Posted in Christianity

Why God Is Essential To Morality

Ecclesiastes 12:13b

We probably all think that we are truly living in an age of moral decline on a magnificent scale. Maybe we’re right. But, there are other generations who thought the same. The greatest generation fought a world war to stop a madman in his quest to wipe out an entire race. Sooner back than we would like to remember, a man could be hung in this country for the color of his skin. In some areas of the Old West, everyone carried a gun because everyone used one—and justice often came hand-in-hand with a bullet.

We humans are basically rotten. Anyone who tries to tell you that we are ultimately good in and of ourselves is lying to you. Do you wonder why God includes stories in the Old Testament of a father willing to have his daughter raped to protect his male guests from the gang of townsmen standing outside his door as Lot did, of brother killing brother as Cain killed Abel, of brother raping sister as David’s son Amnon did to his half-sister Tamar?

In a time when God made His miracles known, sent angels to interfere in human affairs, and came to the prophets in dreams to communicate with them directly, people didn’t question the existence of a Holy Creator, merely the reality of His Monotheism. Even though God appeared in a burning bush and made His presence visibly apparent on top of a mountain, the Jewish people, who had been rescued from Egypt by this same God, who had been fed and guided by this God through the desert, continued to sin against Him.

Today, we live in a world that has decided God does not exist. Popular culture makes Him the butt of jokes. Those who profess belief in Him get called crazy on national television. We have pushed Him out of our classrooms, out of our social settings, and out of our morality.

So, why are we surprised when bad things happen in this world left without a God when we humans managed to be bad even when God’s presence was awesomely visible and practically irrefutable?

Believing in God is important in part because the only way a human being can hope to be good is by looking up toward an omnipotent, loving Creator who inspires us to a better self. Christ, who came to earth as man and lived a perfect life, a life without sin or flaw, shows us how love trumps hate, how kindness offers more than meanness, how spiritual things bring more value to this life than anything material.

Man in and of himself is incapable of achieving these heights of goodness. We will not share because people should be good. We will not think of higher things if all we have is this world without a next one. I think this fact is one of the reasons socialism has never succeeded. It’s a nice idea to think that people would willingly provide for others who do not or cannot work as hard as they do, but the reality is much different, especially when the leaders of these movements are often the worst offenders.

But Jesus is not one to do what human leaders do. He does not demand any part of me that He does not deserve. In fact, He could demand much, much more. He loves me even though I make mistakes. He gave His life for my salvation even knowing all the times I was going to disappoint Him in this journey to heaven we call life.

Morality based on the limits of the human imagination, which sees as its ultimate culmination only humanity itself, is a failed morality. But walking in goodness because we respect our God/Creator and also love Him has every reason to succeed. He made us with a desire to seek Him, a desire which helps us reach higher than ourselves, to achieve what we could never achieve if we were left to our own devices, a goodness that honors a pure and holy God.

Posted in Christian Living, Faith

For Such A Time As This

For such a time as this

I love the story of Esther and Mordecai. Every time I read it, I learn something new that I can apply to my life. This week, the lesson that stood out most for me was Mordecai’s argument with his niece, then the queen, as he convinced her to risk her life for the sake of the greater good.

Esther’s life was never easy. She was an orphaned Jewish girl, living far from her people’s homeland, along with all the other exiles. Her uncle, Mordecai, takes her in to raise her. She grows up learning the lessons about boundaries and injustice that plague all defeated nationalities.

Imagine her surprise when she is asked to come to the palace to compete for the position of queen! Even this “blessing” is not as wonderful as it seems.  Because her people are foreigners in the land of their conquerors, she doesn’t tell anyone who doesn’t already know that she is a Jew. Instead of having free access to the outside world and childhood friends around her, Esther must get used to a household staff led by eunuchs as she is shielded during her preparation for the big day, her one and only chance to make a good impression on King Xerxes.

Sure, Esther gets special beauty treatments, has servants, and eats a special diet while she’s in the palace. But, she’s taken from the only home she has ever known, objectified for almost an entire year without even meeting the king, and must perpetually worry about what will happen whether or not the king chooses her. After all, the queen Esther might be replacing was cut off by the king just because she didn’t feel like going to dance in front of a group of drunk royalty at the snap of the king’s inebriated fingers.

