© 2011 David’s Harp and Pen
“The humble cannot be embarrassed. When you start to feel embarrassed, it is because you are beginning to move in pride. Let embarrassment be a warning that you have departed from wisdom.”
This appeared in the church bulletin one Sunday. The church secretary said she put it in after reading it in a devotional. An extensive search on the Internet failed to reveal the phrase coiner, but as far as I was concerned, God had spoken it directly to me using a Jupiter-sized megaphone. I had always assumed that I embarrassed so easily because I thought too little of myself. Was the real culprit pride instead of insecurity? Or is it perhaps that conceit and insecurity are two sides of the same coin? All I was really sure of was that I spent too much time thinking about how I looked to others, which was a major time and energy waster. So, one fateful Saturday morning, I decided to start my day with the resolution to not get embarrassed, no matter what happened.
I chose the wrong Saturday to make that resolution.
It didn’t help that I began the day majorly sleep-deprived. I had been up most of the night with Shane, who was facing one of his greatest temptations ever. I won’t go into detail, but it was all I could do to keep him from wiping out the world’s chocolate supply in one shot.
After making my resolution, I went to my friend’s house to pick up his three kids. Arthur Collins was a single dad who went to my church. He wasn’t a member of the power trio because, first of all, if there were four men in the power trio, it would be the power quartet, and second, the power trio would not have him. At that time, I had started to see why. Arthur was about to close on his third divorce, and already, he was trying to line up a fourth wife. His first wife he met in Bible College. She was the mother of his three kids: Brittany, age 10, Zechariah, age 6, and Jonathan, age 3. After ten years together she left him and the kids because, according to Arthur, she said God released her from the marriage so she could marry their marriage counselor.
Four hours after his first divorce was finalized, Arthur married his second wife (in fact, I think the judge that signed the final decree for the divorce from his first wife was the same one who officiated the marriage to his second wife), but that marriage lasted only four months. She was sent up the river after setting up a charity and raising money for non-existent starving children in a non-existent third world nation.
His third marriage was, by far, the worst. They made it a whole year, until she was arrested for polygamy, with husbands all over the country. It turns out she had multiple personalities, and each was married to a different man. Arthur would say in her defense, though, that the personality he was married to was completely faithful to him throughout their marriage.
However, none of his wives had been nearly as scary as his girlfriends. His last girlfriend he met online on a so-called Christian dating website. He proposed to her after 15 days and sent her all kinds of money and gifts. Well, it turned out this beautiful, God-fearing woman in Russia was actually a creepy 63-year-old man in a trailer just outside Lincoln, Nebraska, who had scammed all sorts of men out of all sorts of money.
I frequently watched his kids and took them places because I felt sorry for all of them. I was getting to the point, however, where my sympathy for Arthur was beginning to diminish by leaps and bounds. That fateful Saturday was going to be the icing on the cake.
“Margaret!!” Brittany, Zechariah, and Jonathan yelled in unison as I walked in the door.
“Howdy!” I responded. “Are you guys ready to go to Palucci’s?” Palucci’s was one of those pizza places that had an arcade, kid casino, and mini-amusement park inside.
“I don’t know if I should leave Dad alone. He’s having a really hard time,” answered Brittany, who being the oldest and only girl, often wrongly took on the responsibility of being “the woman of the house.”
“What’s wrong, Sweetie?” I asked.
“His girlfriend just dumped him. He’s very depressed.”
“Where is he?”
“In the den.”
“Hmmm…why don’t you get your brothers ready and I’ll go talk to your dad?”
I walked through the unkempt living room to the even more unkempt den where Arthur was lying face down on the futon, groaning.
“Arthur? Arthur, what’s going on?” I inquired.
“It’s over. It’s all over. She said no. I feel so alone,” Arthur whined.
“Who? What? Why?”
“Suzanne! She said no! I can’t get a refund on the ring, either!”
“Suzanne? Didn’t you just meet her, like a week and a half ago?”
