Inspired by a true story
Joe had been asleep, but a soft, pitiful voice was crying near him. He stirred and sat up. His fourteen-year-old daughter was huddled in a ball next to his bed. “Honey? What is it? What’s wrong?”
Joe leaned over and put his arm around her frame. “Oh Baby, I forgive you, and I love you.”
By this time, Susan was awake and asking, “Joe? Mary? What’s wrong?”
“Honey? Wake the kids; we need to have a family meeting.”
Two sleepy teenage boys stumbled down the stairs and made their way to the living room. “What is it, Dad?” asked Tom.
“Mary is in trouble. She needs our help.”
“It’s three in the morning!” a voice grumbled over the stairwell. “This better be important.”
“Shut up, Jeff!” Tom responded. “It’s Mary, she needs help.”
Suddenly in a better mood, Jeff suppressed a yawn and presented himself for duty. Susan handed Joe a cup of coffee and sat down by the fireplace, where she always sat when watching TV. Mary was sitting on the fireplace, her head bowed as if in prayer, Susan was stroking her hair. “Boys, Mary is pregnant. She just told us.”
“What?” Tom asked.
“Why? Was it that Ian McDaniels? Why, I’ll…”
“Jeff, that’s enough.” One word from his father immediately silenced the outburst. “Mary, tell us what happened.” For the first time, he realized that she was weeping beyond control. He pulled some tissue from a box, and Susan began to dab at her tears.
“Oh Daddy, I’m so scared, I don’t know what to do.”
“It’s okay, Mariposa,” his nickname for her, meaning butterfly, “We still love you. Now, tell us what happened. Are you hurt?” He initially thought of rape.
“No, Daddy…yes, Daddy…I mean, I don’t know…” more tears. Susan dutifully ministered to her daughter.
"Who was it, Mary?" Jeff softly demanded, his impulsive anger pushed back by compassion. "It was it Ian?"
"Yes. But don't hurt him, Jeff. It was an accident."
Jeff swallowed hard, but remained silent. He didn't believe in accidents and he dearly loved his sister. Jeff would willingly go to war to protect her honor and now he was faced with that reality.
"It was an accident. We didn't mean to..."
"Mary? Are you sure? How do you know?"
She reached into her pajama pocket and pulled out of pregnancy test. "See, Mom? A blue line. I just checked about an hour ago.” She began to cry again. “Momma? What am I going to do?"
"We're going to trust God, Mary. It's the only thing we can do."
Joe sighed deeply. "Well, unfortunately, there will be consequences that we must live with."
An hour later, the kids, including Mary, were back in bed. Joe and Susie kissed Mary on the forehead and prayed that God would give them rest and then made their way back downstairs. Joe stood reluctantly close to his gun cabinet.
"Joe? I don't know what you are thinking, but stop and now. You can't go shoot that boy."
He only nodded and turned to embrace Susan. "How are you, honey? Are you okay?" Susan, suddenly overwhelmed, collapsed into his arms and cried. Joe held her until she stopped and said, "It will be okay."
"No it won't. Our daughter's pregnant. And it's my fault."
"Yes. I've been meaning to have another talk with Mary for a while. It's been on my heart. I should have, only... I just... didn't. I never made time for her."
"Nonsense. You have talked to Mary. When she started... cycling. You talk to her then."
"That was two years ago. I should've talked to her once a month."
"But you didn't. It's in the past and we can't change it. Why don't you go back to bed? It's almost time for Buck to open the prayer room at church. I'll call him and tell him that I'm not coming in today. I need to spend time with my family."
Susan made her way to the bedroom and Joe stepped onto the porch. It was a dark night, but the stars were visible in patches of clouds. He stood quiet for a moment and listen to the still air for a movement. Nothing. Only him and his Beagle, Bonnie. Bonnie silently stole through the night and waited until her master called her over, which he did. She licked his hands while he softly rubbed her ears. After a moment, he stood and walked out into the darkness, Bonnie at his heels. He had insisted on moving his family to the country when Tom was only three. Not that Abilene, Texas is an enormous city, but he wanted to raise his family as stress free as possible. He left his position as bank president and took the pastorate at a small country church near Justice, Texas. He had been the senior pastor there for 15 years. His was a small church, 200 members in total, but he loved his congregation and they loved him. Seldom is a pastor blessed with such a loving group of people.
Now he was faced with the hardest trial of his career, with his own daughter his most needy parishioner. What would he do? He had once counseled a fellow pastor to step down from his pulpit while repairing his family. The man's wife was caught in adultery and his house was out of order. Was his own house now out of order? Would he become required of God to step down as pastor and restore his family?
