Every parent knows of the dicey situations you might find yourself in when you’re away from home and your kid has a clothing crisis. Here I recall walking down the sidewalk in Queens, New York, carrying my one-and-a-half-year-old. It’s a freezing December evening, and she is swaddled up in her mom’s Middle Eastern scarf. But apart from that she’s only wearing a diaper. This is because she had an epic blowout while we were eating at a Turkish restaurant with a friend. And while we had an extra diaper, we did not have extra clothes. So after dinner, we shuffled back to the hotel as quickly as we could, hoping the meanface worn by most passersby was just typical New York, and not because our daughter’s bare chubby legs were sticking out into the winter wind.
I was helping change my youngest son into his pajamas the other day when I was reminded of yet another similar incident. While lending this bedtime assistance, I saw that my son was wearing a pair of blue briefs with a bright red, yellow, and green band. On the band is a repeated pattern of the word Wonderful and a black print of what is clearly a cannabis leaf.
“Hey love, we still have the marijuana undies?” I called to my wife down the hall.
“Yep! Hand-me-downs,” she replied, matter-of-factly.
These particular briefs had actually belonged to my son’s older sister, though this is no fault of her own. Well, not entirely.
At some point your kids start desiring to pack for themselves when the family goes on trips. This will eventually be a wonderful thing, I’m sure. But for a good number of years it introduces just as much trouble as any potential time it might save.
It was about a year ago that we found ourselves packing for a team retreat at a mountain lake town. Our previous team-building sessions with some new teammates had been sabotaged by local ministry crises, so we were going to try again, but this time we planned to get out of town to make the interruptions at least a little less-likely. There’s almost no acceptable reason for not answering your phone in our local culture, but one of the few exceptions to this tyrannical rule is if you are out of the city. So, we packed up and drove an hour through the mountains to a nice lakeside hotel. We were all looking forward to a few days of encouragement, getting to know one another better, and some measure of rest. Even the biggest dust storm in decades didn’t dampen our spirits.
After the first evening of sessions, our family arrived back at our room. The plan was for each of the kids to get a quick shower before bed. Well, somewhere in the course of this process my wife discovered that our daughter had forgotten to pack any undergarments. In spite of her best packing intentions, our daughter had simply forgotten to pack any of this crucial form of clothing. My wife and I both deflated when my she told me the bad news. It was now 9 p.m. and neither of us wanted to head out into the dusty night to problem-solve this kind of issue at the end of a day of travel and meetings. We just wanted to get the kids in bed and get some rest ourselves.
But maybe, just maybe, some of the stores in the little tourist town’s bazaar would still be open and have something that could work. We decided I should try to go hunt down some children’s undergarments. If I found some, then I wouldn’t have to make the drive down to our city and back the next day and miss a half day of the retreat. We remembered passing a few women’s clothing stores as we drove through the bazaar, but it was a very small town with a marketplace that focused mostly on swimming and picnic supplies for tourists. I figured I had maybe a 50/50 chance of accomplishing my mission.
Girding up my loins, I drove down the mountain road to the little town and began weaving my car systematically through the streets of the small bazaar. Most of the stores were closed, with the exception of tea houses, shawarma shops, and alcohol stores. I had just about given up hope when I made it to the very last street. One narrow closet of a store remained to be checked.
Proclaiming my peace upon the store attendant, I entered and did a quick scan. Hair dryers, makeup, adult pajama sets, and other similar items filled the shelves from floor to ceiling. These were good signs. I tried to look casual as I made my way to the very back of the store. And there I spotted a thing of glory. A dusty bin on the floor full of a random assortment of kids briefs.
“There it is!” I said to my self in the local language, much more loudly than I had been meaning to. As other missionaries can attest, there is a special kind of victorious joy that floods one’s soul when the very item you have been searching for is suddenly found in the bowels of a foreign market. Providence cares for us in many ways, and these oh-so-practical provisions in unexpected places certainly count as one of them.
However, I soon I realized that the trick would be finding something the right size. Most of these undergarments were for apparently massive children and my daughter was a very skinny seven-year-old at the time. After I had picked through the entire dusty box, I found three pair that would have to do. One was neutral, and probably too big. Two seemed to be a better size. Of these two, one was clearly for girls, and illustrated with flowers and goofy Asian cartoon characters. Passable, I thought to myself. And the third pair, which was the one I was most confident would actually fit, was none other than the pair of boys’ Rastafarian-themed underwear which I have described above.
I squatted on the dirty tile floor of the shop considering the best path forward. Was I a bad dad for considering buying my child an undergarment emblazoned with cannabis leaves, self-proclaimed as Wonderful? However, since they might be the only ones that truly fit, the more practical side of me soon won out. Clean undies trump many things. I would get my daughter at least two pair that should fit, and if any uncomfortable questions are raised about the nature of said plant emblazoned on its band, we could always use it as a teachable moment. It’s never too early for a little Christian worldview formation, right?
Having made my decision, I couldn’t not spend a moment chewing on certain unanswerable questions. Who in their right mind had decided to design such a garment for kids? Why had their supervisor at the clothing factory approved this idea? What country and continent had this pair of briefs originally come from? Jamaica? And what kind of strange and Wonderful journey had brought them to this dusty bin in an obscure mountain town in Central Asia? Alas, there are no answers to questions such as these, so I rose, attempted to purchase them with a nonchalant demeanor, and stepped back out into the hazy night air.
Much relieved to have actually found something, I celebrated by buying myself a late night chicken shawarma sandwich (to be consumed immediately), and some Snickers bars (to be consumed in the hotel room). It may have been a needle in a haystack, but by the grace of God I had found something passable at the very last store I could have checked. Our children would be fully clothed. The team retreat was saved.
I definitely had to stifle a laugh the other day when I realized that these marijuana undies had made it all the way to America with us. The many adventures of the traveling cannabis underpants continue. Indeed, they are being put to good use as a hand-me-down for a missionary kid, so they have found a noble use in the end, despite their murky beginnings.
“What is real missionary life like?” many ask. Well, there are the days when you find someone divinely prepared to hear the gospel message. And those are good days. And then there are the days when all you can find is some cannabis-themed underwear for your kids when they’ve forgotten to pack any of their own. And those are good days too. Turns out the small graces of laughter and timely provision can be a mighty thing amidst the many ups and downs of missionary life.
No, I will not scoff at the timely gift of even these pagan underpants – but yes, I will laugh. And someday, when they’re old enough, I think our kids will too.
Photo by David Gabrić on Unsplash
*Just in case it isn’t clear, I would like to say that I do not support the recreational use of cannabis plant/marijuana for Christians or anyone. Though I hear it was used to make some decent parachutes during WWII.