Five-year-old Madeline climbed into her father’s lap.
“Did you have enough to eat?” he asked her.
She smiled and patted her tummy. “I can’t eat anymore.”
“Did you have some of your Grandam’s pie?”
“A whole piece!”
Joe looked across the table at his mom. “Looks like you filled us up. Don’t think we’ll be able to do anything tonight but go to bed.”
Madeline put her little hands on either side of his big face. “Oh, but Poppa, this is Christmas Eve. You said we could dance.”
Joe feigned a poor memory. “Did I now? Why, I don’t remember saying anything about dancing.”
Grandma smiled and shook her head as she began clearing the table.
“But, Poppa,” Madeline pleaded, “we always dance on Christmas Eve. Just you and me, remember?”
A smile burst from beneath his thick mustache. “Of course I remember, darling. How could I forget?”
And with that she stood and took her hand in his, and for a moment, just a moment, his wife was alive again, and the two were walking into the den to spend another night before Christmas as they had spent so many dancing away the evening.
They would have danced the rest of their lives, but then came the surprise pregnancy and the complications. Madeline survived. But her mother did not. And Joe, the think-handed butcher from Minnesota, was left to raise his Madeline alone.
“Come on, Poppa.” She tugged on his hand. “Let’s dance before everyone arrives.” She was right. Soon the doorbell would ring and the relatives would fill the floor and the night would be past.
But for now, it was just Poppa and Madeline.
A love of a parent for a child is mighty force. Consider the couple with their newborn child. The infant offers his parents absolutely nothing. No money. No skill. No words of wisdom. If he had pockets, they would be empty. To see an infant lying in a bassinet is to see utter helplessness. What is there to love?
Whatever it is, Mom and Dad find it. Just look at Mom’s face as she nurses her baby. Just watch Dad’s eyes as he cradles the child. And just try to harm or speak evil of the infant. If you do, you’ll encounter a mighty strength, for the love of a parent is a mighty force.
Jesus once asked, if we humans who are sinful have such a love, how much more does God, the sinless and selfless Father, love us? But what happens when the love isn’t returned? What happens to the heart of the father when his child turns away?
Rebellion few into Joe’s world like a Minnesota blizzard. About time she was old enough to drive, Madeline decided she was old enough to lead her life. And that life did not include her father.
“I should have seen it coming,” Joe would later say, “but for the life of me I didn’t.” He didn’t know what to do. He didn’t know how to handle the pierced nose and the tight shirts. He didn’t understand the late nights and the poor grades. And, most of all, he didn’t know when to speak and when to be quiet.
She, on the other hand, had it all figured out. She knew when to speak to her father – never. She knew when to be quiet – always. The pattern was reversed, however, with the lanky, tattooed kid from down the street. He was no good, and Joe knew it.
And there was no way he was going to allow his daughter to spend Christmas Eve with that kid.
“You’ll be with us tonight, young lady. You’ll be at your grandma’s house eating your grandma’s pie. You’ll be with us on Christmas Eve.”
Though they were at the same table, they might as well have been on different sides of town. Madeline played with her food and said nothing. Grandma tried to talk to Joe, but he was in no mood to chat. Part of him was angry; part of him was heartbroken. And the rest of him would have given anything to know how to talk to this girl who once sat on his lap.
Soon the relatives arrived, bringing with them a welcome end to the awkward silence. As the room filled with noise and people, Joe stayed on one side, Madeline sat sullenly on the other.
“Put on the music, Joe,” reminded one of his brothers. And so he did. Thinking she would be honored, he turned and walked toward his daughter. “Will you dance with your poppa tonight?”
The way she huffed and turned, you’d have thought he’d insulted her. In full view of the family, she walked out the front door and marched down the sidewalk. Leaving her father alone.
Very much alone.
According to the Bible we have done the same. We have spurned the love of our Father. “Each of us has gone his own way” (Isa. 53:6).
Paul takes our rebellion a step further. We have done more than turn away, he says; we have turnedagainst. “We were living against God” (Rom. 5:6).
He speaks even more bluntly in verse 10: “We were God’s enemies.” Harsh words, don’t you think? An enemy is an adversary. One who offends, not out of ignorance, but by intent. Does this describe us? Have we ever been enemies of God? Have we ever turned against our Father?
So how does God react when we become his enemies?
Madeline came back that night but not for long. Joe never faulted her for leaving. After all, what’s it like being the daughter of a butcher? In their last days together he tried so hard. He made her favorite dinner – she didn’t want to eat. He invited her to a movie – she stayed in her room. He bought her a new dress – she didn’t even say thank you. And then there was that spring day he left work early to be at the house when she arrived home from school.
Wouldn’t you know that was the day she never came home.
A friend saw her and her boyfriend in the vicinity of the bus station. The authorities confirmed the purchase of a ticket to Chicago; where she went from there was anybody’s guess.
The most notorious road in the world is the Via Dolorosa, “the Way of Sorrows.” According to tradition, it is the route Jesus took from Pilate’s hall to Calvary. The path is marked by stations frequently used by Christians for their devotions. One station marks the passing of Pilate’s verdict. Another, the appearance of Simon to carry the cross. Two stations commemorate the stumble of Christ, another the words of Christ. There are fourteen stations in all, each one a reminder of the events of Christ’s final journey.
