Soaking Up More Than Spilled Milk


They’ve captured me on film wearing it, like a toga slung over one shoulder, like a mantle flung over and hanging, and sometimes I wave hands, waving off that clicking shutter because I’m wearing this thing, and sometimes, frankly, I entirely forget that it’s there, it flowing from me.

And yet there are ways, after all these years, it’s only now becoming who I am and what it means to love.

They’re meant to hang on racks, these dishtowels, or drape over oven handles, or slip on the knob of cupboard under the sink. I wear mine. The one with the waffle weave, burnt orange and tattered, preferably. But I’m not particular.

The blue striped one, like old pillow ticking, blackened at edges, singed by a close call with a ringing element all aflame, or the faded-from-years gingham from Holland and love of Dutch mother-in-law, whichever, I’ll fling whatever over shoulder, official badge of the domestic, and begin.

Because a mother soaks it up.

Of course, that’s how I came to wear it, them spilling water, tipping juice, splattering milk. I always needed a towel. And couldn’t it pinch hit too as a trivet, napkin, potholder, white flag of surrender?

I’d mop it up, wipe it down, pass it over, just feebly wave. Nearly a decade and a half and half a dozen kids and it’s the exception to our crazy normal to get through a meal without the dumping of the something. And instinctively they reach for me, for it hanging there. It happily works.

But we spill worse.

One morning, I’m buttering toast and they spill soul entrails, again, and I’m left flailing, again. One child mocks and another wails so older child metes out vigilante justice and alliances are formed and betrayed and tensions rocket and any instructive words on my part seem to tip them all more and consequences imparted slop more mess and soon the room tilts and a tsunami wall of rising, ugly pain threatens to deluge our humble abode and sweep all away. Now would seem a good time to throw up arms, wave a feeble dishtowel defeat. What else can a mother do when it all falls apart?

Soak it up. God shoots back an answer to my rhetorical question and I’m rung.

Absorb pain with love. Mop up hurt with embrace. Throw down self and wipe it all up.

It’s what God Himself did with our oil slick of sin, soaking up our crude with His seamless garment, staining His cloth with life laid down. Because, truthfully, there are no other useful options. The only tool you have to contain a toxic sin spill is the only one God had: an absorbent heart.

So I do it. I grab the angriest, messiest heart and hold it close. A wonder! Every single time you can feel it right through you, that potency of touch. It’s how Jesus healed the leper, the blind men, the deaf and dumb man, the mother-in-law of Peter. He absorbed the sin with a lingering, intentional touch. And still today, for all our progressive sophistication, we have no absorbent material that can surpass it, in all its simplicity and limitless availability. Nothing sponges up leaking, sin-oozing skin like another skin gathering you up, holding you long. Touch still cleans; the pressed closeness of a hug still heals.

When our day rips open, hemorrhages, we have the same option, and the only helpful one, as God had. We can wrap our arms around the bleeding one, lay ourselves over the spill and soak it up. It feels good just to hug.

Love alone covers, sops up, a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8).

Like the God who “taking a towel, tied it around his waist” (John 13:4 ESV), knelt down to clean up his disciples messiness with tender touch; who wiped them dry with love and “the towel with which He was girded” (John 13:5 NKJ).

Love rags absorb pain in arms open wide, and she becomes it and it becomes her, this towel which girds a mother’s days.


©2009, Ann Voskamp 

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