When my children were younger (Graham age 6, and Kristin age 7), I was stressed out. I was commuting to grad school, overwhelmed by academia, reading journals I didn’t understand, writing papers with formats that seemed tedious and unnecessary while still trying to drive carpool, do laundry, cook dinner, and help my kids with their homework. By the way, I was also overwhelmed with their academia — the new Math, reading records, and handwriting rules that seemed tedious and unnecessary. On top of everything, we were trying to sell our home and move to a different part of the city. If you’ve sold a home, you know that stress — keeping things immaculate, while having a warm, lived-in vibe. I was so grateful for a babysitter in the midst of this unending work and pressure — an afternoon off, to myself, to do whatever I wanted without worrying about crumbs on the carpet, Graham’s reading, Kristin’s handwriting, or my paper due in Human Growth & Development.
I don’t remember what I did, but I will never forget what I found when I came home. Kristin, Graham, and the babysitter (Jennifer Morrissette-Strehlow, do you remember that adventure in babysitting?) were all sitting on the couch when I walked in the door. They looked stressed out. While I was setting down my purse and packages Jenny said, “Mrs. Hersh, I’m so sorry. I thought they were upstairs playing in Kristin’s room.” My heart started beating faster as I quickly surveyed my children and saw, with some relief and further distress, that they were injury- and bandage-free.
Kristin began talking fast, “Mommy, please don’t be mad. It was a surprise for you.”
Graham didn’t say a word.
That’s how I knew something must be really wrong. I started up the stairs thinking about the newly cleaned carpet, the scrubbed bathroom, the perfectly organized linen closet, ranting, “You are going to have to clean anything you messed up.” I could feel my blood pressure rising. “Do you realize how hard it is to keep this place clean?” I had reached a volume level that ensured that our neighbors were hearing this little rant. “Someone could come to see the house at any time!” I felt crazed with frustration. “Do you know how hard I work and how much we need to sell this place and how stressed out I am and . . . .” And then I stopped.
I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I was so mad. I was so surprised. Scrawled across the wall in my bedroom — across the newly painted wall, across the wall in the room with the newly cleaned carpet, across the wall in the house we were desperately trying to sell were these words, ”Mommy is the best mommy in the werld.”
I really was speechless. And mad. And proud. And irritated by the messed up wall. And the misspelled word.
Love is hard to read, isn’t it? Especially when we’re stressed out and trying really hard to make everything work and Love shows up in places we didn’t expect it to or didn’t want it to and we have to calm down, humble ourselves, accept paradox, and have faith that Love really does win over messy, disobedient children and angry, stressed out moms.
I have learned the most about reading the hieroglyphics of Love from my children. The other person who has taught me a lot about reading confusing love stories is Dan Allender. I’m thinking about the things Dan taught me about stories and love because it fits in this series of Salvation Stories. If you can’t translate the hieroglyphics you might miss the meaning of the story and salvation entirely. I’m also thinking about these things because Dan is coming to Denver at the end of October and I want to help spread the word!
The Wounded Heart Conference
October 27-29, 2011
Restoration Church, Denver, Colorado
REGISTER AT: mhgsconferences.com or 888.977.2022 x112
COUNSELORS: There could be as much as 16 hours of CE credit available!
Dan was my professor/counselor/mentor in grad school and he taught me to calm down, humble myself, accept paradox, and have faith — among other things. I think we miss a lot of salvation stories when we live outside of those categories and it’s good to remind myself of them again.
When I would hear stories or experience pain and confusion in my own story, Dan would wisely and irritatingly say, “All roads lead to Rome.” I think what he meant was, “All roads lead to Calvary.” It’s hard to believe when there’s graffiti on the bedroom wall or there’s much more unthinkable realities in our stories, like sexual abuse, that those roads lead to Calvary or as Brennan Manning wrote, “We reach life only through death, we learn tenderness only through pain, we come to light only through darkness; Jonah must be buried in the whale’s belly, the grain of wheat much die, we must be formed into the pattern of His death if we are to become Easter men and Easter women.” It’s good to to calm down and remember this roadmap when I’m trying to read the story.
I will never forget sharing with Dan some of the humiliating details of my struggle with alcoholism. He was the first person I told some stories to. He looked at me with such kindness and said, “You must become a Christian,” and I fired back at him with the outrage of a woman whose newly cleaned walls were being scribbled all over, “What do you mean? You don’t think I’m a Christian?!?“ And he sat there quietly until I started to understand. Humility is a manner of being in the world when I know — heart and soul – that everything always hinges on the grace. I cannot free myself. Daily I must be set free. Saved again and again and again and again and . . . . . I think humility is especially important when we have been victimized. Love didn’t set the perpetrators in motion, but Love is still there in the midst of horrible stories. It takes humility to receive Love when you’re hurt and outraged and your clean walls are all messed up.
Dan is the most brilliant excavater of Love in the midst of paradox that I know. Australian theologian Kevin O’Shea wrote, “One rejoices in being unafraid to be open to the healing process, no matter what one might be or what one might have done [or what might have been done to one].” Accepting paradox opens the door to look at human beings at their worst and at their most glorious, and that is what allows us to read what Love is writing on the walls!
Have a Little Faith
AFter working with Dan a few years I asked him why he picked sexual abuse to learn about, write about, and speak about — why not something a little more warm and fuzzy? I will never forget his answer. With a fierce passion in his eyes he said, “Shining the light of God’s Love into the dark caves of sexual abuse is one way in which I put my foot on the neck of the Enemy.” Sometimes the darkness in our stories and the stories of others can be overwhelming. There are many, many days when I hang onto these words from Dan and believe that a little bit of faith does make a difference.
Calm down, humble myself, accept paradox, have a little faith — some important lessons that have allowed me to sometimes remember that the hieroglyphics of Love are found in the most unlikely places.
“God rescued us from dead-end alleys and dark dungeons.” Colossians 1, The Message.