Is the route accurate? Probably not. When Jerusalem was destroyed in A.D. 70 and again in A.D. 135, the streets of the city were destroyed. As a result, no one knows the exact route Christ followed that Friday.
But we do know where the path actually began.
The path began, not in the court of Pilate, but in the halls of heaven. The Father began his journey when he left his home in search for us. Armed with nothing more than a passion to win your heart, he came looking. His desire was singular—to bring his children home. The Bible has a word for this quest: reconciliation.
“God was Christ reconciling the world to Himself” (2 Cor. 5:19). The Greek word for reconcilemeans “to render something otherwise.” Reconciliation restitches the unraveled, reverses the rebellion, rekindles the cold passion.
Reconciliation touches the shoulder of the wayward and woos him homeward.
The path to the cross tells us exactly how far God will go to call us back.
The scrawny boy with the tattoos had a cousin. The cousin worked the night shift at a convenience store south of Houston. For a few bucks a month, he would let the runaways stay in his apartment at night, but they had to be out during the day.
Which was fine with them. They had big plans. He was going to be a mechanic, and Madeline just knew she could get a job at a department store. Of course he knew nothing about cars, and she knew even less about getting a job – but you don’t think of things like that when you’re intoxicated with freedom.
After a couple of weeks, the cousin changed his mind. And the day he announced his decision, the boyfriend announced his. Madeline found herself facing the night with no place to sleep or hand to hold.
It was the first of many such nights.
A woman in the park told her about the homeless shelter near the bridge. For a couple of bucks she could get a bowl of soup and a cot. A couple of bucks was about all she had. She used her backpack as a pillow and jacket as a blanket. The room was so rowdy it was hard to sleep. Madeline turned her face to the wall and, for the first time in several days, thought of the whiskered face of her father as he would kiss her good night. But as her eyes began to water, she refused to cry. She pushed the memory deep inside and determined not to think about home.
She’d gone too far to go back.
The next morning the girl in the cot beside her showed her a fistful of tips she’d made from dancing on tables. “This is the last night I’ll have to stay here,” she said. “Now I can pay for my own place. They told me they are looking for another girl. You should come by.” She reached into her pocket and pulled out a matchbook. “Here’s the address.”
Madeline’s stomach turned at the thought. All she could do was mumble, “I’ll think about it.”
She spent the rest of the week on the streets looking for work. At the end of the week when it was time to pay her bill at the shelter, she reached into her pocket and pulled out the matchbook. It was all she had left.
“I won’t be staying tonight,” she said and walked out the door.
Hunger has a way of softening convictions.
If Madeline knew anything, she knew how to dance. Her father had taught her. Now men the age of her father watched her. She didn’t rationalize it – she just didn’t think about it. Madeline simply did her work and took their dollars.
She might have never thought about it, except for the letters. The cousin brought them. Not one, or two, but a box full. All addressed to her. All from her father.
“Your old boyfriend must have squealed on you. These come two or three a week,” complained the cousin. “Give him your address.” Oh, but she couldn’t do that. He might find her.
Nor could she bear to open the envelopes. She knew what they said; he wanted her home. But if he knew what she was doing, he would not be writing.
It seemed less painful not to dread them. So she didn’t. Not that week, nor the next week when the cousin brought more, nor the next when he came again. She kept them in the dressing room at the club, organized according to postmark. She ran her finger over the top of each but couldn’t bring herself to open one.
Most days Madeline was able to numb the emotions. Thoughts of home and thoughts of shame were shoved into the same part of her heart. But there were occasions when the thoughts were too strong to resist.
Like the time she saw a dress in the clothing store window. A dress the same color as one her father had purchased for her. A dress that had been far too plain for her. With much reluctance she had put it on and stood with him before the mirror. “My, you are as tall as I am,” he had told her. She had stiffened at his touch.
Seeing her weary face reflected in the store window, Madeline realized she’d give a thousand dresses to feel his arm again. She left the store and resolved not to pass by it again.
In time the leaves fell and the air chilled. The mail came and the cousin complained and the stack of letters grew. Still she refused to sent him an address. And she refused to read a letter.
Then a few days before Christmas Even another letter arrived. Same shape. Same color. But this one had no postmark. And it was not delivered by the cousin. It was sitting on her dressing room table.
“A couple of days ago a big man stopped by and asked me to give this to you,” explained one of the other dancers. “Said you’d understand the message.”
“He was here?” she asked anxiously. ”
The woman shrugged, “Suppose he had to be.”
Madeline swallowed hard and looked at the envelope. She opened it and removed the card. “i know where you are,” it read. “I know what you do. This doesn’t change the way I feel. What I’ve said in each letter is still true.”
“But I don’t know what you’ve said,” Madeline declared. She pulled a letter from the top of the stack and read it. Then a second and a third. Each letter had the same sentence. Each sentence asked the same question.
In a matter of moments the floor was littered with paper and her face was streaked with tears.
