The Love Shack

Posted by admin in February 7th, 2009
Published in faith

Actually the title of today’s post should be, “The Shack I Love” so as not to be confused with the 1989 hit song by the B52s! While on vacation last week (sunny Cancun thank you very much) I read William P. Young’s The Shack. I was skeptical to be quite honest with you. A little scared to take the thing on. After what Chuck Colson said about it (and I am a huge fan of Chuck’s) I wasn’t sure how I would handle some of William’s ideas. After all, God could never be a large, black woman. Right? You start messing with our holy icons and traditions and, well, the Church gets a little freaked out. I know I do. But my girl Jamie had read it, Lance had read it and they really wanted their Dad and me to read it and so I did. With fear and trembling.

It was a beautiful day at the beach, the water is the most unusual color blue that doesn’t look real somehow and the sand is white like sugar and so fine that it gets into nooks and crannies you didn’t even know existed. I had big D under an umbrella because he burns so badly, but I was oiled up and sunning like a movie star and I started readingThe Shack. Hmmm. Strange. Not what I was expecting. Uh oh, why am I crying? Oh my word, I am bawling. Stop it! Stop it! You are in a public place idiot and you look ridiculous, never mind the bathing suit! I put the book down and I called out to Daryl, “Help me. Hey, come here for a second.” He stumbles over because I woke him from his mid-morning nap, not to be confused with his mid-afternoon nap. “What’s wrong?” When he is tender with me it makes me cry all the harder. “This book. It’s touching a nerve or perhaps an open wound, I don’t know but I can’t stop crying.” Big D pats me and I notice his #60 SPF Babyfaces sunscreen isn’t rubbed in and the white stuff is making him look as if he’s wearing a mask. I look at him and I say, “I’m not going to read this anymore. I feel funny.” And my first thought is to attack the book and make it sound unscriptural or even worse, trite and predictable. “I totally know what is going to happen. This guy is such an amateur and he uses drama to sucker punch the reader when we’re not looking.” I start criticizing everything about poor William’s writing—his style, the plot, his characters. I lay the book down in the shade of the umbrella, roll over on the chaise lounge and decide to join Daryl in his mid-morning nap. And I cry. Small tears and little breaths sneak out. “I’m not gonna let this stupid book get to me! It’s all a bunch of hype anyway! No. 9 best seller on college campuses. So what?!? That tells me all I need to know. College kids. What do they know about theology, scriptural integrity, truth?” I lie there about ten minutes and find myself picking the book back up…almost against my will. Daryl asks, “I thought you weren’t going to finish that?” “I know. But I did pay for it and I owe it to Jamie ’cause she asked me to read it. I’ll just finish it for her and that way I can tell her I read it. But I won’t tell her it sucked.” And I read and I weep and I let God go to places in my heart that He hasn’t been permitted to go for years. Stupid book.

Denise died when she was eight years old. She was the middle girl. I was five, my sister Cindy was nine. She and Denise were literally 15 months apart. They were inseparable. Denise was the most beautiful of the three girls. True beauty. The kind of beauty that people stopped us in the grocery store to comment on. The kind of beauty that can make a child shy from all the extra attention. She was a Momma’s girl. She loved our Mom, not so much our Dad. She was also independent. In Sunday School class whenever the teacher asked us to bow our heads and raise our hands if we didn’t know Jesus I always peeked and Denise, being very honest, would raise her hand. It broke my heart that Denise didn’t accept Jesus as her personal savior and I was quite the hot evangelist at the time trying to get her saved in the back seat of our parents’ Oldsmobile Delta 88. My Mom kept telling me to let her alone. One Sunday I peeked and Denise didn’t raise her hand when the question was asked. Hmmm. She is in trouble now, I thought. On the way home from church I blurt out, “Denise didn’t raise her hand when the Sunday School teacher asked who wasn’t saved!” My Mom tells me to leave it alone. I sulk crossed-armed in the back seat. “Denise didn’t raise her hand!” I kept thinking it on the inside. Later that afternoon, without even consulting me, my Mom took Denise into the den and asked her why she hadn’t raised her hand. She explained that she had asked Jesus into her heart and that she was saved. My Mom was overjoyed, but explained to her that she must make a profession of faith and be baptized (we Baptists like to get our folks soaking wet; we’re dunkers). Denise said she wanted to but the pastor’s wife always went up to the altar with kids and she didn’t like that woman much. Mom asked Denise if she made arrangements for Naomi to go, Denise’s Sunday School teacher, would she go tonight at the evening service and make a profession of faith? Denise said yes. Mom got on the phone and told Naomi to intercept the pastor’s wife ’cause Denise was going to walk the aisle tonight. The plan was in place and all went well. Little eight-year-old Denise walked that aisle, made a profession of faith with her favorite teacher by her side and was water baptized. We all rejoiced. I took most of the credit. She ignored me as the irritating little sister I was.

