the end of my life, I want to be remembered for who I was, not what I did. So much significance lies in the eyes that smile acceptance, the heart that instills value from one heart to another, the hands that quietly serve, the hugs that quench the tears. Perhaps the most significant acts are the ones that occur quietly within the ordinary. Their arrival is not heralded or even recorded, but their impact is written within the hearts of those who needed it the most.
My mother has touched so many lives in so many invisible ways, I know I will never be able to understand a fraction of them. I am incapable of even understanding her impact on my life alone. When I thought about significance I thought about her. I thought if I reach the end of my bit of time and my significance looks anything like hers, then my life will be well spent. These are my thoughts and musings written down in honor of her today. Happy Birthday Mother. The world may not recognize your significance the way they should, but I do, and the generations of children to follow will be changed by your life. I love you.
By Danielle Metcalf... for my mother
Her hand fumbled in the dark recesses of the closet, groping for the well worn handle, while attempting to recall when last it was put to use. Four… five days? Could it have already been a week? What ever the span of time it was too long. The dusty footprints trailing through the kitchen and remnant spots by the stove of dinner a few days past were evidence of this fact, their defiant existence taunting her sense of self-esteem.
Her hand finally grasped the handle and tugged the mop out of the closet. It came with a touch of reluctance, snagging on the door hinge as if to savor one last moment of idleness. With an escaping sigh she paused as well and shared the moment. Each leant upon the other in silent commiseration. The woman often felt like the mop: dirty, ragged, overused. The worn bare spot on the handle reflected something within her own soul. They both faced a thankless task. Contented accomplishment paid his visits briefly at best and often skipped the engagement altogether. It was a task that insisted on being performed time after time, and it presented itself again now.
A small splash broke the silence of the reverie as both drudgerists dipped into their work with resigned determination. As the dusty footprints disappeared beneath streaks of water, the woman’s thoughts slowly turned from self-pity to contemplation. How many times had little feet raced across this laminated floor? Images invaded. Frolicsome games of chase filled with laughter. Fearful, evasive steps dreading the consequences of defiance. Dirty tear-stained cheeks searching for a source of comfort. This floor was the immovable substance beneath the feet of her home throughout good days and bad.
Her children were not the only ones it served. She thought of countless other pairs of feet that had graced and tromped over its surface: neighbors, friends, the postal carrier, sisters, cousins, the occasional stray dog, associates from her husband’s work, uncles, children, grandmothers and so many more. Tennis shoes, work boots, stilettos, slippers, rollerblades, sandals, dress shoes, and barefoot toes: they had all traversed the floor she was mopping. Did any of them even notice her efforts, the ones she wrought with callused hands and an aching back? Probably not. No one ever takes the time to notice a well-mopped floor. Its existence is accepted without thought or thanks. The only time the floor is noticed is when it hasn’t been swept clean. Hours and days of left-over debris suddenly make it visible. Only then is something said.
So why was she still mopping this floor? Why continue performing a task that never ends and no one seems to appreciate? Why not get rid of the mop? It sits in a dark corner of a closet buried by coats and jackets and the occasional cobweb. It doesn’t come out for show and make its presence known in the world. What would keep it from slipping into oblivion unnoticed?
The woman finishes the last few strokes and reaches to rinse the grime from the ragged end of the mop that has scraped an immeasurable amount of filth off of the floor beneath her feet. Some of its stains will never come clean. No one takes time to thank the mop for its efforts, for absorbing the grime that no one else wants to absorb so that little barefoot toes can tread with security across the laminated floor without bearing the marks of what should not be there. Yet despite its thankless existence the mop keeps mopping. Outside of its moments of silent commiseration it doesn’t dare to stop. Too much is at stake.
A child cries from somewhere in the house. The woman sets the mop back within the recessed corner of the closet and turns to face another set of demands. She stoops to absorb what no else will absorb and scrape away what should not be there as little arms reach for her outstretched hands. Though few may notice and fewer still will speak about her task, she dare not stop for the sake of those around her. The mop understands their shared significance. The rest of the world would too if her presence ever slipped into oblivion. Without the well-worn washings of her touch over our lives, the laminated surface of the earth would leave our barefoot toes caught in a built up, sticky mess.