Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Lessons From Dorothy

Someone told me this past weekend that I reminded them of Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz. Like the little girl with the ruby slippers, a tornado ripped through our life, picked up our little family, and dropped us smack-dab in the middle of unfamiliar territory. Unlike the destructive Kansas storm, our tornado was not an act of nature, but rather was human caused.

Dorothy wasn't always comfortable on her yellow brick road, and many times she was afraid. But in the end, she learned valuable lessons and was grateful for the experience.

I want to say that I will forever appreciate the lessons I learned and the new friendships I forged during the oft-difficult journey. That, however, doesn't change the fact that our tornado was spawned by careless and thoughtless human beings. Our story is a cautionary tale to be sure.

I've watched as news of the Pennsylvania Sate sex scandal has dominated the news for the past few months. So many people - innocent people - have been caught up in the wake left by the evil actions (allegedly) of one sick man. My heart aches for the victims, their families, other coaches, students, and unsuspecting fans. I'm reminded, once again, that as we travel through life, we are like vessels on the sea. We leave behind wakes and waves that affect everyone with whom we share the journey.

Our devastating tornado hit when three people - three so-called friends - made assumptions, told lies, and stole the reputation I'd worked hard to build. I have no idea what motivates people to gossip and lie with the purpose of undermining another person. I do know, however, that psychologists will tell you that when they see this behavior, it most often stems from jealousies, insecurities, or just plain vengeance.

Our children were 11, 12, and 14 when we were literally kicked out of the church in which they'd been dedicated and raised. We'd made the decision to attend the same church as Tom's family so our children could be surrounded by aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, and an untold number of extended family members. They loved Sunday School, kids choir, and the many and varied mid-week activities. I worked at the church, volunteered in a number of areas, and used my gifts and talents to begin a ministry through which I shared my heart.

And then the tornado hit.

I was accused of saying things I never said and doing things I never did. The fact I worked for the theatre was particularly frowned upon. Then, my 14 year old son was "too hard" for the Junior High pastor to deal with. I was told to take my family and leave the church we loved.

"It's time your family goes."

The world as we knew it changed. A tornado ripped it apart, and we were caught up in the wake left by actions, deeds, and the bad choices of others.

Even if the accusations were true, where was the grace and forgiveness that Christians preach about? Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. But extend that same grace to another wretch? No way!

All my children knew was that they were no longer allowed to see any of their church friends. I tried to be strong, but overnight I lost every single friend with whom I'd shared fourteen years! The security of relationship was gone and I was dropped in the middle of an unfamiliar world.

Our church wasn't just a building with a threshold we crossed once or twice a week, it was our family, our support, our friends….a place called home. I cried every day for a whole year. It would be three years before I could drive by the church without crying.

I would never have betrayed my friends as they betrayed me. I don't think they'll ever understand the grave impact they had on my family.

Is it any wonder our children made the choice to walk away from church, from Christianity, and from God? Like me, our kids were left with empty holes and deep sadness. For a time they used drugs to fill those empty places. Why would they look to God or church when it was God's people - The Church - that caused excruciating pain?

I looked for forgiveness and grace from the people I'd been raised to believe would be the first to extend it, but I didn't find it there. I did find it, however, in the most unexpected of places.

I found unconditional love when it was showered on my daughter by the rehab counselors - most of whom belonged to a religious sect I'd been taught to fear. If I was Dorothy, then they were the lion that turned out to be our healer and protector. We found grace in the person of a tough parole officer who was a tin man with a heart of compassion. Parents of prodigals are like scarecrows - we stand watch over our children, but are sometimes unable to scare away the dark forces that come pecking away at their very souls. We are smart enough to know we can't do it on our own, and I'm blessed to now be surrounded by amazingly wise scarecrow parents.

Yes, I guess I'm a bit like Dorothy. I woke up in a scary strange land surrounded by people whose words and ways I didn't understand. I was initially alone in the dark place, but along the road I met people who showed me the way and who dared to walk with me. When the yellow brick road brought Tom and I back home, we found that no one else would ever really know what we'd seen or what we'd been through. Not even Uncle Henry or Auntie Em. There's no way we'll ever find the words to help them understand.

I know the advantages of moving forward and never looking back, but I implore you to stop occasionally, look behind you, and take note of all you're leaving in your wake. Are you leaving paths of peace, love, and comfort, or are you cutting deep swaths of drama, gossip fueled angst, hurt feelings, broken hearts, wounded trust, physical pain, or destroyed reputations?

Please, please take a moment to reflect back - back on the lives you've touched. Are people better for having known you? Are friends and strangers stronger, healthier, happier, and braver because of the moments, hours, days, or years they spent sharing life with you?

Are there people like us in your past - human beings you could've been kinder to, shown grace and compassion for, or perhaps could've stopped to help now and again? Did your gossip - no matter how true you thought your words might have been - cause someone else to judge a person harshly without benefit of the whole picture?

Please take a moment to look back. It's never too late to help clean up from a tornado you might have spawned. It's never to late to say, I'm sorry, Please forgive me, or I was wrong. Learn from our long and painful journey. We are a cautionary tale from which I pray others learn lessons about grace, compassion, and forgiveness.

I'll take a moment to look back.