Category Archives: Opinion

Patty LaRoche: By the Grace of God

A man dies and goes to heaven where St. Peter meets him at the pearly gates. St. Peter says, “Here’s how it works. You need 100 points to make it into heaven. You tell me all the good things you’ve done, and I give you a certain number of points for each item, depending on how good it was. When you reach 100 points, you get in.”

“Okay,” the man says, “I was married to the same woman for 50 years and never cheated on her, even in my heart.”

“That’s wonderful,” says St. Peter. “That’s worth three points!”

“Three points?” he says. “Well, I attended church all my life and supported its ministry with my tithe and service.”

“Terrific!” says St. Peter. “That’s certainly worth a point.”

“One point? Golly. How about this: I started a soup kitchen in my city and worked in a shelter for homeless veterans.”

“Fantastic, that’s good for two more points,” he says.

“TWO POINTS!!” the man cries. “At this rate the only way I get into heaven is by the grace of God!”

“Come on in!”

Grace is one of the most taken-for-granted messages of scripture, yet there is nothing more life-changing than this fearsome force flowing from God’s heart to messes like us. It is offered to transform our lives, and once we grab hold of its treasures, we will never be the same. If ever there were an identity-changer, it is grace.

Pastor Bill Giovannetti wrote a powerful article on this truth. “People act out of who they are. If you want a man to love his wife better, you can teach him to communicate, suggest he

bring flowers, and offer ways to express affection in the daily routines of life. That’ll preach.

“But what if he hates himself? What if he has never overcome early abandonment issues? What if the voice of dysfunction keeps screaming he’s a failure, or if all the programming inside defines him as a loser? In that case, there are no ‘practical steps toward being a better husband’ that will work.”

Giovannetti continues with the answer: Man must understand that in God’s eyes, he is righteous, valued, beloved and accepted. Scripture proves that God lavishes him with grace and calls him righteous, “so he’s got nothing left to prove to that abusive, dead father who keeps hissing from his grave.” The gifted author prompts us to get involved. “Help him see how the Redeemer’s blood has set him free from every shackle slapped on him by his stoned-out mother or that bully who made school a living hell. Grace rehabs the identity first… and maybe, two months down the road he might actually say a kind word to his wife because he’s finally feeling better about himself, in Christ.”

We cannot work enough to impress God in an effort to earn points or negate our sins. Ephesians 1:6 advises us how to proceed. Let us praise God for his glorious grace, for the free gift he gave us in his dear Son!

It is a reminder of where we need to start…and end.

Patty LaRoche: Picked First

Do you remember the classroom spelling bee? The game Red Rover? Playground softball matches? For all three, captains were picked, and in front of the hopefuls desperate not to be last, they selected their teammates. Too many times that last one chosen was the same person, no matter the contest. He/she knew it was coming.

Public humiliation at its finest!

As a teacher, I knew that competition could be a fun motivator, but when I used it, I never picked the top student as captain. Those students who elected to sit in the back of the classroom, those with little-or- no eye contact, those whose clothes labeled them unpopular, were selected. The three of us would meet in the hall to choose the lineups, and the leaders were instructed that when we returned to the classroom and announced the teams, we would say the names in reverse order of how they were picked. Sometimes we would start in the middle, but we never began with the ones recognized as the best.

It’s no secret that everyone needs to matter. Rich or poor. Christian or atheist. Educated or uneducated. There are no exceptions. Being chosen validates us. Maybe that’s why the central focus of scripture is that God chose us. Did we deserve it? Definitely not! (With my past, I’d be lucky to stand on the sidelines and cheer.)

God sees things differently.

He is good at that.

In the Old Testament, Haggai the prophet is told by God to instruct two people, Zerubbabel, the governor’s son, and Joshua, the high priest’s son, to rebuild the Temple which their enemy destroyed 66 years before. There have been previous, paltry attempts at reconstruction, but work has stalled as the men become discouraged because their workmanship pales in comparison to Solomon’s original structure.

