Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Jubilee




It was the last day of 6th grade.  That means summer break and then transitioning into Junior High.  I was nervous.  Having only moved to the district two years before I was still trying to find my clique; oh, I know we shouldn’t want to stick with just one group, but think back to that time in your life… if you didn’t find a group, you were the lone sheep sitting in an open field, a target for the meanest predator.  Good or bad, I just wanted to fit in.
So on the last day, with my t-shirt in hand, I changed from the cute outfit my mom approved and donned a shirt for everyone to sign.  

Most of it was your typical yearbook nonsense; stay sweet, stay cool, see you next year.  Nothing original, but I didn’t care, I fit in and that’s what I wanted.  But then one of the guys, also new and wanting to fit in, wrote four bold letters across my back.  As a way of staying out of trouble he wrote vertically under each letter; 

From Us Crazy Kids

It’s been nearly 30-years since that happened.  I don’t remember all the details, like whether I knew what he was writing or which teacher sent me to the office, but I do remember calling my mom.  It was the first and last time I ever had to do that.  I knew she’d feel obligated to tell my dad, but I was hoping maybe if I called her instead of him I could survive this.

Now, I say survive in jest… a little.  My dad was tough.  Not mean, not unfair.  If anything he was nicer than most and administered punishment with a strict set of rules.  I knew when and how I’d be disciplined because he was consistent.  But this was out of my character and after two not so great academic years in my new school, I had no idea what would happen.

The one thing I did know was that workers were at our house putting in a pool.  That night dad and I were to start filling it and prepping it for summer.  It was supposed to be the best summer of my life.  And I just ruined it by trying to fit in.

After the call was made, tears shed and the teacher explaining to my mom that I could just change into my original shirt instead of going home, I went back to the classroom. The other kids were outside for the last time on the playground as a class.  

I remember standing next to Mrs. Noble’s desk. Feeling so isolated and knowing that I had disappointed her I wouldn’t look her in the eyes.  But she insisted. 

“Christine, this isn’t you.  I know you’re struggling to fit in, but you weren’t meant to fit in.  You stand out because you are kinder than most.  You laugh the hardest.  And you are very intelligent.  I’ve seen what you can do, so have others, but still you try to hide it.  Junior High is harder.  Kids will be meaner, and you’ll have to make some choices that will determine many things. You are better than this.  Don’t allow others to pull you down.”

With that said she pulled me into her arms and hugged me.  The tears I shed before were nothing.  This was uncontrollable sobbing and she let me.  Patting my back and telling me it was okay.  She was that teacher for me; the one who saw more and pushed me to be more.  I appreciated her then, but more so now.

She told me to go outside and play, but I was changed.  Recognizing the friendships I had formed were ill fated.  That none of them really cared about me or the consequences I’d soon face.  So I stood back.  I looked at them and decided that I’d have to change.  

But first the punishment.

When you’re a preteen life is always tough.  Having parents who set the bar high, that much tougher.  My mom was the ‘wait till your dad gets home’ mom.  So I waited.  I looked out at the pool, the workers gone, their job completed, and watched as the water hose slowly filled it up.  It was going to be the worst summer of my life.

Dad came home, he sent me to my room, and he went to his to cool off, he was angry.  My punishment was dealt out, the crying done, now to find out what waited for me over the next 3- months until I could redeem myself with better grades and attitude.

We sat at the table, the three of us, and my dad started to cry.  I thought the tears were because of his disappointment in me, so I cried with him.  When he was in control of himself he said one word, “Jubilee”.  Mom looked at him strangely; I just waited for the explanation.  

“When I sat in my room I prayed, as I always do before I discipline you.  One word kept coming to me, Jubilee. I promised you that if you brought home a bad report card that you’d be grounded from the pool all summer.  I’ve never gone back on my word.  But God said Jubilee and I can’t ignore that.”

I still didn’t understanding and he could read it on my face.  So he asked if I knew what it meant. 

“Forgiveness?”  

“In a way yes, but mostly it means your debt is paid.  When a jubilee took place land debts, slavery, all the stuff that ties us down are released and we can start fresh.  That’s what I’m giving you, a chance to start over.  Your debt has been paid; now show us what you can do with it.”

