Most moms can probably relate to this feeling: the feeling that every small window of free time has some task or activity shoehorned into it. Some days I feel like this life of mine only works because I am so draconian about making a mental plan for my day and sticking to it.
This efficiency is good because it means I get things done (most things, anyhow). It’s bad because it can make me closed off to those happy accidents of grace that aren’t in the master plan, but which – in the wonderful mysterious way of grace – are very much in the Master’s plan.
As an example, let me share an experience I had at L.A. Congress two weekends ago. As I wrote last week, L.A. Congress is a huge Catholic conference at the Anaheim convention center each spring, a jam-packed weekend in which you never have enough free time to do all the things you want to do.
On my last morning there, I was rushing to the third floor of the convention center for some quiet prayer. The third floor always has a large room that is transformed into what is called the Sacred Space, a place for quiet prayer and meditation. There is a labyrinth, and part of the room is turned into an Adoration chapel, and it’s a great place to prayerfully process the wonderful chaos of the weekend.
It was my last chance to get there — truly my last chance, as I had to go back to the hotel and pack up in forty-five minute’s time — and I was heaven-bent on some prayer time. So I navigated my way up the escalator and found myself walking briskly by the multicultural displays on the second floor. The various ethnic groups of the archdiocese had each prepared a table display highlighting their cultural traditions, and I’d spent a lot of time the previous day looking at them and taking photos and chatting with some women at the Native American table and the Polish table.
But at the moment, I just wanted to power past the displays and get up to the third floor to pray.
As I walked past the Japanese table, a little old woman who was standing there smiled at me and said hello. I said hello back, and tried to look away and keep on going without breaking my stride, but it didn’t work. She was gesturing to me to come over to the table.
I am ashamed to admit it, but my heart sank. I didn’t want to go engage in conversation; I wanted to go up and be prayerful. Don’t bother me! I’m on my way to be holy! was my instinctive reaction. Then the irony of it all struck me, and I realized that the holiest thing I could do would be to pause my own little busy-Ginny plan and engage with this stranger, this fellow human being, who wanted to speak to me.
But I still hoped she wouldn’t talk too long.
As I approached her table, she gestured with her arm to the table. It was a huge display of paper cranes, probably seventy or eighty, in different colors, all arranged carefully. I’d seen them the day before, and I smiled and nodded my admiration, and complimented her on how nice they were, prepared to resume walking. She wasn’t ready to let me go yet. There was something more she wanted.
“Take one,” she said in heavily accented English, “take one.”
“Oh!” Feeling sheepish and touched all at once, I surveyed the cranes. My eye lighted on a beautiful one, one made of spring green paper with a pastel pattern. Before I could make a move, the little woman reached out and picked it up, the very one I’d have chosen for myself, and held it out to me. She smiled her beautiful smile.
I thanked her profusely. The little crane felt so fragile, so light, so lovely in my hand.
And when I did get up to the Sacred Space, there were a few extra things to include in my prayer. There was gratitude for the beautiful little bird, for the generous woman, and for the grace that can break through even the hard shell of efficiency.