Chapter Fifteen - Seeds of Reconciliation
Chapter Sixteen - Letting Go
Chapter Seventeen - Home Sweet Home
Chapter Eighteen - Beauty from Ashes
Chapter Nineteen - Prayer of the Patriarchs
Chapter Twenty - Restoration
Chapter Sixteen - Letting Go
Chapter Seventeen - Home Sweet Home
Chapter Eighteen - Beauty from Ashes
Chapter Nineteen - Prayer of the Patriarchs
Chapter Twenty - Restoration
You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you?
Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified.
I would like to learn just one thing from you:
Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law,
Or by believing what you heard?
Are you so foolish? After beginning by the Spirit,
Are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?
Have you suffered so much for nothing—if it really was for nothing?
Galatians 3:1-4 NIV
Chapter Twenty-one—Dying on the Vine
I heard Jim’s car on the driveway, and I popped out the back door to greet him. It was Saturday, and he had come from a meeting with the men in our home church. The door closed behind me, and I winced at the scene in front of me. Over two months earlier, Hurricane Katrina had stripped our three acres of at least thirty trees, and I had not yet grown accustomed to the sight of our half-naked yard. The storm had left us without electricity for five weeks, and we still had no phone or Internet service. We had cell phones, at least, though the signal was poor, both inside and out. It was commonplace to walk all over the yard, in search of a good signal, in order to complete the calls necessary to handle insurance claims and such. In spite of it all, we still considered ourselves among the lucky ones.
Katrina roared ashore at the Louisiana/Mississippi border on August 29th, the strongest hurricane ever recorded in the
Mexico at the time. She left behind her a wake of destruction. The
levee system in
failed after the storm moved inland, and eighty percent of the city and
neighboring parishes flooded and remained flooded for weeks. In addition, New Orleans ’s beachfront
towns were also ninety percent flooded. Almost two thousand people lost their
lives, and the storm was touted, at that time, to be the largest natural
disaster in the history of the Mississippi . United
The storm’s eye followed a path roughly thirty miles to the east of our home, and our area, which was significantly inland, sustained severe wind damage. Many homes were destroyed by falling trees and/or tornadoes spawned by the storm. Our home remained untouched, but our property had taken a beating.
When we heard there was a Category 5 storm headed straight for us, our family – Jim, me, Derek, Sara, Jacob, Amanda, and Kayla – evacuated to my dad’s home in
. After two weeks,
Jim, Jacob, and Derek returned to our property, with friends from Texas , to survey the
damages and begin cleanup. One man lent Jim his RV, which he parked up close to
the house; it was easier for the generator to power the camper than the house,
and Jim and the boys needed some semblance of air conditioning, as temperatures
were pressing the three-digit mark. The girls and I stayed in Houston until mid-October when the electricity
was restored. Texas
It hurt to lose all those trees, but the loss of Derek and Sara was much more painful. They chose to relocate to
taking our soon-to-be grandbabies with them. I took the decision hard, as we
had barely begun to enjoy the restoration God had brought about. Angry for a
time, I soon realized that they had to do what made them feel safe as a family.
That I could understand. Texas
Katrina had stolen the sense of security we’d once enjoyed. From now on, hurricane season would bring with it a sense of loss and dread.
I blinked back a tear and went to hug Jim. “How did the meeting go?”
His jaw tensed. “Okay, I guess.”
“Oh, it’s no big deal,” he hedged.
“Let’s go inside. It’s depressing out here,” he answered.
Jim had not looked forward to the men’s meeting today. Our Sunday gatherings had been inconsistent since the storm. One family still lived out of the area; their home had been destroyed by a huge tree, uprooted from their yard. Whenever possible, the available families got together.
At one impromptu assembly, one man cornered Jim and another of the men and confessed that he and his family were unhappy with the home church; they had issues with the growing tendency towards isolation and with the rigid rules pertaining to the kids. He wanted to know if anyone else had voiced these concerns. He also admitted that his family sometimes felt judged – the same things Jim and I had wrestled with for the past several months. He also brought up a concern about doctrine. Jim agreed these issues should be discussed at the next meeting the men had.
