The forgiveness racket

My child has figured out that there’s no winning in forgiveness.   I was hoping we could have put that off a little longer, like the Santa Claus and birds-and-bees talks, but no.  It turns out that these days they’re teaching empathy at school, so when someone, say, teases you, you can get mad and you can get hurt, but you are also supposed to try to figure out what’s going on with them that would make them do that thing to you.  And then, if you live in our house, you also have to work on forgiving them.

I realize there are adults who could stand to learn this lesson, adults like me, for example.  I also realize that forgiveness is pretty much the cornerstone of what Jesus had to say.  And I believe that the only way families and marriages and societies survive with spontaneously combusting on a bad day is by the power and practice of forgiveness.

Still, it’s a hard lesson for at least one nine-year-old I know.  Because she now also realizes that the onus of forgiveness lies with the one who got hurt.  It’s so NOT FAIR, as she would say.  Yes, I would say, it is so not fair.  There’s no guarantee that when you forgive someone they won’t turn around the next day and be mean or hurtful again. The hurt person has to become the bigger person and dig up some empathy and work on staying in relationship with that other person, even if “staying in relationship” means not pouring water all over their diorama and not tripping them when they walk by.  It’s the elementary school version of reconciliation.  But it’s a start.

I believe this lesson about forgiveness will come in handy one day, when she has to forgive me for something truly awful that I’ve done, as opposed to the unpardonable sins of giving her the mom look in church or embarrassing her in front of her friends by saying hello.  It may also come in handy some day – and the lesson may actually stick – some day when I forgive her for something awful that she did.  Because I suspect that day is coming, and in the less than distant future.

So we’ll work on the injustice of forgiveness.  Maybe I’ll learn something, too.

o-FORGIVENESS-facebook

 

 

Advertisements

The Great Pickle Fiasco, or How I Learned the Hard Way that I’m Not a Domestic Goddess

last year's pickles

last year’s pickles

Every year in the late summer I make pickles with my aunt.  She’s been making these pickles for years, and everyone in the family loves them, and as she is 82 and probably will die in about twenty years, I decided that I would like to learn how to make them to carry on this tradition.

My aunt is amazing.  At 82 she takes care of the old ladies at her church.  She goes non-stop, and is gracious all the while.  Very little bothers her, and she is generous.  For the last three years she has bought the cucumbers as my birthday present, and I drive out to her farm in the country and we sit and visit and scrub and cut cucumbers.  Then we mix water with lime and put the cucumbers in the plastic bucket (this keeps them crisp.)  Usually at this point I take my bucket home, let the cucumbers soak in the lime solution for a day, then rinse them and soak them in cold water for a day, then make the brine and cook them and jar them and voila, pickles.

But this year because of our two schedules, after we put the cucumbers in the lime solution I left them with her and went off to the beach for our annual church retreat.  She soaked them and she rinsed them and she brined them, and on my way back from the retreat, I picked up my bucket of brined cucumbers to take home, cook, and can.  Easy peasy, as my daughter would say.

What was the first sign that I should not have pickled today?  Obviously the universe was trying to tell me something, but I would not listen.  Things had been going so well. I ran into one of my favorite church members in the grocery store.  The hardware store stayed open an extra five minutes and I was able to buy my jars before they closed.

Perhaps the first sign was that I couldn’t find the pickle recipe.  Or that it took over two hours to get the brine and cucumbers to boil.  Or that if you set the dishwasher to the sanitizer cycle it takes about four hours.  But really, when  the first quart jar of hot brine and pickles broke, I should’ve stopped.  But no.  I persevered.  I had been in a bad mood all day, and I wasn’t going to let some broken freakin’ glass or sticky, sticky counter and floor stop me.

My husband had the good sense to round up the child and the  dog and watch tv.  I pickled.  I only came up with one good line in the whole process: “I like my men like my pickle brine: hot and sweet.”  Really, that should have been all that the universe needed to tell me.

The pickles are done.  Mostly.  I still have about a gallon left but I ran out of jars and trust me, I was not going to go hunt some down tonight.  The un-jarred pickles are waiting patiently in tupperware in the fridge till tomorrow when I might buy some more jars.  If I do, I will personally test those jars before I give them away.  With two quarts of vinegar and nine cups of sugar in the brine, I can’t imagine anything malign would survive, but you never know.

