A Different Storm than Florence (and A Lesson on Serving)

The Hurricane

Hurricane Florence never made it to our place, but the threat of the storm made certain that one of our offspring and friend did. Along with them came perishable items from their refrigerators. The kids took their stuff with them when they left (except for what they left behind for me to keep).

About the time the storm was menacing our way, the viral infection in my eyes came back. With it came tiredness and fatigue. There’s often company at our house, and it doesn’t cause me angst. Yet,when everyone is gone and I get to claim my house back, I am usually tired.

This time was no different. After everyone had left, things quieted down.  I tried to drag myself back to the writing project I’d left behind in the storm preparations. Did I mention being tired? Yes, that, too. Call it storm-prep aftermath, viral infection, or too little sleep. I decided to do what mattered most and cleaning out the fridge and straightening it up was not even a consideration.

The Storm

The hard-boiled eggs – in their egg-carton container and LABELED hard-boiled- had somehow found their way to the bottom drawer of the fridge. Alas, this is where Dave keeps his meat and cheese. He purchases what he wants so he can make sandwiches when he’s in a hurry and stops in for quick nourishment in the middle of his day. The bottom drawer (per the manual) is for meats. It is labeled “convertible compartment”.  I consider that protein – which, in my opinion, includes hard-boiled eggs.

That was the problem. My labeling did not match that of my husband’s. He was not happy to come home and find a container of what-he-assumed-was-raw-eggs-left-behind-by-our-son with his meat and his cheese. It’s true that Butch had brought eggs (as well as a  myriad of other things) home with him when his city demanded everyone on his street evacuate. He’d taken them along back with him, and the only eggs in the fridge were ours: one container on a shelf and the other container in the bottom drawer labeled hard-boiled eggs.

Even though Florence never made it to our  house, another storm threatened on the horizon. The problem with the eggs was that Dave was tired – and hungry – and had to move those not-raw eggs out of his way to get to his food.  He did not want to break those (what he thought were) raw eggs. Yet to get to his meat and cheese, he had to wrangle that 18-count container at an angle to get it out of the already-full drawer. I should never, ever, have put those eggs in that drawer. Eggs had not been in that drawer before. After all, this drawer is for meat. Certainly, raw eggs should not be stashed in the bottom drawer.

I have learned that when Dave gets like this, the best thing I can do is back off and let him have his say. That’s because nothing I can do or say in that moment will sway or change his mind. [Are there any other husbands out there like that?!] It’s not that he’s abusive or extremely hard-headed – it’s that he can’t see straight at the moment.

I have also learned to put the problem back in his corner as much as possible. Which is why I said, “Where do you want me to keep hard-boiled eggs in the refrigerator?”

If he didn’t want them in the bottom drawer with his meat and cheese, where did he want me to keep hard-boiled eggs?  I wanted to know so I would not make that mistake again.

I don’t remember his answer. I think it helped when he realized that the eggs really were not raw. Yes, the container looked like the 18-count container of raw eggs that Butch had stored in our refrigerator over the hurricane weekend.  I also mentioned that I knew the fridge needed to be cleaned out and organized, but I had been tired and hadn’t been in the mood.

At any rate, we made it through that moment without breaking any eggs on anyone’s head.  As the afternoon wore on, I got to thinking about how much easier marriage is now than it was 34 years ago, when we were still figuring out how to communicate and connect.  I also spent some time trying to figure out how to get him on this one!  The refrigerator is my domain and I’m the one who usually stocks, organizes, and cleans it.  When my man came into the house and tried to tell me how to do “my job”, it fretted me a little. I also knew that a word picture helps my man more clearly see things from my perspective.

I had to decide what the real issue was instead of breaking a leg – or an egg. The real issue (for me) was that he was insinuating that I didn’t know how to do my job – or that I wasn’t doing it right.

The Solution . . .

I needed to decide how to respond; and for the moment, I had to let it go. This was not the time or the place. (Oh believe me, I can let him know my mind – he can vouch for that!)

