You can take that title as meaning I have lost my mind and need to be committed. Or, that I have finally decided to be fully committed to my children. Personally, I waffle between the two.
Have you ever made a decision that you had absolute confidence in and were beyond excited about, yet it also overwhelmed you, terrified you, brought you to tears, and made you physically ill? I think the day my first child was born was the only other time in my life I have felt this way. An absolute emotional wreck.
What am I talking about? Here is the bombshell: we have decided to enroll Nicholas in an online public charter school. It is a cross between homeschooling and public school. It is a free program (kind of - it is state funded, so we pay for it via taxes), he will learn at home, he will take the state tests and eventually graduate with an actual diploma. The program was privately designed, yet meets all the state public school standards. It is customizable by topic, so he can be learning each subject at a different grade level if that is what his skill level warrants. We are also allowed to tinker with the curriculum to fit our needs and our beliefs.
Is your jaw on the ground? I know mine is. Believe me, no one is more shocked we are making this decision than I am. It's not that I was hostile toward homeschooling before. I just adamantly believed it was not the right choice for our family. We were firm believers that private school was the right choice for us. And, had the school we wanted not closed it's doors two years ago, we probably would be happily enrolled in private school right now.
This is also not a choice that reflects on our public school. In my opinion, and according to state standards, we are in one of the best public elementary schools a parent could hope for. It is small, scholarly, operates fairly autonomously from the district, has strong community involvement, and has a very strong focus in science, technology, and math. I really could not speak more highly of it and still strongly recommend it to other families in the area.
Wait...an amazing public school...why are we leaving? Am I out of my mind??? Yeah, that's what I've been asking myself.
Let me lay it out for you, partly so I don't have to repeat the same discussion to each of you individually and partly so I can refer back to this in the future when I am rethinking my sanity. Our concerns are three-fold. One, that Nick (and eventually Austin) will not be challenged enough academically. Two, that the influence from other kids or sometimes even teachers will be detrimental. And three, that God will not be integrated into the lessons and perhaps will even be undermined.
Let me say right here that I absolutely believe all of these concerns can be adequately handled with a public school education. The answer to all of them is parental involvement. And that was my plan, to just be more involved. Then I started adding up my time (the amount of time being one of my previous objections to homeschool).
In kindergarten, I spent an average of 2-3 hrs per day debriefing him on what he learned, how it was taught, and going over homework. I would often then extend his lessons to a more challenging level or discuss with him how the lesson fit with the Bible. We would spend several hours per week dealing with a variety of social issues that naturally arise when you put 25 kids in a small room for many hours at a time. For 1st grade, I planned to add to all of that 1) volunteering in his classroom (something I couldn't do in kindergarten), 2) working with the school booster club more, and 3) attending/helping with every possible school activity. By the time all of this was accomplished, I would be spending 20+ hours/week on his public school education and would still feel like I was missing some things.
I then extrapolated all of that for Nick. To him, this daily routine would look like 7 hrs each day at school, 1 hr on the bus, and then 2-3 hrs doing school work and talking with me at the end of the day. He would be exhausted and have little time for anything else. Throw in one sport or afterschool activity and something would have to give, most likely the time we would spend talking about his lessons.
See where I'm going with this? I took a step back and realized I could accomplish all of these same things at home for close to the same 20+ hrs/week I was already spending. For him, it would take half the 10+ hrs/day he was spending. That would leave more time for other activities or just time to relax and unwind at the end of the day. It would also eliminate the constant discussions with his teachers to keep him challenged, the worries about what he was being taught, and some of the bad influences of other kids.
What about all my objections to why homeschooling was the wrong choice for my family? Well, all of those have disappeared over the last year, too. My main objection was that Nick was a social learner and thrived in a peer environment. I saw this come about in preschool when he learned things more quickly at school than he did from me. In kindergarten, though, I saw my theory about his learning style start to unravel. He did very well academically, but his one issue was that he was easily distracted by the other kids. When he would get bored, he would start talking or being silly. That same social learning environment, when not fast-paced or challenging enough, was also his downfall. At the same time, he and I started communicating better and I found it easier to work with him and teach him things. The reality was that I am not skilled at teaching the preschool age and that weakness of mine had collided with his stubborn 3 year old attitude. Once he was older, all of that changed and my main objection to homeschooling disappeared.