“And you already proposed to her?”
“Yes. God told me she was the one. Not only did she say no, she blocked me from her email and changed her phone number. Why does God keep letting my heart get broken?”
(By the way, Arthur tells EVERY woman he dates that God said she was the one. I want to state for the record, because I know someone will ask, no, there was never anything between Arthur and me, and, not to be mean, but if he ever DID say to me, “God told me you were the one,” I think I would have to go looking for another god.)
I knew I had to be firm with Arthur and talk some sense into him, so I took a deep breath and gritted my teeth.
“Ummm…Arthur, I hate to tell you, but I don’t think you can blame any of this on God. I mean, as long as I’ve known you, you’ve said God was the one who put you up to getting involved with all of these different women, and I really don’t think God is that fickle…or mean.”
“I’m a good man. Any woman would be lucky to have me. Why can’t any of them see that?”
“So, what are you saying? That it’s always been the girl’s fault that your relationships haven’t worked?”
“Well, to be honest, yes! Look at Suzanne. We had a great thing going, and she just threw it all away. And why?”
“Eh, maybe because you bought a ring and proposed to her after less than two weeks, and you hadn’t even met in person yet?”
“But that just shows I’m committed.”
“Or maybe you need to be committed.”
Arthur got up from the futon and looked at me with derision in his eyes.
“Who are you to lecture me about relationships, Margaret? You’re 35, you’ve never been married, and Clinton was serving his first term as President the last time you had a date,” he said snidely.
There it was. That feeling of shame and embarrassment with which I was so familiar. I reminded myself that I shouldn’t take it personally, that it was only Satan trying to push my buttons. I needed to stand firm, because Arthur’s impulsiveness, stupidity, and selfishness in relationships were taking a toll on his kids, and someone had to say something.
“Oh, so are you saying that because I have so little romantic experience that I don’t know what I’m talking about, Arthur?” I shot back. “Look, just because I’ve never been run over by an eighteen wheeler doesn’t mean I don’t have the right to say that getting run over by an eighteen wheeler is a bad idea! This jumping from relationship to relationship, and telling your kids and yourself that God’s been the One to tell you to get involved with all these women, is bad! Bad, bad, bad!”
“But God says it’s not good for man to live alone. Besides, there are some people, like me, who just do better being married,” he answered, not sounding like he was totally convinced himself.
“But, if you do better married, wouldn’t you, like, still be married? And not working on your third divorce?”
“And my kids need a mother.”
“Your kids have a mother. They don’t need any more wicked stepmothers. You can’t stand there and tell me God would tell you to get involved with all these women with such glaring character defects.”
“God told Hosea to marry a prostitute!”
“Yes. God did. So, what you’re saying is God told you to marry all of your wives and date all your girlfriends to symbolize ancient Israel’s unfaithfulness to God, idolatry, and child sacrifice, which resulted in their subsequent demise at the hands of the Assyrians and banishment to the four corners of the earth? How’s that working out for you?”
Arthur’s face turned red with fury, and he walked right up to me and said, “You’ll never understand my pain! You’ve never had the guts to love someone like I have, which is why you’ll end up old and alone! We are NOT going to have this conversation again.”
He marched out of the den to the boy’s bedroom, and as he walked, he yelled, “Have the kids back by six!”
And that feeling hit me yet again. I knew I was right. I knew I was making an important point. But as soon as I heard his “old and alone” comment, all that discomfiture came rushing back. I knew it was the Enemy (and Arthur) just trying to keep me quiet, because I was right, but I still didn’t know how to get past it, and I knew that the whole shame game was keeping me from being more effective for God.
Well, not the best start for today, but I shall not relent, I thought to myself.
I gathered up the kids and we headed for my minivan (I drive a minivan because of Bernie). As I looked overhead to the grayness of the sky and felt the chill in the air, my cell phone rang. I answered it as I tried to get the kids into minivan. It was Ryan.
