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Back when I wore a size 14 petite, I had a pair of black pants that were mislabeled as a size 12 petite.
I called them my mercy pants, although I'm not sure why. At the time I figured that when you're 5-feet, 1-inch tall and wear a size 14 petite you need all the mercy you can get.
But that's just silly.
What's not silly is the concept of mercy. I think of all God's attributes, I love his mercy best. At least that's what I plead for most often. "God, be merciful to me, the sinner."
Although I've experienced countless moments of mercy, most of which I probably am not even aware, one stands out in particular.
When I was 19, I joined the Air Force and spent my whole tour of duty in Northern Maine where the temperature in the winter was well below zero for weeks on end.
Upon arriving at this base, everyone was issued a fur-trimmed, hooded snow parka, with the understanding that it would be returned upon leaving the base.
I wore mine for more than three years - with the secret understanding that I would take it with me when I left.
Actually, I hadn't planned on that until shortly before my enlistment was up and I learned that we would be staying in Maine. By that time I had married, and my husband had gotten a job in Portland working for an oil company.
Since snow parkas are expensive, I decided that I would keep my military-issue one. I'd conveniently "forget" to return it. Besides, I worked in the supply building and had friends who looked the other way while their friends forged necessary paperwork. Anyway, no one ever checks anything in the government.
Because of that, my plan was foolproof.
Except - there's always an "except" - three weeks before my enlistment ended I had come to faith in Christ. Prior to that, parka stealing didn't bother me one iota other than not wanting to get caught.
But afterward, it bothered me big time. Every molecule in my body knew it was wrong, but I did it anyway. That was in June and I rationalized that I would forget about it and the nagging voice in my head would go away.
But it didn't go away. The voice hounded me throughout the summer and into the fall and I couldn't forget about it even if I had tried. The voice telling me to give the parka back was especially loud during church or whenever I would try to pray. It was relentless - I couldn't even go into the bathroom without the voice coming with me.
No matter how I tried to drown out the sound, no matter where I tried to hide, all I heard was a constant "Return the parka. Return the parka."
I tried telling God that I would give it to charity, but the voice in my head, which I knew was God's voice, just kept repeating, "You stole it from the Air Force; you must return it to the Air Force."
But I was too afraid. I was afraid of going to jail and wearing stripes, which are not very flattering on a size 14 petite. I was afraid to have people know that Nancy Kennedy was a thief.
Finally, I couldn't stand the guilt any longer and decided to turn myself in and face the consequences, whatever they might be. So, I called my former boss, the head of base supply. This was in the days before answering machines or e-mail, and I had to speak to him personally.
As I spilled my guts to him, it felt surprisingly good. I knew I could face anything - jail, a chain gang, a hefty fine. But I didn't have to suffer any of that.
My former boss told me that he, too, was a Christian and he understood sin.
He didn't let me off the hook - I still had to return the parka - but he didn't slap me with a penalty. He said the matter was closed and would go no further.
I couldn't believe it! For the first time in my life I understood mercy.
Deserving punishment but being spared. Not spared to sin again but spared to sin no more. All that was required of me was to accept it as a blessing undeserved. Not to doubt it or analyze it, but simply enjoy it.
You know, like a size 12 tag on a pair of 14 petite pants.