I got him later when one of his sisters made a comment about his work van. “You can always tell when someone is self-employed by looking at the dash of his vehicle.  I can spot those self-employed folks clear across the parking lot at Food Lion.”  Yep, the dashboard of their vehicle is their endless paper stash. Those vehicle dashboards are their file cabinets, only they have no drawers and no slide-free zones.service

How could one not notice that dash?! It shouts, “Clean me up!” so loudly you just want to start on it Right Now.  His sister told him he needed to clean it up.  AS IF that will happen!

He replied, “Don’t you mess with my truck. I know exactly where everything is on that dash and if someone tries to clean it up, I won’t be able to find things. That’s when I told his sisters about the refrigerator, those eggs, and his ideas of how I should keep my refrigerator.

We laughed. All of us laughed, because it’s true.

. . . is Serving

You know something? I will spend the rest of my life serving him by making sure those hard-boiled eggs are never in that drawer if it really matters that much to him. It’s a small thing to do when I consider how he serves me.

I think Dave spends more time serving me than I spend serving him. Dirty laundry in stuffed hampers gets carried down the stairs to the back porch. At the end of the day, clean laundry is carried back up the stairs in the hampers. The rainbow vacuum cleaner water and bowl are emptied outside without being asked – this after he’s worked all day. Empty canning jars are carried to the basement when he finds them at the top of the steps. When I’m not feeling well or have been gone all day, he scrambles his own eggs, heats up a can of soup, or finds leftovers in the fridge without a word of complaint. He wheels into McDonald’s without being asked just so I can have my senior coffee when we’re traveling.

serving

You know something else? Those eggs weren’t such a big deal because we chose not to make a mountain out of a molehill and because we serve each other. I’ll serve him by keeping those eggs out of his drawer and on the shelf.

And the eggs? There’s another 18-count container labeled hard-boiled in the fridge today. They are not in the bottom drawer. They are sitting all high and mighty on a shelf with the labeled side facing the front so everybody will know the eggs in this carton are hard-boiled eggs.

 

serving

And the dashboard of his work van? It hasn’t changed a lick. It’s just as stuffed with papers and tools as it ever was!

 

 

 

 

 

serving

Love Means (Never) Having to Say You’re Sorry  

Love Means Never Having to Say You’re Sorry

First published in Discover Southside in 2009, this article is also listed in “The Attic” of this Blog. Our kids are grown and mostly gone now, but I still remember those days. Maybe reading about my failures will encourage you to watch out for these mistakes.


 

sorryCaught Red Handed

Just the other day my teenager and I had words about emptying the dishwasher. He never wants to empty it, so when he complained that the dishes weren’t clean, I didn’t pay attention to him. I gave him a choice of emptying the dishwasher or going to his room. He chose the latter. Only when his sister opened the door of the dishwasher and noticed that the soap was still in the dispenser did I realize that, this time, his reasoning was not an excuse to get out of work. We had failed to start the dishwasher. I hit the start button on the dishwasher and called my son to come out of his room so I could apologize. Yes, well, moms do make mistakes sometimes. A lot of times. My kids think I never apologize often enough or profusely enough.

Once during their preschool-age days, I disciplined the wrong child because another sibling lied to me. I believed the sibling, because the one I thought was guilty was more prone to acts of unkindness and lying. This time, he was telling the truth, but I didn’t believe him. A few years later when the guilty party came forth to confess, I ended up apologizing to the innocent party. I have to admit that there was a part of me that didn’t feel too badly about it. Sure, I was sorry he had gotten the unfair punishment, and I would undo my rash judgment if I could. Yet I also knew that, even though he had been disciplined unfairly that time, there had been plenty of other times when he got off scott free. I figured this mistake had balanced things out! Yet I was still wrong. I asked and received forgiveness.

Yet a year or two later, he confronted me again about my error those years before. It was one of those knock-down-drag-out-bring-everything-out-of-the-closet conversations. I told him I’d apologized for having disciplined him unfairly, but he declared I really hadn’t. So I apologized again, just to be sure. Again, I told him I was sorry for not believing him and disciplining him unfairly, and I asked him if he could forgive me. He said yes. Would you believe that a few years later, I was again accused of never having apologized?! This time, I brought a witness with me to verify that I was indeed confessing an error in judgment and punishment. Third time’s a charm, they say.

That Conscience

It’s not easy to say “I’m sorry.”

