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All Rise!

Updated: Aug 20, 2023

If you judge people, you have no time to love them. -Mother Teresa

I will add that this includes judgment of self.

I'm more of a homebody, unless I'm leaving the house to reach a destination that will land me back inside somewhere. While I've been home and physically and mentally up to it, I try to get Natalie out of the house to play. I have taken her to the park when weather permitted. The past couple times, I took her to indoor play areas. The compromise is real. There's one at Chick-Fil-A and a McDonald's near our house. Yesterday we went to McDonald's to eat and play. Well, she played. I watched while I held Nasir in the Boba. He sleeps just like a baby in that thing.

I am kind of weird about small talk. It makes me uncomfortable. Sometimes we run into people we just connect with. There was a boy who entered the play area, who Natalie was immediately drawn to. He was probably about 10 or 11 years old. He was so helpful and sweet to her while they played. Children read people well. A few minutes later, in came his grandmother. As she entered, her strawberry shake dropped from the tray she was carrying. She had such a positive attitude about the whole situation. I was immediately drawn to her energy. I watched her interact with her grandson. I'd watched him interact with Natalie. My spirit was pricked. I wanted to let her know her grandson was so polite, so I did! Take that, Comfort Zone! She laughed a little as she said she was surprised. I assured her he was. She continued to make small talk with me, and we ended up talking the whole time we were there. It wasn't a long time, maybe 20 minutes or so, but it was meaningful. I sense that it was for her, too. She asked me questions about my family and my life, and she shared much about her family and her life. She told me she was 70 years old. I told her she was blessed! And I don't remember what cued her, but she told me she isn't sure she'll be around in a few years; at the moment I cannot recall what it was she was referring to when she said she "probably won't make it past a few more years." I think I was just stuck at the thought of her feeling that way. She went on to share with me that she has 6 children by 4 different fathers, none of whom helped raise their children, multiracial, two grandsons, one has Autism. She worked 4 jobs to raise her kids and retired from Disneyland.

I think I reminded her of her daughters. She reminded me of my mom. Our lives definitely have some parallels. It felt easy talking to her. I knew I'd take some things away from our encounter, so I was soaking it up. What struck me the most was that I had no feelings of judgment toward her when she shared certain details. Why did it strike me? Am I that judgmental? Wait...Are you judging me? Ha! Well, I would say, yes, I am, because we all are. And I would say, "Yes," because I used to be quite judgmental, especially regarding specific issues, until: life! What I noticed, though, and what I have pondered on since that divine meeting--because God is always in the details--is this judgment thing. Do you ever find yourself sharing something that you've already judged yourself on, and part of you is waiting for the other person to co-sign on your self-judgment, and part of you is hoping they'll reassure you that it's nothing to be ashamed of? In our hearts, we put ourselves on trial and make those around us the jury. And our mouths put our hearts on display [Pastor Botts; ref.: Matthew 12:34]. Think about it. I honestly hadn't thought about it this deeply until today, after having steeped my mind in what she said, since yesterday. Let me break it down:

When she told me she had 6 children, particularly by 4 different fathers, I could see and sense her inviting me on to the bench in the courtroom of her heart. But she was already sitting there. She was the judge. I was the jury. I gently reassured her, without words, just gestures, that I was there and following her story. It felt natural to me, and the conversation continued to flow. The reason this is poignant to me is that it is really easy to judge that story. The single mother with multiple children and multiple fathers who aren't around. All rise! Right?! I remember struggling with this notion when I knew I needed to leave the relationship with my first born's father. Growing up, my mother always made it clear that she was proud that all of her children were by my father, that we all have [or had, as marriages have ensued] the same last name [although my father had 5 other children from a previous relationship...hmmm...I digress]. This was important to my mother, and that's okay. For whatever reason, however, it became a pigeonhole for me as an adult who needed to make healthy decisions for my own life. I remember knowing what I needed to do, but thinking how awful it would be to have children with different fathers and different last names. I hop-scotched between leaving for the betterment of me and my daughter's overall well-being, and staying to maintain this image of what is good and right that was ingrained in me. After fasting [literally], much prayer and support, I am thankful that I chose the former. I now have three children, and it has been challenging dealing with my oldest daughter having a different last name than everyone in our home. It's an ongoing conversation we have when she brings it up. It's something my husband and I talk about. It's hard to describe exactly how I feel about it. A few emotions, I'd say. But, it's not the end of the world, and I wouldn't change the decision I made to move on from something toxic just to avoid these conversations and these emotions.

I hope the woman at McDonald's felt the grace I held in my heart for her in those moments of sharing. I realize I finally gave myself grace, too--the very grace I extended to her. As a matter of fact, as she told her story, my admiration for her strength was ever present. It still escapes me, after thinking and writing this long [grrr] as to what prompted her sentiment that she won't be around much longer, but I hope she felt alive after opening up to me. I hope she reminded herself of how amazing she is and how much she has to live for. I hope her self-judgment heard the jury's verdict in that McDonald's play area yesterday: The jury finds the defendant: Guilty. Sentence: Time served! She is 70 years old, people! 7-0. Se-ven-ty. Seventy! Locked in a prison made of walls built by her own conscience. For too long. Lord, I pray she is liberated now, or very soon. It's time to forgive ourselves for the decisions we made when we didn't know any better and move forward to enjoy a fulfilling life. We've done the time, and sure there are consequences that linger throughout the years. Consequences aren't meant to be a prison, but a reminder to keep us on the straight and narrow, a reminder of how far we've come from where we've been. And surely, there is a time, place, reason and season for judgment. Judgment is not bad in and of itself; judgment is good when used well. As I shared with a friend recently, our feelings are valid, but feelings are fluid--something I have to remind myself of often--so we shouldn't hang on to them beyond the point that they no longer serve a positive purpose. Get off the bench! Court is adjourned!

Shush Your Shame

Jennifer Jackson

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