Hanging By a Thread

The Prodigal Son may be a story of forgiveness, but to some people it is also a story about a loose tooth.  Okay, only to me, but with good reason. 

Luke, my six-year-old, had his front tooth loose and hanging by a thread for months, with no end in sight.  Every day brought more certainty that this tooth was with us for the long haul.  Through graduations, weddings, and funerals, The Tooth would be there as an inextricable part of our family. I’ve seen bull dogs with less tenacity. 

Every time Luke smiled at me, I saw his future before me in a flash.  In every scene, he still sported a dangling, loose front tooth.  Every milestone picture captured it:  driver’s license, prom, even holding his first child.

Then there was my recurring nightmare of his wedding.  In front of friends and family, Luke stood at the altar, exceedingly handsome with his surfer-blond hair and strapping physique.  He turned to greet his lovely bride and smiled.  The crowd gasped in horror at the sight of his dangling, bloody tooth.  He lisped, “I, Luke Hanthon, take thee…”

I felt a terrible sense of guilt as a mother.  When Luke got his first tooth at one year,  my heart gushed over how adorable he looked. Now I just wanted to grab a pair of pliers and yank.

When a child has a loose tooth, the rest of the family hangs in the balance.  In the middle of all this dental madness, I happened to be reading the story of the Prodigal Son.  Of course, this name was just assigned to him over time; it wasn’t actually his nickname.  It’s not like his father referred to him this way in the Christmas newsletter.  This year our Prodigal Son decided that my hard-earned money really must grow on trees so why not waste it all and have nothing to show for it.  We’re so proud.

The Prodigal Son demanded all of his inheritance at once and then led a more scandalous lifestyle than a Hollywood bad boy.  Once he hit rock bottom, he had to take a job as a pig feeder.  The only thing worse than getting a job as the Director of Pig Slop is the poor guy who didn’t get the job.

One day when the pig slop started looking tasty, the son came to his senses.  Filled with guilt and remorse, he returned to his father.  By this point he must have been looking quite gaunt and scraggly, not to mention in desperate need of a shower.  On the journey home,  he probably imagined his neighbors and family lined along the village streets and taunting him.  Hey, Bones!  Here’s some slop–you want some fries with that? Hahahahaha! Oink, oink! 

The only thing that could save this wretched man was redemption by his father.  His father had every right to be angry and hold a grudge against his son.  Instead, being filled with compassion, he ran to his son and buried the sin with his love and forgiveness.  When the son’s life was hanging by a thread, the father was able to cut the cord that tied him to his pain. 

Sometimes we just need Daddy to save us.

We were eating lunch when I noticed Luke’s loose tooth was starting to bleed.  Against Luke’s wishes, it was time for Daddy to intervene.  Dave had no choice but to end everyone’s agony and cut the cord…er, thread, that held us all in bondage.  It was a bloody scene, but one that brought great deliverance for us all, especially our son.  He now had a huge gap in his mouth, but he smiled with relief from the pain.

It reminded me of all the times in my life when I’ve been hanging on to something painful, and all I needed was the loving touch of my Father to help me let go.  God is ready with his trusty pliers; all we need to do is let Him do His work.

The day after the impromptu tooth surgery, I heard Luke crying in his room. 

“What’s the matter?” I asked. 

Nothing could have prepared me for the squeaky answer from the other side of the door:

“My other front tooth is loose!”



The Golden Calf and a Cracker With Legs

In my house, I have a strict policy about keeping food at the table.  Of course, my children ensure that most of the food actually ends up under the table, but at this point I can’t be too picky about my prepositions. With three young kids, I should be happy when their food stays within the general vicinity of our time zone.

One day I was surprised to see a cracker at the top of the stairs.  It was just sitting there staring back at me, as if to say, “How’s that policy workin’ for ya?”  That’s right, the cracker was sassing me, and I was not going to tolerate it for one minute.  The attitude was unbecoming, even for a Ritz.

“Where did this cracker come from?”

Silly me, thinking someone would actually answer that question.  That’s sort of like expecting an answer to “Who broke this vase?” or “Who wants more broccoli?” 

I switched tactics.  “Who cut down my cherry tree?” I growled, trying to sound like George Washington’s father.  Even though I sounded like Mickey Mouse trying to imitate Barry White, the kids were lassoed with the noose of guilt.  I had repeatedly told them about how virtuous little George was when his father expected a truthful answer.

A lone voice squeaked from the back of the house.  “I did it, Mommy, and I’m sorry.”  My four year old son appeared with a scowl. 

“How did this cracker get over to the stairs if you were eating it at the table like you were supposed to?”

“It jumped?” 

“So let me get this straight,” I answered.  “You were sitting at the table eating like a good little boy, and all of a sudden your cracker just grew legs and jumped over to the stairs?”


“Did it do a little dance, too?”  I broke into a wild hip-hop number, which looked something like a penguin on Quaaludes.  