Nor is it pleasant living with the burden of a guilty conscience.

Contrary to the popular slogan of the 70’s, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry,” love requires action when one has been wrong. I should think a better slogan would be, “Love is willing to say ‘I’m sorry’.”

It is true that when we love someone, we should be willing to forgive no matter what, even if we are not asked to extend forgiveness. Yet it also true that when we love someone, we will be willing to admit our error when we have been in the wrong.

I have learned that making excuses is not asking forgiveness. I think about that when I remember what happened the day my mother buried her last sibling quite a few years back. It was a cold, wintry day, and she stayed inside the church while most everyone else went out to the graveyard for the committal service. Another older gentleman chose to stay inside rather than brave the cold as well. He was in his nineties. I saw them conversing together, and assumed they were reconnecting after not seeing each other for some time.

I never dreamed that their conversation was actually an apology and an extension of forgiveness.

The details of what had happened many years before are not important now. The fact that he felt he had wronged her is important, not so much because of the wrong, but because he made it right. That day, he chose to ask forgiveness for his response to her in a certain situation over half a century before.

Their relationship had not been one of tension in years past; he, his wife, and children had a good relationship with our family. None of us would ever have guessed that there had been discord between them years before. It seemed that time had been good, and a lot of water had gone under the bridge. I am certain he had forgotten about the offense, or he would have attempted to make it right earlier. Yet as he entered his nineties, he looked back on his life and experienced regret over this incident. He wanted to make it right.

My mother came home that day and told me about that conversation.She did not express horror that it took him so long to make an apology. Mama never said it should have happened a long time ago. She didn’t ask what took him so long to come forward. Yet the fact that she, too, recognized the hurt that had been inflicted on her years before told me that the wrong had been real and not imagined.

I think about that at times when it’s hard for me to say “I’m sorry” or “I was wrong.” I am grateful for the example of this older gentleman who chose, even late in life, to mend a wrong. He didn’t use the excuse that it had happened too long ago and that he should just let bygones be bygones.

“I prayed,” he told my mother, “that I would have an opportunity to talk to you about this and make it right.”

He trusted God to provide an opportunity for him to express his regret. The opportunity came that day, sitting on the front pew of the church while nearly everyone else was outside. He didn’t care what she’d think of him; he only wanted to live his last years with a conscience that was clear.

My mother shared tearfully how the look of relief on his face let her know that he knew he had been forgiven. He wouldn’t have had to apologize to experience her forgiveness, for she had given it long ago. Yet the lesson I learned from that encounter will stay with me as long as I live.

How to Admit We are Wrong

I have learned that a clear conscience is worth the effort it takes to admit a wrong. In our home, we’ve tried—and sometimes failed—to model a pattern for making restitution. When our kids were younger, we expected them to apologize when they had harmed a sibling by saying “I am sorry for ______,” specifically stating the infraction. As they got older, we tried to help them add another important part: “I was wrong. Will you forgive me?”

I have learned that there are several ways to absolve myself of responsibility, and none of them really asks forgiveness. It’s easy to make a half-apology or sound like we’re apologizing when we’re actually refusing to accept responsibility.

When I say, “I’m sorry I hurt you, BUT . . . ,” I am really saying “I know I hurt you, but I have a good reason to have done it.”

  • BUT I didn’t mean it.
  • BUT you’re too sensitive.
  • BUT I was tired.
  • BUT you don’t know what it is like to be me.
  • BUT I was so frustrated.
  • BUT if you would only . . .

When I apologize with a “but”, I am excusing the pain I caused you. Therefore it really isn’t my fault.

I also have learned, especially if I am afraid I will say the wrong thing, to plan my words so that when the opportunity comes, I am able to say what needs to be said. There’s an old story about the prodigal son, told by Jesus Himself, which models this. After the younger son had wasted his inheritance, he came to his senses and realized how ridiculous he had acted. He also recognized that he had grieved his father. So, standing there among the corn husks as he was feeding slop to the pigs, he made a decision to go back home.

That Prodigal Son

Yet he knew he didn’t deserve going back as a son; after all, he’d claimed his inheritance and left home! How long it took him to get to that point is a question for which we have no answer. But we do know that he made a decision to go home and ask for his father’s forgiveness.