The warning from God is stern as He jolts them into action. Patty’s paraphrase: “You certainly don’t have a problem tiling and re-carpeting your own homes, but Mine looks like a tornado leveled it. Not cool.”

Just 23 days after Haggai’s message, the men get to work. God continues to instruct Haggai to tell Zerubbabel that devastation will befall the foreign lands of their enemies, but then affirms what He will do next. “On that day, I will take you, my servant Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, and I will make you like my signet ring, for I have chosen you.” Power-punched words to end this Old Testament book. “I. Have. Chosen. You.” Of all the Israelites, Zerubbabel was labeled a favorite.

We have the same opportunity, no matter what worldly designation we have been given.

If we are a Jesus-follower, we need to thank God (literally) that He looked down from His throne and, ignoring what the world has to say, offered grace to everyone, even those defined as a “last pick:” the teenager with the kinky hair and the crooked nose; the boy who can’t hit a baseball; the girl whose parents will abandon her; the murderer; you; and me.

God chooses the ones who will love Him back, repent of their sins and become new creations in Christ. But there’s more good news: In God’s kingdom, there are no last picks. We might be the outcast on everyone else’s list, but we all are first on His.

We. Are. Chosen.

But don’t shout “Hallelujah!” too soon. It doesn’t end there.

One question remains which we need to ask ourselves: “Have we chosen Him?”

Patty LaRoche: In God’s Image

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. Gen. 1:26,27 (ESV)

If you skimmed this passage and missed its point, here it is: we are created in God’s image. Think about that. We matter. Last week I shared about my visit with “Greg,” a sex trafficking expert with “Deliver Fund,” who described what happens to girls taken into bondage. It made my skin crawl. He said that there is NO community unaffected by this crime. Surely he wasn’t serious. Nevada? Fort Scott? Where everyone knows who’s dating whom, what kind of surgery they’ve had and if they go to church or not? That’s just nuts.

Apparently not, because, well…let’s face it—we might know the latest gossip, but we pay little attention to what goes on right around us. Remember Ariel Castro, the man who for ten years imprisoned three women in his boarded-up, Cleveland, Ohio, home? Not one neighbor took the time to put the clues together that something was amiss…and there were plenty.

I asked Greg what people like me can do to help. Most importantly, he said, we need to pray for eyes to see. Greg knows that not everyone can be involved to the extent he is, but there are too many who just want to “scratch-their-action-guy-itch.” They volunteer to help but aren’t

committed. Fewer still want to take the time to be on the lookout for warning signs. Prime culprits are seedy motels with “a lookout” standing outside and convenience stores where men accompany young girls who make little eye contact and refuse to engage in conversation.

Greg wasn’t talking about me. Ask my husband. I live to catch a criminal. Once, after reading of the plane passenger who tried to light his shoe on fire, I alerted airport authorities to a man who had a cord hanging from the hem of his pants. It turned out to be part of his phone. (Or so I was told…um-hum.) Every time I see an adult carrying a screaming child, I immediately think kidnapping. I’m always on the lookout to save someone. It drives Dave crazy.

So, let’s say you aren’t as brave/foolish as I. There’s another way you can help. Yesterday I received an email from a relative. In lieu of a birthday gift, she asked for donations to Operation Underground Railroad, a foundation that rescues and rehabilitates kidnapped children. It is one of many, and all of them need financial support.

David Batstone, the founder of The Not For Sale Campaign, got involved when he found out that the staff at one of his favorite Indian restaurants in San Francisco were almost all slaves. This was discovered when one of the workers went home to find her roommate very ill.  Not knowing what to do, she called her landlord, the owner of the restaurant.  He arrived, then refused to call for help, and instead rolled the sick, unconscious girl in a carpet and loaded her into his van. Then he tried to force the first girl into the van.  A brave woman heard the girl’s screams and called the police.  It turned out that almost all the staff in the man’s several restaurants had been illegally trafficked from India, owed a “debt” to their “employer” for their transportation to America, and were paid minimal wages, which did not cover exorbitant rents that the owner charged for the slum-like apartments in which they lived.

