Ralphies-soapWith three young kids, one who’s a toddler, I don’t get out to the theater much. Being absolutely exhausted at the end of the day, I can barely finish a glass of wine let alone a good novel. I solely rely on Pandora for my music selection and Netflix for TV programming ideas, so I’m not quite “up-to-date” on what’s hot and what’s not in the entertainment industry. But, what I can give you as a year-in-review is, well, me. Before we get any further into January, what follows are some of the moments from this past year when I was reminded that my faith in Christ and the theology I study are living breathing things: working both in me and through me toward others. In short, these are some of the laugh-or-you’ll-cry moments in 2014 where I was reminded of who I am, namely, a sinner in need of a savior. From comical gaffs to real-life experiences, here are my four favorite moments of 2014:

1. In March, I had the immense honor of preaching at the the Cathedral Church of the Advent’s Lenten series in Birmingham, AL. On the first day I was to speak, my dear friend, The Rev. Joe Gibbes, was the officiant. When it was time to process in, Joe and I walked down the aisle and then up to our seats. A few minutes later Joe nodded at me subtly, and I ascended the stairs to the (fairly intimidating) podium. I stood there looking over the congregation as they stood and finished the final verse of the hymn. When it was over, there was a moment of silence. And then that moment turned into a few moments. The congregation was standing, just staring at me. Why won’t they sit? I waited. Still they stood and looked up at me. I had no idea what was going on. I slowly turned my head to look at Joe. He must have seen the desperate and panicky look in my eyes; he said, pastorally, “We’ll keep standing until you tell us to sit,” and smiled. Nothing like breaking the ice with a little laughter…at yourself!

2. Driving my boys to swim practice over the summer was more fun than I thought it would be. One time, our commute was longer than normal and necessitated us swinging through a fast-food joint to get some lunch. I pulled up and placed my order: two kids meals and a number 6. I pulled around, paid, and then proceeded to the pick-up window. A young man handed me the kids’ meals; I passed them back to the boys. Then he handed me my bag and gave me a look, a judging look, like: it’s your funeral. The look threw me off and so did the heft of the bag as I pulled it in through the open window. I got back on the road toward swim lessons. At the next red light my curiosity won, and I rummaged through the bag of food. Oh! Haha! I pulled out TWO number 6s with corresponding large fries. I didn’t have time to turn around and return one of them (the honest thing; I didn’t order two). Instead, I decided: I’ll only eat one. By the time we got home from swim practice both sandwiches and large fries had been consumed…by me alone. You might think that I regretted such a choice; I didn’t. Not even a little. I enjoyed every moment. Believe it or not, the next morning I ran the fastest six miles I’d ever run, shaving about 30 seconds off of my average mile time. Apparently, my number 6 levels were low!

3. This past Spring I got an email in the middle of the week day from one of my son’s teachers informing me that he had used the “F” word during school. My heart and stomach dropped; Oh crap! I thought. I wasn’t sure how to handle this situation. I kept reading; she explained that he was reprimanded promptly and seemed very remorseful. I had a few hours to think about what to do. I was at a loss: was I to bring additional consequences and if so, what should they be? Not going to school? (ha!) Soap in the mouth? No friends over? Or, was I to ignore it? Just look the other way. Nothing to see here. Neither option felt right.

Then it struck me (and this moment has shaped a good deal of parenting since then): root beer floats! I know; it wasn’t the answer I was expecting, either. Not my natural inclination by a long shot; I have to give the credit to years of studying the Law and the Gospel. What dawned on me was this: The law had already done its job. The email explained that my son was remorseful—and if I know this son as well as I think I do, he felt more than remorseful: he downright regretted it and even borderline hated himself for doing it. Since the law had already worked its magic, I, as the parent, got to bring the Gospel, that is, to speak the word of Grace. To heap more law on his head would be to send him further into the condemnation that he was already experiencing. Now was the time to pull him out of it, and that’s a special moment for a Law/Gospel parent.

When he got home, we sat on the couch. The only thing I said to him was: I got an email today from your teacher. He collapsed into tears. I held him; we talked; he told me the story; and then I said: I love you very much, and you are not in trouble. He calmed down. Then I said: it’s time for some root beer floats, don’t you think? His face brightened and he nodded his head vigorously. Then asked: mama, can I just have ice-cream? I don’t really like root-beer. Maybe I don’t know him as well as I thought!

root-beer-float4. My favorite moment of the whole year happened when I was pulled over for speeding. There’s a panic you feel when those red and blue lights are flashing in your rear-view mirror; even more of a panic when those lights don’t go whizzing by when you pull over to get out of the police car’s way. And that’s precisely what transpired one early afternoon with all three kids in the car. With no easy place to stop (busy road, intersection), I had to pull into the parking lot of a Pizza Hut. My heart was racing; these events always cause me severe anxiety and self-loathing. As I waited for the officer to approach, I took some deep breaths and repeated to myself: I’m justified by faith apart from works…justified by faith apart from works. The officer asked for my Driver’s License and registration (as they do). I got both out and as I was handing them to him, I asked, “Why am I being pulled over?” He replied, “Going 68 in a 45.” I was shocked, “Really?! That fast?! In that stretch of road!? That just seems impossible.” He said, “I clocked you going 68.” I asked, “Me? Are you sure it was me?” He said, “Yes; I was using VASCAR; you were going 68.” I responded, “I know those can err…” I paused, and then said, “Oh well, it is what it is.” And gave him my license and registration. He walked back to his car.

It seemed like an eternity before he returned. When he did, he seemed nervous. I looked at him and reached out to receive my ticket. But he wasn’t forthcoming with it. He said to me, “Uhh, I really hate to do this.” He paused again. “I mean, you’ve been so cool; I really hate to give you a ticket, but I have to.” I glanced at the clock, I had to be somewhere very soon and needed this cop to hand over the ticket so I could get on my way (and not speed again…). Finally, I look at him (I’ve been nodding the whole time) and say, “You know, I study theology. In fact I study God’s law. I like to think I understand God’s law; thus, I understand the law well. The law does what it has to do, convict. There is no room for letting me off. The law is what it is. You don’t have to feel bad for doing your job, which is to enforce the law. It’s okay.” He was silent for what felt like a long time. I thought I was going to get in trouble, that maybe he thought I was mocking him or something. But then he says, “Man, now I really feel guilty!” I tried to assure him, “No! You don’t have to. I’m guilty. I deserve the citation! I’m fine with it. Please don’t feel guilty!” He looks at me and says, “We share the same faith. You have shown a brother in the Lord mercy. Plead not guilty. I’ll take care of it on my end.”

I couldn’t stop thinking about that interaction as I drove to the boys’ swim lessons. I couldn’t quite comprehend why he thought I was being merciful. What about it was merciful? Then, a few days later, while reading Romans 8, it came to me: at that moment, miraculously, I had no fear of the Law’s verdict. I was able to receive the citation, to be labeled “guilty” by the civic law because, that’s not where my true identity is ultimately found. I am an adopted daughter of God, justified by faith apart from works (good and bad). The law was just delivering me a citation and only a citation. The “merciful” action manifested itself in allowing him to do his job and even affirming him in it. If I had feared the law, I would have had one of two reactions: raising my voice in anger and resentment, or crying out of fear. But neither happened. For that moment, and by the sheer grace of God, I was able to call a thing what it is rather than entertain what it was saying about me because of the bigger and louder word that was ringing in my ears: forgiven, justified, daughter… “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” (Rom. 8:15)