The work we did in Cuba this year revolved greatly around water. And with water, often comes mud. This is not New Jersey mud ladies and gents, this is thick, grey, clay like mud that cakes onto itself causing buckets to become heavier with each pass. It quickly becomes unclear if the bucket was even emptied out when it is passed back to you. Feet become suctioned in place and boards for standing on become slick. And all this mud was in a 6ft+ deep hole whose purpose was to provide the Cuban church compound with water. So…it was kind of in the way. And my work gloves….yuck.
One of the Cuban men explained to us, “the water here is on one day, the next day… not so much .” You basically never know when the water will be available for your home. The plan for the week was to create a water reserve to fill up on the days the water was running in order to have it on the days the pipes were dry.
This conversation was a reminder of all the other times I’d been in Haiti or Cuba. Clean water is precious and valued and far too unavailable. I found myself consciously aware of any unnecessary water I was using. So, though my work gloves were caked in mud, instead of rinsing them, I brushed them together roughly in effort to scrape off any dry bits, with the mentality – they are just going to get dirty again tomorrow.
That’s when an older member of the church – a dear soul named Salvatore – gestured towards the sink in the bathrooms, indicating I could rinse them in there. No, no, I shook my head, I’m good. Turns out I didn’t have a choice. He grabbed my gloves and my arm and led me right to a sink, turned it on, and began scrubbing away. After a few rinses I tried to get him to stop, insisting it was good enough. But he didn’t stop. Not until the water ran clear under my gloves. And this took a while, it took some serious water. But he was determined that every last part of my gloves should be clean.
The next day. More mud. Salvatore gestured if I had washed my gloves and I made my way to the water without resistance. I got distracted and left them drying on a wall. The third day, when we arrived, there he was waiting with my gloves. And the last day, when I forgot to bring them, he brought out another pair, similar but faded, they were the gloves I had left the previous year.
This intentional caring for me and my work gloves has been rolling around in my brain for weeks since we came back. Something about it feels like God. And here’s what I’ve come up with:
First, family is incredibly and seriously important. And cleaning gloves for a family member is an expression of love. These people are part of my family. We are made to care for each other, to be in relationship with each other. I am not one easily cared for. I prefer to choose the role of caretaker. My stubborn self never wants to be an imposition. But I was reminded in these moments with Salvatore that we need to let ourselves be cared for – by others and by God. He was reminding me that small acts of intentional kindness go a very long way in our relationships with others.
Second, Water is what we all really need. I was getting out of the shower last week, attempting to wash off the heaviness in my heart caused by all the loss and hurt and cruelty happening in our world. “I can’t take one more sad thing,” I had told someone that day. And that’s when God hit me hard – This is the reason for the mud and the water. I am water, and you need to come to me when the mud is too heavy. You need to wash your gloves each day or the mud will just continue to cake up until you are no longer useable. When the mud of life has caked up on your heart so thick you don’t know if the mud is coming or going and you cannot use your heart to feel all those big feelings anymore —- the only thing that truly washes it clear and clean is water.
And how amazing is it that we can go to a Water that never runs out? Because it doesn’t. It’s not off one day and on the next. We don’t need to dig a giant reservoir to hold the water for when we need it most. Sometimes we’ll choose to rinse off right away, but (if you’re like me, because I can do it myself, I can carry all those buckets in one trip….) sometimes we’ll wait till our buckets are no longer recognizable before we wash them. But the water never runs dry waiting to be used. It never quits.
So my prayer for you as we enter into this time of year that is meant for joy and peace and goodwill towards all, that you will remember to rinse your gloves. The mud and muck is not yours to handle on your own. It never has been, it never will be.