As a high schooler and throughout college, I held a myriad of summer jobs: working at farm stands, packing scores of apples, scooping ice cream, answering phones at a temp agency, and babysitting. Lots of babysitting.
One hot summer’s day, a couple of months before my wedding, I received a call to babysit for a new family who had recently registered through a babysitting service. Previously, I had worked for families I knew, mainly from church. But during this particular summer, I had chosen to babysit through an agency, who vetted me, and paid handsomely for my work. The clients were wealthy and willing to pay for sitters that had been professionally screened. So I would care for little ones many days and nights, spooning dinner to babies, cooking thick grilled cheese, and slicing up fruit. Once the children had been tucked in bed for the evening, I addressed our wedding invitations. There was a lengthy list of wedding tasks that I needed to finish, and it was satisfying to cross things off my list as the summer pushed along. It was a whirlwind time of stashing away money for our upcoming marriage, and I was thankful for the work.
So this new family had two young children, and on that particular day they needed a sitter from mid-morning to late afternoon. I walked through the house with the mother, noticing that the baby’s nose was perfectly orange, essentially matching his tufts of hair. It was startling and difficult to ignore, until the woman told me that she had read an article on the benefits of feeding infants only carrots, several times a day; thus the carrot-colored nose. I must have looked interested during her soliloquy, because as she floated through the house, me following, she continued citing her study and sources and the benefits she was already witnessing in feeding carrots, resulting in her son’s power of intelligence. I nodded, when all I could actually see before me was a lump of a baby, with a frightfully bright nose, shaking his plastic spoon and fussing as he sat squirming in his high chair.
She checked her watch as she clinically listed instructions about naps and outdoor play, plus emergency numbers. We finished our discussions right where we began, back in the narrow kitchen. The house itself was large, the neighborhood expensive, but the slim kitchen was a mess, unloved and untended. If you have time, feel free to wash the dishes, she said, all serious, pointing to the overflow in the sink. And with that, she plucked her keys off the hook and was gone.
I pulled the little orange-nosed baby from his chair, and grabbing a paper towel, wetted it with warm water, wiping his face. He rewarded me with a one-toothed grin, and my heart softened. It wasn’t his fault that his mother seemed a bit off. With him on my hip, and his three-year-old sister traipsing behind me, we stepped into the back yard to play.
It was hot, and the children enjoyed the breeze created as I pushed them on their swings. They guzzled juice from their sippy cups, thirsty from the heat wave. After some time, I heard the phone ringing, and gathering up the baby and his sister, stepped indoors to answer, as the mother had mentioned she would call to check in. My hand was on the phone when the ringing ceased. I thought I heard a voice within the house. Odd.
I listened, but all was quiet. Glancing out the window, I noticed neighbors conversing. That explains the voice, I reasoned, never one to easily spook.
Clean plates and bowls seemed a rarity in this space, but I managed to pluck several from a high shelf, quartering a thin peanut butter and jelly for the toddler, while heating carrots for the baby. I sang them a few snappy songs while they dined, and the little girl kicked her legs in rhythm as she tried to sing through her sandwich. I played airplane with the spoon as I fed the little one his mushy carrots. He watched me, and grinned, as did his sister.
After lunch, it was naptime. I washed both their hands and upturned, blinking faces before placing the baby in his crib and pulling the shade low. After reading several books to the toddler, her eyes grew heavy, and she drifted off. I tiptoed out of the bedroom, cracking the door as I retreated to wash the mountain of dirty dishes.
As I entered the kitchen, I jumped. Directly in front of me was a middle-aged man, wearing a white, ill-fitting bathrobe. My heart thudded into my throat.
Kristin, right? He stepped closer. My wife said a sitter was coming over today. Didn’t she tell you I was home?
I shook my head.
Didn’t mean to frighten you, he offered, again moving closer.
Suddenly the doorbell rang quite loudly, and through the window, I saw the mailman. Mr. Bathrobe stepped away to answer, and the baby started crying. As I was trying to figure my escape, the mother pulled into the driveway.
I put on my game face, looking collected as my heart beat: a slow, heavy drum. Collecting my pay, I worked very hard to walk calmly to the car. My hands were shaking as I left.
