So here is the good news: we’ve gotten a one-day extension from Wells Fargo bank on our deadline.
And here’s the bad news: well, actually, there isn’t any bad news, not as long as you are with us. And you are indeed the most gosh darn faithful group of supporters anybody could wish for. I’m up late tonight, but I know you’ll be there in the morning to pick up right where we left off. And we are more than halfway to goal.
The Catch is making a significant difference in people’s lives or we wouldn’t still be here. Let me introduce you to a father and a daughter and a catastrophe averted that Marti cared for in her counseling. Their amazing story below will give you a glimpse into the kind of thing that goes on here every day — the kind of thing you make possible by helping sustain the Catch.
These are exciting days when we see the fruit of our consistent commitment to the radical nature of Christ’s teaching to point us clearly towards a new frontier you and I call Grace Turned Outwards. With that kind of growth it isn’t surprising we don’t outgrow ourselves.
Unfortunately, in the summer months, we typically struggle as do most churches and faith-based organizations, to meet our basic requirements. We saw it coming but we didn’t anticipate the speed at which it was traveling nor did we expect it would require our immediate response. We simply didn’t take into account that people go on vacation in the summer because we have no vacation.
Now Marti is not kidding when she says we make efficient use of your investments with productivity and reach, and I can attest, with little waste or off-target spending. You might say she lives to reinforce the stereotype of the thrifty Scot that she is. Marti is our CEO and works 12+ hours a day. Few know this but Marti’s reimbursement for her services is exactly $0. I receive a stipend to supply basic living necessities, but the Scot always makes sure that the expenses of the Catch come first.
But that’s part of our promise — we can’t and we won’t stop the Catch. We’ll use whatever resources we have to keep going beyond the daily Catch out to the people we serve. So here we are with a bridge already in place to the next generation, and a requirement to meet urgent deadlines today. But that’s where you come in. And this is it — one more day only. If enough of you can join those listed below (thank you so much) we can do it. We’ll need a number of you to make it, though, and a few who can afford more.
It’s simple: click on the button, and when you’re done, come back and read about the “Prodigals.” And look forward to more accessibility through Johnny’s Cafe and Music that Matters Radio.
And above all, thank you for representing the Gospel of Welcome — Grace Turned Outward to everyone, everywhere. God bless you!
A Big Thank You to Those Who Have Contributed So Far
Evangelos, Pointe Claire Quebec CANADA
Sara, Boerne, Texas
Susan, Morenci, Arizona
Will, Livingston, Louisiana
Dominique, Vancouver, British Columbia CANADA
Craig, Sagle, Idaho
Frank, Las Vegas, Nevada
Mike, Sacramento, California
Eliz, Quesnel, British Columbia CANADA
John, Hampton, New Hampshire
Jay, Gainesville, Florida
Robert, Nashville, Tennessee
Garry, Ozark, Arkansas
Mark, Poway, California
Dan, Placentia, California
Daryl, Cherhill, Alberta CANADA
As Christians, we all want to live righteous lives. But what does that mean in practice? Does it mean abiding by a set of rules and demanding those around you do the same? Or is it something deeper. Meet Carl Barlow, a good Christian man, a widower, a father, a faithful member of his church. Carl tries to do the right thing all the time, the righteous thing. But Carl is about to discover the righteous thing is not always what he thought it might be.
Carl Barlow squinted at the screen above the pulpit. He sighed and glanced at the unused hymnals in their holders on the back of the pew in front of him. Everything had changed. They used to sing hymns like “At the Cross,” “Power in the Blood,” and one of his favorites, “Just as I Am.” Today, you stare at a screen and sing something with a different beat about praise and worship.
His eyes finally focused on the screen. He tried to sing along, but the screen had changed, and a new song appeared. He just couldn’t keep up. So, he just moved his mouth and scanned the platform. The worship team had their eyes closed and arms lifted up. They were all kids none were older than twenty-five. Most were about the age of his daughter.
He wondered where Molly was at. It had been how long? A year? No, closer to a year and a half since they talked. He winced as he remembered seeing the pictures on her phone. Why would she send pictures like that of herself to any guy? He raised her better.
The tempo of the music changed. They were about to sing their token hymn for the “old people” in the church.
“Softly and tenderly, Jesus is calling. ”
He got absorbed in the song. He remembered it from his youth. He reflected how times had changed. He would never have defied his parents like…
No, he wasn’t going to ruin the one decent song they sang. “…calling “Oh Sinner, come home.”
At the church door, Carl shook hands with the pastor and his wife. It still felt odd to walk out of church alone. His wife’s death had been the turning point in their lives. His and Molly’s. He just never could connect with her like Lynda. She had the knack. He didn’t. Molly and he were like oil and water.
