Nothing takes me back to my childhood quite as powerfully as long drives after dark—especially if it’s Saturday and the Country Gold is cranked up loud.
It was the only time I wasn’t afraid of watching the night sky. I would lay in the back seat, staring out the window at the stars, listening to the radio blast “Feed Jake” or “There Goes My Baby.” I wanted to know all the words to every song. I never wanted to get home, but somehow I always fell asleep just before we did.
I wonder if our boys will think back on night drives when they’re my age. If the world in that memory will shrink to the green glow from the dash, a black sky full of white stars or maybe rain, and favorite song after favorite song on the radio. If they’ll remember waking up as they’re carried inside and feeling sad that the music is over, but too comfortable in Mama or Daddy’s arms to complain.
A few Sundays ago, the youth pastor at my church shared a story that had everyone (me included) fighting tears. At about eight years old, he decided to run away from home. Not for any real reason, “maybe just as a way to assert my independence.” His parents tried to talk him out of it, but he wouldn’t be swayed. He was going to run away. So, they let him go. As he started to walk down the block, he heard his father’s car start. But he’d made his decision, so he kept walking. The car pulled out into the road and followed along behind him.
Our pastor said he’d made it a few blocks when it started to get dark and cold and too real. He wasn’t sure where he would live now or who would feed him. He couldn’t go back home, but he didn’t want to keep going.
He said he stood there for a while, then began to cry. After a few seconds, he heard his father get out of the car. His dad hugged him, then led him back to the car, and buckled him in. Together, they went home.
It’s easy to see how our pastor was relating this story to his relationship with God. The point was that even when we turn our back on God, He’ll be right behind us, waiting for us to turn around. But that story reminded me of one from my childhood.
For most of my childhood, we lived in a farmhouse with a quarter mile of lane between us and the gravel road. One day, my sister Emily and my mom were fighting over something. Emily screamed, “I’m going to run away.” Mom’s answer? To help her pack.
I’m a firm believer in the idea that the way you grow up affects every part of the rest of your life. You either overcome the bad or you let it drag you down. You cling to the good. The most important lesson I ever learned, I learned from my mom.
I don’t remember what Mom and I were talking about now, just that it didn’t feel like a big deal until Mom said, “Just make sure you can still stand to look at yourself in the mirror.”
People get upset at the idea of a God who would let people He supposedly loved go to hell. What they don’t want to acknowledge is that without free will, there is no love, only compulsion. God loved us enough to give us a choice—and even when we rejected Him, God loved us enough to respect our decision. Because even though our decisions might hurt Him and the people around us, we’re the ones who have to live with them.
That’s why Mom helped Emily pack her little red suitcase.
But Mom also reminded Emily to take a jacket. And she stood at the window and watched Emily head off down the lane. When Emily came back crying, Mom hugged and kissed her and helped her unpack the suitcase like nothing had happened.
Because He loves us, God gave us the freedom to choose. Because he wants us to be safe, He’ll give us other options, better ones to lead us out of trouble. Ultimately, He’ll respect our choices, but He’ll always be watching over us, waiting to welcome us back home.
Most of you (assuming there are enough people who read this blog to split them into a majority and minority) know that I have two little boys who will be starting preschool over the next couple years. I don’t want to talk about what happened Friday. I don’t want to think about it. I don’t even want to know that it happened, so I sure as heck don’t want to write a blog post about it.
Right now there’s nothing I want more than to curl up with one of the comic books my friend lent me and get lost in a nice, brightly-colored alien war where little kids don’t get shot to death for no reason.
In the last post on this blog I told you writers can’t ignore or hide from the disturbing, painful, sickening things that happen in our world. The coward in me wishes I hadn’t told you that because here are the facts: Babies are dead. Parents are dead. People across the country are sick, hurt, angry, and sad. We don’t know what to do with this.
Friday night, my sister-in-law said, “I told [my son] that the world isn’t going to end this month, but now I don’t know. I don’t see why God wouldn’t just swoop down and take us all out.” A lot of my friends and family have been saying how much they wish the Mayans had been right about the date of the apocalypse. I’ve been saying it, too. Can you imagine what a relief it would be to be done with this whole mess? Unfortunately, the end of the world isn’t coming on Mayan Apocalypse Day.
“[God] should kill us all with an [assault rifle],” my sister-in-law said. “That would be appropriate, don’t you think?”
What my sister-in-law understands that some people don’t is that we’re all humans. If one of us massacres a hundred others, we all share the blame. I know it goes against the grain to admit that. Whenever some great injustice or tragedy happens, our first instinct is to separate ourselves from the perpetrator. To say, “This gunman was mentally ill. That dictator was power-hungry and sadistic. That group was part of a sect that practices a radical form of our religion mutated to fit their own beliefs. He/she/they are not like me.”
The truth is that gunman, that dictator, and that group are humans just like we are. We have the capacity in our hearts to as much harm as they did. You can swear you don’t or split this into a hundred different semantic arguments, but evil is in you the same as it is in me. It may come out in different forms, but none of it is helping make this world a better place.
The good news is there’s something we can do. In the previous post on this blog, I told you that I didn’t know how to respond to tragedy or even the pain of living every day. You have to feel it, you have to face it, and you can’t hide from it if you want to be a writer. But now I understand that you can have peace in spite of it.
One of my favorite songs says, “If His grace is an ocean, we’re all sinking.” To me, that’s the real relief.