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Small is beautiful: Readers write

We asked you to write about small, beautiful moments in 250 words or less. Here are some of our favorite submissions.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

For this issue, we thought it would be fun to ask readers to go small and send us stories about the small, beautiful moments … in 250 words or less. Through the humanity of a lyric, the joy of ice cream, the peace of a deep night – even through the tears for a parent gone too soon – in a million small ways, God’s grace covers us.

Cracks

Greg Rapier, Delray Beach, Florida

You rock onto the tips of your toes because you’re tall and you want the prayer you’ve carefully composed buried in the Wailing Wall and not etched out at nightfall by the men who burn and bury prayers. You reach higher than you can see and scratch into the ancient cracks until a prayer other than your own tumbles out. And you feel bad. Because your prayer knocked this prayer down, and because no matter how hard you try you can’t wedge this prayer back into the crack up high. So you stick it somewhere else, lower, and you feel bad all over because prayers weren’t meant to stoop so low.

So you say a prayer for that prayer because that’s what you do when you’re at a holy site. You pray. And when you’re done, you stop and think about how dumb it all is. Praying for a prayer that’s already prayed. And you have the wherewithal to recognize how preposterously foolish you look, feel, this incredibly human moment here of all places. So you laugh. But you’re at the Wailing Wall, so you cry a little, too.

My Son’s Eyes

Rev. Rebekah Tucker-Motley, Bon Air, Virginia

Something about my son’s eyes has stayed the same since the day he was born.
From a NICU preemie to a decade on earth, his spark has remained bright blue.
When I look at his eyes, I travel through time to what’s come and what’s yet to be.
So, when he came to me in tears begging to stay home, time around me froze.
“No one will sit with me, they make fun of me, calling me gay.
I’m just so scared mom, please mom please don’t make me go.”
These words break my heart; my words can change his life.
God who gave your son to this world, help me speak to mine.
Please let me be the one to show him he is so completely loved.
This moment, this thing, this place we’re in, staring eye to eye.
Maybe, just maybe my love for him can block out all the hate.
My God, my God do not forsake us, not in this crucial time.
I hold my son and look in his eyes and tell him he is loved.
“You will find hate,” I have to say.
“But my God son, you are loved.”

It’s All So Beautiful

Rev. Mackenzie Jager, Muskegon, Michigan

It was just another Monday afternoon. Just another church meeting in a string of church meetings. But then Jane leaned over to help Millie free herself from her winter jacket, and it all felt so beautiful.

“I have a weird job.” I’m a new pastor, and I’ve already lost track of how many times I’ve said that. It’s strange to sit at someone’s bedside and flit back and forth between chatting about the Outlander books and the knowledge that death is just around the corner. It’s strange that I get paid to be at church each week. Strange when new acquaintances try to fit me into their mental box labeled “pastor,” but because I’m young and female – and probably wearing pink – they don’t know what to make of me.

But on ordinary afternoons, church ladies help one another out of their jackets like love is simple. Gifts make their way into my office: a wind chime, a hand-knitted washcloth, a brown bag with nothing but two plums inside. It feels holy when they brag about Leigh’s punch recipe and Carol’s cookie-decorating skills. And when my car got trapped in the church parking lot during a freak blizzard last week, the church gossip mill did what it does best and I got invitations to join in on spaghetti dinners, apple crisp and cocktail hours, and even sleepovers.

And so when those age-spotted hands reached for a sky-blue jacket, I nearly wept. Because it’s all so beautiful.

*All names have been changed.

Nibbles

Rev. Andrew Taylor-Troutman, Chapel Hill, North Carolina

Today’s delight courtesy of the neighbor, a third-grade boy, who upon selecting a candy pumpkin from the bag of candy corn, smiled at me: “I love these the best because I can nibble them.”

First of all, I love “nibble,” for the word itself is cute and small like rabbits, squirrels and this third-grade neighbor.

And secondly, how lovely to take one’s time and really savor a food. Even a fake pumpkin. Just moments before he professed his ode to nibbling, I stuffed one of those pumpkins, along with a couple of candy corns, into my mouth. I chomped them. I devoured them. I inhaled them. Did I even taste them?

But now, I’ve set about nibbling my candy. (At least, I try to remind myself.) And I find that I enjoy the treat much more. The complexity of peanut, chocolate and caramel. The linger of peppermint on my tongue. Candy pumpkins still taste like processed sugar.