I had experienced that same thudding fear a few years prior, while on a missions trip one spring break during college. While I might have spent the week fully serving impoverished people who subsisted upon trash sifted from the ruins of the local dump, I spent the entire time numb, glancing over my shoulder, making certain I was never alone with the missions pastor leading the trip. My roommates pushed a chair under our locked door each night; a sweet gesture to protect me, as they too, had noticed. I hardly slept.
It was the kindness of God that protected me physically, but the pastor’s inappropriate words, his leering, broke something inside. Where trust had once resided, a brick wall formed. There is a searing pain when a man of the cloth is duplicitous. It is confusing and terrifying to be fooled and sinned against by someone whose vocation revolves around serving God.
Snow and ice pelted us last week. Many lost power, and tree limbs buckled under the weight of the ice, occasionally snapping under the pressure. Some roads were blocked due to downed trees and power lines. While driving our daughter to class, I was forced to take a completely different road pattern; the journey took us far longer than usual.
With all of these gray-sky days full of icy snow and rain, my outdoor walks have been few, and I have missed them. Exercising at the gym feels so confining compared to the great outdoors.
Yesterday morning, as I paid bills at my desk upstairs, I heard the trilling of a bird. Turning the blinds, before me sat a chunky cardinal outside my window, perched brightly in the tree. His cheer matched the sun that cascaded after days of storms and clouds. It was an invitation to go walking, and I wasted no time in grabbing my heavy coat.
The blue sky and freezing air were encompassed by the sun. It felt perfect to move outside, deeply inhaling the cold air. Invigorating.
If I had not paid attention to the news, I would have believed that we would continue, storm-free. There was nothing dark to behold as I scanned the skies. Yet in reality, another winter storm was moving our way, and quickly.
This morning the skies are again dark as ice prevails.
Do we ever truly know the deep recesses of a person’s heart? The grief I have experienced lately rushes in much like a winter storm. One moment the skies are bright and cold and stunning; and then I receive news of a trusted Christian pastor or leader whose double-life has been revealed. I have been fooled again. The shock of it brings back the familiar thudding of my heart. Families are shattered; scores of people injured; trust obliterated.
I think of the cloak of burden from living a secret existence, of covering up lies, while teaching Bible truth? Dark and exhausting….perhaps even worse than being exposed.
I once heard a pastor suggest that we should mentally picture the most evil person our minds could conjure. He settled on Adolf Hitler as an example.
Now imagine, he continued, yourself, with your own sins: anger, jealousy, complaining. Think of it: those things are every bit as heinous to God as the atrocities committed by Hitler. The effects are different, but sin is sin.
Deuteronomy 4:9 says to keep your soul diligently. I have been thinking this through. I typically don’t trip headlong into sin overnight. It is a slow, lulling fade, made one compromise at a time. And when I am daily in prayer and in my Bible and trusting God? Then my soul is kept diligently. It is a cocoon of safety in a broken world. And when I do stumble? Immediate truth-telling; keeping short accounts with God and stepping back onto the safe and narrow way.
In a few days my favorite girl, our daughter, will turn seventeen. Through the sparkly candles, I will remember my baby girl, age one, poking at the carrot cake, smiling and clapping and eating with her pink spoon. The years have slipped away; and I am watching the hourglass sands filling heavy as her senior year is racing to our doorstep.
I leaned against the fence as she rode bareback the other day, in that cold winter air, back unswerving, golden hair spilling from beneath her riding helmet. Her tone was low and gentle as she spoke to the horse, patting his neck as he trotted in obedience. It was lovely; a clear image I will bring to mind again and again. She is strong and beautiful.
I long to protect her from everything: pain, betrayal, loss. But in her short life, she has already beheld such things, despite my German Shepherd-like protective measures. It is the way of life on earth. Recently, a highly trusted teacher, interwoven within our family’s faith story, was exposed for living a double-life. To see my daughter’s utter disbelief, followed by a resigned: you can’t trust anyone shattered my heart into little bits. I know that feeling well; it will be tough sledding for a time to come. In the storms we are forced to navigate new routes. I am so sorry, my sweet girl.
The farm where she rides is currently a muddy mess. I recently invested in a pair of mucking boots, so I can step into the pen with my daughter, helping her retrieve and tack up her horse. I might not be able to sweep away the cavernous mess, but I can step inside and venture into the difficulty. Together, in the muddy trenches. Plowing ahead with courage, frequently reminding one other to keep our souls, diligently.