It seemed like just another day 15 years ago, but one of us was about to have a rather notable epiphany. As was our custom, we had hit McDonalds for happy meals after crossing the occasional visit to Walmart off our list. That day, though, we were short on time so we took the boxes laden with trans-fat goodness to go and climbed back into the car. Cruising down the freeway, my three year old decided her chicken nuggets could not wait. She popped open the box only to discover her toy was not to her satisfaction. She pulled out a miniature plastic doll and threw it to the floor before saying disgustedly: “I don’t want this black Barbie!”
What? Where did that come from? Shocked and appropriately horrified by my child’s disturbing outburst, I launched into mini-lecture mode. I went to great pains to explain how black barbies are just as good as white barbies and how God made us all different but loves us all the same whether we are black or white or Hispanic or Asian. It doesn’t matter to Him and thinking I had suitably dealt with all lurking issues of pre-school prejudice, I added rhetorically: “After all, you know Grandma’s Asian and that makes no difference. We love her just the same even though she looks different than us.” I peeked into the rear-view mirror to survey how my words were being received. My daughter had moved on to consuming the nuggets, effectively ignoring me, but my five year old son caught my eye. His right hand flew up, his flattened palm slapping his forehead in total disbelief. “What??” he exclaimed. “Grandma’s Asian?? When did that happen?”
Suddenly, my son was not the only one having an epiphany. I apparently had a five year old who was totally colorblind and a three year old who somehow wasn’t. How in the world did that happen? Oh brother. Thankfully, it seems, all these years later, that we have happily resolved that little conundrum. But in one way or another, Grandma being Asian has significantly factored into our family’s journey these past two plus decades. We have experienced everything from an incredible trip to Thailand to Buddhist monks in orange robes dropping by our home to say hello (well, to use the bathroom really, but I’m spinning it). For a nice little white girl like me, the term culture shock really doesn’t do my experiences justice. That said, I wouldn’t trade any of it for all the tea in China.
Grandma being Asian has taught this white girl much over the years, but this past summer, my mother-in-law (heretofore M-I-L) struck again without even knowing it.
Here’s the background: In Eastern cultures it is common to have extended family live communally in one home…not for a time, but for close to forever... (This practice is periodically imported into my very Western world, but that is a story for another blog…perhaps more of a whiny lament). In my M-I-L’s home in Bangkok, her sister, brother-in-law and twenty-something niece live with her. This extended family really has never understood my M-I-L’s fairly recent decision to leave Buddhism and follow the teachings of Jesus…but they were about to.
Here’s the story: Some time ago, said Niece got herself into some trouble and in an attempt to get out, resorted to stealing and hocking something of inestimable value from my M-I-L. When the crime was discovered, family members assisted in righting the wrong and getting the item back, but in the ensuing chaos, Niece packed her bags and left, knowing she had brought such shame to the family she would not be allowed to stay. This is standard procedure in that part of the world in that type of situation.
What happened next, however, was far from standard operating procedure. My M-I-L, as a follower of Jesus, decided to forfeit her rights and the ongoing censure of Niece her culture expects and demands, and forgive her…not only forgive, but restore. To everyone’s surprise, she called Niece and invited her to come home. In Asian culture, largely based on honor/shame, this is unheard of. The only people who behave like this in that world are those who understand that they themselves have been forgiven and restored and thus they are called to do the same for those who sin against them. Jesus put it this way: “Freely you have received; freely give” (Matthew 10:8).
Here’s the kicker: Was it easy for my M-I-L to do this? She freely admits it was not. But she just as quickly acknowledges it was the right thing to do. In the aftermath, Niece has asked if she could study the Bible with my M-I-L so that she, too, could learn how to forgive and restore.
It appears that the epiphany Grandma’s Asian?? can’t hold a candle to the epiphany my Thai family experienced this summer: Grandma’s a Jesus follower and Jesus followers forgive.
May we, too, be willing to forgive and restore, especially when it isn’t easy. Who knows what God might do with our obedience?? It might just be something really, really cool.