As Carl got in the car, he glanced down at the lucite square with the picture of a bright smiling little girl inside. Flipping it over, scrawled the words “I love you, Daddy.”
A lot can happen between eight and eighteen. A mother’s death, arguments, tears, drugs, boys and more boys. The wrong kind of boys. Then the recriminations. The counseling sessions with the youth pastor.
She wouldn’t listen to any of them. She was so angry. Angry with him for being away on business so much. Angry with God for taking her mother.
“God has a purpose in all this.” He tried to explain.
“If you think God killed my mother for some greater purpose, that’s an evil God, and I want nothing to do with him.” She shouted back.
“You don’t mean that. Take it back. That’s blasphemy.”
“If God can’t handle my words of truth, then he ain’t much of a God.” With that, she spat on the ground.
“Molly, you are endangering your soul.”
“Yeah, just like when I bought a skirt a few inches above the knee, like when I listen to hip-hop, like when I screw the boys.”
Carl drew in a deep gulp of air.
“Don’t pretend you don’t know I’m not a virgin. I like sex. I like screwing boys. I like smoking weed and getting high.”
It wasn’t long after that she left home. She moved in with some guy with a ring through his nose. He apparently had piercings even in places Carl didn’t want to know. The last he saw of Molly, she was riding behind him on a cycle.
That was nearly a year and a half ago. She had called a couple of times. But after… seeing her with that… knowing what she did… he just couldn’t talk to her. He let the calls go to voice mail. She made her choice, and it wasn’t him. She had chosen the devil, and if she gets burned, what can she expect. The youth pastor told him, this was time for tough love. She needed to hit bottom.
The last call still haunted him. She was whispering, begging with him to come to get her. Then suddenly she stopped and in an unnatural tone said, “And don’t call here again.”
What kind of game was she playing?
That was a couple of weeks ago.
Carl snorted. She made her bed. Now she needed to lie in it. You don’t sow to the wind without reaping a whirlwind. He started the car and drove home.
Carl slowed the car and pulled into the driveway. He got out and trudged up the walk. The flower boxes were empty. Lynda had the green thumb. The best he could do was cover them when it rained, so he didn’t have to scoop the water out.
Stepping out from behind the barren trellis beside the porch, strode Molly. As she emerged from cover, he saw she carried a baby of about six months old on her hip.”
“Molly.” Carl began to smile, but then the shame swept over him. He rushed to the porch and unlocked the door, almost dragging his daughter into the house. Then he slammed the door behind them. The baby whimpered and began to cry.
“What are you doing here?”
The whimpering turned into a screeching cry. Molly began to gently rock the child. “That’s okay, little one, Daddy’s just surprised to see us.”
Little one? That’s what Lynda always called Molly, even when she grew up. Why had I forgotten that? Maybe because of the pain she caused since then. How can I forget that?
The anger and shame rose up within him again. He was a deacon at the church, the vice-president of the Decency commission. He had raised her right. He had strict rules, and she flaunted them all. Now, she shows up with some bastard child.
Through gritted teeth, he whispered, “What… are … you… doing… here? And whose baby is that? Spark’s?”
“The name is Spike, and you know it. It might be his. It might not. I’m not sure about the math. We broke up not long after you threw me out.” The voice was quiet, but the tone was bitter. She kept rocking the baby as they talked.”
“I didn’t…” Carl began to yell, then softened his voice. “I didn’t throw you out. I told you you could stay here and go to school, but you had to live by my rules. But you chose to be a whore instead.”
As soon as the words were out of his mouth, he regretted them.
“Honey… I didn’t mean…”
Molly shook her head. “I should have known. Same old Dad. Sorry, I disturbed you. You want me to go out the back door so no one sees your whore daughter leave.”
“I hurt him to have his bad word choice thrown back in his face. “You haven’t changed a bit,” was all he managed to say.
“Neither have you. You are still an old piece of shit. You talk about love and forgiveness, but that’s for everyone except your own daughter. I should have known better.”
“I love you, but I hate your sin, and forgiveness requires repentance. You go off with some loser, get yourself pregnant, and now you are back looking for a handout. Well, the bank is closed. Get out of my house. NOW!!!! You haven’t changed at all. When you are ready to change, come back.”
Carl swung open the door. It slipped from his hand and smashed into the entryway wall smashing the glass in the window.
“Dad. I’ve already changed, but you can’t stop judging me long enough to find out. You didn’t even take time to find out the name of your granddaughter. It’s Lynda. Yeah, I named her for Mom. Like you even care.”
Molly adjusted her hold on Lynda. The girl waved her small fists in the air.
“I won’t be bothering you again. You can just tell the neighbors, I was some homeless bum panhandling. It’s not far from the truth. Hey, don’t worry about me. As long as I’ve got this body, I can make a living.” Molly stomped out the door. Carl slammed it shut. Bits of glass tinkled to the floor.
