Forward by Forgiveness


When we first moved into this home, I forwent the traditional bushes and chose perennials for the bed below my front porch. I wanted lots of color and variation. Some plants have done well and some have not. The hostas I was sure would grow, just were not (all) happy there. Things that looked pretty ratty have thrived. The red, clay soil may be to blame or maybe the shade. To those of us with a serendipitous gardening style, there is more trial and error than green-thumb at play.

I did have a person good at such things help a few years ago. I requested peonies because I find their blooms just divine. He planted them in a few places— a few in the front and in the back.

The plants started very small, so straggly-looking in fact that they could be mistaken for weeds. This happened once. One of my little daughters, trying to help, pulled and broke it right at the root. My response was swift and sharp and it broke her heart. It left a wound-er/wound-ed memory for us both. Those woulds have necessitated a few returns to this event for healing.

During winter it seemed gone. When frost graced the ground, you’d have to search in the cold mulch for a trace of it. Then this past spring came, and something magical happened. Not only was my peony visible, it was suddenly a foot taller than last year with multiple stems. It was beginning to look stout and to my elation, had beautiful buds.

The life of my peony has paralleled my internal life and in some ways, the life of my family, over the past year. While months have passed, it has been more winter than other seasons. I guess I could say that it felt like something snapped– or at least we have been keenly aware that we have been living in the aftermath of something having been broken. I have wondered if any good could come from the breaking.

Bringing a child with a tough history into a new family is hard. I have spent months assessing, coming to terms, assessing again, trying again, in an attempt to see her clearly and how to love her. While it has been the catalyst for lots of half-controlled chaos, there is more. At the same time, I entered the parenting-teens years. Might I define these years as a beautiful, encouraged push for independence yet simultaneous marked stupidity? I think that is mostly accurate. In this radically-technological age, the stressors are heightened and seem to have long-term unknown consequences. Every new advance births opportunities for parent/technology-aware-child negotiation. I have said to my eldest several times, we are the first generation to see the effects of the screens everywhere way of life. Then, I have children in between. I have been teaching them to read. Lord help.

Then, there is the continual realizing the depths of my own brokenness as it relates to each child. I keep thinking, even revisiting my last blog, that I have surely plunged the depths of it all! Yet, that was only the tip of the iceberg. It doesn’t only come with a new addition. It comes in everyone else over and over again as they respond and simultaneously grow and change. It comes as they engage culture, their own universally-shared anthropology, and unique-to-their-own-personalities angst. Their brokenness exposes mine. It pours out of them in developmentally appropriate ways, gaining sophistication as they relate stage to stage. Like colts, stumbling, testing, finding resources (I hope), failing, testing again, they move. Then they get stronger and move faster! Their brokenness is bold. My brokenness teaches them things I wish they did not know. Mine is seasoned and hidden beneath years of defenses. These things play off one another. We don’t move past it. We go through together.

I wish I could say that my preparation has kept me going. God knows I have read more parenting books, articles, and information over the course of it all. Some of it helped for sure. There are just some things you don’t know until you know. Life in the horizontal has been many times serendipitous like my gardening. Some of it I regret has mimicked my sharp reaction to the mistaking of a plant for a weed– hurtful to everyone. Some of it has been helpful and for those things, I am thankful.

If you were to pin me down on what has kept this whole thing going– the thing that I have needed most– the thing that has even allowed this reflection– has been forgiveness. We apologize a lot. It is the thing most abhorred by those (including myself) who don’t want to be told they need it because that would mean not doing something right, yet it is the place abundant in safety, grace, and acceptance of the most life-giving kind. It mends.

We all share in the realizations. We all sin against each other. We all are sinned against. We all suffer the brokenness of things totally beyond our control. And we all find hope in the place it remains regardless of the season.

In Liturgy of the Ordinary, Tish Harrison Warren describes repentance, where forgiveness is realized, in the life of believers:

Repentance is not usually a moment wrought in high drama. It is the steady drumbeat of a life in Christ and, therefore, a day in Christ. 

Our failures and successes in the Christian life are not what define us or determine our worth before god or God’s people. Instead, we are defined by Christ’s work on our behalf. We kneel. We humble ourselves together. We admit the truth. We confess and repent, Together, we practice the posture that we embrace each day– that of a broken and needy people who receive abundant mercy. 

Being forgiven mends, however, the repair is only a shadow of being made whole again. I cannot emphasize more the sustaining grace (vertical) that makes the practice (horizontal) of other things I do possible. Absolutely none of this could be accomplished without the safety found in the Gospel. None of it. It would be too terrifying, too impossible, too brutal, too condemning. Repentance gives way to absolution that reflects resurrection.

Just a side note, I love talking through the horizontal things; which strategies have been helpful when and thinking through parenting of children in all the stages. But those conversations for me are most often best over cups of coffee where nuances are better allowed. There are overarching principles, but many many ways they can play out. The truth is, we don’t make our kids do anything. It is not our job to figure out what works to make them into our own image. It is our job to love them, give them the Word, then lead them to Him.

Just like my peony, life is so quickly and easily broken– yet it is so painfully and slowly repaired. Sometimes the breaking comes from things done to me and sometimes I do it myself. After the broken comes an entire season of realization. It takes time. It takes brutal honesty, “admitting the truth” as Warren affirms. It takes awareness. It takes education –which never seems to be in short supply. And it takes an everyday reorientation to my life in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

His life works out in me. It is in the soil; where roots are steadied in the Gospel. It is the rain; the blood of Christ, given for me. It is the food; the body of Christ, broken for me. It is in the pruning and breaking; the Law meeting me everyday. It is the sun; the hope of God, faithful and sure, converting resources and maintaining energy. And all of it woven in environment is the grace of God, gifted to me by faith.

There is something powerful in seeing the need for forgiveness and realizing it is provided. For me and the daughter I hurt, it has been the way forward. And God knows, it will continue to be the way forward when all our best plans are found failing.

For the things done to us, it is also the way forward. The cross substantiates the harm done and justice provided. Knowing the same grace provided to me is provided to all in Christ brings the only hope at lasting peace.

Even when human forgiveness falls severely short, absolution from the One in whom wholeness dwells never fails. So if you ask me how we are doing, I will say most assuredly, we are held in Christ. I dare not dig myself up to check the roots (although I sure try once in a while). I can’t even say if we have blooms! I continue to pray, Lord I believe, help my unbelief. My head is lifted, drawn to the sun– drawn to the Son– because He is our only hope and the forgiveness He offers has been the savior of the season.