That summer in 1964, Cindy and Denise went to Church Youth Camp. I wasn’t old enough to go. They were. By the time they got home it was time to get ready for the new school year. At ages, nine, eight and five, this meant inoculations. We lived on a small farm in rural Oklahoma. We were brown from being outside all of the time. Cindy and Denise looked exceptionally healthy just coming from Church Youth Camp where they got to swim every day. The doctor got the shots ready and my Mom asked, “Don’t you want to take their temperatures?” Because everyone knows you don’t give a kid an inoculation without taking a temperature. But it was late in the day and he looked at the three of us and laughed, “Jane, your kids are healthy as horses. Look at them.” And he administered the shots. What he didn’t know was that all the swimming had left water in Denise’s ear and that she had developed an ear infection…swimmers’ ear. This was on a Monday and by Wednesday Denise had died. To complicate matters she had an allergic reaction to some of the shots; something she could have probably fought but her system was down from the ear infection. And she died. At eight years old.

My parents were never the same after that. Dad grew angrier and angrier. Mom worked herself to death thinking that the best way to cope with grief was to sew curtains, make a bedspread and jar tons of pickles from the garden. Cindy closed up shop. Her grief and pain were too great to bear for a nine year old. I was lonely because I lost not only Denise, but Cindy too. It was horrible and the worst part was we never got to say goodbye to Denise. In the old days they kept kids out of hospital rooms, especially when the patient was dying of polio, German measles, rubella—every live virus found in that shot had taken her little life and we weren’t allowed to go into her room; we weren’t allowed to say goodbye.

One night, just about a month after Denise had died I had a dream. I was playing in the garden in the front of our house. We had a huge garden and we grew vegetables and watermelon and corn. I was playing there and a huge tree sprung up from the ground. It was large and beautiful. It had a door on the bottom of the trunk…the kind of door that didn’t have a handle on the outside. When the tree was to its full stature, the door opened and out came Denise and Jesus. They were holding hands. I was so glad to see her. She looked so beautiful and radiant. Jesus whispered something to her, she nodded. He went back into the tree and shut the door which immediately became invisible. I ran up to Denise and hugged her and squeezed her hands. She said, “I can only stay the day then I have to go back. But let’s play.” And we did. We played and laughed and ran and rolled and got so tickled that our sides nearly busted. It was wonderful there in the shade of that big old Tree. I told her, “Denise I miss you. I didn’t get to say goodbye. I wish you could come home.” But she explained that she was very happy where she was and that I wasn’t to worry about her. The sun started setting and Jesus came out through that invisible door in the Tree. He took Denise’s hand and she kissed me goodbye. Jesus laid his hand on my shoulder and I was at peace. I got to say goodbye to Denise and I was filled with unexplainable peace. I woke the next morning and got ready for the day. The world looked a lot different to me. I missed Denise but I never grieved over her after that. She was the favored one because she got to be with Jesus and we all were left here. Cindy didn’t have that experience and I know it was tough on her. I have always wondered if she felt guilty that she was left and Denise was taken. I hope not because I couldn’t have survived life without Cindy. I am so thankful to God for leaving me with her. She is His grace in my life. She’s the strong one, the smart one, the person in our family that anchors all the rest of us. Thank you Lord for leaving her with us to comfort us and to remind us of how we should live in Christ Jesus. She taught me everything I know about generosity and compassion. She has saved me too many times to count.

