She didn’t believe the ol’ kook’s tirade! What did he know? He was so decrepit that she would be surprised if he didn’t croak before the day was out. Blind as a bat, he couldn’t see his hand in front of his face. Yet . . . he had seen through her disguise.

That wasn’t her fault. It met with her husband’s approval once she relinquished her last piece of gold jewelry–making her feel like she was in mourning–before she left on his miserable mission. And it took more than a hop, skip, and jump to get there. Anyway, he should have gone himself or sent for the old fogey. No doubt the feeble fool would have had a different answer in the presence of the king.

So why hadn’t her husband used all the pomp and circumstance befitting the first king of Israel? She didn’t want to believe he had turned coward. But he wasn’t acting like the man she admired–the man who had once stood up to King Solomon–the man Pharaoh Shishak had respected enough to give her–his own sister-in-law–to him in marriage.

What was it he had said to her just before she left? She was looking down on him from her donkey and barely heard it:  “Ano, that man knows and speaks the truth. Before I fled to Egypt and met you, he told me I would become king over this country.”

So if Jeroboam already knew that bag of  bones and was so sure he was a fortune-teller, why didn’t he talk to him? Better yet, why didn’t he ask a priest at one of his golden-calf altars for the answer to his question instead of sending her over hill and dale? There must be a backstory. But he had never mentioned it. Her husband must be afraid of something. But what could it possibly be?

She had to think. What had the shriveled-up toad said? Yes, that’s right. First he corroborated the prediction of her husband’s kingship. Then he told her to go home and tell him that because he had made idols and metal images to worship, his family line would be eradicated. Umph! She wasn’t about to believe that. She grew up in glorious Egypt, where they have worshiped many gods for thousands of years.

Why was she scratching? She didn’t see anything crawling on her skin. The sensation started when she remembered how the old man’s voice elevated when he said Jeroboam had turned his back on Yahweh.

That name. She had heard it somewhere else. Ah! Her son. He had told her the reason he defied his father’s edict and went on a forbidden pilgrimage to Jerusalem was to worship Yahweh, the one-and-only God. Her hand tossed dismissively in the air. Oh, what did he know? He was just a kid. A good one, though . . . so good . . . and now so sick.

She thought it uncanny the man knew her true identity before she said anything. The exact minute she stepped up to his door, he addressed her as the wife of Jeroboam, leaving her speechless. She wouldn’t admit it to anyone but herself that she had stood there frozen in her tracks the whole time. At the end of his diatribe, he answered her question–the question her mouth had never opened to ask.

Oh, oh, she must get off this donkey! She was feeling faint. Hyperventilating. Her servant saw her distress. He was coming to help.

She would walk the rest of the way. Slow down Ahijah’s prediction. Maybe the prophet was wrong; her son would not die as soon as she stepped foot in the city.

Every footprint she made on the trek home impressed a memory of her son. The first time he was laid in her arms. Chubby legs running to bring her a flower–roots and all. His infectious laughter. Time and again calling, “Mother, look what I can do!”

It was all she could do now to put one foot in front of the other as the city sprawled before her eyes. How she wanted to see her son alive! To kiss him. To tell him that she would miss him. Would there be time just for that?

As she came to the threshold of the house, the child died. All Israel buried him and mourned for him, according to Yahweh’s word, which he spoke by his servant Ahijah the prophet.
(1 Kings 14:17-18 WEB)

In time an army captain, deciding he had what it took to seize the throne, annihilated the house of Jeroboam.

He didn’t leave to Jeroboam any who breathed, until he had destroyed him; according to the saying of Yahweh, which he spoke by his servant Ahijah the Shilonite;  for the sins of Jeroboam which he sinned, and with which he made Israel to sin, because of his provocation with which he provoked Yahweh, the God of Israel, to anger.
(1 Kings 15:28-29 WEB)

By the power and sovereignty of God’s grace, Jeroboam’s sick son did not live to suffer the extinction of his family. During his prophecy Ahijah had explained to the boy’s mother why her child would die an early death:

All Israel will mourn for him and bury him. He is the only one belonging to Jeroboam who will be buried, because he is the only one in the house of Jeroboam in whom the Lord, the God of Israel, has found anything good.
(1 Kings 14:13 NIV)

In Jeroboam’s entire family this child was the only one who had reverenced the true God; and God, in His goodness, claimed the child for Himself with an untimely death.

From Zero to Hero and Back

Bursting with pride, the conquering hero was on his way home. He fought back the twinge of regret that he did not have a son there waiting to relive–not that he didn’t love his daughter dearly.  A son, though, would better comprehend and appreciate his father’s valor and skill in mustering and maneuvering an army to victory.

