Sunday mornings and saying sorry

Sunday morning Rebekah is the worst.

Just ask my family. I’ve given them permission to speak freely.

What is it about Sunday mornings?




WHY IS THERE NO MORE COFFEE? [Weeping and gnashing of teeth]


On Sunday mornings, I turn into the worst version of myself, Mom Who Yells A Lot. And then in the car (at 9:52, still a good 20 minutes from church, which starts at 10), after I’ve sat and stewed in frustration for a few minutes and tried to work out how it’s everyone else’s fault I didn’t get up when my alarm went off and couldn’t find the right shoes and let my giant mug of delicious, perfectly blended coffee go cold on the kitchen counter… I apologize.

I apologize to my husband—not in a whisper so the kids can’t hear, but loudly enough that they can hear, because they should.

“I was wrong. I am sorry. Will you please forgive me?”

And then I do something even wilder. I turn to the backseat and look into the eyes of my daughter who is pretending not to listen to the grown-up talk up front. (Oh they are always listening. Just count on it.)

“I was wrong. I am sorry. Will you please forgive me?”

Yes, I am my children’s mother, but they need to know that I am also a sinner.

I am an authority figure in their lives whom they should respect, yes. But even in my role as Mama, I am not some pillar of unattainable perfection. I am a sinner, I fall short, I make mistakes—just like they do. I’m not exempt from having to say sorry just because I am big and they are small. They are humans. Little humans, but still. God made them in His image. And sometimes they deserve an apology too.

I'm not exempt from having to say sorry just because I am big and they are small.

We all mess up sometimes, even Mom and Dad.

This wonderful thing happens when I get on my daughter’s level and earnestly seek her forgiveness. Her response is usually quiet but certain: “I forgive you, Mama.” And then it’s the good stuff—hugging and talking to my kid about how we all need Jesus and how He uses us even when we think we’ve messed everything up. It’s truth she needs to hear with her little ears and witness with her own eyes. It’s truth I need to hear and see from those I admire as well.

Parents, your littles admire you. They do. They love you and want to be just like you. How incredible an opportunity we’ve been given to model grace in imperfection. Let’s show our kids that this is how we live: We make mistakes, we are grieved by them, and we make it right. We extend apologies, we ask for forgiveness, we offer forgiveness, we live out reconciliation in front of them. We hug it out.

Next Sunday, I will call upon the name of Jesus for help and try not to yell at the people I love.

But if I do, I will say I’m sorry.

Step onto someone else’s lawn

On Sunday morning, we got flipped off on our way to church. Yes, I’ve written before about how strongly I feel about drivers giving each other the finger. You can read that one here, or I’ll save you the time and sum up: I detest it. This time, a neighbor a couple houses down and across the street from us—an older man whose always-manicured lawn is clearly his pride and joy— was outside mowing. He was near the street with his back turned, and I guess we startled him when we drove by, because what my husband saw in the rear-view mirror was the man’s finger and his angry face, clearly cursing. I missed the whole exchange because I was busy praying. Just kidding, I was putting on mascara.

We briefly commented on the fact that we hadn’t driven anywhere near him, how it must be sad to be such a grump all the time, and how that guy had always seemed a little off. I had been chatting with some girlfriends that morning via text about this and that, and I shared the story with them (you know, so I could get some support that obviously we’d done nothing wrong and that guy was just being a jerk). We all agreed. What a grump. What a sad life he must have. I shrugged it off. We went on to church and went on with our day, and I pushed the incident from my mind.

I should have known that my husband is not the type to write something like that off and say, “Oh well, I guess we just won’t be friends with that neighbor,” regardless of whether he deserved the finger. Now for the record, in my opinion and I think Jesus would back me up on this, it is never okay to give anyone the finger. And now I promise I’m finished talking about that. Moving on.  

On Monday morning, Mr. Lawn Man was outside mowing again. (I wasn’t exaggerating when I said it’s his pride and joy. He puts up reflectors and occasionally ropes it off—with signs—to keep cars, bikes, feet, and pets off.) My husband had been a little quiet, and I asked if everything was okay.

“I’m going to go over there and talk to him,” he said.