Mom and I both began to cry again, harder than before.  This wasn’t my dad.  He was strict; he didn’t go back on his word.  As tough as he was though, that was one of the things I most appreciated about him, no surprises, no unexpected anger or yelling.  He was steady and this… it was foreign.

I was afraid to ask, but my mom knew what I was thinking, “Does this mean no grounding?”
I looked at him with hesitant hope.

“No grounding.  Get your bathing suit on and lets finish setting the pool up.”

I think I sat there in shock for a long time, my mom too.  Finally we all stood up and as a family hugged one another.  I thanked my dad; he gave me that one armed hug with the follow up headlock and knuckles across the head to help release the tension.  He’s always been good about that.  

No matter the punishment, afterwards he’d speak words of love and we’d laugh, because I knew what he did was out of love.  I didn’t always agree, and now as a mother I don’t go about things the same way, but I never once doubted his or my mom’s love.

And that day, it opened my eyes to the fact that I could start over even when things seemed bleak.  When I knew all the problems around me were my own doing.  I could wallow in self-pity or I could ask for a jubilee and start new.  It’s a promise God made us.  

It’s one we rarely allow ourselves, always hanging on to those past sins, reliving the mistakes, seeing only the bad in ourselves.  He grants us a jubilee… and not just now and then, but always.  We just have to accept the gift and start over.
       

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Lessons in Value (Complete)



Thanks to the creation of DVDs and Netflix a parent can now allow their kids the freedom to watch their favorite princess or superhero without the bombardment of commercials.  For those without kids this means very little.  To those of us with kids it means no more; “I want that” while watching cartoons.  This is big, especially when you flashback to our own childhood when Saturday morning cartoons were simply a way for vendors to hawk their wares on little kids and stress their parents out with the latest and greatest play sets and dolls.   

So you can imagine my surprise when my oldest comes running to me to ask for some random toy from some random movie that we’ve not even seen.  “Mom, I have to have this.  It’s so cool!”  I asked what the toy was, what its purpose was and why she felt she ‘needed’ it.  In the end it was simply another piece of plastic that was overpriced and required I also buy the companion video so she’d better understand the character.  

“Child, you don’t even know this character.  Why do you ‘have to have it’?”

There was a long pause and feet shuffling; “The man in the commercial said so.”

“The movie you’re watching also says you can walk on rainbows.  Can you do that?”

“No.”

“I think you have enough stuff.  Perhaps at Christmas, if you’re still interested we can get it.”

“But I want it.”

“And I understand that.  But you don’t need it and right now we have to focus on need.”

“Then I need it.”         
            
I laughed at the quick response from my then 4-year old.  She smiled back and thought she’d just won the argument but it was then that I realized she was old enough for me to explain the difference between wants and needs.

After a quick explanation she grasped the concept pretty well; the need to eat and sleep and how without both you’d not be able to function.  But when we started talking about wants the lines blurred for her.  She grasped that going to Disney Land wasn’t a need, but she made a few good points about toys and how playing was a need.  I tried to fight her on that one, but she was right, playing is vital to a child’s development and imagination.  

I understood then that my child was going to require more information and details I hadn’t really thought about myself.  To her and many kids, their imagination stems from the object in their hands.  They’ve access to thousands of cheap toys and because of it kids don’t find the same joy in them we did.  If it breaks you just pull out a new one.  

One Christmas my oldest received 13 Barbies… from one relative!  It was too much.  A few years later my son had over 50 Matchbox cars gifted to him.  It was insanity.  We bought him two thinking one for each hand was sufficient.  But we can’t fight relatives.  So I decided it was time to fight with facts.

“You say you want this toy for no other reason than it looks fun, correct?”

She hesitated but agreed.

“Your dad works 6-days a week, correct?”

She didn’t hesitate to agree.

“Do you like that your dad works so much and can’t be home with us?”

“NO!”

“How much was that toy?”

She told me the amount and I did a quick mental calculation.