That same day, a couple of the women shared similar thoughts with me. Until that day, I’d assumed Jim and I were the only ones who felt this way. The fact that several others were struggling with similar concerns troubled me enough to write a letter to Sylvia; in it, I confessed my feelings and admitted that I had been too much of a coward to share them before. I apologized for being a poor friend, for not being honest. I indicated I wasn’t alone in these feelings and suggested, now that things were out in the open, maybe we could come to a comfortable resolution. I wanted to enjoy going to church again.
I fixed Jim a glass of iced tea and joined him in the living room. “Okay, what happened at the meeting?”
“Well, we discussed the letter you sent to Sylvia, for one thing.”
My heart thudded. “Okay.”
“Mark thinks the four of us should get together and talk. After that, we might need to get all the couples in the church together to discuss things.”
That made sense. “That’s a good idea. Long overdue, in fact. Anything else?”
Jim nodded. “Apparently the music I pick for worship makes Mark uncomfortable.”
I wrinkled my brow. “Why? You choose from Christian groups.”
He wiped the condensation from his glass. “Yes, but he doesn’t like the same kind of music I do. He said the more contemporary stuff is not appropriate for worship.”
I was not surprised. Jim liked some of the heavier rock-and-roll type music. Many people were not as comfortable with it as he was. But I knew he researched every artist. He often told me their testimonies when he brought home a CD. Their life stories ministered to him.
“Well, okay . . . different people have different tastes.” I was almost afraid of what he would say next. “What else?”
Jim heaved a sigh and set his glass on the table. “You’re going to be upset about this part.” He locked eyes with me.
I braced myself and waited.
“Mark mentioned that he and Sylvia needed a sitter for something, and I volunteered us. I said they could bring their kids over anytime, we wouldn’t mind watching them.”
“Okay, that’s true. Why would that upset me?”
“Well, Mark just stayed very quiet, like he didn’t hear what I said. After a few minutes, one of the guys said to him, ‘So, what’s the problem, Mark? Do you and Sylvia not trust Jim and Debbie with your kids?’”
My throat was so dry I couldn’t swallow. I held my breath, waiting.
Jim went on, his tone reluctant. “Mark was silent for a long time, and then he said, ‘No, we don’t.’”
A pain shot through me, as if I’d been kicked in the stomach. I couldn’t speak out loud, but the voice in my head had no problem. So, I’m not crazy. It’s not my imagination. They do think we’re bad parents.
After a long pause, I spoke. “Well, I’ll say this: The silver lining to Katrina – the one good thing to come from this storm – is that we haven’t had to meet as a church on a regular basis. I haven’t missed the Sunday-morning knot in the pit of my stomach, wondering about whether or not I’ll measure up. I enjoy being genuine, not pretending everything in my life is perfect. It’s a huge relief to not be fake.”
Jim and I faced Mark and Sylvia across their kitchen table. My stomach churned, and I knew it would take little provocation for me to lose my dinner. I had dreaded this meeting all week. These are your friends. What are you so afraid of?
I cleared my dry throat and took a sip of water. “Sylvia, I want you to know I never meant to hurt you in any way.” I begged her forgiveness with my eyes.
Her face was a mask. “I wish you had talked to me about how you felt.”
“That’s what I was trying to do with the letter. It’s easier for me to share hard things on paper. When I’m face to face, I tend to chicken out,” I admitted. “But our friendship is too important to leave this unsaid. I don’t want these feelings to fester any longer.”
“You couldn’t share your feelings with me, but you could talk about them with Ann and Paula?” Her eyes bore through me, and I felt for the whole world like a chastened child.
I hung my head in shame. “You’re right. I should have talked to you.” I didn’t defend myself with the fact that I didn’t share my feelings with the other two women until their own feelings came to light – or that all of us had carried the burden alone for over a year, not feeling the freedom to approach her about it – and how, when it finally came out, I realized we had to confront these issues, if our church was to survive. Sylvia was right; I had felt free to talk to them, but not to her.
“The Bible says we are not to sow seeds of discord amongst the brethren.”
