Ken and I bought tires for our ancient truck this afternoon - you know, the 1997 Suburban with 200,000+miles on it that has finally earned the name "Dakota", who like Ben and Sam claim that State as place of origin. Great truck, btw, but that's beside the point. To be truthful, I didn't stick around long enough to hear any of the details about the $500 purchase (gulp) because as soon as we stepped up to the counter I became aware of a painful scene unfolding behind us in the aisle.
A Captain in the US Air Force, the very institution he commissioned with whose core values are "Integrity first, service before self, and excellence in all we do," was yanking his six-year old son a foot and a half off the floor by the arm in anger. He told this child, who had not been able to catch his breath at this point, that he was an idiot. That he was to stand right where he was put and stop being the idiot he always was in the store. And as the older sister complained about whatever transgression the boy had committed, and the boy clutched his arm and softly sobbed, the man strode around the corner telling his son that he really hoped it hurt.
It's been some time since I've been able to watch this kind of thing and not respond to it. My desire is always to hold the child, but my obedience is always to speak to and encourage the parent...even when the parent doesn't realize I'm attempting encouragement. I didn't hold much hope for the Captain.
I walked through the store, watching and waiting for God to move. I'm not a busy-body, I hate conflict, and I would have rather been standing by my husband looking at truck tires than seeing if the family was still in the BX. But I have learned over the last few years that I have a story - as a daughter, a sister, a parent, a wife and a friend. And though I am blessed I have tremendous pain and suffering in my story as well. A story really only captivates us as we identify with it. So I'm captivated by other's suffering - the suffering in receiving the pain, the suffering in doling the pain out. And because I am a part of the Greatest Story ever told, I'm willing to let God write me into whatever situation He wants to so that the story keeps moving on towards redemption and restoration. I want to be part of a restoration story.
I found them just as his wife and younger son were joining them. And as God would have it, the Captain left the family and walked towards me in another aisle.
"Excuse me, sir."
"At the risk of making you angry...you don't have very long with him."
"Thank you for your interest" - as he turns his back and walks away.
"You can lose them forever."
Sometimes you only get one chance. And as parents the days race by in a blur and though forgiveness is possible, forgetting never is. We aren't really entitled to anything as parents, except to honor the responsibility of "loving well" and providing a safe harbor against the mighty storms in this world. If you're tempted to think I don't know parenting in tough times, well, you should sit on my couch for a few hours and I can tell you of the lessons I've learned thus far with just my two older kids. Yea, anger is a reality. Harsh words. But there really is a line. What do we deserve in this life from each other? Respect, issued forth from love. That's for your child, your husband, your mother, your neighbor, your opponent - respect for anyone who doesn't agree with you on the issues. Respect for the life that God sustains in the person you're angry with. Respect for the LIFE that God created and sustains.
Sometimes you only get one chance. I doubt the Captain vented to his wife, because he would have had to tell her why I approached him. I hope it gives him something to chew on. Because he can have this boy to adulthood, but when it's said and done, these years that made him angry enough to call his son an idiot may be the only years he has to reflect on for the rest of his life. And somewhere along the journey, this boy will have to do the hard work of letting God remove the sound of a father's voice that is telling him he's an idiot and he hopes his pain endures.
"Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing." Proverbs 12:18
Favored One, may we be found as healers, not as those who brandish the sword. I can't help but return to 1 Cor. 13. "Love always protects, always trusts, always, hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails." Today I swallowed my anxious thoughts of being a busy-body or making a man angry, and spoke to protect not only the son, but the heart of a father. Love never fails.