A life-giving load of laundry

On Friday came the moment they’d all been waiting for: free time. We set the group loose in Krakow, distributing city maps and issuing directions. (High schoolers need to be with an adult! Call this number in case of an emergency! Be back here at 10 pm, no later!) I set off on my own, the first time all week without a flag by my side and 40 others behind me. I put my map and walkie talkie away. My pace quickened as I neared my destination, my anticipation growing as I awaited what was about to come: a trip to the laundromat.

Call me crazy, but that was perhaps the most rewarding load of laundry I’ve ever done. It wasn’t just the freshly laundered clothes that I reveled in, however gratifying that was after many sweaty days. It was time away from the crowd, time alone. I didn’t have to solve problems, answer questions, navigate the streets. I could just sit and be, watch my lights and darks spinning round and round, read and write, think and pray. Converse with my fellow friendly launderers. It’s funny, falling closer to the introverted end of the spectrum, I often crave alone time after even a few hours in a big group. But in the midst of World Youth Day, I’d been in hordes for days, and only just then did I realize what a gift it was to be on my own. God had been sustaining me with grace upon grace to handle the continuous intensity.

And my time in the laundromat got me thinking. For so long I’ve felt entitled to that alone time. I’ve guarded it. I’ve claimed it as an absolute necessity, only giving it up when I felt ready and willing to do so. But even an hour or so into that quiet, group-less time, I began to miss my 41 Koreans, began to look forward to our approaching meeting time by the steps of Saints Peter and Paul. And that’s when it hit me: that time alone that I so often crave, that I guard? It ought to be oriented toward the service of others. Whereas I used to think of it as time that would inevitably (and unfortunately) come to a close with a scheduled meeting or an interruption from a person in need, I then began to think of it as time that I could be filled up in order to go out again. In order to spend myself. To think of it as a refueling, even as a gift, for those I’d get to serve next. As a privilege from God, a reward for striving to be generous with myself.

I still think fondly about those hours in the laundromat. I still need to regularly recall their fruit. Happily, God has been reminding me of that lesson often. I rejoice in the little conversations with the cashiers at Trader Joe’s and the baristas at the coffee shop down the street, being drawn out of myself on my solo shopping trips or working sessions. I welcome the interruption of those bold strangers who sit on our stoop to read or smoke, and we exchange pleasantries as they embarrassingly shuffle out of my way. It delights me to run into familiar faces as I’m out and about in my new neighborhood, stopping to chat before continuing on our way. It is those serendipitous moments that God reminds me, Your life is not your own, Emma. I want you to be a gift. And as He keeps lavishing upon me gift after gift, I can’t help but share them. Wisdom from the laundromat and all.





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