Wednesday, June 29, 2005


ViS version 1neon sign ION TrainI received a free magazine-ette in the mail the other day. It's one of those little half-sized publications. Came in a protective plastic wrap, as though the contents were precious enough to warrant that extra dose of precaution. The cover hinted at all sorts of health-related topics inside, and since, for some inexplicable reason, I've become fascinated with vitamins and blood-pressure discussions and the evils of salt, I decided to sit right down and peruse my new gift. But when I opened the cover, I saw that about every other page was a tear-out advertisement for something or other.

Since I had an opening in my schedule at that exact moment, I took to pulling out those advertisements. I was a little curious to see exactly how small the magazine-ette would become once it was pared down to actual content. Midway through my purging, I came upon an advertisement for Doubleday's Large Print Book Club. Large Print. I did a double-take, and then I thought, Why would someone send me a magazine with an offer for a book club that catered to those needing large print? It occurred to me, then, that everything I'd read to that point had been in a comfortably large print. The table of contents, ads, articles -- all had been printed a font or three larger than your normal publication.

There had to be a mistake. I'm not old enough for those kinds of offers. Surely, I thought, this thing got placed in the wrong mailbox. I found the one-page "You're invited" sheet that had been stuck inside the protective plastic cover and looked at the address label on the bottom, but even with my arms stuck way out, I couldn't get the label far enough away to read. I grabbed my reading glasses and checked again. Sure enough, my name was typed right there in miniscule letters.

I'd been targeted, identified, zeroed-in on. What did this mean? Did it mean that any day now, the girl down at Golden Corral would stop asking if any in our party got the senior discount ... and just give it to me instead??

I wondered if all the 43-year olds on my street got the magazine. Or maybe one of my sisters turned me in. They seem to delight in teasing me about the length of my arms and the lessening of my vision.

Yes ... all right, I'll admit it. Stop badgering. I'm farsighted. I just don't have the ability any more to focus on objects at the drop of a hat. My children will thrust a note under my nose and expect that I can just see it, just like that, just because it's there. Instead, I have to ricochet my head back at lightning speed and put a little distance between me and the must-read material. I have reading glasses tucked in my knitting basket, my basket of books, and the basket of magazines in the bathroom. They're by my nightstand. They're in my office drawer. They're in my purse. More often than not, I have a pair straddling the top edge of my shirt.

But faraway objects ... now that's where I excel. I'm not as skilled as my husband, but that's another story. Dave can read the "Made in Taiwan" label on the bottom of a stranger's coffee cup from across a baseball stadium. His vision is disgustingly perfect. But my faraway vision isn't bad at all. I can sit and look at clouds and mountains all day long, without even breaking a sweat.

Dave and I were talking over this whole vision issue a few days ago while driving down State Street. I happened to be looking at the clouds at that moment. Over the last few years, I've learned I can't get enough of that sight. There's just something about gazing upwards that calms me. Whatever comparatively unworthy thing I'm currently fretting over becomes automatically minimized by the sight of all that billowy beauty drifting overhead. Bills … hurt feelings … a perpetual pile of laundry … all are silenced when I gaze up.

"I'll tell you what," I said. "I'll take farsightedness over nearsightedness any day. I don't know what I'd do if I couldn't see the sky."

I see a spiritual lesson in that. (And no, "see" was not intended as a pun.) If I had to choose, I'd rather have a clear focus on heaven than on the here-and-now. I'd rather set my eyes on eternity than on the temporal. It's so easy to get spiritually nearsighted and focus our eyes solely on the things we can touch and taste and experience here--and completely forget there's a sky beyond this earth, and a heaven waiting to welcome us.

The truth is, growing older is much less painful when you keep forever in your sights.


Monday, June 27, 2005

the m word

He was six, and we were driving through a gray mist, past an unbroken stretch of evergreen trees.

"Mom, when I grow up, you know what I want to be?"

For a long time he'd thought he might like to be a teenage mutant ninja turtle, but since he hadn't mentioned that for awhile, I figured he'd gone on to something else.

"No, Zac. What do you want to be when you grow up?" I glanced into the rear-view mirror and saw his reflection captured there.

"I can't remember what it's called," he began. "It's that m word."

"Musician?" I offered.



"Not that either."

"Moose-hunter?" I grinned at him in the mirror. He grinned back, but shook his head.

"Mom, I'm serious. It's that m word that means you go over to other countries and you tell people about Jesus."

His words entered my ears and worked themselves down to my heart, where they settled like a warm blanket. "Really, Zac? You want to be a missionary?"

"No ... not a missionary," he said. "It's that other m word." He scrunched his forehead, trying to think of a way to refine his description. With another glance, I saw his face relax. He'd thought of a way. "It's that m word that means you go over to other countries and tell people about Jesus ... and they kill you for it."

The blanket around my heart became a tourniquet, twisting and tightening. And I experienced a moment of pure schizophrenia. Two beings awakened in me and fought for dominance. One half -- the She-bear half, roared a silent Never! to the thought of my son being martyred, to the thought of anyone daring to turn their ignorant wrath on my boy. But as quickly as I screamed that noiseless denial, the Sister-in-Christ part of me forced her way to the surface. Yes, Zac. You hold on to that devotion with everything you've got, she whispered.

He let his pronouncement hang in the air, and then he turned those green eyes toward the treeline outside the window. I watched him staring at the blur of gray-green mist, and without the privilege of entering his thoughts, I knew them. He was dreaming of someday ... a day when he would stand up for the thing he loves most, no matter the consequences. He was dreaming of a day when he'd grow into the courage of Paul, and Peter, and Jesus, and all the others he's heard about, who didn't seek their own deaths, or choose them, but who loved truth more than their own life, and who faced the closing of one door for the joy of the opened door before them.

I drew a breath ... and began to pray.

"A 'Martyr' has been defined as 'a Christian who chooses to suffer death rather than deny Christ, or His work... One who sacrifices something very important to further the Kingdom of God... and endures great suffering for Christian witness.' --Voice of the Martyrs (Not to be confused with those who take their own lives--and the lives of others--to further their own cause.)

What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. -James 4:14 NIV

And anyone who gives up his home, brothers, sisters, father, mother, wife, children, or property, to follow me, shall receive a hundred times as much in return, and shall have eternal life. -Matt 19:29 TLB

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Sunday, June 26, 2005

back home

We're back from our annual church family camp ... but I'm recuperating. Don't get me wrong -- I love everything about family camp. I love smoke in my eyes and marshmallow in my hair and bugs in my cocoa. I love getting caught in the crossfire of a pinecone fight and that heart-pounding, flashlight-enabled midnight walk to the outhouse. But once home, I realize how much energy it takes to rough it. So after church today, and the wedding that follows, I'm going to come home and take a long nap. See you tomorrow ... or maybe Tuesday. :)

While I've got you, though, and we're talking camping, let me share my new favorite camp food:

Omelet in a Bag

For each person who plans to share your breakfast, break two eggs into individual heavy-duty, (freezer-type) quart-sized, zip-lock baggies. Take the shells out, of course. Add a tablespoon of water to each bag. Write names on baggies with a sharpie marker.

While home, prepare omelet fixings: chopped onion, green pepper, cheese, crumbled bacon, tomatoes, etc. Store in separate baggies with eggs in cooler.

To cook, bring big pot of water to boil. Each person adds whatever fixings they want to their eggs, zips the baggie, and squishes it all together. Roll tops down (so they don't hang over edge of pot) and place together in pot. Boil for about fifteen minutes, until you can feel that the eggs are set.

Serve with the biscuits you were wise enough to bake at home before you left.


