At three o’clock on a cold winter morning, I found myself making a grilled cheese sandwich.
Our foster child, a nine-year-old girl from Mexico was to get on a plane and finally be reunited with her parents after five years of separation. I asked her if she was hungry and with her hair a little disheveled and eyes not quite used to the kitchen light, she nodded yes.
“¿Qué te gustaría comer?,” I asked, wanting to know what she’d like to eat. “Pan con queso,” she replied. Easy, I thought. Just a simple grilled cheese.
I spread butter on the bread, heated up the pan, and the scent of hot toast and melted cheese quickly filled the room. I remembered another time in my life when grilled cheese made a frequent appearance: right after college, while working in a group home for teenage girls in New York City. I was taking care of kids that were not much younger than myself, though the circumstances of our lives couldn’t have been more different.
I grew up in the Midwest in a safe and loving home with two parents, two brothers, and our dog. We played outside with our neighbors. We took the bus to school. We went to church on Sundays. We had home-cooked meals and ate dinner together as a family every night.
But for these teenage girls in New York City, relationships with family were unstable, impacted by illness or poverty or addiction . . . or a world of other issues outside of their control. They had often moved and switched schools multiple times, ultimately being separated from the ones that they loved.
My job in the group home was to help with everyday tasks. I woke the girls up in the mornings and made sure they got to school. I took them to doctor’s appointments and on excursions to the movies or the record store. And, occasionally, I would cook them breakfast or an after-school snack.
The government provided us with staple ingredients each week, always including a loaf of bread, a block of cheese, and a brick of butter. So one day, I asked one of the girls if she wanted a grilled cheese sandwich. As soon as I made that first sandwich, the floodgates opened. Another girl saw the sandwich and asked for one for herself — then another girl and another. Soon enough, I had used the whole loaf of bread and the entire block of cheese.
It was such a simple meal, a simple act, but I knew it meant something more. I knew this because one of the ways that I felt loved as a child was when my mom cooked something special for me. Even now, I can imagine her making cinnamon sugar toast by heating up buttered bread between pieces of wax paper on the ironing board.
The Bible is full of stories about Jesus sharing simple meals with people in their homes. Alongside His words and teaching, Jesus’ life highlights the small gestures of care that He gave others.
In John 21, Jesus appears to His disciples who were fishing but not catching anything. He tells them to throw their net on the right side of the boat and, when they do, they catch so many fish that they can barely haul them in. After such a miracle, what happens next could be overlooked.
“Jesus said to them, ‘Bring some of the fish you have just caught.’ So Simon Peter climbed back into the boat and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, ‘Come and have breakfast.’ None of the disciples dared ask him, ‘Who are you?’ They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish.”
“Come and have breakfast.” Just four words but filled with so much love and care.
So often when we are trying to make a difference in the world — or even in our own families — we focus on grand gestures and big plans. We might underestimate what a small gesture can mean, like making a little something for your child, the kid next door, your elderly neighbor, or your overwhelmed friend.
When our foster child finished the grilled cheese sandwich and put the empty plate on the kitchen counter, she smiled at me and, expressing gratitude, said, “Gracias.” I gave her a hug because I was the one filled with so much gratitude for being able to be a part of her life — even if only for a few weeks.
I tried to smile and hold back tears, praying she’d know and feel my love through this moment . . . and through this grilled cheese sandwich.Leave a Comment