At the point in Esther’s story when Mordecai uses his lesson-giving argument, she is finally queen, but the Jewish people are in even more serious trouble than the usual. The Persian king has allowed one of his minions to declare a day for the destruction of the Jews. Mordecai wants his niece to go to the king unannounced and beg for a reprieve from the death sentence.

Esther hesitates. Nobody in the palace knows that she is even a Jew. She hasn’t been called to the king in a month as it is, so could the king even be interested in seeing her? And, here’s the kicker: if she walks into the room where the king is unbidden and he doesn’t reach out his scepter to her, Esther faces an immediate penalty of death.

My absolute favorite lesson in this story is Mordecai’s argument to Esther that she should take the chance for her people because how does she not know that God made her queen for “such a time as this.” But, this week when I was reading the story again, another aspect of Mordecai’s argument with Esther at this critical moment stood out for me.

Mordecai assures Esther that God will save the Jews one way or another, with or without her. Didn’t Esther want to be a part of God’s plan? He tells her:

For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14)

Mordecai’s unwavering assurance that God’s will always will be done reminds me of all the times I don’t give God enough credit as I go through each day. Because I know that bad things happen in a fallen world, I sometimes get into the mindset of forgetting that God still has His hand on everything, often by helping to create something good out of the bad that is happening all around us.

How inspiring is it to understand that God will love, will provide whether we are an instrument of that provision or not? It gives us not only encouragement but actual courage to know that God is not limited by our human capacity or even the necessary parameters of a fallen world. I need that courage, especially when living my faith means doing things that are way outside my comfort zone, like interacting in large groups or going to places I’m unfamiliar with in order to be of service to someone.

What happens next in Esther’s story is also an important reminder. Before going before the king and risking her life, Esther fasts for three days and asks that the rest of her people join her in the fast. She wants to be sure that she is honoring God, following His will, and walking in assurance that He is with her. We must be sure we are walking in God’s will if we want to be able to lean into the assurance of His help in our endeavors.

We Christians long to do the will of God always and in all ways. Remembering that He accomplishes His will whether we serve as an instrument of His design or not is sometimes vital to stepping forward in faith. No one who loves God wants to fail Him. Esther’s faith in God saves not only the Jews, but also teaches us that walking in faith helps us to fulfill the times like this that God places us on this earth for in the first place.


Posted in Christian Living, Christianity

GOD is NOT a Capitalist

Give God your best

It’s that time of year again at our church, the time when the church leaders are trying to finalize the current budget and get the congregation’s commitments for the tithe.

The tithe, that ten percent of my net worth that should be given to God, usually makes me think in terms of dollar signs. But the church, and most especially God, is not primarily concerned with me opening my wallet. Yes, in our modern world, there are the practical concerns for a church like having electricity and paying support staff, but the idea of the tithe has never been, or ever was, just about money–in so many ways.

Abraham gave a tenth of all he had to pay homage to the Lord. God told the Israelites, “You shall bring the choice first fruits of your soil into the house of the LORD your God” (Ex. 23:19). The Levitical law declared: “A tithe of everything from the land, whether grain from the soil or fruit from the trees, belongs to the Lord; it is holy to the Lord” (Lev. 27:30). The Proverbs remind us to “honor the LORD with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops” (3:9).

As important as it is to offer to God the first fruits of our labors, which in our economy equates to dollars and cents, the tithe should be a time to also remind ourselves how important it is to God that we honor Him with, not a specific percentage of our worldly goods, but with the best of us, the best of all that we are. 

How often do I give God not the best of me, not the part of me that rolls out of my warm bed mostly ready to face, and maybe even conquer, the world each morning, but rather the what’s left of me, the worn, half-asleep me that has faced the world and found myself wanting? How often do I come to Him only after I have exhausted all my personal resources, as if I have control over anything at all?

Why should it surprise me that God wants the very best of me when He gave me the very best of Himself? Not only did Christ come to earth as man in order to die for my sins, He left behind the Holy Spirit to function inside of me as a believer in the One and Only. Shouldn’t God expect me to begin and end not only my day, but my each breath, with thoughts of praise, with thankfulness for His power in my life, a power I am supposed to be acknowledging instead of trying to take on the world all by myself?