Wednesday, June 22, 2005


On this day, twenty years ago, I left the home of my parents and drove seven hours to stand in a chapel I'd never seen before, take the hand of a boy I barely knew, and start a journey I wouldn't have believed if you'd laid it all out for me then and there. I had nothing more to give him than an innocent promise, but he accepted that, gave me his name in return ... and the two became one.

I love you, David. You're a tender husband, a gentle father, a warrior, servant and shepherd ... and I am still amazed that you chose me.

Happy anniversary.



Tuesday, June 21, 2005

searching for broc

Broc went missing Saturday night. We didn't realize that fact until Sunday morning when he didn't show up at church to lead worship for children's ministry.

It wasn't like him.

At nineteen, Broc is one of the most dependable boys you could know. He's the boy you'd trust with your spare house key, or your pin number, or your daughter. He's gentle, and more patient than many adults twice his age. I watched him once carry a small Japanese exchange student from his car to the church, because the boy was exhausted from touring the day before and told Broc he was too tired to cross the parking lot.

He's a boy who loves church so much, he planned a few weekends ago to drive separately from his parents on an eight-hour trip south to a friend's wedding--just so he could attend our young adults' Bible study on Friday night and be back in time for the first Leaders In Training class on Sunday night. We all had to convince him it would be okay to miss both gatherings and make the trip with his family.

So when he didn't show up Sunday morning, and it turned out no one had seen him since 10:00 the night before, we unleashed a flood of futile phone calls, prayed, and spread out to search for his car. One couple, John and Laurie, had flyers printed with his picture and "Have you seen Broc?" in big, black letters. By noon, they were distributed all over Marysville and Arlington. We called state patrol and the local hospitals. His father, Dan, rented a plane and took three men from church up to canvas the wooded Tulalip reservation east of town. Dave and I drove up and down every aisle of WalMart, and the Tulalip Casino, and the new Seattle Premium Outlet Mall, hoping to spot his car.

It may sound like we acted hastily, but if you knew our church history, you'd understand. We've been through this nightmare before. Less than three years ago, we lost a beautiful, eighteen year old girl when she was kidnapped and murdered by a gang of eight. Rachel's body wasn't discovered for two weeks--two weeks we spent knocking on doors and taping flyers to windows and asking for a miracle.

We didn't get the outcome we asked for. Though we know Rachel is with Jesus; that she understands truths no one one on earth understands and sees beauty we've yet to discover, it has been a difficult reality to accept. And I couldn't imagine trying to cope with another loss of that magnitude.

The search was surreal. While split up in separate cars, I drove behind a closed dental office and searched the field behind the building. I scanned bushes and checked along the treeline, hoping he was lying hurt but alive somewhere. And then I walked toward two green dumpsters. I knew, when I placed my hand on the edge of the first lid, that I was revealing an unspoken fear by looking inside. I knew that somewhere in me was a suspicion that Broc might not be alive. There's no other reason for looking in a dumpster. It took me a second to find the strength to lift that edge. A nauseating smell rushed through the crack, but all I saw inside were white plastic garbage bags. The second dumpster was no easier. It too, yielded only garbage.

I left the dental office and drove slowly, searching the edge of the road. The only scenario I could imagine was that Broc--who had been to our annual Strawberry Festival the night before, and had last been seen walking toward his car--had been jumped by a stranger. I imagined him lying somewhere with a head injury. No other possibility existed for me. He wouldn't take off and tell no one. Not Broc.

I saw a dead-end sign on a road I'd never driven before, though I've lived in Marysille fifteen years and it's not a large town. I almost ignored the street, but when I noticed a field of grass at the end, I turned around. The road was tucked-away, abandoned, utterly empty. It's not a place anyone would frequent. A bus barn edged the road on one side, but the other held only a storage unit and the meadowy field. The grass was low enough there that I could easily see across the field; nothing there caused me alarm. The road ended in a curve. As I turned to leave, I glanced to my left down a long, grassed alley-way nestled between a storage unit and a cyclone fence. Something there caught my eye, but I'd already passed the alley by the time it registered. My heart dropped to my stomach as I put the car in reverse. I looked again--and saw a body. It was the body of a young male.

Nothing would come out of my mouth. I just stared at the figure on the grass, willing it to move. One leg was up and the boy's head was cocked at an odd angle and leaning awkwardly against the building. "Hello!" I managed to yell. The body didn't move. "Hello!" I yelled again. No movement at all. "Broc, is that you?"

My sister and her family were somewhere nearby searching. I'd just spoken with her, so she was the first person I thought to call. "Tarri ... I see a body. And it's not moving."

"We're on our way," she said, when I managed to give her my location, "but we're at least five minutes from you."

Dave had to be closer than that. "I'm calling Dave," I said.

When I told him what I was looking at, he told me to stay by the car and wait for him. As I hung up, Tarri called back. "We're coming," she said.

"Tarri ... I really think I've found Broc," I said. And then I started sobbing. Hibernating memories of Rachel's death woke and rose and swirled around me in a wave of pain and disbelief. I didn't know how we would all survive this.

Tarri began crying, too. "It's okay ... it's okay ...it's okay ..." she kept repeating, over and over.

My loud sobs roused the body. The someone who was not Broc--the someone who'd apparently needed a nap so badly he'd dropped to the first secluded spot he could find--jumped to his feet and fumbled for his coat.

"I'm sorry," I managed to say. "You're okay. I thought you were Broc." Of course, he didn't know who Broc was or why I was sobbing and babbling. He disappeared quickly behind the building and I drove away.

We spent the next several hours talking to police and driving. I saw places in my hometown I'd never seen before, beat down bushes behind schools and explored deserted back roads on the nearby Indian reservation.

We got a call in the early afternoon that sent a chill through us. Lisa, Broc's mom--and one of my oldest friends--had discovered that someone had used Broc's debit card in another town just hours earlier. We congregated in the store parking lot and hugged. The manager wouldn't let us see the receipts, the store security cameras weren't working, and the Arlington police felt no hurry to intervene.

We didn't know what to do next. We'd run out of ideas, and we'd all become painfully aware of how large an area we were trying to search. But then, just before 4:00, Lisa's phone rang. It was her husband, Dan, and he was crying so hard he could barely speak.

"Broc's home."

Amidst shouting and laughing and sobbing and thanking God, we heard the tale. Broc had followed a spontaneous thought the night before. Instead of driving home, he turned and drove east to Granite Falls and the Mountain Loop Highway which runs through a heavily forested and sparsely populated area. He'd gone because he had a few things to discuss with God. For one, he wanted to pray about attending the Calvary Chapel Bible College in Murrieta, California this coming year.

The Mountain Loop Highway is beautiful during the day, and pitch black at night. There are no stores in site, and unless you go miles and miles away from Granite Falls, you won't even see a ranger station. Somewhere along that road, not really sure of where he was, Broc ran out of gas ... and discovered his cell phone was dead. He had no choice but to spend a cold night sleeping in his car.

In the morning, he grabbed two Big Gulp cups from the back seat of his car and started walking. It took him hours to get back to town and find a gas station. Did he pass houses along the way? Yes. But Broc is someone who doesn't like to put anyone out. It never occurred to him that we might have launched a massive search party for him. He was bothered that he'd missed church, but didn't give the rest of it another thought. And so instead of walking up to a house and asking for help, he just kept walking.

At the gas station, he used what little money he had with him to fill the two cups with gas. (The debit card situation--which is completely unrelated to Broc's disappearance--is still a mystery. Broc hasn't seen his card for several days, but it's apparent someone has it and is using it.) Then he asked to use the phone, but the attendent told him the store policy was to not allow the public to use it. Rather than saying, "I've been out all night and no one knows where I am," Broc just nodded and started walking back to his car.

