Neighbors sometimes brought him corn to shuck or beans to snap - I figured it bothered them just as much as it did me, to see him wasting so much time day after day. I was brought up with that saying, "Idle hands are the devil's workshop," which made his front yard look like a breeding ground for trouble. That is, if he weren't so darn lazy.
A neighbor finally told me this man's story. Turned out, his wife had banished him to the front yard years ago because of something he did to make her mad. He wasn't allowed back inside until it got dark. And come daylight, back outside he went. Not sure why nighttime made a difference, but her forgiveness was clearly conditional. That woman was sticking by her grudge!
Forgiveness is something we focus on a lot at Blue Monarch. There are often extreme, intense issues surrounding forgiveness. Things that are so grievous it's hard to imagine how anyone ever gets past them. I believe that's one of the reasons Mother's Day and Father's Day are so difficult around here.
I can't help but remember the time I found a woman standing in front of rows and rows of Mother's Day cards at our local drug store. She was crying. I assumed she had probably just lost her mother. But after reading one card after another and stuffing each back into its slot, she finally slammed one down and said, "Not one of these describes my mother! All of these are for the mother I wish I had!"
Sadly, mothers and fathers have caused some of our residents' greatest pain. Certainly not always, but often. Perhaps the mother sold her daughter to support her own drug habit - or turned her back when her boyfriend repeatedly molested her daughter.
There are also numerous heartbreaking stories from women who were hideously victimized by their own fathers. These are unthinkable offenses, that for most of us seem unforgivable. It's no wonder drugs become an easy way to numb the terrible pain.
The women at Blue Monarch are some of the most amazing women I have ever known. I often hold them up as a standard by which to measure myself. This difficult issue of forgiveness is one of the reasons why.
I have seen the women of Blue Monarch reach into the depths of their souls with weeping, grieving hearts, and supernatural determination - and then miraculously overcome the bitterness and anger they so rightfully earned. It's a beautiful and powerful process.
But their forgiveness is not conditional. They don't hold a grudge until the sun goes down and pick it up again in the morning. They totally and wholly let go. They completely hand it to God and ask Him to take it from them. And He does!
Isn't that where the true issue lies? I think we often convince ourselves we have forgiven yet feel it's our right to hold onto the hurtful memory. But when does that memory turn into a grudge?
When my daughter was about ten years old, she and I went on one of our usual horseback trail rides one summer. I had just gotten a new goose neck trailer and we were barrelling down the interstate having a big ole' time, probably listening to some Restless Heart or Forester Sisters, when I happened to notice something crazy going on in my rear view mirror.
As if a tornado had hit the bed of the pickup truck, our heavy, black rubber feed buckets began tumbling in the air behind the cab, and every so often one would suddenly shoot out onto the interstate like a rocket. Pretty soon every single one of them were gone and I could see cars swerving behind us to miss them. Yikes. This could cause an accident.
I quickly pulled onto the shoulder and parked. I knew I didn't want to leave the truck running so I told my daughter to stand under some trees in the shade until I came back. It was blazing hot and I knew I couldn't leave the horses in that metal trailer for long, but someone had to get the buckets off the road - and we were going to need them.
As I ran down the interstate to retrieve the buckets, I was a little surprised to see how far back they were. Thankfully, off in the distance I could see a car pulling over from time to time to pick up the buckets for me. Or at least that's what I thought.
They insisted they didn't have my buckets even though I knew they did. "So then, what's that in the back floor board?" I could see two of my buckets under the legs of the young girl in the back seat. She was wearing a flowered sundress and looked quite innocent, but a little nervous. She timidly handed them to me through the window.
At that moment the father pulled the car back into traffic and there went the rest of my buckets. I was furious! I began stomping back completely disgusted, (probably mumbling some pretty ugly things to myself) and then a few seconds later, way off in the distance I saw that same car pull over in front of my truck.
Oh no! My daughter is standing there under the trees completely unprotected!
I immediately dropped the buckets and started running as fast as I could, (not sure I've ever run that fast), but as soon as I reached the truck, completely out of breath, the little church family quickly took off.
What was I thinking?
I had left the most precious thing in the whole wide world standing there under the trees while I ran farther and farther away from her over some stupid buckets. I risked losing the one thing that brought me the most joy in life for something that was completely worthless.
How many times do we focus on all the wrong things? Things that have hurt us, things we just can't forgive, while we could be focusing instead on the joy that Jesus Christ so passionately wants us to have?
We sometimes think we have forgiven someone when we really haven't. That painful memory we just can't stop thinking about, is often disguised as forgiveness, while in reality it's an ugly, bitter grudge. It looks like a nice church family, but it's really a car full of thieves. Thieves that want to rob us of our joy.
God wants us to forgive as He has forgiven us. It's even included in the Lord's Prayer that we learned as kids. But there is a secret side effect to forgiveness that I've learned from the women of Blue Monarch.
When they forgive the ones who have hurt them - and I mean, truly forgive them where they no longer hang onto the memories or carry a grudge, they actually become prettier. Yes, it's true. Prettier. I bet you could ask anyone who works at Blue Monarch and they would agree with me. It's something very tangible that changes on their faces and in the way they carry themselves. It even spills over into the way they laugh, the clothes they wear, the way they spend their time, their relationships with their children, and how they see their future. It is truly remarkable - and it is only through the tremendous strength God gives them that they are able to forgive to that magnitude and gain such beautiful freedom.
It's at this point they begin basking in the glow of the pure joy that was patiently waiting for them the whole time. In fact, the glow on their faces becomes so intense, it actually reflects onto the faces of their children.
And you know what that means?
It means those precious children will have fewer buckets of their own one day. And they will learn to leave them in the road... right where they belong.
You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing to you and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever. Psalm 30:11