a little grace, please
I'm off this weekend teaching at a writers' conference. See you again Monday. Till then, here's an excerpt from my book which Pastors.com ran last month:
If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness. Psalm 130:3,4 NIV
When I heard the reason a new family gave for deciding to leave our church, I probably should have just laughed it off. “They’re leaving because their son is afraid of Tera?! Our Tera?”
“The one and only.” Dave shrugged off of his coat. “I asked if they’d be willing to stay and work it out, but they said no.”
“But ... Brandon is bigger ... and six months older than Tera! What could she possibly do to frighten him?”
“All they’d say was that he didn’t want to come to Sunday school for fear of seeing Tera in class. They didn’t elaborate and they didn’t want to talk about it anymore.”
I couldn’t believe it. I knew that among the five-year olds, Tera had a reputation for being a tad bossy, but she wasn’t mean-spirited. Was this just a horrible new stage?
I spent most of that week worrying--and fuming a bit, if the truth be told. I wished the family had given us a little warning. Maybe we could have fixed the problem together.
And I wished they’d shown Tera a little grace. We talk about grace all the time as a fellowship. Dave weaves the theme throughout his messages. The men exhort one another to show grace at home. During my own teaching with the women’s ministry I encourage the women to be vessels of grace to their husbands and children. How had that message been missed?
On Thursday of that week, Zac reminded me that everyone was meeting at Paula’s for afternoon Bible study. He wasn’t interested in the study but in the group of kids he knew would be there. Paula’s house crawled with kids on Thursday afternoons.
“Can we go today, Mom?” he pleaded.
We normally didn’t. We were homeschoolers back then, and not always as disciplined as I would have liked. I’d make ambitious plans to get all our school work done by lunch, and inevitably, something would cause us to careen off course. We’d get too involved in a biology lesson, or find the book we were reading together so fascinating, we’d read four chapters instead of one. Something always seemed to prevent us from making it to the study.
"Do you think we can get our work done on time?” I asked.
He nodded optimistically and set to work. And just before 2:00, he finished the last assignment. So the three of us piled into the truck.
“Hey! Nice surprise!” Paula greeted us at the door. “Kids are around back,” she instructed my two.
We were nearing the end of our study about an hour later when we heard a shriek. One of the boys ran in. “Josh is hurt!” Paula ran outside to check on her youngest. Soon she was back, carrying him in her arms. The entire side of his head was covered in blood.
“What on earth happened?!” One of the women ran to get a wet towel.
Josh’s oldest brother, Theo, made the announcement. “Tera hit him on the head with a broom.”
His words knocked the wind out of me. “She what?”
“She picked up a broken broom and whack! She smacked him right on the head.”
I went out back. My displeasure solidified into outright anger at the sight that met my eyes: Tera, blithely swinging on the jungle gym … and singing. She didn’t look the part of a mad broom wielder--but there were witnesses. "Young lady, you get over here this instant.”
A startled look swept over her face at the sound in my voice. She slowed her swinging, then stopped altogether. With small and deliberate steps, she made her way to where I stood.
“What happened here?” I demanded.
She drew a big breath, signifying that the explanation was going to take every bit of energy she possessed.
"Well, it was like this, Mom.” She brushed a tendril of blonde hair away from her eyes, then gestured dramatically as if she were an eyewitness giving her account to a television reporter. “I was standing over there. Alex decided to get into the play car. And then that … that … JOSH,” she said in an exasperated tone, “tried to PUSH Alex off the deck. He was going to hurt her, Mom--on purpose.”
The look she gave me was one of pure vindication--as if she’d had every right to smack Josh on the head.
I glanced down and saw the offending broom. Picking it up, I scrutinized the jagged edges of the broken end. “So you decided to hurt him first?”
My anger rose. “Well, that was a very, very bad decision.”
“You get your coat, you apologize to Josh, and then you march yourself out to the truck.”
She got her coat. She apologized to Josh. She marched to the truck.
I felt ill. Paula, on her way out the door to take Josh to the walk-in clinic for stitches, was much more understanding than I think I would have been. “I’m sure Tera didn’t realize what would happen.” she said. “She thought she was protecting Alex.”
I wasn’t comforted. Nor did I feel better when another woman tried to console me. “This isn’t the first trip to the walk-in clinic during Bible study,” she laughed. “It’s getting so those receptionists start looking for us on Thursday afternoons.”