The Bible says that when one lost sinner repents, the angels rejoice. I believe that. I believe I felt just a tiny portion of that rejoicing when my turn came to hug Broc. I reached up and embraced that six-foot tall boy and remembered the first moment I met him, at eighteen months, and got down on the floor to toss a ball back and forth with him. I thought about how dark the world would have seemed without our Broc in it--and how gloriously bright everything looked now that he was found again.

I know he's embarrassed. It was obvious by the look on his face that he feels horrible for what he put us through. But much later that night, when he was alone again with his family and Lisa asked him what he was feeling, he didn't say he felt horrible or embarrassed. Instead, he said, "I feel loved."

And he is.


Sunday, June 19, 2005

no doubt

A few summers back, for reasons known only to God and my son, Zac began to doubt the existence of the Almighty.

"How come, if he spoke to the prophets, God doesn't speak to me?" Zac asked one morning.

"He is speaking to you," I said. "Maybe you're just not realizing it."

Zac was silent for a long minute. "Don't you ever doubt, Mom? I mean, how do we know he's real? What if we're just making it all up?"

Calm down, I told my thrashing heart. "I don't doubt anymore," I said, in a voice more neutral than I thought possible. At least nothing in my tone betrayed my sense of panic. "But I did when I was your age. Younger than you, actually. I used to lie awake at night and make myself sick worrying that God wasn't real and that when I died, I'd just cease to exist."

"But you're convinced now," Zac said.

"Yes, I'm convinced." I couldn't put into words the rush of memory that filled my mind. I saw a hospital room, and the newborn I'd just watched delivered. I saw my friend stroking her son's face, and remembered the awe that swept through me and pushed aside some of that long-held doubt. I saw the northern lights again, on a night when God revealed himself through fingers of incandescent color that teased and tickled the sky, beckoning me to believe. I saw myself praying with a friend at 3:00 a.m. one morning, and heard again the unexpected thunder in my ears, saw again the orange, fiery glow behind my eyelids, felt again the weightlessness as God's Spirit filled my being and whispered, I'm here.

"I know he's real," I told my son.

"Well, I don't."

Before I could give release to the fear that surged through my heart, the voice I've grown to love so much whispered again. You can't give him your faith. He has to discover his own.

So God wasn't panicking.

"Why don't you just ask God to reveal himself to you?" I heard myself say.

"How do I do that?"

"Just ask. Just say, 'God, if you're there, show me.' "

Zac didn't answer me until he'd mounted the last stair. I felt his gaze from the upstairs loft. I looked up. "Can you do that?"

He waited a moment before answering. "Maybe. I'll have to think about it."

He left, and I started praying. "God, show him. Show him you're real, and you're near, and you love him."

Sometimes, God's answers take a lifetime of waiting and watching and listening. But some come mercifully quick. The following afternoon, Zac rushed through the front door and pounded into the living room. I sat on my same spot on the couch, only on this day, the thrashing heart beat in his chest.

"He's real, Mom," my boy said. Before the next words left his mouth, I'd already uttered my silent thanks.

"You'll never believe what happened today." With an exuberance pulled off best by fourteen-year old boys, Zac launched into the retelling of his day. He'd been walking along State Street with his friend, Broc. A man was drilling a sign about fifteen feet above the sidewalk, and Zac looked up to see exactly what the man was doing. In the same moment looked up, debris of some sort dropped from above and landed right in his eye. Zac staggered forward a few feet, bent over, and tried to blink out the intruder. And just as he did so, he heard and felt a fierce "whoosh" streaking past his head.

"Look out!" Broc yelled.

Zac froze -- but opened his eyes. And he saw a city bus zooming just inches from his head. The whooshing sound he'd heard came from the bus's side mirror -- which missed smacking Zac's head by a mere inch.

"Mom, that bus was going 40 miles an hour. If that mirror had hit me, I'd be dead right now."

I couldn't even let that thought sink in.

"God saved my life, Mom. He caused all that to happen -- me looking up, the dust hitting my eye, me bending over at the right time -- so I'd know he's real."

I could only stare.

"I did what you said. I asked God to show himself to me ... and he did."

Zac still has questions. So does his mother. So do most of God's children. But he's on a path. And every time I worry that he might wander a bit too far off that path, I have only to look at the picture posted above. Just a week after Zac's experience, he went to Whistler with our friends, Glen and Sonya Acord, and their three kids. While walking through a Canadian forest one afternoon, Zac noticed four or five doves flying from branch to branch. On a whim, he took some of the chips from his lunch, crushed them, and lifted them up to the birds. One accepted his offer ... and Sonya snapped this picture.

When she sent it to me, I printed it out and stared at it for a long moment. I thought about how much I loved that boy and how much I'd give up to know he'd always have a desire for God. The longer I looked at that picture, the more meaning I saw. Both Zac's wristbands bore embroidered doves. And there was something about the reaching and filling that caused me to pray out loud, "God, let this be a symbol of my son reaching for and being filled with your Holy Spirit."

On the heels of my plea, he reassured me with a whisper.

I want that even more than you do.

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Friday, June 17, 2005

i love you more than ...

We've all played the "I love you more than ..." game with our children. My friend's take on that game will make you smile -- and hopefully, think. Please take a minute and go visit Fran at looking up.


Thursday, June 16, 2005

no wings

I couldn't take it anymore. I finally broke down and went to Quiz Farm. The whole blogging world was taking tests and finding out everything from how they'd die to which celebrity they most looked like to which mental disorder they have. I didn't want to know any of that, but I really perked up when I saw the quiz for "Which Disney Character is Your Alter Ego?" It appears I'm afraid to grow up and I'm dying to fly ... and that I'm hairy and ferocious.
You scored as Peter Pan. Your alter
ego is Peter Pan.
You are a child at heart.
Anything you believe is possible,
and you never want to grow up.

Peter Pan


The Beast




Sleeping Beauty




Donald Duck






Cruella De Ville


Snow White


Which Disney Character is your Alter Ego?
created with QuizFarm.com


Wednesday, June 15, 2005

his coat

As we've talked nearly nonstop this week about clothing, I couldn't help but share one of my favorite stories. It's one Ravi Zacharias tells in his book, Can Man Live Without God? Every time I read it, I'm reminded of the great privilege it is to wear the covering Christ provided for me.

One day an evangelist by the name of Jakov arrived in a certain village (in Yugoslavia). He commiserated with an elderly man named Cimmerman on the tragedies he had experienced and talked to him of the love of Christ. Cimmerman abruptly interrupted Jakov and told him that he wished to have nothing to do with Christianity. He reminded Jakov of the dreadful history of the church in his town, a history replete with plundering, exploiting, and indeed, with killing innocent people.

"My own nephew was killed by them," he said, and angrily rebuffed any effort on Jakov's part to talk about Christ. "They wear those elaborate coats and caps and crosses," he said, "signifying a heavenly commision, but their evil designs and lives I cannot ignore."

Jakov, looking for an occasion to get Cimmerman to change his line of thinking, said, "Cimmerman, can I ask you a question? Suppose I were to steal your coat, put in on, and break into a bank. Suppose further that the police sighted me running in the distance but could not catch up with me. One clue, however, put them onto your track: they recognized your coat. What would you say to them if they came to your house and accused you of breaking into the bank?"

"I would deny it," said Cimmerman.

" 'Ah, but we saw your coat,' they would say," retorted Jakov. This analogy quite annoyed Cimmerman, who ordered Jakov to leave his home.

Jakov continued to return to the village periodically just to befriend Cimmerman, encourage him, and share the love of Christ with him. Finally one day Cimmerman asked, "How does one become a Christian?" and Jakov taught him the simple steps of repentance for sin and of trust in the work of Jesus Christ and gently pointed him to the Shepherd of his soul. Cimmerman bent his knee on the soil with his head bowed and surrendered his life to Christ. As he rose to his feet, wiping his tears, he embraced Jakov and said, "Thank you for being in my life."