My only objections left were about curriculum, time, money, and ability, all of which could be better managed and adapted to make it work. The curriculum is laid out for me, complete with daily lesson plans, and is free. Aaron volunteered to step up his efforts with work and take over some of the tasks I was managing, so I could devote more of my time to school. He also offered to teach some of the classes that are not my strength, such as science. I was out of excuses. The only logical reason for us to stay where we were at was if we had a strong belief that he needed the public school experience. We didn't. Why work harder to accomplish the same, or possibly even a lesser, goal? So here we are. A place I never thought I would be. A place I said as recently as a month ago that I would never be. So I sit here, amidst my pile of kleenex and with butterflies in my stomach. Excited. Terrified. But confident.
One last note: I am eagerly seeking as much advice as possible. If you are a parent or child who has been down this path, please tell me what worked for you and what was difficult. If you are a teacher, please tell me things you think will be challenging to do in a home environment and that I may want to seek outside classes/activities to accomplish. Please tell me your secrets for running a class and motivating kids to stay focused. If you are a parent who is considering this or has ruled it out, please tell me your thoughts and concerns. I want to know all of your thoughts - good, bad, or otherwise. All of you will probably think of things I have not considered and I am open to adjusting how we do this in order to make it the best possible experience. We are learning as we go right now. I certainly know I cannot do it alone and will need as much advice as you are willing to dish out.
I've been on a mission for about the last year to reevaluate life. To no longer blindly follow the status quo, but to seriously consider my stance on a variety of issues. And when I say status quo, I do not mean that of the world, I mean that of the majority of Christians I know. It is not an effort to either be or seem more righteous than others. It is simply an effort to provide the best environment for my children and to teach them without compromise. How did I get here? Let me tell you the journey.
I was raised in a very average American home. Christianity was something that resided inside the doors of the church building and that we visited on Easter, Christmas, and convenient Sunday's. We believed in the basic ideas of right and wrong, such as murder and theft being wrong, but saved the more extreme views (such as modesty, avoiding gossip, daily Bible study, limited media viewing, etc.) for religious zealots, which we were not. We were average Americans who preferred to change religion to fit our lives, rather than changing our lives for religion. Most aptly described and written about as the "I'm okay, you're okay" view.
When I was introduced to the church, I was definitely hit with the more conservative beliefs and people who lived their faith on a daily basis. Certainly not the same crowd as what you would find at the local Lutheran or Methodist church. I also noticed there were two kinds of people. The majority did not believe in drinking, smoking, dancing, premarital sex, etc. They did, however, keep a connection with the world. They watched the popular TV shows, attended rock concerts, were up on all the celebrity gossip, and just seemed like normal people. Then there were the others, the ones I thought were really extreme. They did not own TV's, go to movies, or subscribe to People magazine. Their language was careful - not simply avoiding profanity, but truly seeking to avoid coarse jesting or improper subjects. They walked away from gossip. They worked God into every possible conversation. They were humble and determined. I thought they were over the top, as did the majority from the first group. After all, how could they relate to or talk to those in the world, if they were so far removed from it? They made an impression, though, and their example has been in my head for 15 years. I have always admired their conviction, although I did not understand it.
Fast forward to about a year ago. When Nicholas turned five he became much more aware of the world around him. He started paying attention to what was on TV and asking about the new stories. He would look at the articles I was reading on the computer. He started to sing along with songs on the radio. He was a sponge. My mindset up to that point had been like that of the majority. I watched out for the obvious bad influences, but was somewhat oblivious to the subtleties of other influences. Just as Nick was starting to pay more attention, so did I. And that was life-changing. I suddenly understood that minority group and they no longer seemed extreme to me.
What I realized was that kids are very perceptive and will ask questions about things that adults did not even notice. The surprising part is not the perceptiveness of the little sponges, it is the numbness of the rest of us. It took a five year old's observations to help me see how desensitized I had become to the subtle influences around us. I'm sure all of you have heard as many lessons as I have about being desensitized to sin or about Israel's hardness of heart. In my mind, though, I always thought "Murder still shocks me. Adultery still upsets me. I still notice drunkenness. I'm not that hardened." Oh, how wrong I was. Sure, I was sensitive to the giant, obvious, everyone-in-the-world-thinks-this-is-wrong sins. But the subtler ones, the ones that truly define whether our faith has entered our hearts and taken over our lives, those ones I was missing.
