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 If Hinge

Who he was got him noticed and promoted. Industrious. Clever. Hard-nosed. Pragmatic. Who he was also got his family line annihilated. Forever.

It all started when the king was impressed with his work ethic. “Now the man Jeroboam was capable, and Solomon noticed the young man because he was getting things done. So he appointed him over the entire labor force of the house of Joseph.” (1 Kings 11:28 HCSB).

Not long after, a reliable prophet told Jeroboam his career would escalate. For God was “about to tear the kingdom out of Solomon’s hands” (1 Kings 11:31 HCSB), and Jeroboam would reign as king over ten of the twelve tribes. That came to pass upon Solomon’s death when the kingdom split.

Latching onto the prophet’s promise that God would build him “a lasting dynasty just as I built for David” (1 Kings 11:38 HCSB), Jeroboam took steps to make it happen. His ten northern tribes must not mingle with the two southern ones and get any idea that things should go back to how they used to be. Those cracks had to be sealed.

So, Jeroboam built a place of worship in two cities and made a golden calf for each. “He said to the people, ‘It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem. Here are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt’” (1 Kings 12:28 NIV).

None of the Levites—those whose priestly line had been handpicked by God in the days of Moses—would help him. So, he appointed his own priests no matter their tribal identity.

And then there was the matter of the most joyous feast of the year. Jeroboam had to separate them from that. So, he kept the day but changed the month. Why go to Jerusalem for the harvest celebration when their produce had not yet ripened? Better to wait another month for their own bountiful thanksgiving feast.

Now Jeroboam’s lasting dynasty was a sure thing. Not really.

Within twenty-five years, Jeroboam had no descendants. A king “killed Jeroboam’s whole family. He did not leave Jeroboam anyone that breathed, but destroyed them all” (1 Kings 15:29 NIV). What! Hadn’t God promised to build Jeroboam a lasting dynasty?

Yes. But Jeroboam had ignored the if hinge. God’s promise hinged on “if you obey all I command you, walk in My ways, and do what is right in My sight in order to keep My statutes and My commands” (1 Kings 11:38 HCSB). Jeroboam did not consult with God. Determined he knew what was best, he drew up his own plan.

What did God’s blueprint look like? What would God have done to bring about this lasting dynasty? Jeroboam never found out. No one has.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding;
 In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths.
Proverbs 3:5-6 NKJV

 

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Sister Tension

It was no secret that her husband did not love her. Leah’s father had tricked him into the marriage. Her beautiful, sexy sister was the one he had wanted since he first laid eyes on her. A week after the deception, he got Rachel too but only with her father’s condition that Jacob work for him another seven years.

She had hoped she would win Jacob’s love in the womb war. She thought she had when it was she and not her sister who presented him with his first son. Wrong. That didn’t make her husband love her. It did make Rachel furiously jealous then and every time she gave Jacob a son. She gave him six to Rachel’s zero. Still, Jacob did not love her.

Finally, after her last child was born—a girl—her sister’s belly swelled. Rachel gave birth to a boy, naming him Joseph. And what do you think? Jacob loved Rachel’s kid more than he did all seven of hers combined.

Throughout the years, being desperate for her husband’s love had kept her at odds with Rachel. But today she would step over the hurt and worry and stand with her sister. Today they would be in sync when they responded to their husband’s proposal. He wanted them to pick up and move to a people and land the sisters did not know.

“Then Rachel and Leah answered and said to him, ‘Is there any portion or inheritance left to us in our father’s house? Are we not regarded by him as foreigners? For he has sold us, and he has indeed devoured our money. All the wealth that God has taken away from our father belongs to us and to our children. Now then, whatever God has said to you, do’” (Genesis 31:14-16 ESV).

There comes a time to set aside differences.

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The Elusive Vista

The vista did nothing for me. Was it because I was too young to appreciate what I was seeing? Or because I had just climbed 897 steps to get there? Or because I had spotted that teacher using the elevator, an option denied us sixth-graders?

Unimpressed, I walked back down those 897 steps of the Washington Monument. What George Washington meant in American history never crossed my mind.

Aren’t those three barriers ones that can also hinder the worship vista? When spiritually young, we do not understand the religious panorama. We are like babies learning to talk. The “tion’s” are a mystery. Salvation. Redemption. Justification. Propitiation. Sanctification. Glorification. Damnation.

Some may have climbed countless steps during a fast-paced week and/or jumped over family hurdles before reaching the place of worship. The transition can be difficult. Often these worshipers sit in the church pew (cushioned or not) engaged in a miserable fight to stay awake.

Thirdly, the actions of others can divert attention away from reverential worship. Jesus dealt with that issue when He said, “What is that to you? You follow me!” (John 21:22 ESV).

Despite my humdrum reaction to the vista from the Washington Monument, I am glad I was there. I had made it. My class had made it. We may not have understood the expanse that was before us, but we had the experience together and were the better for it. Thus it is with corporate worship.

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near (Hebrews 10:24-25 ESV).

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Two Lifesaving Jonathans

Two Jonathans were instrumental in saving David’s life. The heir-apparent prince gets the most publicity. Time and again he kept David alive by thwarting his jealous father’s plans to kill the future king. The other Jonathan also had a part in keeping David alive. That time David had been king for thirty years.

Absalom had usurped his throne. While escaping from his son’s death reach, David sent a spy back to Jerusalem. He also handpicked who was to bring him the infiltrator’s intelligence: ‘“Are not Zadok and Abiathar the priests with you there? So whatever you hear from the king’s house, tell it to Zadok and Abiathar the priests.  Behold, their two sons are with them there, Ahimaaz, Zadok’s son, and Jonathan, Abiathar’s son, and by them you shall send to me everything you hear’” (2 Samuel 15:35-36 ESV).

Both Jonathans put their lives on the line for David. Both did their part to preserve his life. Although one gets more recognition than the other, both were needed.

Ready to go, ready to stay,
Ready my place to fill;
Ready for service lowly or great,
Ready to do His will.
(A. C. Palmer, 1845-1882)

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The Slumbering Chord

Is there a song that, whenever you hear it, awakens a slumbering chord in your heart? For me it is “Trouble in the Amen Corner.” (If you are not familiar with it, you may listen to it on this link: https://youtu.be/1urlF0DH5AY.)

“Trouble in the Amen Corner” stirs my heartstrings for Steve. He was my third brother.

. . . the one who was born premature at seven months. My mother said he was so fragile she was afraid to touch him.

. . . the one who had a stroke when he was three. Johns Hopkins Hospital discharged him with a permanent limp and limited use of his left arm.

. . . the one who had surgery for testicular cancer when he was fourteen. Radiation treatments for lung cancer when he was a high school senior. That was the year the doctor gave him six months to live.

. . . the one who wanted to be a state trooper but got jobs whenever and wherever he could. Once he was a night watchman. Another time he was a stock clerk. When his supervisor’s boss saw him, he told her to get rid of Steve. “But he’s my best worker,” she protested. It didn’t matter; he was an insurance risk.

. . . the one who volunteered to teach backyard Bible lessons for a children’s ministry. He got good feedback. When he asked for a paid position, he was told he had not taken Bible courses. Solely supporting himself, he left Baltimore, Maryland, to attend a Bible college in Calgary, Canada. Holding those credentials, he returned to Baltimore. Without explanation, the organization would not hire him.

. . . the one who sang in the adult choir at the church where he grew up. He had answered the invitation for any church member to join it. That did not count when the choir was preparing a special concert and so-called important people who belonged to something somewhere else would be attending. The music minister asked my brother Steve not to sing.

“For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God.”
(1 Peter 4:17 KJV)

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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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