We all had a good laugh, and the kids realized how ridiculous it is to tell whoppers and try to get away with it.  They never tried to lie again, and we all lived happily ever after. And if you believe that, I also have some magic beans to sell you.

Humans have been making lame excuses ever since Adam and Eve played the blame game in the Garden.  Perhaps the greatest example comes from the record of Aaron and the Golden Calf.  (This is a biblical reference; please do not look it up on iTunes.)

Once upon a time a man named Moses was called by God to climb Mt. Sinai.  He was eighty years old, but he was able to go up and down the mountain with no problem.  The Jack LaLanne of his times.  When he was gone for too long, his brother Aaron and the Israelites decided to worship a golden calf.  Moses returned to a scene of moral dissipation, and he was not too happy.

What followed was one of the worst excuses ever recorded.  I’m not sure how Aaron said it with a straight face.

“So I told them, ‘Whoever has any gold jewelry, take it off.’  Then they gave me the gold, and I threw it into the fire, and OUT CAME THIS CALF!” (Exodus 32:24)

Moses was a dad, so he had probably heard outrageous excuses before. I hope he really milked this one. Oh, so it just magically formed itself into a calf, came to life and walked right out of the fire? Did it do a little dance, too? 

In Old Testament  times, they really had to pay the price for sin. Moses burned the calf into a powder and made them drink it.  (Maybe Jack LaLanne got his protein drink and juicer ideas from this.)  Just when they were thinking, Hey, this drink isn’t too bad and it’s half the calories of milk…God struck them with a plague. 

I am so thankful to be living in the Age of Grace. We all make outlandish excuses — our own version of a cracker with legs.  Even though sometimes we deserve a disgusting drink and a plague, Jesus took the punishment for us by dying on the cross.  He deserves better than our lame and childish excuses.  But somehow he rolls them up with our sins and removes them as far as the east is from the west. 






King David’s Tinker Toys

Many mythical characters are a composite of various creatures.  The centaur has a human torso on the body of a horse.  The minotaur has the head of a bull on the body of a man.  I hadn’t really given this much thought until recently I noticed that my three year old has the face of an angel and the behavior of an imp.  One side of him loves to snuggle and give me bear hugs, and the other side acts like a bear in a china shop.

I remember breathing a sigh of relief when Nate turned three.  We had survived the terrible twos, and clearly things would start getting easier.  Apparently Nate didn’t get the memo.  His saucer-like baby blues expanded to the size of dinner plates, further increasing his resemblance of an angelic being, but his capability for mischief rose exponentially. 

One day I was working at my desk with my head buried in paperwork.  I didn’t even notice my little hybrid slip into the room, until his faint voice delivered a disturbing question in the same way that a distant rumble of thunder can portend a tornado.

“Mommy, can I use these for Tinker Toys?”  If his voice could have been any sweeter, I could have served him for dessert.

I sensed imminent disaster before I even looked up.  I heard the clinking of dishes and turned to see him holding a white box.  No, please don’t let it be that box. 

“Wwwwhat…is…that?” I stammered.  But I already knew.  My fine china was now in ruins, and every wave of emotion washed over me.  Anger for his outrageous behavior.  Guilt for leaving the box within his reach.  Despair for the loss of something special. Sorrow for his shame.  Amusement for his wanting to use the shards for Tinker Toys. 

How did I handle this situation?  Well, I did what any self-respecting adult would do.  I burst into tears right in front of Nate, and that alone was sufficient for his punishment.  I know that my greatest punishment for wrongdoing is the sense that I have made God cry.

Have you ever destroyed something that belongs to God?  Most of us do it all the time without even realizing it. When we trample on His Word.  When we insult or hurt His children.  Even when we hurt ourselves. 

When King David committed adultery, he hurt himself and Bathsheba.  Not to mention her husband, whom he had killed, which I’m guessing hurt a lot.  David’s soul was tortured by how much he had hurt God.  He cried out, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight“(Ps. 51:4).

He didn’t waste time with petty excuses.  He knew what he did, and he knew what God required.

Psalm 51:17

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

God looked at David’s heart, which was now in pieces like Tinker Toys in a box, and He helped put it back together again.  I wish it were easier for us to do this for each other.  Many times when others sin and earnestly repent from a broken heart, we inflict punishment on them that is too intense for one to tolerate.  Judgment and condemnation are the heaviest weights the heart can bear.

2 Corinthians 2:6-8

The punishment inflicted on him…is sufficient for him.  Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow.  I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him.

I looked at my distraught son before me, and I wasn’t sure which was more shattered, the china or his heart.  “I’m sorry, Mommy,” he bawled, and I knew what I had to do.  I pulled him close and loved him the way God has loved me.  And when the dust had settled on the issue, I considered moving all of my breakables to an off-site storage facility until my kids leave for college. 



This White Cometh Not From Bleach

Becoming a mother has ruined the game of baseball for me.  I used to get excited whenever a player would slide into a base.  Now I just ask, “Who has to clean those uniforms?”  The player gets up and dusts himself off, and all I can do is shake my head and wonder how much bleach it will take to clean that stain.  Clearly if a mother had been in charge, baseball pants would all be brown. My husband Dave puts up with my comments with stride, although if I’m talking about laundry during baseball games, then I might as well take out my knitting and put his drink on a doily.