The woman who called the police paid attention. As did David.

We need to do likewise. I’m not saying we turn into peeping toms who roam our neighborhoods with binoculars (although that would be a deterrent). Sex trafficking involves the dehumanization of life. It’s a slap in God’s face, the same God who made us in His image. To really make a difference we must open our eyes…and our hearts…and maybe even our wallets.

Patty LaRoche: Valuing Every Life

“If you are a victim of human trafficking, call this number.” So read this sign on every bathroom stall in the Las Vegas Airport. Just a few hours before, Dave and I had driven “Greg” to the airport in Kansas City. He had been in Fort Scott for a sex-trafficking meeting, and since we were flying to Vegas for our granddaughter’s graduation, we were able to give him a ride.

Greg is considered one of the brightest minds in the business. As a former member of the CIA, he had become interested in trafficking when he realized that the government was not doing enough. He now heads a non-profit foundation to aid in the felons’ capture.

I learned much. I learned that the problem is epidemic, with the United States at the forefront. I learned how the traffickers work. Greg referred to it as the “Romeo Event.” A young girl—typically with an absentee father and struggling mother—links up online with someone who promises to care for her. Within a few weeks a meeting is scheduled. The man entices the teen to return to his house/motel with him, and there he brutally beats her, rapes her and injects her with heroin. Within 48 hours she is addicted.

If she refuses to cooperate, the heroin is withheld. Greg said the girls he has interviewed tell him that coming down from the drug feels like every bone in their body is breaking. They beg for more. They are now the trafficker’s slave.

What surprised me was that 60 percent of the traffickers are women, “look-outs” at motels and houses where the girls are kept. Starting as trafficked women, they work their way up the chain of demand to become madams of the victims. A much easier proposition.

Greg cited a case in which four girls were rescued after being found trapped in dog cages in a motel room. A fifth girl was dead. The offender got 40 years. Not 40 years in a dog cage, which I said was what he deserved. Greg reminded me that Jesus changed the system of justice even though, he agreed, an eye for an eye, Old Testament style, seems more appropriate. Greg explained that he is involved in the computer side of catching the criminal and not the face-to-face encounters, because he doesn’t know if he is capable of that kind of forgiveness. I get that.

We discussed forgiveness and how hard (impossible) that is with traffickers. Greg said, “When someone is convicted of killing innocent people because he was driving drunk, everyone knows he didn’t set out to do that. But when men intentionally kidnap, beat, rape, inject with drugs and traffic, they are evil beyond description.”

As a nation, we have moved away from God, and when that happens, people become of little value. We teach children they originated as sludge. We abort our babies. We ignore the homeless man on the corner or the scantily clad woman on the street. We shun our Muslim neighbors. We turn over police cars while defending our right to protest. We attempt to assassinate our leaders as they practice for a charity baseball game.

Or we simply refuse to get involved. Greg said that if people just opened their eyes, much of the trafficking would come to a halt.

Next week I will share some practical ways we can make a difference.

LaRoche: Fighting the Enemy

Dave hasn’t smiled this much since his first child was born.

The gun he ordered from Amazon arrived a few minutes ago. He is sitting on the edge of our living room couch admiring it a few inches at a time, fawning at his “shoot-‘em- up” possibilities.

“Wanna look at it?” he asks.

“I think I am,” I respond.

“It looks real, don’t you think?”

“I figured it was,” I answer.

“Well, it’s a pellet gun.”

“Aha,” I say, knowing it could be a machine gun and I wouldn’t know the difference.

“It’s to kill.”

Hopefully not me, I say silently. Aloud, I repeat, “Aha.”

There is no point in discussing this any further with my husband. He is talking to himself as he reads the directions to attach his “scope” and “bi-pod.”

I watch as he points his weapon at the television and then continues his personal conversation: “This isn’t going to work.” He feels a need to explain. “See these legs? They get out of the way to put it into a scabbard.” Piece by piece, Dave describes every component of his new treasure. I feign interest.

