Go Ahead, Hug a Cop

So today I had the highly unusual experience of regretting talking a cop out of giving me a ticket.  Let me explain.  For the last three years I have lived very close to Tysons Corner mall.  It is an odd place to live because you wouldn’t think that you could be two minutes from Nordstrom, Macy’s, IMAX movies, the Apple store, and all those restaurants, and have a lovely backyard.  But here we are.  We live in a community where you can hear the Metro, the Beltway (and the nightly construction thereof), but mostly I hear only birds and see foxes and deer in the yard.  This unlikely collision of worlds meets on a street called “Gallows.”  Yes, Gallows.  And for some reason, unbeknownst to anyone, for the last couple of weeks they have been repaving Gallows.  I cross or use Gallows multiple times every single day and so I have wasted hours of my life on this repaving.  They are literally tearing up the rode and re-doing it.  They close lanes in the later morning and then open back up whatever they’ve finished in time for the afternoon rush.  That mid-day construction window is the time that I go get Sammy from preschool and it is a ceaselessly unfathomable mystery why merging into one lane takes waaaaay more than twice as long as having two lanes.  The math doesn’t work, but this is the fact: efficient merging is an impossibility.  I know what it looks like in my head, but I’ve never seen it in practice.  Have you?

All of this is background for the would-be ticket.   Today I dropped off my carpool buddy’s daughter and proceeded to go home to meet the movers who will move us in July.  As I turned onto Gallows (the only road that connects my house to hers), cones were spaced between the two lanes of traffic heading south.  Since there was no cone blocking me from turning into the right lane and no cones blocking that lane, I drove in it.  Now, I know they were about to come and pick up those cones because it was almost three o’clock and this has been their pattern.  No cones certainly by 4 p.m., even between the lanes.  There were also no construction vehicles as I passed along.  However, Officer was waiting.  He signaled for me to pull over, and although I explained to him briefly my rationale for driving in that lane (which included the fact that when my own street was redone a couple weeks ago, the workers told me, when I expressed hesitation to drive on it, that it is perfectly fine to drive on a “milled” road).

But Officer wrote up the summons anyway.  When he brought me the ticket it said, “improper passing.”  Now I was kind of in a bad mood already for unrelated reasons.  Actually to be fair, I was in a foul mood.  And I was ticked about the improper passing.  I mean maybe some other description wouldn’t have gotten to me in quite the same way, but I actually hadn’t passed anyone.  I was the only car in that lane.  How do you pass improperly without passing anyone?  So I kind of went off about it.  I said, “I’m not signing that!  And why are you sitting here waiting for someone to do that when they are about to pick up those cones?  Is this like to raise revenue?  What’s the deal?  And I wouldn’t have driven in that lane had there been a cone obstructing my way, and I can promise you I won’t do it again.”

We went back and forth.  Officer made some very good points.  I admitted that I did feel guilty whizzing by all those suckers staying in the other lane — even though there definitely was not a VDOT obstacle to being in my lane at my point of entry.

Then he said something about just trying to do his job.  And at this point I started to feel sort of bad, so I told him, “I am so indebted to you.  Really.  I so appreciate the fact that you protect me and my family.  And I promise I won’t drive in that [milled] lane again.”

“You know,” he said, “People always say that.  They say they’ll never do it again, and low and behold I run into them again doing the same thing…You know what?  Forget it.  I hope your happy.  We get reprimanded if we don’t turn in all of our summons,” Officer said, heading back to his cruiser.

At this point I felt like a worthless human being.  I followed him over to his cruiser.

“I’m sorry,” I said.  “I’m really sorry.  I’ll take the summons.”

But he ripped it up and drove off.  I walked back to my car, utterly dumbfounded.  Sammy, who was the only witness, asked, “Why were you telling him ‘I’m sorry’ like that?”

I have felt sick about it all afternoon.  My need to be right and argue until the guy was blue in face is not something I feel proud of, especially given that this gentleman really is a self-sacrificing protector of the peace.  I am truly indebted to him, and I feel like I ruined his day.

Remember the classic movie, Fletch?  Surely if you know me at all, you know I am a die-hard Fletchie.  Well, remember the scene (click here to see it) where he says, “Go ahead, hug a cop.”  That’s the way I’m feeling today, except genuinely.  I am writing that Officer (already tracked down his full name and the proper mailing address) to tell him how deeply and sincerely I appreciate him, and how sorry I am for the way I acted today.

Proverbs 12: 18 says, “The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.”  This is certainly not the first time I’ve hurt someone with my words, and maybe that sounds really bizarre to say I hurt this police officer’s feelings, but I think I did, and I regret that.