Even so, what else might I nibble, metaphorically speaking? Like the question, “How are you?” Just like we might hurriedly eat food without really tasting it, we can talk to people without truly listening. What about slowing down and savoring each word?

To nibble can also mean to show cautious interest in a subject. A nibble can lead to something more.

The next time he was at my house, I offered this child another candy pumpkin and took one for myself. He and I sat down and shared a treat of time.

A Little Thing

Rachel M. Srubas, Tucson, Arizona

Compared to Norwich Cathedral with its ascendant spire just a few blocks away, St. Julian’s Church is easy to miss. It’s a modest stone structure tucked into a side street across from a public parking lot. Hedges and flowering plants border a gently sloping churchyard. A few benches allow pilgrims to rest and remember the medieval woman who lived in a small cell adjacent to the original church that stood on this site. Words she wrote in a book called Revelations of Divine Love are burned into unassuming wooden signs posted among flowerpots and under trees. “All shall be well,” begins the most famous of her teachings.

It’s not that Julian of Norwich was naïve. She lived in a time of deadly pandemic and violent social upheaval. Spiritual seekers came to her streetside window to receive her compassionate counsel. They’d heard she had experienced visionary insights into God’s all-encompassing mercy. Once, when Julian was mystically shown “a little thing, the size of a hazelnut,” she wondered what it could be. Then she was given this knowledge: “It is all that is made. It lasts and ever shall because God loves it.”

Centuries before the poet William Blake saw “a world in a grain of sand,” Julian, the first woman known to write a book in English, beheld the hazelnut of all creation in her hand. She understood and taught her readers that divine love births and preserves all beings. The Creator cherishes the creature. Even the littlest, perishable thing endures.

Joy by the Scoop

Peg Robarchek, Charlotte, North Carolina

During a dark period of spiritual tantruming after my marriage broke up, I received an unexpected gift — joy. Joy, a way to experience how the Divine infuses everything.

Days and nights still hurt sometimes. I still slipped into self-defeating thoughts. But as summer drew to a close, I had one of those moments when, for no discernable reason, I was filled with joy.

It was an ordinary day with an extraordinary blue sky and a courtyard full of summer blooms, a burbling fountain, sweet fragrance. Surrounded by all that goodness, I remembered I am always free to choose joy and that, in odd moments, joy would choose me.

Making the most of that moment, I decided, required ice cream. Not scoop-it-into-a-bowl, eat-it-with-a-spoon ice cream. That moment that required one of those little cones we had when I was a kid. I wasn’t sure they were still available, but if they were out there, I would find them. And I would fill a cone with mint chocolate chip, let it run down my fingers and stick to my nose.

It’s hard not to feel joy with ice cream on your nose.

At the grocery store, I headed for the end of the freezer case where the jars of caramel and hot fudge sauce lived. I turned the corner and sure enough, there they were, boxes of old-fashioned cones.

The brand name, in big, kid-attracting letters: JOY.

Mommy

Bobby Hulme-Lippert, Georgetown, Texas

Mommy. I held onto that word far longer than my peers. I knew it wasn’t cool. I knew mom is what everyone graduates to.

But it was harrowing for my little soul. Mom, I felt, came out like an incomplete thought. A sentence without a verb. A communication where the hearer is still leaning in and wondering what is yet to come.

Even so, mom also felt inevitable, and so one day in middle school I gave Mom formal notice of my shift.

It was a painful irony that many years later Mom would endure her last year on earth in the ravages of brain cancer speaking sentences that arrived as incomplete thoughts. Sentences that came without verbs. Sentences that left you wondering what was yet to come all while knowing just how much would not be coming at all.

How strange a thing it is to want to grow up and cut the expressions of love in half. Tighten and formalize things. Assure ourselves that all the single syllables and incomplete sentences still communicated The Thing.

And then the inevitable comes — always too fast, too soon, too wrong.

And with no formal notice at all, the many years of incomplete sentences now flood forth with every last subject, verb, and syllable previously withheld.

But in my case, since the sobs took up so much air, there was only one word you could hear me crying from the floor:

Mommy.

Mommy.

Mommy.