Giving God the first parts of me, the best parts of me, means praying often, especially when I least feel like it, humbling myself to admit that my problems are truly God’s problems, that I cannot worry myself out of any situation but that God can see me through all the things bound to happen to me in a fallen world.

When I was very young and admittedly not too bright, I took my favorite teddy bear, the one smooshed from being held by me through many a long night, and laid him on a makeshift slab bench in our back yard. My uncle, a young man, was dying from cancer not even a year after my grandfather had died. In the shade of our fruitless mulberry tree, I prayed that God would take my teddy bear and make my uncle better.

Since I didn’t have access to matches, I guess I expected my teddy bear to be struck by lightening or simply disappear. In my childish mind, giving up one of my favorite things seemed like a decent trade. But nothing happened, and a few months later, my uncle died anyway.

I didn’t understand then that Jesus had already made the ultimate sacrifice for the only thing that truly mattered, my eternal soul, my uncle’s eternal soul. As A. E. Houseman proclaims, “life, to be sure, is nothing much to lose.” It’s taken me almost four decades to truly understand how important it is that I offer myself to God, not objects, but my whole self no longer tied to the objects on this earth, in order to be close to Him, in order to walk a more Christ-like walk.

Sometimes, I think it’s easier to give God money than concentrate on the things He really wants, like our lives free from sin, our humbleness, our gratitude.  But giving to God means being our best selves in light of our need for our Holy Father. I thank Him for His patience with us. I love Him because He forgives me when I often stumble. And I give Him money from my wallet because my firstfruits include all of me, even the dollars in my bank account.

Posted in Christian Living, Christianity

Here, Ignorance Is Not Bliss

Know the Word of God and Heed It

Why are we surprised when armchair theology leads us to believe that all decent people somehow wind up in a good place when they die? We’ve raised several generations now of children who have been taught that to participate, even if that participation means wearing the jersey and watching the birds fly overhead in the outfield all season, means being awarded. In an effort to make all children feel good about themselves, we’ve managed to decimate all standards, leaving open to a loosey-goosey interpretation the ideal of perfection.

When did it become wrong to declare that something is slipshod, especially when it comes to human behavior? Do we really think that God would suddenly change His mind about thousands of years of teaching on morality and virtue, He who valued His standards of virtue so much that He was willing to die on a cross, laid bare and humiliated, in order to provide a means for imperfect humans to be in relationship with perfection?

Getting trophies all the time just because you breathe air must make it difficult to realize there are places and times when you actually have to work on being your best self in order to thrive. When the authority figures in your life have always lauded you, no matter how little effort you put into something, it must be even more difficult to visualize a Creator God who might actually see boundaries and strict guidelines as for your greater good, rather than just being angry and mean.

In a world that is grossly unfair, how hard it must be to enter adult life after being buffered against the pitfalls of reality with false accolades to realize that you actually don’t always get what you want, to learn the hard lessons of knowing the difference between needing and wanting. Because you have rarely been called to account for your actions, or lack thereof, you most likely fail to see that the problem resides in your own attitudes. You either turn from God because He seems like a cruel taskmaster that doesn’t line up with your reality of authority figures who are always willing to say good job even when you know something was not your best effort, or you re-create God into an image of yourself, a guy who, if he does exist, surely understands your struggles and cuts you the slack you crave.

But, because God is very real and so very much more than any of us can imagine, we are wise to heed His definitions of what is right and good, to follow His road map to an afterlife spent in His presence instead of wallowing in the misery of hell. In Luke 16, Christ tells the story of a rich man and a poor man named Lazarus which illustrates the importance of heeding God’s Word rather than making up your own, feel-good theology.

The poor man, Lazarus, hovels just outside the gate of the rich man, living a life of half-starved misery, so miserable, in fact, that his only medical attention comes from the dogs who lick at his oozing sores. The rich man, enjoying his great wealth, his friends, his lavish lifestyle, does nothing to comfort the poor man just outside his gates. When they die, Lazarus is brought into the bosom of his ancestor Abraham to enjoy all the peace and luxury he was denied during his earthly life. The rich man, on the other hand, wallows in misery in hell, looking up to heaven to see Lazarus, whom he recognizes, living the life the rich man now longs for.

