Saturday, May 26, 2012

Mercy's Lap

Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience,
not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?
Romans 2:4

I was reminiscing yesterday about a sweet childhood memory. It's funny to think upon it with such fondness. It actually could have been a traumatic event to recall had it been entrusted to a less discerning soul . . . . but Poppa, in His infinite wisdom and immeasurable kindness, allowed otherwise.   53 years later, I still consider it to be an important stone set in the foundation of my life.

Her name was Mrs. McKeithen, and she was my first grade teacher. Back in those days of the 1950's in my small, southern hometown, we had neither preschool nor kindergarten, so her class was my very first experience in school. What a kind and tenderhearted person she was. We didn't just learn "readin' and writin' and 'rithmetic", but we learned Christian values and respect for others.   Ahhhhhhh . . . . the good old days!  God had not yet been expelled from our schools at that point . . . . but that's another story.

Mrs. McKeithen was definitely not a "hireling".  She was a true shepherd . . . well, I guess technically she was a shepherdess . . . . who tenderly cared for her flock. She performed a ritual each day after lunch, a time when we came in hot and exhausted from our rambunctious recess romps. She would have us lay our heads on our desks and she would walk up and down the aisles, rubbing each tiny back, while she sang soothing lullabies over her lambs. We were so bathed in love! It was in this atmosphere that my foundation stone was laid.

I was a very impulsive child, with a contagious enthusiasm for life . . . . a delightful trait at times, I'm told, but a constant springboard for trouble! Not yet seasoned in the practice of self-control, I seldom weighed the consequences of my actions or words . . . I acted first and thought later.  Living in the moment . . . . that was me!

I do not remember the identity of the little girl who sat in front of me, but I can still see the shiny nickel balanced precariously on the edge of the book storage area underneath her desk that morning. A nickel could still buy quite a variety of things back then, and my desire to have it overruled any moral thought otherwise in that moment. You guessed it!  In one seamless movement, the nickel transferred from her possession to mine. No one was any the wiser as I slipped the treasure into my pocket . . . . or so I thought . . . .

At some point that morning, the child discovered her loss and the missing coin was reported to Mrs. McKeithen. A class-wide posse was formed and a search was initiated. It was at this point that another character flaw reared it's ugly head from my six year old being. I was already a thief, wracked with guilt and fear, struggling about what to do to correct the situation without adding total humiliation to the mix.  And now . . . . enter, deception!

An ingenious solution began to emerge . . . . instead of being labeled a criminal, I could instead be hailed as the class hero! I had to act quickly.  I hid the nickel in the palm of my hand and made a sweeping motion across the floor. I pretended to pick up the lost item as I announced, "Here it is! I found it!"   I handed the coin over to it's rightful owner, enjoyed my brief moment of fame, and returned to my desk.

Whew! My plan had worked . . . . my reputation remained untarnished and I was relieved of my guilt . . . . well, kind of . . . . only what was this dreadful gnawing sensation that was now growing in the pit of my belly?

The day continued on, the daily routine unfolded in the usual fashion, and eventually our sweet rest time arrived. On this day, after the usual songs and back rubs, Mrs. McKeithen seated herself in a chair in front of the room and summoned me to come to her. She lifted me up onto her lap, wrapped her arms around me, and began to rock. As she rocked, she whispered in my ear, "You took the nickel, didn't you honey?" The total absence of condemnation in her voice melted all my defenses, and I confessed my sin with tears of remorse. The release from shame that I experienced in that cocoon of unconditional love has never left me from that day to this.  That single act of kindness offered me the way out when I couldn't find it on my own.  She continued  holding me  through the remainder of our rest period and comforted me again in that reassuring voice of hers. "It's going to be okay," she whispered, "just don't do it again."

That was the first time I was ever held in Mercy's lap.  That was the first time I ever heard those same liberating words that the woman caught in adultery heard from the Master:  "Neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more."  That was my first encounter with the heart of God.

Was a potential lifetime of crime averted that day?  Maybe nothing as dramatic as that . . . . we'll never know.  But, I can tell you that even though I didn't have language to wrap around it at age six, the wisdom of that one woman allowed me to touch the reality of a spiritual truth that had existed throughout all the ages . . . . "mercy triumphs over judgement."  (James 2:13) 

She could have stood me up and made a public spectacle of me in front of my peers . . . . she could have punished me and held my crime and punishment up as an example . . . . she could have uncovered my sin to the world.  She could have pronounced judgement upon me . . . . it would have been justified . . . . I was guilty after all.  But she chose mercy, and that mercy stands triumphant even now. 

I've made thousands of mistakes since that day, falling often and failing in almost every way possible.  But my life had been launched on a course.  A compass had been set in my heart that would always cause me to seek out mercy in the same way that sailors navigate by  true north.  It would faithfully lead me home to safe harbor again and again to the place I love . . . . Mercy's lap.   

He said that you could come into his
Presence without fear
Into this holy place
Where His presence hovers near.

Come runnin' come runnin'
Come runnin' to the mercy seat
Where Jesus is callin' He said His grace would cover you.
His blood will flow freely it will provide the healin'
Come runnin' to the mercy seat

(Excerpt from lyrics to Mercy Seat by Vcki Yohe)

The LORD is gracious and merciful; Slow to anger and great in lovingkindness.
Psalm 145:8

Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne;
mercy and loving-kindness and truth go before Your face.
Psalm 89:14 AMP