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.
“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.