Time Out

May 9, 2022 by  
Filed under Christian Life, Family Focus

By Jane Thornton –

My daughter just called me Satan.

Not in so many words, but the “Get thee behind me, Satan” sentiment came through loud and clear. And too late. Off in Abilene, she is doing a great job of making lifestyle changes, shedding close to twenty pounds. She called and asked for her Easter basket to be healthy instead of the normal overflow of chocolate. Yes, we unashamedly still do baskets and probably will until we have a new generation to take over the children’s roles.

I complied, but with company in the house for the holidays, I filled the three candy dishes scattered throughout our living room. As strong as she has become, that inconsideration did not do her in. However, eight other adults scooping out Cherry Sours by the handful and heaping seconds of chips and salsa onto our plates brought her down with a crash.

She lay face down across my bed and moaned about my bad influence. After I laughed, I apologized. So much for being a supportive mom. Thoughtlessness and my own gluttony undermined us both.

A glimmer of proper parenting broke through, though, when I reminded her that all was not lost, or regained, and we could start fresh the next morning—Easter morning, perfect day for renewal.

Perhaps, this provision, at least in part, inspired God’s creation of time. As an eternal being, He exists beyond seconds, days, years, millennia. But all of these units bestow opportunities for His children to start over, with His grace removing the errors of the past. With each day and awakening, the world rouses to the prospect of new beginnings and do-overs. Each season, each year, each decade, nature reflects these chances. With technology, we’ve even broken down our days into innumerable measurable moments that provide starting points for restitution, rejuvenation, and restoration.

Sometimes our needs require us to move in both the space and time continuum, to use science-fiction lingo.

When I was a sophomore in high school, poring over the signatures in my new yearbook, I found the inscription, “To the girl I cheated off of in chemistry…”

What? I never gave that guy permission to copy my paper. Unfortunately, he probably knew that I had allowed others that privilege. I was too chicken to stand up for what I knew was right and didn’t want to be labeled even more of a goody-goody than I already was. A precedent had been established. A slippery slope breeched. I didn’t know how to halt the slide.

Until we moved.

Torn away from my home and friends by one more military decision in my father’s Marine Corps career, I found a silver lining in this opportunity for a clean slate. I could re-establish my integrity.

Not every weakness demands a move of a thousand miles, but some do. Thank God for the feet, yards, miles and the minutes, hours, and years He puts between us and our sins.

“As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12 NIV).

Comment prompt: How will you take advantage of God’s do-overs? When?

Life Pimples

April 1, 2022 by  
Filed under Christian Life, Family Focus

By Jane Thornton –

The mirror confirmed my fears. I had a zit on my chin. Nasty and inflamed. But not yet rupturable. Which didn’t stop me from worrying at it, trying to make it disappear. The monstrosity had birthed itself just in time for the holidays—and, thus, pictures.

I first noticed the zit’s arrival in the car on our trip to my parents’ house. A little discomfort drew my questing fingers to my jaw. The spot reacted to my touch with nervy tenderness. I tried a discreet look in the visor mirror. I knew better than to draw the ruthless attention of my teenaged children. In the dim car light, I pretended to get a stray dust particle out of my eye while casting concerned glances at the lower half of my face.

I’m not sure what gave me away. Perhaps shielding my jaw line while craning backward to answer a simple question about when we’ll get there looked unnatural. Whatever, my family pounced. Did I say family? Yes, not just my children, but my adoring husband joined in the laughter disparaging my anxiety.

So I gave in and pleaded for reassurance that the blemish was not too obvious. Their snickers belied their wide-eyed, soothing words. As soon as we pulled into the driveway, I rushed through the greeting hugs and scuttled to the bathroom.

No comfort there. The blotch glared angrily, dominating my features. Vainly, I doctored. Time and healing would have to run their course. With sheepish self-awareness, I returned to the living room to re-embrace my folks.

Only to be met by ridicule.

My son and daughter each had big, red dots under their laughing mouths. Even my husband had taken a turn with the lipstick tube. His eyes gleamed with humor above his spot-enhanced chin. I screeched in ultimate betrayal when I took in my mother’s giggles over her own fake zit.

What could I do but turn a good sport, grin, and bear it—and, of course, take a picture to record their cruelty for posterity? However, I did experience an odd relief at their acknowledgement of my condition. No more hiding. Everyone had seen the sore and laughed and moved on. Why was it funny? Because they had all experienced the same thing before and could relate to my worries.

Could we do the same with our spiritual pimples? Instead of concealment and shame, could we recognize each other’s sins and flaws and deal with them openly? “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” (James 5:16 NIV).