And then he pointed to the heavens and whispered, "You wear His coat very well."

Let it be our goal to wear His love wherever we go.


Monday, June 13, 2005

until wednesday ...

I've had back-to-back editing projects this last week. Today and tomorrow I'm completing an edit on another writer's book (due 5:00 pm Colorado time :) and then I'm running out the door to a women's Bible study.

I'll post Wednesday afternoon. Until then, here's a joke I heard on the radio:

If a tree falls in the forest, and there's no one around to hear it ... who notifies the next-of-kindling?


Saturday, June 11, 2005

coffee at clackamas

My friend had driven four hours to see me. Not only that, when she arrived, she immediately rolled up her sleeves and helped us move a garage-load of boxes from one storage shed to another -- a job that took the better part of a day. When we finished, I asked if she wanted to go get coffee at a nearby mall.

Women don't turn down trips to the mall. We don't get that tired.

We chatted ferociously all the way to the Clackamas Mall. I hadn't seen her in months, not since we left our farm and moved south to be closer to Dave's seminary. Though we'd talked nonstop while transferring boxes to the new shed, we hadn't yet run out of topics. Away from the apartment complex, my friend had lots of questions about our neighbors and how Zac was adjusting to the new environment.

"He misses the woods," I told her, "but he likes having cement." Back home, Zac never got the chance to ride his bike on a smooth surface. It was all bump and slide and skitter as he maneuvered his wheels over our dirt driveway.

My friend was impressed with the mall. It's not everyday you see an ice skating rink dropped in the midst of shops and restaurants. The espresso stand I brought her to was situated just in front of the broad glass windows above the rink.

"Let's get our coffee and watch awhile," she suggested.

As we approached the stand, my friend said, "I've been craving a mocha. I know exactly what I want."

The stand looked empty when I leaned against the counter. The structure was shaped liked a horseshoe, and I couldn't see the barista tucked around the far corner. But he heard us and came into view.

"Hi," he said. "Can I help you?" he asked, looking directly at me.

"She knows what she wants already," I said, nodding to my friend. But my friend shook her head.

"No, I don't."

That seemed odd since she'd just told me otherwise. But I didn't argue. "Well, then ... let's see ...." I scanned the menu and nibbled my lip. "Hmmm. I think I want a grande almond latte, but I don't want it too sweet."

"How about if I give you three pumps instead of four?" the boy asked.

"That sounds good."

As we settled on my order, a second barista appeared from around the corner, saw my friend standing at my side, and said, "I can help whoever's next."

My friend left me and walked around to the far side of the "U." I couldn't see her, but I could hear her giving the girl her order.

I watched my barista empty the metal, coffee-ground holder thingy and fill it with fresh grounds. He was a nice-looking boy with wild hair, earrings, a pierced eyebrow (the first I think I ever saw), and two arms full of tattooes.

"I have to ask," I said.

"What's that?"

"The eyebrow ... did that hurt?"

He grinned. "I won't lie. It did. But I got over it."

I laughed. "I almost left with just one ear pierced when I was sixteen and sitting in the back of a jeweler's store. That first one hurt so much, I didn't think I could take the second."

I watched the boy fly through his routine and listened to the birth of my latte. Click, twist, burble, drip. The slurp and splat of three pumps of almond liquid dropping into my paper cup. The "hooo-whaa, hooo-whaa" of the milk steaming to a froth. As he was sliding a lid over the milky concoction, I noticed the tattoo encircling his left wrist.

"Hey! That's Greek!" One of the perks of seminary was that I got to sit in on Dave's classes with him. For a few months, I'd been learning Greek alongside him, and while I couldn't read the word upside down, I did recognize the letters.

"You're right," the barista said, grinning again. "It says, 'Savior.'"

"Are you a Christian?" I asked, smiling back.


"What a great tattoo."

He handed me my latte and turned his wrist so I could see all the letters. "I know. It's my favorite. I'm going to get another on this wrist that says "Messiah" in Hebrew."

We talked for another minute or two about seminary and tattooes and Jesus, until I noticed my friend sitting by the window of the the skating rink. "Well," I told my new favorite barista, "it was nice talking with you."

"You, too," he said.

"Perfect latte. I'll remember to ask for three pumps."

"Good. And I'll remember when I see you next." He gave me a last smile and we exchanged 'God bless you's'.

Feeling very happy with the coffee and the conversation and the way God has of crossing our paths with lovely souls, just to surprise us, I crossed the floor and took a seat next to my friend.

She looked at me, looked at my coffee, looked back at the espresso stand ... and shuddered. "I nearly died when that boy asked me what I wanted. I wasn't about to let him touch anything that was going to go in my mouth." She glanced again at the cup that had paused itself halfway to my lips.

"How can you drink that?"

I didn't know where to begin.



Thursday, June 09, 2005

dialogue with "anonymous"

Among the comments I received about Tuesday's post, the longest was from an anonymous poster who raised several issues on the topic of legalism. Rather than respond in the comment section, I thought I'd share my response in a post. The anonymous poster's comments are italicized.

First, though, let me say thank you to whoever put the time and thought into their comment.

Hi Shannon, I appreciate your post and certainly understand some of your concerns. However, there were a couple of comments that I felt the Spirit move me to comment on and perhaps encourage you to think about during your quiet times with our Lord.

I hear an awful lot these days from our church and others within the Body about the need to beware of "legalism" and keep clear of it. I believe there's an element of truth in that and an element of falsehood. Clearly we see examples in Scripture of Paul admonishing Believers for their excesses. You commented, that you "didn't see a correlation between respect and God's view of bare-legged boys." While I would agree with you that God views the "bare-legged boys" hearts and not their outward appearance, I don't see how one can argue that there is a direct correlation between how one dresses and the level of respect they may be showing given a particular circumstance. This is difficult at best to explain in this forum but let me just suggest that if there were no correlation, the term "Sunday's Best" would have never been coined. Why do people dress up for a wedding or a funeral if not for respect? So what's the problem with dressing up a little for one day during a chapel service?

You make a good point, A. There's nothing at all wrong with dressing up for a wedding or a funeral or for church. As I noted, even some within our church like to dress up -- and there's no problem whatsoever with that. The only problem I have is when dress is a mandated issue, or when people look at outward appearance as an indicator of inward devotion.

One woman came to us from another much more conservative church in town after they put on a skit for their children to introduce the new Sunday school curriculum. She told me what happened. "The pastor called two women up on the stage. One wore a nice dress, nylons and high heels. The other wore denim overalls. After the kids looked at the two for a minute, the pastor then asked the group, 'Okay, kids. Now tell me ... which one of these women is a Christian?'" This broke my friend's heart because, as she told me, "My mother would be someone who would show up to church in overalls, if she ever got a notion to come. Is this the sort of welcome she'd receive?"

I also have a friend whose family came to us after the pastor of their church questioned her youngest son's salvation ... simply because he had let his hair grow long.

On a side note about weddings, after Dave and I eloped, we decided to have a second wedding ceremony six weeks later (in August) to include our friends and loved ones. Only the inner circle knew it was an actual ceremony. Everyone else thought they were coming to a reception. In the invitations, we urged people to come dressed comfortably and to be prepared for swimming (we held the service in the backyard of my parents' home, which sat on the edge of a lake). It delighted me to see people walking up to my parents' door wearing shorts and flip-flops, and I got a kick out of overhearing my good friend say to her husband, "Hey! This isn't a reception -- this is a wedding!" The reason we did this was simple: I had once attended a lengthy Catholic wedding on a sweltering August day and nearly fainted from the heat. I remember sitting in the pew thinking how much I hated the hot, merciless nylons clinging to my legs and longing for the second I could yank them off. I didn't want my guests to feel that way. I wanted clothing to be the last thing on their mind. Instead, I wanted them to have a wonderful time celebrating with us. And they did! People sat on blankets on the lawn and swam in the lake (we even had one impromptu baptism) while friends from college played the guitar in the background. It was simply perfect.

