“WOULD YOU LIKE ME TO HELP YOU paint tomorrow?” I asked my daughter.
Rebecca is grown and married. She and her husband got the keys to their first home last week. Half a dozen rooms needed painted. Three coats each. It takes a lot of paint to cover a wild color.
“Yes, please,” she said.
It wasn’t just a “Yes, please.”
It was a “Yes, pleeease.”
There was an ever-so-slight whining in the wish. A pleading of the “please.”
I didn’t say it, but I thought it.
“You think you’re imposing on me, little daughter. Not even close.”
Don’t get me wrong. On a yuck scale of one to ten, I’d give painting walls in a house a five. Nine if it’s outside. Ten if it’s outside and a second-story job.
So why did I take a day off work last week to paint with my daughter? And 12 hours to paint last Saturday? And another day off yesterday, as Saturday’s move-in date rushes this way?
Even more perplexing, why do I drive to her house with a sense of anticipation and excitement instead of dread?
I did the same thing a few weeks ago when I knew I would be spending all day helping my son haul mulch and blocks, and then lay them around the backyard of his house. We worked deep into the night, finally eating pizza at 10 o’clock.
I was a mess when I finally headed home. Filthy dirty. Driving a filthy dirty van we had used to haul the stuff—a van I was too tired to clean when I got home.
I understand why my kids think they are imposing on me.
I have felt that way when I’ve asked them for the kind of help that leaves you splotched, splattered and smeared with colors that don’t accessorize well with a human being.
What I don’t understand is this:
- Why, when I’m rolling on the paint while my daughter cuts the corners with a brush, do I stop mid-roll and thank God for this time together with her again? For these fleeting minutes and hours, working, talking, and laughing about my retro playlist of songs, which includes the Singing Nun’s “Dominique,” which, by the way, is the ringtone I use for her.
- Why, when I’m digging a line in my son’s backyard to lay the blocks that will hold back three vanloads of mulch, do I feel that same sense of gratitude. As though it’s a privilege to be there, getting grimy with my son?
It makes no sense.
This stuff is dang hard work. It gives me blisters on my typing fingers. It wedges splinters up my fingernails, a torture prohibited by the Geneva Convention. And it leaves me smelling worse than normal.
Yet I find myself thanking God for the dirt, the paint, and the hours in the general vicinity of my kids.
And my kids-in-law.
I got to paint in a couple of rooms with my daughter’s husband. He made fun of my playlist, too. In between, we talked about his work, his fondness for hunting critters and barbecuing them, and even a bit about religion.
I got to dig the lines for my daughter-in-law to lay blocks that would hold the mulch in place, close to the house. This mulch would cover the former dirt trail that Mosby their Black Lab loved to splash through on rainy days. Not a lot of talking with that kind of work. Grunting mostly, from me anyhow. But there’s something that fills the spirit when you’re around people you care about, even when there’s not much talking going on.
I don’t understand it.
Makes no sense to me.
But it’s a fact. Sometimes I find myself so grateful to be where I am—with family and close friends—that even crud-caked and exhausted I fill my eyes. I say a “Thank You” no one on earth hears.
Far as I can tell, Jesus was a bachelor.
Yet even he seemed to understand what this dad can’t figure out: why children hold our hearts in their hands.
If Jesus didn’t know why and he didn’t think kids were a good thing, he probably would have built his kingdom differently.
Snipping at his disciples for trying to shoo off some children, Jesus said: “Don’t push these children away. Don’t ever get between them and me. These children are at the very center of life in the kingdom” (Mark 10:14)
God’s kingdom, scholars say, starts here and continues There.
So here’s what I’m thinking:
On earth as it is in heaven,
if you get between me and my kids,
you better have a paintbrush or a shovel.