His daughter had not been in open rebellion. Her incident had not been planned. According to Mary, she just made the wrong decision at the wrong time. Mary was never a strong girl. She had always considered the opinion of her friends and gave them too much weight. She wanted to please everyone and it hurt only her. Well, now it was hurting everyone. She was very concerned about her clothes, always scared of being out of style. She feared rejection and it ruled her live. As her father, he could not fix her insecurities, but he never stopped trying. He continually petitioned God to strengthen her and heal her fears, which never seemed to improve. He loved his daughter and only wanted the best for her.
As he watched the stars sparkling in the night, abortion never entered his mind. It was not an option and he would not even consider it. Already his daughter had sinned. A "nice and neat abortion" would only make matters worse. Not to mention the precious life of the baby growing within her womb. The baby? No one had mentioned the baby to him. He only heard the words, "I'm pregnant." But now he realized that a baby was on the way. His precious little girl was going to be a mother. That would make him a... grandfather. He suddenly felt very weak. His little Mariposa, his little baby girl, was now a mother. She wasn't going to be a mother. She was a mother. For the baby was alive inside of her now. He was not ready for this.
Anger suddenly flooded over him like a hot gust of wind on the dry summer day. That Ian McDaniels... why, he should... that little jerk violated his daughter, and Joe felt like in ending the boy’s life. He imagined the boy’s faced while his own hands choke the life out of...
Joe suddenly came back to himself. Ian was only a boy. He was 14 also, just like Mary. Had Ian been an adult, then he might have taken a different approach, but Ian was only a boy, a boy who didn't go to church and whose parents had marital problems. He was a good boy and had a good heart. Ian wanted to go to church, but his dad worked on Sundays and his mom never found time to take him. They often gave him a ride to church on Sundays, but that only started a few months ago. Now Ian was a father, and he and Mary were about to have a baby.
Joe fell down to his knees and looked up at the stars. Bonnie wiggling around him, but he buried his face into his hands and wept before God. "Oh, Father, thank You for giving me such a wonderful gift in Mary. She's the light of my life and a treasure that I guard with my entire being. Thank You for giving me such precious children. Now, Father, she is hurting, and she is scared. Heck, so am I. This situation is bigger than we are and we need You. We need Your comfort and strength and we needYour wisdom. Please help us. Please tell me what You have planned, so that... so that...” his voice tailed off and he wept. “Oh God, I don't even know what to pray. Oh Lord, what are You doing in this situation?"
Bonnie settled down in front of him and a cool breeze carried the scent of rain. Peace began to settle into his heart. Then he heard a gentle whisper within his spirit. "Sometimes it takes a tragedy to end a tragedy."
He felt a warm hand on his shoulder and looked up. Susan had missed him and came looking for him. She didn't say a word; she simply knelt down beside him in the grass and rubbed Bonnie's stomach. Bonnie quietly licked her lips and kicked her leg while Susan showed her attention.
No one moved, but they continued to enjoy the peaceful moment. Lightning arched across the sky several miles away, along the horizon. Above them, they could still see the stars through a break in the clouds. For what seemed an eternity, they sat on the grass and watched the lightning. Then Bonnie perked up and they turned to see Mary behind them. Joe reached out to her and she collapse into his arms. "Daddy, I'm so sorry."
Joe stroked her hair and whispered, "It’s going to be Okay, Sweetheart. My Mariposa will fly again someday." He continued to hold her and she whispered, barely audible, "I'm so ashamed."
"I know, Sweetheart. What you need to do to be right with God?"
She sat up. "I have repented, and have already as God to forgive me. "
"Then what you need to do to be right with your friends and family again?"
"I need to tell everyone and ask them to forgive me."
"Do you want to do that on Sunday?"
"Alright. I will get Buck to preach on Sunday, so that I can sit with you. Okay?"
"Mary? Have you told Ian yet?"
"I couldn't wait. I just called him. I woke him up and his parents, too."
"Do you feel any better?"
"Sort of. I mean, I'm glad that you know. I was so scared to tell you. I didn't know what you would do and I didn't want you hate me."
"Oh Baby, you're my Mariposa, I can never hate you. Honestly, I'm disappointed, but I still love you, no matter what you do. You'll always be my little girl."
"Ian is scared. He thinks you want to kill him."
"Well, I don't think that will be necessary."
