People are all the time giving me stuff.
I think they think I’m poor–it’s probably my shoes. Because it’s definitely not my car. And though I certainly don’t feel poor, perhaps I do tend to whine (on and on, loudly and annoyingly) about my never-ending problems. I’ve been given money, clothes and shoes, even a car battery. Maybe people are just trying to shut me up.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
My dad was in the Air Force growing up and we moved around, like, a lot. For those awkward months after relocating, while we were all adjusting to new schools and making new friends, and getting used to our new neighborhoods and struggling to fall asleep at night in our new, strange rooms, my sisters and I had each other. In Arkansas I remember exploring the woods behind our new house. We formed a secret club and made up secret codes. We played Legos and Barbies and begged our parents for a dog since we had finally had the space. In Italy, I forced my sisters to say the Pledge of Allegiance while we played under a lemon tree in our new teensy strip-of grass excuse for a yard. Back in Pensacola, when my mom went to work for the first time in our lives, we stayed at home alone after school and thought of new and exciting ways to get each other in trouble.
It was good times.
Not every memory of my childhood involving my sisters is a good one, but like my mom always assured us, we grew up to be the closest of friends. My sisters Jenny and Katie were so caring and supportive during the most difficult times of my adult life. I hate the fact that I live 14 hours away from them. I get homesick when I hear about all the fun stuff they get to go do together–pedicures, zumba, shopping. I get downright heartsick when one of them is struggling and I’m not there to perform my sisterly duties.
For the seven years I’ve been in Oklahoma, I’ve missed my family every minute of every day. I absolutely long to be nearer to them. When someone I love is sick or hurting, the need to be down in Florida is strongest–even stronger than it is in the spring, when all my peeps are sitting at the beach with the sand in between their toes while I’m shivering in March’s 30 degree temperatures and killer straightline winds.
I don’t go to Florida enough. I just don’t. Though Caleb and I aren’t poor by any stretch of the imagination, we are extremely conservative when it comes to spending of any kind. Is it important? Can we afford to pay cash for it? What other bills do we have coming up? It’s hard work climbing out from under student loans and second mortgages–big ticket items like car repairs or plane tickets can sometimes be a tricky stretch for us. And that’s okay because it’s part of life. We are far from poor. Paying off debt and putting a little money towards savings when we can is not a sacrifice–it’s a responsibility, and we’re not about to get stupid with what God has so generously given us.
So last Sunday, when our small church group, consisting of 5 or 6 couples and their kids, got together to discuss that morning’s sermon, I asked for their prayers regarding my sister during her time of need, and mentioned that though I’d been super-duper tempted, I’d pretty much put aside any thoughts of visiting her, for more reasons than just lack of money. They all prayed for me, their “sister in Christ” as they put it, and it was so reassuring–and humbling. I knew that God was watching over my sister and He would take care of her. “Sister in Christ,” I thought. “What a sweet saying.” To me, it meant something to the effect of “Good friend in Christ” or “Close Aquantaince in Christ”, or even “Fellow Church Member in Christ”.
What the members of my small church group did over the next 24 hours spoke loud and clear to what the phrase “Sister in Christ” truly meant.
“Toni, when we say ‘Sister in Christ’, we mean that you ARE our SISTER. You are our family. We love you like we love a sister. Just because we didn’t grow up with you doesn’t mean that God didn’t bring us together. You are our sister. If you are sad and homesick, then we feel your sadness. If you are worried about your family, then we are worried about your family. We love your family because you love your family. If you’re feeling a pull to visit your sister, it could be that God is calling you to do just that. If you want to see your sister, it should happen.”
There was a plane ticket to Florida produced by Monday night.
I had trouble accepting the very idea of help. “We can afford a plane ticket you guys! We’re not poor! Someone else needs that kind of help–not us! We’re so rich while there are others in the world with nothing! How embarrassing. Please, keep your money and keep the plane ticket; we’re not even worthy! Surely you can find someone who needs this even more than me. I can’t accept this–it’s too much.” No matter how much anyone rationalized and insisted, I protested. I resisted. I refused.
I expressed these views to Cheyenne, who thoughtfully and gently suggested that I was being a little too prideful. My head quit spinning for a second as I considered what she said. Prideful? Me? I’m so not. Right? Wrong. I’m full of pride. I’m so full of pride that I was ready to take a wonderful gift and piss all over it, ruining what could be a such a huge blessing to not only me and my sister, but to the people that were willing to give it. How rude.
My father-in-law called the next day, and in his own sweet way, he drew me into a conversation about my struggles. I never told him about the plane ticket and my church group, or even about my desire to see my sister, but he brought up this little chestnut out of the blue: “Don’t be all obsessed with the particulars of faith and religion. You stress and worry about them, but the bottom line is this, Toni: your ‘ticket’ is bought and paid for.” I was reeling after our conversation because of the freaking eery coincidental parallels.
Salvation itself is a beautiful, free gift that absolutely no one deserves–but it’s bought and paid for, in full, already. God wants us to have it; He wants to give it to us. All we have to do is accept it. Pride will get us nowhere. When we let go of that and whatever else stops us from accepting His blessing, God is able to get down to the business of doing some truly amazing things. When God forms a plan, who are we to stand in His way?
The cat’s out of the bag. I will get to see my sister in Pensacola on Friday night. My children have rides home from school. My husband has someone to babysit Merrick during the working day. And even when we’re frustrated because we can’t see the big picture, we can find peace in knowing that God has everything under control.