We are vacationing/dancing/learning/stretching/growing at the National Dance Championships this week. It’s been exciting, eye-opening, and in that way, very educational, all at the same time. The competition has been a backdrop, really, for far greater spiritual growth and development. With everyone either sleeping or venturing out, I thought I’d start my own process of reflection.
Over eleven years ago, my niece, the only child of that particular sister, graduated from high school. I had committed to attending the graduation, but then, my father became sick, eventually relocating to Heaven. The expenses of traveling (he lived 800 miles away), paying his bills and ours, not to mention burying a man with little insurance (we paid for the premiums on his policy, bought when he was 70 years old), quickly took their toll on our household over the next four months. As we fought to stay afloat, I realized that I wouldn’t be able to attend. My sister, focused on the perfect celebration for her daughter, didn’t see it that way and hung up in my face when I tried to explain my position over the phone. We hadn’t spoken since–her wish, not mine. Over the years I’ve had an opportunity to understand forgiveness in a whole new way, and to understand the process of forgiveness: we hate, we hurt, and then we heal. Some will disagree with me, but I think understanding and communicating honestly with God about where we are in that process is far more important than rushing to heal. Is the God who is big enough to create this entire universe not wise enough to know when you’re angry? When you’re hurting? When you don’t want to put on the Christian “I’m always so perfectly happy” mask?
I’ve also had a chance to define, and then redefine, what forgiveness looks like, at least for me. Initially, forgiveness was a matter of words: “I’m not mad about it,” and “I’ve moved on” were from my mouth, not from my heart. I felt that I’d been wronged by a cruel and heartless dial tone while trying to share my heart, and I wanted an apology. Every time I spoke of the incident, I became angry all over again. Eventually those emotions passed, and I was, and am, able to talk about what happened without the same emotions, but things were always tense whenever the family gathered together. Through Bible study, I realized that I needed to write a letter, at minimum expressing my love, and even apologizing (though I felt I’d done nothing wrong). Admittedly, I failed the test of the apology, but a few years ago I did at least write a love letter—one that was never returned or acknowledged. Another lesson in forgiveness. I released this situation more and more over to the Lord, content in thinking that my sister might actually die without speaking to me again. It’s okay, I told the Lord. Whatever happens, I simply ask that you bless her and give her a more intimate knowledge of You.
Well, I’ll fastforward a bit. My sister, along with two other sisters, came this week to support our son. Up close and personal, with nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. The Lord gave me a face-to-face opportunity to exercise my prayers. So, beginning with a kiss on the forehead, I spoke, I laughed, I enjoyed time with my sister for the first time in over eleven years. I’m sure she has her own feelings about what has transpired, why and when, but until she gets a blog, you’ll have to read my side of the story (smile).
Though I felt, and still feel, that I was wronged, I did come to a realization about her perspective all those many years ago. We all want perfect celebrations for our children. Such was my thinking as we drove here to compete. Though I didn’t share my son’s enthusiasm that they’d win the whole thing (or maybe I did?), I certainly wasn’t prepared for what did happen: they came in dead last. Losing is one thing; being last is another. It wasn’t that they performed poorly; they even received an excellence award in ballet. The other teams, at least from the judge’s perspective, were really good, and I imagine (though I’ve not seen the scores yet) that who won vs. everyone else was a matter of single points, or even some fraction of a point. Yet, how do you speak to a child’s crushed heart? Amidst the parents who were angry, upset, and outright belligerent, what are the words that lift up Jesus? Moreover, how do I address my son’s larger concern that he had disappointed us and wasted all the money we spent to get here (did I say something to give him that impression)? I spoke the “work hard we’ll get ‘um next year” speech, but another sister put together more memorable words. It’s okay to be disappointed at not doing well; it shows that you care. Nothing is wrong with crying about missed opportunities, lost chances, even failures. It means you want to do better, to be better. After a good cry, our son enjoyed a final lunch with his aunts before they hit the road, and I hugged and kissed all three of them with no reservations and no anxiety. He bounced back, took a workshop or two, already getting ahead for next year. His leadership even got his older sister motivated to participate in a workshop. Mother Hen here is still watching carefully to make sure he’s okay, and trying to sort out her own feelings in the process.
So, we leave for home tomorrow with smaller trophies than we wanted. But we also take home new growth, new resolve, and step into a new season. We might have lost by man’s standards, but we won by God’s. We had the perfect celebration. Praise Him for this and every day.