In the children’s book series How to Train Your Dragon, the protagonist Hiccup has a cousin named Snotlout who’s as mean as they get. Snotlout is determined to inherit the tribal chieftaincy in Hiccup’s place, and embarks on a number of schemes to sabotage his cousin. But Hiccup consistently chooses to reach out to Snotlout. Even after Snotlout’s father rejects him for his wickedness, Hiccup doesn’t give up on him. Eventually, Hiccup’s faith is rewarded as Snotlout shows the colors of a true friend.
Author William Willimon told the story of an encounter he had with a woman dying of cancer. Exhausted from her battle with the disease, she clutched the crucifix that had been given to her by her grandmother when she was a little girl. It was a symbol of what Jesus meant to her. When Willimon entered the room, he asked if he should summon a priest. The woman held out the crucifix toward him, which depicted the body of Jesus nailed to the cross. She then said, “Thank you—but I have a Priest.”
In 1947, Major and Mrs. Ian Thomas opened Capernwray Hall in England to their first Bible school students. What makes this event extraordinary was the fact that the first students were German. Only 2 years earlier, not only had England and Germany been at war, but Major Thomas had fought in the conflict! His ability to forget the past but also to offer the hand of friendship and the love of Jesus to citizens of a former enemy nation is a beautiful example.
As part of their training, all new presenters on the radio use a practice log—an exact replica of the live log except for one small difference in the file name. It’s a little like a flight simulator for pilots; you get to make mistakes without embarrassing or devastating consequences. It’s a great system for trainees, but if a seasoned presenter accidentally use the practice log to prerecord her radio program, it won’t be able to air.
Recently I did some major damage to my shoulder. Several tendons and ligaments were torn and I had to have physical therapy for a few months. The therapist made an interesting statement as he massaged and manipulated the injury site: “You have to get blood to the damaged areas; it’s the only way to heal it, even if it’s painful.” The only way to put right what is broken is to force blood into those areas, no matter how difficult the task, and allow the blood to carry away the scar tissue and heal the injury.
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.