Sunday, April 8, 2012

the rusty purple one

"i'll take the rusty one."  i heard the words tumble out of her mouth.  cheerfully.  willingly. "what?" i thought to myself.  perplexed. confused. amazed. did my 12 year old daughter really just agree to ride the rusty bike to the beach?  it was our final morning of vacation.  for six days straight there had been a battle brewing over this outcast bicycle, this pedaling pariah. we were spoiled with just enough bikes for everyone at the beach house --  two families worth. what more could we ask for?  except one was purple and rusted and kind of ugly...the seat cover torn and the gear shift cranky.  as the children began to line up with who would ride what, the bike sat unattended.  undesirable.  unwanted.  one girl would get the pretty white and turquoise bike bearing hardly a scratch and the other daughter would be left to ride the unappealing rusty purple.  you can imagine the conversations each morning as the slew of kids would finish bowls of cereal, hop on bikes and ride wildly to the beach. towels flapping and flip flops pedaling.  oh you can imagine.

but this morning, this final morning, as i stood packing snacks into the cooler, i heard what every mother is dying to hear.  i heard what every parent dreams of hearing from their child:  sacrifice...willingness...agreement.  i heard my daughter offer to take the rusty one.  i heard my girl choose to take the high road.  she put someone ahead of herself and it about knocked this mama right off her sunburnt feet.  and it only took six days.

it's hard to take the rusty one, isn't it?  we're supposed to.  we're supposed to put others first.  Christ couldn't be clearer.  "do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves."  ~ philippians 2:3  we are supposed to, but we're not wired to. our God says consider others;  our human nature says consider me.  let me be first! give me the best! i want the biggest! and we claw and clamor to have our say and get our way and the greed swells and the contagion spreads and, ultimately, no one feels especially happy.

i had grown up hearing about how we are all born sinful.  even small children.  even babies.  theoretically, i got that.  but i think the first time i clearly understood what the natural, sinful state of man looked like was at a child's birthday party.  it was emily's 4th birthday and we had some kind of butterfly theme going that year.  the children were all wearing wings. i remember those wings. they stood around the table as i sliced the purple and pink cake and almost every one of them began asking me for the big piece with the butterfly.  the biggest one.  the most icing.  the best slice.  cute as buttons they all were in their curls and bows and butterfly wings.  but each one of them demanding to be first...desiring the lion's share.  i stood there with cake knife in hand feeling flustered, certain i was in over my head with this parenting thing.  i had managed large classes of unruly high school students for years, but these four year olds were a whole different thing.  greedy mutiny was at hand.  for a split second i considered climbing onto the dining room chair and pointing my frosted fingers at these bellicose butterflies, a battle cry at my lips.   thankfully, i regained my composure, set down the knife, and in a very low voice told them i had a special secret:  only patient and quiet butterflies would get a slice of cake. it wasn't eloquent or brilliant, but it helped to restore order....that is until we had to decide who would sit next to the birthday butterfly and then the clamoring and positioning began once again.

that was long ago.  emily is 16 now and no longer wearing wings.  and though she still loves cake, she would probably pass on the piece with the most frosting.  but there are other things.  i thought i was in over my head with those wing-wearing four year with five children from toddler to teen, i am drowning some days.  drowning and still desiring to climb up on a chair and annihilate that sneaky selfishness which is an ever present undercurrent in our home.

but i'm the real problem.  the kids may, on occasion, act out of selfish ambition, but so does their mama.  there are plenty of days when she, too, wants to stomp her foot and raise high her hand and yell, me first, me first!   i've heard about some women who after becoming mothers just naturally turn all sacrificial and sweet. who willingly give up their seats and their soup and their solitude. but not me.  that isn't natural.  it may be spiritual, but it has to be worked at.  i heard one woman say she hasn't bought herself a new outfit in over a year because she is so busy buying for her kids. personally,  i think that's a bit extreme.  i am pretty sure that's not what is being asked of us mothers.  but i kind of get it.  if i make eggs and divvy them up to five plates in front of five hungry kids, a lot of times there isn't anything left over for me.  i sip my coffee and take pleasure in watching my children eat something warm.  and it is fine and natural and easy.  but there are other times in my motherhood where i want my way and am willing to fight for it.

so we pray for softer hearts in our house.  that's it.  that's almost every night.  Lord would you give us soft hearts and gentle words?  Lord would you help us to put others first? Lord would you teach us better, "the first shall be last and the last shall be first."  it isn't easy, but it is how Jesus modeled life for us and we know it is right.

the children raced to the shoreline on bikes that last morning of vacation. hair flapping out behind them, the sun just in front of them and a touch of sweetness between them.  someone had sacrificed just a little.  what would life look like if we truly lived this way in our homes and in our hearts.  what if we could every day embrace these words of Jesus.  what if we were more willing to ride the rusty purple bike?

softer. gentler. kinder.  sweeter.

as i jot down this little piece, easter evening, i can't help but think my bike story a bit trite.  i was all impressed with my daughter's willingness to ride the undesirable...i even called it sacrifice.  and yet you and i both know, that is nothing compared to the sacrifice Christ gave at the cross.  it is nothing compared to what He willingly chose to do for all of us.  He wasn't a slightly spoilt child at the seashore, He was the perfect son of God.  yet still, He chose the unwanted and undesirable and unappealing. 

 He chose the ultimate ugly rusty purple...for undeserving and unworthy us. 

 He chose the cross.

so as not to confuse you...this is NOT the rusty purple bike.  just a sweet picture of sarah and her friend.


Aus said...

Jody - so rare that I'm moved to question something that you've said! My thought is this...the "depth" of the sacrifice (choosing the rusty bike) is all in the perspective of the chooser - I don't see all that great a difference between choosing the rusty bike or the cross! And somehow - I don't think Christ would either! I've been kicking around a post about our Easter Sunday scripture passage - going to write it later today - stop by the blog for a look!

hugs - aus and co.

jodymcnatt said...

aus ~ great point and i do agree with you. sometimes, as mother, it is hard to see though. my kids have so much, when i witness a little sacrifice here and there, it is appreciated, but also kind of expected -- part of life in a large family. bella giving up her dora doll and teacups in the pool to a friend...well, that was huge too. it is Christ In Us...Where We Are. happy easter to you and your family!