Now, I don’t know how you deal with confrontational situations, but I do not handle them well. Not at all. My heart races, I break into a sweat, and I begin thinking of all the things I could do as an alternative to having that conversation. No, don’t do that sweetie. We’ll just sell our house! Let’s move. All new neighbors. Nice ones. Sound good? 

Of course, in this case, he was the one doing the confronting, not me, so I just said, “Okay.” And then I immediately planted myself on the back of the couch by our front window and watched like a hawk as my brave, brave man crossed the street and over to our neighbor’s yard. My heart was pounding. Is he smiling? I can’t tell if he’s smiling! Are those angry gestures? What kind of message is someone sending if they have their hands on their hips? What if that guy punches him? Wait, are they laughing? WHY CAN’T I READ LIPS?

And then, after about 10 minutes, I saw them shake hands and part ways.

Here is what my husband had done: He had let go of his pride and any defiance at the fact that he had done nothing wrong, and instead offered our neighbor the other cheek. He apologized if he had, in fact, startled the man when we drove by. And you know what happened? That man didn’t puff up in anger. He didn’t tell my hubby off. Actually, he looked a little sheepish, apologized in return, and said he hadn’t realized it was us driving by. (This is not a good excuse! But that’s beside the point.) We had startled him, but you know, his wife always says he stands too far in the road when he mows. (That part made me laugh.)

And here is what we learned about our neighbor, Mr. Lawn Man: He has an actual first and last name, which we now know. (Shocking, right? This is embarrassing. We have lived across the street from each other for five years.) He used to be on our town council and is quite interested and involved in the local government. He likes rules. He likes things neat. We always assumed he was a war vet based on our own observations, but he’s not. He is, however, a huge American history buff (as is my husband), and has written some books about World War II, which he seems quite proud of.

God made this man. He is a human being, he makes mistakes just like you and me, and he has a story.

The next day, my husband found an envelope tucked under the wiper blades of his car. Inside was a note that read, “Thanks for stopping by. I enjoyed chatting with you” along with information about those books he wrote and where we could find them online if we were interested.

My heart swells with pride and honor that I am married to a man who sets this kind of example for me and for our kids. Our 7-year-old observed the exchange through the window with me, and she had been with us in the car the day before and knew what happened. We watched this leader of our family grieve the situation, summon God’s help, and lower himself enough to take those steps across the street and extend a hand of grace, make an apology regardless of fault, and begin a relationship with someone we’d made all kinds of negative assumptions about.

I learned a lot from that interaction, so much that I’m still processing it all, but what I will leave you with is this: I pray the next time something like this happens to me or to you (because we all know these situations are inevitable), we take a moment to put our own defiant anger aside, seek God’s heart of mercy, and humble ourselves enough to take the first step onto the other person’s [perfectly clipped] lawn. There’s no telling how God might use it for good, but I guarantee He will.

Logging it away and letting it go

One of my first memories—one I can relive in my mind, without looking at an old photo or hearing retold by one of my parents—is from around 1986, I’d guess. My family had moved into a new home not long before, and I remember feeling pride, a sense of “this land is my land,” territorial ownership. There were lots of kids in our new neighborhood, and they were always out and about on bicycles and rollerskates and skateboards. We had a driveway that was perfect for rolling down on any of these vehicles, and the other kids knew this too. One afternoon while my mom napped, I remember sitting in the living room and watching through the big window as a bunch of boys on bikes and skateboards repeatedly scooted up our neighbors’ driveway and back down ours. My heart began to pound and I was filled with fury. Were they allowed to just do that? No. That’s my driveway. Private property, I’d heard of that before and knew what it meant.

So, I marched my little 5-year-old self to the front door and flung it open, and in a voice that I’m sure wasn’t remotely threatening, hollered at them with all the authority I could summon, “Get off our property!” and immediately flushed red in the face and shut the door. Take that, you naughty kids. (Did I mention I’ve been a Rules Girl from the time I was small?) I turned around to see my mom standing in the entryway behind me, and just the look on her face told me I shouldn’t have yelled at those kids. I don’t recall her exact words, but she explained it was OK for them to be in our driveway, and they weren’t doing anything wrong.