“They put straps on it so when I’m belly-crawling to get to the animals they won’t see me. I’ll have to wait until the wind is right so they can’t smell me.”

Apparently Rambo (aka my husband) isn’t satisfied with the varmint repellent I recently purchased and is declaring war on whatever mammal is using our dock as his/her porta-potty.

“Look out, animals!” he says, (Yes, he says that!) as he finds a hidden compartment under the gun’s belly for the Allen wrenches which come with his weapon. Something tells me I might need to sleep elsewhere tonight. My husband’s new “baby” will be taking my place in bed.

Dave is going to great lengths to rid our property of pests. He has hired someone to net the underside of our dock roof so birds cannot nest in the rafters and mess in our boat. After one of our son’s visiting Wounded Warrior soldiers developed Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever because of a tick bite—and then Dave found one on his back—a landscaper was paid to spray our yard. Hours of research have gone into the best ways to get rid of annoying creatures, and when a young couple we know recently had to abandon their rental home because of bed bugs, Dave’s intentions were reinforced.

As disgusting as I find these destructive varmints, there are others that deserve even more attention. John 10:10 warns us about one in particular. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I (Jesus) have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. Satan prowls the world to find those who take no precautions against his methods. One can read the book of Exodus to realize that impatience, complaining and anger are the invasive species in the Israelites’ march to the Promised Land that prevent them from getting there. Perhaps those aren’t the sins with which you or I wrestle, but like every sin that has the potential to proliferate and destroy, we need to be armed against sin’s danger and ready to do battle against its threat.

“Mess with the bull, you’ll get the horn.” And with those words, Dave extends his gun’s legs, positions it on the floor and aims it at the front door.

Now if that won’t prevent unwanted pests from entering, I don’t know what will.

If only it were that easy to get rid of sin.

Patty LaRoche: Everybody, Somebody, Anybody and Nobody

Once upon a time

There were four men named

Everybody, Somebody, Anybody, and Nobody.

There was an important job to be done

And Everybody was asked to do it.

But Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it.

Anybody could have done it.

But Nobody did it.

Somebody got angry about it

Because it was Everybody’s job.

Everybody thought that Anybody could do it

And Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn’t do it.

It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody

And Nobody did the job

“That Anybody could have done in the first place.” Author: anonymous

When my husband, Dave, coached baseball in Brooklyn, N.Y., he found himself working with a few youngsters who had found ways around performing their duties. One such person, nicknamed “Eddie Haskell” after the troublemaker in the “Leave It To Beaver” sitcom, was notorious for expecting someone else to do his job.

Let me give you some context. In pre-game practice, it is expected that yesterday’s pitcher is “on the bucket.” That means that during batting practice that pitcher stands behind a screen at second base. When balls are hit to the outfield, those players throw the ball to the “bucket guy,” who fills the bucket. When the batting practice pitcher gets low on balls, the bucket guy refills his basket. On Eddie’s assigned day, he was M.I.A. and another pitcher was doing his job…until the end of practice, that is, when he sauntered out of the clubhouse. Dave asked where he had been. Eddie appeared surprised that Dave noticed. “Doing my weight work” was not the answer Dave hoped for. In his opinion, everyone was to do more than expected, never less.

Ephesians 6:5-8 makes that clear: Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but like slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free.

Any work we do should be done with excellence, no matter if we are being watched or not. Rick Warren echoes this idea in “The Purpose Driven Life” when he writes, “Work becomes worship when you dedicate it to God and perform it with an awareness of his presence.” Mowing the lawn. Driving a semi. Teaching a class. Cleaning a toilet. Reading to a child. Being on the bucket.

No one respects the person who works only when the boss is watching. The day after Eddie failed to do his job, Dave called all the pitchers together before the game and told them they all needed to thank Eddie. “Eddie somehow missed the bucket yesterday, so he has volunteered to be on it for the next three days.” The players applauded and cheered.

Well, except for Eddie, that is.

