Friday, April 20, 2012

When Real Relationship Is a Battle

I live in a house full of real relationships. I'm convinced that raising boys is not any more or less difficult than raising girls, it's just unique unto itself. Boys are hardwired to prove their prowess. Everything from how fast they eat to how loud they burp is part of the contest to be king of the hill. As boys living together tussle and fight to assert their dominance, they don't react to being pushed aside and passed up with hurtful tears and squeals, they get MAD!!! They yell and call names and push and punch. Boys are fighters!

Most days in our house, it seems like a losing battle - teaching these boys how to fight well. Instead of teaching clear communication, admitting fault, and forgiveness, it seems like they are only getting better at insults and irritating one another. What I want most for them is for them to be devoted brothers for life, there for each other through all of the harder things life will bring to them. What I see are mounting offenses and grudges. ... I sigh ... What is the point?

Today is my birthday and this is what my sister posted on my Facebook wall:

‎45 years ago my sister was born. This is what I got- *traded shiny nickels for dirty dimes*rubber spiders in my bed, shoes, drawers,etc.*fightin' with windmill arms and hair pullin*pickle juice in a squirtgun*A nickname only she can call me*the part of Toto while she was always Dorothy*an impossible childhood standard because she was the good one and I was a brat
I also got this:*3 beautiful nephews*an automatic best friend*a wonderful Christian counselor*laughter and humor when I'm crying*parenting advice*self worth when I feel horrible*an impossible standard for Christian motherhood because she is so wonderful at it and I often flounder
My sister means the world to me. I wish all sisters could've had the childhood we did growing up. She is gracious, funny, beautiful, loving, generous, and the daughter of a King! Thank you, Lis, for always being there when I think my world is falling apart. You never let on how yours is. Your example ripples through my life, invests itself into Alex's, and brings unconditional love to Jerry. I miss you!
And you're still older than me!!!

When I talk about how boys live together and conflict with one another I really do understand that it is not an issue of better or worse than living with or raising girls. It's just different. When my sister and I were little we were close friends. We pretended together, played with Barbie dolls, rode bicycles, and cared for each other when we were hurt. We got angry and had cat fights, and immediately afterwards helped each other cover the scratches and red marks so we wouldn't get into trouble. 

Things changed when we became teenagers. I went through a strange period of distancing myself from my family, choosing people I wanted to impress over the people who loved me most and unconditionally. They were all very gracious and loved me and stayed as involved in my life as I'd let them under the circumstances. I'm grateful for that, because my family was more connected during those awkward years than most. But I think often my baby sister got lost in the shuffle.

Then she began to struggle with problems of her own. Some were of her own making - the result of her choices - but many were not. Many were inherited in the frail, sin-ravaged body, at a time when dealing with illnesses that affected your thinking and behavior was still relatively unexplored territory. She suffered. We suffered with her. And people looked on with attitudes ranging from judgement to pity to contempt. Our relationship unraveled as she looked like the rebel and I looked like Miss Goody-Two-Shoes.

These problems continued well into our adult years. With my mother's heavenly homegoing, I assumed more of a mother-role in her life, which was a lot of pressure because I was a new mother, and had yet to understand that kind of sacrificial, committed-no-matter-what kind of love. And she baffled me. The "right" choice seemed so clear to me, yet she so often chose what didn't make sense. And did things that didn't make sense. But I loved her, and my daddy loved her, and I really wanted her to be healthy and happy, so I kept answering the phone and talking to her, even when I felt like my words were just not enough. When my daddy died, we were all the other one had. We were orphaned adults, clinging to each other for connection through a past we shared, and trying to help one another stay afloat in a sea of grief.

Things are very different now. God has done amazing things in my sister's life: accurate medical treatment, a supporting and encouraging boyfriend, drawing her back again and again to Himself. She faced a serious trial several months ago, and to my astonishment all I wanted to do was fly up to be by her side, hold her hand, and cry with her through it. I love her and miss her and still want what's best for her. 

I realized as I read her post today, that my love for her and pride in how far she has come has been knit into my heart by sticking it out. Over and over I have chosen relationship: messy, painful, hard, intentional ... over running away or shutting her out. And the reward of that perseverance? A best friend ... the testimony of how much God can change someone ... more relationship with so much less effort! 

When my boys fight ... insult each other ... offend each other ... hurt one another ... I wonder .... Will they learn to stick with it? Will they still call each other ... hang out ... enjoy one another's families in the years to come? I hope so. Because I hate to think what they would be missing!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Forgiveness and To the Other Woman

Every now and then I get glimpses of myself - my real self, not the teenage version that I still see in my mind's eye, or the overweight, aging body I see in the mirror. For a few precious moments I shed the many messages that play in my head, stored up from years of being told who I am or replayed by an enemy seeking to discourage me from remembering who my Lord sees when He looks at me. But every now and then God gives me the gift of seeing myself through the eyes of those who see His reflection in me, or who see how my continuing battle with who I was covers that reflection.

