We’re making progress

Only a first grader, he had been in multiple schools before being expelled from the last one. The comments that followed him to me were that they had never seen a child like him and didn’t know what to do with him. Before he set foot in my classroom, I began praying.

He was a simmer pot.

The little guy whose emotional lid was clamped so tight that when the heat got turned up, the lid blew. Regrettably, both of his parents were incarcerated so it’s no wonder that at the age of seven he had learned that adults were not to be trusted.

Defiant and angry, this wounded soul entered my classroom lashing out at anyone who dared enter his space. His outbursts were frequent, but slowly we began the work of building a relationship. Even though it sometimes seemed that his daily progress was at a snail’s pace, after four months I could say we that we had indeed made progress. However, this particular week I was reminded we were not done yet.

It was usually the little things that set him off and most often it centered around control. Having so little of it in his own life he found every opportunity to assert his control over someone else. This day he refused to cooperate in a small group of children. He was preventing anyone from taking a turn in the game being played by throwing the game cards up in the air. After an attempt to negotiate, I asked him to come sit at a table with me. Instead he crossed his arm, puckered his mouth and paced behind the table.

Soon he was kicking the chairs, then throwing them. It was at this point I draped my arms around him and asked him if he wanted to take a cool down break in the hallway. He refused and began flailing around, yelling, and punching. So with my arms still wrapped securely around him we headed out of the room toward the dean’s office. I’m sure we were quite a sight. I had him tucked up against me like a smuggled diamond while simultaneously avoiding being head-butted.

We ended up seated in a conference room in the main office. As we waited, I held him on my lap and spoke quiet, soothing things into the nape of his neck. And as I attempted to administer comfort, I suddenly got a clear picture of God doing the same thing for me. In the middle of all the chaos, I was seated in the lap of the Father. He was whispering the words into my own heart that I was voicing. “You are safe. It’s going to be all right. I’m not mad at you. I’m sorry you are hurting. I love you.” Eventually peace came to us both.

It occurred to me that I am not so unlike that little one. I get wounded by the world. There are days when I feel out of control and strike out in frustration. What a mystery it is that on those days the God of the universe is still concerned with me. That in that struggle He still chooses to He wrap His arms around me and tell me I am loved. And the by-product of that all-consuming-love is an amazing one. It produces a grateful heart in me that fuels my desire to try to love the unlovable. I’m not always successful. I fail and I fall down. Alot. Thankfully, He’s not done with me yet. But after a lifetime of relationship building I can say this – we’re making progress.

A Life of Love and Laughter

I’m just going to admit it.

I have a history of laughing inappropriately in serious situations. It is a trait shared by many in the long line of quick-witted people in my family. I will also readily admit that I know it doesn’t excuse my behavior. But none-the-less I continue to find myself in solemn gatherings where I had to excuse myself because something cracked me up.

Recently I traveled nine hundred miles to attend the memorial service for my aunt. She was a dear Christian woman who loved her family and was committed to serving Jesus by serving others. The service was one of the most beautiful memorials I had ever attended. The scriptures read were ones she had underlined in her Bible. Her children sang and played moving musical tributes. The talented choral group in which she had participated led the congregation in  her favorite hymns.

It was in the middle of one of those hymns that I began to laugh.

You see, I love to sing. And when I sing, I sing loudly. I can’t help it. Most of the time this isn’t a problem, but on those occasions when I sing a wrong word it is going to be pretty obvious to anyone who is within twenty feet of me. Sometimes I try to go on as if I really meant to say that word hoping they’ll think I was used to singing a different version of the song. (Kind of like me saying “forgive us our trespasses” in the Lord’s Prayer when everyone else in the congregation is saying “forgive us our debts”.)

Of course none of this would have had happened had I taken the time to get my glasses out of my purse. But I didn’t. And the hymn that had been chosen was one that I wasn’t that familiar with. I could read the notes, but the words were a little blurry. So at the top of my lungs I sang “unresolved” instead of “unrevealed”. Most people probably wouldn’t have even noticed, but one of my sisters was standing next to me and she immediately began to giggle. I faltered a bit, trying to ignore her, but I already knew it was useless. Soon she was convulsing so hard that she had to sit down and cover her face with her program. At first, my other sister thought that she had been overcome with grief. That was until she looked at me and saw me shaking my head as I unsuccessfully tried to squelch my own laughter. By the time the hymn was over I had tears running down my face. I just hoped people would think they were the appropriate kind.

As I sat down in embarrassment I was apologizing in my head to my aunt for my unceremonious behavior. Avoiding any possibility of eye contact with my sister I stared straight ahead lest I launch into another fit. I was even sending up apology prayers to God asking Him to forgive me for my lack of control. “Lord, you know I didn’t mean to offend you.”

And then a funny thing happened. As the service progressed, people began to come to the front  to give their tributes to my aunt. And almost all of them included a reference to her great sense of humor. They told of her ability to provide comic relief for every occasion. And then there it was.

Grace.

Once again Jesus had offered me grace instead of guilt. In that moment, in some strange way, I not only felt redeemed, but blessed. It was as if in that uncontrollable outburst of inappropriate merriment I had been able to pay special homage to her. My Aunt Janet had lived a life of love and laughter. And if she had been there, I am pretty sure she would have joined in.