You were bruised, yeah you took great pains for me to breathe now

(King of Failures–Remedy Drive)

Church last night was about suffering and about loving your enemies and not suffering in silence. I almost cried, because loving your enemies is hard y’all. What if you are so weary, so bone-achingly tired of loving your enemies. What if your enemy keeps making use of your vulnerability and makes love increasingly difficult each day. What if you are suffocating and feel like you will drown if you have to keep loving much longer. What if the silence is so deafening and so painful and you have done everything in your power but your voice and your pain have been muted. What if you wake up each morning to another day you’re not sure if you can face, another day where you know you’ll be torn down again and again and have to bear it with a smile on your face. What if the forbidden fruit of community feels like it has been just out of reach for so long and you’ll never get to touch that freedom for which your soul yearns. What if you are close to ready to give up and walk away from your dreams because it hurts too much and you are being crushed underneath the weight of your unshareable burden.

There is something I have skirted around the edges of for a long time…I don’t want to write hurtful things about anyone, so to process this I am going to keep the emotional components the same and tell a different story.

This is Emily. Emily is a special needs third-grader who communicates using a communication app on her tablet. Emily uses a one-to-one aide to allow her to be mainstreamed all day. Last year Emily was only mainstreamed 90% of the time and the other 10% of the time she was pulled out in a special class with Mrs. Kaycee. Mrs. Kaycee has been stressed out at home and for the entirety of their shared time at this elementary school, Mrs. Kaycee has been doing whatever she could to make Emily’s life harder but make it look from the outside as if she were an angel helping Emily more than anyone else ever could. Emily is such a sweet girl, and sees Mrs. Kaycee’s pain and wants to make her feel better and really believes that if she makes Mrs. Kaycee feel better that life will get better for both of them. Mrs. Kaycee sees her kindness as vulnerability and continues to seek out ways to make Emily feel hurt. Last year, Mrs. Kaycee repeatedly broke Emily’s tablet, rendering her almost completely unable to communicate. Finally, Emily realizes she cannot handle this on her own and asks her aide for help. Her aide wants to protect her. Emily could sense a possibility of change at school and worried that Mrs. Kaycee would start teaching third grade and that she’d be placed in that class, because she was slated to be in the class with the new teacher. Emily communicated with her aide who agreed to talk to Mrs. Kaycee. Mrs. Kaycee claimed that she was going to be teaching at the middle school across the street next year. The aide relayed this to Emily, and Emily was so excited and proud to move up to third grade without this person in her life. Everything looked pretty hopeful. That is, everything looked hopeful until the first day of school. Emily walked into school and saw Mrs. Kaycee. “That’s weird” she thought, “but maybe she just needs to grab something she forgot in moving her belonging from her office or she had a meeting and is on her way back across the street.” Always the optimist, Emily clutched her tablet tighter and closer to her body and was determined not to let that ruin her day. As Emily walked to class, Mrs. Kaycee seemed to be getting closer and closer as if she were following Emily. Emily slid into her seat next to her aide a few minutes before the bell, and wondered where her teacher might be. Then the bell sounded, the class recited the pledge, and Mrs. Kaycee began class. Emily was trapped in the cycle again. If she left now, it would show she wasn’t really ready for mainstreamed third grade, but to stay was to have her voice taken away day in and day out and to be pushed to her limits every single day. Emily felt the sting of betrayal yet again. Emily became so strong on the outside, yet on the inside she was becoming merely little more than the shell of the positive, bubbly, friend to everyone that had previously permeated her being.

Just a side note that this is the story that came into my head to process my thoughts, but I really hate the term “special needs.” Doesn’t everyone have special needs? I would argue that my needs are not identical to yours, nor are yours identical to the person who sits at the desk next to you each day. Apparently, my needs aren’t special, because I don’t have a diagnosis that keeps me from functioning independently in the classroom without official accommodations.

I read somewhere that sometimes love feels like loss and looks like surrender…and it is true. But God has big plans for his children, so he calls us to do big things. Loving our enemies doesn’t feel right; in fact, it would feel a lot better sometimes to get revenge, give people a little taste of their own medicine, yet we do it anyway, because while we were yet sinners, while we were hurting the very one who created us, Christ sent his son to die for our sins, to pay the ultimate sacrifice to forgive us of the wrongs we were committing against him…

This is why I was close to tears in church. I was on the emotional edge in addition to being hangry and tired and just generally stressed out about a variety of things. The arms above my head success moment of the early morning had been replaced by a long day of unproductive studying that a bit of friend time hadn’t fully mitigated, and I was just ready to get home, eat, mop the floor, take the clean clothes out of the dryer, and go to bed. And I messed up. I am not proud of myself, but I am in awe of God’s goodness.

I start pulling into a spot and this lady starts yelling at me, so I stop, because I am lousy at parking and wasn’t paying that much attention so maybe there is something behind me I am about to hit. She tells me that I can’t park there because her friend is going to park there. There is no sign of any other cars on the road in the area (and I am lousy at parking and this was a reasonably sized spot) so I politely tell her that I am parking there and her friend can find another spot. She doesn’t like that and stands behind my car so that I can’t park. I politely ask her to move and she doesn’t despite someone else coming who watched this happen also telling her to move. I am immature and sit there for a few more seconds before giving up and praying I can find somewhere else to park. As I am pulling away she screams that I should have done that in the first place. That is the last straw, and I snap and yell back at her that she is very rude. Completely inappropriate, and certainly not a very Christ-like way to act.

I am ashamed of my behavior, both because I immediately know that was not a loving comment, and because I realize I did almost the exact same thing I hardcore judged someone else for doing a couple years ago. I may have done it with a feisty grandma-like lady whereas the person I judged did it to a gang member, but either way, a parking spot is not worth fighting over. I definitely should not be running my mouth over a piece of pavement. The audience notwithstanding, it was wrong and stupid.

I did find another spot. It was smaller. I struggled, but I parked there…and I was afraid to walk past the house the person was in front of, so I sat in my car and prayed both for protection and forgiveness. I heard screaming, but couldn’t make out the words. The woman starts banging on my window. I pretend to be on the phone and I don’t know if she sees through this guise or just doesn’t care, but she keeps banging. I am terrified, but not knowing what else to do at this point and really thinking about asset management, I roll it down just a little, valuing my car over my life…and she starts apologizing.

It was all I could do to not start crying while she was talking. You guys, I should have been apologizing to her for losing my temper and not taming my tongue, but she apologized to me. The spot I wanted remains empty, but as soon as I was out of sight I started crying…not angry tears, not frustrated tears, but tears of if that isn’t showing grace and loving your neighbor I don’t know what is. That woman looked past my wrong to apologize for hers, and I have to believe that God placed that woman in my path not just to humble me, but as a reminder to keep holding on. As a reminder that love doesn’t have to be easy, yet it covers a multitude of sins. Do I need to be more careful not to run my mouth? Indeed I do, but God is a gracious God, and gives me the strength I need to live for him, unending forgiveness for my sins, and deep abiding grace that lets my heart be filled with the joy of salvation.

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