A good friend broke my double bass—a large, expensive, stringed instrument used in orchestras and jazz bands. We were loading up the van before traveling to a gig and he carelessly set the bass down on an incline. The wind was blowing that night and the hollow, wooden instrument toppled, resulting in multiple breaks.
We all have that space in the home we would rather no one see—the messy garage, the cluttered study, or maybe, like me, it’s the yard. There are few things more beautiful than a well-kept lot with lush, perfectly mowed grass, neat hedges, and precision-trimmed roses. Our property’s hedges look more like an overgrown jungle and the grass is patchy and dry. So when our pastor’s wife, Mel, offered to help plant the roses she’d given me, I panicked! I was ashamed of our yard.
I wet the bed until I was 12 years old. It’s hard to put into words the agony of those moments when I would wake up in the middle of the night and find my clothes and sheets were soaked. Ashamed, I would scurry about, trying to quietly change the sheets and my clothes—doing my best to hide the evidence. But it was found out each time, and I felt a deep sense of worthlessness, failure, and disapproval.
My springer spaniel was recognized as one of the most talented, hardworking dogs in our hunting community. He would go out on thin ice to retrieve game when other dogs would turn back. Pursuing a pheasant through the thickest bramble and thorn—areas that other dogs would not enter because it was so dense—wasn’t a problem. His determination was so great that he even made a retrieval immediately after breaking his leg! And yet, when he was just 18 months old, I wondered if he would ever be a good hunting dog. His determined personality seemed impossible to harness and I was ready to give up on him because it appeared he would never become an obedient companion.
I have a confession to make (inhale deeply and hold breath):I’m not a dog person! But here’s another confession. Mywife is training a black Labrador Retriever as a service dog for people with disabilities, and . . . well, Snickers is absolutely the sweetest, most gentle and loving creature in the world—even though she’s so very doggish. You might even venture to say I’ve grown to love her.
In his article “The Price of Public Shaming in the Internet Age,” Todd Leopold asks, “Do you believe in forgiveness? Do you believe in second chances? Of course you do. Everybody makes mistakes. To err is human, to forgive divine. Right? Not in the age of social media.”
I sat in church with my head bowed and eyes lowered. I’ve failed God so, I thought. He must be very disappointed. Then my pastor said, “Look into Jesus’ eyes. See how He looks at you, how He sees you.” So I did. And in that moment, I wore the Samaritan woman’s shoes . . .
I once had a difficult interaction with one of my sons. He had made several poor choices requiring a serious conversation. My son had a tender heart, however (as he often does), and he took responsibility for his behavior. Though I was frustrated with him, I told him that I forgave him. Later, aware that something was still bothering my son, I asked what was going on. “Well,” he replied, “you said you forgave me, but you didn’t exactly say it in a lovely tone.” My son picked up how I offered the right words, but the way I spoke told a different story. I said I forgave him, but I didn’t interact with a tone of grace.
A friend of mine got divorced after her husband left her for another woman. Years later I was talking with her father when the subject of their broken marriage came up. “That’s when [vulgar word] was still around,” he said. “That’s what I like to call him: [vulgar word].”
In early 2015, a fraternity at the University of Oklahoma in the US was caught on video singing a deeply offensive and racist song. Reaction by university officials was swift and stern, and rightly so. But what did Isaac Hill, president of the school’s Black Student Association, have to say? After all, the chillingly racist chant had targeted African-Americans.
Pastor Adrian and his wife, Antoinette, had two biological sons and then adopted baby Rosie several years ago. For most of Adrian’s life, he has dealt with nose bleeds—an affliction his sons have inherited. One day, little Rosie ran into the house holding her nose and grinning from ear to ear as she said, “See, Daddy, my nose is bleeding—just like Mark and John!” For Rosie, a nosebleed was another way of identifying with her adopted family.
The outgrow never we gospel. What’s wrong with that sentence? It violates the rules of grammar and syntax. Writers may sometimes break rules for effect but if they want to be understood, they’ll never graduate beyond grammar.
When I read the account of the unmerciful servant, it’s easy for me to condemn the first servant’s actions (Matthew 18:28). But his actions aren’t as impossible for me to imitate as I would like to believe. For instance, when we experience road rage (that particular anger that comes sweeping over us while we’re driving), we can act in ways that are remarkably similar to the first servant. We can do things that make little sense. People look at us and shake their heads in disbelief and embarrassment, thinking, What’s wrong with that guy? We might think similar things when we consider the first servant.
They sit beside each other on a straw mat—he in beige trousers and a white-and-purple shirt, she in a blue-and-yellow dress. “I participated in the killing of the son of this woman,” says Francois, one of thousands of Hutu men that perpetrated crimes against Tutsis during the 1994 Rwandan genocide. “He killed my child,” says Epiphanie, “then he came to ask my pardon.”
My conversation with the woman had turned from the care of our Maltese poodle to her ex-husband and her estranged mother. “I can’t forgive my mother; she abused me terribly. And my husband abandoned me when I was ill.” Although she longed to be free of the two people who had left her among the walking wounded, she couldn’t forgive them and so bitterness clung to her like a rotting stench—seeping through her pained words and weary eyes.