“Oh boy, look what you did. You’re in trouble now!”
Words spoken to myself as a young girl penetrated – heart, mind, and soul. I don’t know exactly how old I was when this particular incident happened, barely old enough to write words. I remember the way my hand trembled though, as I penciled this hard to spell word.
Not just hard to spell. Hard to give and hard to receive.
My childhood act of disobedience started in the basement, where my brother’s room held fear and wonder. At night this room would be too dark to explore, but during the day it gave room for wild imagination. His hospital bed with the hand cranks for raising and lowering head or feet became the place of spaceship dreams and floating mattress scenes. My younger sister and I took turns giving each other the ride of our life.
When no one was around, I’d slide open a cabinet door and peruse his shelves. My hands would finger a few trinkets, MonChiChi figurines, a larger stuffed monkey holding a banana (the one where no matter how hard you try you can’t get that thing in his mouth), and a little bear called Toto. I coveted Toto. I wanted my own.
Somewhere, I also found the rubber, bouncing ball we used for a game called 7-up.
His room and his stuff, all off limits.
This was the private space of a young man eight years older than me. He had the prowess to raise an eyebrow and remind his little sisters “be gone”. Rightly so too. Who messes with an older brother? Younger siblings I suppose.
I found myself in there all too often. I’d entered a sacred cottage of sorts which kept drawing me back.
I wanted to play with the ball and it didn’t matter, yet, that my brother didn’t want me in his room, much less taking his things. Wasn’t this a seemingly small act known to every child who’s ever lived? Just like Toto, I wanted the ball to be mine and choose to play with it as if it was.
In the closet next to his room, mom stored boxes and piles of fabric. Against the wall in the back, I tossed the ball repeatedly. As the 7-Up game goes, onesies, twosies, threesies… Oops! Not as the game goes. The closet walls weren’t completely closed in. That darn ball found it’s way into a creepy hidden space of pipes behind our basement shower.
Freeze with fear, that’s what. Add a few tears too.
Immediately, every aspect of wrong came flooding in.
Don’t steal. Don’t disobey. Don’t lie. Don’t hide. But if you tell the truth…
I’m pretty sure my army loving brother was about to call the troops in. Punishment would be fast and swift. I’d no longer be a part of the family. Nice seeing ya’.
After a couple hours of fretting, I went into my parents room. I was probably forbidden there too, but what the hey, why not add one more thing.
On a piece of yellow paper, I wrote, “I took the ball. It got lost. Can you forgive me?”
Then I hid. I’m pretty sure I did. I needed safety from the prefabricated fallout of parental and sibling rage. Not to mention all the doom which must be coming because I wronged God by disobeying and being careless enough to lose the ball. It was gone forever. There’s no retrieving anything that goes into that dark place.
Dad came to me. He didn’t scold, but I knew he knew that I knew, I disobeyed. The look said it all.
Instead of lectures or leaning over, he asked me to show him where the ball was.
“Oh yeah, you’re never getting that!” I almost spoke out loud while pointing to the vicious place of toy doom. Even silent words have a way of striking hard when fear is involved.
He reached over the piles of fabric, grabbed the ball, and urged me to put it away and ask my brother next time.
My freaking-out heart settled down and I felt the undeniable release from punishment due. I felt undeserved love.
My shame went into overdrive that day, along with every fathomable worst-case scenario, just like it tends to do when I fear messing up and sinning even now.
Over and over again, Father God allows my heart to feel conviction of sin so repentance occurs.
And it never fails, He reminds me of the forgiveness he’s already given. I can confess and I will live. Unescapable execution is not waiting because I’m found out in my sin. Jesus took that burden. Rather, shame’s prompt towards confession can lead into forgiveness and freedom.
My dad didn’t say those words I said to myself, the ones which anchored me in destructive shame and would cripple my soul for years to come. My daddy in heaven never says them either. He doesn’t speak of lost hope, instead He shows a path filled with life so we can find true Hope in Jesus.
God invites our confession. He embraces our desire to be forgiven and to live freely when we let shame point us towards him.
You know what? Not only did my earthly dad offer a gift of forgiveness from my thieving ways, but one Christmas Day, I held my brother’s gift as well.
Toto the Second.
Jolene Underwood is a faith warrior passionate about cultivating a life well-lived. She draws upon varied personal experiences, a psychology background, and her passion for Christian counseling to foster emotional and spiritual growth. She believes in the power of God to revive weary souls and believes greater peace, joy, and freedom are available to all believers no matter what the circumstances are. Join her conversations on emotional health, soul care, and faith growth at joleneunderwood.com or on social media at @theJoleneU.
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