Can I Trust You?

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But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy … so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying.  Titus 3:4-8a (NIV)

“It’s time for lunch, and I’m hungry as a lion,” said my roommate as four of us first graders stood in front of a row of sinks in the large bathroom of the girls’ dorm at Kent Academy. “Let’s wash really good.”

Another roommate chimed in. “I heard that the aunties check your hands for dirt. If they find even one speck under your fingernails, you’ll get into trouble.”

So many rules here, I thought, as I watched the cool water splash over my fingers. How will I ever keep them straight? And how can I tell if they’re true or if someone’s just teasing?

After drying our hands with the long, terry-cloth towel looped over a wooden dowel, we stepped out into our hall. The other girls turned left and headed outside. But I stopped. I thought I heard a familiar voice and looked to my right.

The Girls Dorm is the “H” shaped building in the center of the photo. Photo Courtesy of Simroots Archives

Our first-grade hall was short, only encompassing four rooms, and at the far end I saw an open door. Through that doorway lay a spacious, well-lit common area and beyond that was the long hall for seventh-to-ninth grade girls.

Two junior highers were walking towards me through the common area. Sure enough, behind them, I spied a seventh-grade girl who I recognized from home!

“Betsi! Betsi Allen!” Happy butterflies fluttered in my tummy, and a grin spread across my face. Finally! Here’s somebody from home in this strange place! I skipped in her direction.

Can I Trust That’s Really a Rule?

 “Stop! Stop!” The loud, insistent call halted me in my tracks. “You can’t come over here! Little kids aren’t allowed down the Junior High hall.” A tall, stern-faced girl blocked my way.

“But there’s Betsi, my next-door neighbor at Egbe.” Then peering around, I could no longer see her. “Where did she go?” I asked.

“You stay in your hall or you’re going to get in ‘Big Trouble’.” The older gal wagged her pointer finger at me, ignoring my question. “Don’t even put one toe over that line. Or else!”

Glancing down, I noticed my dirty sneakers. Their tips had barely crossed over a jagged crack that stretched across the cement floor, marking the doorway. I backed up three inches.

I knew what “Big Trouble” meant, and my heart started pounding to the throbbing beat of an African drum. The worst punishment for breaking a rule at this school, I heard just yesterday, was to be sent to the office for a spanking.

Clasping trembling fingers together behind my back, I tried to remember what my mommy had said a few days ago, when she lifted me onto the low wing of the Piper airplane that flew me here. “All the big kids from Egbe are going to KA too, so you’ll have lots of friends from home. Don’t cry Sweetie. They’ll take care of you.”

No friends were in sight now. My head dropped to my chest, and I turned and shuffled back down the hall towards the lobby. Passing our bathroom, I thought, Should I go back in and scrub my hands one more time?

The two Rule-Keepers caught up to me, but hustled past, calling out, “Hurry now! Don’t be late for dinner, ’cause there might not be enough food for you!”

A Friend from Home

Just then a blond-haired junior higher scurried through the door in my direction. Upon reaching me, she paused and exclaimed, “Debbie Jones — is that you?”

“Betsi Allen! You found me!”

“Someone said you were looking for me. What do you want?”

“I need a hug.” My voice quavered, and I felt tears forming behind my eyelids. “A hug from someone who lives at Egbe.”

“Oh, sure! I’ll give you two!” Betsi leaned over and threw her arms around me, pressing my face into her waist. Once. Twice.

There I rested a moment, enjoying the fresh, light scent of rose perfume, drawing comfort from home in her warm embrace.

Eventually, I sucked in a long breath that went deep to my toes and said, “Betsi, I’m scared.”

“What about?”

“All the rules. I don’t know if my hands are clean enough. My roommate said I’ll get a spanking if there’s a teensy bit of dirt on them. I’m really afraid of a spanking.”

Chuckling at her own sassiness, my older friend reached down and lifted up my right hand. But she didn’t check for dirt.

“Well, you can’t believe everything the other kids say here at KA,” Betsi said. “Besides, I don’t like all the rules either. And guess what?” She flashed me a wide grin that produced familiar dimples in her cheeks. Then she continued, “Sometimes I skip washing my hands, just to show I don’t have to do everything they tell me!”

Chuckling at her own sassiness, my older friend reached down and lifted up my right hand. But she didn’t check for dirt.

“I’ll walk you to the dining room,” she said, and her blue eyes flashed brightly. I felt warmed to my toes as I caught the glimpse of another dimpled smile.

Looking Back

During my first year at boarding school, everything seemed muddled, chaotic, and confusing. I didn’t understand the ins-and-outs of dormitory living and didn’t know whom I could trust for a straight answer. Always on guard, I struggled to figure out the laws of survival on that vast, new-to-me compound.

Living with those unreliable boundaries felt burdensome. Since “rules” could be delivered by any of my peers, Big Sisters, or Aunties, I was often left bewildered, embarrassed, and terrified I’d get into trouble at a moment’s notice.

Self-protection through self-perfection became my way to survive. I tried to imagine and anticipate every contingent scenario that might possibly go wrong. Even now, I often worry that I’m doing the wrong thing, in the wrong way, or for the wrong reason, and someone’s going to report me.

God is our only trustworthy source. He gave us the Law to show we cannot perfectly obey the rules of holiness through our own efforts. Because of his great kindness and love, Jesus obeyed every law on my behalf, freeing me to live by his grace and depend on God, not myself. Instead of washing my hands to be accepted, I’ve been washed by the King and given his righteousness.

Link to Your Life

Have you ever wondered whom you could trust? When have you tried to be “right” through perfectionism? How has God revealed His trustworthiness to you? How have you released control to Him in your life, knowing He is faithful and trustworthy?

Prayer

Father, thank you that we are justified by your grace alone. We don’t have to work to earn your love, but solely because of your mercy we can be heirs along with Jesus.

 

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