For example, I love heist movies, like the Ocean's 11 series. I thought Pirates of the Caribbean was very clever. Carrie Underwood's "Before He Cheats" is a classic revenge/vindication song. At Christmas "Baby It's Cold Outside" is a catchy tune. I love the humor in Seinfeld and Frasier. Who's Line Is It Anyways is funny improv. I've laughed at jokes about the shortcomings of someone's husband. I've shared in conversations about the attire of co-workers. Then there are the things I don't watch, but know many Christians who do: Dancing with the Stars, The Bachelor, etc. I've seen several young Christians on social media make jokes about sex, unwed pregnancy, abortion, theft, or seeking to humiliate one another. And there is the video game genre, with games that glorify theft, gratuitous violence, or feature scantily clad characters. What do all of these things have in common? They glorify actions and/or attitudes that are ungodly and desensitize us to those actions/attitudes when they show up in our real lives instead of just in entertainment.
Disagree? I certainly used to disagree and would go the mat with anyone who would claim such an outrageous thing. It's a matter of liberty to watch, play, or listen to these things, right? Yes, it is. But in an effort to seek what is good, I started thinking about it again thru the eyes of a 5 year old. Would I let him watch those shows? Why or why not? If he questioned something he saw, could I answer him without compromise or would I find myself saying "That is wrong and we shouldn't do it, but it is okay to see as entertainment"? And here was the end result: If I was uncomfortable with my 5 year old filling his brain with these things, why should I fill my brain with them? Other than some news stories or shows about the historical context of a war that would be too intense for a five year old, I could not find any justification for a discrepancy in our viewing habits. Thru that lens, some of my favorite things went out the window.
Heist movies glorify theft and have you rooting for the thief to get away with it. Pirate paraphenalia is everywhere nowadays and is perhaps the biggest selling children's theme. Pirates, though, are still very real and very dangerous. Their lives and actions are completely evil. Why should I romanticize it or desensitize my child to this truly evil thing? The TV shows I mentioned regularly devolve into sexual innuendo or situations or prominently feature extreme immodesty. We all know there is plenty of that in the world around us, without filling our heads with it in the name of entertainment.
While I know some of you will completely disagree with me, I simply ask you to think about it. It's okay if you do not reach all the same conclusions as me. In the last year I have been removing these questionable influences from my life and that of my children and I have seen my sensitivity to these issues return. It took a long time, but I am seeing clearly many things I used to gloss over as just a part of regular life or the compromise we make for entertainment. You will not realize how desensitized you truly are until you seek to re-sensitize yourself. Also, once you remove those influences, you have a void that can be filled with positive and uplifting influences. You can listen to Christian music or watch shows about educational matters or shows that encourage family values. I review almost everything on a family values website and then determine whether it is worthy of viewing, regardless of how many of my Christian friends recommend it. It has not only helped me see sin more clearly, it has actually helped me to see righteousness more clearly. Instead of looking down on those around me who have chosen differently, I instead look up to those whom I deeply admire. By increasing your positive influences, you will increase your focus on what is good and decrease your focus on what is wrong. Remember my post about seeking what is good instead of defining everything as right and wrong? That is what this is all about. It's about filling your heart and mind with good.
I have not reached the end of my journey. It will be a lifetime battle to sniff out the subtle traps the devil lays for us under the guise of entertainment or innocuous connection to the world around us. I still have a long ways to go. But it has also made me immensely grateful for the "extreme" people who's example has stuck with me and helped me (15 years later) to see the wisdom in the path they were choosing. So, I encourage you the next time you turn on the TV or the radio, to re-evaluate what you are watching and try to see it thru the pure and innocent eyes of a child, because those are the eyes we should all seek to have. I guarantee it will change your life, your attitude, and your heart.
Aaron told me I have to write something new. He periodically reads my Pleo page and he is tired of seeing the title of my last frustration blog. I've had a new blog percolating in my mind for quite some time, but I have not found the right way to say it yet, so there it remains. That means you get the lighter thoughts of yesterday and today.
Yesterday I was reminded how much faith can impact all of our life, if we allow it. We often talk about walking by faith and not compartmentalizing our lives. We discuss many social issues, such as dancing, drinking, and modesty, in terms of faith. We will sometimes even venture into media and apply faith to what we watch and listen to. I'm not going to talk about all of that. Instead, I want to ponder some of the more mundane, less "religious" parts of our lives.