Patty LaRoche: Losing Privileges

I am befuddled by parents who provide their children with all the benefits they went without in order to make sure their kids don’t. The iPhone 7. Nike’s $150 tennies. A 2017 monster truck. The parenting motto is simple: “You want it? You get it.”

Freelance writer Gina Luker blogged about detoxing her entitled teenage daughter after realizing she (Gina) had created an unsatisfied monster. Concert tickets with backstage passes were the norm, as was a closetful of designer clothes…and increasing disrespect toward her parents. When enough became enough, Gina did the unthinkable: she stripped her daughter of all privileges.

In Gina’s words, “We took away every single thing she owned. Every. Tiny. Thing.

We put a lock on her room and her ‘bed’ was the couch. We took away makeup and hair supplies. We took away her electronics – her phone, her computer, television even our landline. We took away her car. We took away all visitation from friends – only immediate family. We took away any privileges she had. Period. We left her with: “A pillow and blanket – which had to be put away as soon as she woke up.

A laundry basket with the following of my choosing: three pairs of jeans, three shirts, one jacket, three sets of undergarments, two sets of pajamas, one pair of tennis shoes and one pair of boots (our lock down happened in the winter.) One hair brush and one pony tail holder. The bare essentials of hygiene (deodorant, shampoo, toothpaste, etc.) That’s it.”

Easy? (I can’t even imagine!) Temper tantrums rivaled any two-year old’s, yet Gina persisted. Within two weeks she saw a difference. To avoid conversing with her mean mother, the teen cleaned…everything. Then she worked a puzzle.

Over the next four months as a more appreciative attitude developed, privileges slowly were returned.

Drastic measures had led to drastic results. Sometimes it’s the only solution.

In my quiet time, I have been studying the Old Testament book of the prophet Zephaniah. God is ticked. The people of Judah have added idols to their worship protocol, and God, who loves them enough to get their attention, is about to strip them of everything they value. Zephaniah begs them to repent and not take things for granted. In the end, most remain stubborn and refuse to take God seriously. Soon the Judah-ites are carted off by the Babylonians, where they live in exile for 70 years. Only then did they understand from where their blessings came.

Gina was lucky. Her daughter learned her lesson before anything more drastic had to happen. God had to be pleased. Perhaps it’s a message all parents need to heed.

Patty LaRoche: Given the Choice

On my recent girlfriend reunion at Hilton Head, Diana, our handicapped friend, was accompanied by her two adult daughters, their friend Jenny and her two daughters: Alice, five, and Hazel, six weeks. We six “grandmothers” doted on the two little girls, marveling at Jenny’s mothering skills, especially since she had been on her own since she was 15. Parenting had not been modeled to this young woman.

On our third day, Diana rode her motorized scooter to the girls’ suite. She returned to tell us that Alice was in “time out,” but Jenny let Diana visit with the youngster after sharing that Alice had not obeyed. Apparently Alice almost had been hit by a golf cart that ferried customers along the boardwalk on which they were walking. Alice had ignored her mother’s instructions to stay to the right.

Diana asked Alice to explain why she was in trouble. Repeatedly jabbing her index finger at her head, she said, “I sometimes don’t listen.” After a short pause she added, “It’s just really hard, you know.”

We six could relate. With months since our last get together, most of the time there were two or three conversations at the same time. Alice was right. Listening is hard.

Another incident occurred the next evening when youngsters were given glow-in-the-dark necklaces. The following day at the pool, Alice loaned hers to her playmate who did not return it. The next day, Alice’s new friend was wearing the necklace. When Alice said that she wanted it back, the young girl replied that Alice had given it to her. A girl squabble ensued with the other mother insisting she give Alice back her necklace.

Once Alice placed it around her neck, Jenny took her aside. “Don’t you think it would be nice for you to give it back? We can get you another necklace.”

“No, I don’t think so,” Alice answered firmly.

Jenny continued. “Well, I want you to sit here and think about what you just said. I will be back to talk to you when you have time to reconsider what you should do.”