“Hello?” I answered.
“Tell me!” He said, with the sound of mischief in his voice.
“Eh…tell you what?” I hated trick questions, especially first thing in the morning.
“What’s the plan for today?”
“Oh, I’m taking Brittany, Zechariah, and Jonathan to Palucci’s.”
“Who are Brittany, Zechariah, and Jonathan and what is a Palucci?”
“Oh, they’re my friend Arthur’s kids. I’m taking them out today. Palucci’s is a pizzeria with video games and a little amusement park for kids.”
“Great! Come get me!” Ryan exclaimed, sounding like a little kid himself.
“But what about the worship arts intern barbecue?” I asked.
“It got cancelled because it’s going to rain, and I’m glad, because I don’t want to be barbecued.”
“It was a joke.”
It took me a second to catch on. “Oh, I get it! Sorry,” I replied with nervous laughter. It was too early in the morning to even attempt funambulistics.
Don’t get embarrassed, Margaret. Not everyone gets every joke, I told myself.
“Do you want to just meet us there? I’ll give you directions,” I inquired.
“Can’t. The car I’ve been driving is in the garage getting repaired,” Ryan answered.
“Okay, but, are you sure you want to deal with all the yelling, screaming, fighting, etc.?” I asked.
“Margaret, you’re really not that bad,” he answered with a note of sarcasm in his voice.
I finished my phone conversation, loaded the boys into their medieval torture—I mean child safety seats—and into my minivan, and off we went to get Ryan. Now, I was always happy to spend time with Ryan in any capacity. However, whenever I was around him, embarrassing antics always seemed to follow, more so than normal, and with a bunch of rambunctious children in tow, my resolve to get through the day abashment free was going to be surely tested.
I picked up Ryan at his host home. The ride to Palucci’s was, for the most part, uneventful, which should’ve triggered alarms in my head. I parked the minivan in Palucci’s lot and unloaded the kids. Palucci’s was at the end of a shopping mall, and on the outside the place was full of shrubbery.
“It’s really nice of you take the kids out like this,” Ryan said.
Omigosh! I thought. This is a test, isn’t it? I bet he’s going to be watching me to see what kind of mother material I am. I better be on my best behavior.
“Yeah, well, they’re sweet kids, and Arthur needs the help. I like to think I’m a stabilizing force in their lives. You know, showing them the ropes,” I said, trying to sound maternal.
Ryan pointed his finger towards Zechariah and asked, “Is that one of the ropes you showed them?”
I turned my head to see Zechariah as he peed in the bush next to Palucci’s entrance.
“Zechariah!!” I screamed.
Zechariah chuckled to himself as he redid his pants. I was so mad I could’ve spit. I walked over to him, determined to set him straight.
“What do you think you’re doing?” I yelled. “Couldn’t you have waited until we got into Palucci’s?”
Zechariah answered, “Dad said it’s okay for me to pee in the bushes.”
“Like hell he did!” I shot back, forgetting I was talking to a child.
“Ooh! You said h-e-double hockey sticks!” Zechariah teased.
Brittany, Zechariah, and Jonathan all pointed their fingers at me and chided in unison, “Margaret is a potty mouth! Margaret is a potty mouth!”
“Am not! Am not!” I replied, forgetting I was no longer a five year old.
Joining in the laughter at my expense was Ryan. He walked up behind me with a huge grin on his face. We gathered the kids together and began to walk into Palucci’s.
“You’re a woman, and I know it seems foreign to you,” Ryan whispered to me, “but it’s a man’s God-given right to pee on anything he pleases.”
“Really?” I asked, not sure if Ryan was pulling my leg again.
“Well, within reason, of course, but any kind of greenery is fair game.”
That certainly explained a lot. I started to feel guilty for all the times I scolded Bernie for treating my neighbors bushes like his own personal Port-o-Potties, when really it was just my silly conventions interfering with the natural order of things. It turns out my education for that day was just beginning.