I wrote this article several weeks ago, when the pro-life statutes were making headlines and heartlines in Austin, TX. This is still a very real battle, and please know that you should be praying for the outcome of the decision regarding the legality of these laws by a Supreme Court justice within just a few days. This judge needs a supernatural encounter with God, with Jesus Christ, the Author of Life. As you read my heart here, please remember that I wrote it several weeks ago, so the “present” frame of mind is now in the past.
The recent uproars in Austin have brought to my memory some of the things I learned and grew in during the time we lived there. There’s a lot that’s weird about Austin, and they like it that way. It was the biggest culture shock I’ve experienced, having grown up in Lubbock (a big town spread out and very small-town feeling) and spent my teenage years in rural central Texas. There’s plenty going on in Austin to condemn; it’s the most liberal spot in the whole state. But as a conservative, Holy Ghost Christian, I can tell you – there are some things to be learned there, if you’ll allow me to share.
We moved to south Austin in January of 2007 when my husband transferred in his job with Panera Bread. Our boys were 7, 3, and 2 at the time. We had been homeschooling only since school had let out the previous May; it had been almost a year since I had looked into homeschooling and done the research that led to that decision. It was the best decision we ever made for our family and for our kids, and through it the Lord has not only taught me patience but has allowed me to really get to know my own children. He’s taught me love, brought me back from selfishness, and much more.
What’s Austin like? Well, it’s weird, but you knew that. It’s super crowded; I’ve never dealt with that much traffic anywhere else but Houston. Really, it’s quite ridiculous for it to take over a half hour to get less than 10 miles up the road. It’s very musical, but I’m sure you knew that as well. There are free music venues all over town, and – traffic allowing – you can concert hop from one free concert to the next until you find one you like. Especially during the summer, there is always something to be done and always a band there to provide the accompaniment to do it.
It’s very environmentally minded. You might know that already as well. This is one of the areas where I feel that I really did learn some things. Yes, some of the greener minded folks there are just green for green’s sake; some of them are a little nutty about it, and some of them put the environment before reason or before humanity. I believe we absolutely are supposed to take care of what we’ve been given, and with the guidance of the Holy Spirit while living in this place, He was able to help me see past the rhetoric to the truth behind some of those thoughts and actions. He has created us to work in a certain way, created our bodies to operate a certain way, and has provided the means to make it work. Yes, He also gave us a brain to solve problems, but nothing man can create will ever equal or better what the Lord intended. This whole arena covers many subjects, so it’s difficult to generalize, but trust me on this – there are times to lean on God’s revealed word to man and his inventions, and there are times to trust His supernatural provision and perfect foresight in what He has already given. Living in Austin, I learned to see more of His provision in the earth, more of the perfection of His creation, more of His perfect intentions for the people He loves.
The main thing I learned in Austin? Don’t let this scare you, or send your walls right back up, but the main thing I learned in Austin is a level of tolerance. Let me back up just a moment and explain that my definition of that word is not the same as what you’ve probably come to recognize. It’s probably better described as LOVE and MERCY and possibly even GRACE. Mercy is probably the best word, and I can promise you that anyone who uses the word “tolerance” with a pure heart and intention may not even realize it, but what they truly want is MERCY.
I have to take a moment here to define mercy, and differentiate it from grace. These two words are often used interchangeably, and that’s not quite a correct usage. You’ve probably heard grace defined as “unmerited favor,” and that is true; it’s not a complete definition, but it’s definitely true of grace. Another definition I’ve heard recently and loved is that God gives us the means to do what we cannot do alone. Maybe a word closer to being a synonym with grace would be empowerment. Mercy, on the other hand, is God’s willingness to look past (or rather, through the blood and sacrifice of Jesus) the parts of life where we mess it up. Sometimes we just stumble into something we knew wasn’t right, sometimes we step out and do things not knowing if they are right or not, and sometimes we are just downright misled or ignorant about something being right. Mercy is God saying, it’s okay if you don’t understand; let’s keep moving forward. Mercy is what allows God to extend us grace.
How did living in Austin teach me mercy? Because they understand tolerance. They don’t throw stones, they don’t judge. They are okay with whatever you believe, because they believe that everyone has a right to believe whatever they want to believe. Know what? I believe that, too. God gave us all a free will. He gives us the choice to choose Him or not. The difference between tolerance and mercy is that tolerance thinks all things are acceptable; mercy knows right from wrong, but recognizes man’s susceptibility to deception and moves forward even when the wrong stuff is present.
Mercy is the absence of judgment. Mercy is being able to look at someone through the eyes of Jesus and see that all the “stuff” they deal with has them bound in chains so that they can’t see out, can’t understand, and may not even recognize the chains that bind them. It sees all of that and reaches out to meet people where they are, and – one step at a time, one truth at a time – lead them toward Jesus. Only the Holy Spirit can reveal to them those chains that bind them. It’s not my job to point out the chains; it’s my job to extend love and mercy, and to lead them (it’s about RELATIONSHIP!!!) to a place where God can free them of those chains.
All of that said, our time in Austin wasn’t entirely judgment-free. We were ridiculed and persecuted to the point that we left a park play day once. Why? We’d brought a styrofoam cooler, and apparently that’s a cardinal sin. (Remember the environmental nuts I mentioned? They were there that day in full force!) There are extremes in both directions, absolutely. Are styrofoam coolers good for the environment? No. But something was needed and it fit our budget; a sin of convenience, I suppose.
But all of this “tolerance” and mercy also helped me recognize something in myself. As I reached the point where I extended this type of mercy to others, as I began my journey towards ridding my heart of judgment, something hit me. It hit me hard to realize that I didn’t always treat my own family, my own children, with the love and mercy I was learning to extend to others. I made it a mission to significantly decrease if not fully desist in yelling at my children. I made it a mission to not treat my children differently in front of others than I did at home; I recognized that I was much more patient, loving, and full of mercy if there was a homeschooling social circle watching me. I knew how to do it; I did it every time we left the house. I just wasn’t doing it at home, and that stung my heart.
With my own kids, it’s not about judgment. It’s more about patience and recognizing that I am their teacher, that it’s my responsibility to teach them right from wrong, and that yelling doesn’t accomplish any learning. It’s about recognizing their youth, and about reminding myself that the Lord gives even ME chance after chance after chance to learn my lesson. I live through the consequences of my decisions, but I always get another chance. He’s a good daddy, and He recognizes our heart in any situation. He extends mercy, helps us up, and walks along with us past the same things until we understand. What a fantastic example of how I should be with my children!
And once I learn to do it with my children, what a perfect example of how I should live life and treat those around me. If I’m the only Jesus they ever see, if I’m the only Bible they ever read, I better be living out that mercy and love all the time. Lord God, help me to treat others with the love and mercy of the Father. Help me to see people through the blood of Jesus, to extend mercy, and to love them through relationship right to the Throne of Grace.