To no avail. Alice insisted it was her necklace, so she should not give it back.

Before walking away, Jenny gently responded, “I want you to know that was not the answer I had hoped you would give.”

We grandmothers were in awe and admitted the outcome for our children would have been far less loving. Jenny was teaching Godly principles. Without getting upset or raising her voice, she gave her daughter choices, with clear direction that what Alice had decided was not the best option.

God does the same for us. He gives us choices. We either obey or not. There is no middle ground to His instructions. Love Him above all else. Love our neighbor as ourselves. Don’t lie, covet, dishonor parents, or steal. Make Jesus the Lord of our lives.

It is up to us to decide if we will listen to His instructions, but should our choice be not to obey, God’s advice probably would be no different than Jenny’s: “That is not the answer I had hoped you would give.”

If that doesn’t help us change our minds, I don’t know what will.

Patty LaRoche: Warning Signs

While my sun-lover girlfriends headed off to the South Carolina beach, I, forbidden by my dermatologist to suntan, strolled into the woods for a walk. The isolated path was canopied by trees, and with a light breeze, I would walk for a couple of hours. You can imagine my surprise—actually, no you can’t—when I rounded a corner and was greeted by this sign: “Do Not Feed the Alligators.” Yes, ALLIGATORS! As in “flesh-eating reptiles.” With no intention of becoming an alligator appetizer, my saunter turned into a U-turn sprint.

For the past eleven years, my five college sorority friends and I have traveled together. This year, the alligator year, we went to a resort in Hilton Head—one which caters to physical disabilities because Diana’s handicap has made our usual, annual reunion to Mexico too difficult to navigate.

Diana is an example of one who ignored initial warnings that her medication (doctor-prescribed) was harmful. Irreparable damage resulted. Her legs function only for a few, painful steps with a walker, and she needs constant periods of rest for her swollen feet.

Diana is not the only friend who paid no attention to warning signs. Two months ago, Frank, a friend in Mexico, mentioned several times to his wife that he was having severe headaches. When she tried to talk him into returning to their home in Canada so he could be seen by his doctor, Frank refused. I was there the night he collapsed. The stroke he suffered has left him completely disabled.

We all have had our fair share of warning signs, and the older I get, the more I take them—well, most of them—seriously. A mole with irregular margins. Bruises on a child at Walmart. A friend who talks too much. Ministry requests outside my area of expertise. And certainly, “Do Not Feed the Alligators.” Sometimes, however, I ignore the most important ones: the ones that deal with temptation.

The Bible is full of stories in which warnings went unheeded. Take Samson, for example, the Nazarite who had taken a vow never to cut his hair (which controlled his unparalleled strength). You probably know the story. If not, please read it in Judges 13-16.

What started as a simple look turned to lust as Samson dallied with Delilah, a Philistine woman and enemy of Israel. Goaded by Delilah to reveal the source of his strength, Samson ultimately shared his secret; as a result, Delilah trimmed his tresses, and Samson was captured, blinded and forced to grind grain for his enemies. While in prison his hair grew, and along with that, his strength returned. He died while destroying the temple of the Philistine god, Dagon, killing thousands of Philistines in the process.

Samson ignored sign after sign, never changing course, until his death. He had judged Israel for 20 years and on many occasions had demonstrated his faith in God, but once he turned away from what he knew to be right, his downfall was imminent. I consider it a solemn warning. The slippery slope into a spiritual landslide begins gradually.

Have you been there? I have. By dismissing warning signs, I feed my temptation. Think about it. Every addiction started with “One.” One cigarette. One profane word. One “little white lie.” One drink. One juicy piece of gossip. Or, like Samson, One “look.” Should we ignore the Holy Spirit’s check on our spirit, it becomes much easier to nurture the sin and pull away from God.

We’d be better off feeding an alligator.

Patty LaRoche: Dining with the Dirty

Charlie Brown was upset his dirty friend Pig-pen received the same party invitation he did and told him so. “Good grief! You didn’t even change clothes! You’re not going to Violet’s birthday party looking like that?!!”