He slumped into his chair. Lynda had designated it “his” when she bought it for him one Christmas. No one else was allowed to sit in it. The thing was he really didn’t like the chair, but he didn’t want to hurt Lynda’s feelings. Now, he can’t think of sitting anywhere else.
He picked up the paper. Might as well check up on the scores. But the numbers just blurred together. I need to get my eyes checked.
He rubbed them and ignored the dampness on his wrist.
He leaned back and stared at the walls. The paintings done by Lynda looked back at him. Portraits of him and Molly as a child. A painting of their favorite beach. Then there was a picture of two men in robe, an older man and a younger one, hugging in the distance, and another young man with arms crossed and a scowl on his face. A name tag read, “Prodigals.” Lynda claimed that the young man who stayed with his father was a prodigal of the soul. He never quite understood that. He had a right to be angry with his brother, who lived a wild life and came dragging back home to Papa when he ran out of money. Meanwhile, the faithful son is ignored.
It was like righteous living meant nothing.
He tried watching TV for a while, but there was nothing good on Sunday afternoon. Too many preachers watering down the Gospel in the guise of being “seeker-friendly.” No wonder, young people thought that they could live any old way and never face any consequences.
Well, if I can’t entertain myself. I might as well get some work done.
Carl popped open his laptop and settled back in the chair. He figured he might as well check his email. He hadn’t checked it since Friday morning. It was mostly ads and newsletters he subscribed to but never read. A few business emails that were easily handled. Then he noticed one of the newsletters. It was called The Catch. He tried to remember what that one was about. He wasn’t into fishing. He could never see the reason to stand hip-deep in water when you could get a perfectly good fish dinner at The Sea Shanty.
Finally, he remembered. It was from John Fischer. He was a singer-songwriter in the Sixties and Seventies. He’d been at a youth camp where “Fisch” as the kids called him was teaching. Those were good times. Much simpler times.
I wonder what The Fisch is up to these days.
He clicked on the email. It seemed to be some sort of daily devotion. As he read, he changed the assessment. It was meatier than the devotion he got in the email. It was more like a Bible study or teaching, but full of humor. Even in his gloom, he found himself smiling.
At the bottom of the email was a link for people who needed prayer. His finger hovered over the trackpad a moment then clicked the link. It took him a while to type in his request. Finally, he settled on. “My daughter is rebelling. She left home. Now, she’s had a baby out of wedlock. We need to pray she is convicted of her sin.”
Underneath was a button that asked if he wanted to speak to a counselor. He never quite trusted counseling, but for some reason, he felt he should. He clicked on the button and left his phone number.
Shortly after lunch, the phone rang. He tapped the screen. “Hello.”
“Hello,” responded a bright, friendly woman’s voice. “Is Carl Barlow there?”
“I’m Carl.” Carl wondered who was trying to sell him what.
“Great. I’m Marti Fischer from the Catch ministries, and I have your email here. I’m so sorry that you and your daughter are hurting so badly. Is she alright? Do you want us to help you find her?”
Why is she so interested in Molly? I’m the one who is hurting? Molly just needs a wake-up call.
“She’s alright. At least, I think she is. She was when she left here this afternoon. I guess she has someplace to go. She’s resourceful like that.”
“You mention a baby. Is the baby all right?”
“The baby was fine. She was with Molly when she left.”
There was a pause.
“Maybe you should tell me just what happened.”
Carl did. He tried not to let the anger flood over him again. Maybe the counselor could help him get past that anger. He had done what was right. He stood up for his principles. The books he read on tough love had all told him to cut them loose until they hit bottom.
“So you see. I had no choice. I had to stand up for what was right.”
There was another pause. Then the friendly voice took on an edge.
“Carl, what are you thinking? Let’s say your daughter disobeyed your rules and rode her bike into a heavily congested area. A vehicle clips her. She falls from her bike. Her knee is bleeding badly. She limps home pulling her disabled bike along beside her Her tears are rolling as she approaches your home, always known in her young life as a safe place. With her bike still in hand, she bangs on the front door, and cries, ‘Papa!’
“Would you turn her away? Really, Carl? You – not your home – is her safe place. She knows a discussion is forthcoming as to why she disobeyed the rules of the home. But not before bandages are applied and kisses given that always ease the pain.”
“But… why… she…” Carl didn’t know what to say. All through his life, he had heard stories of parents taking a tough stance against children living in sin, breaking off fellowship to reclaim them.
“But she is breaking God’s rules as well. And she isn’t even repentant?”
“Really?” the voice softened a bit. “Your homeless daughter spends whatever she had left in her purse on a cab or bus to get to your home, swallows her pride knowing your likely reaction, and you don’t think that wasn’t an admission that she knew she had done wrong? It may take some time before she can find the words to say it, but her presence on your doorstep was a visible repentant act. Every cell in her body was saying, ‘Dad, I’m sorry. Take me back.’”
