Secrets Revealed

I never wanted to reveal the secret shame. But I had to let it out because it was so entwined with the story I was compelled to tell. The story of how my helpless, defenseless father was abused and neglected in nursing facilities. So I told the secret in Before the Door Closes: A Daughter’s Journey with Her Alcoholic Father.

Next I wrote Secrets Revisited, a collection of thirty-six personal vignettes showing the dynamics in the alcoholic family. Reliving each experience as I wrote it, I came to realize that through and in it all was God—seeing, knowing, and understanding.

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The Burden Jesus Could Not Carry

The burden was too much for Jesus to bear. Unable to take another step with it, He collapsed.

Merciless scourging had made His back a bloody pulp. Thorns, twisted into a wreath, stabbed His scalp like pins in a pin cushion. Blood oozed into eyes that had had to stay awake all night long through six trials of trumped-up charges.

Whether it was because they pitied Jesus or because they wanted to keep pace with their crucifixion orders, soldiers grabbed hold of a bystander. They put the heavy cross on Simon of Cyrene “and made him carry it behind Jesus” (Luke 23:26 NIV).

Even Jesus had a breaking point where He could not take it anymore. So, when we reach that place and need help to continue on, why should we be ashamed?

 

 

 

 

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The Longing

She was nice but she was not Mama. My aunt had come up from Virginia to take Mama’s place while she was in the hospital. Aunt Alice did everything for us, but my heart longed for Mama’s presence.

During that time, my fourth-grade teacher taught the class a poem. I drew a picture for Mama and included it: “Alone, alone, I walked in the woods and sat on a stone. I sat on a broad stone and sang to the birds. The tune was God’s making, but I made the words.”

My nine-year-old mind did not perceive the power of the poem. At the time, it was the only grown-up poem I knew. I wasn’t a baby, who would send Mama “Mary Had a Little Lamb” or “Humpty Dumpty.”

Now I understand that poem as the heart’s longing to be in the presence of God. Even “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed” (Luke 5:16 NIV). Was He missing the closeness He had had with His Father before the separation of the Incarnation? Was He longing to be in His Father’s presence when He “went up on a mountainside by himself to pray” and “was there alone” (Matthew 14:23 NIV)?

Mama’s cherished reply is still readable although her handwriting is fading. She began her letter with “my dear sweet Judy” and ended: “I liked your picture and poem. It made me cry. Mama misses her little darlings.”

Two longing hearts embraced.

 

 

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Sore Afraid

Do you ever find a letter tucked inside a Christmas card? You know, snippets of the sender’s life since the prior Christmas. For decades now, to my delight, a friend has faithfully added one to her card.

Years ago Betsy wrote about herself and her husband, then children became part of the news, and now grandchildren are included. Being a reflective person, she always incorporates a reassuring message. As 2020 was closing its door, Betsy opened her mind to Luke 2:9: “And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid” (KJV). She has given me permission to share her thoughts:

“I would say many, if not most, of us have been sore afraid at some point during this past year; and maybe we still are. But I am convinced that God is repeatedly saying, “Fear not”!

“I admit that I have had my own moments of fear; but each time, I have also heard a response in my heart from the Lord: ‘Do not fear. I created you, I controlled your birth, I control your days, and I will control your death. But death of your earthly body is not final; it is a graduation to the most wonderful place imaginable. The place where Jesus lives. As the apostle Paul said, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”’

“And so, I remind you, as I remind myself, that we have nothing to fear if we have Him. Period. He goes before us, behind us, beside us. Nothing can touch us without His permission.”

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Unnamed and Acclaimed

She remains unnamed even though credited for saving her city from devastation. Yet, preserved are the names of both the rebel who sheltered within its walls and the ruthless general who, like a rabid dog, pursued him there.

No sooner had Absalom’s revolt against King David been quashed, than Sheba, stirring swirling tribal unrest, raised his own rebellion. The king reacted by changing generals. He sent the word out: And say to Amasa, ‘Are you not my bone and my flesh? God do so to me and more also, if you are not commander of my army from now on in place of Joab’” (2 Samuel 19:13 ESV).

What? Thrown under the chariot! He who had been the king’s general for decades! He who had never lost a battle! Never been disloyal to his king and uncle! Hadn’t he followed the king’s written order to send Bathsheba’s husband where he would be killed at Rabbah? Yeah, yeah, he did disobey the king’s order not to kill Absalom the other day. But that was for his own good. Uncle David was always weak when it came to his favorite son. Alive, Absalom would never be anything but a seething cauldron of disaster.