“I’m going back home. I’m going to say to my father, ‘I have sinned and am not even worthy to be called your son. Please allow me to just be one of your hired servants.’” [My paraphrase]

The son started the long journey home; when he was within sight of his father’s land, his father ran to meet him. The prodigal son didn’t make excuses or put the blame on his dad: “If you had been a better father, if you hadn’t made me work so hard, if you hadn’t . . . ”

No. He simply spoke the truth and said what he had planned to say. “I have sinned and am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me one of your hired servants.”

Asking and Extending Forgiveness

I have learned that asking forgiveness acknowledges the pain and recognizes that a wrong has been done. Extending forgiveness frees me more than it does the other party. If my mother had harbored a grudge, it would have affected not only her attitude toward this gentleman, but her offspring, as well. We, her children, would probably have held that same attitude toward this man, which would have affected his children as well as our entire church.

I have learned that if it’s small enough to bother me, then it’s big enough to be dealt with. I figure there’s a reason we were given a conscience.

I’ve lost a lot of battles over the years when I delayed or refused to say “I’m sorry.” The next time there’s a dishwasher to empty, I intend to listen better so I won’t need to apologize later. I might lose some battles, but I intend to win the war.

 

Struggles of a Foster Mom

 

foster mom

Top of the 1st

Every time a foster child comes to my house, there are some things I  know I must do. Every time, my world is turned upside down. So is the child’s. There are some things that must happen for a win/win. Batting practice is over and the game has begun!

  • Get through that first week. That includes doctor’s visits, IEP meetings, social worker visits, and meeting the teachers. It also includes getting to know the mindset of this kid I didn’t teach or train. This kid doesn’t think like our kids did, and doesn’t usually respond to authority like our kids did. If it’s a boy, it’s double-trouble, because no woman is going to tell him what to do (he thinks). I’m not his mama, and most kids let me know that I don’t need to try to act like I am even though they like my hugs. It’s likely there has been little or no father figure in his life, so he has to figure out what to do about Dave, whose mere look demands action. His world is upside down, and so, right now, is mine. My world is different from his. I can’t understand his world because I’ve never lived there. Even though it would seem that my world is more secure, it isn’t to him.  At this house we might (oftentimes) have better healthy food choices and focus on cleanliness, but this house and my world is not his home. He’s been given a new bat; it doesn’t feel right, and he most definitely doesn’t like the swing.      
  • Make it through the second week. Get a semblance of order in my home – and figure out a new laundry and cleaning schedule since (often) our household size has doubled. Plan to spend a lot more time in the kitchen because most of these kids can empty the cupboards quicker than an umpire can yell “Strike one!” They also eat like there won’t be any food at the next meal and there are no concession stands in the stadium. The new bat might be nice, but they miss the old one – and hardly attempt to make contact with the ball.

Bottom of the 3rd

  • Get in his corner. That means recognizing that home is what is familiar. Even if home doesn’t have mended clothes, plenty of socks and underwear and toothbrushes, it’s still home. Even if the adults are too occupied with their own world to remember to fix food, it’s still home. It’s where these kids belong and it is what is familiar to them. Even if I think my place is better, it isn’t home. It isn’t security because mom (or dad, or grandma) isn’t here. I need to figure out how to give encouragement when he’s in the batter’s box without being obvious. 
  • Stay in his corner. This means visits to school or to teachers. It might mean connecting with a parent or two – or a grandma or cousin. Sometimes it means letting a mom come to my house to do her son’s dreads. It can also mean helping take care of the baby who comes along with the mom and all the cousins who have permission to visit.  Staying in his corner can include court visits and being asked to testify. It also means understanding the loss a parent feels when she hears her child call me Mom. It means that even if he calls my place “home”, it still isn’t really home.  Some days this means he’ll cry on  my shoulder or act out when he comes home from a visit with mom. It doesn’t mean he doesn’t like his mom; it means he doesn’t know what to do with his emotions.  By allowing the teenage boy to cry on my shoulder while I rub his back without demanding answers, I am in his corner.  By clearing my schedule to rock a toddler for hours after a supervised visit, I am hanging right there in his corner. I stay in his corner by helping him bat to get another player home. Sometimes we step up to the plate and hit a long fly ball just so he can get to base.