I love The Shack because Young forced me to see the Trinity in a new light. (See my posting: “Does God Like Me?”). I want to know God as a kind Father, a Papa, that is fond of me and that wants me to enjoy Him. Those of us in this world who had fathers of anger, violence and that were distant know how hard it is to relate to a loving heavenly Father. This book helped me see God the Father in a new light. And for those of you who are a still a bit leery our resident theologian Big D has deemed the book theologically sound and scripturally faithful. So you can read it without any fear.

The question so many people ask when struggling with belief in God is “Why do bad things happen to innocent people?” In The Shack I learned a new question, “Why don’t more bad things happen to all of us in this fallen and broken world?” It’s God’s mercy every time we see a beautiful sunset, hold a newborn baby in our arms, see a bird fly or eat something delicious. It is God’s grace every time something good and wonderful happens to us. When we have a deep and personal relationship with the Trinity—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—the questions can fade and what we are left with is knowing Him and knowing Him is quite enough. Peace.

That was then...

That was then...

5 users Responded In This Post

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55. jamie said,
February 7th, 2009 at 3:48 pm

Ok…so I have been reading this over the past 2 hours…a few sentences then it’s NAPTIME! A paragraph then off to get Jack some “JUICE!!!” Then a few more, then off to change Jack’s “MOMMY I’m POOPY…” then a few more paragraphs and Kempis is screaming only to be swimming in what I would call a #4 on the scale of explosion diapers(#1 is it stays in the diaper, #2 means it gets on my hand. #3-gets on my hand and on his clothes and #4 is well… a bath.) which called for a bath and now I have just finished…I’m sure you know how wonderful I think you are by now-but I really do. I loved reading this, and I’m so glad you did read it and you enjoyed it. I love the picture of the three of you. I too, love the way it makes me think about the trinity. It is such a concept that our human minds do not grasp well and I love the way he describes them as constantly yielding to the other-always considering the other above themselves. You are such a gifted writer, Teri. I love your vulnerability and honesty in your work.

56. little momma said,
February 7th, 2009 at 4:02 pm

Plus I am extremely jealous of the sunbathing and napping part of your vacation.

58. mac said,
February 7th, 2009 at 9:56 pm

Great blog. Of course you know I’m a fan…of the book, of your blog, of white sand, and of theological soundness. I hadn’t thought about the bittersweet connection the book would have with your past. Thanks for the honest reflection. I think it is scary to think of God in a way that we haven’t thought of Him before. It makes us feel like we might not have all the answers, or even worse, might be the one still working in the field when the other one is taken. If God doesn’t fit the image we have in our head, will we know the secret password when we get to the door in the tree? My meditations on Galations 5 this week just reinforced–it is not the law. not our image of God. it is literally God. And His sheep will know his voice. Even when He has taken the form of a large black woman named Papa.

59. admin said,
February 8th, 2009 at 12:51 pm

Thanks Mac. It’s all about relationships, isn’t it? Is this maybe why folks in the US are starting to form house churches? Relationships are costly, messy and well, they cost a lot of time and energy. Sheep are flock animals; flocks are relational. Is there a connection there? Hmmmm.

60. big sister said,
February 8th, 2009 at 2:16 pm

WOW – I know and have always known that you are the most gifted writer. You really laid it out there and it can’t have been easy. You are the best sister – are you sure you aren’t the older one? You most certainly are the wisest one. Back in September, when Irene sent us The Shack and I asked you about it and whether or not I should read it – you said Jamie and Lance liked it and I thought, “maybe I should give it a go” – little did I know what an impact this would have in both of our lives. It most definitely messes w/my ‘religious’ side and touches on the ‘is it okay with God to have this type of abstract thinking’ while reading about the Trinity and how it is described in this book…Thank you for writing, for advising me and most of all – for being the best sister of whom I am most proud to share my life with! Hugs & Kisses – me

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