The Sting of Obedience
The farm I grew up on had an apartment connected to the horse barn that usually housed the “farm hand” that was on staff. As the operations of the full farm died down and my parents assumed ownership of the property, this humble apartment, became a means to bless others. And that’s exactly what my parents have used it for. When I was 11, wrapped up in the blinding colors of Lisa Frank, clothing myself head-to-toe as a walking advertisement for Abercrombie and Fitch, and generally being “too cool for school”…my Mom taught me the sting of obedience. Today, ironically, that sting still pierces like it did when I was eleven.
Her name was Amanda. She had peroxide blonde hair. Her mom and dad were both well below the poverty line, and both were severe drug and alcohol abusers…spending whatever money they did earn on fleeting highs, instead of food for their children. They lived a solid 3-iron’s distance away from my bedroom, so my Dad and Mom could keep them in sight… and my Mom’s special task… to protect and nurture Amanda.
The thing is, Amanda was not cool. Because her family did not take care of her, she dressed and smelled funny, she was immediately placed as the outcast at school among the “it” girls. I wanted to be an “it” girl. I wanted to be tan and beautiful like they were. I wanted boys to desire me the way they desired them. I wanted the power they had over our entire student body. (These chicks had a fireball stare… that magically “lifted” the “pee-ons” from the center “popular” table in the cafeteria… and created available spots for themselves… they were like Harry Potter…)
God, and through Him, my Mom, had plans for me that existed beyond the realm of the “it girls.”
I was planning my 12th birthday party, and compiling the list in my bedroom. I remember the “it” girls were at the very top, they had a VIP slot to eat all the best slices of cake, stand in the front of all my pictures, and generally use and abuse me- if it meant I got to be “one of them.” My mom slipped her head in my room and said flippantly, “Don’t forget to invite Amanda!” I rolled my eyes. I knew… she would ruin everything. The “it” girls wouldn’t come if they knew she would be there! My cool card would be forever withheld from me! I would never be the middle school VIP that I wanted to be!
I turned my list into my Mom. Upon a quick scan, she said, “I don’t see Amanda’s name on this list.” I replied, “Mom, do you even want me to be cool, or what?” My Mom said, “Kami, no one is cool.” (Well, hello, truth missile…) She continued, “I’ll give you twenty-four hours to reconsider this decision, before I send out the invitations, but trust me, it may feel like a sacrifice to invite her—but your invitation will bless her more than it hurts you to invite her.” (My Mom is the champion of laying it on thick, can you tell?).
So, after some thought, I scratched out someone else’s name. I swallowed hard. I wrote… “Amanda.”
When the invitations arrived, the “it” crowd found out I had invited her, and vowed that they would never come if someone “like that” would be in attendance. I hated my Mom for making me consider Amanda, I hated myself even more for what FLEW out of my mouth. I told the “It girls,” “Fine then, don’t come. You are no better than she is, and I invited her because she is my friend. I don’t even CARE if you guys show up! (Blatant lie by Kami…).”
They didn’t show up.
But Amanda did. She had a joyful smile that exuded grace from the moment my mom and I picked her up until the second we dropped her off. She could escape the treacherous elements of her home life for four hours, enjoy spending time with me and my family (even with my bitter heart), and loved and laughed alongside me. We dropped her off that night, she thanked me in a way I have never been thanked to this day—for a birthday invitation, but it was more than that. She was thanking me for picking her over the acceptance of our middle school “it” club. Tears welled in my eyes…wasn’t I the one that should be thanking her?
Obedience, for lack of better words, can suck sometimes. It usually is something that requires you to give up something that you deeply desire for the betterment of God’s kingdom, or for someone God wants to bless. It’s self-sacrifice. My obedience, selfishly, is not the beautiful sacrifice we see draped at the cross. It is not always a willing gift of a grateful heart or a generosity of my spirit. It is a forced crucifixion. It is picking up my own cross, swallowing hard, and writing down the right name on my list; Jesus. He is the person that should be at my party. It shouldn’t be the “it” crowd, a husband, material things, or a noisy Abercromie and Fitch “onesie.” The “fat” of those desires is burnt through the hard choices of our obedience. The choices made to serve others in the midst of your own pain—are the ones God uses to point out our faithlessness the most. It isn’t an exchange that makes “sense” in the immediate context. It is giving up something you desperately want for what someone else truly needs. It forces you to see your own sin. It forces you to see your dark and idolatrous heart— a heart that GOD picks to come to His party…through the perfect life, death, and resurrection of his son, Jesus. He crossed out “Jesus,” and wrote “Kami,” even when I was smelly, even when I had nothing to give in return, even when it meant his very own life…
A few weeks later, in a drunken rage, Amanda’s dad drunkenly held his entire family at gunpoint. Amanda had the strength to knock him upside the head with a blunt object, encourage her mother to grab only what they needed, and they ran. From what I have heard, Amanda is now a wife and a mother of her very own children. I will always remember her grace-filled smile after my 12th birthday party. She looked like starlight.
On Sunday I saw that same grace through the eyes of a friend. This obedience may not have been an invitation to my 12th birthday party—it was an invitation to do life together. It was a hard invitation for my selfish heart to give…but in my selfishness, I trust that God will bless her, anyways. Even through my bitterness and bruises, I see the beauty in our interactions just as I saw the beauty in Amanda’s face so many years ago. I see beauty through my tears— in becoming less of me, and more of Christ— something I may not want right now… but something I know she needs.
Just a broken vessel pushing on through the sting of obedience, hoping that heaven has Lisa Frank paper plates at the Great Feast, and thankful for glimpses of grace… when I am the very one who is least deserving of them…