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.

9781490808949_COVER.indd

 

Hands Outside the City Gate

Inside the city gate the governor dried his compromising hands on a regal towel. He had just sent Jesus Christ to be crucified outside the city gate. Other hands would now pick up where Pontius Pilate left off.

Forced Hands

Simon from Cyrene, Africa, met the pathetic procession as he was heading toward Jerusalem from the country. Like many intentions gone awry, his plan to walk into the city was stopped. The soldiers seized him “and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus” (Luke 23:26 NIV).

Charitable Hands

According to custom, when a criminal arrived at the place of execution, aristocratic women provided him with a drugged wine. The drink would serve as a sedative for the crucifixion’s impending pain. In Jesus’ case, “They offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it” (Mark 15:23 NIV).

Obedient Hands

The first duty drilled into a soldier is to obey orders under all circumstances. Thus conditioned, Roman soldiers nailed Jesus’ hands and feet to the wooden cross. With callous precision, “They crucified him” (Mark 15:24 NIV).

Collective Hands

Jesus’ hands were not the only ones that had nails hammered into them that Friday: “At the same time two robbers were crucified with Him, one on the right hand and one on the left” (Matthew 27:38 AMPC).

Gambling Hands

Roman soldiers got a bonus for carrying out the odious order to crucify. They could keep the clothes belonging to the one hanging on the cross above them. And so, beneath the cross of Jesus, four soldiers “divided up his clothes by casting lots” (Luke 23:34 NIV).

Ridiculing Hands

“Those who passed by hurled insults at him” (Mark 15:29 NIV).

“In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him” (Mark 15:32 NIV).

“The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar and said, ‘If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself’” (Luke 23:36-37 NIV).

The two criminals “crucified with him also heaped insults on him” (Mark 15:32 NIV). Later, one of them, somewhere in his own suffering, had a change of heart and testified to his counterpart: “We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong” (Luke 23:41 NIV).

Relinquished Hands

From the cross, Jesus handed over his mother’s care to the apostle John. “When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, ‘Woman, here is your son,’ and to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ From that time on, this disciple took her into his home” (John 19:26-27 NIV).

Sympathetic Hands

When Jesus said “I thirst,” the hands of Roman soldiers reached out to Him. “A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth” (John 19:29 ESV).

Receiving Hands 

Knowing He had finished the work God gave Him to do, “Jesus called out with a loud voice, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.’ When he had said this, he breathed his last” (Luke 23:46 NIV).

“And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood” (Hebrews 13:12 NIV).

9781490808949_COVER.indd

Zip It!

The set of her jaw stopped me. Peering closely at her picture, I noticed that her barefoot stride also showed determination to get to her destination.

Bands of bright green cloth spiraled snugly around her head. Not a strand of hair leaked out.

She had on a flowered cotton dress. I liked it until I saw what was missing. The center back seam was creased for a zipper—a 22-inch one, my sewing eye sized. But no zipper had been sewn in. What audacity!

Who in the world would wear a dress without a zipper? Not me! Oh, no, I took pride in my zippers, carefully selecting the right color for every dress I made. I had even gone so far as to make a perfect match with Rit dye. Recently, I had started saving zippers from throwaways. Reusing a zipper was fine, but not using one was absolutely—without excuse—totally unacceptable.

Who would leave her dress wide open from the neckline to way below the waist? Who would expose herself like that in public? And look! No underwear! What kind of woman would do such a thing?

Repelled, I shut the magazine. A score of years passed before, connecting the dots, I could finish that picture.

In an article about a church’s missions work, I read the reprint of an old appeal for clothes donations that would be sent to Haiti. The last sentence admonished: “Do not remove the buttons or zippers.”

Then I knew what kind of woman she was. Dirt poor. Desperate. Destitute. Dependent. Doing the best she could with what she had.

Sadly, I cannot say that experience cured me of a critical spirit. But I can say that it is still a good reminder to heed Jesus’ advice, “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment” (John 7:24 NASB).

 

 

There is so much good in the worst of us, and so much bad in the best of us, that it ill behooves any of us to find fault with the rest of us.
(James Truslow Adams, 1878-1949)

 

9781490808949_COVER.indd

Button Connection

Was it because she had no daughter that my grandmother asked my mother, “Do you want my button can?” Perhaps. However, it was not the reason I heard.

No longer would my grandmother walk upstairs and sit at her sewing machine. Her feet would not treadle like a see-saw under the window. Her eyes would not glance out at what used to be her strawberry patch while freckled fingers deftly told the hand wheel when to go and when to stop.