Pig-pen looked down at himself and asked, “What’s wrong?”

Charlie Brown threw his hands in the air and said, “What’s wrong?! You’re a mess, that’s what’s wrong!! They won’t even let you in the house, Pig-pen! They’ll bar you at the door!”

Pig-pen said, “Oh, I don’t think so…¨

Charlie Brown raised his voice: “Of course, they will! You won’t be welcome at all! Your appearance will be insulting.”

Before Charlie Brown could finish his words, the door swung opened and there stood

Violet. “Well! Pig-pen! Come on in! How nice to see you! How nice of you to come.”

From behind his back Pig-pen brought out a gift and presented it to Violet who gushed, “Oh, thank you! You shouldn’t have!”

As Violet held the door open, Pig-pen turned around, closed his eyes, thumbed his nose at Charlie Brown and declared, “The present was clean!”

Seeing past unloveliness is not easy, except, of course, when we want others to see past our unloveliness. The Bible gives us the biography of a tax collector named Levi. You might know him as Matthew, as in the “Matthew, Mark, Luke and John” quartet. Few were as hated as tax collectors. After all, they were the ones who bid on districts to own the rights to tax the people as they saw fit. The government expected “X” amount each year, and any “profit” went to the collector. Many were corrupt, but more importantly, the Jews despised them because they were collecting taxes for the Romans, the chief oppressors to Israel. Tax collectors were therefore considered as traitors and sinners, no different than prostitutes, gamblers and thieves.

Along comes Jesus. He, like Violet, sees not the dirt. He sees the present, the someone who matters, the someone who needs to know him, and he encourages Levi with two words: “Follow me.” Not as easy as it sounds. Levi probably makes a good living. To walk away from his secure job means someone else will pounce on his position, and chances are he never will get it back. And for what? To follow a man who noticed him.

Hidden in these scriptures are some real nuggets. Levi immediately throws a party (my kind of guy!) and invites his friends to meet Jesus. Matthew and Mark record that the guests at his banquet were other tax collectors and sinners. Rejects hanging with rejects. Levi wants them to meet the one he has chosen to follow. His attitude is not one of haughtiness; it is of compassion, just as Violet’s was…just as ours should be. But is it? Like Levi, “Come meet the one I’ve met” should be our first priority.

But there’s another nugget here. Jesus came to the party! To a banquet filled with imperfect sinners. Get that? Jesus chooses to hang with the riff-raff. He doesn’t first sit down with Levi and lecture him on the spiritual laws of salvation. Levi doesn’t have to meet Jesus’ standards as a first-step towards their friendship. Jesus accepts him and his friends as they are, in spite of how they appear to others. Jesus sees past the unloveliness.

The people just like Pig-pen.

The people just like Charlie Brown.

The people just like you and me.

Patty LaRoche: A Tongue that Glorifies God

Talking to your grandchildren has to be one of the sweetest blessings on earth. This conversation? Not so much. My text to Logan, my college-student grandson, began with this: “Hi Logan. I’ve been thinking about you. How are things going?”

Within a few seconds, he responded: “Who tf is this?”

“Tf”? “TF”? Perhaps it was a typo. Yes, that’s it, and an embarrassing one at that. Cell phones are known to do that. An apology would be forthcoming. “Mammy,” I answered.

Within seconds I received his answer: “Whay T”

Perhaps his fingers were off by one key. I checked. They would have to be off by an entire keyboard for this to make sense. Maybe a friend had his phone. But why would he pick friends like this? My mind splattered into worry-overload. There was only one explanation. He’s on drugs. Oh, dear Lord!!! This sweet, Christian boy/man had succumbed to the temptation of the Colorado (i.e., marijuana is legal) state and was stupiding his brain cells.

I texted, “What???” and immediately received his answer: “Whats (sic) your name?”

He was too stoned to recognize his own grandmother. I needed a Xanax.

“Okay. Is this Logan Green?” my fingers groaned.