Yesterday I was told about a class regarding some eastern food philosophies. The basic summation was a lot of rules about what foods you can eat together, what order you have to eat them in, what temperature they must be at, and that absolutely everything must be cooked (produce included). Some of the principles I have heard before and I think have some validity. Others, though, were just plain wacky. And this is where faith jumped in.
I have heard a lot of crazy diet ideas over the years. I have heard impassioned arguments from vegans about how our bodies are not designed to eat meat. I have seen people obsess over how and what they eat, based on what scientists currently say is best for the body. Sometimes it is a new study, sometimes it is 3000 year old eastern philosophy, but it all begs the same question: Did any of you bother to consider what the Creator said about our bodies? God told Adam he could eat of all the produce. Later in the book of Genesis He tells man he can eat the animals, too, and later on He even commands it. There is never mention of cooking all the produce so we metabolize it better. We don't have to avoid mixing certain fruits/vegetables and proteins. I would think that if the Creator of our bodies knew we would only thrive a certain way, He would have told us. While our scientific and medical understanding of food is constantly advancing, we should be careful about getting too obsessive.
Now for the disclaimer: In our age of processed, grocery-store-purchased food, it is important to understand what is in it and if it is good for us. I recognize that our society is no longer agricultural and most of us do not grow all our own food. There is some extra caution that must be taken based on the changes in society. Also, I am always interested in research about how our bodies work and what foods benefit different parts of our bodies. I avidly follow and recommend nutritional studies to improve our health. I draw the line when they say "we were not designed for this." I am not talking about MSG, HFCS, hot dogs, twinkies, etc. I am merely talking about claims that our bodies cannot handle the most natural of items - such as eating an orange straight off the tree, pulling a carrot out of the ground, throwing some steak on the grill, drinking the cold water from a stream, or possibly daring to do all of these things in the same meal. By faith we should be able to throw out the window 90% of the diet fads and "scientific" food philosophies by simply asking, "What did God say about this?"
So, all of that got me thinking about other studies and questions that, by faith, I am easily able to disregard. Here are just a few:
- Fear of an asteroid destroying the earth
- Climate change making Earth uninhabitable
- Life on other planets
- Nuclear destruction of the planet
- The world running out of food
- Will we ever accomplish world peace
Pretty much half of the news and paranoia of the world becomes irrelevant when you look at it through the lens of faith.
I'm curious: What questions that the world deems important have you been able to easily answer with faith?
Is it possible? Two posts in one week! Since my previous time between posts was five months, these two should cover me for about the next year. :)
Okay, in all seriousness, there is something that has been on my mind a lot over the last year and some recent blogs, articles, and sermons have brought it to the forefront of my mind. It’s about how we frame some of our arguments about sin and if we are asking/answering the right question. This applies to many areas of our lives, but let me choose a couple of the more obvious ones for the sake of discussion: drinking and dancing.
And let me put a great big disclaimer right here: These views are generalizations. I fully recognize that not all circumstances apply and not all situations fit in these examples. Please try to understand the greater point I am trying to convey through some very generic and overly simplified examples. End of disclaimer.
First, let’s go back in time. In generations past it was socially acceptable to enlist a religious reason for refraining from certain activities. What I mean by socially acceptable is not that everyone agreed with you. I mean that it was understood by the culture that certain religions held these views, so your stance as one of faith was not questioned. For example, if you said you did not dance because you were a Christian, that was the end of the story. They may question why you are a Christian and they may try to sway you to go against your faith, but they would not question whether the Bible actually says that dancing is wrong.
What this meant for the church was that preachers could be very black and white with their preaching: “Dancing is a sin.” Further explanation was rarely needed, because everyone understood this stance as a common Biblical belief. The same was true for drinking. Questioning whether the Bible condemns drinking was unheard of in generations past. It was simply understood, both by members of the church and by the world.
Fast forward to recent times. Despite some of the same black and white sermons being preached as in past generations, there are multitudes of Christians who question whether drinking and dancing are actually sinful. It seems commonplace for teens to attend proms. Many couples have a glass of wine with dinner. So, what happened? The message from the pulpit is the same, but the end result is far different. Is it simply the world creeping into the church? Do people not care anymore if they are sinning? Are they not paying attention to what the Bible says is right and wrong? Some of you are probably nodding your heads right now. I actually disagree with you. Yes, the world has crept in, but I think there is much more to it. Let me explain.