Top of the 5th

God’s best plan is for families to be intact. Too often, that doesn’t happen. It should happen, and it could, if we as parents only became the people He wants us to be. More parents could make it happen if they had people in their corner, encouraging them when they’ve struck out, or sacrificing a base hit by bunting a ball so they can actually make it to base.

foster mom

 

I’ve had to wrap my mind around this truth. I’ve had to open my hands that are clinging, holding on, thinking what I have to offer is better than what he had. While it might be true that my home provides structure, clean clothing, plenty of food, sheets on a bed and a pillow of his own, we’re not really his home. Even if he never goes back home, he will still grieve the loss of that home.  I stay in his corner by recognizing that grief and allowing him to process that grief.

Bottom of the 6th

The goal in foster care is to return the child(ren)to the parent(s). It’s a good goal, and sometimes it works.

Sometimes it works well.

Sometimes it doesn’t.

Our job as foster parents is to help social services and the parent(s) move toward that goal. Our job is not to try to stifle what social services and the parents are trying to do. When we attempt to circumvent in such a way, we are wrong.

I think every child needs to be safe, and secure, and loved. Sometimes it’s not safe for a child to return home. I get that, and I’ve seen it more times than not. 

Yet the greatest disservice we can do to these kids is to fight for them to stay with us when the adults in their lives are doing what is necessary to get their children back.

Somehow, we think that some parents don’t “deserve” getting their kids back after what they did. You know something? If it were not for the grace of God, I could be one of them.

How does it happen that I was blessed to grow up in a home and a church community that fostered good parenting, child-rearing, and ample budgeting? How does it happen that I’ve learned consequences of actions when the biological parents of my foster kids have not? How come I’m the one who is blessed and not them?

Top of the 8th

It’s easy to critique other parents when I’ve been blessed. It’s easy to think they don’t deserve to get their kids back when I’ve never had the humiliation of being consistently walked to first base.  Shame on me.

I’ve had those thoughts. I’ve had to practice saying words of encouragement because I knew it was the right thing to say when I really, really, would rather have clung to a baby that wasn’t mine and dared a parent to “deserve” getting him back.

Sometimes the parents don’t get them back. If we as Christians love Jesus like we say we do, that should make us sad – because redemption never came, because the parent never went to the foot of the Cross.

Yet, what about the parents who made mistakes and want to correct their past? What do we do when they want to crawl up out of that self-dug ditch? Do we ignore them or try to push them back down, spouting thoughts to social workers or counselors in hopes of influencing the decisions they will make about these, “our” kids?

Where is forgiveness?!

If Jesus had left us where we were instead of going to the Cross, where would we be?!

Bottom of the 9th

I can think of no better example of a redemption story than when a parent wins back the “right” to have her child returned to her because she took the steps necessary to get her child back. 

For some parents, the steps are a long-time coming. Sometimes it’s months; sometimes years.

It might mean going through substance abuse counseling, which also includes submitting to random drug testing for months. For some, it includes parenting classes and having a parent coach. The parent coach supervises visits and then makes visits in the home after the children are returned to help parents learn new parenting strategies. For some parents, it involves finding another place to live or making repairs on the place they are living now before their child is released to them. For some moms, it means choosing between a boyfriend, a spouse, or her kids. For all of them, it means supervised visits initially and then being trusted to have their children unsupervised for a few hours at a time.

   How humiliating is that?!

For parents who regret their mistakes, the greatest gift a foster parent can give them is encouragement and hope.

If you’re a foster parent, then practice getting in their corner with them. Practice having their backs.

Practice stepping up to the plate and giving your all in a grand-slam home-run so your foster kids can make it safely Home!

foster mom

If you are wondering, here are some facts about us. We have done foster care since 2011. Since that time, we have had over two and a half dozen kids in our home. Some of these were “our own” foster kids, ages 6 months to 16 years. Others were children for whom we provided respite for other foster parents or Social Services- sometimes for a day and other times for as long as three weeks. Our journey into foster care happened because we wanted to find a way to give back to God for sparing the life of Dave. You can read about that here, herehere, here(p. 28), or here.