Oh. I felt deflated and very, very embarrassed. And it seems like such a silly thing, but I never forgot it.

Why, oh why, is that the childhood memory that comes flashing back to me so effortlessly?

There are others I can recall along the same vein, and I can see them so clearly… Cutting my baby sister’s hair with my preschool scissors and throwing the pieces behind the living room couch. Saying “stupid” (or maybe it was “butt” or “shut up” or one of the other words we weren’t allowed to say)—not at anyone in particular, but just because I was curious what would happen if I did—and being sent to my room. In elementary school, playing tricks on an unpopular girl at a slumber party. In middle school, laughing with a group of girls in the lunchroom at the expense of a boy in our class. As a teenager, snooping to read something that didn’t belong to me (and worse, getting caught).

Of course, the little-kid stuff makes for funny stories now. The middle- and high-school sins are a little more painful to recall… And what about all the stuff I’ve done as an adult who knew better? What about that time I screamed at my child in utter frustration or let a bad word slip in front of her? (It wasn’t “butt.”) I remember those things, too. There are a lot of them.

All regrets. All memories that replay clear as day at unexpected times. That feeling in the pit of my stomach… I wish, I wish, I wish I could go back and not do that one thing. Choose silence in that one moment instead of saying something unkind or unhelpful. Choose to speak up on behalf of someone even if it means I might be ostracized. Give myself five seconds to calm down before reacting to my kid drawing on the wall or spilling her juice again.

I have a sharp memory and can recall conversations—old ones, you’ve been warned—pretty accurately most of the time. (My husband likes to say, “Uh oh, she’s logging it away!”) It was super for helping me get through school with good grades. Not so great when I’m trying to forgive others and leave the past behind. Not great at all when I’m trying to forgive myself.

But then again, maybe those memories, as much as I hate reliving them, can help me to recognize the difference between the person I’ve been in the past and—by God’s grace—the person I want to be in the present. Maybe by not being able to forget my mistakes (ugh), I’ll handle things a little better the next time around. Maybe. I hope.

The book Unconditional? by Brian Zahnd significantly altered the way I understand forgiveness—changing not only the way I *try to* respond to being wronged, but the way I handle forgiving myself  when I mess up and allowing myself the same amazing grace God offers me. I love how Zahnd throws the old “forgive and forget” concept out the window (because we can always forgive, but can we ever truly forget?):

The way of forgiveness does not forget the past, but through truth and reconciliation it finds a way beyond toxic memory.

Through the act of forgiveness the past is not forgotten, but by faith in God’s redemptive work it comes to be viewed in a new way. The injustice is to be remembered, but it is not allowed to poison the present and dictate the future.

My older daughter is 6, almost 7. We’re similarly wired—she, too, has a sharp memory. Unfortunately, this means that she, too, has trouble letting go of her own mistakes. A month or so ago, she said what I’m sure is the ultimate of bad words in her blissfully unexposed mind—“Shut up!”—to an adult in our family. She was frustrated enough to shout, and that’s rare for her. But the moment those words came out and her eyes darted around the room to find mine, I saw her crumble under the weight of her mistake, and my heart broke for her and the feelings I knew she was feeling, because they are all too familiar to me. I didn’t have to say a word of correction, because she was already sobbing and apologizing. It took several minutes to calm her down, to assure her repeatedly that it was just a mistake, that we all make mistakes, and that the person she had offended had already accepted her plea for forgiveness. It was forgotten.

She did not forget it, though. She is her mama’s daughter, and I know that if I were to bring up the story today, she would cry all over again. I imagine it might someday be her version of my “yelling at the bad neighbor kids” story. I hate that for her. I don’t want her to log it away and carry it with her. I want her to log it away but let it go, and let it change her. Thank God for His grace and for the knowledge that He’s already made our wrongs right. I’m thankful that I can share this truth with her. My little girl and I, we will be on this journey together. I hope that He uses her memories to teach her, as He has used mine to teach me. And I pray that she grows up to be a woman full of grace who is able to move past her own mistakes, forgive others, and forgive herself.