To kill a mockingbird...was a lot easier than I thought. I heard a bird singing in the top of a tall pine tree. I was about eight-years-old. I had shot AT many birds. My dad didn't mind. He'd seen me shoot. He figured they were safe.
Mr. Mockingbird probably thought the same thing, "Look at that kid way down there with that BB gun," he sang. "He couldn't hit an ostrich at six paces." Poof. High-pitched chirp (more like a squawk). Gravity interrupted by a dozen tree-branch-speed-bumps...and one sudden stop.
I agreed with Mr. Mockingbird. I didn't think my BB gun would shoot that high. But when the singing stopped and the bird dropped, so did my jaw. I killed a mockingbird. (No, the classic book is NOT based on this story).
I learned what guilt was that day. It rushed over me like cold water when I looked down at the lifeless bird. Then came the struggle of truth. What do I do now? Hide it? Prop it up on a branch with popsicle sticks and duct tape?
No. I picked it up ever so gently and carried it to my dad. Tears ran down my dirty face and left tiny mud trails on my cheeks.
My guilt reached new levels when I heard my dad's reaction. He was a really good preacher. He could lay the guilt on thick. "Son, you've just killed the state bird of Texas! That bird is protected by law. You are in serious trouble!"
As if THAT wasn't enough, he continued, "I've listened to that mockingbird every morning when I leave the house to go to the office. Now, I'll never hear his beautiful voice again."
Dad and I held a memorial service for the bird. I buried the bird under the tree from which (and I quote my dad's eulogy) "the last melody of praise whistled through his tiny beak."
After the funeral, I expected to be carted off to jail. But dad found it in his heart to sentence me to bedtime without supper.
Some of you may think my dad's reaction was harsh. Some of you may be dialing Child Protective Services right now. Please put down the phone and hear me out.
I never did it again. I learned a valuable lesson that day about owning up to responsibility. I learned to use a BB gun with greater respect. I carried that respect over to my first shotgun and my first rifle. What can I say? This IS Texas.
I also learned that grace is much sweeter after guilt. As my dad tucked me in bed that night, he told me he loved me and that he was proud of me for fessin' up.
I can still feel that hug.
Remember the guilt that rushed over me like cold water? I didn't. As I drifted off to sleep that night, all I could think about was the grace and love of my father that had swept over me with forgiveness and cleansing.
Maybe things would be better in this world if we stopped trying to ease guilt and just let it do its job. Let it purge. Let it wound. Then let it open the door to our Father's grace and healing.
Sights Set on Grace,