As with most issues that face the church, I believe it started with the more liberal denominations. Something will become very popular in the culture and eventually the most liberal groups will accept it. It then filters its way down until it reaches the most conservative of congregations. Somewhere along the way, though, there is a cultural shift that takes place and I believe that is one of the keys to this discussion. Once many denominations begin to accept something, the culture no longer accepts the traditional stance as a valid religious belief.
We have seen this happen in our own lifetimes over the issue of homosexuality. Twenty years ago it was understood in the culture that the Bible condemns same-sex relationships. Then the most liberal denominations began accepting gay members or gay pastors. So, as of ten years ago, it was questioned by the culture whether the Bible taught that homosexuality was wrong, but it was still accepted that most Christians did not accept that as a valid lifestyle. Then more groups accepted gay members. Today, it is not only questioned whether the Bible says homosexuality is wrong, it is culturally understood that only the most conservative, evangelical Christians still hold this view…and according to the culture, they are wrong and have misinterpreted scripture.
I believe this same shift took place with the issues of dancing and drinking. As the more liberal churches accepted these activities, the culture began to be confused on what Christians believed. Over time, the world no longer thought of drinking and dancing as Biblically condemned activities. And now Christians even question and debate each other over whether it is right or wrong. Is this all the fault of the liberal denominations opening the door to the slippery slope?
No, I think there is yet another factor at play that has everything to do with our approach to the issues. When the world no longer accepts a view as a valid Christian view, their response is to attack the scriptures. They will seek to show contradictions in your reasoning or point out verses that prove their point. They will try to undermine your stance by using your own Bible against you. On some issues, this is not hard to combat, such as homosexuality. With this issue you can open the Bible and find a multitude of verses that very clearly say word for word that homosexuality is a sin. Homosexuals are often found in the list of sinners who will not make it into heaven. The issue is black and white.
The arguments against dancing and drinking are not so cut and dry. You will not find a verse that explicitly says these activities are sinful. You will find verses that condemn drunkenness and lasciviousness, but that is not exactly the same thing. Here is why this point is important to understand. The world will come at you on these issues with examples of dancing in the Bible. They will point out that Jesus turned the water into wine. If all you have ever been taught is that all dancing and drinking are sinful, then you will be ill-equipped to counter these valid arguments from the world.
The answer to these arguments has nothing to do with scholarly studies on the type of alcohol served in the 1st century or the type of unisex dancing that was common in the Old Testament and how that varies from today. If a young person does not understand the proper answer to these supposed contradictions, their entire faith could be undermined. If you have only taught them black and white with no foundational reasoning, and the world presents a gray area in scripture, then you could end up with a young adult who questions and possibly discards everything you have ever taught them. I think this is what is happening amongst Christians today. Young people are not having dancing and drinking at their weddings because someone failed to tell them those things were wrong. They are doing them because they were only ever taught that these activities were sinful and then world pointed out that the Bible does not explicitly say that. They did not have any other foundational principle to turn to, so they now stand on their “right” or “liberty” to do these things.
So what is the proper answer? The answer is that you are asking the wrong question. It is not about right and wrong. The world is absolutely right that Jesus turned the water into wine. And they are absolutely right that there is dancing in the Bible. That means that not all forms of these activities are sinful. That’s right. You cannot Biblically prove that all drinking and dancing is wrong. In fact, there are forms of these activities that are Biblically condoned. So where do you draw the line? Does it take a scholarly study of the acceptable level of alcohol in a beverage? Do we have to draw lines of which kind of dancing is okay and at what venues? Absolutely not. That would make us like the Pharisees, creating rules where God was silent and then judging others by those rules.
The answer to these questions is that it is not about right and wrong. It is about what is good. A preacher recently said that if you ask if something is right or wrong, you will then get as close to that line as you possibly can without crossing it. However, if you ask if something is good, then your goal will be to stay as far from the line as possible. That is what I believe is the foundational answer to the question of drinking and dancing and a multitude of other issues in our lives.