“Okay, that’s 2-hours of work your dad has to complete to pay for that one toy.  Is the toy worth having your dad away from home to earn that extra money?”

She stopped fidgeting and stood straight.  “What do you mean?”

“I mean your dad will have to work two extra hours to earn the money and pay for the tax to purchase that toy.  Add that to his 6-day a week job and tell me if it’s worth it to you?”

I thought it was a simple question of choice.  Decide between these two things and find what’s more important to you.  What I hadn’t expected was the tears.  Full on, bawling began.  

“I want daddy.”

I felt terrible for making her cry and pulled her into my arms.  “I know baby.  And I wasn’t trying to make you feel bad.  I just wanted you to understand the value of the thing and the value of the person.  Your dad works hard so I can stay home and take care of you (and now her siblings).  We have all that we need and much of what we want.  But your dad is willing to work even harder to make us happy.  And if a thing will make you happier than his being here, let me know and I’ll ask him for you.  Or better yet you can.”

More tears, more hugs and a call to daddy telling him she loved him.  

That might have been the best lesson I ever taught my daughter.  Six years later she still looks at a ‘thing’ and mentally calculates time away from her dad and whether or not she’ll enjoy the thing more.  Only once has she asked for something that was expensive and she figured out a way to earn her own money so her dad didn’t have to spend more time away from us.

I pray she always remember that needs and wants are vastly different and that people should always hold more value.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Dry Bones (Complete)

It’s a beautiful fall day.  The windows and doors are open and the twins are outside playing.  It’s been like this for a week.  I’ve needed this, sunshine without the sweltering heat of a Texas summer.  Fresh air with a hint of cooler weather to come; it’s still not cold enough to keep the mosquitos and flies away, so we’re not to my weather nirvana, but we’re close.  And close is good.

Close means soon the garden will be tilled and the dirt allowed to rest till spring.  It means the yard won’t need mowing every week.  The weeds won’t need pulling.  The outside work will be set aside for another season, and I can rest from that work.  That’s not to say more won’t start.  The holidays are close at hand so projects inside need to be started and completed in the next few months.  List made and items checked off.  But it’s different from what I’ve been doing and that makes it exciting.

It’s in the everyday activities that I find rest.  And though resting while I work doesn’t seem possible, for me and many others it is.  Doing the same thing every day makes a good life seem dull.  Change, even subtle, can help transform a mindset that has grown bored with life.  It still requires the person to see the beauty in the everyday, but it is possible.

Ecclesiastes 3: 1 There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens

Recently the husband made a decision that will affect the whole family.  It didn’t come to him easily, changing churches never should.  But after years of watching our church family go, we can’t sit back any longer.  We feel disconnect from God and like the dry bones described in Ezekiel, we have been bleached from the sun, lying brittle in the valley.  Our cries to God are now faint whispers and though our faith is still strong, our hope for change is not.  

Ezekiel 37: Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. 

The problem is we’ve never left a church.  We’ve moved away from ones we’ve loved.  But never have we left because our church left us feeling empty each week.  And though we know the church shouldn’t be what fills us, that only God can do that, we shouldn’t leave feeling emptier.  In the past our preachers guided us with sound doctrine and excitement for the Word.  Our church family would love us through our hard times and celebrate with us through our victories.

We’ve not felt that here for years.  As hard as we’ve tried to find our place in the ruins, we can’t.  Nothing about our church is steady.  The people, the programs, even the times keep changing.  Though some change is good, watching people pass through the church like the seasons is not.  We’re exhausted and resentful; it’s no longer a place of learning and renewal so it’s time to drag our dry bones to another well.   

Ezekiel 37: I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’”

I embrace change.  I enjoy the newness that comes with each one. Whether it’s the seasons or a new city, I like the starting over.  What I don’t like is the barrenness that I’ve been feeling; the wanting to cry out to God, but choking on dust.  My soul feels empty like there’s nothing left for me to give.  And I know… I know that the enemy is using this time to pull me away.  But he can’t have me.  