Accepting she had come to the end of those days, my grandmother offered their last link to my mother. Buttons that for years had been snipped from worn-out shirts, blouses, dresses, coats, and pants passed to Mama. There was unspoken hope they would be revived on new garments.

As time would have it, there came a day when Mama relayed the button can—with her additions—to me. I had already begun my own collection; so I merged them. Watching the aged buttons tumble on top of mine, I was surprised to see again the three mother of pearl shell buttons.

Years before while exploring my grandmother’s button can, I had wondered about those iridescent buttons. Where had they once glistened? Had my great-grandmother sewn them on a special dress for my grandmother? Was it an Easter dress? Was it the dress she wore to the disappointing talent show she shared with me from her rocking chair? Or were they worn on something else forever buried in my grandmother’s memory?

In the end, those buttons from long ago, for whatever reason, had not been selected to adorn anything again. Yet, they had never been discarded. Not like “Family Buttons.”

I discovered “Family Buttons” framed and leaning inconspicuously against a box on a garage floor. When I asked the young mother if it was also for sale, she said yes and added, “My grandmother cross-stitched that for me. When she found out she had cancer, she made one for each of her grandchildren before she died.”

“How much do you want for it?”

“Two dollars.”

Fifteen years later “Family Buttons” still speaks from a wall in my home. More than one guest has valued its words:

A button here from Grandma’s gown
Worn on her wedding day;
Another from mine, a pearl one,
Precious as words can say.
That one is from my husband’s shirt,
A blue one, I recall.
And those are from the baby’s things,
That’s why they are so small.
There’s buttons here from children’s clothes
Discarded through the years.
Buttons recalling happy times,
And some recalling tears.
Counting the different buttons
Sewn here around my rhyme
I see they form a history
Of a family—
Mine.

On the day of his death, Moses taught the people he was about to see no more a song he had written. Among the words is the instruction, “Remember the days of old, Consider the years of all generations” (Deuteronomy 32:7 NASB).

9781490808949_COVER.indd

A Thanksgiving To Remember

Have you had your Thanksgiving to remember? The Thanksgiving that served you a life-changing event? A Thanksgiving you grew on? A Thanksgiving forever etched in your memory?

I have. Of the seventy-five Thanksgiving meals I have sat down to, only one is not a blur. I don’t think I could read yet, but I can recite what happened:

What did she care? This grown-up had never paid any attention to me before. Why now? Why did she make a beeline from her backyard to me in mine and ask, “What did you have for Thanksgiving?”

The way she couched the words meant she was a little too anxious for my answer. What was she going to do with it? Whatever it was, somehow it would be against my family.

Five or six years old at the time, I was already well trained in deciphering double meanings. Like other children raised in an alcoholic home, I was hypersensitive to verbal and nonverbal cues. No comment or question was ever innocent, inconsequential, or taken at face value. Lurking behind every nuance had to be an ulterior motive. And it was never good.

Although I was suspicious, my young brain reasoned the nosy neighbor couldn’t possibly know what had been going on in our house. She couldn’t see behind closed doors. She couldn’t have heard Mama’s screams when Daddy beat her, because it was too cold for the windows to be up. And she would have been asleep in her house when his loud voice shook me awake in the middle of the night.

She probably didn’t see those big, scary policemen, either, when they knocked at our front door. Chances were she was not outside then.

Regardless of her motive, of what she had heard or not heard, or of what she had seen or not seen, I had no choice of what I would tell her. My parents had imprinted in me to always, always tell the truth. So that’s what the busybody heard from me.

“Potato soup.”

My father’s drunk had been in the endgame, where there was no money for a drop of alcohol, let alone a Thanksgiving turkey. But I didn’t wish for it as I dipped my spoon in the hot broth and sent it away from me like a ship going out to sea. When it came back, I was glad to see I had captured floating pieces of potato and celery.

With the family gathered at the kitchen table, I feasted on the sobered silence. Daddy was not talking mean, Mama was not crying, and I was not afraid my father would be drunk today. That Thanksgiving I understood thankfulness.

Decades later, as God would have it, I bought a 1941 cookbook at a yard sale. In its pages was a recipe for potato soup, which, it turned out, tasted like my mother’s. Whenever income was scanty, that’s what I made for my family. Every time I remembered that peaceful Thanksgiving Day of my childhood. And its price.

(The above anecdote is Secret 3 from Secrets Revisited.)

For what we are about to receive, may the Lord make us truly thankful.

9781490808949_COVER.indd

The Ladder Connection

His brother was hopping mad. Mad enough to murder him. That was the real reason his father told him to leave home. Not that he had had a clue. Mother had seen to that.

