By Jennifer Debenham
I have a beautiful younger sister who is expecting her fifth child in October. She is twenty-eight years old but doesn't look a day over eighteen, so often she gets curious looks when she takes her expanding cluster of kiddos to the store or the park. People can't imagine that she could really have all those children without having started way too young. While she did have her first child at a young age by most standards--she was twenty--she and her equally great husband were ready to be parents. She and her husband have worked hard to become completely debt free, despite accumulating student loans while they received their degrees. He provides for their family comfortably, and she uses her degree in Early Childhood Development to prepare her children for life. She is one of the best moms I know. I've often thought that her children must have done something extra special in Heaven to deserve the privilege of having her for a mother.
So imagine my incredulity when one day a couple weeks ago someone saw her with her children and called her a "teen-age mom" and then expressed their disgust by shouting out an ugly expression that refers to an unchaste woman. If only this judgmental person truly knew my sister.
This experience reminded me of a time when my parents, my husband, and I were traveling in Italy a few years ago. My father had recently suffered a back injury that made it painful for him to walk long distances, so we had procured a wheelchair for him to help during the long walks we often needed to take. At one point when we were walking a long distance from the train station to our hotel room, my dad offered to put some of our heavier suitcases in his wheelchair, which he then proceeded to push through the uneven cobble-stone streets. By leaning on the wheelchair and pushing, it was easier for him than walking unaided, but it was still a painful sacrifice. Not long after he made the switch, an old, Italian lady walked by him, scowled, and said, “Lazy American” loud enough for my poor dad to hear. Little did she know how far from the truth her statement was.
Just a couple weeks ago my teenage daughter suffered a similar misjudgment when some leaders at a girl’s camp thought that she—the new girl that no one really knew yet—was guilty of stealing something from someone’s tent. She and another girl (also new) were patted down, forced to turn out their pockets, and had their bags thoroughly searched. My daughter and her friend professed their innocence. Nothing was ever found. Indeed, no one had complained of missing anything, but these leaders jumped to a negative conclusion when the girls were found to be in a tent that didn’t belong to them. The other girl’s parents and I were called up late that night to collect our “wayward” daughters. Later it was discovered that the girls were trying to play a harmless prank on a friend by hiding her sleeping bag in a different tent. Fortunately, as parents and leaders we were able to work out the situation and the girls remained at camp. Unfortunately, damage had already been done, and rumors spread like a plague through the camp. My daughter and her friend had to suffer the whispering rumors of their peers. By the time she came home she had heard tales that included such whoppers as: they had destroyed the leaders’ tent and all their possessions, and: they had ruined all the food at camp by throwing it on the ground, though I’m not sure how much credence the latter story held when everyone ate just like usual the next day. It goes to show how easily logic can be forgotten in such situations.
I wish I could say that I or those I love have never been the victims of misjudgment. I wish even more that I could claim I had never misjudged anyone, but I know that isn’t true. Still, at moments like this, when those I love have suffered such injustices, I wish I could do away with all judgment.
Only One is truly capable of knowing our hearts and being the judge. Fortunately for us, He—as a victim of the worst misjudgment imaginable—also gave us the perfect example of how to respond to such misjudgment when He said, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”