But he would not dwell on that and diminish the joy he felt knowing in his daughter’s eyes he did not have to be a winning warrior to rate her respect and admiration. She looked up to him as her hero no matter what anyone else thought or did. Loving him unconditionally, she was not ashamed of him because he was illegitimate. That fact which drove his half-brothers to disinherit and chase him from his homeland did not make her think less of him. She never questioned his decision to survive by heading up a band of brigands. He knew she loved him neither more nor less when the tables suddenly turned and he got his just due.

The powers that be from his country–including his father’s other sons–showed up eating humble pie and left digesting him as a tough negotiator! That day they cared not an iota about his birth or any laws he might have broken while persona non grata. In dire straits they had sought him out for his acquired expertise in the art of war. Rightly so, they reconnoitered that recruiting him for their national commander was their only hope against the invasion forces. But he wasn’t about to kowtow and simply let bygones be bygones.

Here was an opportunity for him to go from zero to hero and beyond. Seizing it, he gave the groveling magistrates his terms:  If he routed the enemy, they would make him head of  his native country. Not only would he be their general during the war but also their chief ruler when that was successfully carried out.

He was spot-on with his assessment of the situation. They had no wiggle room. Being desperate, they would agree to anything and everything. No doubt about it, he knew how to bargain!

As the returning hero approached a bend in the road and his new house came into view, he had no inkling his promising world was about to turn upside down and inside out. With a smile caressing his lips, he was remembering that after his terms were accepted, his lovely daughter had thrown her arms around him and exclaimed, “Papa, I’m so happy for you!”

Now, he mused, he had the clout to arrange for her the best possible marriage. Who would refuse his daughter? But he would not consummate the deal until he was sure the man loved her as much as he did. He chuckled at the thought that in the not-too-distant future, he could be bouncing a grandson on his knee.

Just before he reached the front door, it flew open and out danced his exuberant daughter. As her lithe body swayed to the tambourine’s strikes, a pain the hero had never known stabbed his heart.

 When he realized who it was, he ripped his clothes, saying, “Ah, dearest daughter—I’m dirt. I’m despicable. My heart is torn to shreds. I made a vow to GOD and I can’t take it back!” (Judges 11:35 MSG).

What vow?

Jephthah made a vow before GOD: “If you give me a clear victory over the Ammonites, then I’ll give to GOD whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me when I return in one piece from among the Ammonites—I’ll offer it up in a sacrificial burnt offering” (Judges 11:30-31 MSG).

Where did Jephthah get off thinking he could bargain with God Almighty? Offer Him a bribe? Suggest a trade? He and Yahweh were not peers.

Would to God Jephthah had had the mindset of his predecessor Joshua when he was about to go into battle!

 And then this, while Joshua was there near Jericho: He looked up and saw right in front of him a man standing, holding his drawn sword. Joshua stepped up to him and said, “Whose side are you on—ours or our enemies’?” He said, “Neither. I’m commander of God’s army. I’ve just arrived.” Joshua fell, face to the ground, and worshiped. He asked, “What orders does my Master have for his servant?” (Joshua 5:13-14 MSG).


What’s in a Starched Shirt?

The club never had a name and it never had a meeting. No one ever asked you to join; it was up to you if you wanted to belong. Well, almost up to you. You needed to have a serious boyfriend and get his permission first. If he agreed, your membership was quietly published when his starched and ironed white shirt appeared on a hanger in your dorm room or in the lobby as you joined him for a date.

Seeing me happily ironing my future husband’s shirt one day, a girl from across the hall announced the dorm mother didn’t want residents doing that anymore. What! I was a second-semester senior and, as far as I knew, the latest initiate from our girls’ dorm into this select club. Not about to relinquish the membership card I had received at the eleventh hour, I kept ironing the shirt weekly.

Back in my college years, all the young men wore white shirts, suits, and ties to Sunday morning church services. Hundreds of them would worship in the church whose property was bounded on three sides by my school’s sprawling campus. Any student could easily walk to it. That’s where I would hook up with my boyfriend at 9:30 a.m. and proudly smile at his polished look in the shirt I had ironed.

Sunday’s clean and crisp shirt was more than a symbol of our serious relationship. It was service in love. Each time I sprinkled with water and pressed out the shirt’s wrinkles and puckers, I imprinted more of myself on the man I would marry and was increasingly convinced I wanted to share in the mundane things as well as in the hopes and dreams of building a home together.

As soon as the marriage certificate was signed, five additional starched, white shirts were birthed. While conscientiously ironing them throughout the years, I felt that I was doing my part in helping my husband put his best foot forward as he worked jobs that brought him face to face with a fickle public. Also, I thought of his appearance as a reflection of me. I wanted to be seen as a wife who took good care of her husband.

