Just Fifteen Minutes

It was just fifteen minutes of my afternoon. I sat inches away from a woman I had never met before as she brushed tears away from her eyes. Just fifteen minutes.

In those fifteen minutes I learned that she has a PhD in China, but is studying for a PhD here.  She is forty-five years old.  She moved here, leaving career and family, so that her daughter can go to high school here in the United States and subsequently meet the criteria to attend an American university.  Why is she crying? Because her own mother is fighting cancer back in China and she can not be there to help.  Because it is difficult to do PhD work in your second (or third) language.  Because it is extra difficult when you are 45 and raising your daughter alone in a country that is not your own.  Because that difficulty is compounded when you see your daughter struggling to fit in and find success in her American school — your daughter who is studying in her second language.

She doesn’t know me, but she found me on a website — a website that shows my photo, some of my credentials, and some student testimonials.  She contacted me yesterday and wondered if I would read some of her daughter’s writing — would I help her get published?

I read her request and thought to myself, “Oh, boy, another child prodigy.” I judged her.  She was one more parent who believes her child is amazing. (I am one of those parents, too, by the way.)  I told her I would be happy to meet her, but it is the policy of Wyzant  (the tutoring site I use) that she has to enter payment information before I can meet her.  I stick to this policy because it makes my record keeping simple; I never have to collect my own payment, and no one ever owes me any money.  It is clean.

She countered, “Wyzant won’t accept my Chinese credit card. I would be happy to pay you in cash or check.”

I replied, “I only accept payment through Wyzant, but I am happy to meet you tomorrow to see if we are a good match for each other.”  We set up a time and a place. Period.

Well, Wyzant didn’t like that.  They disabled my account about an hour before I was to meet her.  They sent me a notification saying that “based on some recent email correspondence, it appears that you have violated the terms of use.  We have deactivated your account.”

Gasp!

So I can’t access any of my student contacts?  Yikes!  I called them to inquire and the operator said she would “create a ticket” and that they would contact me within 24-48 hours to let me know if I can be re-activated or not.

Or not!?!?!?!?!?

Guys!  I have a dozen or more students that I see fairly regularly.  Yes, this has been a slow week, but I have six appointments scheduled for next week and no way of contacting these people if my account is not reactivated.

Now, I am guessing that they are just going to give me a stern warning with finger shaking, “Do not under any circumstances meet with clients who do not have payment information on file.”  Right, right, I know.  I have told almost half of my clients that I will not allow them to pay me cash because I have signed an agreement.  I really want everything kept within the boundaries of the website — it’s clean and safe and organized.

I had no intention of circumventing that policy.  I had no intention of charging this woman for a  fifteen minute meeting. In fact, when I met with her today, I helped her understand that she could open a PayPal account with her debit card and link it to Wyzant.  Because of the language barrier, that might have been difficult to convey through email correspondence.  We needed the face-to-face.

But not just to set up the payment information. We needed the face-to-face so that I could get off my high horse, stop judging her based on a couple of sentences in an email, and have some compassion on a mom who is feeling overwhelmed and all alone.

I’d do it again.  Ok, I might be a little more crafty in how I communicate time and place now that I know that Big Brother is reading my emails (or that he at least has some kind of algorithm to identify rebellious rule-breaking tutors).  Sometimes we have to be a little flexible. I don’t typically break the rules, but I do find ways to bend them a bit when needed.  I didn’t know this mom’s situation last night.  I wasn’t really trying to bend any rules.

But today, for fifteen minutes, two women connected without the blessing of Wyzant, and I’m not sorry for it.

I John 4:11

Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

Seeing The Gift

My Bible reading this morning was about Abraham and Isaac.  You know the one, they are walking together — father and son — with sticks and flame and knife toward Mount Moriah to make a sacrifice.  Isaac, though young, is pretty sharp.  “Hey, Dad, I noticed we don’t have an animal with us for the sacrifice.”  Abraham assures him that God will provide what is needed, knowing full-well that God has told him to sacrifice Isaac.

Can you imagine?  I don’t think we can.  Here we sit in the United States of America — the land of the free, the home of the brave, the place where parents give their children everything. Everything. I am not exempt from this.  I remember my mother telling me when I was younger, “If I had the money, I would buy you everything.”  And I knew she would.  Still one of her greatest joys is giving to her children and her grandchildren. Like mother, like daughter.  I love to give my children what they need and what they want.  I sometimes go overboard.  I sometimes lose track of what they need and what they want, and buy them things that I think they need or want, and even things that no one needs or wants.

So, can I imagine depriving them of something? Or, gasp, agreeing to sacrifice them? No.  Not at all.

But Abraham had heard from God, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and…offer him there as a burnt offering…”

Abraham “rose up early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac.”

Say what? 

Abraham had waited for this kid.  He and Sarah had Isaac in their old age.  They had longed for him.  Prayed for him.  And, finally, they had welcomed him.  And now Abraham was supposed to lay him on an altar, put a knife into him, and then burn him? 

Hebrews 11 says ” By faith, Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he … was in the act of offering up his only son…” when God said “Do not lay your hand on the boy…now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me” (Genesis 22).

He didn’t make him go through with it! He Himself provided a ram for Abraham,… and a Lamb for us.

If we picture ourselves placing our own children on an altar and raising the knife, we can see our eyes squeezed shut, the sweat beads forming on our brow, the sheer anguish, praying that God will provide.  What relief Abraham must have felt!  God had provided.  His only son didn’t have to become a sacrifice.

But His Only Son did.

And how do we celebrate this?  How do we mark the relief, the thankfulness that we feel when we realize that we have been rescued?

It’s hard to do this with integrity in a culture that hauls out Santa in October, pipes holiday muzak from every speaker, and pressures us to have the perfect gift for everyone on our list.  We are so bombarded by a consumer culture that we can’t even fathom giving up having a Christmas tree, let alone giving up a child.

That is, after all,  what Christmas celebrates.  The Child.  The Sacrifice.  The Gift.

I forget about that.  I am so consumed with finding the perfect gift for my kids, my spouse, my parents, that I forget about The Perfect Gift.  I online shop and run from store to store in order to find that special item, and I overlook The Special Item. Sure, I squeeze in Advent worship and Christmas Eve worship.  I sing “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” and “Joy to the World” but if I am going to be honest (and you know I am) I put my focus on the gifts instead of The Gift. 

But things are shifting over here in the little house by the river.  As I continue on the Minimalist Challenge, and trim out the unnecessary, I am finding it easier to see the things that really matter.  I am unwilling to forfeit my Bible, my journals, my laptop, or my family photos.  I am willing instead to get rid of old puzzles, dusty books, unworn clothing, an extra crockpot, an electric roaster, and a yoga mat that I never use anyway.  I am hoping that as I send more clutter out the door, I will be less distracted and more able to see all the blessings that The Gift has provided for me — not the things that I can pick up on clearance at Target, but the priceless gifts of family, health, love, faith, friendship…

I am learning a lot in this next chapter, guys.  I’ll add learning to my list of priceless gifts.

Titus 2:11-12

For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people.

 It teaches us to say “no” to ungodliness and worldly passions,

and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in this present age.