 

The Jezebel in Us

The heart of Jezebel was wicked.Jezebel

Nobody wants to be called Jezebel. That’s because of who Jezebel was and what she did. ‘Trouble is, there is a little bit of Jezebel in all of us.  Don’t believe me? Let’s take a look.

Jezebel was an idolater.

She was the daughter of Baal worshipers. Jezebel was the wife of Ahab, a Jew and king of Northern Israel.

As the wife of the king, Jezebel encouraged Ahab to do evil. She wanted Ahab to go after idols, and he did. In her encouragement, she turned his heart away from God. She wasn’t only content to draw her husband toward idol worship, she strove to convert the entire nation of Israel to Baal worship. Why did it matter to her if the country worshiped Jehovah God, I wonder?

Scripture tells us this:

25 (There was never anyone like Ahab, who sold himself to do evil in the eyes of the Lord, urged on by Jezebel his wife. 26 He behaved in the vilest manner by going after idols, like the Amorites the Lord drove out before Israel.) I. Kings 20:25,26

It was because of Ahab’s worship of Baal that Elijah showed up to talk to Ahab, when the three years of drought began. At the end of those three years, Jezebel was furious with Elijah for killing her 300 prophets of Baal that she had kept well-fed in her palace – and threatened his life.

Jezebel was a murderer, a conspirator, and a liar.

She was guilty of planning the murder of Naboth because Ahab pouted about not being able to get his vineyard. Jezebel signed the king’s name to sealed letters giving the order to murder Naboth. After Naboth was dead, Ahab got his vineyard. It was what Ahab wanted, and she made it happen through conniving, murder, and lying.   

Jezebel was vindictive

She threatened to kill Elijah because he had killed the prophets she kept in her palace and fed at her table.  Elijah was so afraid that he ran and hid. He needn’t have worried because it was not his time to die. Therefore, Jezebel’s threats could not harm him.

Jezebel was a taunter.

When Jehu came to her city, she put on makeup and taunted from her upstairs window, calling him a “murderer of your master.” This last act was her final undoing. Jehu told the eunuchs to throw her out the window. They did, and by the time the dogs were done with her body, there was not enough left to bury her – just as Elijah had prophesied.

Jezebel

Finding the Jezebel in all of us.

It’s easy for us to notice and point out the evil in Jezebel. How easy is it for us to find that darkness in ourselves? I’ve been guilty.  We’ve all been guilty. To search for a Jezebel spirit in you, consider these questions.

Do you . . . 

  • Encourage your husband when he wants to go after God, or deliberately find ways to distract him?
  • Encourage your spouse to lead the way in spiritual decisions (church, volunteering, relationships) or do you try to covertly sideswipe his direction?
  • Find that it’s easy to manipulate events or twist facts (just a little, of course) so things will turn out the way you’d like even though you know he’d choose differently if he knew the real truth?
  • Sometimes shade the truth (only a tad, of course) to put a different slant on things to get out of doing something you know he’d like you to do?
  • Covertly make decisions for him that he’s perfectly capable of making because of your pride or your agenda (what he wears, where he participates, when he’s available to volunteer)?
  • Make him pay for choices he makes of which you don’t like or don’t approve? You know – demanding a new outfit, withholding sex, pouting about visiting his family, or “not feeling” like cooking tonight . .
  • Find ways to be vindictive? Just little things, of course, like rolling your eyes, mimicking his mannerisms, ignoring a request, or making fun of him to friends.
  • Find that your spouse caters to you – not out of love and respect – but because he doesn’t want the hassle of hearing your complaints or demands of doing it your way?

Having a Jezebel heart comes so naturally that we don’t even need to try.

You know what? That spirit doesn’t have to stay there. It can be eradicated if we are sincere and are willing to go to the effort.

To eradicate that Jezebel spirit, we must first recognize that it’s there. Call it what it is! Ask God to show you when it rears its ugly spirit. He will, guaranteed. Then change the way you respond to your spouse by allowing His spirit – and not a Jezebel spirit –  to rule your heart instead. 

 

Jezebel

This butterfly is a Jezebel. This is what I think a heart that is free of a Jezebel spirit must be like.

 

Jezebel