We are also told that we're to be all things to all men in order for the Gospel to be put forth.

That's kind of the point of Tuesday's post. What gospel are we advocating? The gospel that says God waits for you to clean yourself up before you're acceptable to Him? That's not my gospel. Nor is my gospel one that says, "This spot (day, activity, etc.) is holy. God is here. He's not over there, though, so that's where you can relax and let your hair down." My gospel says, "Come to Me, all you who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest."

We are admonished to consider the weaker brother. We are exhorted to esteem others more than ourselves. Isn't it possible that acquiesing to the school's Dress Code might help strengthen a "more conservative's" efforts at teaching their child respect. If outward appearance is not important, then why did God go to such efforts to tell us in His word of example after example where He specifically was meticulous about dress and other ceremonial practices? What is God trying to tell us in 1Cor 4-16? Why do we sometimes go to God as Our Father, sometimes Daddy, and sometimes as God Almighty? Why do we pray sometimes driving down the road, or on our back in bed, and at other times on our knees?

First, God is all those things to us at all times. He is not sometimes Father and sometimes God Almighty -- He is both at once. The difference is in us and in our need at the moment.

As to the weaker brother, Romans 14 makes it clear that the weaker brother is the one living under and trying to adhere to a lot of self-imposed rules. We're told not to despise each other, which, applied to this situation, means I'm not to judge the one who feels it's necessary to dress up, but by the same token, they are not to judge those of us who don't dress up. Verse 4 says, "Who are you to judge another's servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand." It would never occur to me to criticize those who dress up on Tuesday mornings. I'd just like them to do the same for me -- respect that I've brought the issue before the Lord and I feel the freedom to choose. (And can I say here that we DO have Tera dress up on Tuesdays? We've taught both kids that it's important to adhere to the rules of the school. But when our friend was sent home last year because he forgot and wore shorts, and Tera told me this week she'd probably be separated from the other kids and sent to the back row for wearing shorts, that's where, in my opinion, a rule crossed over and became a judgment.)

As to the detailed instructions God gave for ceremonial dress, one of the most beautiful aspects of Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) is the fact that although the High Priest wore very elaborate dress for every other occasion, on that particular day -- the one day a year when the sins of Israel were atoned for -- the High Priest was to take off all the elaborate garb and wear a simple linen robe when he went into the Holy of Holies. That meant the priest looked no different at that moment than any of the other Jewish men waiting in the courtyard. The picture is two-fold (in my opinion): it prophecized that the Messiah would come in their midst looking just like the rest of them (not set apart by finery), and two, that when we come into God's presence it's the heart He's interested in, not our outward adornment.

The Bible I read tells me that our God is not the author of confusion but rather there is order and discipline to how our God works. We are called to be in the World but not of the World. When others look at us, whether we like it or not, sometimes the only testimony they will have is our outward appearance. I see Scripture as clearly telling us that we should be different. That others should see Jesus in us and an evident difference between us and the World. Sometimes I see very little difference between those who call themselves Believers and the World. A good case in point is Howard Dean's most recent comment where he self-identified himself as a White Christian. I won't go into that because that's definitely another issue, but who would know he's a Christian by his outward appearance and things he says and does?

I'm not sure what to say about the confusion issue, because I'm not sure what you mean. I suppose I could say that it's confusing to me to understand which "accepted" mode of dress is more holy -- the Little House on the Prairie denim jumper, or the big, wild hair and spider-leg eyelashes of TBN? Neither of those alternatives is attractive to me. I'd rather dress simply and without drawing attention to myself.

As to Howard Dean, you could argue that he certainly dresses the part. But it's behavior that matters. We can't wear our Christianity like a sandwich board. It takes time to earn the right to enter someone's life and share your faith. Hopefully, what they observe in me is not that I look like the world's idea of a Christian (by my dress) but that I love others.

Remember, Jesus did not say that the world would recognize us by our appearance. Instead, He said this: "By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:35)

Your blog specifically mentioned, "I'm talking about piercings and tattoos and mohawks and dredlocks and jeans on Sunday -- and all the people I love and fellowship with who have and/or wear those things." If you were to classify those things as either Godly or Worldly, which category would you put them in? Are piercings, tattoos, mohawks etc. done because God called them to or because of peer pressure, to be cool or in some other way to be accepted by the World. We are called to esteem others more than ourselves - and that goes both ways true enough - but has anyone ever considered how difficult (if not impossible) it is for me to instill respect for my beliefs from my children when all around them they get a different message. Including within the church? If I tell my kids that they can't have green hair (or piercings, or tattoos, or wear cutoffs with their underwear three inches above them at church, etc etc.) because it's dishonoring and disrespectful to me and the family name, and that if God wanted them to have green hair He'd have created them with it, then how is the church helping me when it's all over the inside? Please don't get me wrong, I know there's a danger in dwelling too much on those things. But I do believe there must be a balance. Just as there is with God. He is Holy and Righteous, Merciful and full of Grace, vengeful, a judge, and yet loving and forgiving. We cannot be totally legalistic and yet we cannot go without standards.

Ever since reading "A Quest for Godliness" by J.I. Packer several years ago, I've been intrigued by this notion of whether or not things are "Godly" or "Worldy" (Packer classifies them as "Sacred" or "Secular.") I was fascinated by his description of the Puritans. "As their Christianity was all-embracing, so their living was all of a piece ... There was for them no disjunction between sacred and secular; all creation, so far as they were concerned, was sacred, and all activities, of whatever kind, must be sanctified, that is, done to the glory of God." There's much more to it, but what I read there challenged me to see that it all belongs to God and He is in it all as long as we acknowledge Him and sanctify our activities to Him.

I'm sure you're doing a great job instilling those values in your children. But I'm also sure you tell them, "Our rules are our rules -- not everybody else's." As for our family, my children have learned that God's arms are open to all, and that a life yielded to Him becomes a thing of beauty. They've learned that there's freedom in Christ and that it's not what goes into the stomach (or on the body) that makes us clean or unclean, it's what comes out of the heart.

I agree wholeheartedly with the comment that Nancy made. If you wouldn't wear your hat to the dinner table, then why would you wear it in church?

We have to be careful to distinguish between what is scriptural and what is cultural. Whereas in our society, men (mostly in the past) took their hat off as a show of respect, in other cultures the opposite is the norm. A Jewish man wouldn't think of entering a holy place without covering his head with a kippah. So who's right? The answer, I think, is in Romans 14:14, "I know and am convinced by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself; but to him who considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean." If you feel convicted to take your hat off in church, you'd better do so. To NOT do so would be sin to you (Rom 14:22, 23). If you feel the freedom to wear a hat, do so with a thankful heart to the One who gave you peace to do so. Elsewhere we're told, "To the pure, all things are pure." It's a matter of conscience.

Isn't it possible that with such emphasis on "not" being "legalistic", that we are failing others but not giving them the chance to understand a "Holy" God and what He means when He says "Be Holy for I am Holy?"

Holiness is a matter of the heart. It's character, behavior, attitude. Those other things? Green hair, piercings, tattoos, etc. -- all those things will be left in the grave. What we take into eternity is spiritual, not material.