When the rich man complains, he’s reminded of the luxuries he experienced in his earthly life, but more importantly, he is reminded of the words of Moses and the prophets that the rich man never heeded. When the rich man begs to have a ghost return to the living to warn his brothers against their fate if they do not change their ways, God assures the rich man that the words of Moses and the prophets should be enough for his brothers, just as it should have sufficed for the rich man.

 “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them,” Jesus tells us, “and I will raise them up at the last day. It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard the Father and learned from him comes to me” (John 6:44-45). God speaks to us through His Word, which, contrary to popular belief, does not teach that all good people go to heaven. “Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you,” James admonishes (1:21).  That Word teaches that we all sin and fall short of God’s glory, but that the blood of Christ can redeem us.

Christianity is not a license to do bad things. It is the freedom to know that when we stumble, God is ready, willing and able to forgive us instead of condemning us. But Christian freedom does not include living as if sin doesn’t matter. Get rid of moral filth and evil, the Word says. Be humble.

These lessons are so in contrast to our trophy-loving world. I pray that Christians young and old embrace the Word of God, applying its lessons of love and peace, fellowship and humility, so that none of us, like the rich man, enjoy the pleasures of this life without looking toward the treasures we should be storing in the heavens.

God is good, and in His goodness and greatness He alone understands why we must have boundaries to our behaviors, why being a pretty decent fellow isn’t enough to escape the eternal damnation of a non-existent relationship with our loving Creator. Only by accepting Christ as your Savior, by taking on His much lighter yoke of a life lived no longer as a slave to the sinful nature, will any of us hope to see Abraham on the other side of those pearly gates.

I want to be Lazarus, even if it means great suffering in this life. I want to know that when I finally face God, I have the hope of hearing those words which are the greatest trophy of all, WELL DONE.

In Christ,

Posted in Christianity, Faith

Resolve to be . . . Industrious

Resolve to serve God this year

A powerful executive, in charge of billions in assets, notices a disturbing trend as he audits his managers’ recent business performances. He pauses over a particularly disturbing case that brings him pause. This manager, so full of promise when he began right out of college with his MBA and magma cum laude degree, has been spending more time using the corporate country club membership and expense account than in creating new business to help the corporation grow. Further inspection reveals that the manager is also guilty of not even following through on making sure his customers are up-to-date in the accounts receivable department. Books that should be well in the black are in the red.

Steeling himself for an unpleasant confrontation, the top executive calls his business manager into the office one Monday morning to ask him the tough questions. Because the business manager has obviously been sleeping on the job, the executive informs him that his days with the company are most definitely numbered. Desperate to save himself from a bleak employment outlook, the business manager does some fast thinking. If he can grease the right palms, make the right customers happy, just maybe he’ll find a new job even without a recommendation from his current employer. Calling in some of his most deeply-in-debt clients, the business manager cuts some strategic deals. He has his clients write checks for fractions of what they actually owe, forgiving the remainder of their debts on the spot.

By the end of the week, the executive chuckles over the report that lands on his desk. Seems his business manager has more savvy than he’d previously given the man credit for. Rather than firing the business manager, the executive calls him into the office and reminds him that ingenuity and a make-it-happen attitude lie at the heart of good business. The wayward business manager becomes the role model for industry.

What does such a story have to do with Christianity? Why would a parable about cheating your way out of a tight spot fall from the lips of a perfect, truth-telling Savior?

When I have read the parable of the dishonest steward in Luke 16, I have to admit to scratching my head. But as with many of Jesus’ lessons, things are not always as they appear on the surface. What Jesus is really saying when he tells the story of a fast-thinking steward who gets praised for doing what is essentially wrong has nothing to do with the treasures that concern the steward in the first place, those uncertain, earthly riches that none of us will take with us on our ultimate journey to heaven.

Instead, Jesus is wanting us to think, in part, about the effort, creativity and outside-the-box thinking people do who are primarily concerned with storing up treasures on this earth and to consider how much more we could do if we applied the same kind of effort to the gathering of treasure which really matters—the kind that gets stored up for us in heaven.