Conceiving a cruel strategy to take back command of the army, Joab disguised his rage and jealousy. First, he pretended to give his unwary cousin a welcome kiss.But Amasa did not observe the sword that was in Joab’s hand. So Joab struck him with it in the stomach and spilled his entrails to the ground without striking a second blow, and he died. Then Joab and Abishai his brother pursued Sheba the son of Bichri” (2 Samuel 20:10 ESV).

“And all the men who were with Joab came and besieged him in Abel of Beth-maacah. They cast up a mound against the city, and it stood against the rampart, and they were battering the wall to throw it down” (2 Samuel 20:15 ESV).

From the other side of the wall, a lone woman summoned courage to parley with Joab. Upon hearing his terms, “Then the woman went to all the people in her wisdom. And they cut off the head of Sheba the son of Bichri and threw it out to Joab. So he blew the trumpet, and they dispersed from the city, every man to his home. And Joab returned to Jerusalem to the king” (2 Samuel 20:22 ESV).

Woman or not, you may be forever unnamed; but that does not mean you have not made a difference. Several years ago, I was transferring bags of groceries from a shopping cart to my car when I saw a man briskly walking toward the store. As he was about to pass me, I said, “Cheer up. It will get better.”

The man abruptly stopped and stepped closer. As I looked up into the face of a stranger towering head and shoulders above me, he demanded, “What did you say?”

“Cheer up. It will get better.”

He stood stiff and still so long that I became creepy scared of what might happen next. Finally, he spoke. “You’ll never know what that means to me.”

To this day I do not know his name, nor does he know mine.

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Renamed

David and Bathsheba named their second son Solomon. God renamed him.

This was not the first time God had changed someone’s name. Abram had become Abraham. Sarai had become Sarah. Jacob had become Israel. The difference is that they were adults when God renamed them.

Now God changes a baby’s name: “And because the LORD loved him, he sent word through Nathan the prophet to name him Jedidiah” (2 Samuel 12:25 NIV).

The name God gave Solomon means “beloved of the LORD.” Except for this one instance, the word “Jedidiah” does not appear in the Bible. Apparently, Solomon was never called by God’s chosen name for him. The reason remains a mystery.

Even more mysterious is the new name God gives to each of His children in heaven. “To the one who is victorious . . . I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it” (Revelation 2:17 NIV).

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Sabbath Surprise

Her eyes looked down at the dirt. She wouldn’t raise them. She couldn’t.

She recognized neighbors and strangers by their feet. Whether faces smiled or frowned at her, she did not see. It had been this way—her body bent double—for eighteen years. But today, although she didn’t know it yet, there would be a change.

Today was the Sabbath; and she was going where she always went on the Sabbath, walking the same path to the same synagogue. The rabbi’s voice she heard, though, was not the same one. He, pausing from his teaching, singled her out.

“When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, ‘Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.’ Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God” (Luke 13:12-13 NIV).

In spite of her personal shame and pain, this woman had clung to her habit of meeting with others for the Sabbath service. Both she and Jesus obeyed God’s instruction that “the seventh day is a day of . . .  sacred assembly” (Leviticus 23:3 NIV). They were where God wanted them to be on the Sabbath. It is the day God designated for humanity to meet together in reverence and respect for Him.

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The Second Shortest

The shortest verse in the Bible is, “Jesus wept” (John 11:35). You probably knew that. What about the second shortest? It is three words. Jesus said them. Only Luke recorded them.

Luke quoted Jesus as saying, “Remember Lot’s wife” (Luke 17:32). It may be the second shortest verse in the entire Bible, but why did Jesus say those three words?

It happened when He was talking with His disciples about the end times. Two-thirds of the way through His discourse, Jesus gave the warning, “Remember Lot’s wife.”

Along with her husband and two daughters, Lot’s wife was leaving the city of Sodom. Guiding angels specifically told them to “flee for your life; do not look back” (Genesis 19:17 RSV). Lot’s wife looked back at the burning city and became a pillar of salt.

Why did she disobey? Didn’t she believe that the angels had her best interests in mind? That time was of the essence? Or did she delay because her heart longed for Sodom? Was it that she did not want to leave the things that were there—the possessions, the positions, the perversions?

Looking back is an inclination to go back. When Jesus warns, “Remember Lot’s wife,” isn’t He cautioning us to beware of an attachment to this fleeting world?

Is Jesus also saying that the past belongs to the past? That is what the apostle Paul learned: “Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14 RSV).

Dwelling on the past, whether sorrows, joys, failures, accomplishments, troubles, delights, will sap us of the energy needed for today and tomorrow. Press on. To look back is to delay.

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The Other Good Samaritan

Of all the people who might stop to help the suffering soul, he was the most unlikely. Mixed race. A different class. Not one of us. Despised. All the reasons Jesus chose him to be the protagonist in His earthly story with a heavenly meaning. That Samaritan was fiction, but there was a good Samaritan who was real.

