A mixture of mud, blood, and grass stains eclipsed the once crisp clean blue checked cotton material. I've laundered all of those things out in the past. Just never all at once.
Soaking seemed to be a good place to start. In addition to helping to loosen the stains it provided a quick way to get the soiled shirt out of our sight. I'd forgotten it was there until I began my pre-weekend housework.
Throwing open the lid to put in a load of clothes I peered down at the murky water. In many ways it reflected my feelings. Cloudy, dim, and dark. As I spun out the shirt and pulled it closer for examination my senses unexpectedly reeled.
And I remembered.
The stains were not the result of an impromptu game of soccer or some late-night ultimate freesbie. They were evidence of a brutal attack on our, one and only, son. The assailants whose names I'll never know apparently had one motive.
What did greed get them? Eight dollars and a Skagen wristwatch. What could it have gotten them? A lifetime in prison. After being beaten and left for dead, in fridged temperatures, our son came away with his life. But the outcome could have been very different. We know that and pray that whoever hurt our son will stop before a worse tragedy occurs.
Sin is only pleasant for a season. In the end it brings death.
The skin on my fingers wrinkle from trying to scrub away the powerful reminders of pain. How long do I repeat the process before giving up? Even if the stains wash out it is hard to imagine how much time would need to pass before seeing this shirt would fail to provoke unpleasant memories ellicting feelings of indescribable pain.
If I could put things back to the way they were before. Replace what was taken. Repair what was broken. What would I do about the pain running deep within? His pain. Our pain. The pain of family and friends who wonder why these kinds of things happen.
How long will the memories linger?
How long will we hurt?
How long before God stops those bent on harming others?
How long until I can lay my head down to rest at night without reliving this ordeal?
How long until our son is whole?
These questions have plagued my mind. I imagine that they are as common as a cold when your offspring is harmed. The larger the threat the stronger the reaction, I suppose. The more harm done the more questions.
What about God?
Did He feel the same kind of pain when His Son was beaten, mocked, and murdered. Whether for greed or some other form of gain sin is still sin. It motivates all manners of evil. Someone once said that it was love that kept Jesus on the cross. Agreed. Yet we must never forget that sin put Him there.
The sin of thugs running the streets of the inner city.
Yet "Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they don't know what they are doing." And the soldiers gambled for his clothes by throwing dice."
I'd much rather forgive a friend ,who unknowingly hurt my feelings, then those who violently attacked our son.
"For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses." Matt 6:14-15
"God, You have no idea what You are asking of me. I'm not ready to do this."
And then I remember Calvary.
And the night Jesus spent in the garden agonizing over the blood that He would soon spill to redeem all mankind once and for all. When he cried "Abba, Father, everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will."
Suddenly I'm in my own Garden of Gethsemane. The pain is palpable. The struggle intense. I realize that in order to accomplish the will of God that I, too, must die. To the fears, to the frustration, to the anger, and to the right to understand. I must crush the negative emotions which seek to give birth to sin.
The sin of unforgiveness.
A part of me wants Abba Father to take this cup away. To allow me the luxury of deciding for myself. Yet the best of me realizes that the worst of me might not make the right choice. That would end far more tragically then this wrong done to our son.
It would end in bitterness.
"Bitterness imprisons life; love releases it. Bitterness paralyzes life; love empowers it. Bitterness sours life; love sweetens it. Bitterness sickens life; love heals it. Bitterness blinds life; love anoints its eyes." Harry Fosdick
Making yet another attempt to remove the stain from this shirt prayers raise from desperate lips revealing a needy heart. A heart that desires to be more like Jesus but falls so short, especially in this moment.
I need to be willing to die, so that I can forgive.
"Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you." Ephesians 4:31-32