May my words be fewer and wiser and bring healing.

Jackson Five Friday: Faithfulness to Opportunity

We think my middle son, Nate, is a sports franchise GM in the making.  He not only enjoys sports but studies newspaper stats, cards and the internet with tenacity.  Plus, his recall and math skills rival Rain Man himself.  The thing that may trip him up on this career path (besides the obvious mathematical improbability of this actually occurring) is an early predilection for gambling.  No, he hasn’t actually gambled, but there are signs.

For example, he recently devised a play-off bracket for recess.  He had a sign up sheet and organized how the games would be played, displaying graphically how teams would advance.  All appeared to be well until one day I was supervising recess and one normally sporty eight-year-old was hovering by his mother, who was also supervising recess.

“Son,” she asked, “Why aren’t you playing soccer?”

“I didn’t sign up,” he confessed, sadly.

“What do you mean you didn’t sign up?  Let’s go in the office and sign you up then,” Mom said.

The child looked up at her confused.  “The office doesn’t have the sign up sheet,” he said,  “Nate has it.”

I was supervising recess and my son was still so about “the bracket” that he aimed to exclude a buddy of his for not signing up.  There are other signs too.  He is tremendously difficult to get out of bed in the morning, unless you say something like, “Nate, do you want to know who won the Tigers game last night?”  This kind of enticement might as well be an eject lever on the bed.  He is up and at ’em instantly.  And he’d much rather watch highlights than eat breakfast or attempt any semblance of hygiene.

Last night my husband Will and I went to the annual fundraising dinner for the C.S. Lewis Institute.  The Institute has had a huge impact on both of our lives and we attend this event every year.  Last night they showcased the Fellows program which I simply cannot recommend highly enough, but they also had a very compelling keynote speaker, Ken Boa.  Will and I had met Boa a number of years ago in Ashville, North Carolina and we very much enjoyed hearing this incredibly wise, incredibly educated former Berkeley hippie speak about living for Jesus.

Boa made lots of interesting and thought-provoking points, but one that really struck a cord with me, and that connects so well with Nate and his bundle of potential, is that we are all accountable to God for “faithfulness to opportunity.”  I’ve never heard that phrase before but it makes so much sense to me.  No one would contend, at least no one who is honest, that everyone has the same opportunities.  We are born with different gifts, and our experiences often exacerbate rather than bridge the divide.  We should never give up fighting for justice for the oppressed — the Lord requires that we act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with Him (Micah 6:8).  Yet as individuals we need to guard against comparisons which only lead to feelings of superiority or bitterness.  Instead we need to be faithful to the opportunities we’ve been given.  God’s ways are not my ways, His thoughts are not my thoughts.  I will never know what the future holds for me, for my husband or my sons, but I can try to be faithful to the opportunities that I’ve been given, and help these loves of mine be faithful to theirs.

There is no one else like you.  No one in history has had the same set of skills and the same opportunities as you.  Don’t compare.  Just be faithful.  Know that you will be judged not according to what anyone else had or what anyone else wasted, but on what you had.  May faithfulness to opportunity be the standard in my life, in my house, and in yours.  It’s our unique standard.  May we live up to it.  Because I long to hear, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”  Don’t you?

Mother’s Day

I’ve been thinking about my last post (read it here) and how Sammy’s emotional response to the scooter situation was probably less one of empathy, as implied, and more one of disappointment.  I think what really crushed Sammy’s little heart was my hypocrisy.  I preach about sharing, about taking turns, about being gracious to others, but when the little boy asked me to share the scooter, my answer was “no.”  Sammy couldn’t get his mind around the rationale — my concern for the safety of this child — and it was quite devastating for him to realize that his mother is a hypocrite just like everyone else!

Even though this particular example was something of a misunderstanding, the realization of a child that his or her mother is imperfect is a very good thing.  On Mother’s Day, moms are rightfully celebrated, but let’s not pretend anyone in the history of the universe has ever had a perfect one.  It’s not that I do not long to hear the perennial “You’re the Best Mom Ever” verbiage that is reserved for this day.  I do.  I want to be a great mom.  But the truth is, I am riddled with flaws just like everyone else, and my boys know this.  Not infrequently I have to explain to them how I’ve messed up and ask for forgiveness.

Today I am thankful that my boys are learning to forgive — a vital life lesson — through me.  When I am inpatient, when I raise my voice (mostly at Nate, who is frustrating to me in part because in roughly ten thousand ways, that are both good and bad, he is exactly like me), when I interrupt, when I fall short each and every day, I am thankful for grace.   That it is abundant.  That it is never-ending.  1 John 1:9 says, “ If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

I realize that confessing sins and being cleansed from unrighteousness is not a typical Mother’s Day meditation, but there’s nothing to be gained and much to be lost in the motherhood charade of perfection.  I am flawed.  And so are you.  May we confess our sins.  May we recognize our need for a Lord and Savior.  May we love our children better because we embrace the unmerited, unconditional, unfailing love of the universe: Jesus Christ!

