The Small Heart of a Big Sinner

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My toddler’s defiance is not about me. This is some of the best parenting advice I have ever received.

20180817_063923It is so difficult to avoid viewing my son’s misbehavior as an attack against me. When a child rebels, it is natural for a parent to feel offended, hurt, angry–and dare I say, inconvenienced. However, a child does not rebel to hurt his parents, he rebels because of his sinful nature. When I remember my son’s misbehavior is a product of his human sinfulness, instead of a personal attack on me, it is so much easier to keep my cool and discipline him appropriately.

This was something I had to remind myself of repeatedly yesterday. My three-year-old woke up with one goal in mind: do not listen to a single word mom says for the entire day.

He succeeded.20180817_064021

At 39 weeks pregnant, I did not want to spend my day punishing, disciplining, detaining, and bargaining with my son, but this is what he needed from me. He needs me to mold his heart and his character into the heart and character of a man of God– a man who recognizes and repents of his sinfulness, and rests comfortably in the forgiveness of his Savior.

Teaching him to respect our home is the beginning of how we will teach him to respect others, himself, and someday, his wife.

Making him clean up his mess is the beginning of how we will teach him to correct bigger wrongs in his life, to own up to his more destructive mistakes.

Setting him in timeout while he thinks about what he has done will prepare his heart for when he must sit before the Lord and repent.

20180810_143041Parenting is not about me. My son did not draw on the wall yesterday to make me mad. He did not throw rocks at his brother to emphasize my bad parenting skills. He did not destroy his bedroom to give me even more to do.

My son is a sinner. He did these things because he is a victim of the evils in this world, just as I am. Christ died for for my son’s defiance and refusal to stop arguing with his parents, just as He died for my quick anger, harsh tongue, and love of the world.

For a little while, God has entrusted me with his small heart, and I will not let my selfishness get in the way of this profoundly important task.

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A New Creation

I’m dead.

Yep, dead as a door nail.

Nail down the coffin, people.

I am entirely unresponsive to the world around me.

Dead.

Don’t plan my funereal yet though, that would just be weird.grave-2036220_1280

Allow me to explain…

In 2 Corinthians 5:17, the Bible says that in Christ, we are a new creation. In fact, Paul explains it further by saying that old things have passed away and all things have become new. Notice that Paul does not say some things have become new, or you have become new, or the world has become new. No. Paul says all things have become new for those who live in Christ Jesus.

I have always had a rather ambivalent relationship with Paul’s words. There is nothing more encouraging or edifying to know that Christ frees us in such a way that we become a brand new creation.

Just as many times as this verse has encouraged me, it has confounded and alarmed me. I am not certain when I became a Christian; I pretty much just always loved Jesus. I could tell you when my faith became my own, instead of my parents’, but I did not have a defining moment where the Lord saved me. I often wonder if Paul’s words would have a more potent impact upon me if I hadn’t always been a Christian—if I had a “me before Jesus” with which to compare myself.

I know I have grown more in love with Christ as I have entered adulthood, and I know my faith has matured in immeasurable ways; however, I don’t know that I see myself as a new creation. I am still pretty much who I have always been. I continue to struggle with the same sins I was struggling with as a young girl; they may look different now, but they are the same. I can be unimaginably prideful, and impeccably self-absorbed; I tend to envy one’s success long before I rejoice in it; I seek my own glory before I seek my Father’s, and I am impatient beyond logic.

How is this kind of mess a new creation?

Romans 6:4 says, “Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.”grave-2115941_1280

Read that verse again. I mean, really read it.

Paul says we were buried with Him…Whoa. I don’t recall being held up in a tomb for three days with the Son of God. I guarantee I would not have been as chill about it as Jesus was.

Colossians 2:11 also describes Christians as being buried with Jesus through baptism, but it goes further to say not only was Christ raised from the dead, but so were we.

Colossians 3 reminds us again that we have died and our life is hidden with Christ in God.

This begs the question that if we are dead, how then should we live on this earth?

It’s hard to be dead and alive at the same time, even for the most gifted of people.

woman-591576_1280Colossians 3 says more, “Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.”

Christ is life. Christ is life. Christ is life.

There are countless verses that address being dead to the world and alive in Christ. Galatians 3:26-27 says, “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.”

Colossians touches on this same concept in chapter 2 by saying a Christian puts off the body of the things of the flesh…

If my faith in Christ allows me to drape Him over my shoulders like a blanket and traipse around like a beacon for Jesus, then I must simultaneously clothe myself in newness of life—my new man—killing my old self.  

In fact, Ephesians 4 says this of a Christian: putting off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.

Despite all this evidence, the problem many Christians have with this idea is that our old self seems to still live, lurking in the shadows of our hearts, revealing himself or herself countless times throughout the course of one day—this old self is our sin, and it has the power to eat us alive if we don’t let Christ fight it.

Our old self fears sin, fears the world, fears failure—fears everything. Putting on Christ each day and making Him our life does not mean sin no longer exists within us: it means that sin no longer controls us; it becomes so powerless, in fact, that it is dead. Christ has given us a weapon with which to fight this sin, and the ultimate gift when we lose that fight – forgiveness.