I dropped Grace off at school this morning, and was treated by Beloved with a brief opportunity to talk to her teacher from last year. In brief drop-offs and pick-ups, I developed a sweet friendship with the teacher and two class helpers who worked in Gracie's classroom. Mrs.Ritchie repeated this morning what she had told me often last year - I'm one of only few people she'd want her grandbaby in the care of, how glad she is that I'm in Grace's life, how much she likes me. 

It's not me. I know that. There are so many things about me that I hide from people - so many places where my sin overwhelms the developing reflection of my Lord. But to be reminded that there are those places where some people know and see the grace and love I've known in my Jesus ... I'm so thrilled that I am growing in those places enough for it to show.

Every now and then, the Lord snips back that growth, like I snipped back the fresh green growths from the bushes in my front yard yesterday. It doesn't always make sense. Why cut off the new growth on a plant that you want to see growth on? Grace asked me that very question yesterday - in her 4-year-old words, of course. "Why are you cutting the plants leaves?" How to I tell her that the plant only grows thick and full if I trim back the overgrowth? Would she understand that those extra long branches and leaves are using resources that the plant needs to use in other places? Will there be a time that I can show her the thinness and weakness under all the growth of a plant allowed to grow out of the control of its owner?

I don't want overgrowth in my life ... but I don't like being pruned either. Pruning hurts, and often doesn't make sense to me. Learning to forgive is one of the places where God continues to prune me and train me. Like so many of my friends I have been deeply wounded by others in my life. Abandoned by a beloved husband. Rejected by leaders I trusted. Ignored or overlooked by family and friends I depended upon. 

...And then there are the enemies. I'm a nice person ... I think. I'm so laid-back and accommodating and people-pleasing, how is it possible that I even have enemies? But I do. Some are enemies because of my stupidity or sin. Some became that because of their own shortcomings and sins. Often it's just the result of two sinners with expectations and plans colliding in a hard, sin-filled world. 

How do you forgive an enemy? Forgiving any offense is hard, but how do you forgive someone whose ongoing mission seems to be to make life difficult ... oppositional ... miserable? How do you forgive when someone keeps on offending? What does it mean to forgive that kind of person?

Oh wait ... did you think I had an answer? My sister asked me that question some weeks ago. She's struggling to forgive her ex-husband. He infuriates me, and I hate the ways he hurts my sister and nephew. Who am I to tell her how to forgive him, when I am struggling to forgive him?
When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners....But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. Romans 5:6,8 (NLT)
For me the only thing that has worked is to stay focused on the undeserved grace God has shown me. I know how messy I am ... how awful I could be, and sometimes am. I know what it means that I am a helpless sinner, unable to control my self-serving impulses and totally without concern for how my indulgence affects anyone else. I know! To know what I am capable of, and to see how God has dealt with me ... that is where forgiveness and grace begin for me.

A decade ago my life was forever scarred when another woman came into my husband's life and wooed him away from me. My husband chose to love another woman, and it broke my heart and shattered my life. I already loved him, so forgiving him, although it took a long time to consistently do, could be built on all the things in him that I had come to love and admire over the years with him. But her? Forgiving her has been hard.

Look at Jesus. Look back at me. Forgiving me should have been hard ... was hard. Proof of that are prayers in a garden to be spared the weight of my sins ... the weight of my guilt. Is He asking of me anything He has been unwilling to do? Do I believe that He can walk with me through this difficult choice? Can I forgive the person in my life whom I would most like to see justice dealt out to? Do I trust God to show her mercy, just as He has shown me mercy?

To the Other Woman
copyright 9/21/05
Lisa A. Baker
Women of old
With stories untold
Mere glimpses of lives we see
When I take a look
In this ancient of books
A snapshot in them of me
 Yet tonight I saw there
A new kind of heir
To the legacy scripture can weave
Now I must release
My resistance to peace
So my hate can forgiveness relieve
For you are like dear Hagar, proud
Should you be rejected and cry aloud
El Roi will hear your humbled  plea
And prove to be the One who sees
And you are like Rahab of old
Whose intervention still is told
Despite disgraceful reputation
Was used to bring the world salvation
You are Bathsheba, mother to kings
Gomer with heartache in her wings
You are the woman before the crowd
That insisted stoning was allowed 
At times I wondered at this lot
So used by God though to men naught
These women I’ve seen with prideful eyes
Disgusting sins—then I realize
That I am like them in some ways
For any goodness God be praised!
But you are like them somehow too,
Should I not love like God loves you?