“But they say, you can’t enable them. They have to hit bottom.”
The counselor laughed. The anger rose up within him again.
“This is not funny.” He grumbled.
“No, it isn’t. But you are? Your daughter is homeless, with a baby, out in the cold, looking for some doorway or abandoned building as a shelter for the night. How much further can she go before she hits bottom? She has to look up to see bottom.”
Carl paused. Whenever he saw the picture of The Prodigals Lynda had painted, he imagined a contrite Molly with head bowed, tears streaming down her face, seeking his forgiveness. But that just wasn’t Molly. She was headstrong, stubborn, ready to stare down anyone or anything. They were her greatest strengths and her greatest weaknesses. What do they say? The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
“So, what do I do now?” Carl felt broken. He saw Molly on the street with Baby Lynda. How could she survive? How could the baby?
“Find her.” The voice was flat but not harsh. “If you don’t want to bring her home, there’s a women’s shelter in your town.”
“No, I want her… She needs to be with family.”
“I was hoping you would say that. But you do realize. This isn’t a Hallmark channel movie. There will be some rough times ahead. Two strong-willed people living together, healing from the wounds each has inflicted on the other. But it’s a first step.”
The next few minutes were spent with the counselor calling a few contacts she had with homeless advocates and shelters. They made a list of places a young woman with a baby might go.
Carl pulled on his coat and picked up his keys. He looked at the painting. He always saw himself as the father in that painting. But maybe he was the self-righteous brother resentful and rigid and proud.
Maybe we are all prodigals of a sort. Some of us just run away from home while pretending we didn’t. Father God, I have sinned before you and to my daughter. Please keep her safe until I can find her and bring her home.”
Carl’s search took him through dark, depressing, portions of the city he never knew existed. She couldn’t be in a place like this. Carl remembered the stains on her clothes and the dirt on her hands and face.
It was getting dark. At a stoplight, Carl checked the directions he had to an abandoned church where the homeless sometimes gathered when it got cold. What sad words he thought, “abandoned church.” Then he wondered how many of the homeless people squatting in that abandoned church would have been welcome there when operating. Would Molly have been?
A twinge of guilt passed through him as he remembered being relieved when Molly stopped going to church with him. He was embarrassed by her piercings and tattoos. Not to mention the “offers” by the older women in the church to take Molly shopping or the not too soft whispers about the disgraceful ways young women dress these days.
“You have reached your destination.” The perfectly modulated but lifeless voice of the GPS announced.
Carl scanned the area. The church had been built out of brick, probably in the Twenties. Inscribed above the door were the words “Lest any should perish.” The brass sign beside the door read, “All Souls’ Church.” Time and the dirt of the city had erased the schedule of services.
The door had been locked and chained, but one of the doors had been pried from its hinge. Carl carefully pulled it back. It was heavy and screeched on the porch as he pushed it back.
Carl’s hand went to his nose as the mixed smells of rancid food, garbage, urine, sweat, smoke and some sort of meat cooking.
He scanned the room. Some of the pews had been turned over. Many had been pushed back against the walls to form an open space in the middle. The stained glass windows had been broken. Under one of those windows, a woman sat poking at something on a small camp stove. He could tell from the smell that the meat had to be spoiled.
A dozen or so people were scattered about the room. Most were alone. All were looking around suspiciously. They looked up as Carl walked down what had been the center aisle of the church. No one said anything. Carl looked at each pew as he passed. He almost despaired until he passed one just three pews from the front.
Molly lay on the pew, his grand-daughter lay in a makeshift bed comprised of Molly’s backpack and a few blankets. Molly’s hand rested on her daughter’s shoulder. Molly’s eyes were barely closed.
Carl knelt down next to the pew.
She jerked a bit, and her hand tightened around a metal bar that lay next to her.
“Dad? What are you doing here?”
“Molly, I came to take you home. I have sinned against you and against God by abandoning you, forcing you out of my house. If you forgive me, we can try to make this work.”
“And the rules?”
“Every house has rules, but maybe we can make them together. I’ll start. Rule one: I listen to what you have to say.”
“Sounds like a good start. I’ll go with a second rule, “Attitude is for losers.”
Both were silent for a moment.
“But what about your church?”
“Oh, that’s a big one. You are going to church with me. That’s non-negotiable. After all, how can I show off my beautiful daughter and grand-daughter if you don’t.”
Carl’s eyes burned a bit. “Come on, let’s get out of here. I think the smoke is hurting my eyes.”
Molly carefully picked up Lynda. Carl grabbed the bags.
There would be hard times ahead. They both knew that, but they could handle it. Both of the prodigals had come home.