No one would assume we were bragging about a skin blemish by admitting its presence. Everyone would know we hated it and planned to treat it vigorously. We might even get suggestions for effective remedies.

The analogy breaks down a bit at the mockery. There is room for shared amusement at our mutual imperfections, but none for derision. We don’t want to laugh at sin, but we can laugh with the joy of forgiveness and the ability to come clean and move forward, supported by our family who also claims God’s grace.

Comment prompt: Do you have a story of an awkward moment reclaimed by laughter?

Snips and Snails and Poopy Tales

March 3, 2022 by  
Filed under Daily Devotions

By Jane Thornton –

The Armpit Extended Hold.

Every person who has spent any time around infants or toddlers learns this vital protection strategy. Adult fingers wedged firmly in the hollows under the child’s shoulders, elbows locked to maximize distance and stability, caretakers allow the kid to dangle harmlessly a half yard from their own vulnerable clothing and sensitive nostrils.

When the nursery attendant interrupted my soulful rendition of “Sweet Hour of Prayer” with Matthew so suspended at arm’s length, I cannot say I set aside my praise time to face my motherly duty with any alacrity. The tricky transfer from her grip to mine was accompanied by empathetic chuckles from neighboring congregants. I tried to focus on the benefit of bicep development as I trekked to the ladies’ room with my aromatic toddler. Matt’s blue eyes twinkled with unwarranted innocence for the creator of the extensive mess I would discover.

We passed through the empty lounge area with its seventies shag and leatherette sofa to the cramped cubicle. A bountiful space for individual needs had seemingly shrunk when occupied by both my son and me and his diaper filled to quadruple its capacity. Without sharing too many gory details, let me say that if he’d been wearing anything but the precious corduroy, flannel-lined jumper, handmade by his loving aunt, the entire outfit would have been dumped in the trash. Luckily, my diaper bag held an entire box of wipes, which I used liberally.

After disrobing, wiping down, and disinfecting my little blessing, I set him outside the stall with instructions to stay put. I hiked my dress and hit my knees, not to pray, but to restore order for future occupants. All done, I heaved a sigh, made my fiftieth trip to the sink for a final scouring of my hands and forearms.

I did a double take. Surely not.

What were those brown tracks on the linoleum tile? I snatched Matt up for inspection and sniffed at his stained heel, hoping for mud. No such luck.

Upon further inspection, I determined that we must have dripped on our way into the room, and one sample landed just inside the doorway—in the lovely shag carpet.

With devilish timing, the benediction tolled over the PA system. I knelt in the shadow of the door and scrubbed one-handed, using the other to try to ward off the rush of elderly ladies who flooded the restroom at the end of every service.

When all was as clean as I could get it and I had resolved to call the janitor with a warning and request for rug sterilization, we ventured into the lobby and searched for my husband, planning a quick getaway. I almost gave Matt away to the second grandmother who patted his little bare back and told me I needed to put some clothes on the poor child.

My petty mind tried to blame the fiasco on indulgent grandparents who fed Matt an entire bunch of grapes the night before, but reason intervened and reminded me that such debacles are part of the reality of parenting. Part of life.

Living is messy. In His wisdom, God made it that way. Huge proportions of our humor and bonding stem from sharing our messes with each other. And Jesus, “too shared in [our] humanity…he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God . . . Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able t help those who are being tempted” (Hebrews 2:14,17b-18 NIV).

Comment prompt: Any funny, yucky stories from other comrades in arms?

Wake Up Call

January 7, 2022 by  
Filed under Christian Life, Family Focus

By Jane Thornton –

Molly sighed, plumped her pillow, and rolled over again. Hank’s sigh echoed hers. After stilted conversation at dinner, she had lingered in the bath, debating ways to heal their marriage. She hated the arguments alternating with silences full of mutual hard stares. Her mother’s advice resounded through the years: “God can heal anything; He can restore a romance.” Molly humphed. I still feel romance—when I’m not angry or hurt or tired. Does Hank?

So she shaved her legs, slathered on musky, floral lotion, put on her not-too-obvious shorty nighty, and here she lay. She chanced to bump her smooth, silky leg against Hank’s hairy, hard one. Molly sighed again.

She heard Hank inhale and felt his calloused hand rest on her forearm. Molly turned invitingly. Hank stared at the ceiling. He released his breath only to draw another. “I think we need to see a counselor.”

Stunned, Molly sputtered and bit back a cry. Oh, God! Oh, God! She screamed in her head. She managed a breathy, “You do?” as all the fluid in her body rushed to gather behind her eyes and at the top of her sinuses.

