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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Senior Second Thoughts

At first it seemed like a good idea. But now he wasn’t so sure. Perhaps, he had been too hasty. He had been caught up in the moment of the good news.

Joseph was alive—not dead, as he had been made to believe for more than twenty years. So, yes, he was excited to go to Egypt to see his son. But this was not a visit. This was to be permanent.

Joseph wanted the entire family to join him in Egypt. And Jacob had agreed. But now that he had had time to think about it, this move meant he would die and be buried in a foreign land. Not in his homeland. When you get old, you think about these things.

His family—from the eldest to the youngest—was excited about a new beginning. Not him. Been there and done that. He had no desire to make any more life changes.

There had been a famine in his father’s day too. God had told him, “Do not go down to Egypt” (Genesis 26:2 NASB). He couldn’t shake that from his mind. Wouldn’t that also apply to him? Shouldn’t he stay in Canaan and live through this famine?

Suppose his sons adopt the idolatrous ways of Egypt and forget the one true God. Everything he had taught them. Maybe Joseph already had. Perish the thought!

And how scary is that prediction God gave his grandfather! “God said to Abram, ‘Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, where they will be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years’” (Genesis 15:13 NASB)? Would he be the instigator of that slavery? What kind of legacy was that?

If only he could be sure he was doing the right thing. Jacob settled it at the last stop before crossing into the desert.

God spoke to Israel in visions of the night and said, ‘Jacob, Jacob.’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ He said, ‘I am God, the God of your father; do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make you a great nation there. I will go down with you to Egypt . . .’ (Genesis 46:2-4 NASB).

Then Jacob moved forward, knowing:

The light of God surrounds me;
The love of God enfolds me;
The power of God protects me;
The presence of God watches over me;
Wherever I am, God is.
(“The Prayer for Protection” by James Dillet Freeman, 1912-2003)

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The Murderer-Priest

The high priest’s son wondered about those woeful souls huddled in front of the worship center. Weeping and wailing, moaning and groaning. Was it because the punishing plague had already killed 24,000 of their congregation? Or were they distraught because they were scared to death they would be next? Or could it possibly be they were crying over their shameless sinning?

How could they here—here at our last stop before crossing into the promised land do this? How could they blatantly break God’s first commandment: You shall have no other gods before Me?

Why did they let themselves be seduced into idol worship? Its sacrificial feasts? Its fertility rites? Its debauchery?

And why now? Now at the threshold of a new beginning? Hadn’t they learned anything while wandering in the wilderness for forty years? No way could they have forgotten God’s warning: “For you shall not worship any other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God” (Exodus 34:14 NASB).

Look at that! There’s Zimri brazenly bringing his pagan princess into our camp! Right in front of our very eyes! And him a prince in the Simeon tribe! What a spectacle! Every step he takes is saying to the Almighty God, “In your face.” Of all the gall!

Phinehas felt as if a sword had pierced his heart. How dare they trash the holiness of God! Setting his jaw, he grabbed a spear and “went after the man of Israel into the tent and pierced both of them through, the man of Israel and the woman, through the body. So the plague on the sons of Israel was checked” (Numbers 25:8 NASB).

God had something to say about this murderer, and he said it to Moses:

Phinehas the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, has turned away My wrath from the sons of Israel in that he was jealous with My jealousy among them, so that I did not destroy the sons of Israel in My jealousy. Therefore say, ‘Behold, I give him My covenant of peace; and it shall be for him and his descendants after him, a covenant of a perpetual priesthood, because he was jealous for his God and made atonement for the sons of Israel’ (Numbers 25:11-13 NASB).

Phinehas committed murder that, according to the Word of God, “was reckoned to him for righteousness, To all generations forever” (Psalm 106:31 NASB).

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Lockstep Lesson

Why did Abraham listen to God when He said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you” (Genesis 22:2 NIV)?

Abraham had waited twenty-five years for his heir after God had promised he would be the father of many nations. Isaac embodied that future. So, why would God want him sacrificed? Why would God promise him a son, fulfill that promise, and then tell him to kill the promise? It made no sense.

This was hard. Harder than when God changed his life’s direction decades ago, telling him to “go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you” (Genesis 12:1 NIV). Abraham had walked away from familiar surroundings and, stepping into faith, followed God into the unknown. That was a sacrifice, wasn’t it?

He made it. But could he make this one? Should he? Why would anyone sacrifice his only son?