As for finding another school, that's certain you and Dave's business and call. I wonder though, what's God trying to do in this situation? I'm reminded of some I've talked with who went from one church to another until they found one that they liked or that "didn't do what that other church did." I've often asked them what difference they could have made if they would have stayed where God put them and looked at what God wanted them to do in the situation rather than just getting out of something they weren't comfortable with.

That's not to say you should stay or go. As I said, that's you and Dave's call and I'm certain that you'll look to the Lord first. It's just food for thought to all who might be reading this and wondering "Why am I in this situation?"

Some may be asking what I'd do and how I'd handle it. Without full knowledge of the situation, I can only say I'd be thanking God that I have a Christian school to send my child to and I'd be teaching my kids why it's important to dress up on this one day so as to pay special tribute to God Almighty and to honor the schools officials who God has put in charge as authorities over that school. And why it also honors the other parents and children who might want to have a special dress up day to honor God. One thing I'm pretty sure of though is that picketting the school would be the last thing on my mind - not even jokingly.

I know what you mean about church-hopping. That's another issue for me. I really dislike the mentality we have in this culture that says we can just go around "kicking the tires" to see whichever church makes us feel the most comfortable or has the best donuts after service. Just as my husband and I feel "married" to our church (unlike in other denominations, we do not move our pastors around. If you plant the church, you commit to it. On rare occasions, a pastor may move to another area, but it's the exception rather than the norm. In fact, we don't even have a system in place to match pastors with churches. We'll probably be at this church until the Lord takes Dave home.), I wish that those who came would also feel that level of commitment. It's always a stab in my heart when someone just up and moves on to see what's going on in the church down the road.

But this school isn't a church. We've been here four years, and in that time we've had many opportunities to teach our children about adapting and ignoring offenses and respecting authority, even when that authority teaches something different from what we teach at home. I don't feel we're under the same sense of obligation to stick it out here as I would with a church. (Before Dave was a pastor, we once stayed at a church until it closed its doors because we never felt God was releasing us to go.)

I am thankful for all that my children have learned at this school. I'm not certain we're leaving. My husband has been gone all week at a pastor's conference and we have much to talk about when he comes home (this is not the only issue we've been struggling with at the school).

So in closing let me just say that I certainly understand some of your frustration but just as you fume over legalism, I get pretty worked up when I see people advocate no standards (or at least very lax standards) all in the name of Grace. I find it very hard to believe that when I see Jesus, He'll be full of piercings, tattoos, green hair, and wearing cutoffs and a tank top. Somehow I just believe I'll see a KING adorned as a king. It strikes me as there must have been something very striking about Jesus' appearance to have John passout when he first saw Him.

I'm not advocating no standards. We do expect that our people won't dress provocatively. To do so, especially on the part of a young woman, would be to put a stumbling block in the way of a brother. But beyond that, we just want people to come and meet Jesus.

One of my favorite brothers is a guy named Jesse. When he stepped into a Calvary Chapel in Southern California about fourteen years ago, he was shirtless, tattooed, barefoot, and in ragged, barely-there jeans. He had a diaper in one back pocket, a baby bottle in the other, and his year-old daughter perched on his hip. Did his coming cause a stir? Not a bit. Somebody scooched over, motioned for Jesse to come and sit, and handed him a Bible. The welcome he got glued him to his seat. The love he met through the pastor's words washed his soul. Jesse left his old life right there in the building when he walked out, and he hasn't stopped talking about Jesus ever since. I've sat and listened to Jesse talk from the pulpit. Sometimes I can still see that not-so-delightful tattoo sticking out from under his sleeve. And you know what? Every time I see it, I'm reminded of how great our God is that He goes out on the byways and highways and scoops orphans from ditches and brings them to His table.

I'm also reminded of something one of our pastors, Greg Laurie, likes to say: "God cleans His fish after He catches them."

I think you're right about what Jesus is going to look like when we get our first glimpse of Him -- except on one point. No, Jesus won't have a tattoo, cutoffs or a tank top (nor will He be wearing a suit and tie). But He most definitely has piercings. In fact, He has four.

Ok, that's enough. I hope I've made some sense here. Like I said, it's a difficult thing to explain without a personal conversation. I just thought I'd add a little different perspective because I felt the Spirit telling me to do so.

It is difficult to convey your heart through this format, but I do hear yours. I'm sorry if my comments offended you. They weren't meant to do that. And you did make some good points. I just think that overall, dress is a separator rather than a unifier. And the God of my Bible is One who ate with prostitutes, touched the unclean, and loved the unloveable -- despite their appearance.

God bless you, Anonymous. :)

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Tuesday, June 07, 2005

on legalism, grace, and skinny naked legs

So I'm back. I got home from my writers' conference, realized that for the first time in months, I didn't have a looming deadline or teaching engagement staring at me, and felt a yearning to clean like you can't believe. I don't mean wipe-the-counter cleaning. I mean move-all-the-furniture cleaning. It's amazing how much joy you can derive from scrubbing the floor when you haven't been free to do so for months.

So I didn't blog yesterday. I may not have blogged today either, since the cleaning mood is still raging over me and I've got a frightened closet whimpering in the background even as I type -- except that my daughter said something on the way to school that caused my heart to race and my face to go all flush. I'm fuming right now, and if I don't vent on you, I may just scrub the paint off the walls.

Our children go to a Christian school in the area. We homeschooled for years, but when Zac hit puberty and we both started donning boxing gloves every morning before meeting over the breakfast table, Dave wisely decided I should go back to being Mom and retire my teaching hat. I cried for three days at the time, but I can see he was right. It's so nice to be their champion at the end of the day instead of their dictator (please don't take offense at that if you're a homeschooler yourself. I'm only describing myself. I was Herr Schoolmaster, there at the end, and I'm glad to be done with that persona.) Take today, for instance. The house is clean, the candles are lit (it's very dark and cloudy right now, just the way I like it) and a fresh batch of almond poppy-seed muffins are cooling on the counter and awaiting my always-hungry duo. When the kids get home, we'll have missed each other. I'm content.

Except about what Tera said. Today is Tuesday, which means they have an hour of chapel in the morning. The rule at the school is that you must wear nicer clothes on Tuesdays than you would on ordinary days. I've had issues with that for the past few years, and last year I vented a bit about that on one of my friends, who happens to teach at the school. A boy in her class had been sent home (by the principal) to change clothes, since he forgot about chapel and showed up in shorts -- shorts with ragged edges, no less.

The boy in question goes to our church, so he's definitely getting two conflicting messages on this clothing issue. Calvary Chapel is about as informal as you can get. We're big on two things: Jesus, and the Word. In fact, we're so consumed with those two things that we have no energy left over to expend on dress codes. We just want you to come, and as long as all the appropriate parts are covered, we don't much care what you look like. Some people like to dress up, but the vast majority just wear whatever is most comfortable. We have a few guys who wear shorts to church all year long. One guy refuses to wear long-legged jeans. Says the last time he did that was at his wedding. We tease him every time it snows.

I pointed all this out to my teacher-friend. And I explained my main issue with the school's stance. I said, "What you're really telling these kids is that God is more pleased with them when they dress up." She saw my point, but defended the school and pointed out that we have 44 different churches represented, some of which are very conservative, and went on to say that it's good for the kids to learn respect. I didn't see a correlation between respect and God's view of bare-legged boys, but I like my friend and I didn't want to keep her squished there between our friendship and her loyalty to her employer. So I dropped it.

Jump to this morning. Today is Field Day at the school, which is kind of their own miniature, end-of-the-year Olympics. Tera has been jazzed about this for months. She loves to run and has spent the last two weeks "practicing." She's a Tazmanian blur as she races past my window; I'd know it was her even if I didn't know it was her, just by the the little blonde pony tail trailing horizontally in her wake.