Jackson Five Friday: Off to See the Wizard?

Sometimes I fear Sammy, my five year old, doesn’t have a heart.  He’s just not a sensitive child.  Well, I should clarify.  He’s actually very sensitive…about himself.  He’s mostly outgrown it now, but if someone just told him “no,” as in “no, honey, don’t touch that,” he would cower in the corner for half an hour.  I learned to be quite accommodating in choosing my words with my little egg-shelled child, but obviously you can’t control everyone around him.  And he did a lot of cowering.

But when it comes to other people’s feelings he has not been a sensitive child.  Historically, he has not expressed much in the way of empathy, or more accurately any degree of empathy.  And this is notable to me in part because my eldest son was, and mostly is, the most emotionally mature, empathetic child I’ve ever met.  But Sammy I’ve wondered about.  The yellow brick road appeared to be in our future!

But alas I’ve seen a speck of hope, more than a speck even.  Last week at Nate’s baseball game Sammy was scootering around.  He left his scooter on the ground and I was actually standing on it, talking to my friend, when a tiny little guy — I’m guessing three years old — came up and asked to use the scooter.  I didn’t know him and I didn’t see his parents so I said, “Well, buddy, I don’t have a helmet for you, so maybe that’s not a good idea.”

The child asked again and I repeated my concern.  The scooter is a full size Razor which requires balance, and I really didn’t want this child to get hurt.

Nothing was said about this interaction at the time, but about fifteen minutes after going to bed, Sammy appeared in the kitchen, clearly upset.

“What’s wrong, Sammy?”

“That little boy wanted to use my scooter and I thought you were going to say ‘yes,’ but you said ‘no,'” Sammy said, and burst into tears.  He was downright sobbing as I tried to explain that I didn’t want that little guy to get hurt.

After a few minutes, I was able to get him back to bed, but that was not the end of it.  The next day, Sammy was playing with his cars, fully utilizing all his character voices, but then he got quiet.

He came over to me, looking grave and said, “I want to talk about that terrible thing.  That little boy wanted to use my scooter, but you said ‘no.’  You are supposed to share.  He didn’t bring a scooter.”  You know how emotions can be so high that your facial expressions get out of whack?  Well, Sammy’s grief stricken little mouth was acting all weird on him.  Sweet.  Pitiful.  And a bit odd.  But also encouraging.  Sammy has a heart!

Ezekiel writes that the Lord “will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” (36:26).  And if we are honest we are all like this.  We can all become hardened to the emotional and physical needs of others.  We can all march through our day thinking about how things are impacting us — it’s kind of our natural state, our default mode.  But the truth of the Bible transforms, the love of Jesus changes us.  All we have to do is to pursue Him and His truth.  No curtain.  No smoke.  No wizard.

Just the Mighty Creator of the Universe who Loves YOU and me like CRAZY and wants to soften our hearts into His own.

Jackson Five Friday: That Petrifying Pause

We all know that the honesty of children can be hilarious but also disconcerting.  My eldest son told me last summer that I was neither skinny nor fat, but right in the middle —  rather humbling but also amusing (read about it here).  As a general rule you need to be quite certain you want the brutal truth before seeking the opinion of a child.

I had something of a close call recently with my five-year-old, Sam.  He was actually hugging me and kissing me, which by God’s abundant and inexplicable grace is quite a habit of his.  But then he took a great big sniff of me and said, “You smell like..,” and I’ll tell you it felt like a petrifyingly long time before he finished.  I saw my life flash before me!  But it was all for naught, because he said, “You smell like the beach.”  Oh it felt wonderful to exhale.  The beach.  Yes!  Sunscreen, I was wearing sunscreen.  Oh, what blessed relief to smell like sunscreen.

But if a person never speaks the truth to us — that hard, unfiltered truth of a child — we can’t really trust a word they say.  Interestingly, when the Bible talks about “speaking the truth in love,” it is couched in a discussion of how we grow to be more Christlike, how this is in part how we mature beyond Christian infancy (Ephesians 4:11-16).  We need truth tellers to grow.  Do you have some in your life?  Are they more than four feet tall?  Are they willing to tell you the truth, not about how you actually smell, but how you actually are?  And are they willing to do it because they love you and want the best for you?  It’s a hard thing, but necessary.  I want to be a truth teller and even more so a truth receiver.  Don’t you?