First off, thank you to everybody who entered the giveaway. What a great response! Kelly in Virginia was the winner of all the Beth Moore goodies (and a few little surprises thrown in the box for good measure.) How about if we have another giveaway next month? I’m working on the prize package right now, but let me know who or what you’d like to see in a future giveaway box.
The proof copy of Embraced is on its way. I know you’re anxious. I know you’ll start checking Amazon for a live listing. However, please hold off just a little longer. It will drive the book further up the list in sales ranking if all the downloads happen in a tight period of time. Let me explain how it works: math, math, math and … happy writer. Another super important piece of the math puzzle is your reviews. I would explain why they matter so much, but I know you want to read Chapter 9, so just trust me on this. All right time to read. (Then go leave a review.)
Download Embraced Chapter Nine
Sunday, April 16, Easter Sunday
Saturday evening, after dyeing a reasonable number of eggs and trying in vain to explain to my granny why we didn’t need a big meal tonight, Uncle Nolan and my mother took a long walk. I’ve never wanted to eavesdrop on a conversation so badly in all my life, not because I thought they might reveal some deep, dark secret. Actually quite the opposite. They are the two most genuine people in the world. Each of them is unafraid of searing honesty. There are no pretentions or hidden agendas. My father was the same way, but his position as a pastor caused him to temper that authenticity with some discernment. He was very careful about who he allowed to see his vulnerability. That’s just wisdom.
Stacy is not much for vulnerability, either risking it or being entrusted with it. Stacy prefers perfection and she has a way of making you believe that if you do everything she says, you’ll achieve it. Once you did, you would be rewarded with her favor. For seven years, I tried my very best.
So yes, I would concede that my relationship with my wife had all the marks of worship, but Nolan neglected to tell me how to untangle myself. I’m at least smart enough to grasp that it will take more than a divorce. I was afraid it would take a series of angry confrontations even worse than the phone call this afternoon. I wasn’t sure I had the resolve for that.
But this was Easter. Hope and new life and fresh starts and all that stuff, right?
Easter Sunday morning was exactly the kind of perfect spring day you’d expect it to be. I dressed Christopher in the outfit his mother bought him—a navy blazer with short pants and white socks and oxfords. He looked like a kid from a catalog, which was probably what she was going for. He didn’t seem to mind his fancy clothes, so I was sure he’d forgive her for dressing him that way when he was older.
I took dozens of pictures, and so did Mom and Granny. Then we all trooped outside and squinted and smiled until everybody had pictures of everybody else in every possible family grouping.
Before we all loaded up to go to church, I sent a couple of pictures to Stacy. Almost immediately, she called, gushing over Christopher.
I seized on her goodwill and said he looked more like her every day, then I wished her a happy Easter. I stood there until the silence grew heavy. “I’ve got a lead on a job.” That is, if a lead meant I told my uncle James I wasn’t interested in it.
“That was fast,” Stacy said. Clearly, she didn’t believe me. She wasn’t entirely out of line.
“Yeah, it’s managing a municipal water plant.”
“For a whole city?”
“You know, you could ease right into politics from a job like that.”
“I’m not sure I’m the political type.”
“No, you’re probably not.” Then she added, “I’ll be anxious to have my boy back tomorrow.”
I put my phone away and tried not to think about that.
Allen County was old-fashioned enough that nearly everybody went to one of the churches for services. Old ladies and little girls wore white gloves and hats. Boys had their shoes shined and their hair slicked down so that it might stay put through the preaching. A few of the older boys struggled with their first real neckties. Nearly all the kids had sneaked a handful or two of candy into Sunday school.
Now Granny Lucy was out of town, spending the holiday with Aunt Kathleen and Uncle Tom, so I sat with Mom, Granny and Uncle Nolan in the worship service. He enjoyed the whispers that followed him down the aisle. Once we sat down, he leaned over to me, “We should be safe here when the roof falls in.” For someone who said he didn’t care what people thought about him, he sure found a great sense of entertainment in it.
The sanctuary was filled with the fragrance of the Easter lilies placed there by families in honor or in memory of someone. I think my heart forgot to beat a time or two when I saw my dad’s name listed among those who had lilies placed for them.
I think the last time I had been in church for Easter was my freshman year of college. After that, it seemed there was always a fraternity thing going on that weekend. After Stacy and I got married, we visited her folks. Her parents were social Christians, and never pressured us to attend services with them, especially after the drive from Memphis.
We weren’t four notes into the first hymn when I was overwhelmed with missing my dad, and I started to cry right there in the middle of church. At first, you can mostly hide that, but before long it breaks right out in all its ugliness. Mom took my hand, Nolan slipped his arm around my shoulder, and they cried with me. We were quite a sight I’m sure. I suspect a few of the old gossips were pleased that the Lord had finally broken through my hard and impenitent heart.