Ode to a Street Sweeper

Rev. Jessica Hawkinson Dorow, Monmouth, Illinois

Listen for a dull, rumbly whirrrr. The thump of toddler feet on stairs, a rush outside with no time for shoes. The street sweeper is almost here! See it come down the street at last, the whirrr turned whissshhh, whisshhh, wisshhh. The driver waves on his way by, then holds up to the window the tiny 6 x 6″ drawing the toddler has made for him. Tucked behind the visor’s garage door opener, this is proof of small adoration captured in tempera paint stick swirls. Blue for the street sweeping machine, yellow for Driver Jeff, straight lines for enchanted toddler and mom standing by. Listen for the beep beep of the horn as the sweeper circles around, small encounters made beautiful by the practice of awe, curious wonder, and unconditional regard for moments and people easily overlooked. “Will he come back, Mama?” Small questions speak to the power of observing and caring. Almost every week in spring and summer, we are called by the prospect of kind greetings. Halloween approaches, and the growing girl climbs into her homemade cardboard box street sweeper costume, complete with neon shirt, brushes, and reflective tape. In fall and winter, Jeff told us, he works on the other side of town. It is bittersweet, the changing of the seasons, but listen, clank, roar, woosh, the snowplow awaits! For each season, an invitation to witness small beauty.

The Wee Small Hours

Jonathan Moelker, Vinton, Virginia

I often say to friends that “I’m not very good at sleeping.” I’ve tried it, but it’s not for me. I know the conventional wisdom around sleep. I try to go to bed at the same time each night, I’ve cut out caffeine, I’ve tried breathing exercises. None worked. There is one rule I always break: I keep my smartphone with me when I go to bed.

I know that late night screen usage is bad for sleep, but every night I am on my phone. The truth is, I love the wee small hours, late at night when I can follow my brain’s whims. Off the clock, I feel free to forget about productivity and to-do lists and instead follow whatever catches my interest in the moment. I read books on my phone (I’ve been on an Agatha Christie kick recently), I watch physics videos on YouTube, or I listen to podcast recordings of the Dan Patrick Show.

So much of our life is ruled by the calendar. Though we are exhorted to “live in the moment,” our calendars urge us to always think of the future. The wee hours are a time when I can pursue interests with no final purpose, to learn things I don’t expect to understand, or to catch up on the unimportant things, the world of sports. As necessary as sleep is, I am grateful for the wee small hours when I lie awake, freed from the calendar for a little while.

A Little Love in Your Heart

Alfred Walker, Richmond, Virginia

I’d just purchased my weekly loaf of sandwich bread at Montana Gold.

My checker smilingly offered me a free slice (sometimes I have to ask) and cut a really thick piece of banana bread. So I turned to leave with bread in each hand – which always makes me feel a little holistically whole-grained – and there was another customer, a lady: naturally gray, neatly but not obsessively coifed, comfortably dressed for early fall. Her aura, to me at that moment, was “sixties survivor.”

We smiled in passing, and the whole thing with the fresh-baked bread and the here-dude, take-an-extra-big-free-slice and the woman who probably passed through that same formative decade as me — it all washed over me and I imagined a great get-together of like-minded travelers: kind, friendly, worn and wise, crunchily progressive, Richie Havens playing on the box, maybe a doob passing around but maybe not because the love doesn’t need a buzz. This goes to my thing: that time got away from us, the aspirations for peace, love and harmony.

I hold out hope for a big gathering like that — it just may be on the other side.

“Think of your fellow man, lend him a helping hand
Put a little love in your heart
And the world will be a better place for you and me
Just wait and see

Hackney Diamonds

By Cindy Corell, Port-au-Prince, Haiti

I DM’ed Mick Jagger this morning. The Rolling Stones released its 28th album, “Hackney Diamonds,” last week. The first LP since 2005 sounds as vintage as it sounds fresh. After the death of drummer Charlie Watts in 2021, the Stones have only upped the ante, with Jagger, Ronnie Wood and Keith Richards inviting in musicians to fill the bill.

The Stones got together in 1962, the year I was born. Five years later, my oldest brother Andy saw fit to baptize me in this enormous, epic sound. In 1967, Andy was 17. I was 5. He’d spent his hard-earned dollars – probably even before he’d bought shiny new penny loafers that were all the rage – on Stones’ LPs. He had a small record player in his room. He’d play the songs full blast and ask me the title.

Mother’s Little Helper. Ruby Tuesday. Satisfaction. 19th Nervous Breakdown.

The Rolling Stones released “Hackney Diamonds” on Oct. 20. Andy turned 74 the same day.

My big brother awakens every day in the cruel fog of dementia. He calls me “little sister.” He tries so hard. He’s a cheerful sort these days, which makes it harder and easier for us at the same time.

I’m compelled to remember harder to make up for the memories that scatter past him.