He was among a group of ten lepers who cried out to for mercy to the healing rabbi. Jesus directed them to see the priests. As they were on their way, their skin disease disappeared. “Now one of them, when he saw that he had been healed, turned back, glorifying God with a loud voice, and he fell on his face at His feet, giving thanks to Him. And he was a Samaritan” (Luke 17:15-16 NASB).

Jesus asked, “Was no one found who returned to give glory to God, except this foreigner?” (Luke 17:18 NASB). This foreigner—a Samaritan—was good enough to be grateful and to say so.

 

 

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The Saboteur

Some say he was a sorcerer. Others, a truth-speaking prophet. Regardless, he was an infamous saboteur.

His subterfuge began when the king of one nation “was terrified because there were so many people” (Numbers 22:3 NIV) camped nearby.  Fearing that “this horde is going to lick up everything around us” (Numbers 22:4 NIV), King Balak of Moab made a pact with another nation to put an end to this situation. They agreed on the person they needed to put their plan in action.

A delegation from both Moab and Midian traveled 400 miles to tantalize Balaam with prestige and wealth if he would do just one thing for them. If he would put a curse on the Israelites, they could take it from there.

When Balaam sent them packing, a larger delegation of higher-ranking officials came. That time Balaam mounted his donkey and went to meet with King Balak, who dangled in front of him the promise of a hefty reward.

With the king directing him when and where, Balaam set out three times to claim the bribe. The result was always the same: a blessing instead of a curse.

Defending himself to the king, Balaam said, “I must speak only what God puts in my mouth” (Numbers 22:38 NIV). That didn’t mean, though, that they both couldn’t get what they were after.

Balaam knew a surefire way that would cause God to curse these people—His chosen people. He “taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin so that they ate food sacrificed to idols and committed sexual immorality” (Revelation 2:14 NIV). Consumed with greed, Balaam sold out the Israelites. It worked.

God cursed the Israelites with a plague, and “those who died in the plague numbered 24,000” (Numbers 25:9 NIV). Before those deaths, however, God had told Moses to “take all the leaders of these people, kill them and expose them in broad daylight before the Lord, so that the Lord’s fierce anger may turn away from Israel” (Numbers 25:4 NIV).

God’s punishment started at the top. Leaders had the power and duty to prevent the sinful behavior. Instead, they shirked their moral responsibility and even took part in the sinning. Could we say they led a rebellion against God?

A public execution. A smiting plague. And God was not through.

Because “they were the ones who followed Balaam’s advice and enticed the Israelites to be unfaithful to the Lord” (Numbers 31:16 NIV), God told Moses to “treat the Midianites as enemies and kill them” (Numbers 25:16-17 NIV).  During that conflict, “They also killed Balaam son of Beor with the sword” (Numbers 31:8 NIV). Thus, the saboteur got his reward.

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The Contentment

She knew he was a man of God. Everyone knew it. For sure, he knew it. But there was something he didn’t know and wanted to know. It involved her.

Never calling her by name, he always referred to her by where she lived. She started off by making him a meal whenever he traveled through her village. Later on, she asked her husband to build a room for him in their house so that, whenever he passed that way, he would never worry about where to rest his weary bones. She had been so thoughtful and kind.

One day, wanting to show his appreciation, he asked her what he could do for her. Confident of his influence in high places, he offered to put in a word for her to the king or to the army’s general, whatever she desired.

This woman from Shunem, however, was not impressed that Elisha’s connections reached to the highest authorities. She had given to him with no agenda. Neither covert nor overt. Unswayed by his suggestion, she did not taint her pure motive and replied: “Nothing. I’m secure and satisfied in my family” (2 Kings 4:13 MSG). She was content. But not Elisha.

As successor to the renowned prophet Elijah, he, too, had God-given power. He could do something special for her if only he knew what this Shunammite woman needed or wanted. Maybe his servant Gehazi knew something he didn’t.

Gehazi was not oblivious to the obvious. “Well, she has no son, and her husband is an old man” (2 Kings 4:14 MSG).

Thus it came about that Elisha promised the Shunammite woman: “This time next year you’re going to be nursing an infant son” (2 Kings 4:16 MSG). The gift of that son was Elisha’s sixth miracle.

Although he was a prophet, Elisha did not think of himself as a know-it-all. Otherwise, he would not have asked the advice of his servant. Even he, a miracle-working prophet, had limited knowledge.

The Shunammite woman knew contentment with her circumstances—where she was and as she was. Her desire was to be a blessing, pure and simple.

But godliness with contentment is great gain (1 Timothy 6:6 NIV).

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