Imagine how much of a difference your experience of Christ and your ability to share His kingdom you would make if you put similar industry into building treasures in heaven as do those who, like the steward of the parable, strive to build up stores of human wealth. If we concentrate on earthly riches, Jesus tells us, we cannot serve Him. How often, however, do we fail to concentrate on the true goal of our journey toward heaven as we are trying to survive the day-to-day scrabble in this earthly existence?

This parable does not call for us to lie, cheat and steal. These are actions driven by a desire that is fueled by the evil things, by the desire for possessions that only mean something if your main goal in life is to be better than or rule over others. Being industrious for heavenly treasure requires an entirely different mindset. It means we work within the mores of the law of love. It means we choose right instead of wrong. But just because our industry requires us to stay inside the lines, it does not preclude applying our whole selves toward the success of our journey. We can think outside the box and still follow the commandments. We can sweat our way toward a positive outcome and still be in relationship with a loving God.

Some might rightfully argue that if we are not sweating in our efforts to forward the goals of heavenly treasure, then we are not in a relationship with Jesus in the first place. We either choose to serve God in this life or we choose to serve the man-made things that at times are no better than the idols of the Old Testament.  “You cannot serve God and mammon,” Jesus says in this parable.

As we define resolutions for a new year, let us do so with a kind of gusto as if our very livelihood depends upon the outcome, for the outcome of our souls certainly is tied to the choices we make in a world dominated by earthly things. What if we, like the dishonest steward, have been unfaithful with the spiritual treasures Jesus so freely gives to those who believe? How can we improve our pursuits of heavenly treasures in 2018? How can we gather souls for Christ to make up for the deficit of our previous apathy?

In 2018, no matter what your resolutions may be, consider the lessons from the dishonest steward. Your choices make clear whether you are standing on the side of the angels and eternal treasures or if you are clinging to the earthly things that ground you in the desires of a mankind that denies the deity of our powerful God. Resolve to make choices for God this year. Serve Him boldly, creatively, and courageously. We do not earn our salvation, but we most certainly prove to God the degree of our thankfulness depending upon the ways we pursue His vision for Christianity as it should be lived in a fallen world.


In Christ,

Posted in Christianity, Faith



What makes Christmas so special? Contrary to popular belief, it’s not the presents and Santa Claus. It’s not even peace and good will.

Christmas is the celebration of a miraculous birth, not only because Mary, a virgin, gave birth to a baby, but also because that baby was God made man.

Except for Christians, most of the world sees Jesus as either a fable or a great, spiritual teacher, equal (or lesser) in rank to other great, spiritual teachers such as Mohammed, Buddha and Gandhi. But these viewpoints of Jesus could not be further from the truth, or any less detrimental.

God is perfect. From before time began, He was the same as He is today, the same He will be tomorrow and beyond.

Mankind, on the other hand, is a rotten mess of mistakes, bad deeds, and inconsistencies. Not one of us has ever lived without committing sin. Most of us don’t even make it through one day without doing something that is an offense to a perfect God.

At the time Jesus was born as a baby in a manger, the only way for those who had sinned to mend the broken relationship between themselves and their Holy God Creator was to offer the sacrifice of blood. Because that blood was a temporary remedy to an always problem, the sacrifices offered only restitution, not absolution.

When Jesus came to earth, He lived out His life without sin, a feat no human can accomplish. Because Jesus was God taking the form of man, He alone was able to live a blameless life. Christ’s blameless life, offered on the cross, served as the one sacrifice that could pay for all sins and offer to believers the assurance of not being condemned.

So, realizing that Jesus was at once man and God is vital to understanding His role on this earth. We don’t celebrate Christmas because we want an excuse to give and get presents wrapped with pretty bows. We celebrate Christmas because our God loved us enough to come to earth as the lowliest of beings, suffering through this life just as we must suffer, but living His life perfectly as we never can hope to live, and all in order to offer us the gift of salvation.

God’s grace, offered through our belief in Christ’s living, dying in sacrifice, and rising in redemption for all, is the greatest gift the world has ever known. No other spiritual teacher can match it. Period.

When you say Merry Christmas! this holiday season, know the real reason why we should all be merry and why Christ is in Christmas in the first place.

