What do you see?

A old piece of rectangular wood. 

Crudely carved letters, with some out of order and one missing altogether. 

Perhaps a child’s attempt at a class project. If so, it would get a C, or worse, in carpentry class,  an F in English. 

What do you see? 

I see a single mom with two small children. The oldest (that’s me) is five, the youngest is one. 

It is around 1972. She is recently divorced, little money, living hand to mouth. It is a lonely feeling, rocking your two children in a tiny house, frightened of what the future holds…vulnerable. 

There is an old man next door, Mr. Pounders. I never knew his first name. I only remember him coming by from time to time, bearing food…and quarters. He would open my hand with his rough and gnarled fingers. Then he reached into his pocket and gave me quarters – a whole handful! – and tell my mother to let me get whatever I wanted. Unbounded joy for a five year old with a convenience store down the street stocked with every imaginable (at least to my imagination) candy. 

He would let go of my hand and I would turn quickly to go take my treasures to my room. My mother would clear her throat. 

“What do you say?”

I sheepishly turn. 

“Thank you, Mr. Pounders.”

One day he came in his truck. He had built a toy chest. I know now it was rather crude, but sturdy.

Another time he knocked on the door. Mom swung it open, and he was holding a rocking chair, just my size. 

I rocked most of that day, with a fresh batch of quarters in my hand. 

And then, on a cold day, Mom came into my little room, holding up another gift. “Look what Mr. Pounders made for you.”

What do you see?

A priceless work of art, the only art that matters – an expression of love. Its imperfections shine with the transforming light of generosity, of grace.  

Mom said, “The next time you see Mr. Pounders, you know what to say.”

Yes. Yes I do. 

No act of love is ever wasted. Every expression of love is beautiful, regardless of imperfections.

When a semi-literate retiree who piddles in carpentry showers a young, scared single mother and her two vulnerable children with his best gifts, made with care by his own hands, you know what to say. 

I suspect we are all of us surrounded daily by such grace, like quarters in our outstretched palms, like carved signs of love, sent from One who is love. And I suspect we all of us trudge or fly through our days noting imperfections in ourselves, in others, in the world…and miss the gift. 

Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote:

Earth’s crammed with heaven,

And every common bush afire with God.

But only those who see take off their shoes;

The rest sit around and pluck blackberries. 

The question is always the same:

What do you see?

And when you have seen, truly and deeply…What do you say?

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. 


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