A few weeks ago, I drove home through crisp evening air, cold biting fingers. Trees danced alive with flaming leaves, ground scattered with ruby and rust.
Several blocks from my house, I spotted two older boys flagging cars from a corner across from the neighborhood park — a hand-lettered sign proclaiming “HOT CHOCOLATE.”
I smiled and drove past, then remembered my (personal) commitment to stop whenever I can at stands set up by kids to sell food, drink, crafts. My own girls delight in the kindness of neighbors visiting their sidewalk tables to buy artwork, lemonade and pudding cups topped with graham cracker “sand” and Laffy Taffy and chocolate wafer “palm trees.” I want to pass it on.
I turned around on a side street and headed back to where the boys stood.
We exchanged greetings. Simple ones. Boys that age are usually strong, silent types. After a little
conversation prying, I discovered they attended a local middle school and decided that afternoon to serve hot chocolate and earn a few bucks.
The boys stood at a small card table, on top of which sat a plastic fly box holding a few dollar bills and change, a stack of red plastic cups, packets of hot cocoa and a plaid Thermos containing piping hot water. A small scattering of spoons lay on the table.
One boy, at the urging of the other, ran up to the house to get another stand-by Thermos of water while the sandy-haired boy in the hoodie prepared my hot cocoa.
With a surprisingly gentle touch, he emptied the packet into a cup, poured hot water over the powder and combined the cup’s contents with a metal spoon. He laid the spoon on the table’s corner. I gave him a dollar, thanked him and headed to the car, cocoa in hand.
My heart was warmed by the sweet simplicity of the exchange and the idea that I was helping some boys realize their day’s dream. After spending some time outside, I felt colder, and I looked forward to drinking my cocoa in the blocks leading home.
I reached to the cup holder for the red plastic, steam swirling, cocoa bits twirling circles, and turned to take a last look at the kids. The boy who prepared my drink seemed to be tidying his work station. He lifted the chocolate powder-covered spoon from the corner of the table. Brought it up to his lips, stuck his tongue out and took long deliberate licks all across the round of the spoon and up the bottom part of the handle.
I looked at the cup of cocoa in my hand and lowered it back to the cup holder.
That cocoa suddenly looked very different to me.
A behind the scenes look at the hot chocolate operation, and the sweet drink was no longer what it had seemed.
I’ve never been the most adept at hiding my true feelings. My face and tone betray thoughts I’d sometimes rather keep to myself. A bit like the spoon licker in that way — obvious. Those closest to me can easily identify my blatant sadness or frustration. Try though I might to hide, I’m not good at it.
But my biggest bouts of spoon licking happen in the alone places with no witnesses. It’s behind the scenes that my heart often betrays my actions.
A wound at the hands of a friend that I continue to replay across my mind’s bitter screen while putting on a sweet face in her presence.
A boredom that I continually fill with distractions rather than going to the Source and being still.
A deep fear of failure that I cover with more pursuit and activity.
A worry about the future that I stuff deeper inside without laying it before the One Who Sees and Knows.
A belief that I am loved, really, only when I am acting my best.
And I guess it’s that word, acting, that fills me with the desire to come clean: I am a spoon licker.
Sometimes, dear daughters of mine, I lose my temper, and I am licking my spoon right in front of you. Sometimes, I wait until you drive off in your car, dear friend, to lick my spoon, counting your failures to give me what I wanted.
I am an imperfect blend of impatience and integrity, fears and faith, joy and jealousy.
And when I act, I choose to remain unknown.
When I confess to another, to my God, when I recognize his presence in the midst of the muddle, I come out of the darkness into the light.
This journey is not about mustering up the right thing to be the right thing and do the right thing. It is about the words I read this morning:
“Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.” (1 John 3:19-20)
He calls to each one, “Spoon lickers, come clean. I already know.”