We bought some shorts for the occasion -- black with white racing stripes down the sides. She liked them so much, she decided to wear them not just for Field Day, but all day. The conflict didn't dawn on me until we were on our way to the shuttle and it was too late to do anything about it.

"Hey!" I said, turning to look back at her in the car. "Isn't today chapel?"

"Yep," she answered.

"But you're in shorts. Did you bring something to change into for chapel?"

"Nope," my oh-so-talkative daughter replied.

"Won't you get in trouble?" I asked. I had visions of the school secretary calling me to fetch my rule-breaking daughter and bring her home to change clothes.


"Isn't it still a rule that you dress up on Tuesdays?" I prodded.


"Then you'll get in trouble," I insisted.

"No," she said. "I won't get in trouble. They'll just make me sit in a different seat."

I didn't like the sound of that. "What do you mean a different seat? Where will you have to sit?"

"I'll just have to move back a few rows away from all the other kids."

Even as I type those words, my heart is working itself up again to a raging tempo. A different seat? Away from the other kids?

Is my daughter contagious?

Or is she simply inappropriate, less-respectable, unfit and unworthy ... because she's in shorts??

There is nothing, and I mean nothing, that gets me riled up like legalism. I don't know the God of those who draw lines in the sand and defy others to step over. Don't get me wrong -- I know God has established rules and I trust His wisdom. I know that sin is sin and we can't whitewash behavior just because society has a habit of changing the rules that make them squirm. That gets me riled up, too. But I'm not talking about black and white issues, issues God clearly addresses in Scripture (adultery, homosexuality, sex outside marriage, lying, coveting, slander, murder, etc. -- and yes, He has shared His opinion on all those matters.). I'm talking about those gray areas where God has remained silent. Issues like whether or not it's okay for a child to wear shorts on a Tuesday morning while they sing worship songs and hear a story from the Bible. I'm talking about piercings and tattoos and mohawks and dredlocks and jeans on Sunday -- and all the people I love and fellowship with who have and/or wear those things.

Doesn't Scripture tell us that "Man looks on the outside, but God sees the heart?" Isn't that what we're trying to reach with our good news -- the hearts of those who are hurting?

I have half a mind to draw a big sign with a single word on it: "Grace" and picket that school today. If I didn't think my children would die of embarrassment, I just might.

We've been rethinking our school options for next year. This may have settled that question.

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Friday, June 03, 2005

a little grace, please

I'm off this weekend teaching at a writers' conference. See you again Monday. Till then, here's an excerpt from my book which Pastors.com ran last month:

If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness. Psalm 130:3,4 NIV

When I heard the reason a new family gave for deciding to leave our church, I probably should have just laughed it off. “They’re leaving because their son is afraid of Tera?! Our Tera?”

“The one and only.” Dave shrugged off of his coat. “I asked if they’d be willing to stay and work it out, but they said no.”

“But ... Brandon is bigger ... and six months older than Tera! What could she possibly do to frighten him?”

“All they’d say was that he didn’t want to come to Sunday school for fear of seeing Tera in class. They didn’t elaborate and they didn’t want to talk about it anymore.”

I couldn’t believe it. I knew that among the five-year olds, Tera had a reputation for being a tad bossy, but she wasn’t mean-spirited. Was this just a horrible new stage?

I spent most of that week worrying--and fuming a bit, if the truth be told. I wished the family had given us a little warning. Maybe we could have fixed the problem together.

And I wished they’d shown Tera a little grace. We talk about grace all the time as a fellowship. Dave weaves the theme throughout his messages. The men exhort one another to show grace at home. During my own teaching with the women’s ministry I encourage the women to be vessels of grace to their husbands and children. How had that message been missed?

On Thursday of that week, Zac reminded me that everyone was meeting at Paula’s for afternoon Bible study. He wasn’t interested in the study but in the group of kids he knew would be there. Paula’s house crawled with kids on Thursday afternoons.

“Can we go today, Mom?” he pleaded.

We normally didn’t. We were homeschoolers back then, and not always as disciplined as I would have liked. I’d make ambitious plans to get all our school work done by lunch, and inevitably, something would cause us to careen off course. We’d get too involved in a biology lesson, or find the book we were reading together so fascinating, we’d read four chapters instead of one. Something always seemed to prevent us from making it to the study.

"Do you think we can get our work done on time?” I asked.

He nodded optimistically and set to work. And just before 2:00, he finished the last assignment. So the three of us piled into the truck.

“Hey! Nice surprise!” Paula greeted us at the door. “Kids are around back,” she instructed my two.

We were nearing the end of our study about an hour later when we heard a shriek. One of the boys ran in. “Josh is hurt!” Paula ran outside to check on her youngest. Soon she was back, carrying him in her arms. The entire side of his head was covered in blood.

“What on earth happened?!” One of the women ran to get a wet towel.

Josh’s oldest brother, Theo, made the announcement. “Tera hit him on the head with a broom.”

His words knocked the wind out of me. “She what?”

“She picked up a broken broom and whack! She smacked him right on the head.”

I went out back. My displeasure solidified into outright anger at the sight that met my eyes: Tera, blithely swinging on the jungle gym … and singing. She didn’t look the part of a mad broom wielder--but there were witnesses. "Young lady, you get over here this instant.”

A startled look swept over her face at the sound in my voice. She slowed her swinging, then stopped altogether. With small and deliberate steps, she made her way to where I stood.

“What happened here?” I demanded.

She drew a big breath, signifying that the explanation was going to take every bit of energy she possessed.

"Well, it was like this, Mom.” She brushed a tendril of blonde hair away from her eyes, then gestured dramatically as if she were an eyewitness giving her account to a television reporter. “I was standing over there. Alex decided to get into the play car. And then that … that … JOSH,” she said in an exasperated tone, “tried to PUSH Alex off the deck. He was going to hurt her, Mom--on purpose.”

The look she gave me was one of pure vindication--as if she’d had every right to smack Josh on the head.

I glanced down and saw the offending broom. Picking it up, I scrutinized the jagged edges of the broken end. “So you decided to hurt him first?”

She nodded.

My anger rose. “Well, that was a very, very bad decision.”

She gulped.

“You get your coat, you apologize to Josh, and then you march yourself out to the truck.”

She got her coat. She apologized to Josh. She marched to the truck.

I felt ill. Paula, on her way out the door to take Josh to the walk-in clinic for stitches, was much more understanding than I think I would have been. “I’m sure Tera didn’t realize what would happen.” she said. “She thought she was protecting Alex.”

I wasn’t comforted. Nor did I feel better when another woman tried to console me. “This isn’t the first trip to the walk-in clinic during Bible study,” she laughed. “It’s getting so those receptionists start looking for us on Thursday afternoons.”

As I got in the truck, Tera whispered, “I’m sorry, Mom.”

I barely heard. “Sorry? You sure don’t look sorry. But you should be sorry, Missy.”

We’d made previous plans to meet up with Dave and another family at a nearby restaurant for dinner. All the way there I lectured Tera. “When did you start getting mean with the other kids? What were you thinking? Do you know how embarrassed and upset I am? What do you think Paula is feeling right now, as her little boy is getting stitches in his head? What was going through your mind when you picked up that broom and started swinging?”

She didn’t answer a single question. I didn’t let her. I didn’t stop long enough to draw breath until we pulled into the restaurant parking lot and I turned off the truck’s engine. Then I looked at her. But she wasn’t looking at me now. She stared straight ahead through the windshield, as though she was observing the most fascinating vision out there in the parking lot.

Her stoicism, viewed through the lens of my anger, looked like pure stubbornness.

We sat in silence for several moments. Even Zac was quiet, though something on his face told me he was mulling over the possibility of defending his sister. Something on my face told him he’d better not.

