Bozeman, Montana: Sunday morning church worship service in the multi-purpose room of a middle school.
The family of eight -- grandparents, parents, and four young children -- on vacation and visiting a local church this Sunday. The service is riveting...a Native American guest preacher and church planter. He tells compelling stories of God's gracious work in his extended tribal family and preaches a sermon from the book of James, challenging the congregation to walk with God in uprightness and truth, with particular emphasis on controlling the tongue.
The six year old grandson is actually listening, his imagination captured when he realizes this "Indian" looks just like "a regular person." The grandparents and father sit in the back row while the mother is now standing outside the door in the hallway with her two squirmy and bored preschoolers and the loud wiggly baby. The service is drawing to a close, culminating in communion. We have broken bread together and the cups of wine have been distributed.
"This is the cup of my blood. Drink it in remembrance of Me..." Suddenly, a piercing and unrelenting alarm screams through the room, cutting off the rest of the familiar command. The congregation stiffens in shock, but no one moves. The pastor freezes, his communion cup in mid-air. A few seconds of adrenalin rush, and then realization dawns...a fire alarm. Oddly, not a single person rises to rush out of the room.
Everyone stares unblinkingly around the room to see what others are doing, then back to the pastor for direction. After another few seconds of indecision, the pastor raises the cup to his lips, and the congregation follows. An indiscernible prayer offered,an unheard benediction pronounced, and the service quickly concludes while the alarm blares its unabated warning of nothing, at an unbelievable decibel level.
And as we rise from our chairs and pick up our pace to retreat from this ear splitting assault, a small voice within my head whispers: this is the work of one of my grandchildren. Oh my Lord, please let it not be...
We join my daughter and her children in the hallway. The truth of the crime is written on her face. I do not have to ask, "was it...?" The only unknown element remaining is which one. The baby is firmly in her arms, amazingly undisturbed by the blaring alarm. The mischievous four year old middle son has his fingers in his ears, but otherwise looks unperturbed. The 3 year old only princess of the clan stands solemnly next to her mother, arms slack at her sides, saucer-eyed and too shocked to even produce tears of terror, remorse, or manipulation. The expression on her face is the answer. My adorable saucy grand-daughter is the offender.
Her daddy, a policeman back home, sweeps her up in his arms, and she sinks into a plethora of pink dress and bows. We all follow, in duckling like fashion, out the front door in time to see the local police pull up to the curb. Daddy and daughter approach the driver's window as onlookers gather around to witness the unfolding drama. I whisper to my daughter, "is he going to hand her over to be arrested and jailed?" And she, a mother-earth embodiment of amazing patience and calm, deadpans back to me, "I certainly hope so."
After a quick conversation, daddy and daughter head out to our van, the rest of us still trailing along, awaiting the end of the story. Thankfully, no fine, no reprimand, not even names requested. Little princess has been set free, the nature of the crime defined as unintentional, albeit tinged with a modicum of disobedience when she ignored her mother's command to get down from the bench and stop touching the pictures. Of course, that bright red box wasn't a picture. The only remaining discipline: give the lecture and explain the object lesson to the young criminal and her brothers; extract the promises to never touch an alarm; repeat the reminder to obey parents immediately.
The real punishment, of course, is that this escapade now enters the oral family history to be retold and embellished for generations to come.
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