“Yes, it does. Can you please forgive me?”
Mark and Sylvia spent the remainder of our time together reiterating the soundness of their reasoning for various rules and practices the group had embraced over the past couple years. I listened and agreed. I was too ashamed to muster the courage to disagree. Jim remained quiet, as well.
Later, as Jim and I drove home, I wanted to dig a hole and bury myself in it.
Jim broke the silence. “That was pointless.”
I turned to look at him. “What do you mean?”
“What do I mean?” He looked at me as if I were daft.
He went on, “We didn’t resolve one of the issues that we went there to discuss.”
“I know you feel guilty for not having spoken up sooner. And Sylvia made you feel like a gossip, but—”
“No buts, Jim. I did gossip.” My shoulders sagged.
“And I heard you ask for forgiveness,” he countered.
I sat staring at my hands in my lap.
“So what now?” Jim sighed. “Do we just keep ignoring the fact that we are all concerned about isolation and the other things that were brought up? Your concern moved you to write a letter. Do you think we should just sweep it all under the rug now?”
“Well, no. I still feel the same about all that.”
“Don’t you see what happened?” We had reached our house, but neither of us moved to get out of the car.
I stared at him, waiting for him to enlighten me.
“Our concerns came to light in an ‘improper’ manner.” Jim made air quotes. “So we spent the evening talking about your sin, while the fact that we have issues that need to be addressed as a group was ignored.”
“Great, so now I’m a gossip and a sell-out,” I snapped. “I didn’t exactly see you speaking up either.”
“Let’s not fight.” He rubbed my shoulder. “Honestly, I didn’t speak up because I don’t think it would have made a bit of difference. I’ve spoken up about a lot of things over the years, and I’m sick of wasting my breath.”
I sat and digested what had happened. Jim and I thought we were going to a meeting to discuss legitimate concerns within our group, but Mark and Sylvia’s agenda had been to handle my sin. I could agree that sin should never be overlooked, but that singular focus had, in effect, nullified other important issues we needed to face.
As Jim got out of the car, he glanced my way. “Like I’ve said before, I think it’s time we leave the church.”
I had no idea what to think anymore.
Jim and I had discussed this subject several times since he’d first expressed the opinion on my birthday well over a year ago. He was ready to find a traditional church home; I was afraid, if we did so, we would disappoint God. I felt we’d made a promise, and that we owed it to our kids, to God, to the other families, to stick out the covenant we’d made with each other. I was sure God would reward our faithfulness to this call by protecting our kids from the fate that had befallen Derek.
But on the other hand, I had to admit my relationship with God was not what it used to be. Once full and exciting, now it was dry and barren; like the difference between a grape and a raisin. These days I did things because I was supposed to do them. I just wanted to keep everyone happy, including God. I used to enjoy revelation from Him in my quiet times, but now it was more reading a passage of Scripture so I could check it from my list. Was this really what He had in mind? Had church at home been His call? Or mine? Had we been motivated by God? Or fear?
Jacob was off with friends when Jim got home from work. I wasted no time sharing the bad news.
“Jacob walked off his job today,” I huffed, as soon as Jim walked in the door.
Jim gawked at me. “Are you kidding me?”
“I wish.” I rolled my eyes.
“He said his boss cursed him out. I agree that’s wrong, but . . . .”
Jim stood there with his mouth open, hands on his hips.
I shook my head and sighed. “What are we going to do with him?”
“Keep praying for him, for one thing.” Jim was nothing, if not practical.
“I’ll ask for prayer on Sunday too, though I’m sure certain people will cluck their tongues behind our backs – ‘Tsk-tsk, they are such bad parents.’” I didn’t even try to hold the sarcasm in check.
Jim said nothing.
Insecurity joined shame and nibbled at my confidence. “Do you think we’ve been too hard on the boys? I mean, Derek did drugs and had sex before marriage. Jacob has smoked pot. They’re not doing anything we didn’t do ourselves, back in the day.”
Jim bristled. “You’re looking at it all wrong, Deb. Just because we grew up spiritually blind, does that mean our kids have to do the same?” Jim sat down on the couch and pulled me down next to him. “What if we had some sort of genetic, physical limitation? We would do everything possible to keep our kids from being affected, wouldn’t we?”