Within an hour she was on a bus. “I just might make it in time.”
She barely did.
The relatives were starting to leave. Joe was helping grandma in the kitchen when his brother called from the suddenly quiet den. “Joe, someone is here to see you.”
Joe stepped out of the kitchen and stopped. In one hand the girl held a backpack. In the other she held a card. Joe saw the question in her eyes.
“The answer is ‘yes,’” she said to her father. “If the invitation is still good, the answer is ‘yes.’”
Joe swallowed hard. “Oh my. The invitation is good.”
And so the two danced again on Christmas Eve.
On the floor, near the door, rested a letter with Madeline’s name and her father’s request.
“Will you come home and dance with your poppa again?”
—- Excerpt from the book “He Chose the Nails” by Max Lucado
Probably one of the most beautiful chapters of a book ever written. Hope you had a deeper understanding of God’s love for you after reading this. :)
A friend once told me a story about the different seasons in life. She ended her story by posting a question to make a point.
“In winter season, trees look dead. They don’t bear fruit. They stop growing leaves. But it’s interesting that even if they look lifeless, people don’t cut them. You know why?”
I took a moment to munch on that question for a while because it’s a beautiful one.
“Because spring is coming,” I finally said in relief and with assurance.
I love recalling that conversation when things in life gets tough. And I like reminding myself whenever it gets too cold in here and quitting suddenly becomes an option, “You never give up. This ain’t the end yet. Spring is coming.”
During our South Luzon Staff Meeting held last week, I caught myself having a good laugh with some of our women campus missionaries as we shared with each other some of the funny experiences we’ve encountered when coping up with the nervousness of speaking in front of a huge crowd.
We landed in this conversation because one of them was set to speak at the South Luzon Regional Convergence that happened right next day. She was telling us how she would get a little heart attack every time she would remember of this responsibility.
I’m sure we’re all familiar with this kind of feeling. Oh those terrible feelings. The butterflies in our stomach when reporting in class. The parched throat when confessing a love for someone. The cold and sweaty hands when being interviewed for a job or US visa. The fast beating of heart every time we do something for the very first time. These feelings that make you think, “Wait, can you tell me again why am I doing this?!”
I had a big deal of this feeling when we had our North and Central Luzon Regional Convergence last May. As I stayed on my post and put my headset on before we opened the door, I looked around me for one last time to see if everything is in its place and then gave the go signal. And in just a few minutes that the doors were opened, Stadia was filled with student leaders who came from different parts of North and Central Luzon. We’ve been working on this event for a good number of weeks but it was only that very moment that I realized how big the event was and the truth is, I’ve never coordinated anything like it. And then those terrible feelings began to lure. Heart pounding fast – afraid that I might drop the ball or altogether mess up.
“I shouldn’t be here!,” the next thing I told to the person seated next to me. “This is big! Some other experienced event coordinator should be doing this, not me!” But there was no turning back. I’m doing it.
Ruchel, the campus missionary I was telling you earlier, had to speak in front of more than five hundred student leaders too at our South Luzon Regional Convergence despite her little heart attacks. There was also no turning back for her. And while she was busy on the stage bringing the house down that afternoon (she was amazing!), I had a little confrontation with myself. Why are we doing this again? Why did we say “Yes” again? Why we even let ourselves go through a heart-pounding or knee-shaking experience?
Because we’re required to do so? Because we have no choice? Maybe. Or maybe not.
I remember the first time I was asked to do the giving exhortation in church. Without a doubt I said yes. But minutes before I went up the stage, with my knees shaking and heart pounding loud and fast, I told myself “This is gonna be the last!!! I will not say yes to this again!” Then up the stage I went and did my thing. Couple of weeks after that, I was asked again to do it.
Did I say no like what I promised myself to do?
Na-ah! I still said yes.
Did I feel the same terrible feeling I felt the first time I did it?
Without a doubt. Worse even.
Why did I say yes? I have no idea! But one thing I know for sure: If I chicken out every time I don’t feel right, I lose the opportunity to grow. I lose the opportunity to get better at a certain area. I lose the opportunity to see what’s on the other side.
More than that, if we let our uncertainties overpower us and resist us from conquering the odds we face, we lose the opportunity to see how God can pull us through and how He can make us do impossible things by His grace. We miss out on the opportunity to see more of what He can do, what we cannot do and what He is willing to do through us.
Maybe Peter will agree. When Jesus called him to get out of the boat and walk on water, he did so. But when the wind started to blow, he was afraid and began to sink (Matthew 14:30). Sounds familiar?
I’m pretty sure when Peter climbed back into the boat, he was never the same again because of the experience he had with Jesus on water. And maybe, just maybe, through this experience, he encountered and learned something more about Jesus that he might have probably missed out if he just stayed in the boat with the other disciples.
And we, we have our own boats we need to step out of. Some events to run. Some speaking engagements to show up in. Some people to confront. Some classes to take. Cannot promise you that you will not get your heart pounding or palms sweating, but go. Just go! It’s a good kind of terrible feeling. Allow and trust God to pull you through. And like Peter, you’ll never be the same way again.