Month: March 2015

My Prodigal Heart

Fourteen years ago, Daniel walked out of this prison a new man. In honor of all he’s accomplished I’m re-posting this.
66309-dsc00209The fog had not yet lifted the morning our van climbed the hill to the Staunton Correctional Center to pick up our son Daniel. His five and a half-year sentence for foolish crimes he’d committed were over and we could finally take him home. To keep Daniel from spending one hour more incarcerated than necessary, we made the 2-½ hour journey the night before. At 6:30 that chilly March morning, he was free and we were there to greet him.

It felt strange pulling up that long road in the dark dawn. A thick fog made the prison seem eerie. Inside the car, silence fell as none of us quite knew what to say. Our daughter Kelly and her husband Dan had spent the first five years of their marriage making sacrifices to visit Daniel. Tim and I couldn’t quite grasp the reality of not spending our week-ends driving to a prison. None of us knew what to expect.

Tim, ever the prankster, went to the guardhouse with a “Get Out of Jail Free” card, but the guard didn’t seem amused. Then we sat in the van and waited. The sunrise began to burn off the fog, but a thin grey mist still made it difficult to see across the yard.

It was strange to think Daniel would just walk out the gate we had entered so many times. It seemed an odd process when so much effort had been exerted to keep him inside.

Suddenly, someone in the van said, “there he is!” But we all seemed frozen.

Carrying a large cardboard box, Daniel stood just on the other side of the sally-port gate. A guard stood by his side. Daniel didn’t move as the first of the two gates opened. There was a brief exchange between the guard escorting Daniel and the guard at the hut, and then the second gate opened and Daniel walked to freedom.

At the same time, the vans doors opened and we all leaped out. Daniel’s blaze orange baseball cap covered his curly hair and his old prison issue denim jacket was unzipped. Underneath he wore a tan shirt that still had the creases from having been just removed from its package.

Without speaking, Daniel stood next to the car as if unsure of what to do next

Even though we had new clothes for him back at the hotel, I could no longer stand seeing Daniel in prison garb. I removed his cap and asked him to take off his jacket. As soon I spoke, the words of the Father of the Prodigal Son echoed in my mind. “Hurry, bring the royal robe…” Tim took the box from Daniel as I shoved him his father’s jacket that was laying on the front seat. He pushed his arms in the sleeves and climbed into the front seat.

On the ride back to our hotel I marveled at why I didn’t love our obedient daughter more than our prodigal son. In so many ways it seems prodigals get to eat their cake and have it too. It’s always seemed unfair in a logical sense, yet emotionally, it’s crystal clear. But I sometimes struggle with putting the two together.

Perhaps it’s because I too have the heart of a prodigal. In my own frustrations over the direction God is leading me, I too have run away, taking with me God’s inheritance. I seldom hesitate to shake my fists and stomp my feet because God didn’t do something I thought He should. After hours anguishing over my foolish tantrums, I marvel at a God who loves me in spite of them.

Too often, I measure myself against folks who seem to do the right thing no matter what. I cringe as family members tell how they never complain. Or how they press on with a positive outlook. Words that could never be said about me. When I get angry, I want to run away from God. But, when I’m out in the world, I’m always shocked by how big the wake of my rebellion grows.

More than once, the overwhelming responsibility to be a “good” Christian has driven me away from my relationship with Christ. I don’t feel like going the extra mile, turning the other cheek, or holding my tongue. Not that I’ve ever been successful at any of those, but the burden of trying weighs heavily on my heart. And in those dark moments, well meaning folks say, “Let go and let God.” But I don’t want to.

Daniel a Pia

Daniel and his daughter Sophia

Fortunately, in the midst of my pity party, I run out of steam. Then I start to remember the blessings I have enjoyed because of Him. I remember how much I matter to my God. And the moment I acknowledge the error of my ways, the realization that He proclaims, “quick, get the royal robe…” amazes me every time.

Having a prodigal of my own has made me aware of the anguish my prodigal journeys cause our heavenly Father. It has made the power of grace very real to me. For it is His grace that makes us all loved equally and unconditionally by God. It’s grace that is the great mystery of our faith. The very thing that never ceases to amaze me. And the thing that calms this prodigal’s heart.