I nodded, uncertain where he was headed.
He ran a hand through his hair. “We do have a genetic illness – otherwise known as sin – and we want it to skip our kids, so we teach them about God. We are born into a state of sin . . . spiritual blindness. So do our kids have to walk in blindness, just because we did?”
I shrugged. “But we’ve taught them about God, and it doesn’t seem to have helped the boys to avoid our pitfalls.”
“You have a point.” He chuckled. “Firstborns always get the shaft, because their parents learn on them. Then even if they do it better the next time around, there are no guarantees that kids will walk in wisdom. It’s something that develops inside them . . . you can’t force it from the outside with rules and regulations. Legalism doesn’t open a heart, grace does.”
“Yeah.” I still wasn’t certain.
“It’s a balance, and we learn as we go. We aren’t perfect, but we still have to try.”
“You don’t think we are being hypocrites?”
Jim sighed deeply. “No, I think we are first-generation Christians.” He smoothed a stray hair from my check and then took my hand in his own. “Your mom was an alcoholic. Do you want that for our kids, when we can educate them on how to avoid it?”
“Of course not,” I snapped.
“Don’t be mad, I’m trying to make a point.” Jim traced his thumb around one of my knuckles. “God showed grace to us in the foolishness of our youth – we didn’t have to deal with a pregnancy outside of marriage, and neither of us became addicted. Sure, it’s uncomfortable to hold our kids to a higher standard, since they know we didn’t do everything right when we were their age. They could even call us hypocrites. But if we have more understanding now, don’t we owe it to them to share all we know? I mean, our folks did the best they knew to do, and we have to do the same. We played Russian roulette with our lives and dodged a speeding bullet, but does that mean we want that for our kids?”
I rested my head on his shoulder and gave silent thanks for his wisdom.
Jim reached for my chin and turned my face towards his own. “We’re dying on the vine in this church, babe. We aren’t even thinking straight anymore. We need to leave.”
“I know,” I groaned. Inside, I prayed. God, I don’t know if I can go through leaving another church. What will they think of us? The joy of the Lord is my strength, but right now, the joy is being sucked right out of me.
The words for the day’s devotional in My Utmost for His Highest, by Oswald Chambers, grabbed my heart and would not let go.
But it is Hardly Credible
That One Could be so Positively Ignorant!
“The Lord spake thus to me with a strong hand.” There is no escape when our Lord speaks, He always comes with an arrestment of the understanding. Has the voice of God come to you directly? If it has, you cannot mistake the intimate insistence with which it has spoken to you in the language you know best, not through your ears, but through your circumstances.
God has to destroy our determined confidence in our own convictions. “I know this is what I should do”—and suddenly the voice of God speaks in a way that overwhelms us by revealing the depths of our ignorance. We have shown our ignorance of Him in the very way we determined to serve Him. We serve Jesus in a spirit that is not His, we hurt Him by our advocacy for Him, we push His claims in the spirit of the devil. Our words sound all right, but our spirit is that of an enemy. “He rebuked them, and said, ‘Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of.’” The spirit of our Lord in an advocate of His is described in 1 Corinthians 13.
Have I been persecuting Jesus by a zealous determination to serve Him in my own way? If I feel I have done my duty and yet have hurt Him in doing it, I may be sure it was not my duty, because it has not fostered the meek and quiet spirit, but the spirit of self-satisfaction. We imagine that whatever is unpleasant is our duty! Is that anything like the Spirit of our Lord, “I delight to do Thy will, O My God.”21
I remained pensive for the rest of the day. Was this what Jim and I had done? Were we guilty of serving the Lord in our own way? Is this why my spirit was parched and dry? I thought it was because I’d failed God. Could it be, instead, that it was never His idea for us to serve Him this way in the first place, but rather something we concocted from our own understanding?
As Jim and I readied for bed that night, I was still thoughtful.