For sure, though, The Rolling Stones are there. Still the best band ever. Argue and my big brother will fight you. And grin.

Anyway, he hasn’t responded, but I just thought Mick should know.

The Second Waterfall

By Matthew Hardin, Pacific Palisades, California

While on a recent hike in Banff National Park, I came across a massive waterfall pouring itself into a beautiful, crystal-clear pool of water. After taking in the majestic scene for a minute, I noticed a much smaller waterfall about 20 yards to my right.

Compared to her larger sister, the second waterfall was just a trickle, not nearly as big or loud or splendid. None of the other hikers were paying her any attention, yet I instantly admired her. But why? The small waterfall didn’t “do” anything that the larger waterfall didn’t “do” better.

That’s when I realized that none of that mattered — her smaller size, her lack of splendor, her relative insignificance. The second waterfall was happy doing her own thing, flowing exactly how God created her to flow. She wasn’t jealous of her larger sister. She wasn’t insecure or pouty about not getting the same attention as her show-off neighbor.

That little waterfall was content just being herself. At her own pace, and in her own way, she too was contributing water to the beautiful crystal-clear pool.

I then thought about myself, and how content I am (or not) with just being me. How much time do I spend comparing myself to other waterfalls — friends, neighbors, other pastors, other dads?

Can I just do my own thing, at my own pace, in my own God-given way and let that be … enough? Can I also be content with my small contribution to the beauty of this world? 

Acts in Action

By Ashley Mason Brown, New Orleans, Louisiana

The woman smelled of the afternoon rain. Her hair and navy silk shirt held tiny, glistening raindrop imprints. She rushed in five minutes or so late after the start of the pastor-led Bible study through Acts. The rest of us glanced up as she opened the heavy library door. One by one, we returned to the text before us.

A sudden movement at the end of the table caught my eye.

The woman’s husband quickly stood up, pulled out a chair for his wife, assisted her as she settled in and then gently pushed the chair back to the table.

He then took his seat next to her. Each movement was understated but felt powerful to witness.

I was struck by the simple act of a husband pulling out his wife’s chair at Bible study. These gestures of social grace and perhaps a gentleman’s code of conduct tarnish in our modern society. For a moment, it was as if God had cleared the cobwebs before my eyes, and I was reminded of how the simplest kindnesses we offer to one another impact unknowing eyes.

I found myself totally distracted from reading Acts. Instead, I was watching Acts in action. Loving one another needs no grandiose performance. Small acts are beautiful.

Converging at the Foot of the Cross

By Tovi Lynn Martin, Charlotte, North Carolina

“I was there to hear your borning cry,
I’ll be there when you are old.
I rejoiced the day you were baptized,
to see your life unfold.”

The voices of the choir still echo as I look up to see the pallid Midwestern-born engineer – long since retired but still sporting a wry twinkle in his eye – come into view. Tottering and bent by the ravages of time and a battle (mostly) won with cancer, he leans heavily on another. He is almost too tall to be of help with kind eyes that set off his rich, brown face and determined smile, despite the obvious effort of supporting the other. Graying hair betrays his otherwise strong and capable body as he eases the tinkerer into the pew, shares an encouraging word, and moves along to his own destination.

It’s a moment in time, observed covertly, between two men, perhaps even mere acquaintances. Two people from disparate moments in my life – once separate – now converging here at the foot of the cross.

Is that the image of God I see reflected there in each other’s eyes?

Naked Vulnerability, Deep Blessings

Sarah Chivington-Buck, Albuquerque, New Mexico

Amidst the bustle of prepping for worship Sunday morning, I learned a congregation member did not have long to live. It was strange, carrying that knowledge with me as I gathered my papers, zipped up my robe, made sure my mic was working. I wanted to be there, in worship, celebrating the church’s anniversary. I also felt pulled to head immediately to the bedside of our dying member.

After church, I drove a little too fast to their home. I paused in the driveway, took a deep breath, tossed up a quick prayer and walked to the house. His hospital bed took up much of the living room. All the busyness of the morning began to melt away. We talked for a while, then read Scripture, prayed and shared communion. He carefully chewed a small bit of cracker, the successful swallow a triumph.

Before I left, I took his hand, and looked into his eyes to offer him a blessing. I was startled by the naked vulnerability of his gaze. All pretense, all hiding, all polite social norms — useless on the threshold between life and death. I teared up at the beauty of this man, his wholeness, gazing back at me. He teared up, too. Then, he offered me a blessing, which I did not expect. No longer was I the pastor visiting the dying congregation member. We were simply two children of God, gazing truthfully at one another. It was a deep blessing indeed.

