The odor was pervasive. It wafted through the room, drifting up over the book I was reading to the children. It obscured my senses until I could no longer concentrate on the printed words.
“What is that smell?” I asked the kids.
“I don’t know,” Faith said. “It’s awful.”
“I don’t smell anything,” Jonathan shrugged.
But there was definitely something to smell. “Did anybody step in something outside?” I questioned.
“No,” came the unanimous reply.
“It smells rotten.”
“It smells poopy.”
“It smells dead.”
We looked behind the couch. We looked under the love seat. We checked behind the ficus tree where the cat sometimes leaves us signs of his cooling affection.
“Hum. I don’t smell anything,” Jonathan said again.
“Jonathan, you don’t smell anything because it’s coming from you!” Faith exclaimed. She leaned over and sniffed the air around him. “Oh! It’s your feet!”
“Jonathan, is that awful smell coming from your feet?” I looked down at his socks. “Did you step in something?”
I looked closer. I couldn’t see any dirt because his socks were black, but the scent was unmistakably corpse-like. How could he trample on a dead body and not know it? “When was the last time you changed your socks?” I demanded.
“Jonathan, you have to change your socks every day. It’s like underwear. If you don’t remember, then it’s definitely been too long.”
“But Mom, I only have one pair of socks!” he moaned.
“What? No you don’t.”
“Yes, I do. All my other socks are getting holes. Remember? I told you that.”
A little sticky-note in the back of my brain seemed to corroborate his story: “Jonathan needs new socks.”
I’m not good at remembering the little things, like brushing hair and clipping toenails. I usually only think of such things when we’re all sitting together in church and I notice with horror that my daughter has enough dirt under her nails to qualify for a farm subsidy.
“Well, listen,” I said, trying to distract him from my obvious oversight. “Take off those socks and put them directly into the washing machine because there is no way I’m touching those with my bare hands. Then wash your feet. And your hands. With soap. Lots of soap.” I threw in that last part because it sounded like the responsible thing to do under the circumstances, and I was suddenly interested in being more responsible.
Jonathan came back with clean feet and a much fresher smell. Together, we investigated his sock drawer. Besides a dozen rocks, two pocket knives and a wad of rubber bands, we found three pairs of hole-free socks. Whew. Probably I wasn’t the most neglectful mother on the planet. Probably.
Still, I was going to have to buy him new socks. A child who owns only four pairs of socks means a mother who is going to have to do laundry, well, way more often than I do.
That week, I showed up at the department store with a $10 merchandise coupon I’d gotten in the mail. I went in with the singular purpose of getting that kid some socks. I did not even look at the cute fall blouses or the shoes…dang, there are some cute shoes…but went directly to the boys’ section.
They were having some obscure BOGO 50% off sale, which meant I had to do math right in the middle of the day in order to figure out which package of socks was the best deal. I wanted cool socks, the more the better, but not Tony-Hawk-cool. I mean, really. I was not about to pay an extra $5 a package—wait, make that $2.50 a package—to have “Hawk” written on the bottom of his feet. I settled for some sturdy-looking Gold Toe socks with charcoal heels. Cool enough.
That night, when Jonathan got home from a day at Nana’s house, I told him, “You have a surprise up on your bed.”
“What is it?” he gasped and ran upstairs like it was Christmas. Probably I shouldn’t have used the word “surprise” in reference to socks. Probably.
I was kind of surprised when I heard him squeal. “New socks! Wow! Thank you, Mom! Thank you!” Jonathan clipped off the tag and put them on immediately. “Faith, Kya, boys, look! New socks! Aren’t they cool?”
“Yeah, weawy, weawy cool,” Micah agreed, hands in his pockets like he was the ultimate authority on cool.
“Look, I can slip across the floor! Whoa! These are the best slipping socks!”
The other kids writhed with envy. “How many socks did you get me, Mom?” Jonathan asked, noticing their agony.
“You have eight new pairs.”
“Oh! Can the other kids try them on?”
A cheer went up as Jonathan passed out socks for everyone. They all evaluated the slippery-factor for themselves, which, scientifically speaking, can only be measured in contusions, head-on collisions and possible concussions. Turns out, these were really great socks.
Soon it was time for bed. The socks had to go away, but I heard Jonathan babbling on about them when he was supposed to be brushing his teeth.
My goodness, I thought, they’re just socks. I mean, I kind of owed him socks, being his mother and all. And they weren’t even special Tony Hawk socks. They were just plain, practical mom-socks.
But Jonathan delighted in those ordinary socks. His gratitude was powerful and infectious. It transformed our home as night crept in. Where there may have been squabbles and bedtime drudgery, there was happiness. Where there might have been sibling envy and strife, there was appreciation and selfless sharing.
It gave me pause to think, and I realized gratitude is potent stuff.
It has the power to see the hand of God in the ordinary, the breath of the holy in the daily bread. It lifts our eyes off the dirt and ground from which we were made and turns them up to heaven where we belong. Gratitude reminds us that we are always and ever the recipients of many good gifts, sprinkled liberally into our lives by the very fingertips of God.
Most of the gifts are ordinary. Mundane. Even expected, like a package of plain white socks. But gratitude awakens us to the evidence of the Divine in our lives. Suddenly, even difficult situations or frustrations give way to thanksgiving. A traffic jam reminds us that we have a car and a job. A cold reminds us that we are most often healthy. A mortgage payment reminds us that we have a home. Is there anything I have that God has not given?
When I let gratitude reign, I find I have no room for rights. Gratitude knows I don’t deserve most of what I demand, and my perspective shifts from my lack to my abundance. I find myself grateful for the simple things like fresh-picked grapes from our arbor, a beautiful harvest moon, and a chance to talk to my husband who is far from home. If I think about it, I could probably even be thankful for the odiferous socks that started it all. Probably.
Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth!
Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.
Know that the Lord is God.
It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise;
Give thanks to him and praise his name!
For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;
His faithfulness continues through all generations. —Psalm 100