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Shovels, Sponges, and a Frozen Heart: My Advent Journey of Forgiveness

There was nothing romantic or endearing about the snow that day. I might as well have been dressed up in a Nazi uniform because I was ridiculously unprepared to battle the Russian army that was my mom’s driveway. It seemed that Mother nature was out of her happy PMS chocolate and had decided to pelt me in the face with her semi-automatic BB gun in the sky to cope with her “feelings”. Her ammo was a barbaric mix of rain, ice, snow and bitterness.

The bitterness wasn’t all weather related, it stemmed from a deeper pain that has been present for much of this past season. Last summer I suggested to my mom and sister that we take a family vacation, you know like some of the more American Dreamy type families do. Both seemed receptive to the idea until late October when I got a call from my mom. She and my sister had decided to take a trip to Mexico the week before Christmas and “you’re not really invited.”

From the moment those words were spoken I was more than a little heartbroken. What family purposefully plans a vacation when one member can’t go? Pain. What have I done that they don’t want me along? sadness. Why can’t my family always be the loving and supportive people I want them to be? grief. Despite feeling abandoned, I of course said yes to driving them to the airport, taking care of both their houses, mail, newspapers and yes, shoveling their driveways.

Who doesn't love shoveling...

Who doesn’t love shoveling…

So maybe you can imagine the slight resentment that coursed through my veins as I shoveled the white Acme anvils off the concrete. Suddenly, a list of their past transgressions began flowing through my mind like an entitled kids Christmas list. Every let down, lack of support, joke that stung to the core. God, how many nice things can I do for them?  Then, like a dagger to my frozen heart I felt these words deep in my core: just one more Sam. And then one more after that.

Just one more Sam, and then one more after that.

And there it was. Who was I to be listing their transgressions of the past? The list of sins that God has forgiven in me is infinitely longer than any list I could ever write about them. Where is your forgiveness bro? Suh-riously.

Make a clean break with all cutting, backbiting, profane talk. Be gentle with one another, sensitive. Forgive one another as quickly and thoroughly as God in Christ forgave you. – Ephesians 4:32 (The Message)

I love The Message translation of this well-known verse for the words “quickly and thoroughly.” I often think of forgiveness as a process, as a “work in progress.” But God calls us here to be reckless in our forgiveness. He doesn’t say wait until your emotions feel that enough time has passed, but rather take action today, whatever that means in order to truly and completely forgive.

As I neared the bottom of the driveway, I realized something else. What does it say about me and the God I love if I react how the world expects me to? If I truly want to set myself apart, to be the light, I have to do the unexpected and press into the pain when I’d rather kill their fish or move to North Carolina.

So I finished shoveling that driveway and drove to my sister’s house to shovel her driveway for the third time since they’d left. I added more mail to the stack on their kitchen table, fed her fish and then did something I did not expect: I started cleaning. They had left their house in a crazed whirlwind after working all day Friday and leaving for the airport Saturday at 6am. What if through my pain I could bless them by welcoming them home to a clean house?

Out came the tunes and the elbow grease. With every dish that I washed, with every counter I wiped, and every swoosh of the broom against the tile floor I found the bitterness slowly being replaced with peace, grace, and forgiveness.

Welcome Home!

Welcome Home!

What would our lives look like if we always responded to pain in this way? What if we could find the strength to bless someone even in our lowest moments? What if we used our tears to clean up the mess of our relationships, our families and our world?

When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that. -Matthew 5:44 (The Message)

So this Christmas season I challenge you to love the unlovable in your life, whoever that may be. I encourage you to find a way to serve them and honor them even when it hurts. I also hope that you find the means to set yourself apart, like Jesus, the son of God, did everyday of his perfect life. Finally, I pray you don’t wait another second to extend some much overdue forgiveness. We all screw up. We all cause pain and destruction. It’s time to let it go, to get out your broom and start sweeping a little more of God’s boundless love into the universe.

It’s a long walk through this world, but stand tall, you’re one day closer to being home.

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