To protect the perpetrator, I’ll conceal the details, but suffice it to say that a couple weeks ago a rather large offense was committed by someone quite small (in stature, that is).
When I abruptly came into the know about said offense on the cusp of getting all six kids squeaky clean and presentable to go to Darwin’s sister’s house for a birthday party (which is a gargantuan task, especially for poopy-pants Josue who always walks around chewing his shirt, thus consistently and dexterously leaving a perfect slobber-ring around his collar), I told Darwin, “The other kids can pile in the truckbed [an acceptable practice in Honduras], so that so-and-so is alone with us in the cab. You drive, because I want to be able to swivel around in my seat to look into the perp’s eyes as we make the 45-minute drive.”
And so it went, and our hearts became heavy as our small, bright-eyed passenger failed to confess her crime in the 15-minute window we gave her during the drive down the gravel road from our home to the main highway. “Think long and hard, and tell us if there’s anything you’ve done, said or written that you know you shouldn’t have that you want to confess. Now’s your chance, because once we reach the highway, we’re going to bring something up if you don’t.”
Nothing was confessed even after several gentle (and very obvious) promptings on my part, so as the tires rolled onto the highway’s asphalt, thus closing the window of opportunity for confession, I took the evidence out of my backpack and addressed the now-wide-eyed assailant head-on.
Although many times we are deeply grieved when it seems as though our children have not ‘caught-on’ to our teachings about always telling the truth, not writing love notes to boys, and not touching things that aren’t theirs, one thing they have learned from us that they faithfully put into practice is making eye-contact with the adult who is speaking to them.
Her unbroken eye contact with me for 45 minutes as we jossled down the pothole-riddled highway was what enabled the following lesson to be delivered, and it might be what saved her from being dealt an even bigger butt-chewing.
God teaches me many things daily, and one of the biggest lessons I am learning right now is how to be an effective channel. Many times I open my mouth without the slightest idea of what will come out, trusting that He will form my words and that they’ll make a lot more sense than any idea I could have meticulously planned out myself.
So I opened my mouth, and out came a long, intricate talk about the Great Umbrella-Shield, something I myself had only briefly heard of once before from our mentor and did not entirely understand until the words flowing out of my mouth ordered themselves one after the other, painting the most logical and true of mental images.
Our unbroken stares matched one another, hers an odd combination of genuine humility and unexpected but not defiant confidence, mine a God-infused compassionate wisdom overriding feelings of devastation, anger and bewilderment.
“Your dad, Aunt Jenae, myself [and I name about a half-dozen other loving Christian adults in her life] have been placed by God to form a sort of great umbrella-shield over and around you,” I say, widening my fingers on both hands and meshing them together loosely to show how our lives come together, even overlapping each other, to form a protective casing above and around her.
It is obvious that she follows, so I continue. “Since you are not yet ready to go out on your own, take care of yourself, have a full-time job or get married, God has placed us in your life to guide, protect and love you. Forming this big umbrella-like shield, we protect you, and we are accountable before God to do so. It is our job to guide and discipline you according the God’s word and to teach you the correct path.”
She’s with me, and I’m encouraged, “If you stay under our umbrella-like protection that all of us form over you – which you can also think of as a roof – you are safe and snug.” Hand motions are my ally, and I think they help all of us understand the issue at hand much clearer.
“But it’s your choice whether you stay under our protection or if you choose to wander out from under it, thus prematurely making yourself responsible before God for your own life.”
We continue rumbling down the 2-lane highway lined on either side with palm trees, vividly green plant overgrowth of all types and brightly colored homes. “If you decide to disobey what we have told you – for example, if we tell you not to lie, and you choose to lie, you are removing yourself from under our protection and wandering off to play with Satan. It’s that serious, and it’s that dangerous. If we tell you, according to what we know of God’s Word and His will for your life, that you should not have sex until you are in a life-long, committed marriage relationship with one man, bound to him legally, and you decide not to obey, choosing to go ahead and do as you please with your body, you are removing yourself from under the umbrella-shield that we form around you, and stepping out intentionally into Satan’s territory, in essence saying that you know better than we do what’s best for you. At that point we are no longer responsible for your decision because it blatantly goes against what we told you to do.”
I suddenly get very serious, my soft, even tone changing abruptly. Her eyebrows shot up ever so slightly as she noticed the change in tone, “I don’t want you to ever forget this. Do not forget this next week, or in five years. Do not ever forget this.”
“Someday I will stand before God and give account of everything I did, said, etc. He’ll ask me, ‘And what did you do with so-and-so under your care?’ and I’ll answer, ‘I guided her as best I could according to your Word, and I loved her dearly.’ If God asks me, ‘And that time when she lied?’ I’ll be able to answer honestly, ‘That was her choice. She disobeyed. She left our umbrella.’ At the end of everything, your dad and I are responsible to God for how we love and guide you, but we’re not responsible for your choices. You are.”
And that’s about how the conversation went that first time during that fateful car ride and then a couple times since. Our little one has lost a mountain of privileges and freedoms for quite some time to come, not only for the crime itself but for concealing it when given the opportunity to confess.
A few days ago, a couple weeks after the big confrontation, as I sat sweating under the intense Honduran sun on a blue plastic stool behind our home, washing the laundry that had been waiting for me a week-and-a-half, my mind came into sharp focus amidst wandering thoughts about another one of our little ones who tends to wander out from under our loving protection: Christ Himself is our great Umbrella-Shield. When we trust and obey, there we are, safe and snug, protected. He knows what is best for us and wants the best for us, and as little children unto their parents, it is merely our task to believe Him and submit ourselves to His guidance and wisdom over our lives. But when we lash out in disobedience – arrogantly thinking that we know better than God what is best for us, we relinquish that protection and blessing – freedom, even, and we set out to play tag with the Devil.
As my soapy arms plunged in and out of the big plastic bucket in front of me, a little ball of sweat beading up on the tip of my nose, I felt deeply content, but at the same time deeply saddened that, even knowing these truths on some level, so many of us dash out or slowly drift away, forsaking our Great Refuge, the One and Only Great Umbrella-Shield for a counterfeit freedom that only produces pain and death.