For many of us, choosing to truly believe this is half the battle.

Jesus was buried with our sin, our muck, our nastiness, our filth. It is no longer ours, but His. Being a new creation does not mean that I no longer sin. When the world looks at me, it sees little change between who I am and who I once was. However, it is what God sees when He looks at me that truly makes the difference.  20170309_142125

He sees His pristine and perfect child, dead to the world, yet alive and well in Christ. He sees a woman who has her mind set on things above.

My master is no longer sin; my master is God.

This is freedom.

A Mutating Perspective

I knew the second I snuggled into my couch to write this blog, my infant would wake up, as if babies have some sort of sonar for a mother relaxing. I would then stare deep into his screaming face, begging him to stop screaming, for lately, it seems as though my infant is always screaming.

 

I visited with my mom about my frustrations this morning.

 

“It’s like they are doing it on purpose. As soon as one is quiet, the other has a problem. I am so tired. I just want to take a 10-minute nap.”

 

Perhaps she was using her infinite wisdom, or maybe just her brutal honesty, when she responded, “They’re just kids. It’s what they do.”

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Wow. Um… Thanks for the sympathy?

 

I think back to my conversations at church last night, while I ranted and raved about my little non-sleeper.

 

I joked, “My husband and I just don’t make babies who sleep.”

 

I complained, “I just want to sleep in my bed for once.”

 

I bartered, “I would do anything to get this baby to sleep.”

 

I think what I was really doing was searching for someone, anyone who would understand.

 

Because with this second baby I feel as though I am facing yet another year of lonely, dark, long nights, my frustration has been building, as my patience has been dwindling.

 

20170213_102153I think back to last night, up every 20 minutes with my little one. This was of course after making sure my husband felt as guilty as possible for leaving me to tend to our child alone while he got a restful night sleep, as if it is his fault our baby has colic.

 

I pleaded with God constantly throughout the night, “Please, please, please just give me one kid who sleeps. Show me what I need to do to make him sleep. Why me? Why me? Why me?”

 

And now, even as I write this, God has given me His answer. He has convicted me, and He’s not holding back.

 

I am not a victim.

 

I am a mother.

 

I am not a martyr.

 

I am a mother.

 

I am not alone.

 

I am amongst many who have lived it and many who are living it.

 

Wow. Um… Thanks for the sympathy?

 

Perspective is an important thing to maintain in motherhood. It is so easy to lose sight of what matters when we are sleep deprived and our nerves are raw. It is so easy to begin to look at our little miracles as if they are a curse, rather than a blessing.

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However, there is one thing that is truly beautiful about all this: God’s forgiveness and grace. When I fail and become a selfish woman rather than a selfless mother, my Father (He may even use my mom) will never fail to scoop me back up, show me the beauty that is in my children’s faces, and remind me that it is not about me. It is about Him and His children, who He has entrusted to me and my husband.

 

With a Godly perspective like that one, I think I can get through a few more sleepless nights.

Entombed in Indifference

When the time came, he was certain he would not care. It was undeniable. He had never cared. This would not be any different. When they told him the last day of his life the corners of his mouth jerked faintly, the only indication he’d ever given for a smile. He found it slightly humorous how they looked at him in disgust, some in pity, as if he cared. He really never troubled himself with anything at all. It would be a relief. The last day. On the day they stopped his breath, he would finally breathe.

 

He was shrouded in indifference; like a tomb it had settled its weight upon his soul, becoming more and more oppressive as the time passed.  It was an indifference that kills–literally. He never remembered, at any point in his life, really being sad or angry or happy, as if he had a thing to be happy about. All he recalls is indifference–absolute hollowness.. The hardship he experienced just made him harder, and the few who tried to help him–well, they generally withdrew with their spirits broken. He was void, void of anything, like a vacuum. When he finally found a place he belonged, his family of haters, the Bloods, they called him The Vacuum. He was pretty proud of that nickname. In fact, it continues to be his only source of pride.

 

He had, of course, been called other things throughout his life, particularly toward the end of his freedom: a monster, a wretch, a villain. His favorite was vicious, heartless piece of crap. That one was really meant to get to him, so he relished it the most, imagining the satisfaction on the face of the daughter of the dead man as she pictured him shuddering from her harsh words. Oh how they all thought he’d care, care about something. He didn’t. His lawyer had begged him to “pour out his soul” to the jury in an apology for his actions. Pour out his soul. In order to pour out your soul, you have to have one. His lawyer, Mr. Trayton, was a pretty respectable, powerhouse type of guy, but when he said that to him, he was sure some fear flooded his eyes. Fear was always showing up in the eyes of those who neared him.

