“I have called you by name you are Mine!” (Isaiah 43:1)
My husband is an expert story-teller and always had wonderfully creative ways to engage with our kids, to get to their hearts. I just wanted them to obey and pick up their clothes! We were a very good balance for each other in parenting.
Today is family story time with one of the BEST GOD moments in our parenting journey with six children. So, sit on your porch or in a cozy chair and enjoy this retelling of a BIG GOD story from Dennis’s perspective. It’s a story of God’s amazing personal love for one of our kids in a hard season.
When our daughter, Deborah (aka “Peanut”), was 15, she made a declaration one night before dinner amid the mealtime mess: “Dad, I want to be able to do what I want to do … with whoever I want to do it with … whenever I want… for as long as I want.” She was totally serious.
I wasn’t sure I heard correctly. “What did you say?”
When she repeated her statement word for word, I smiled and said, “Peanut, what if your parakeet came to you and said, ‘Deborah, I’d like to go do what I want to do, with whoever I want to do it with, whenever I want to do it, for as long as I want to do it. And right now, I’d like to go on the porch and play with the cats!’”
Deborah loved her parakeet, Sweet Pea. “What would you say to Sweet Pea, Peanut?”
She instantly dismissed my fatherly attempt to reach her. “That’s a silly illustration, Dad.”
I said, “No, it’s not. There’s a cat on the porch right now. Sweet Pea is in the cage right now. The cage is actually a protection for Sweet Pea, don’t you agree?” Feeling uncomfortable, Deborah attempted to change the subject … and I let her. I knew she heard.
Not long after that conversation, we went on a trip as a family and asked a friend to take care of Sweet Pea in our absence. After our dawn departure, she and her son drove to our house to take Deborah’s parakeet home for the week. As 10-year-old Lane was carrying Sweet Pea in her cage to their car, the bottom tray dropped open, and Sweet Pea, being the free spirit she was, fluttered to freedom. Before flying the coup, unfortunately, Sweet Pea somehow failed to consider it was January in Arkansas.
Horrified, both mother and son tried for hours to coax the parakeet from the branches high above. Eventually they gave up. A couple days later we got the message that Sweet Pea had escaped and was forever lost. The news of her feathered friend’s defection ruined the rest of the trip for Deborah.
Like all parents, we attempted to sooth, to understand, to provide possible solutions. “We’ll go buy another parakeet when we get home,” we said, hoping a replacement would eventually calm her heart. She remained unconvinced.
On the way home from the airport we made a pet store stop. But the new bird was no Sweet Pea. Deborah chased that wild and untrained bird around her room for hours. More disappointed than ever, she rejected the replacement and we returned the foul fowl for a refund.
We live in the woods with only one neighbor in view amid hundreds of square miles of a green belt forest. Two days after arriving home, buying and returning the new bird, our next-door neighbor, Bob, called to tell a beyond-belief story.
“About a week ago,” he said, “I was watching TV in the living room when something kept hitting the window. Thump, thump, thump … so I asked my wife to go see what it was.” Joann got up and went outside. When she didn’t return after a few minutes, Bob made his way to the deck and found her watching a green parakeet flit from tree branch to window then back again. Bob stuck his finger out and immediately the bird flew to his finger, which Sweet Pea was trained to do. Bob just happened to have an old empty birdcage in his basement, and that became Sweet Pea’s new home.
The next day Bob went to town for canary food, and then stopped for a frozen yogurt. Standing in line our ever-talkative neighbor started a conversation with the guy next to him. Small talk first. Then Bob said, “Strangest thing happened. We found a parakeet in the woods, so I came to town to buy food.”
The stranger asked, “Where do you live?” Bob replied.
The stranger said, “Is that near the Raineys?”
Bob said, “They live next door.”
“I’m their kids’ youth pastor. I think they have a parakeet.”
So Bob was calling to ask if we were missing a parakeet!
Barbara and I marveled at how God loved our daughter so much that He set in motion the circumstances to bring the parakeet back to her. It was so improbable as to be clearly divine.
We kept the news to ourselves for the big reveal at dinner. We were seated at the table with our two teenage girls still living at home. We asked about their days. Then I started talking about how much God loves us.
I looked at Deborah and said, “I’m sorry about Sweet Pea, but I want you to know three things: First, it’s not wrong to be sad over the loss of something you loved. Second, it’s okay to question God—He can handle it. Third, God loves you, Peanut.”
Deborah was unmoved by my little sermon, so I repeated my point: “Peanut, you don’t understand … God really, really loves you.”
Our daughter, Laura, was bored to death and asked, “Do I have to listen to this?” We said yes. Disgustedly she rolled her eyes, leaned her head back on her chair and pulled her napkin over her face like a burial cloth! She couldn’t leave physically, so she escaped the conversation behind a mask.
For a third time, I said, “Peanut, look at me. God really loves you!”
I paused, waited for eye contact and then said, “Sweet Pea is alive. Bob found her and she’s at his house!”
For just a moment, Deborah’s face was stoic—not a glimmer of a change. But not Laura! She jerked the napkin off her face, sat bolt upright and yelled, “WHAT? MR. NAGLE HAS SWEET PEA?!! YOU FOUND SWEET PEA?”
Slowly Deborah thawed, let it soak in, and a sweet grin emerged. Minutes later all four of us walked up the hill to get Sweet Pea and brought her home.
That night before bed we reminded Deborah, and Laura too, how God longs for us to know and experience His limitless love. Circling back to when this drama all began, I reminded them both that what kept Sweet Pea safe, his cage, was also what kept danger out. God knows what He is doing and He cares about little things like Sweet Pea to show us His individual personal love.
This story happened over 20 years ago but I remember it like it was yesterday.
Watching God show up is always memorable. He loves to demonstrate His unending love for us. His biggest declaration was in the person of Jesus, “the exact representation of God Himself” (Hebrews 1:3), walking among us, showing us how great is the Father’s love.
Our world today needs to see God more than ever. We need the healing and hope only He can provide. We need reminders that He knows us intimately. As Isaiah 43:1 tells us, “I have called you by name, you are Mine.”
Will you lift your head to the Father, as Deborah finally lifted her eyes to her father, and believe His words of life and love to you?
May this story inspire you to see Him at work in the details of your life.