Before I drifted off to sleep, I had a question for Jim. “When did serving God become all about outward holiness and insulating ourselves from the world, for fear of contamination? What about experiencing things and growing through our experience? All around us, there are souls in need of Him . . . but how can we touch those souls if we never inhabit the same space? Or if they feel judged instead of loved?”
A soft snore came from Jim’s side of the bed, and I knew we’d have to talk about this later.
The following Sunday, after a time of worship, the families settled themselves in Mark and Sylvia’s spacious living room for the day’s teaching. The kids and I filled one of the couches, while Jim sat on the floor, resting his back against my knees. I rubbed his shoulders while I listened, glad for the safety I felt next to him. Some might see me as a gossip, but he knew my true heart.
Your place is beside this man.
I smiled. It had been a long time since I’d heard the Holy Spirit speak. Yes, it is.
You once prayed and asked Me to teach him to lead your family.
Then why are you resisting his leadership?
He’s asked you several times to look for a new place to worship.
Understanding dawned. God was right. Jim had been trying to lead our family in a new direction for over a year, and I’d been too afraid of what Mark or Sylvia or the others might think to follow him. I’d also been too stubborn to admit that our hopes for the home church had fallen flat, and it felt like we’d failed God. In truth, I could now see that our decision to do church at home had been born of fear and rooted in pride. But refusal to let Jim lead our family as he saw fit was a lack of submission, rooted in that same fear and pride.
God, I’ve been blind to this sin in my heart. Please forgive me. I will follow Jim’s lead, and I trust You to guide our family where You want us to worship.
I looked around the room, at these families who were our friends and brothers and sisters in Christ. They loved the Lord with all their hearts, and like Jim and me, they wanted nothing more than to please Him by raising their children in His love and admonition. We might not agree on how we were to accomplish that goal, but our hearts were united in the desire. If we left now, maybe our differences of opinion wouldn’t destroy our friendships.
Please forgive me, Lord, for judging Mark and Sylvia, and for taking offense over their opinions of Jim and me as parents. They love You, and I know that. They are sincere in their beliefs. Help us to remain friends, and help them to forgive Jim and me where we may have caused them offense. As we part ways, let us remember to pray Your abundant blessing over their lives.
Leaving would hurt as much as knowing Mark and Sylvia viewed us as unfit parents. Maybe it was a judgment on their part; maybe it was just another parent doing what they thought best for their children. In either case, Jim and I had come to the conclusion that walling our family away from the world was a hindrance to our obedience to God’s call to share the gospel and to touch people’s lives with His love. If we stayed, we would be living a lie. We had to find a place where we could be transparent and genuine about the struggles we faced, without fear of judgment, intended or not. The enemy had been whispering his lies to us, that we were failures, since Derek left home seven years ago. We needed to find a body of believers where those lies were not reinforced; we needed encouragement and support. It was time to discard our cloak of shame and be real.
Pastor Mitch had been wise to warn us about his worries that we were caught up in fear and that isolation would likely be an ineffective way to keep our children from harm’s way. For us, the last three and half years had turned our relationship with God into a religious performance. We had taken solid truth and plugged it into a formula, in an attempt to control God’s response; if we do “this,” “this,” and “this,” as parents, God will make sure our children turn out “just so.” The truth was that we could do only our best, and have faith in God that He would fill in the gaps we left. We were not perfect, and we would make mistakes. But God was in the repair business; He was a restorer of hearts – ours and theirs.
I couldn’t tell you Mark’s teaching for that day, or what we talked about at lunch. But I knew what God and I had worked out.
As we pulled from Mark and Sylvia’s driveway after church, I turned to Jim, eyes shining. “You’ve been unhappy in the home church for a long while now.”
He raised his eyebrow and nodded.
I cleared my throat. “I’ve been wrong to argue with you. You are the head of this family.” I reached over and rested my hand on his leg. “God and I had a talk today. I’m ready to leave whenever you are, just say the word. I’ll follow you, wherever you want to go. I’m behind you one hundred and ten percent.” I winked at him.
Jim smiled. “I should have asked Him to talk to you for me a long time ago.” His eyes twinkled and he winked back.
As we made our way home, a warm peace wrapped itself around my heart.