"Look," Susan interjected. "It looks like the storm is going east. I can see the sun rising from behind the clouds."
Joe looked around “What do you say we go and get some breakfast? Truck Town should be open, and they have homemade gravy. What you say?"
The next day, and Joe was staring at his phone. He was stalling and he knew it. This would be the hardest phone call he had ever made. He sighed and picked up the receiver and punched in the numbers. "Hello? Mr. McDaniels? This is Joe Dodge. Do you have a moment? I think we should get together to see what we need to do to help our kids get through this. What you say? Yes, this evening will be great. No, please don't plan supper... well, okay, if you insist. Seven will be fine. Thank you, Mr. McDaniels,... Okay, Denver, it is... yes, thank you Denver, we will see you a little while. Goodbye."
Susan peeked around the corner. "How did it go?"
"Oh, as well as expected. He seemed relieved that I called. Actually, he was probably relieved that I wasn't yelling. They invited us for supper."
The meeting was awkward, but Denver McDaniels ushered them into his home and called out, "April, Ian, the Dodgers are here."
Joe smiled at Susan, but said nothing and never tried to correct him. Dodger was close to Dodge. Close enough. No need to muddy the water over a small matter.
"Well, Joe. I know that we met before, but I don't really know you. Let's step out on the patio so that we can check on my steaks. We can talk and get acquainted out there."
Joe nodded and glanced over at Mary, who was staring at Ian across the room. She appeared frightened, but not as much as Ian. Joe walked up to Ian and held out his hand. "Hello, Ian. How are you?" Ian nodded, and stared at the floor.
Denver motion to Ian. "Come on outside, son. You can join the men and leave the women to themselves."
Once outside, Denver apologized profusely. "I'm so sorry, Joe. I don't know what got into them. I realize that an apology is pretty weak right now."
"Well, Denver, I must admit, my first reaction was to get angry. But, that won't change anything, will it?" He looked at Ian. "Son? I know this is hard for you. It's hard for us, too. Don't worry, I'm not going to choke you. I expect that you are already in enough pain as it is. Just understand that I forgive you and I'm ready to help find a solution."
He looked up at him. "I'm real sorry, Mr. Dodge. I never meant to... well, I didn't... I mean, I'm sorry."
Joe said, "Ian, God forgave gave me for an entire lifetime of sin. I would be a hypocrite if I didn't forgive you, too. Well, let's look at those steaks..."
At the table, idle chatter dominated their meal. After the plates were cleared and coffee served, Denver cleared his throat, "I'm not a religious man. I never have been. I'm not making excuses, but it's true. And I have made my share of mistakes. But I feel that it would be wrong if I didn't tell my son to belly up to the bar and stand responsible for his actions, with your permission, of course."
Joe cleared his throat. "Well, if you're proposing marriage, I'm not sure that it is a good idea. Neither of them is mature enough to sustain a marriage, especially under such circumstances. It will only make matters worse."
"Well, if you won't let them get married, then what will happen?"
"You mean between Mary and Ian?"
"Yes. Look, I'm old-fashioned. If you don't want the kids to date, I will respect that."
Joe looked uncomfortably at Susan, then at Mary, and then at Ian. He didn't know what he wanted. Their standing house rule was no dating until 16. However, their circumstances obviously demanded a revision. Technically, Mary and Ian weren't even dating; at least Joe didn't think so. "Truthfully, I don't know... Mary, have you and Ian talk about this?"
Ian had been tinkering with a spoon. He placed it next to his cream filled coffee cup and summoned more strength than he had available. "Sir? Mr. Dodge? I know that we made a mess of things, but I love her... your daughter... I mean, Mary. I don't want to lose her."
Joe sat silent for a minute. "Mary?"
"Yes, Daddy?" She didn’t look up. Under the table, she held Ian's hand.
"Do you love Ian?"
"Yes, Daddy." Then she looked at her mother. "We do want to get married."
"I know, dear," Susan spoke carefully. "But, Ian isn't old enough to work, and you both need to finish high school, and college. If we let you get married now, you both face a very hard life, difficult to say the least."
"Oh Mama!" She started to cry and Mrs. McDaniels started to cry with her. Soon, Susan joins them. Joe cleared his throat and they started to settle down.
"Very well, I won't make you break up. But these are my conditions: first, Ian, you have to become a regular church member and submit the lordship of Jesus Christ."
"Yes, sir." Denver prompted.
"Yes, sir." Ian responded politely.