Abraham’s mind wrestled with this for three days as he and Isaac trekked the 50 miles to Moriah. When they were in view of God’s chosen mountain, Abraham knew the ending. He could say to his servants as he left the donkey with them, “We will worship and then we will come back to you” (Genesis 22:5 NIV).

We will come back?

Somehow Abraham knew that both he and Isaac would come down from that mountain alive. Did he believe that God would resurrect his son? Whatever he thought, Abraham was confident God would keep his promise that Isaac would be the channel to future nations. That assurance, however, did not quell carrying out God’s demand to sacrifice his son.

How did Abraham get to this place in his life’s journey? One step at a time, he had learned to trust God on his faith’s route.

So, Abraham stacked stones for the altar, put wood on top, bound his son’s ankles and wrists with leather thongs, laid Isaac on the wood, clasped the knife in his palm, stretched out his hand for the death cut, and—froze.

God was speaking. “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son” (Genesis 22:12 NIV).

Abraham climbed to faith’s pinnacle because he had reached lockstep with God.

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Reaching Out

Both were eunuchs. Both were Ethiopians. They shared palace parallels even though they lived six hundred years apart. Together they illustrate the two facets of a helping hand.

One reached out for it. One reached out with it.

The Ethiopian eunuch who reached out for a helping hand struggled with his muddled mind. Words he was saying weren’t making sense to him. A voice, taking him unawares, interrupted his confusion: ‘“Do you understand what you are reading?’” (Acts 8:30 NASB).

Who was this stranger suddenly standing beside his chariot? And how was this any of his business? Nevertheless, the royal treasurer owned up to his inadequacy: ‘“Well, how could I, unless someone guides me?’ And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him” (Acts 8:31 NASB).

This first-century evangelist and deacon accepted the eunuch’s invitation. As they rode along the desert road, Philip explained that the ancient prophecy the eunuch was reading had been fulfilled in their lifetime through the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. When the eunuch believed for himself that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, he asked Philip to baptize him. “And they both went down into the water, Philip as well as the eunuch, and he baptized him” (Acts 8:38 NASB).

Today the Ethiopian eunuch who reached out for a helping hand is nameless. Not so with the one who reached out with a helping hand.

Ebed-melech, one of the king of Judah’s eunuchs, lost no time in setting out to right a wrong. Never mind that he was about to ask the ruler to reverse himself. The injustice demanded it! How could this monarch have listened to those self-serving, wicked officials! Now there was an innocent man helplessly mired in mud and left to die.

Following the king’s changed orders, Ebed-melech “took the men under his authority and went into the king’s palace to a place beneath the storeroom and took from there worn-out clothes and worn-out rags and let them down by ropes into the cistern to Jeremiah. Then Ebed-melech the Ethiopian said to Jeremiah, ‘Now put these worn-out clothes and rags under your armpits under the ropes’; and Jeremiah did so. So they pulled Jeremiah up with the ropes and lifted him out of the cistern, and Jeremiah stayed in the court of the guardhouse” (Jeremiah 38:11-13 NASB).

A helping hand is either needed or given.

 

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Reversals

He was good enough for them when they were growing up together. But when property and money counted, his half-brothers thrust him out of the family. Zero inheritance.

What had he done wrong? That one thing: He had been born of a prostitute.

And how was that his fault? He didn’t ask to be born. He had had nothing to do with the conditions that brought about his birth.

Nevertheless, the day came when he was again good enough for them. Actually, more than good enough. All because of what he had become in the interim.

Driven from his homeland and forced to fend for himself, he had weathered into a seasoned warrior. Now the outcast was the one person everybody back in Gilead wanted. So the tribal leaders made the trip to Tob and met with Jephthah.

In dire straits, they begged him to come back and command his homeland’s army. War was at their doorstep.

Jephthah, determined not to be discarded a second time, gave the distressed delegation his terms. If he defeated the invaders, they would make him the ruling head of his native country.

No problem. “The elders of Gilead said to Jephthah, ‘The Lord is witness between us; surely we will do as you have said’” (Judges 11:10 NASB).

As had happened to Gideon in the past and would happen to Samson in the future, “the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah” (Judges 11:29 NASB). Energized with supernatural strength, Jephthah was victorious on the battlefield.

And thus it came about that “Jephthah judged Israel six years. Then Jephthah the Gileadite died and was buried in one of the cities of Gilead” (Judges 12:7 NASB).

Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out;
you formed me in my mother’s womb.
I thank you, High God—you’re breathtaking!
Body and soul, I am marvelously made!
I worship in adoration—what a creation!
You know me inside and out,
you know every bone in my body;
You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit,
how I was sculpted from nothing into something.
Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth;
all the stages of my life were spread out before you,
The days of my life all prepared
before I’d even lived one day.
(Psalm 139:13-16 MSG)

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The Defiant Wife

She was beautiful, smart, married to a tycoon, and scared to death. Her husband had stupidly insulted their future king—and a war hero to boot. The lives of their household and workers were now in dire jeopardy.

A piercing reminder that she was married to a fool! Pigheaded with a thunderclap temper! What he had done this time was critical. Someone had to do something and fast.

She didn’t have time to track down Nabal and try to talk sense into him. Even if she did, he wouldn’t listen to reason from anyone, especially a woman—least of all her—Abigail—his wife.

What she had in mind would be defying her husband, but he was dead wrong. He had put many innocent lives in impending danger. At that very moment David and his men were arming themselves to retaliate, vowing that there would be no man or boy alive in Nabal’s domain by daybreak.

Abigail would take a risk for the greater good. Knowing there was no time to lose, she barely thanked the shepherd who had rushed to her with the heads-up. Spinning on her heel, she shot out orders to her house servants. David would get his request.

Food was fair payment for David’s band of men, who without fail had guarded Nabal’s flocks from marauders. Hadn’t their protection increased his prosperity? And it wasn’t as if her husband didn’t have plenty of food on hand today for the shearing festival!

As soon as humanly possible, Abigail sent ahead to David’s camp donkeys laden with wine-filled goatskins, cooked sheep and trimmings, two hundred loaves of bread, and fig cakes galore. Riding last in the caravan, she clung to the hope that the advancing food would soften David’s vengeful heart. But what should she say to him? Would her words carry enough weight to make a difference?

“It came about as she was riding on her donkey and coming down by the hidden part of the mountain, that behold, David and his men were coming down toward her; so she met them” (1 Samuel 25:20 NASB). So soon?

Like a flash, Abigail dismounted, fell down down at David’s feet, and took the blame for her husband. “Please,” she implored, “forgive the transgression of your maidservant” (1 Samuel 25:28 NASB).

She hastened to speak of possible future regrets: “And when the Lord does for my lord according to all the good that He has spoken concerning you, and appoints you ruler over Israel, this will not cause grief or a troubled heart to my lord, both by having shed blood without cause and by my lord having avenged himself” (1 Samuel 25:30-31 NASB).

“David then said to Abigail, ‘Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, who sent you this day to meet me, and blessed be your discernment, and blessed be you, who have kept me this day from bloodshed and from avenging myself by my own hand’” (1 Samuel 25:32-33 NASB).

Abigail did not submit to her husband and is universally praised for her kindness, courage, and wisdom. Some describe her as shrewd.

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Too Much for God

Gideon thought of himself as a nobody: “My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house” (Judges 6:15 ESV). However, God used that nobody: “The Spirit of the Lord clothed Gideon with Himself and took possession of him” (Judges 6:34 AMP).

Thus outfitted, Gideon prepared to resist the annual invaders. Every harvest time for the past seven years, foreign hordes, swarming like locusts, had swept through their land, pillaging and plundering. When the dust from their returning camels settled, nothing was left except impoverished men, women, and children holed up in caves and dens.

Now, on the eighth year, emboldened Gideon mustered 32,000 men for a pushback. But God did not approve. The number was too much.

Gideon offered all who were in trembling fear of a fight to return home. Twenty-two thousand took the discharge.

The remaining 10,000 was also a number that was too much for God. He instructed Gideon how to reduce it.

Gideon ordered the volunteer army to drink from a nearby brook. Those who lapped water from their hand and did not kneel down to drink would stay. That number was 300, and it satisfied God. Why? That number was so low that the Israelites could never brag, “My own power has delivered me” (Judges 7:2 NASB). Indeed, when those 300 men utterly routed 135,000 invaders that year, there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that the victory went to God.

Thus God reinforced an eternal truth: “Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,” says the Lord of hosts (Zechariah 4:6 NASB).

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A Piggyback Faith

Preserved for the throne, Joash was seven years old when he was brought out of temple concealment and publicly revealed. Also on that day “Jehoiada and his sons anointed him and said, ‘Long live the king!’” (2 Chronicles 23:11 NASB). Six years previously his aunt, in a daring deed, had rescued the boy from infanticide (“The Princess Who Saved a Dynasty”).