“Yeah. I got a name from Steve Dell.”

Molly felt herself shrinking. “You did?” she choked.

“Yeah. What do you think about it?”

Failure crashed in and strangled her. “I guess that would be okay.” She managed a whisper, then held her breath. Hank seemed so calm, breathing evenly.

Silence reigned for a few moments. “I’ll make an appointment then.”

****

The previous passage is a snippet from my first—unpublished—novel, Menace. You know what they say: Write about what you know.

Eighteen years ago, I was much further into denial than my character Molly. We had two very young children. Tired and stressed at times, I still would have rated our marriage at a sevenish. Wes’s request sent my world reeling. The only people I knew who had been to marriage counselors were divorced.

Intellectually, I believed the advice of Molly’s mother, and my own, that God can heal anything. I’d been blessed with a mom who shared enough of her own story to know that marriage doesn’t bloom without watering and pruning.

But a counselor? My husband’s suggestion shouted to my shaken soul that I wasn’t giving him enough water, that I needed pruning, that I had let our marriage wither. I had been rolling along content with a measly seven rating, and I was crushed to know I’d been oblivious to Wes’s misery.

Nowadays, Wes would probably call misery an exaggeration, if only to spare my feelings, but I needed the shock to call me back to my priorities. We went to counseling. We learned to talk. We kept learning. A few years later, we attended the His Needs, Her Needs seminar where we forced ourselves into more soul searching and more communication.

And now our marriage is a ten, and we’ve lived happily ever after.

Truly, God used our Christian counselor to strengthen our commitment. He has used several seminars through the years to grow our relationship with each other and Him. We’re not perfect, but we’re doing better at living up to the pledge engraved on our wedding rings—committed to love.

“So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder” (Matthew 19:6 RSV).

Comment prompt: Will you share any wake up calls that improved your marriage?

The Wrath of Dad

December 22, 2021 by  
Filed under Christian Life, Family Focus

By Jane Thornton –

My father’s wrath frightened my siblings and me. We’d hear friends boast about smart aleck retorts made to their dads and shudder at the very thought. Whether by nature or Marine Corps indoctrination, he developed an authoritative style that intimidated the socks off our feet. His tour of duty as a drill instructor perfected his ability to bark an order with justified expectation of immediate obedience. He didn’t require salutes, but “yes, sir” better be the only verbal response he heard.

One evening, most of our family had been away from the house attending some function now relegated to obscurity by the events that followed. Wade, my youngest sibling, in his teens at the time, remained at home. When five of us trooped through the door loudly rehashing some fine point of contention, we interrupted Wade’s TV program. As Daddy summarized his argument, Wade growled with teenage ire, “Shut up!”

Mark, Nancy, and I froze. Wade’s audacity stunned us. We’d heard of siblings who intentionally got each other in trouble, but none of us would throw a brother or sister onto Dad’s lack of mercy.

I held my breath. Anticipation of the coming furor stiffened my bones.

Daddy kept talking.

I looked at Nan. Had I misheard? She was gazing in disbelief at our father. We all shared furtive glances, waiting for the coming disaster.

Daddy wrapped up, and threw a mild scowl toward the couch. “By the way, Wade, don’t ever tell me to shut up again.” Up the stairs he went.

Our chins dropped. By the way? Our world tilted off kilter. On the heels of relief that our brother still lived, resentment crowded into our collective brains. That’s all?

Almost thirty years later, we still can’t let go of our incomprehension, and we never let Wade forget it either.

Have we lost our incredulity at God’s mercy toward us? I’ve been reading Francine Rivers’ rendition of the Exodus in The Priest, the story of Aaron helping Moses lead the Israelites. God’s wrath is fearsome. His people stir the Lord’s fury and suffer for it.

My father never hurt me. I never doubted his love. Yet, his anger could make me cringe.

God’s purity and jealousy led Him to strike some of his beloved but rebellious children with leprosy and death. His awesome Presence caused the Israelites to tremble and run in fear. “On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning with a thick cloud over the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled…The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, the whole mountain trembled violently, and the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder… Moses said to the people, ‘Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning” (Exodus 19:16,18 and 20:20 NIV).

God’s wrath didn’t disappear with the birth of His Son. Although Jesus took God’s anger upon Himself, sin is still unacceptable. James is speaking to Christians when he says, “You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God?” (James 4:4a NIV).

Let us keep in mind that the God who adores us is a vast and fearsome Being, not to be taken lightly or for granted.

Comment prompt: How do you balance God’s mercy and wrath?

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