This wasn’t the first time the Grants had been in this situation of crying in church, however, so there were handkerchiefs and tissues all around. I even had one. Carrying a handkerchief was something my dad had drilled into me from the time I was twelve.
Uncle James had a similar preaching style to my dad’s. He rarely raised his voice, so the times he did, you took notice. They both believed all the answers a person would ever need were on the pages of Scripture and God would reveal those answers to anybody who looked for them. But as they preached, you got a distinct impression they had some kind of special Bible, one with stuff in it yours didn’t have. My dad could wring more truth out of a prepositional phrase than some preachers could from the third chapter of John.
This morning James preached out of John 20, about Peter and John running to the empty tomb. The word “saw” is in there three times, but the last one is a different word in the Greek. Nolan probably already knew that. John saw the grave clothes and he put two and two together. He understood the implications. James said most of us stop with just an agreement that, yes, the facts are correct. The tomb is empty. Yes, Jesus died for our sins, but we never grasp what that means for us, personally. Mom and Nolan both nodded like they knew.
After the service, we stood around and talked, mostly to my other aunts and uncles, even though they were all headed for Granny’s house for lunch. Mom was the oldest after David Lee so my uncles Wayne and Gary were closer to my age than hers. They tell me Wayne used to like to babysit me just so he could pick up girls. I was like a magnet, he said. My aunts Gail and Linda were sweet, just like my mother, and I loved them dearly. But Mom, Nolan and Ellen were all in high school together when David Lee was killed and I think that tightened them up. Because they were closer, David and I saw more of Nolan and Ellen. Sometimes, Mom’s family made me wish she and Dad hadn’t stopped at two.
I was brazen enough to speak to Andrea again, just long enough to say hello and say how beautiful she looked. She blushed and thanked me.
Nolan walked out to the car with me and Christopher which meant very slow baby-sized steps. “I reckon folks will sleep better tonight knowing God answered their prayers for that heathen Nolan Grant.” He grinned. “That is not to say I didn’t enjoy the service and I wasn’t glad to be there.”
“I’m glad you were there,” I said.
“Thank you.” He clapped his hands and Christopher grinned but shook his head. He was walking. “Good man,” Nolan said. “Walking on your own two feet is a great thing.”
“Nolan, why do you think God took my dad right when I needed him the most?”
He sighed deeply. “The mentor always dies before the hero can complete his task.”
He nodded. “It’s true. Every story is that way. It goes all the way back to the very first stories. Yours is no different.”
“I expected a more Biblical answer.”
“Oh, but it is. God is the greatest of storytellers. Moses had to die before Joshua could defeat Jericho. David had to die before Solomon could build the temple. Elijah had to be taken from Elisha. Even Jesus Himself had to die, before Peter and John and the rest of them could achieve their quest. God knows you’re ready. It was time to take the mentor.”
“I don’t think I have a quest.”
“Then you are the first man alive who doesn’t.”
“What’s your quest?”
“To slay the dragon. To win the heart of the fair maiden. To prove myself worthy of the fight.”
“You confuse me sometimes.”
“I could say the same thing about you. And it’s obvious you weren’t listening this morning either.”
We got to my car, but I wasn’t about to end this conversation. “Don’t move,” I said. I got Christopher in his seat and handed him a cup of juice. That would buy me another ten minutes anyway. “Now, I was listening to James this morning.”
“You are at the first ‘saw’. You’re observing the things around you. You comprehend them.” He raised his fingers. “I’m getting a divorce. I need a job, and on and on, but you don’t see what is going on. You don’t understand the implications.”
“I thought the implications were that I got married for the wrong reasons to the wrong person—”
“Michael, I can’t answer that for you. If I do, that makes me a mentor and I know what happens to mentors.”
“You are no help.”
“I am more help than you realize. The thing is, you don’t want a man’s answer. You want an answer from Almighty God. But I will tell you this much, you are a warrior—”
“I am an engineer. An unemployed one at that.”
He shook his head. “That’s part of your problem. A warrior always suffers a terrible defeat, one so great it causes him to question his very identity and calling. Michael, you have laid down your sword, you have taken off the armor and turned your back on the battle.”
“I think you’re a little overly dramatic.”
“What’s your name?”
“Is this a trick question?”
“Maybe. Do you know your name?”
He shook his head and smiled. “Who is like God?”
“You got that off a bookmark at Cracker Barrel.”
“I got it from the Hebrew.” He rolled his eyes, and muttered, “Cracker Barrel.” Then he looked at me with fresh intensity. “Who is like God? I’ve told you to listen, and James has told you to open your eyes. You know enough now to be a dangerous man. The only question that remains is, will you?”
“I thought dangerous was bad.”
“Evil is bad. Right now, dangerous is needful. For Christopher. For Stacy. But most of all for you.”
Read the rest of Embraced Chapter Nine