Relying on his uncle’s counsel, “Joash did what was right in the sight of the Lord all the days of Jehoiada the priest” (2 Chronicles 24:2 NASB). Did you notice the time limitation, “all the days of Jehoiada the priest”? For when Uncle Jehoiada died, Joash made an about-face.

He listened to other voices, ones that convinced him to abandon the worship of God and accept idolatry. Why did Joash, having been hidden in the temple, steeped in the things of God, and raised by the high priest, stop doing what was right? Why did he become vulnerable to the vices and devices of others?

Could it be that Joash had never formed his own attachment to God? That for forty years he had ridden piggyback on his uncle’s faith? That when push came to shove, he had no spiritual leg of his own to stand on?

Without the sure-footing of a personal commitment to God, Joash let evil officials sway him and shape him. That slippery slope led to the murder of his cousin Zechariah, who had dared denounce the king’s wickedness.

So they conspired against him and at the command of the king they stoned him to death in the court of the house of the Lord. Thus Joash the king did not remember the kindness which his father Jehoiada had shown him, but he murdered his son (2 Chronicles 24:21-22 NASB).

The once snatched-from-death infant sank to depths of depravity: No respect for the house of God! No reverence for life! No regard for a family’s kindness when he was helpless!

Like an eternal flame, grief ignited at the king’s unthinkable act burned on in some lives. Seven years after the tragedy, Joash’s “own servants conspired against him because of the blood of the son of Jehoiada the priest, and murdered him on his bed” (2 Chronicles 24:25 NASB).

But let him who glories glory in this: that he understands and knows Me [personally and practically, directly discerning and recognizing My character], that I am the Lord, Who practices loving-kindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth, for in these things I delight, says the Lord (Jeremiah 9:24 AMPC).

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The Antidote

Daddy had been dead a year, more or less, when I sat in the examining room with my husband. It was his routine visit. The doctor’s first remarks, however, were anything but routine.

Maybe they were the aftereffects of examining his previous patient. Regardless, he blurted out that he did not want to live when he became old and useless. He wanted someone to make sure he died. “Why live when I am not of any use?” he asked.

I gave him my answer—the one I received from my father. When he was eighty-eight and demented and bound to a wheelchair and shut up in a nursing facility, Daddy became the father he had not been for sixty-four years.

My father’s alcoholism was a taboo subject that the family carefully guarded both outside and inside the home. No, not even among ourselves did we discuss the secret shame.

Whatever was in our hearts, we bottled up. No fears, frustrations, emotions, or dreams escaped.  Confined to a biological definition of family, we were like strangers in a hostel. That changed when our father became helpless.

His remaining five children then had to make life-changing decisions for him. Forced to converse with each other, we voiced our thoughts. Shared ideas. Agreed on responsibilities.

Amazingly, all of us wanted what was best for our feeble father. We did not spew out anger or bitterness or resentment for his past mistreatment. Not one of us dismissed him or sought to get even.

A missing piece of our childhood miraculously nestled into place. We expressed ourselves and, in so doing, discovered each other’s uniqueness.

There was the time, when, after explaining to my second brother how I had handled a problem with the nursing facility, he exclaimed, “Judy, we didn’t know you were smart! We knew you got good grades, but we didn’t know you were smart.”

In Daddy’s end-of-life setting, incredibly, he caused us children to bond. Although he was never cognitively aware of that accomplishment, his children were.

When I finished my answer, the doctor was silent. Directing his attention to my husband, he performed his examination. Then, as he was leaving the room, he turned to me and said, “Thank you for the antidote.”

Who but the Creator has the right to say when a person is “used up”?

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4 NASB).

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Easter Remembrance

And lest we forget:               

Three men died on the crosses that day
Three men were hung on the tree.
Two of them died for wrongs they had done
The third One died for me.

One of them said, “I don’t believe
That You’re the Saviour of man.
If this is truly what You are,
Prove it, if you can.”

The second man who hung that day
On the other side of Him
Rebuked the first, saying, “Don’t you know
This Man has done no sin!”

“Jesus! Remember me,” he cried,
“When you come into Your own.
For I believe. I do believe!
You’ll sit on Heaven’s throne.”

The third One who was hanging there
Looked at the first in pity.
But to the second one He said,
“Today you shall see the Holy City.”

Three men hung on the crosses that day.
Three men who were crucified.
One died in sin, one died to sin
And One who for all sins died.

“Easter 1977” was written on April 7, 1977, by bmh (known by family and friends as Betty Holbrook). Betty died this year at the age of ninety-five. My sister-in-law gave me permission to share her mother’s poem.

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