It was a wonderful day. My friend, Emma took me to lunch, (a birthday lunch which happily extended my 58th birthday into another month!) and Middle Daughter helped with laundry and straightening and cleaning the kitchen. (In fact, she did that “kitchen thing” pretty much single handedly.)
I am ashamed of myself. This morning as she was going out of the house to meet someone for coffee, I made a comment about her having a “life of Riley” and was immediately sorry I had said it. She loves people with intent and intensely. She tries so hard to connect with her siblings, and often feels like she doesn’t quite measure up. She works at a heartbreaking job, that of being an in home care hospice nurse. She has watched her friends and family members find the loves of their lives and become wives and mothers and even though she doesn’t allow herself to become bitter or jaded, she sometimes cries private tears. She would so much love to be a mommy.
She does have an exciting life in so many ways — and one that doesn’t have lots of mundane demands upon her. She travels and explores and reads and quilts and just does so many things for which most of us have neither talent, brains, time or resources. I don’t think I’m jealous. I love being a wife and a mom. I love being an in home caregiver for handicapped adults.
But sometimes, there are days like today, when I just want to go out for dinner with a friend and not have to worry about when I need to be back. I want Nettie to use her words instead of her sign language/charades routine to ask me questions. I don’t feel like dropping everything to go and fill the one bird feeder she can’t quite reach. I want her to let me sit at my computer without coming in and interrupting my train of thought by asking me for the trash can on the other side of my office chair. I want Cecilia to sit quiet in her chair without coughing and snorting and burping when I want to sit quiet in my chair. I want to not answer questions about the tears that are threatening to spill over. I want the house to be orderly, to have the laundry all done and put away, to have supper finished and the kitchen cleaned (again!) and I want time to study and ponder and think about the things I need to teach this week.
I’m facing a challenge again with our three kids. Sunday, just before the closing prayer I looked down and saw a dollar in Muffie’s bag. I said, “Muffie, where did you get that dollar?”
She looked as guilty as all get out, but said, “It’s mine.”
“But where did you get it, Honey?”
“Um, I found it here. On the bench.”
I was really puzzled.
(Certain Man and I provide them each with two dollars to put into the offering plate as it goes past, and they have been so excited and enthusiastic about this. When they noticed that we use the brown envelopes for our morning check, they each wanted a brown envelope, too. That was okay, I decided, so they each make a big deal of writing $2.00 on the outside, carefully sealing it and then dropping it into the offering plate. I had watched them on this Sunday morning and had said to Certain Man, “I love how much they enjoy this. It’s like they really are having fun giving!” He smiled at their enthusiasm, and we felt like maybe this was one thing that was going “right” in our efforts. Oh, dear. Pride goeth before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall.)
So I kept looking at that dollar and trying to piece together the morning, and the circumstances around the offering time this morning. I had an extra dollar, but I thought I had put it back into my wallet. I said to Muffie, “Did you put both of your dollars into the offering envelope this morning?”
“Um, yeah,” she said a little uncertainly, and shifted uncomfortably.
“Well, Sweetie, I am sure that this dollar doesn’t belong to you. I’m not sure where it came from, but we are going to put it into the offering.”
“Alright,” she said resignedly, and I took it and kept it in my possession until church was over. I remembered what her offering envelope had looked like because she had written her $2.00 and then decided that it didn’t look right, so she had scribbled over it and rewritten it on the other side. It was easy to find in the stack. I opened it, and my heart sank. One lonely dollar in the envelope.
Just about then, Muffie ran up to me to show me a note that someone in church had written to her. I looked into her happy eyes, and wanted to just let this go, but I said, “Muffie, you didn’t put both of your dollars I gave you into the offering.”
The light went out of her eyes and she dropped her head. I reached out and pulled her into a hug. “Muffie, why didn’t you give both dollars?” She wouldn’t look at me. Wouldn’t answer me. “Was it because you wanted dollar so much that you decided to keep it?” No answer, just a miserable little girl with downcast eyes. I didn’t see any rebellion, just a deep, deep sadness. I decided to deal with the obvious things first — like how it messes everything up to have one thing written on the envelopes, and another thing inside, and how it is confusing to the bookkeeper when the numbers don’t match, etc.. She wouldn’t look at me. I finally cupped her chin in my hand and said, “Muffie, look at my eyes.” She finally raised them enough for me to catch the sadness, the guilt, the misery, and I decided that it had been enough.
“Muffie,” I said, “I really don’t think I will ever have to worry about this again, will I?”
She shook her head vehemently, her black poof of a pony tail on top of her head dancing back and forth in agreement.
“Okay, then, Muffie. I don’t want this to happen again.” I squeezed her one more time and set her free. The light was back in her eyes, and she handed me the note again that someone had written to her about what a wonderful little girl she was. And I thought this little episode was over.
That evening at our monthly “Grandma night,” Certain Man and I had occasion to discuss this with Josh and Winnie, and there we came to find out that this wasn’t the first time that the money hasn’t added up in the envelopes that the kids put into the offering. Because of how we have divided things, we know it hasn’t always been Muffie that kept back money.
My heart has been heavy all week. I know it is just a few dollars, and in light of the generous offerings at our little church, it isn’t the money at all. You all know that. It is the principle of the thing. I wish the kids could realize that so many things go in to whether people trust us or not. And, quite frankly, the church family at our little church DOESN’T really trust these children. I’ve been pondering all week how I can approach this issue in a way that will cause the kids to want to be trustworthy — make them long for transparency and honesty and simplicity in the relationships that are so complicated by deceit.
OUCH! That tromps on my own toes, (to be honest, here!) more than is comfortable. Sometimes it seems that what is most wrong with how the people of God “do church” is that we are so afraid to let people see us the way we really are. We can be ever so honest in the dollars and cents, but so “hidden” in the things that we should confess and forsake so that we could be “at home” in the presence of Jesus and His people.
I know I need to deal with this business of the kids and their trustworthiness. It’s been an issue from the beginning. But I also need to work at my own heart issues and trustworthiness. You know what? That too, has been an issue — actually, from the beginning.