By Sal Emma
This isn’t the post I imagined. In my mind’s eye, the cupcakes would be a huge success and I’d silently relish the thought that I’d brightened somebody’s day in a meaningful way.
It didn’t quite turn out like that.
But the lesson’s the same. It’s about doing the right thing for the right reason. So I'm posting it anyway.
A few nights ago, we crawled into bed with our usual routine, capping another hectic day. I flipped on my nerd radio (shortwave). She read. When she turns out the light – the signal is clear. She’s read enough to quiet her brain. She’s going to sleep now. Game over. See you tomorrow.
That’s why her question surprised the hell out of me. There’s never any talking after lights-out.
“When am I going to make the cupcakes?”
“I have to make cupcakes for one of the girls at work. But I don’t know when I’m going to be able to do it.”
Her tomorrow was going to be just as insane as today. Another trip to Philly. A work reunion after that. Teaching karate after that. Barely 10 spare minutes.
This is Beth’s life. She’s not only living the supermom model, she’s defining it for the next generation.
My initial response was logical: “Why do you have to bake cupcakes for one of the girls at work?”
“Because her son’s birthday is Saturday.”
“Why are you baking cupcakes for her son’s birthday?”
“Because I offered to.”
“Because he wanted them and she couldn’t figure out how to make them so she would probably end up getting those crappy ones from the supermarket.”
I shuddered. Those greasy, malodorous sugar-bombs make me cringe. Understanding why anybody would put one anywhere near their mouth is beyond my intellectual capacity.
She had a fair argument. I remained skeptical. But, one thing I’ve learned after 25 years of marriage is that there are times when you have to be very careful to avoid saying the first thing that pops into your head.
This was one such occasion. And this train of thought went through my brain, in silence:
“Are you nuts? You work 50 hours a week. You take care of the house and the kids. You volunteer everyplace. You teach karate. You are fostering a service dog. You’re a Girl Scout leader. Why would you volunteer to bake cupcakes for somebody else’s kid?”
Then, this grenade: “Just because she’s too lazy to bake them herself?”
That was unfair. Below the belt. (Thank God I didn’t say it out loud.)
And then, the amazing thing. After this barrage of stream-of-consciousness cynicism, here’s what I actually said aloud:
“I’ll bake them.”
“Why?” she asked.
“Because the kid wants them and I have time.” (Business is slow this time of year, traditionally.)
This was a magical moment. I didn’t volunteer out of a sense of duty, guilt or sympathy. It wasn’t a huffy bit of sarcasm “oh, I guess now it’s my problem …” Anything but.
God simply laid the image of Beth’s friend on my heart. I like her. She’s hard working and funny. She takes good care of her child. She’s from a good family. And she’s a single mom, anything but lazy. It was like the Holy Spirit breathed on the back of my neck and I understood, clear as crystal. Making her cupcakes was exactly the thing that needed to be done, and I was in a position to do it.
It was a blessing I can barely describe with mere words. Because I can guarantee that a few years ago, old Sal – negative, cynical and pissed off at the world – would have not only said all those mean-spirited things, out loud – he would have been completely comfortable with saying them. That's why I am convinced it was a gift from God.
My friend Jim Wilson has been an incredible influence in my life. He’s smart, devoted, funny, hysterically sacrilegious and a true Christian in every sense of the word. I thank God (frequently) for the privilege of calling him a friend – thanks to us stumbling into the coolest little church in Ocean City, N.J. a few years back.
During many discussions of life, family, love, God and grace, Jimmy uses the word available a lot. It’s scripturally based, this idea that you simply lay your day at God’s feet and have him use you as he sees fit. Most of us fail in this, most of the time. (And when I say “us,” of course, I mean “me.”)
Living as a Christian is like anything else. Work, play, marriage, music, riding a bike. You get better at it with time. You stick with it, through fear, doubt, lean times and dark moments and you hope that God is real and that the Holy Spirit really does walk among us as we go about our daily business. You make a commitment to stay ‘available’ to God – and hope for the best. And you ask that he give you opportunities to be salt and light in the world.
Volunteering to bake those cupcakes was that opportunity, sure as shootin’. Inside a tenth of a second – the time it took my brain to conjure up all those negative things I could have pontificated aloud – God tapped on my shoulder. And I made my offer, freely, in love and without a scrap of resentment or hesitation. I couldn’t wait to bake them. (Maybe in the future, I'll go right to the offer and skip the bellyaching!)
So, I know what you’re thinking. How did the cupcakes turn out? I’m sure they’re great. But I didn’t make them. Beth found 27 spare minutes between karate and lights-out and made them herself. While I was out of the house in a meeting. She’s a sneaky supermom, on steroids.
And another true Christian, in every sense of the word.