She had again deceived the old man. Burying her head in his lap and beguiling him with rehearsed sobs, she had cried, “I’m sick and tired of these local girls. I’d rather die than see Jacob marry one of them” (Genesis 27:46 TLB).

Father bought her cover story and sent him—her favorite son—far, far away to the land of his mother’s roots. Different people. Culture confusion. Strange surroundings. Unknown future. What future?

He wouldn’t be in this fix if he hadn’t agreed to the other trick—his mother’s scheme to steal his brother’s inheritance. He could have told her no . . . couldn’t he? Instead, following her directions to the letter and lying to his blind father on the fly, he had duped him.

If only he hadn’t listened to his mother, he wouldn’t be stretched out on this hard ground as darkness descended. Wrapped in silence. Pillowed with a stone. Lonely and alone.

Not alone, which Jacob would discover as sleep overtook him. He dreamed of a ladder reaching to heaven.

As if relaying messages back and forth between heaven and earth, an uninterrupted stream of angels ascended and descended the stairway. What a breathtaking sight! But that view was eclipsed when the dream soon became up close and personal.

God Himself appeared and made promises to Jacob. The blessings He had begun with his grandfather Abraham and continued through his father Isaac would carry on through him. Then Almighty God assured him, “Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you” (Genesis 28:15 NASB).

Jacob went on his way holding in his heart the certain belief that the God of his ancestors was with him. Indeed, his life would continue to have its ups and downs, but God remained faithful to His promises.

And so it is with you and me as we journey through life step by step, for

Heaven is not reached at a single bound;
But we build the ladder by which we rise
From the lowly earth, to the vaulted skies,
And we mount to its summit round by round.

I count this thing to be grandly true:
That a noble deed is a step toward God,
Lifting the soul from the common clod
To a purer air and a broader view.

We rise by the things that are under feet;
By what we have mastered of good and gain;
By the pride deposed and the passion slain,
And the vanquished ills that we hourly meet.

We hope, we aspire, we resolve, we trust,
When the morning calls us to life and light,
But our hearts grow weary, and, ere the night,
Our lives are trailing the sordid dust.

We hope, we resolve, we aspire, we pray,
And we think that we mount the air on wings
Beyond the recall of sensual things,
While our feet still cling to the heavy clay.

Wings for the angels, but feet for men!
We may borrow the wings to find the way—
We may hope, and resolve, and aspire, and pray;
But our feet must rise, or we fall again.

Only in dreams is a ladder thrown
From the weary earth to the sapphire walls;
But the dreams depart, and the vision falls,
And the sleeper wakes on his pillow of stone.

Heaven is not reached at a single bound;
But we build the ladder by which we rise
From the lowly earth, to the vaulted skies,
And we mount to its summit, round by round.

Gradatim (aka Step by Step) by Josiah Gilbert Holland (1872)

 

9781490808949_COVER.indd

The King Without a Eulogy

Although a king from David’s royal line, Jehoram of Judah was not given a state funeral. Nor was he buried alongside prior kings. Instead of a pall of sadness, a feeling of relief hung over his death. With good reason, King Jehoram was not eulogized.

From its inception, his reign was an abhorrence. For “when Jehoram had taken over his father’s kingdom and had secured his position, he killed all his brothers along with some of the government officials” (2 Chronicles 21:4 MSG). That would be six brothers.

After eight years of his executing evil upon evil upon evil, is it any wonder that “he departed with no one’s regret” (2 Chronicles 21:20 NRSV)? It was good riddance! The world was a better place with him out of it!

God, too, had issues with this detested king:

The evidence accumulated: Since Jehoram had abandoned God, the God of his ancestors, God was abandoning him. He even went so far as to build pagan sacred shrines in the mountains of Judah. He brazenly led Jerusalem away from God, seducing the whole country.
(2 Chronicles 21:11 MSG)

Would we conclude that King Jehoram of Judah was of no heavenly or earthly good? Probably but for that one thing he did.

He fathered a daughter named Jehosheba. One frightful day she would be instrumental in saving from extinction the Davidic dynasty and thus the birth line of the Messiah. (See The Princess Who Saved a Dynasty, posted on July 27, 2018.)

9781490808949_COVER.indd

The Princess Who Saved a Dynasty

The secret was out. Not another second would she live in fear of the queen discovering she had stolen her grandson.

That terror-stricken day began when Jehoiada, pulling her aside, told her all of the royal heirs were about to be massacred. The dead king’s mother had ordered the execution.

