Jackie sat in stony silence beside her mother while her father taught the congregation Godly parenting principles again. How boring, she thought, squirming in her chair. She sighed; then winced as her mother's finger discreetly stabbed her in the ribs.
She straightened up and pretended to be interested. Why can't he preach something that matters to me? she groaned inwardly. Why do I have to pretend to care? I'm not having kids for a long timeif ever!
"Jackie, we know you broke your curfew last night. Why were you late?" Mark asked, as the family sat down to lunch.
"Umm, well, Scott lost his keys in the theater and we had to get a manager to help us find them."
"Is that true?" Mark asked. His face revealed his skepticism.
"Of course, Daddy!"
"Well, young lady, there is really no way for me to verify what you are saying, so I'll have to trust you. Of course, God knows."
"Man, it really sucks to have your parents think you're a liar!"
"Jackie, don't talk to your father that way," her mother interjected. "You have been late pretty often lately, and there always seems to be a convenient excuse. How can you blame us for doubting you?"
"Things happen!" Jackie yelled. She got up, slammed her chair into place and ran off to her room crying.
Jackie threw herself on the bed to vent her rage. It isn't fair! she fumed. None of my friends has a 10:30 curfew. How do I tell Scott I can't even stay out until the end of the movie? He'll dump me for sure.
"I'm sorry, God," she prayed. "I know I shouldn't lie to my parents, but it isn't fair! They're way too strict! Would you please do something about that?" You won't answer me, will you? she added silently. You only answer them!
That night, Jackie tried to slip in late again. Her father was waiting for her.
"Jackie, I'm sorry, but I have to put a stop to this."
"Please, Daddy, it isn't my fault!"
"It's never your fault. You know we're concerned about you dating Scott. If you would show yourself to be trustworthy, we would feel a lot better. Instead, you disobey us and lie about it. How can I trust you? You are grounded for a month. And there will be no exceptions."
"But Dad! Prom is in two weeks!"
"I know, and I'm sorry."
"No, I'm sorry. I'm going to prom and I'm not staying here!"
"Where are you going to go?"
"I don't know, but I'm out of here. I'm sick of your rules, I'm sick of being the preacher's kid who has to look perfect all the time. I have news for you, Dad. I'm not perfect! I'm not even a virgin! I drink and smoke! And yes, I lie to you all the time. You know why? Because you never give me a break!"
Jackie enjoyed shooting her verbal bullets until she saw the color drain from her father's face. Then she was sorry, but it was too late.
She grabbed some clothes and ran for the door before Mark could respond. He watched helplessly as his baby girl drove away into the night.
"Dear God," he cried, sinking to the floor. "Please protect my daughter! Please bring her home," he choked through his tears. "Forgive me for the many ways I've failed her."
Jackie dropped out of high school and spent the next several months working odd jobs and staying with friends. Eventually, she got an apartment. She did not need her parents or their rules and she certainly did not need their church.
Pastor Mark and his church stormed Heaven in prayer. Jackie was never far from her parents' thoughts; her absence was a constant ache.
A year later, Jackie held a stranger's hand and screamed as her baby daughter was born. Scott was missingprobably on a drug binge with his friends. She was alone, with no boyfriend, no job and a baby.
Tears rolled down Jackie's cheeks as she watched her daughter suckle. She had no idea how to be a mother. For the first time, she wished she could listen to her father preach about Godly parenting. She didn't even have a name to give the child.
Shame flooded Jackie. Her life was a wreck of her own making, but her baby was innocent. Her heart throbbed as her daughter awkwardly attempted to nurse. This baby deserved better. She deserved everything Jackie had taken for granted.
Jackie knew she didn't deserve to be forgiven, but she also knew that God's love was bigger than her sin. She remembered her father's words, "Grace is undeserved favor."
Most people considered it dreadful that the preacher's daughter got pregnant out of wedlock, but baby Grace was the instrument God used to draw his wayward daughter home.
Jackie begged God and her parents to forgive her. Her parents received the young mother and child with joy. The unseen celebration in Heaven was immense.
And Grace grew along with her mother.
"And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." Romans 8:28
Debbie O'Connor lives just north of New Orleans with her husband, Jim, and their two children. Jesus has been her savior for 18 years. Contact Debbie at firstname.lastname@example.org.