When I was a child growing up in a staunch Mennonite home, life was quite clear. There were wrongs — we called them ‘sins’ — and there were rights. The goal was to avoid the sins and do the right thing. Black versus white. I attended a Christian high school (boarding school) with very conservative leanings back in a time when homeschooling wasn’t a thing. Although I discovered there were more evangelical denominations than I’d dreamed of, the lines were still clear. Kids who obeyed the rules were good kids. Rebels generally got kicked out. White. Black.
There wasn’t much gray in my life. There wasn’t much grace. Things were right or wrong. Good or bad. Truths or lies.
This bubble lasted an amazingly long time, looking back. Or maybe I was harder headed than most of my peers, more focused on sticking my ostrich head in the sand than in understanding the layers humans came in. More judgmental. Less merciful.
One incident stands out in my memory. It took place not long after Jim and I were married. We were invited to the pastor’s house for Sunday lunch along with a young family. And — gasp! — they weren’t married. The guy was divorced. As I recall, he had a child or two from his previous marriage. Then he’d been living with this woman, and they had a child together. And THEN they became believers.
Well, in my insulated black-and-white world, there was little mercy or grace. Divorce was a sin, and remarriage was a bigger one. I could kind of see (even then) that there were circumstances where people should get divorced. Abuse, for instance. But remarriage? No.
I wrestled with that situation that day, and probably for weeks and months afterward. My legalistic attitude would have that baby grow up without his father. Would deny his parents a chance to marry and establish a Christian home that could offer forgiveness and grace to each other. My attitude would slice and dice that little family and punish them for the remainder of their life on earth.
What of new life in Christ? What of Jesus’ blood covering all sin? What of ‘old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new’? If Jesus really paid the price for our sins, why do we have the right to allow past errors to block progress?
We don’t. We really don’t. I could see that then, and I’ve seen it more clearly with each passing year (all 39 of them). What God has called clean and holy and white, I have no right to call black.
While I do know they married and established a Bible-based home back then, I haven’t thought of that family often over the years. But, apparently, this first real wrestling I had with black and white made a deep impression on me (as it should have)! Because Dan Ranta and Dixie Wayling came into my Urban Farm Fresh Romance series as throw-away characters back in the second book, Butterflies on Breezes, and refused to leave until their story was told.
Back then, Dixie had two kids by two different men and was living with Dan and expecting his baby. They had no faith foundation in their lives until Dan’s sister found the Lord. His journey fascinated me, and it played out in the sidelines over the next few Urban Farm Fresh Romance novels.
Dixie was supremely unimpressed when Dan became a believer. The decisions they each made changed their relationship from the core out. What would it take for Dixie to turn toward Jesus? How could they find their way back together… and should they? All those nuances of gray came out to play in full force.
In Dancing at Daybreak, which releases today, Dan’s next-door neighbor Jacob Riehl reminds him that two wrongs don’t make a right. That sometimes it is best to cut one’s losses completely rather than continue to compound the wrongs already done. Where Dan only prayed for Dixie’s restoration so that they could marry and form a complete family, Jacob challenged him deeper to ask if that was even God’s will. But, how could it not be?
Dixie Wayling thought she’d found love with her third child’s father until the guy found Jesus. Right. Like she wanted anything to do with killjoy religion, especially when Dan issues his ultimatum: get married… or one of them moves out. Wasn’t going to be her.
Dan Ranta can’t give up his newfound faith to keep Dixie, but after she leaves the kids to go drinking with friends, he turns the tables and boots her out of the house he’s paying rent on. She declares her own conditions: give up Jesus, and she’ll take him back.
What will it take for Dixie to overcome her past and find a deep faith of her own? How can Dan stand strong? Sorrow has certainly come for the night, but will there truly be joy in the morning?
What about you? Has God been showing you that life is far more complex than you thought when you were young and idealistic? How did you come to realize that grace and mercy trump legalism and judgment? If you care to share, please do!