Jehoiada always seemed to hear the slightest rumbling from the palace. How this was possible was beyond Jehosheba. But here was more proof that the chief priest had a secret pipeline.

“Jehosheba,” he had begged, “you must do something. Athaliah will make the line of Judah extinct. Don’t you see? There will be no Messiah.”

“No Messiah? But—whaa-what can I do? I’m only your wife.”

“You’re a princess—our last king’s half-sister. No one will think anything of it if you are seen in the palace. Go! Yahweh will guide you.”

With her heart fluttering wildly like a trapped bird, she had dashed out of the chamber and scurried across the temple courtyard before stopping at the top of the stairway. Below was the palace complex. She kicked off her sandals and hiked up her robe. Her bare feet scampered over the steps as if they were burning coals. Her mind, too, was racing. What to do? Where to go when she got there?

Some of the children would be with their tutors. Suppose the executioner had already done it. She couldn’t bear to look in those places.

She had remembered a room—a room in the far back, away from the palace hustle and bustle. The baby! Maybe he was still safe.

Afraid the sight of her might arouse suspicion in watching eyes, she had forced a lackadaisical saunter down the hallways. But once inside the nursery, she quickly snatched her nephew from his nurse’s arms. As she covered Joash with her flowing mantle, her voice quavered, “Quickly. Follow me.”

And that was the beginning of hiding the future king and his nurse for six years. Now her deed was made public.

Her husband, mustering incredible boldness, had organized the coup. “Then he brought out the king’s son, put the crown on him, and gave him the covenant; they proclaimed him king, and Jehoiada and his sons anointed him; and they shouted, ‘Long live the king!’” (2 Chronicles 23:11 NRSV).

The Davidic dynasty was restored. Messiah would come. A courageous woman could be thankful she did her part.

9781490808949_COVER.indd

Toot!

“Sometimes,” my mother told me, “you have to toot your own horn.” This, I feel, is one of those times.

The reason: Amazon refused to publish a review of Secrets Revisited.

The backstory: My daughter gifted a girlfriend with a copy of Secrets Revisited. After reading it, she passed it to her husband. He submitted a review to Amazon, which Amazon rejected.

The review: “I began reading this book at the beginning of the morning. I didn’t stop until I had read the last page. My heart hung on every word as Mrs. Simon began peeling the onion of her heart. By the time she got to the inside layers, this book revealed itself as a powerful story of unbounded Faith and redemption! I found myself wanting to weep, but, in a strange way, God didn’t want me to weep.  Instead, he wanted me to focus on the lessons laid out to all: don’t let your circumstances define you or those around you. Thank you for writing such a raw, powerful work.”

The disclaimer: I have never met my daughter’s friend or her husband.

Toot!

9781490808949_COVER.indd

The Ambitious Secretary

Back in his day, all secretaries were men. So that wasn’t why Baruch was hired. Coming from a prosperous and prominent family, he was both highly educated and skilled. Probably overqualified. Nevertheless, he took his job seriously. Whether his boss was in or out of prison, he would be at his side, meticulously taking the dictation.

Moreover, Baruch was well connected in society. His grandfather had been a governor of Jerusalem. Thus, he was no stranger to the political movers and shakers of his time. He understood their language, so to speak, and liked rubbing elbows with them.

His employer, on the other hand, had no life outside of his relationship with God. To him God was the be-all and end-all of his existence. As Mr. Jeremiah’s secretary, Baruch should know. Their close contact gave him a window into the prophet’s soul. Seeing his boss’s innermost thoughts and feelings and the intents of his heart, he knew he was the real deal.

Committed to being God’s messenger, Jeremiah followed to the letter whatever the Almighty told him to do and say. Then he embraced the subsequent suffering.

For more than two decades Jeremiah had been warning his fellow citizens of God’s looming judgment if they didn’t shape up. As if stone deaf, however, the people kept their noses in the air. Disbelief, disobedience, and disrespect for the God of their history festered.

Now God’s mercy had reached the end of its rope. He directed Jeremiah to dictate all of those past prophecies for Baruch to compile in one volume. The time for executing justice had come.

And yet, God held out a shred of hope when He told Jeremiah: “Perhaps when the house of Judah hears about all the disaster I am planning to bring on them, each one of them will turn from his evil way. Then I will forgive their wrongdoing and their sin” (Jeremiah 36:3 HCSB).