A Tangible Reminder of Love

Rev. Emily D. Sutphin, Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania

I started working with my first congregation as a teaching elder this past July. Over the course of the past few months, the congregation has blessed me with their profound generosity and boundless hospitality. I was welcomed with a small flood of cards, prayers, and well wishes. When I was reflecting on the theme of “small is beautiful,” one particular gift came to mind: a small plastic container containing some muffins. Each of the little muffins was superb, a testament to the remarkable talents of Presbyterian Women.

After enjoying the muffins, I dutifully rinsed the container to return it to its owner. However, when I offered to return it, she said, “Don’t worry about it, just keep it.”

Little did she know that I had just moved into my first adult apartment and was reusing and rewashing the same two Tupperware containers to bring my lunch every day. This seemingly unremarkable plastic container is not extravagant or eccentric; it is simple, small, and unassuming. Yet, to me, it is so much more. It is a small treasure, a tangible reminder of my congregation’s vow to care for and love me as I strive to care for and love them in return. It is a symbol of our shared promise to journey together as we seek God at work among us. Even the smallest tokens of kindness can radiate extraordinary beauty.

Community Cup

By Dwight McCormick, Martinsburg, West Virginia

Holding church in a coffee shop enables you to have a three police car cruiser arrest in the street behind you as you conduct the words of institution for The Lord’s Supper. The part of you in high school drama that learned “the show must go on” is up against knowing worship is not a show, but a glorification of The Divine.

What brings God glory in this case? Stopping to pray for the police and for the suspect being chased?

Worshiping through it is the course that was chosen and which I regret. Having been in the pulpit of a traditional congregation for 23 years had not prepared me for the situation, so there is grace. It is part of the lay of the land in this New Worshiping Community. Some lighter thoughts occur to me as I sit here in the shop on a Monday. We could serve communion subversively.

To bring some levity we might whisper “body of Christ” as we pass a red velvet and cream cheese muffin and “cup of the new covenant” as we scoot a macchiato across the counter. We don’t do it, but we smile imagining it. We are caffeinated for Christ, drinking savory water for The Living Water, consuming Java for Jesus. We are Community Cup, Coffee and More. Building Community one cup at a time.

The Hope Seen in Sea Glass

By Rachel Sutphin, Charlottesville, Virignia

I love morning walks on the beach. I am enchanted watching pelicans dive into the rolling waves and ghost crabs scurrying to and fro in the early sunlight. As I wander along the shoreline, sometimes, a glimmer of light catches my eye, and causes me to pause and kneel for closer inspection. Sifting through the sand, I search for small pieces of beautiful sea glass. Blue is my favorite.

Each piece of sea glass is a work of art created by the ocean. The ocean takes our heedlessly discarded trash and transforms it into precious jewels of various shapes and hues. While broken glass is dangerous, sharp, and painful, sea glass, worn by sand and time, is smooth and soothing to the touch, perfect for gentle strokes with your thumb.

Sea glass gives me hope. It is a testament that nature can, and will, transform human-made waste into something of captivating beauty. In a time when I often find myself overwhelmed and disheartened by the destruction we have inflicted upon our earthly home, sea glass serves as a humble yet powerful reminder of nature’s resilience and ability to endure. Julian of Norwich’s words, “all shall be well,” resonate deeply with me. Though I do not know how or when, when I hold sea glass, I trust that somehow, someday, all shall be well. Just as the waves continue to roll, transforming broken bottles into art, so is God at work in our world, bringing forth beauty.

Small is Beautiful

By Rev. Cynthia Betz-Bogoly, Elkins Park, Pennsylvania

A congregation where everyone knows each other’s names, as well as their favorite foods, sports team allegiance, and a few embarrassing stories about their past.

A congregation where your pew is your pew and it is noticed when it is empty.

A congregation where the prayer list is genuine, empathetic, and a source for deep connections never gossip.

A congregation that celebrates its past, tells its story with nostalgia, yet welcomes newcomers to the family.

A congregation that carries the load of ministry with grace, even when it can feel heavy.

A congregation who celebrates together, mourns together, struggles together, and thankfully laughs together.

A congregation who makes eye contact with the preacher during worship and clasps hands with pew neighbors during prayer.

A congregation who loves the Bible, desires to be more like Jesus, and listens to the still small voice of the Spirit when the nudges draw us closer to God and one another.

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