It’s another month in The Sugar Block Club, and throughout the year, we’re stitching up pretty vintage blocks, cooking up tasty treats, and taking some time to go “beyond the block” to explore some ways in which we can challenge ourselves in a personal way.
As I sat down to ponder the monthly personal challenges that I wanted to include in this year’s series, a few extra special ones immediately rose to the top. This is one of them, because I feel like it’s been tugging at my heart for ages. So believe me when I say that this challenge is for myself, more than anyone. If I get into sensitive territory (which, to be honest, I hope I do), know that these challenges are not borne out of any judgement, but only sincere self-examination.
There have been many times when God has tried to teach me to be more merciful. But the hardest lessons, though perhaps the most effective, have been the ones where I find that I’m the one in need of mercy.
I was a brand new mother- taking care of a new baby, and had just gone back to work full time after maternity leave, when out of nowhere, my husband was laid off from his job. Suddenly, what had been a frustrating but manageable scheduling situation, quickly turned into a full on “life crisis.” We fell behind on payments, and ended up losing our first home- the home we’d purchased together to begin raising our family in, and had spent 2 years remodeling. It was a low, low time. I remember coming home from work, feeling thoroughly exhausted and guilty for having been away (you working moms know what I mean), to a husband neck deep in want-ads, feeding the baby and wondering when we should start packing.
Moving day had finally come, in fact it had come and gone. Our once-cozy home was now vacant and dark. We’d sold most of our furniture and what we had kept was moved to a modest rental apartment. Maybe it would turn out to be an exciting adventure, challenging all of our spoiled middle class notions about necessity and survival. A fresh start was right around the corner…almost. On my last day in our house, I was alone- baby in tow- and rushing to get all of the final cleaning done before the sun went down and I lost my light (our power had been turned off by that point). I feverishly swept up debris, wiped the counters, took down that last curtain rod, and patched the holes. I remember it like it was yesterday- it was dusk, the perennials that I had lovingly planted and nurtured were in full bloom along the driveway. I locked the front door, sweating in the summer evening heat, and loaded my baby into the car, followed by several bags of stinky garbage. Darn it if I hadn’t cancelled the trash service a few days too early.
What happened next was, for all intents and purposes, one of the scariest, and most transformative experiences I’ve ever been through. I drove away from that house, and the stench of shame was overwhelming. I thought I was holding it together…thinking about how pretty the sunset was that night and what to grab for dinner after I got rid of that awful garbage. But as I gripped the steering wheel with both hands, I suddenly began to feel my left fingers get tingly…then it moved up my entire arm all the way to my shoulder. My heart started racing. I was out of breath. I literally thought I was having a heart attack, 28 years old, right there in the car. I’d never heard of a panic attack before. I didn’t know what anxiety was. All I knew was that I felt like I was going to die. I hastily pulled over into the 2-lane entrance of an apartment complex, threw the car in park, and called 911. As I waited for the ambulance to arrive, for what couldn’t have been longer than a couple of minutes, it was as if the world was caving in all around me. By then my baby was crying from the backseat, and I was completely overcome with terror, struggling to take deep breathes and praying the medics would arrive soon. At that moment, I heard a loud car horn, then looked out my window just in time to see the driver flip me off and barrel off into the parking lot.
I shook with uncontrollable sobs. If only that person had known.
But we can’t know. We can’t possibly know if the person who just mindlessly cut us off in traffic, just happens to be rushing to visit someone in hospice, for perhaps the very last time. We can’t possibly know if that snippy clerk at the grocery store just found out on her lunch break that their third round of in vitro has failed and they aren’t pregnant, again. We can’t possibly know if that neighbor who can’t seem to keep his annoying dog off our lawn, is consumed with worry over a child addicted to drugs.
Now I’m not trying to make excuses for rude, thoughtless people. And I’m not saying that everyone is a victim. But what I am saying is this: Can we not give the benefit of the doubt? Must we always assume the worst of people? Mercy, I beg, sweet mercy.
I had a business meeting with a woman once, and perfect me was right on time. But when I arrived at her office, the door was locked and no one answered the bell. I called her cell- no answer. I waited 20 minutes and called again- no answer. By this time I was SO furious, literally fuming that this woman would have the gall waste my precious time and no-show for this important meeting. After all, MY time is valuable! I decided that there was NO excuse- no reason not to at least call. I called once more and left a cold message asking that she PLEASE call me to reschedule. Sure enough, the next day she called- her voice was meek. She had accidentally locked her entire purse in her car- phone, keys, and all. No way to call me or get to the meeting, and even if she could find a phone, my number was locked in her car.
I was ashamed. What if I had been her? How would I feel? Horrified? Embarrassed? Wouldn’t it have been such a relief if the person I’d stood up had shown me some mercy? After all, we’re all human. Whether we look it or not, we are all fighting off demons. We are all battling something. We are all just trying to survive in this crazy world and sometimes we go through crap. Sometimes we make bad decisions. And if WE can be forgiven, truly forgiven, by our Creator, of every horrible and nasty thing we’ve ever done or said or even thought, shouldn’t we have mercy on one another? I love this line from a song in the new Disney movie, Frozen, “People make bad choices when they’re mad or scared or stressed, but throw a little love their way, and you’ll bring out their best.”
I challenge myself, and all of us, this chilly February 2014, to throw a little more love out into the world. When someone cuts you off in line, or speaks to you rudely- show them love. When the teenager at the drive through carelessly screws up your order- show them love. When a blogger doesn’t reply to your comment or makes a tutorial that looks similar to yours- show them love. When someone rudely stops their car in the entrance to your apartment complex, take a deep breath, think about the half of the story you might be missing, and show them love. You never know, they might just need it.
Buuuuut what if they don’t deserve it? Do it anyway. What if it doesn’t change their behavior and they continue to screw up or mistreat you? Do it anyway. The fact of the matter is, it really doesn’t matter why someone wrongs you or whether they are deserving of our mercy or not. We are called to forgive and be merciful, no matter what, end of story. In fact, think about how truly powerful it is to show mercy to someone who definitely doesn’t deserve it. Now THAT is a challenge. I hope you’ll join me in choosing to spend some time this month, as you’re piecing a pretty block, or driving to work, or sitting around the dinner table with your family, to think, discuss, and pray about this challenge and how you might grow in this area. And if you have any *lightbulb* moments, or cool stories, please share in a comment, so we can all share this journey!
Until next time….