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A Family Loses and Finds What Matters

An episode of This American Life (the popular NPR radio show) focused on a young woman named Sara who was sharing her family's public fall from grace. She had grown up in a privileged family—enormous house, beautiful clothes, expensive schools, and country club memberships. Both her mom and dad had beautiful new Porsches. Her mom decked herself with beautiful jewelry. Sara's dad was an upwardly mobile lawyer. But despite the outward signs of success, her home life was marked by constant pressure to keep up the family image. Sara said,

Rules were very important. Etiquette, very important. My dad's insane temper could be set off by the slightest offense. When I heard the Porsche rumble up the driveway every day when he came home, I would run into my room and hide. Because maybe today would be the day he found the candy wrapper in the sofa cushion … It was all about avoiding awakening the bee's nest.

But that glittering image "came to a screeching halt one night in 1990." Sara described the fateful day when her parents called a family meeting to tell the children that her father had done something very wrong and was going to have to pay. Much of their money, it turned out, had been embezzled from a trust fund of one of his disabled clients. Her father wept on the couch as he confessed his wrongdoing to his children and said, "We're going to have to start over. We are going to rebuild our lives."

Her father was disbarred from practicing law. They had to sell their beautiful home and Porsches. All their family friends disowned them. Sara's mother had to go back to work, changing sheets at a nursing home and serving as a janitor at their Baptist Church. And yet in the midst of this death—of security, wealth, achievement, identity—a beautiful new way of life was born.

Sara continued:

My dad instantly became better. He was happy. He chewed gum, which didn't happen before. And wasn't such a [jerk] all the time. And Mom, her transformation was amazing …. She packed bagged lunches … for some homeless people who lived under a bridge …. She went to Rwanda during the genocide. And she even let a homeless guy named Earl live with us once. He was a fugitive. We figured it out later. But who are we to judge? I mean, who are we to judge, really?

Preaching Angle: Suffering, Trials, Hardships, Failure—This story shows how suffering (even the self-inflicted suffering from our own sin and failure) can frees us from our attachment to our possessions, our self-righteousness, our family image, and our pride. Commenting on this story, Tullian Tchividjian wrote, "Failure, it turns out, was [this family's] gateway to freedom."

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