She was in my Sunday School class when I first started teaching high school Sunday School. She was ditzy, cute, funny, fell of her chair quite often and a bit messed up.
Her mother and father were divorced; she referred to her father as "bio-dad" indicating the man was merely a sperm donor and not much else. Especially after her mother died and she was shopped off to her Aunt and Uncle, her Mom's sister, here in Redding. Her Aunt and Uncle took her in and it created a bit of a stir in the household as her cousin was an only child. They were about 2 years apart in age, he being older.
She carried all the scars of being a step or adopted child with the added baggage of the difference between her mother's lifestyle and her Aunt's lifestyle. Mom was a professional cheerleader at one time and liked the stylish life. Her Aunt was christian and a homebody who married young and struggled through the early days of her marriage as most of us do. Needless to say she clashed with some of the new rules that came with her move in her early teens.
She wound up in my Sunday School class and secretly, she was my favorite. There were others who were special, but she was the one I worried about most. She's the one who sprang unbidden to my mind at times causing me to really stop and pray hard that she was okay. Most of the other kids in the group I didn't worry too much about. They had good heads on their shoulders and turned out pretty good. One's a teacher here in Redding, another is an aspiring pastor, another is a missionary in Japan. All are wonderful adults now.
But SB was the one that all youth pastors get. The one who you think gets it then turns around and does the complete opposite. The one you worry that will get pregnant. Will get caught up in drugs. Will run around with the wrong crowd all the while knowing she's doing wrong but in full-on rebellion against anyone and anything that says she can't. And yet she claims and at times, demonstrates faith in Christ.
She's the one who, in the middle of reading my bible one night in a New York hotel room, came to mind with an overwhelming sense of foreboding. My prayer became feverish, I felt a heavy, weighted presence in the room. I prayed harder and the weight became heavier. I cried out to God, not understanding the intensity of the feelings I was having when the weight disappeared.
I mentioned this in passing to a missionary friend of mine who was on Sabbatical from Ecuador. He said something to the affect that the enemy didn't like what I was doing and was trying to get me to stop. Freak City man. I mentioned about whom I was praying for as he knew her and he kind of chuckled and understood. She would be the one he said.
I hadn't seen her in a while but had kept up with her comings and goings via her Aunt and Uncle. About a year ago I saw her again and found out she had decided to get her life back in order. She'd had an abortion and had kicked a drug problem and was now using her experiences to teach young girls the consequences of looking for love in all the wrong places as the old song goes. We found out this year that she was pregnant when we saw her last year.
This year, we saw her again but this time she had a bouncing baby boy. I was thrilled that she had kept the baby. Sad that she was unmarried and would have to face the harsh realities of being a single mother. I was glad she had moved back home and had realized that her Aunt and Uncle were really her Mom and Dad now so much so that that is how she refers to them...as Mom and Dad.
Of course "Mom and Dad" were thrilled at another grandchild (their oldest/only son had given them a grandson two years earlier) but at 50, were not exactly in the "child-rearing" mode any more. But they were glad to help out as is their nature. They are good parents who saw the errors of their ways and raised their son and niece with truth about logical consequences, the meaning of faith, the strength of family and the love of God. She is seeing that now.
I've been thinking a lot about her since seeing her again. I was thinking about my reaction to her predicament. You see, I was raised in a pretty fundamental church which wouldn't have supported her the way her family is doing now. Yes, they would have pitched in with some clothes and food but the underlying attitude would be, "slut", "whore", "sleaze"...all the things good Christians weren't. Of course they'd reply that it's their Christian duty to help this poor girl out but she shouldn't have been a strumpet and slept around! I couldn't help thinking that the church I grew up in would systematically shove her to the background and make her a second-class Christian.
But what should my reaction be? Should I condemn her for getting pregnant out of wedlock? She knows that's not what God wants of his children. Do I not help her out? After all, she made her bed, she sinned, now she has to suffer the consequences. Or do I display compassion while not condoning the behaviour? I was surprised at my initial response. I found I was filled with compassion for her. Why? Because I saw so much growth in her as a person when she held her son in her arms. She was no longer the flighty teen, the hottie-on-the-prowl 20-something. She was a mom and I think she understood what that meant. It wasn't about her anymore, it was about something bigger than her.
She cuts hair for a living. I went to her to get a haircut which is pretty gutsy in and of itself as she was always my favorite target for teasing in class. When I sat down she said, "You sure you want me to do this because I could pay you back you know?!" I laughed and said, "I know...but I trust you." I could tell she was a little nervous cutting my hair but she did a fine job and I'd go back to her in a minute. She chatted non-stop which is normal for her but I could see a maturity in her that was pleasing to see. I could see the prayers of the last 10 years finally coming into fruition. I could see her finally able to make that connection between her and God.
I didn't push or talk too much about her spiritual life but she didn't seem to have a problem bringing up my involvement in church or faith things around the others in the salon. (Which at Penney's is right next to the lingerie section...man I'm glad nobody I knew saw me hangin' out next to the silk undies!!) She seems to have accepted her circumstances even though she still has a ton of baggage she is dealing with because of her past. (Don't we all?)
My prayers for her now are different than they were before. They are filled with her coming to know God in a way other than the Stern Father or Cosmic Killjoy. They are filled with asking God's continued protection for her and her son. They are filled with, someday, God providing a loving man who will take her as his own, child and all, and love her the way she needs to be loved. Not as a means to an end but as a woman.
My prayers are also for others to not treat her as a pariah. But to be Christ to her. To not condemn or condone but to come along side as her Aunt and Uncle and as her Aunt and Uncle's close friends have done. For others to provide her with proper role models of motherhood.
So say we should shame people into doing good. Shame has its place. But I think some people go overboard in the shame department. Don't get me wrong, we should be ashamed of our behaviour when it is contrary to our beliefs and our societal mores and laws. But when society says there is no shame in any behaviour, how do we express our discontent? That's a post for another day. For now, I'm not going to shame SB. I'm going to continue to do what I've been doing, what her Aunt and Uncle have been doing. What others around her have been doing. Providing support, providing love, providing an example. Without it being a handout. Without strings attached. But with love....