In Christ,

Posted in NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo: Day 30

“Are you sure this is a good idea?” Bess asked Agnes as the car pulled up in front of the pastor’s house, with its ocean-blue shutters framing the windows and rose bushes lining the walkway.

“They spread her brother’s ashes at Palo Duro yesterday, just her and Michael, poor girl. Even though none of this was her fault, she’s having a hard time even looking people in the eye, have you noticed? If we aren’t holding what happened against her, why should anybody else?”

The rumors around the small town had been flying since the night of the attack, especially since Judd had exerted his considerable influence to keep most of the details out of the papers. The latest story had Bess sneaking out to meet Samuel for secret liaisons while Judd was in the hospital. Only a thick skin honed over years of being an outsider kept Bess from hanging her own head in public.

Bess sighed. “Well, let’s do this then.”

They rang the bell twice before Michelle cracked open the door, her eyes red-rimmed, her hair disheveled. She made a wink of a sound when she recognized them and stepped back to let them in the house. Agnes walked inside and right up to Michelle, wrapping the younger woman in a warm hug that brought fresh tears.

“Oh, Bess,” Michelle said over Agnes’ shoulder. “I don’t know what to say.”

Bess thought about how kind Michelle had been when the pastor’s wife could have ignored Bess altogether. She’d given Bess newfound confidence in her sewing skills and included Bess in social activities when others would have cut her out. “There’s nothing for you to say. I’m sorry everything ended the way it did.”

Michelle’s eyes got a far-away look. “He won’t get a chance to redeem himself,” she said. “I think that’s what hurts the worst of all.”

Agnes moved back, placing her hands on Michelle’s shoulders so that she could look the younger woman in the eye. “I’m sorry we didn’t hear any last words from your brother, but we don’t know what happened in those last moments, Michelle, between Samuel and God. You can’t torture yourself for something that was never yours to control in the first place.”

Something passed across Michelle’s wan face. She gave herself a little shake and forced a smile. “We can’t just stand around here in the entry all day. Would you all like some coffee?”

She motioned them into her living room, where the sofa and many chairs offered proof of the household’s commitment to hospitality. As she sat down on the sofa with Daniel settled against her shoulder, Bess thought about all the church members and strangers who had been welcomed into this house. She could almost feel the energy of acceptance in the air around her.

Perhaps the routine of putting together a tray of drinks and treats settled Michelle’s frayed nerves. When she returned from the kitchen a few minutes later, she had more color in her cheeks, and her soft eyes had just a hint of their old sparkle. She handed Bess a steaming cup of herbal tea and sat back in the straight-backed chair by the couch with her cup of coffee.

Drinking the hot liquid, feeling it pool in her belly and chase away the last of her butterflies, Bess worked up the courage to ask something that had been bothering her ever since the night of the incident. She glanced at Agnes and Michelle, who were discussing the upcoming Valentine’s Day banquet, and took a deep breath.

“If I had died that night,” she blurted, startling the other two women, who sat down their coffee cups with a clink, “I wouldn’t have been redeemed either.” She swallowed, letting those words, finally spoken out loud, sink in. “I have a better life now than I’ve had in the whole of my life. I have a husband who loves me, a great mother-in-law, and a beautiful, precious baby. But none of that means anything if I am not in a relationship with Christ, my Savior, does it?”

Michelle moved to sit beside Bess on the couch, laying a soft, warm hand on Bess’ thigh and squeezing so that Bess winced. “No, it doesn’t,” she answered. “And you’re going to discover that being in relationship with Him makes everything that much better, especially when times get hard again.”

Bess grimaced. “Times definitely have a tendency to do that.” She studied the back of Michelle’s hand, still clutching her thigh, watched the network of bluish veins that shown through the other woman’s pale skin, like a map of the twists and turns of her own life, leading her here. Suddenly, her worries about giving up control to God, about not being good enough, seemed moot. She looked up to gaze into first Michelle’s and then Agnes’ eyes. “What do I do?”

Agnes kneeled in front of Bess and gathered all three women’s hands together. “You pray, darling,” she said. “Right here and now, you tell Christ that you know you are a sinner in need of forgiveness. You ask Him to forgive you because you accept Him and His gift of grace as your Savior. And when you pray those things, Bess, you believe them with all your heart, mind, and soul.”

