muddy hands

“Don’t go wild with the water,” I told them through the kitchen window, “Dinner’s almost ready and we don’t need any more messes to clean up.” Sure enough, they squeaked the faucet on, filled up every bowl and bucket and drenched the decking and themselves.

They rolled up their already soggy pant legs and dipped their feet in a big bowl of cold water, rattling their lips in a shivery laugh. They poured it out onto dirt and grass, dug into the wet ground with garden rake and fingers. Then, they knocked at the back door, held out muddy hands and asked for a bath.

It wasn’t bath night. My husband was about to head out for the evening and I was skittering around between stove and cutting board, hurrying to get the kids (and nursing baby) fed before bed.

The sky hinted dusk and the deadline. I thought back to nightfall a few weeks earlier, how the big yellow moon had peeked up from the branches on Maundy Thursday. The lesser light was the color of clay, a big washing bowl.

“Then wash my hands and head as well, Lord, not just my feet!” Peter’s long-ago words undulated with my child’s muddy hands and feet at my back door.

Two scenes converged, the one of Jesus bent low with the towel and washing bowl, and the one of me adding bath to the tedium of the evening.

He knows my work of muddy water and stained towels.

“Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end,” like a parent washing up his kids before dinner, hands and feet scrubbed clean, wiping away what they couldn’t cleanse in themselves, then preparing a table before them and passing down the bread and wisdom.

“My children, I will be with you only a little longer,” he said. Three years of training for his disciples before he sent them out into the world on their own. Twenty years for mine. At some point they must be ready to practice the things they’ve had practiced on them. And I’ve got to consider what I’m practicing on them.

Am I tackling messes or the ones who’ve made them? Do I consider their neediness an interruption to my work or the heart of my work? Am I stingy with my help or do I lavish it on them in love (an upside down love, a scratch the head kind of love, a Jesus only kind of love)?

Parenthood is servanthood. And Jesus teaches me how it’s done, with love: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another,” those words spoken with the washing bowl and the bathtub in sight.