In the silence, I thought with horror about the family leaving our church. Had Tera done something vicious to Brandon too? My mind raced. Is this how people were going to start referring to us now? “Oh, you know--that church down the street; the one with the scary pastor’s daughter. She little, but she’s dangerous.”

I glanced down at Tera again. She hadn’t moved a muscle.

I began a silent prayer. “Oh, Lord, help me think of something I can say that will have an impact--something that will reach through to her.”

It took a minute to hear his answer. In that time, I’d already begun formulating a new lecture. I decided to describe for her the steps involved in giving someone stitches. But the Lord stopped me cold.

I always know when he’s talking to me in the midst of a crisis, because what he says runs so sharply counter to what I’m thinking. This occasion was no different.

He whispered, Grace.

And then, because I was so confused, he whispered it again. Grace.

I wanted to fight his voice, but I couldn’t. While I struggled, he continued to reveal himself to me. She wants to be forgiven ... She’s ready to come to Me ... You’re standing in the way.

That last one did it. I had a vision of my daughter, reaching for the outstretched arms of Jesus--and me standing between them, blocking her every move.

My heart hurt. It took a moment to find the right words. “Tera? Zac? I owe you both an apology.”

Their heads swiveled toward me. I locked eyes with Tera. “Are you sorry for what you did?”

She nodded.

“Then the only person you need to go to is Jesus. He’s ready--right now--to forgive you.” We held hands. I let her pray.

“Oh, Jesus,” she said, “please help me to be a better girl.” Then my little stoic, stubborn girl let loose the tears she’d been barely holding in--and sobbed. I undid her seatbelt and drew her up on my lap. We cried together, and after a few moments, I felt all the tension drain out of her body.

We heard a van door shutting.

"There’s Chris and Cora,” Zac said.

Our friends had arrived. Their little boy--another Josh--stood outside the van, waving at Tera.

“Are you ready to go see your friend?” I asked.

She gave me a bright smile and hopped out of the truck. Guilt kept me sitting where I was.

"Aren’t you coming?” Chris asked.

I nodded. “I’ll be there in a minute. Do you two mind if Zac and Tera go in with you?”

I watched my children walking toward the restaurant with our friends and as I did so, I kept replaying my harsh words. How could I have been so severe, so unyielding?

It occurred to me, in a flash, that I could describe grace to my children every day for the next 20 years, and it wouldn’t mean a thing until I began to demonstrate it to them with my life.

My heart felt very heavy. But then, while I watched, Tera started skipping. She said something to Josh, threw her head back, and lifted her hands high in the air. Giggling, they skip-raced each other up to the door of the restaurant.

Don’t you want to be forgiven, too? the Lord asked.

Did I want the same lightness of being, the same freedom I just observed in my daughter? Did I want her joy, her fresh start? Did I want to be unburdened?

“Yes, Father.”

I turned, in my mind, and saw that nothing barred the way. His arms were open to me, too, and there wasn’t a single thing between the two of us.

I stepped out of the truck and started across the parking lot. Inside, I was skipping.

Excerpted from A Whisper in Winter: Stories of Hearing God’s Voice in Every Season of Life (New Hope Publishers, 2004). © Shannon Woodward.

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Wednesday, June 01, 2005


During our trip to Israel last year, we went twice to visit the Western Wall. Sometimes, I'm there still--standing among a sea of faithful Jewish women, watching them read and mouth noiseless verses from the small books in their hands and bow to the wall and search for crevices between the stones in which to tuck their secret prayers. I can feel the still-potent heat of the dwindling sun and hear the chants of the men on the other side of the dividing wall. Where the women whisper, the men exclaim. I feel the swing of my body as I step on an empty chair and raise myself to peek over that divider; can feel again the weight of devotion as those kippah-wearing men pray and bob and dance in exuberant, hand-on-shoulder circles.

I love Israel. I left part of myself there.

The heat, at times, was overwhelming to this Pacific Northwest girl. Though I obeyed the strict dress code and draped a shawl over my tank top (no bare arms in the holy places), on one occasion I let the edges slip about two inches to allow the heat from my shoulders to dissipate. In less than a minute, an Israeli policewoman approached me and, in a tone that was polite but unwavering, instructed that I raise my shawl again. I complied ... and baked.

Though we were permitted to wear dresses or capris past our knees, the men were forbidden to show even an inch of their legs. No shorts for them.

That trip broadened my understanding of the Scriptures like nothing else could. Now, when I read, I can see Jesus resting and talking with His disciples in Caesarea Phillipi. I can taste the water Gideon scooped from the stream. I can feel the stones beneath the feet of the onlookers as they wait on the Via Delarosa for a glimpse of the condemned Man and His cross.

But this thing about the Jewish aversion to the bare male leg captured my attention and opened my eyes to the story of the Prodigal son in a vivid, powerful way.

I'm sure you know the story. A son, growing impatient with the crawl of time, tried to hurry the inevitable. "Give me my inheritance now," he insisted to his father. I've actually read that to the Jewish mind, the unmistakeable meaning behind this request was, "I wish you were already dead, Father." The pain began here. Or perhaps it began much earlier, as the father watched his son's growing restlessness and realized he'd soon lose him.

Though he could have denied the request, he didn't. Instead, he gave his child the asked-for portion and then watched as his son disappeared over the hill. He didn't know of the wild living that happened around that blind corner. He didn't know of the speed with which his son spent his inheritance. But his thoughts were never far from his boy, and his eyes kept a vigil on the spot where he last saw his prodigal.

When the boy hit rock bottom and found himself hungry, broke, and salivating over pig slop, he woke from his self-focused trance. "What am I doing here?" he asked himself. His thoughts drifted home. He longed for the security he'd once known and he realized, in a moment of clarity, that his father was a good and loving man. "Even my father's servants live better than I'm living. Maybe ... maybe he'll let me come home and be his servant."

He turned and took that first step. There must always be a first step, but that's the hardest. The next comes easier, and the next, and like the tumbling of a rock down a mountainside, momentum soon takes over. I don't believe the Prodigal stopped running until he mounted that final hill before home. I think he hesitated for a moment there, practicing one last time the plea he'd make to his father: "I know I've lost the right to be your son. Let me serve you instead."

But something happened as he stood on that hill: he was seen. He was seen by the eyes that had watched for him every day since his departure. And when his father saw the one his heart ached for, he did something no decent Jewish man would ever do. He hiked up his robe, tossed dignity to the side, and ran. He ran bare-legged, not caring that the neighbors could see. Not caring that his passion was on display. Not caring that the whole of his world--who all knew the injury he'd suffered at the hands of his uncaring son--could now see forgiveness in motion. He didn't care about anything at all except getting his arms around his lost child. And when he reached his son, and grabbed him and wept on his neck, he ignored the boy's practiced plea. Instead, he raised his head and he raised a cry, "My son, who was dead, is home!" And the feasting began.

I always knew that a big part of the humiliation of crucifixion was that the condemned were naked, or nearly so. But after understanding the story of the Prodigal, I think of those bare legs of Jesus differently. To me, now, those are the legs of my Brother-Savior-Father, who willingly hiked his robe and ran to embrace me. And He runs still. Still today, when I've wandered from home and gone my own way, He watches the hill called repentence, and at the first sign of my head, He hikes those robes again.

My friend just disappeared over that hill. He left everything he'd built with a girl who loves him desperately; left his children, his home, his church family--all for a quest to go out and "be happy."

I can't stop watching the hill. I have no idea what darkness he'll find on the other side. I can't imagine how battle-scarred and soul-weary he'll be when I next see his face, but I do know one thing for certain. When I see him coming, I'm going to run.

Painting, The Prodigal, by Ron DiCianni

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