I’ve written about this before, but apparently I still haven’t really learned the lesson in my heart. Living like Christ is a constant struggle to suppress my human weakness and to be filled with the Holy Spirit. For me, that means I must resist my strong urge for fairness or justice. I don’t mean those things — fairness and justice —  in a good way, but more in a karma kind of way. I’m a strong “J” (judging) personality, but if I’m filled with the Holy Spirit, then I will meet others with grace and forgiveness. I will not repay someone who wrongs me as he or she might rightfully deserve, I will heap grace and forgiveness on him. That is what it means to be like Christ. And I’m still learning…

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”

Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” {Matthew 18:21-22}

Some translations read, “seventy times seven times.” Does it matter? The point is, who is really going to count? Peter, when he asked if he should forgive someone seven times, actually thought he was being generous and merciful. But by God’s standards, we don’t comprehend the depth of true mercy. Just as God forgives us over and over again (even for the same offense), we are commanded to forgive others. God’s grace is freely offered to us, but terms of forgiveness include the willingness to extend grace to others.

In fact, we are warned in Scripture, “But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” {Matthew 6:15}

Forgiveness is not optional, but I still struggle with it. Today’s lesson involved a woman (I’ll call her Amy) I met nearly two years ago when she was in the Hamilton County Jail. I’ve written about her before in a post called, “Airing My Dirty Laundry.” Exactly one year later to the day, Amy’s daughter (I’ll call her JM) reached out to me through her mom’s facebook account. Her mom had violated twelve days before finishing at Community Corrections (Work Release) and had been put back in jail.

I was so frustrated. I really thought that a year ago when a community pulled together to help Amy furnish an apartment and provide a joy-filled Christmas for her girls, she would embrace the opportunity to change her life. I convicted her — you can’t keep doing this to your daughters, (ages 4 and 12). She assured me she understood that, but addiction is so strong and still had a powerful hold on Amy. She actually violated several times and was in and out of jail and work release throughout 2018.

When JM reached out to me and told me about this latest transgression, I was furious. What it boils down to is that my pride still drives my life. I feel entitled to a certain type of treatment in return for what I perceive to be the good I do. I still attach conditions to the love I give. I will love you if you (fill in the blank).

God’s love is not contingent on anything we do. We can’t earn it or lose it and He calls us to love the same way, but I struggle. It sickens me to know that most of what was done for the family a year ago has been lost or damaged as Amy was in and out of jail and the girls were ushered between their great grandfather’s and their grandmother’s homes. How awful that must be for those sweet girls and I am as sorry for them as I am disappointed in Amy for putting them through it. I know Amy loves the girls, but I’ll say it again, addiction is so strong.

JM and her younger sister (I’ll call her JK) desperately need winter clothes and boots and unless good people intervene, will likely have nothing to open on Christmas morning. And the struggle between my human weakness (bitterness, hurt, and anger) and The Holy Spirit raged again. If my human nature won, I would tell the girls, “sorry, but I’m not going to keep doing this. Don’t be mad at me, it’s your mom’s fault.”

Because that is just what a 12 year old and 4 year old need, right? A big ol’ dose of real world justice.

No. Children need someone to convince them that even though this life can be very hard, there are good people who care deeply. Children need to believe in the love of Christ and in the idea of Santa, not karma. I had to remind myself that these girls are innocent and by doing this, I would be helping them even more than their mother.

But it isn’t really about the kids either. One of my life verses is Ephesians 6:7, “Render service with good will, as to the LORD, and not to men.”

We are commanded to do everything as if for the LORD. If I choose to help them, it’s for the LORD. If I turn my back, I’m turning my back on the LORD. I realized at some point in my life that the reason we have to serve the LORD and not men is because most humans aren’t worthy of the selfless love Christians are commanded to demonstrate. If I’m serving a person and he or she lets me down, I feel hurt. With humans, there is a point that I can draw the line that I’ve done all you deserve.

But if I’m serving the LORD, I will never be, “even.” I can never outgive Him or even come close to the sacrifice He made on my behalf. And He is infinitely worthy of my time, talents, treasure, and my heart. I knew I needed to do this for the LORD.

I asked JM to give me a list of needs and wants. I asked her for sizes for her and her sister in clothes, and then also for a list from each of them of gifts they would like to receive for Christmas. She sent me back this morning a list of 5 Christmas gifts each (with links to make it easier — gotta admire that), as well as their clothes sizes.

I immediately noticed that they each need winter boots. JM wears the same shoe size I do and this morning, I opened a box of brand new black winter boots I had purchased on clearance last spring. I left the tag on and put them back in the box. I realized that God had already provided the boots for JM.

I noticed on the list a few things for their mom, Amy. JM told me her mom needs warm pants and size 11 women’s boots. I told her that I would do what I can to get things for her and her sister, but I couldn’t make any promises for her mom.

Yes. I said that to a 12 year old. No. I’m not proud of that.

Her reply wrecked me. She said, “My mom will have to walk to work again after Friday. If you can’t get it all, get her boots instead of mine.”

And just like that I knew what I needed to do. First of all, obviously, I needed to buy the boots for Amy, following the prompting of the Holy Spirit instead of my human nature. Then, I needed to put together a sign-up list, share it on facebook and rally to get Christmas and the clothes these girls needed. And that’s what I did, even before leaving for work. And in very little time, the list started filling up. Clothes were ordered and are already en route to my house from Kohl’s and JCPenney. The girls will have new, nice things. And toys have already been dropped off on my porch, left while I was at work today. More are coming to church tonight where I will receive them for JM and JK.

I’m actually now excited at the thought of wrapping those gifts, labeling them for the girls, “From Santa,” instead of, “From Karma.” I can’t help but smile when I think of the girls opening the gifts they didn’t expect on Christmas morning, knowing that at least for another year, they can hold on to what childlike innocence and wonder they still have.

And I also hope, not in a spiteful kind of way, but prayerfully and sincerely, that Amy will once again be convicted and moved by the grace she and her family are receiving. I pray that this time, it sticks.

But if it doesn’t, seventy times seven times.

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