As Baruch inked a flair to the final yod, Jeremiah gave him his next assignment. “I am restricted; I cannot enter the temple of the Lord, so you must go and read from the scroll—which you wrote at my dictation—the words of the Lord in the hearing of the people at the temple of the Lord on a day of fasting. You must also read them in the hearing of all the Judeans who are coming from their cities” (Jeremiah 36:5-6 HCSB).

What a stroke of luck! This would be the next rung on Baruch’s climb up the career ladder. He would be in the spotlight, showing off his oratorical powers.

Finally, the seemingly endless waiting was over. The day of fasting had come. “So Baruch son of Neriah did everything Jeremiah the prophet had commanded him. At the Lord’s temple he read the Lord’s words from the scroll” (Jeremiah 36:8 HCSB).

Before Baruch could leave the temple, he was summoned to the palace. The princes who had the king’s ear requested an immediate private reading.

Wow! Another career rung! Baruch massaged his ego that the next step would be an appearance before the king himself. But that’s not what the princes concluded after hearing Baruch read Jeremiah’s prophecies.

Knowing the king all too well, they sensed imminent danger. Instead of ushering the secretary into the king’s presence, they urgently advised, “You and Jeremiah must hide yourselves and tell no one where you are” (Jeremiah 36:19 HCSB).

While in hiding, the ambitious secretary sank into depression. But God would not leave him there. Putting His finger on the problem, God let Jeremiah in on it and gave him a message for Baruch: “But as for you, do you seek great things for yourself? Stop seeking! For I am about to bring disaster on every living creature” (Jeremiah 45:5 HCSB).

Civilization as Baruch knew it was crumbling around him. The day was nearing when Jerusalem would be in ashes, the temple in ruins, and the population in captivity. This was no time for Baruch to be making grandiose plans for himself. It was as if God were saying, “Get a grip on yourself, man. Look at the big picture.”

Evidently, he did. For Baruch was still faithfully recording Jeremiah’s prophecies when the two of them were taken to Egypt.

Dare we have the courage to pray: “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my concerns. See if there is any offensive way in me; lead me in the everlasting way” (Psalm 139:23-24 HCSB)?

9781490808949_COVER.indd

Sibling Reversals

“Hey, you little pipsqueak, get down here. Father wants you at home. The judge showed up, and he says he won’t finish his business until he sees you. So hurry up.”

“But what about the sheep?” the boy shouted back.

“You little squirt, don’t you think I’ve thought of that? Do what you’re told, and don’t waste any more time doing it. Why, oh why, am I always the one who has to find the baby brother?”

Sibling stress was still rearing its ugly head five years later when David’s father sent him on an errand. He wanted his youngest son to check on the three oldest ones, who were now on active duty in the king’s army. The teenager was to bring them food and greetings from home and then return to his father with news about their welfare.

David was up at the crack of dawn and, having arranged for someone to tend his flock, took the food and was on his way just as Jesse had directed him. He arrived at the camp just as the army was moving into battle formation, shouting the war cry. Israel and the Philistines moved into position, facing each other, battle-ready. David left his bundles of food in the care of a sentry, ran to the troops who were deployed, and greeted his brothers. While they were talking together, the Philistine champion, Goliath of Gath, stepped out from the front lines of the Philistines . . . .
(1 Samuel 17:20-23 MSG)

What happened next between David and Goliath is world-renowned ancient history. But what is sometimes overlooked in the telling of it is that before slinging the fatal stone, David had to ignore a stinging sibling taunt: “Eliab, his older brother, heard David fraternizing with the men and lost his temper: ‘What are you doing here! Why aren’t you minding your own business, tending that scrawny flock of sheep? I know what you’re up to. You’ve come down here to see the sights, hoping for a ringside seat at a bloody battle!’” (1 Samuel 17:28 MSG).

There was no such innuendo fifteen years from that day, however, when David was public enemy number one. Convinced that David wanted the throne, King Saul was hounding him like a mad dog day and night.

Sly as a fox, David had slipped through the maniacal king’s hands again and again by the time he “escaped to the cave of Adullam. And when his brothers and all his father’s house heard it, they went down there to him. And everyone who was in distress, and everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was bitter in soul, gathered to him. And he became commander over them. And there were with him about four hundred men” (1 Samuel 22:1-2 ESV).

When the brothers joined David’s gang of outlaws–submitting to him as commander–did they recall years ago when Samuel the judge had passed over all seven of them to pronounce their baby brother a future king? Did they remember the day they didn’t expect the puny runt to take out the giant Goliath? How did the siblings feel about the current turn of events?

David recorded his answer. Sometime–whether before, during, or after this development–he wrote, “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!” (Psalm 133:1 ESV).

9781490808949_COVER.indd