"Second, you two may not spend time alone, under any circumstances. If I had set the standard at first, you wouldn't be in this problem. However, I became lax and allowed you to compromise. You will not have intimate physical contact. Do you agree?"
Denver glanced at his wife, who shrugged and nodded. "Is this how church folk handle these situations?" Not waiting for an answer he said, "Joe, I'm sorry that my son dishonored you and your daughter. He brought shame to my family, also. I'm not a religious man, but I am moral and old-fashioned. I will make sure that Ian does the right thing."
"Denver, normally I don't come into a man's home and challenges his authority. However, I want to encourage you to lead by example. I would like to invite you to join us in church. This Sunday, Mary will publicly confess to our church family and I would appreciate it if you and your family could attend."
Denver smiled. He was caught and there was little he could say about it. Joe's invitation was so cleverly stated that he could not refuse. "Thank you, pastor. We will be there. I only hope that the roof doesn't cave in!"
Joe and nodded in approval. "Denver, Susan and I have talked about it. We think that Mary and Ian should decide what to do about the baby. They know we won't bless the wedding. And an abortion is not to be considered. But, we will open our home to the baby if that's their choice."
The evening ended shortly thereafter, and the Dodges thanked the McDaniels for a wonderful meal and warm hospitality. Denver was relieved because he imagined a furious father and spent ammunition, yet Joe was gracious, merciful in the least. The stage been set for healing, now only time needed to pass.
Joe had already held a meeting with his leadership staff at the church to inform them of their situation. They listened intently and heard the pain in Joe's voice. They knew his heart was hurting and they reached out to him. He put the question to them, "how will you respond to Mary?" To their credit, each of them reported they would embrace her and support her. He also advised them that he would surrender his pastoral duties until his family was restored. They understood. After all, his daughter was hurting and that would distract him; it was fair for everyone involved.
On Sunday, most of the church already had an idea about Mary's situation, courtesy of the Christian grapevine. The church was surprised to see the McDaniels family cautiously making their way to sit with the Dodges. Joe sat with his family and kept his arm around Mary. She found deep comfort in his embrace. Pastor Buck spoke on God's grace, a fitting tribute to the painful moment yet to come. As he wound up his sermon, he decided to create an illustration of God's forgiveness. He surged randomly across the auditorium until he found his unwary prey. "Paul, let me ask you a pointed question." Paul nodded uncomfortably, unsure of what was going to happen. "Have you ever told a lie?" Paul looked around and comically shook his head "no", but then he smiled and said, "Before I knew Jesus, I would lie all the time." Buck thanked him for his honesty and asked him, "Paul, have you ever stolen anything?" He confessed to his dealings in candy bars when he was a kid. "Paul, I have one last question, and then I will leave you alone. Have you ever lusted after a woman in your heart?" Paul replied, "Who hasn't? Well, except the women, of course." Everyone laughed.
"Paul, thanks for letting me put you on the spot. You see, folks, we have all sinned. Paul admitted that he was a lying, thieving, adulterer before he met Jesus. You see? He told one lie, and then he was a liar. He stole one candy bar, now he's a thief. Matthew 5:28 tells us that if we lust, then we are adulterers. We all need God's forgiveness. We like to imagine that we are good, but our hearts are evil. We like to think of ourselves as moral, but we are sinful in God's eyes. We all need God's forgiveness. Thank you, Jesus, for dying on the cross for our sins. Now, I believe that pastor Joe and his family want to address the church."
They stood and Joe held his arm around Mary, who nervously stepped into the aisle. Susan and the boys followed them to the podium. Suddenly, applause broke out in the auditorium and lasted until Mary reached for the microphone. Her hands were trembling and her voice was shaky, but she was brave in explaining to the church what happened. As she spoke, she began to cry. Then Joe cried, and then Susan. Soon, there wasn't a dry eye in the crowd. The church was mourning her sinful mistakes and was sorry for her condition, but chose to rally around her. Pastor Buck dismissed the service, but no one left. Instead, they began to surround her and ministered love and forgiveness to her. Suddenly, the crowd parted and Ian made his way to the front. He apologized for his part and confessed his sins to the church. He and Mary stood at the front while the church poured out love and forgiveness on the young repentant sinners. The forgiveness was sweet and the church acted just as it should. Denver McDaniels and his family sat unmoving in their pew, unable to believe how the church rallied around them. The next Sunday, when Pastor Buck presented the altar call, Denver and April McDaniels walked the aisle and surrender their lives to Jesus. Joe marvel at God's ability to take a tragedy and end a tragedy.