If you take drinking, for example, and apply the “is it good?” principle, you will arrive at the same conclusion as someone who is teaching that it is wrong, but with a much more solid Biblical foundation. Imagine the differences in a conversation with a non-believer who asks why you don’t drink. If you say, “I believe the Bible says it is wrong” you will immediately raise their defensive wall because your statement has passed judgment on them. Thus, they will point out Biblical examples of drinking as a way to undermine your reasoning and justify themselves. I have personally seen Christians waver in their faith over the confusion and seeming contradictions that we have historically taught on this issue.
On the other hand, imagine if you answer their query by saying, “I do not find anything good and profitable in it.” They will be stunned. Some may still be defensive, but not nearly to the extent of those in the first example. They cannot argue whether the Bible says this, because your answer is not about right/wrong in an area that is gray. Your answer is about goodness, which is absolutely a Biblical principle. Also, your answer does not sound as judgmental and will cause them to think. Sure, they may blow you off initially, but your answer will stay with them and they will contemplate it days and even weeks later. Then they will consider this principle in other parts of their life. I can tell you from personal experience that this approach works.
Christians are often accused of being unloving and judgmental. I think this impression is somewhat caused by us focusing more on labeling something as right or wrong instead of focusing on what is good. As a result, we look like we are always condemning those around us and appearing as hypocrites when we inevitably make a mistake. If we are always striving for good, though, we will keep ourselves further from the line of right/wrong. Our lights will shine brighter as we teach others about what is good instead of only teaching them what they need to correct in their lives.
Please don’t misunderstand. There are some very black and white issues in the Bible. Adultery is wrong. Murder is wrong. Taking the Lord’s name in vain is wrong. Even in these, though, the principle of seeking good can apply. By strengthening your marriage, you will not question if it is right or wrong to have a close friendship with someone of the opposite sex because your focus will be on the good of your marriage rather than your “rights”. If you seek to only use edifying speech, then you will not need a list of words that are right and wrong, words that are euphemisms, words that some people take issue with, etc. because your only words will be those that are good. Similarly, someone focused on what is good will not claim the “right” to go to a bar if they don’t drink or the “right” to go to a dance club as long as they don’t sway their hips too much. The question will never arise because all debate ends at “is it good and profitable?”.
By asking “is it good?” instead of “is it right/wrong?” we will also have more grace toward one another in issues of liberties. By using this principle, I have become very selective in my media habits. But I have not reached these conclusions by debating with someone if it is right to watch a certain TV show or if certain kinds of music are wrong. Believe me, I have had those debates in the past and there is no way to win them on the stance of right/wrong (barring, of course, the extreme examples such as porn) because the Bible does not say whether James Bond and hard rock are okay. Instead, I have reached my conclusions by determining what is good and edifying for my family. These conclusions have nothing to do with what another Christian chooses and I pass no judgment on another Christian who may decide differently. We may all draw the line in a different place in our own lives. As long as we are all striving for what is good, based on God’s word and not the world’s standards, then we will automatically set ourselves apart and be lights to the world.
So, consider your approach the next time you hear about Christians questioning a historically black and white issue. Is it truly black and white or is it actually gray? It is okay for an issue to be gray. Admitting that something as controversial as drinking or dancing is not explicitly condemned in scripture is not automatically condoning it or taking the stance of a false teacher. It is simply admitting that when we do not have a clear answer, if we focus on good, then that is what we will attain. And those that ask “is it good?” will inevitably stay further from the line than those who are focused on “is it right or wrong?”.
Five months since my last post? Wow. That's either impressive or depressing, depending on your perspective. My life seems to have been reduced to a series of short, pithy comments on Facebook. Bill O'Reilly would be proud (and if you understood that, you watch too much Fox News). I have had many things I've wanted to write, but inspiring topics rarely show themselves at convenient times. I instead find myself drafting clever and thought-provoking blogs while washing my hair. By the time I break out the blow-dryer, I've either forgotten my thoughts from 10 minutes prior or I've been interrupted by the urgent needs of a small child. Alas, such is life. My children get in the way of wowing you with my dazzling insight.
Tonight, though, you are not to be saved from my thoughts by a missing stuffed animal or a broken book. The kids are in bed, the husband is off with the guys, and I have hours of free time alone with my computer...and I had an interesting experience today...at least it was interesting to me...you can judge for yourself in a few paragraphs. Grab your coffee and a blanket, you're going to be here for awhile.