This season has no doubt been a test of my faith and though I failed many and stumbled through a few others, I still know there is a sovereign God who looks after me.  He cares for me and who sees my need.  Perhaps these past few years I needed to see what the void felt like.  The disconnect that others feel but I couldn’t understand.  Maybe, like so many other things in my past God is allowing me a chance to relate to someone in my future who may feel the same way I did… still do.  I pray I don't miss the opportunity.  

Corinthians 1: Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Trading Fear for Faith (Complete)



The Mama Bear mentality; I see it a lot in the blog world and my everyday life.  I understand the need to protect our children and to do our best to make sure those that have wronged them are set straight or punished.  I get it… I do.  But is that what we should be doing as moms?  Are we to defend them with claws bared and teeth showing?  Or are we to show them how forgiveness looks?  No claws, no teeth, just a healthy understanding of how the world works and a heart that has no room in it for hate and anger?

I pose these questions after a very trying week; a moment that started out as a simple inconvenience, later a sad revelation and finally the mouth drooping realization that my trust was misplaced.  And some of the fault was my own.  Not because I allowed someone to scam me or others, but because I knew there was something wrong.  I felt it to my core but didn’t face it because the reality is I spent the better part of my working life in an area where I dealt with these same things.  I didn’t leave the job because of that.  Truth is I liked that part.  The discovery, the puzzle pieces and the final call you made confirming all that you suspected with proof in hand.  

But this wasn’t work.  I wasn’t paid to find the bad guy.  Instead I happened upon it because of an emergency where I was needed in order to keep things afloat.  And more importantly I had to be the one to stand between the ugliness of the world and the reality of my daughter’s everyday life; a safe haven where she can be herself, the crazy kid who sees music and feels art.  And I wanted to be that shield.  I still do.  But I can’t, at least not always.

The easy thing to do is get mad.  Anger comes fast for many, slow for others but either way it still shows up as a burst of raw energy.  You can release it and in that moment you don’t care about the damage you leave behind because you feel justified.  You think there are no consequences because in your mind the person who betrayed you and your child deserves it.  It was coming to them; karma and bad vibes, the reckoning of their misdeeds.  

But I disagree.

Mind you, I don’t want to, but I have to.  The simple truth is we’ve all wronged someone at a certain point.  Many of us might shake our heads in denial but others can instantly think of a moment in their life where they made a decision they thought they’d never make; a time where emotions played a factor in their judgment even though their brain screamed no.   

And if that moment hasn’t happened to you, it will.  And many times those tough decisions come after you have children.  When you’re faced with the task of raising another human and you think you’ll do it all right, but go to bed at night thinking of all the things you did wrong.  Even on our best days we wonder how we could have done it better.  

Sometimes we forgo faith and chose to cling to fear.  Fear we understand.  Like anger it’s an easy emotion.  It usually comes when we feel we don’t know the answers.  We have all the questions, but no solutions.  So we do the things we never thought we would.  We try to fix it with whatever we have available.  We call it our wits and pride ourselves in using our survival skills but the truth is we don’t trust our faith to guide us.  

We look for the easy path, we grab what is closest to us and convince ourselves that the consequences either don’t matter or won’t catch up with us.  We’re too busy patting ourselves on the back instead of humbling ourselves to others or to God.  It’s not easy.  I know that.  I’ve never prayed to be humbled.  Humbling isn’t pleasant and it’s certainly not something I would ask for.  But when you open your heart, take the leap and allow God to guide your steps… humbling happens.  

Psalms 118
Out of my distress I called on the Lord; the Lord answered me and set me free.  The Lord is on my side; I will not fear.   What can man do to me?
The Lord is on my side as my helper;
I shall look in triumph on those who hate me.  It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man.

As a person who has made poor choices, who has hurt others without knowing or without thought of consequences, I can tell you that when a Christian makes a decision based on fear instead of faith, he will always be humbled.  He will always face consequences.  And he will always regret his decision.

As a Christian who has been on the other side of someone else’s poor choices, hurt feelings and standing in the destruction created by others, we have to choose forgiveness.  As much as we feel justified in straightening someone out or handing out punishment, we don’t have that right.  We gave that up when we put our faith in God. 

Faith allows us to fight fear with forgiveness.