This lamenting stems from the challenges of doing daily laundry for three young children, two of whom are boys who get into everything.  By the end of the day, the pile of soiled clothes, cloths, and towels resembles the rugged Alpine peaks.  You know it can’t be good when your kids can play King of the Mountain on your laundry.

I have seen my share of stains, but the worst are the red ones – mainly blood and pasta sauce.  I’ve considered serving only white food with white sauces.  What’s for dinner?  Chicken Alfredo, white rice, and cauliflower…vanilla ice cream for dessert.  But short of keeping my children in a bubble, there will always be stains.  If only I could find a bleach that works.

During his Transformation, Jesus’ clothes were described as “dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them”  (Mark 9:3). This caught my attention on a particularly bad laundry day.  I stated to imagine that when Elijah and Moses appeared talking to Jesus, they were saying, “How did you get your clothes so WHITE?” To which he would respond, “This kind of white cometh not from bleach, but from true cleanliness.”  Then God spoke to their disbelief from the cloud, “This is my son, whom I love.  Listen to him!”  That will teach me not to get too close to the bleach fumes.

God’s desire is for mankind to be cleansed.  In fact, only He knows how to remove the dreaded red stains. Blood is perhaps the most challenging of all stains to remove, yet Isaiah prophesied of how even the blood-red stains of our sins would one day be cleansed:

Isaiah 1:18 “Come now, let us reason together,” says the LORD. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.

Notice that it does not go on to mention some new amazing product on the market that can remove blood stains.  God does not need an infomercial. He cleansed us the only way possible – by the sacrifice of his son Jesus. 

In the Kingdom we will be wearing white robes, and I imagine that they will be dazzling white.  I’ll try not to worry about who has to clean them. If God could figure out how to cleanse our sins, then He can do anything.


Shuttlecocks in God’s Tree

Many people make New Year’s Resolutions to exercise more and optimize their health.  Perhaps you will take up a new sport this year.  Personally, I grew up playing in the Namby-Pamby League of sports. 

Ping Pong:  the name just about says it all.  You hit the ball back and forth, and it makes two noises – ping! pong!  or  ho! hum!, or whatever else you want to call it.  Relatively easy, with the added bonus that you don’t even have to stretch to play this sport. 

Croquet:  You can even play this sport in a dress and high heels (ladies only, please) and break for tea in between turns.  Try to hit the ball through the wicket.  You are armed with a heavy mallet, but you may not hit your opponent with it.  You may, however, tap their ball with yours in moments of heated competition. 

But no sport can compare to the dog-eat-dog world of badminton.  Even the spelling of the sport is intimidating.  It’s not pronounced badMINton, so it should be spelled: badmitten.  But then people would see the word “mitten” and mistake this for a wimpy sport.  For nothing says “rough and tumble” like a game played with shuttlecocks.  And a racket so light that you could substitute it for a flyswatter. While other neighborhood children wore cool uniforms and came home from “real” sports tournaments displaying their impressive bruises and wounds, my siblings and I engaged in the dangerous task of throwing our rackets into the tree to dislodge a shuttlecock.  It’s a wonder we lived to tell about it.

My fondest memories of these sporting events are the times we would make a bad play and demand a do-over.   Hit a birdie into the tree?  DO-OVER!!!!  Send a ball under the neighbor’s bush?  DO-OVER!!!!  There was a freedom in knowing that no matter how egregious the error, we could always have another chance.

The need for do-overs spills over into other sports as well.  In football, you get four chances to get a first down.  Baseball allows three tries to get a hit.  Golf:  take as long as you want, and then we’ll meet for lunch in the clubhouse.

Now that I am a mom, I am understanding the need for do-overs beyond the sporting realm.  When one of our kids makes a mistake, their immediate request is usually, “Please give me another chance.”  In a sense, they are yelling, “DO-OVER!!!,” and it would be hypocritical for me not to comply.

I have asked God for a do-over too many times to mention. After I make mistakes, I cry out to Him, “Please give me another chance!”  So when my children plead with me, I hear my own cries pouring out of their hearts.  It’s safe to say that every time I have hit my shuttlecock into God’s tree, He’s lovingly shaken it out and given me another chance.  I want my children to be able to say the same of me.

God gave the ultimate do-over when He sacrificed Jesus to pay for our sins. He understands our human need to be given another chance.  He gave us day and night, and no matter how bad a day we are having, there is always a tomorrow.  The rising of the sun is a reassuring reminder of His presence, and that with each new day comes a fresh start.

Likewise, no matter what stressful or painful events have occurred during this past year, we have a new year ahead to start over again.  So when the new year arrives, just look the past right in the eyes and scream, “DO-OVER!”  Trust me, it’s good for your health.

Psalm 30:5b

Weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning