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We are homeschooling and these days our curriculum is Batman.

This week Two-Face investigated the dissolving abilities of different substances in water. If he could find the perfect ingredient to dissolve, he could push Batman into the vat of chemicals and fry his face. Does mustard dissolve? No. Does creamer dissolve? In hot water, yes.Does sugar dissolve? Yes. Perfect.

Batman loves to fight for justice using his abacus. If Batman can add two vats of acid and five dynamite sticks, he can solve a crime.

But tonight Batman failed us.

Sometimes George and I like to create our own bedtime stories. We fight the bad guys and we solve the crimes and then we say goodnight. And tonight I thought we could do a little more with that. I thought we could do a little bit of Theraplay with our favorite superhero. But tonight Batman would not, could not participate in Theraplay.

My terrific plan involved teaching one of the characters a little bit about making mistakes. In everyday activities, George reveals his trauma-based shame whenever he makes a mistake or fails in some way. I decided that we could use the superheroes to explore this.  I asked George, “Do you think it would be possible for the Joker and Two-Face to learn something tonight?”

“No, mom. No.”

“I mean, do you think that we could teach them something tonight? Maybe we could choose something like patience or “try, try again” and then teach it to them?”

“No, mom.”

“Why not?”

“They are cri-mi-nals.”

Later after we had  agreed that Robin could, indeed, learn something new, I played Robin:

“Batman, I’m really discouraged. I never get to be in charge. And I make so many mistakes. Will I ever get to be like you?”

“Robin, Alfred is making you the perfect weapon that will help you.”

“But Batman, I still may make mistakes with this new weapon.”

“No, Robin, the weapon will be so good that it will make all the good choices for you.”

“But, Batman! I want to be a superhero like you. What can I do to be as good as you are?”

“Your suit is old. You can get the perfect suit. You can get the perfect car. You can get the perfect weapons, and then you will be as good as me.”

“What about practice, Batman? Should I practice so that I can be a great superhero?”

“No. You don’t need to practice.”

This isn’t working. Batman is too perfect. The Joker is too bad. In this world, nobody changes. Nobody grows. Nobody learns. A good guy makes good choices. A bad guy makes bad choices.

Huh.

Bad guys make bad choices.

Interesting.

Bad guys make bad choices.

Oh no.

Bad guys make bad choices.

Aha. You think you’re a bad guy.

Last week Andy and I returned from an incredible parenting conference that focused on parenting for kids who have experienced trauma. This conference is especially meaningful to me because the 2011 conference exposed me to the reality of the trauma that is involved in infant adoption. The fears, shame, and resulting rage that I was observing every day in my preschooler were not only explainable, they were common. They were “normal” (ha!). And if I changed my parenting style, we could begin to heal these broken places, and find connection.

When you sit in a room full of parents who love children of trauma, you catch a whiff of heaven. You breathe out the painful truths of foster care and adoption that you can’t tell anyone else, and you breathe in empathy and hope. You look around at a circle of people who are loving children back from the brink of death, and you think to yourself, “Do I even belong here? My issues aren’t as bad as hers.” But then Christine looks you in the eye and says, “Just because you have stage 1 cancer doesn’t mean you don’t belong in the cancer support group.” And you bask in the acceptance and love that you don’t find anywhere else. This is heaven.

At the conference we learn about the loss these kids feel at the core of who they are. They are skeptical, fearful, angry, self-loathing, desperate little guys who will climb in your lap and then kick you in the teeth. But all behavior has meaning, so we learn to speak their language and truly listen. Listen. Listen.

Tonight I was listening. I had hoped it would be a learning experience for George. Batman was supposed to teach George that it’s okay to make mistakes.

Instead, I listened.

I heard you, George. You think you’re a bad guy. You think you can’t change. You think everybody else is perfect. You believe that if you had the perfect ‘x’, you’d be able to make good choices.

I hear you, buddy. I’m listening.

 

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. 

I give and I give and I give

While traveling by car in Ethiopia my husband and I had the familiar experience of meeting beggars at our windows. At first it was difficult. Many of the people were women nursing babies or children or people with disabilities. We felt compassion and wanted to help. But our translator informed us that it is against the law in Ethiopia to give money to people out of your car window. If we did, it could cost the driver a steep fine.

The decision was removed from us. We could righteously ignore the pleading faces of the underprivileged, knowing that we were obeying the law. Mercy was out of our hands. Why did we feel relief? Why did it feel like a burden of responsibility was gone?  Because in that moment when our eyes locked with the have-nots, our money burned in our pockets.  Our clothing hung like chains. Our busy schedule weighed like a noose.  I don’t want to give these to you. I feel awkward.

We could tell ourselves it was probably best for those people anyway. The kids should be in school. The mothers should have jobs. The government really needs to fix this problem. And how about those big churches we see everywhere? This is their job. We are here to do our one job. We can’t be bothered with everyone’s problems. There’s only so much we can do (and still maintain our lifestyle in the United States, of course). Someone else will have a heart for the street children of Ethiopia. God bless ‘em.

And with that we rolled up our windows, like we had so many times before.

We teach this lesson to our children as we roll past the homeless person on the corner, our hands at ten and two on the wheel, looking straight ahead and ignoring her stare.

“What does that lady want, Mommy?”

“She’s asking for food, honey.”

“We’ve got plenty at home, Mom.  Why don’t we go get her some!”

Then we find some way of racing to our next destination without confronting the question.

Blessed are the merciful for they will be shown mercy.

But, they won’t. Not really. Let me explain it to you. You see, if you give ‘em an inch, they’ll take a mile. If you give money to her, she’ll just go buy drugs. If you let him stay at your house, he’ll be there until Christmas. If you forgive them, they’ll only do it again. In fact, is mercy really doing anyone any favors?  Enabling people to keep doing what they’re doing?  Those who are merciful are those poor suckers who give to charity and actually think that their ten dollars will make it to the victims.

I say, Blessed is the realist who keeps her money in the bank and her food in her fridge and her heart in her chest.  She’s safe.

But she’s not.

Jesus walks in, sits down, and changes the game.

Blessed are the merciful for they will be shown mercy.

Jesus doesn’t stop there.

Compassion is the New Black

The revolutionary message of Jesus centers around themes of mercy, grace, and love. His parables depict people who take things too far, care too deeply, and risk too much. The father embraces his prodigal son. The Good Samaritan helps a man he is predestined to hate. The Good Shepherd leaves the ninety-nine to pursue the one lost sheep. Then Jesus embodies this mercy as he looks compassionately on those who would torture and kill him. Forgive them for they know not what they do. Jesus did not call down judgment. He called down forgiveness. Christ, have mercy on us, sinners.

There is a kind of mercy that doesn’t stop at the Live Telethon.  It moves beyond supporting a child in a distant land with a small monthly payment.  It crushes the donated Christmas toy.  This mercy isn’t fazed by collecting change or a pop can drive or even a 5K. The merciful may indeed do these things.  But the real suckers we call The Merciful have no limit.  They give and they forgive and they give some more.

The merciful live in a different place.  An alien world, where they smell like mercy, that musty, acrid aroma that you encounter in the subway station. They share pain. They collect burdens. They invite in lost causes. They have nothing to protect, because they’ve been taken advantage of so many times. They don’t budget for giving, they give out of poverty. Nothing truly belongs to them anyway. From the outside they seem like suckers.

Losers. In fact, the merciful sometimes can’t tell the difference between the people they are helping and themselves. It almost seems as if someone is showing them mercy.

Tough Love

I met a merciful person once. Her name is Christine Moers. She welcomes traumatized kids into her home and she shares her struggles in a blog called Welcome to My Brain. She gives too much. She should take some time for herself. But every day she battles the trauma that plagues her children: Violence. Rage. Fear. Abandonment. Loss. Memories. But her steadfast, merciful spirit has wrestled these foes with great strength. The mercy she has shown her children actually begins to transform their little hearts and minds. After years, she sees progress.  Hope.

One of Christine’s strategies is to hang encouraging signs saying things like, “I will love you forever. No matter what” all over her teenager’s room. One day her daughter went into a rage and expressed her pain by ripping each message, destroying the evidence that someone cares about her. After living a life of trauma, where those who were supposed to love her violated her, she was convinced that she could not accept love from anyone.

Christine would not let that be the last word on her love for her daughter. In the face of the destruction of these temporary messages, she aimed for something more permanent…even on the walls of her borrowed parsonage.  She grabbed a can of spray paint.

Stepping over the piles of torn love notes, Christine sprayed across her daughter’s bedroom walls in huge letters, “Mom loves you.” And across another wall, “4-EVER”, and across another, “You can go but I will never leave you.”

I can hear the hiss of the spray paint. I can smell the paint. The permanence.  Christine, you are wrecking your walls.  Christine, you’ve taken it too far.  Christine, your daughter is just going to do it again. Christine, take care of yourself!  You’ve given enough. Why are showing her mercy?

She chooses, “I will love you forever.  No matter what.”  And then mercy comes. Here Christine describes the moment her daughter re-entered her room…

You turn around periodically to watch your child quickly hide their expression of “WTH??” Then you plop down on their mattress and ask them to join you. You start popping candy into their mouth as you talk to them and sing to them. You tell them those positive thoughts you were thinking on the way home. You tell them what God sees in them and why they were created. You tell them a story. You sing to them. You cuddle and stroke their hair (even the puff sticking straight up because they took out one of their braids in anger during the day … and you know they’re now really regretting it).

Then, you kiss them goodnight. They actually ask you to lean back down so they can kiss your cheek. You tuck them in and turn out the light. You shut the door to set the alarm.

You out-shine their darkness. You out-love their fear and anger. You out-crazy their crazy.

This is mercy.

God bless Christine.  Show her mercy.

When Jesus announces to the world that the merciful will be shown mercy, the suckers of the world find hope.  This is good news.  You losers who walk around with no change in your pockets and who never take a moment to “pamper” yourselves?  God sees you.  You dummies who help people who keep hurting you and others?  You are blessed. You who have filled up your extra space with ungrateful moochers?  Jesus is on your side. You who parent kids whose trauma is not your fault, Jesus is with you.  You who are the first call when family or friends need money or time or babysitting or a listening ear, you will be shown mercy.

Jesus is on your side.

Will I show you mercy? Or will I judge you for not planning ahead or budgeting or taking time for yourself? You know, I may just examine these words of Jesus and open my eyes a bit. I may begin looking at the world around me, finding opportunities to extend the mercy that I have been so freely given. My wallet is full of that kind of currency, the currency of grace. Maybe I can find a way to translate that into tangible, merciful deeds. Maybe.  But I know that the first step is to open my eyes. Lock eyes. Feel the weight of the mercy that has been given to me and let it go.  And it won’t be a loss.