“I do believe,” Bess said. She closed her eyes and bowed her head. The words came haltingly at first, but picked up fervor as she continued. Bess knew her sins were many, but that Jesus’ love was much bigger than those sins. When she finally lifted her head, she felt hot tears streaming down her cheeks. Her heart swelled, beating a happy rhythm in her chest.

Agnes took Bess’ face in her hands and kissed her forehead. “I’m so happy for you,” she breathed.

Michelle was smiling through her own happy tears. “It’s a life-long journey, Bess, growing closer to our awesome God, but the hardest step is always the one you just took. I’m so honored you let me be a part of your journey.”

Bess smiled. “You were already a part of the journey, Michelle. You and Agnes, and even Lillian. I can’t thank any of you enough.”

As they got in the car some time later, Bess turned to Agnes and asked her, “There’s something I haven’t done yet that I’d still like to do. Can we go by the cemetery? I’d like to introduce Daniel to his father.”

The cemetery was just off a lonely stretch of highway outside of town, surrounded by fruitless mulberry trees. There were tombstones that went back to the time of the civil war. The grass spread across the ground in odd patches, as if it were chasing water.

Daniel’s grave lay next to his father’s in the southeast corner of the cemetery. Their matching headstones were simple granite with their names and birth and death dates. At the bottom of each was the single-word epitaph, beloved.

Bess sat down on the ground with her baby in her lap, ignoring the dirt that could be easily washed out of her dress later. Agnes laid the fresh flowers they’d bought on the way to the cemetery at the base of each headstone, running her hands over the cool, flat granite. She sighed so deeply, the action seemed to start at the tip of her toes and spill out of her like a waterfall. Without a word, she turned and stepped away, out of earshot, to give Bess privacy.

Holding Daniel’s chubby hand as he lay in the hammock created by her crossed legs underneath her dress, Bess took a moment to really study the features that were all Daniel, the green eyes and perfect nose, the tilt to his smile that held the promise of the heart-breaker her son would become one day. A single tear slid down her cheek, splashing on Daniel’s blanket and leaving a paisley pattern in the soft cotton. She swiped at her cheek and looked up at the gravestone with her first husband’s name on it.

“Daniel Taylor,” she told the grey slab, “I’d like you to meet your little boy. Your brother and I are going to make sure he grows up knowing everything about you, especially what a hero you are. Not only did you give your life for your country, Daniel, I wouldn’t have this life if you hadn’t seen something in me that day on the Galveston shore.

“I owe you so much. I’m sorry I didn’t get the chance to know you better, to love you like you deserved. I can’t be sorry about falling in love with your brother, though. He’s a good man, Daniel, the best of men. But, you already knew that.

“Rest in peace, beloved. We’ll be back to see you here, but you will always be with us wherever we go.”

They were settling words, a kind of epiphany. Bess repeated them often through the years, as she and Judd came with a rapidly growing Daniel to pay respects, as more children, two boys and three girls, were bundled into the station wagon to ride to the graves, as they laid Agnes, 95 and mobile until the last, into the ground next to her husband.

All the while, Bess worked to grow in faith. She discovered with each passing year with Judd, with each child added to her family, that love had no limits. The more that seemed required of her, the more she had available to her to give. For the orphan-child who once lived without love, discovering the power of God’s love, the greatest love of all, was truly the key to her finally finding a home. ##

Dear Readers,

Thanks for joining me on this journey. I appreciate your patience with the stumbles of a first draft. In a few months, when the new has worn off these words, I’ll pick up this draft again and begin the next hard job of editing. “Use the best word,” Mark Twain said, “not its second cousin.” I’ll be searching for the best words as I edit.

If you are interested in reading some of my more polished writing, you can check out my books at

I will be publishing my latest book, Fire in the Bones, in the next couple of weeks. If you visit my website, you can sign up for my email list. I’ll send out an email blast when the book is available. When you sign up for the email, you’ll get instant access to the first chapter of the novel.

Have a wonderful holiday season as we celebrate the glorious truth that our God loved us enough to be born into this life of misery and joy only to die as a sacrifice for all, so that all might be saved.

In Christ,