As I got in the truck, Tera whispered, “I’m sorry, Mom.”
I barely heard. “Sorry? You sure don’t look sorry. But you should be sorry, Missy.”
We’d made previous plans to meet up with Dave and another family at a nearby restaurant for dinner. All the way there I lectured Tera. “When did you start getting mean with the other kids? What were you thinking? Do you know how embarrassed and upset I am? What do you think Paula is feeling right now, as her little boy is getting stitches in his head? What was going through your mind when you picked up that broom and started swinging?”
She didn’t answer a single question. I didn’t let her. I didn’t stop long enough to draw breath until we pulled into the restaurant parking lot and I turned off the truck’s engine. Then I looked at her. But she wasn’t looking at me now. She stared straight ahead through the windshield, as though she was observing the most fascinating vision out there in the parking lot.
Her stoicism, viewed through the lens of my anger, looked like pure stubbornness.
We sat in silence for several moments. Even Zac was quiet, though something on his face told me he was mulling over the possibility of defending his sister. Something on my face told him he’d better not.
In the silence, I thought with horror about the family leaving our church. Had Tera done something vicious to Brandon too? My mind raced. Is this how people were going to start referring to us now? “Oh, you know--that church down the street; the one with the scary pastor’s daughter. She little, but she’s dangerous.”
I glanced down at Tera again. She hadn’t moved a muscle.
I began a silent prayer. “Oh, Lord, help me think of something I can say that will have an impact--something that will reach through to her.”
It took a minute to hear his answer. In that time, I’d already begun formulating a new lecture. I decided to describe for her the steps involved in giving someone stitches. But the Lord stopped me cold.
I always know when he’s talking to me in the midst of a crisis, because what he says runs so sharply counter to what I’m thinking. This occasion was no different.
He whispered, Grace.
And then, because I was so confused, he whispered it again. Grace.
I wanted to fight his voice, but I couldn’t. While I struggled, he continued to reveal himself to me. She wants to be forgiven ... She’s ready to come to Me ... You’re standing in the way.
That last one did it. I had a vision of my daughter, reaching for the outstretched arms of Jesus--and me standing between them, blocking her every move.
My heart hurt. It took a moment to find the right words. “Tera? Zac? I owe you both an apology.”
Their heads swiveled toward me. I locked eyes with Tera. “Are you sorry for what you did?”
“Then the only person you need to go to is Jesus. He’s ready--right now--to forgive you.” We held hands. I let her pray.
“Oh, Jesus,” she said, “please help me to be a better girl.” Then my little stoic, stubborn girl let loose the tears she’d been barely holding in--and sobbed. I undid her seatbelt and drew her up on my lap. We cried together, and after a few moments, I felt all the tension drain out of her body.
We heard a van door shutting.
"There’s Chris and Cora,” Zac said.
Our friends had arrived. Their little boy--another Josh--stood outside the van, waving at Tera.
“Are you ready to go see your friend?” I asked.
She gave me a bright smile and hopped out of the truck. Guilt kept me sitting where I was.
"Aren’t you coming?” Chris asked.
I nodded. “I’ll be there in a minute. Do you two mind if Zac and Tera go in with you?”
I watched my children walking toward the restaurant with our friends and as I did so, I kept replaying my harsh words. How could I have been so severe, so unyielding?
It occurred to me, in a flash, that I could describe grace to my children every day for the next 20 years, and it wouldn’t mean a thing until I began to demonstrate it to them with my life.
My heart felt very heavy. But then, while I watched, Tera started skipping. She said something to Josh, threw her head back, and lifted her hands high in the air. Giggling, they skip-raced each other up to the door of the restaurant.
Don’t you want to be forgiven, too? the Lord asked.
Did I want the same lightness of being, the same freedom I just observed in my daughter? Did I want her joy, her fresh start? Did I want to be unburdened?
I turned, in my mind, and saw that nothing barred the way. His arms were open to me, too, and there wasn’t a single thing between the two of us.
I stepped out of the truck and started across the parking lot. Inside, I was skipping.
Excerpted from A Whisper in Winter: Stories of Hearing God’s Voice in Every Season of Life (New Hope Publishers, 2004). © Shannon Woodward.