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Oh, Now I See

AJM DallasShe always asks the most amazing questions, and today was no exception. At 87 years old, she forgets a lot, but her desire to know how I’m doing hasn’t changed.

So yesterday, after our usual hello’s and how are you’s she asks,

“What flowers are blooming in your front yard?”

At first I thought it was hypothetical. But then I realize it’s almost spring, and this is probably a common question from a long gone era.

“It’s not quite spring yet,” I respond. “So nothing’s really blooming yet. But my Easter lily has sprouted, but there’s no flower.”

“Oh, I see,” She sweetly replies.

Aunt Jeanne Marie is the greatest conversationalist. And since she’s always lived on the west coast, while I’ve lived back east, she’s taught me how to use questions to engage with people.FullSizeRender

Many times we’d be a few minutes into our conversation and she’d stop.

“Wait a second honey,” she’d say. “I need to get a picture of you. Where are you sitting?”

“I’m sitting at my kitchen table.”

“What color is your top?”

“I’m wearing a denim shirt.”

“And your slacks. What color are they?”

“I’m wearing khaki’s.”

“And your hair, how are you wearing it these days.”

“Well, it’s about shoulder length, a little layered, highlighted a dark blonde. And it’s curly.”

“Oh good, now I can really see you. Now where were we?”

I updated her on my kids and grand-kids. Then we talked about my dreams and the ways she could pray for me. We laughed, and we cried. And we marveled at how many years had passed.

And after we hung up it hit me.

I was wrong, my yard is full of flowers.

5e67f-dscn0231_0001Because, Aunt Jeanne Marie, now that I think about it, you planted them there. Grace is in the middle just where you put it. It grew every time you loved me in spite of how flawed I am. Then there’s that patience. Remember how you planted it so deep in the soil so its roots would stay put? You made sure I could see it for many, many years. Oh and that perseverance, that flower is so stubborn. I couldn’t kill it if I tried. You made sure of that each time you stuck by me no matter what I did.

And I think I can speak for all of us when I say how grateful we are. It was you who tilled the soil of our broken lives. It was you who did the hard work so we could reap the reward. It was your love and devotion to a renegade bunch of kids that changed our lives.

So yes Aunt Jeanne Marie, my yard is in full bloom. And it will stay that way for many years to come.

 

Grow Your Tree

Communication CardI found this treasure the other day. I remember my oldest granddaughter Josie, filling it out. She was ten, and sitting so properly next to me at church. She grabbed the pen from the back of the seat in front of her, crossed her legs, and balanced the card on her knee.

I thought she was drawing. I had no idea how serious she was.

At the time, Tim and I were going through a rough patch in our marriage. Tim had moved out and we were, yet again, trying to work on putting our marriage back together.

When I pulled this from the bottom of a box, my first response was to laugh.

I love the way Josie took charge and adjusted the form to meet her needs. How she scribbled out the first age bracket to put in hers. Then she scribbled out all the categories under, Contact Me, except for the kid’s ministry. And I laughed out loud at her childcare needs. She clearly felt her, little by two years, sister Jules, needed to be in the nursery at age 8.

But when I got to the Comments and Prayer Request section, I was reminded of a harsh reality. Our children and grandchildren are dramatically affected by our choices. Communication Card 2

And our families are their world. And to shatter that place of security rocks them to their core.

I’m not saying you should never get divorced. And I understand abuse. For the first ten years of my life, I had a front row seat. Which I wrote about here.

But if you feel the need to find yourself. And if that need breaks up your family, I’d ask you to look real hard at this card. And ponder the heart of a ten-year-old little girl. And remember, these aren’t her parents here. It’s her grandparents. And her feelings are crystal clear. Us staying together really mattered.

Tim was a great papa. And it wasn’t unreasonable for him to drive forty-five minutes just to kiss his grandbabies goodnight. And they adored him in return.NegveskyEdit_9-21-11 (55)

Family is the most important thing we’ll ever do. And the decisions we make, run through each member’s soul. It is that thick, and that deep.

We must get back to valuing our family as a whole. It’s what holds this nation together. And as a senior member of my family, I’m taking a stand for marriage. I want my children and grandchildren to know how I feel. It’s really simple – Be kind to one another. And – Stay. Married.

And if you do, your latter years will be filled with a joy you can’t contain. And your seed will grow a mighty family tree.

Family2