She was helping me sweep leaves into a pile with a kitchen broom. Strawberry blonde braids flipped around in my direction and a sweet, 7-year-old voice piped in with this: "Are you a grown up?"
When I write it out, I see that this entire morning was leading up to this question. I woke up not wanting to wake up. I intentionally made a choice not to shower. I bought myself a pumpkin spice latte as a reward for making my bed. I kid you not - that's how I talked myself into pulling up the covers and throwing the Ikea pillows back in there rightful spots. Because I procrastinated yesterday, I left at 7 am to stop at Wal-Mart where I grabbed a few things for the service project that I was headed to and also to buy toilet paper - which I have put off for much longer than I should have.
I pulled into the elementary school a block north of the church that I work at and stepped out with an already brooding sense of failure. This is Love Our Schools Day, a day when area churches connect with schools to do service projects and build relationships. It's a great day and a great event. However, in the midst of some travel and the whirlwind of life I hadn't promoted well. I mean, I could give the list of things that came up against my "efforts", but the reality is that I know how to fight the whirlwind and "effort" is not what I would use to describe my lack of action. Although a few families had expressed interest via cards that were turned in at the front desk, I was the sole representative as I tentatively approached the school gates.
Let's just say that I wasn't feeling very motivated or very grown up. But there I was, with a pumpkin spice latte and a box of garbage bags. I made some happy small talk with the team that was there and then decided that I would just plug in my headphones, pick up trash for 3 hours, and be on my way.
I ended up being handed a broom and directed to the side of the building, where I found a concrete courtyard covered in leaves. Here's the thing about leaves. They keep falling. They blow away. They don't respond well to kitchen brooms. But here they were and it gave me a task. I wasn't sweeping for more than a few moments when a confident, pigtailed 7-year-old joined me and usurped my broom. We chatted about her life as a new reader and I felt a twinge of jealousy when I realized that she gets to read all the books for the first time. We sang some Taylor Swift together and she told me that her dad was a republican (which he adamantly corrected later on.) She asked if I had kids, to which I far too enthusiastically said "NO, praise the Lamb." My lack of children encouraged her to invite me over to play dolls and everything in me wanted to be like, "YES!!! Perfect. I'll play dolls and everything will be fun and easy and we can be best friends and read Little House on the Prairie for the very first time."
And then she asked me if I was a grown up.
I stopped my mindless sweeping and froze. Am I a grown up? The truth is that I am 10 years past the age that the government defines as making you an adult. I am paying my own bills. Spoiler alert: there are a lot of bills when you are an adult age. I am living in a city away from anyone who knew me previous to 6 months ago. I drive a car that I own, I lock my doors, and most of the time I even make my bed without a reward system. So why was I questioning my answer to her innocent question?
It's because of the leaves. I think that we can spend a lot of energy on mindlessly sweeping the leaves that cover our picture of adult life. I think that it should look a certain way or that things should happen in a specific order, but then they get messy. Leaves flutter down off the trees of comparison, stress, expectation, and responsibility. They swirl around us, gather in the corners, and clog the gutters. I find myself sweeping them around in little piles while they continue to burst into chaos with every gust of wind. They distract me from my identity and can keep me busy while the Lord is trying to get my attention.
The leaves will continue to fall, but that doesn't mean that I have to keep scooting them around in meaningless, fickle piles. I can walk on them. I can acknowledge that they exist and I can lock eyes with Jesus and kick 'em out of the way. I can let Him bag them up and clear my path. I may not always feel like a grown up, or like the woman that I know the Lord has created me to be, but when my identity remains in Him I can call out the lies that hide in the piles of my doubt.
For now, when we walk through forests of challenging trees, let's be intentional to not let the blowing leaves discourage or distract. Not all of the trees of adulthood will be as challenging. Some of their leaves will be beautiful - like family, calling, community, and relationship - and we will pile them up and play in them. We will use their colors to decorate our homes and we will celebrate when those colors change.