A week before school started, Mary and Ian collectively decided to give the baby up for adoption. Everyone cried at the pain of losing the baby, but all agreed that it was for the best. The church began to pray that God would send the right family along.
Joe arranged for Mary to return to school that fall. It was an awkward situation for everyone, but Mary was determined to be a testimony to God's grace and forgiveness. Jeff got into several fights over slanderous comments about his sister, but Tom managed to smooth things over at school. He even managed to convince Mr. Wells, the principal, to settle the issue informally. Jeff owed Tom a big one.
Remarkably, the girls at Mary's school flooded around her and she allowed them to ask many questions, some of which invaded her privacy. One girl asked why Mary didn't have to abortion.
Mary lowered her head. “I’m ashamed to say, I did think about it. I could have gone and done it, and my Dad would have never known. But I know that God would be angry with me if I did. Not only did I loose my virginity, which I wanted to save for my husband, but I would have been a murderer also.”
She was very open with her friends. She continued to plead with them not to make the same mistakes that she made. They watched her as morning sickness caused her no end of misery, and they watched her put on weight, which terrified all of her girlfriends. She never missed a day of school until the day of delivery. Mary wore her badge of shame with the grace that only God could give.
Mary came home from school one afternoon to discover that a family had been chosen for the adoption. A couple in their thirties had never been able to have children in their 14 years of marriage. They were dedicated Christians who loved the Lord and desperately wanted children. Everyone rejoiced that a suitable home was found, but once again, they were reminded of the loss of the baby.
Mary was strong as she went through the pregnancy, but still she suffered greatly. So many days she would come home, collapse, and cry out, “I wish I could go back and change the past.”
The day of delivery finally arrived and many nervous friends and family flocked to the small hospital to support Mary. By now, the small town of Justice had been watching Mary undergo her pregnancy. There had been many whispers about the pastor’s daughter who had gotten pregnant, but the Dodges used the situation to bring glory to God. The baby was born without complication, and all the family members took turns holding their little blessing, and quietly saying goodbye at the same time. For Denver and Joe, they were both first time grandfathers and their chests swelled with pride at their new granddaughter, who weighed 7 pounds, 9 ounces. However, they were quickly reminded that the adoptive parents were on the way to the hospital and Susan cried with Mary as she changed the baby’s first diaper.
The next day, the doctor approached Joe to say that he noticed a heart murmur. No big deal, but he needed to monitor the baby a little closer. The next day, the murmur grew into a flutter and the baby was in crisis. After meeting with the surgeon, the baby’s adoptive parents agreed to have the surgery, but broke protocol and asked Joe to seek Mary and Ian’s approval first. The surgeon opened the baby’s chest, but quickly closed her up. The damage could not be repaired. The baby would probably die within hours. Mary collapsed when her father delivered the news, and she rushed to the window to watch her baby through the incubator. Her adoptive parents were holding her. She was unattached from any monitors. The adoptive mother noticed Mary and quickly came around the corner.
“Are you Mary?”
She only nodded; she couldn’t speak.
“My name is Lynn, and we want you to come hold Amber again.”
Mary nodded and gathered Amber into her arms. “Amber is a pretty name.”
Lynn nodded, “Thank you, we always wanted to name our daughter Amber, if we ever had one. We named her Amber Mary McDaniels Jefferson.”
Joe and Susan had followed Mary into the room. “Thank you, it’s a beautiful name.”
Mary handed Amber to Susan, and Lynn gathered Mary into her embrace. “Mary, thank you so much for giving us a beautiful baby girl. We have been praying for her everyday for months. She is a beautiful precious baby and we love her as if she were our own.”
Amber Mary McDaniels Jefferson died on Thursday evening, just after sunset, and entered the loving arms of her Heavenly Father. The Jeffersons had a funeral for their baby, but never stopped rejoicing that God granted their request to hold their very own child. The Dodges and McDaniels held a memorial service for their granddaughter at the church. Many attended the service.
A week later, Joe embraced Mary and said, “I’m so proud of you, how are you doing?”
“Oh Daddy, I wish that I could be pregnant again so that I could hold her once more and kiss her goodnight.”
A few months later, Joe accepted pastorate at a church in East Texas. His family, eager for new memories and a fresh start, began again. The McDaniels said goodbye to Ian a few years later when he joined the Army. Eventually, he married a young Korean woman, but never saw Mary again. The Jeffersons went home to an empty crib that spring, but adopted a baby a year latter. The following year, Lynn gave birth to her own baby, they named her Mary.
10 June 2003