In the first church I served there is a beautiful Tiffany woman of the Ideal Woman described in Proverbs 31.  I hated that window. As a piece of art, it is gorgeous.  As an exemplar for womankind, it stinks.  It reminds me of this imaginary rival I have created in my mind, an amalgam of clergywomen I know and envy.  This woman I’ve created, we’ll call her Sophia, is like the 21st century version of Proverbs 31.  She is talented.  She runs 10ks for charity all the time.  She isn’t beautiful but she is striking, which is way better than being beautiful.  She is published.  Her husband has a fantastic job in the for-profit world so they can go on really lovely vacations and tithe the full 10%.   She not only pickles cucumbers, but she makes homemade bread for her kids’ sandwiches and whips up fresh mayonnaise to go on it (except she calls is aioli.)  She weaves.  She never, ever, ever wears clogs with jumpers and tights, or sweaters with birdhouses on them.  Her congregation adores her, as do her children and nieces and nephews.  She’s been through therapy so she’s very centered.  I desperately want to be her friend but I hate her so I can’t.

All I could think today, while trying not to get any broken glass in the pickles jars, was that I am so not Sophie and I should really give up trying to be.  I have no desire to run a 10k, or a 5k, or a block.   I cannot make pickles.  My dinner tonight consisted of almonds and red wine, with a few bites of the homemade granola I thought I should make while waiting for the brine to boil.  I begged off putting our daughter to bed so that I could clean the kitchen, but really, so that I could write this post.

One of my mentors used to ask after a fiasco, “What have we learned from this?”  She always elongated the verb – “what have we l – e – a – r – n – e – d ?”  Well, Margaret, this is what I have learned:

That red wine and almonds do not a good dinner make, nor are they sufficient nutrition for enduring pickling fiascos.

That sometimes the best course of action is to leave the kitchen and go watch tv.

That no one really cares if I make pickles or not, so this is all on me.

That this will make a great story starting about tomorrow, and that next year, my aunt I and will make pickles again.

And sometimes, that stained glass window you see is really just a stained glass window.

this is the window

this is the window

Not an epic fail, but maybe a holy one

this pictures captures what the story was about

this pictures captures what the story was about

Yesterday in my sermon I committed the cardinal sin of pastor-parents: I told a story about my child without getting her permission.  Rookie mistake for this pastor of 20 years, but there you are.  It just fit so well into the sermon, and we had talked about it but in my mind we had not settled the matter.  But as it says in Galatians 6:7 (part of the passage I preached on) “you reap what you sow.”

So I’m in the first third of the sermon; my husband is sitting on the chancel near me and our daughter is sitting by herself in the front pew, as she usually does.  She hears me telling the story and she begins to cry, prostrating herself on the lovely needle-pointed pew cushion, weeping for not all but many to see and hear.  Crap.  Just the word the preacher wants to hear in her head while she is delivering the beautiful word of God.

I can handle a lot in worship.  I can handle crying babies, coughing parishioners, people who live on the streets wandering up and looking at the offering plates, fainters, barfers, organ ciphers, mangled liturgy, and laryngitis, but what absolutely does me in is when I have to be pastor and mom at the same time.  It doesn’t happen very often but when it does I become completely unglued – maybe because I suspect I’m not particularly good at either one, or maybe because it feels like both demand so much of my being.

So in the first third of my sermon, while my daughter is crying, I break the fourth wall of sorts, interrupt myself, and ask my husband to sit with her, which he does.  I then resume preaching, talking about accountability when we do something wrong, and being in community in our suffering, and reconciling with brother or sister before coming to the communion table.  And did I mention we celebrated communion yesterday?

At the end of the sermon, I issued this invitation to the congregation:

“I don’t know if gathered here this morning are people who are at odds with each other; sheer numbers would suggest that there are. I’m not going to ask  that we now pause for a minute for reconciliation – that would be putting all of us on the spot. But perhaps in the silence after the sermon, we might think of those we are at odds with. We might think about them, and about bearing their burden, about carrying our own load, about forgiveness and grace. We might imagine, as we all say the Lord’s Prayer during communion, sitting next to that person, and saying the prayer with them.”

It was so nice of the Holy Spirit to provide me with an opportunity to practice what I preach, and during the silence after the sermon I thought about how I could check in with my daughter before going to the table.  My husband/co-pastor came back up and said she was fine, mostly because one of her friends sweetly came up and sat with her and got her out of her funk.  During communion, my daughter passed by all the other celebrants to come receive the bread from me, and gave me a hug, and I told her I was sorry and I love her so much.

I thought it was a mediocre sermon that was made worse for the wear by my embarrassing my daughter.  As it turns out, what the congregation heard and saw were opportunities for grace, and realness, and empathy, and kindness, and grace again.

But if I ever tell a story about her again, I will get her permission in writing.