November is our crazy month. I know, it seems like we are always in the midst of a crazy time, but November really is one of our busiest months of the year. Today was a typical November day where we had a dozen things to do and barely enough time to get them done. Part of our list was for me to quickly run some errands, get home in time to pick up the family, and then head back to town for a meeting.
It all started out well enough. My first stop was quicker than expected. My second stop was the grocery store and a fairly short list. As I made my way through the store I noticed that there was a larger than normal percentage of older shoppers. With each aisle I turned down, I found myself dodging another elderly customer. Now, I don't mean to disparage an entire demographic, but have you ever been behind one of those elderly drivers that really shouldn't be on the road anymore? Well, about half the people in the store today were those kind of drivers. They just happened to be driving shopping carts instead of cars.
So, with a smidge of frustration and about 10 minutes to spare, I made my way to the checkout line. Naturally, the lines were all quite long and I had to play the guessing game: number of customers per line, number of items per customer, age and ability of checker...ah yes, this line looks like it will be the quickest. I unloaded my cart behind one elderly couple with a couple dozen items.
And here's where it gets interesting. After scanning a few items, the lady mentions something to the checker, who then calls a runner to go exchange an item. No big deal, happens to all of us occasionally. A few more items go by as the checker and the customer periodically stop to discuss arthritis and other age-related troubles. Then another coupon doesn't scan and the runner is called again to exchange something for the appropriate sale item. Oh wait, there is something else she wants. So the runner has to go get yet another item. By the time all the items are scanned, I think this couple had about five wrong items. As I stood there listening to the banter between the checker and the customer, I could feel my precious minutes passing. My blood pressure was starting to rise as I questioned how hard it was to put the right item in the cart. And if I listened closely I could almost make out the secret snickers of the other customers who knew I had guessed wrong at the quickest line. I already had a snide Facebook post made out in my head about these terrible shoppers who had been unable to match the picture on the coupon to the item on the shelf.
Then it happened. The woman paid for her groceries and realized a coupon had not scanned. She would have to go to customer service to get a refund for that amount. The checker was mouthing "sorry" to me and I was about to roll my eyes in response when the woman's husband turned toward me. For the first time I saw more than the back of his jacket. His head hung low and his hands were tightly curled up in what appeared to be a permanent form. He shook a bit as he shuffled a few steps toward me, with a very blank look on his face. I realized then that I had not heard him speak a word during the 10 minutes I'd been in that line. Very gently the woman took his arm and said "Not that way, dear. We need to go this way now. Just come with me." His head bobbed slightly in response and he turned back around, still silent. With one hand on her cart and the other guiding her husband, I watched the woman slowly walk out of sight.
I shamefully stepped up to the counter and the checker again apologized for the long delay. I looked at her and quietly said, "You know, just as my frustration was getting the better of me, I noticed her husband's health problems. Her life is so much harder than mine. I think I can wait a few extra minutes." We then talked for a bit about dementia and how hard it is to care for a loved one in that condition.
What a lesson. How quickly had I judged that couple? How impatient had I been? How hard would it be for me to walk through a store, picking out groceries, keeping track of coupons, and also trying to make sure my husband did not disappear? Would I have shown the grace and gentleness of that woman? Based on today's performance...no, I would not. Wow.
You know what's funny? I thought I had learned this lesson long ago. Over 10 years ago Aaron and I were behind a woman at a stop light who appeared to be wildly gesturing and ranting to herself. We were joking about how strange that looked when the light turned green. As we followed the woman around a corner we notice a blue hospital sign and it dawned on us. She was not a crazy person. She had probably just gotten the call to hurry to the hospital to see a loved one. Her gesturing and ranting was raw emotion and possibly even prayer.
Ever since that day I have tried to be careful to give strangers the benefit of the doubt and I have tried to teach that to my boys. If someone cuts us off in traffic, I consider they may be hurrying to the bedside of a family member. If someone bumps into us in the store, I consider they may be preoccupied with a recent job loss. The list goes on. Nicholas and I talk about this all the time, especially as he learns patience and grace when dealing with new kids at school. I knew I was not perfect at this, and I knew my patience had been stretched pretty thin over the last year and I had a lot of rebuilding to do, but I sure thought I was better than today's example.
So there is my challenge to you. The next time you are frustrated by the actions of a stranger, give them the benefit of the doubt. Consider the struggles they may be facing that led to their actions and how that should change your perspective. We will not always know the rest of their story, but we should always respond with the patience and grace as though we do.