Answer: “no its not who tf is this this is logan Haughton.” (sic)

“Lord, have mercy,” I said aloud. I read this not a few times, and, having no clue who “logan Haughton” is, answered: “I am Logan Green’s grandmother. So sorry I bothered you. Obviously this is a wrong number because my grandson would never use tf.” Then, re-reading my critical, self-righteous remark, added, “God bless you.”

His answer was a shocker: “Its ok I was confused for a sec God bless you to.” (sic)

This conversation was not over. Now it was my turn. “You have made me curious. I have no idea how your number ended up in my phone book, but I appreciate your blessing. Do you normally answer with a “tf” response?”

“No,” he texted, “im (sic) a son of god! I was just really scared kida (sic) just because I didn’t know who was texting me”

“So you’re a Christian?”

“Yes.”

Now it was this grandmother’s turn to share some of her ageless wisdom. “Oh, I am so glad to hear that. Please know that everything you say and write needs to be a reflection of your love for the One who paid a great price for your (and my) sins. Never forget that.”

Logan’s reply? “Ok thank u for sharing that”…to which I responded, “I will pray for you, Logan Haughton, for the rest of your life.”

Our texts ended with Logan writing, “Thank you soo much.”

Once I made the correction in my contact list, I had a sweet text conversation with my real grandson, Logan Green.

He has no idea how close I came to jumping on a plane to Colorado to smack him upside his head.

Patty LaRoche: Drawing the Line

“Don’t touch each other. Don’t even think of touching each other.”

We had just pulled out of the church parking lot and these were threatening words to my sons, Jeff and Adam, ages 4 and 3 years respectively, who were engaged in a finger battle in the back seat of the car. They creepy-crawled their fingers to an imaginary line separating them. And then they attacked. What started with fingers ended up in a slug fest.

I pulled the car over to the side of the freeway, got out of my seat and walked around the car to the side where Adam was sitting. Reaching across Adam, I drew an imaginary line between the two boys. It came with a warning: “Do NOT even think about crossing this line. If you do, you will be spanked.”

Returning to my driver’s seat, I put on my blinker and pulled onto the California freeway, tilting my rearview mirror and craning my neck to see what would happen next.

Jeff started. His index and middle finger wormed their way to the “middle line.” Adam did the same from his side. My sons were within one-quarter inch of each other, a standoff of fingers, ready to strike.

And then it happened. Jeff crossed the “line” and attacked Adam’s fingers, twisting them into a knot. Adam wailed.

I pulled off the freeway, unbuckled Jeff’s seat belt and spanked him. Today I would be facing jail time. The point is, once the words were out of my mouth, I needed to follow through. If not, all future threats from me would become no more than pointless ramblings. It was one of the few things in parenting I tried to do God’s way. Ecclesiastes 5:5 warns us: “It is better to say nothing than to make a promise and not keep it.”

Our government recently saw the devastating consequences of meaningless words.

In 2013 Bashar Al-Assad, President of Syria, used chemical warfare against his citizens. He had been warned that “crossing that red line by using chemical warfare would bring about catastrophic consequences.” The difference between the warning Jeff and Adam received and

Assad’s warning was that I meant it. President Obama did not.

A few weeks ago, Syria’s dictator dared us again. To him, our “red line” was an idle threat. But this time, it wasn’t. After Assad used chemical weapons on innocent children, President Trump ordered an attack on two of the Syrian chemical airfield locations.

I know that what I did on that California freeway pales in comparison to what President Trump did, but empty words are epidemic in this generation. How many times do we hear parents threaten—even using the “1-2- 3” countdown—and then do nothing? Friends share the juicy news they promised they wouldn’t. Commitments to volunteer at church are cancelled for an invitation to golf or a shopping spree.

Too many times, promises aren’t followed and threats are hollow. Matthew 5:37 gives us Jesus’ perspective on such words: “Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” There are no pinky promises, no crossing our fingers, no I swears, no “Just kidding” and no crossing over on the line on the seat.

You say it? You mean it.

End of discussion.