Sunday morning bagels before church have become one of our favorite family traditions. In DC, it was the Cosi on Pennsylvania Avenue. Now, it’s Bagel Tyme in Merced. I love the aroma of rising bread and sipping good coffee, the friends behind the counter, and the shop regulars who seem to enjoy the spectacle of what it looks like to breakfast with five small children.
Yesterday was no different. I had my usual: a jalapeno bagel with egg, bacon and pepperjack cheese. Delicious. Soon after we’d settled in, up walked a petite, silver-haired woman whom we’d seen there on occasion. We greeted her as she passed our outdoor table, and later I saw her taking her usual seat near the window by herself, the large headphones from an ancient Walkman covering her ears.
I knew she’d lost her husband some years before, and any kids she’d had now lived far afield. Something in me whispered, “Invite her to join you for breakfast.” But at that moment, I didn’t really want to. The next 45 minutes promised some of my favorite moments of the week, and I just wanted to relax. I didn’t want to have to be “on”—trying to keep up a conversation with someone I didn’t know. “One of these days we should invite her to join us for breakfast,” I said to Rachel as a halfhearted measure.
But the thought struck me: all week I’ve been talking and writing and planning campaigns to champion James 1:27. And yes, I really do mean it all. But, doggone, it’s so easy to imagine that advocacy, ideas and even passion for the “orphan and widow in distress” are the same thing as really doing it.
God never leaves His grace to us abstract, as words and ideas only. The Word becomes flesh. We’re called to do the same. And we need to know that that kind of thing mostly happens not in one glorious act of giving, but in countless small choices to give and to serve.
The book The Resolution for Men, which I’m going through with some guys from my church, puts it this way about husbands loving our wives: “It’s not about being wiling to die for her in a blaze of glory, but rather to sacrifice our lives every day for her. As husbands, we are called to put to death our own selfish desires to meet our wife’s deepest needs.”
That’s how it is with all forms of Christian love, including loving the orphan and the widow. Sure, sometimes a major decision is involved—like adopting an older child from the foster system, or giving up a vacation to send the money to support work overseas. But mostly, real love flows in the smaller choices, like changing a single diaper…or bringing one meal to a struggling foster mom.
After a bit of hesitation, I walked over to the lady, whose name we learned is Adeline, and invited her to our table. As often is the case, she enriched our morning at least as much as we did hers. She shared of her childhood as one of ten children of a Pennsylvania coal miner during the Great Depression—poor as church mice, but happy and secure in the rock solid love of their parents. She told of losing her first husband during WWII…of living in Turkey while her second husband served in the armed forces…and much more besides from a life full of joys and sorrows.
That’s where love happens. Small choices. Ordinary places. Like Bagel Tyme, in Merced, CA.