Having invested myself in how he presented himself, I felt that he was representing me. In another dimension, whenever I saw the sparkling white, wrinkle-free shirt covering his chest, I knew I had given a gift of my heart to protect his heart while we were apart.

Guarding the heart is what the apostle Paul had in mind when, using Roman armor imagery, he advised the Christian to put on the breastplate of righteousness (Ephesians 6:14). A defensive weapon, the bronze breastplate worn by the ancient Roman soldier was commonly called “the heart protector.”

Ten years earlier, Paul had used the same military metaphor but referred to it as “the breastplate of faith and love” (1 Thessalonians 5:8). Faith and love, blended together, protect the heart against the attacks and influences of evil and preserve what is vital.

Keep and guard your heart with all vigilance and above all that you guard, for out of it flow the springs of life (Proverbs 4:23 AMP).


Unexpected Development

He was a mean alcoholic. My father. I learned early on to keep my mouth shut. Not to say anything unless he spoke to me first. A cocoon of silence was the safest shelter from his tornadic ranting and raving. And not just when he was drunk.

My father did not explore my thoughts–shallow or deep–on anything. I obeyed his creed:  Children should be seen and not heard. His demands were to be met and in a hurry–no questions allowed. When I had a school problem, I took it to my mother. Always off-limits was any talk about the family shame.

This careful childhood engineering shaped my fear of the male authority figure. Thus I limped through life’s unavoidable encounters with male authorities, but Fear of Male Authority Figure immobilized me when I sat scared in the office of the college president. I was there because someone had assured me I could get a small scholarship if I simply asked for it.

Sitting where the secretary placed me—on the far side of the room from the college president—I was ashamed and afraid. Ashamed I was in a situation of having to ask. Afraid the answer would be no.

My replies were honest although they may have sounded timid. As usual, I lacked courage to look a male authority in the eye. No doubt the president behind his massive executive desk concluded I was hiding something. …

… And I would exit the interview still shackled to Fear of Male Authority Figure. (Before the Door Closes: A Daughter’s Journey with Her Alcoholic Father, p. 22)

But the days of this debilitating fear, birthed and nurtured in an alcoholic family, were numbered. Ironically and unbeknownst to him, my father was the impetus for its destruction. The demise began when I am convinced my father, warehoused in a nursing center fifteen hundred miles away, is a victim of drug-induced dementia.

Any hope of rectifying this injustice meant I had to confront doctors–the most frightening to me of all male authority figures. Up there next to God in the chain of command, a doctor controlled life and death.

After spending days screwing up courage to make the contact, my heart pounded throughout the first phone visit with Daddy’s primary physician.

‘Those are all good drugs that have been around for a long time,’ Dr. King said with patronizing finality.

My chart! My chart! Where is it? How am I going to know what to say if I can’t find it? I shouldered the telephone receiver and rubbed my clammy hands on my jeans. It’s my turn to talk. I mustn’t keep him waiting. Hurry, hurry, hurry!

My chest felt like a popcorn popper as I tossed papers out of the file. There it is! I grabbed the page of hand-drawn columns. I didn’t take time to return to my chair. ‘Uh, well, Dr. King, uh, I was reading the, uh, side effects.’ (Before the Door Closes, p. 23)

Nine months and several doctors later, I confidently approached a physician on behalf of my father, who again had been given a drug for a disease he did not have.  My father had moved to a nursing facility a few miles from my house, and this doctor is its medical director. Looking him in the eye, I am not intimidated.

‘It has been almost three weeks since Rosie called your office to switch my father to your care. We have not heard anything, and I want to know if you have made your decision.’

‘Is your father better?’

‘Yes, he’s better.’ It was the truth. Daddy no longer had dyskinesia. He was feeding himself again. Although he did not always recall the right answers, he comprehended the questions.

Dr. Murphy gave no hint of what he was thinking.

Is that it? I asked myself incredulously. You’re not going to commit one way or the other? Well, I will.

‘Dr. Murphy, my father is going to have a different doctor. If it’s not you, it will be somebody else.’ (Before the Door Closes, p. 117)

I was not intimidated, because when I was sixty-four years old, something unexpected happened to me. My Heavenly Father, looking at his daughter chained to Fear of Male Authority Figure, decided it was time for her to be unshackled. So God roped me in the ring with doctors, where I kicked and pushed and punched until Fear of Male Authority Figure could not stand up ever again.

God the Father never finishes growing His children. As Paul said, “I feel sure that the one who has begun his good work in you will go on developing it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6 Phillips)