 

His only complaint would be the amount of time between his conviction and his death. It was an endless, infinite, brutal amount of time. He would sit in solitary, staring at the wall, hoping for the days to pass. There were no clocks within 100 yards of him, but he was sure he could hear the seconds ticking by, slower than the life of his boss ebbed away. That damn boss of his was a tough one to kill, like a coon.

prison

***

 

Solitary. It is an emotionless man’s worst nightmare. The Vacuum not only lacked emotion, he lacked imagination. Therefore, he often felt his sanity dripping away like the leaky faucet in his cell. When the guard would bring by his meal three times a day, he tried desperately to get him to stay longer than the four seconds it took to feed him. Farmers allotted more time to feeding their pigs than the guards to feeding him.

 

“Where’s your tray?”

 

“Why don’t you come get it?”

 

“If I come get it, you’ll spend the next month recovering.”

 

He always reveled in the guard’s attempt to intimidate him.

 

“I’ll take my chances.”

 

“I want to see your tray up here within 30 seconds or I will beat you bloody, you scumbag.”

 

“Now that’d be a sight to see.”

prison

The Vacuum held his breath as the guard trumped back down the hall, his lack of power infuriating. When The Vacuum realized he had given up and wasn’t coming back, his face fell. He loved interacting with the guards, like when he would trip kids in Kindergarten, just to get the teacher to look his way. No one ever looked his way. He didn’t care. He never cared. The indifference just bred within him–a fungus–growing in the shadows of his soul.

 

***

 

He remembers reading “The Crucible” in high school. He can honestly say that is the only piece of writing he has ever enjoyed, since he’s never been able to read on his own. “The Crucible” was a decent unit, though, because the class read it together and listened to it on tape. It fascinated him– the way normal human beings can turn on one another with no remorse. It made him wonder how anyone could expect him to have remorse, when the most respectable of people don’t seem to have it.

 

The desperation of those on trial made him laugh. He was constantly trying to stifle his laughter in the back row, earning dirty looks from the teacher every few minutes. At the end of the play, his teacher explained to the class how each of the guilty were killed. He will never forget Giles Corey, a kind, elderly man who tried to protect his wife but got them both killed instead. Giles was pressed to death. With each stone laid upon his chest, he was expected to confess to witchcraft, but instead simply said, “More weight.” Eventually the weight of the boulders crushed him. The Vacuum still probably thinks about Giles at least once a day. He is Giles. The weight of his indifference presses in around him, but he just smiles and says, “More weight.”

 

The only real difference between him and Giles is that Giles was innocent.

 

***

 

Three days. Three days left of his life. Then, it would all be over. His soul and his body would finally become one–dead. In just three days. He did not think he would care. As the day got nearer, the emotions began to scream inside of him, like choked, tortured beings. He did not recognize them at first. He did not understand where they came from, always assuming he’d been born without them. They were getting louder.

 

His fear was like night, when it is so dark that you’re not sure if your eyes are open or closed.

 

His remorse was like a knife–the harder he tried to pull it out, the deeper it penetrated.

 

His grief was like quicksand, when you’re whole body has succumbed to its might except your mouth and nose.

 

His loneliness was like a scream, muffled yet strong, fighting to the surface, impossible to ignore.

 

“Where’s your tray?”

 

“I… I wanna know what my…my rights are.”

 

“Your rights?”

 

“Like I get a last meal…Do I get anythin’ else?”

 

“You can request visitation from a reverend. He will bring you the Holy Bible, which I’m sure you will find a way to burn. You are welcome to write letters and send them to whomever you choose. I doubt any recipient will open them.”

 

“A reverend?”

 

“You know, like a pastor? Idiot.”

 

His words came out like soup, hot and slow, “I would…I would like to maybe talk with one of them.”

 

“You’re kidding?”

 

He could still hear the guard’s laughter when he reached the end of the hall. The Vacuum’s skin was itchy. He felt like stepping out of it and leaving it in the corner.

 

***

 

The Vacuum had given up talking to a reverend. He had 24 hours left. The knock came after his evening meal had been picked up. He sensed the height of the moon and the thick, Louisiana night air.

 

“Step back and hold your arms out,” the guard harshly announced his presence.

 

The chains on his body felt heavier than the chains around his soul as he padded down the hallway to an inky, cold room. A small man stood in the corner with his hands folded in front of him. Perhaps, it is Giles Corey, coming to take me to Hell. The Vacuum considered this absurdity for a moment before he was forced into a chair by three men. The men did not leave, but stepped back into the shadows as the small man stepped into the dim, yellow light.

 

He stood there for an uncomfortable moment, looking down at The Vacuum. Instead of sitting down in the chair across from him, the reverend removed the chair and brought it to the same side as him, now both their backs were to the guards.

 

Idiot. Thought The Vacuum.

reverend

The reverend’s voice was muted and warm, “Can you tell me your name?”

 

“You know my name. I’m notorious.”

 

“I would like you to tell me anyway so we could get properly introduced.”

“I’m Giles. I don’t give a damn what yer name is.”

 

“I’m Simon Paltron.” The Vacuum was immediately irritated the way the small man acted as if he did not even hear him.

 

“I said I didn’t care.”

“I heard you,” The Vacuum’s muscles settled slightly into the chair. “Do you know Jesus, Giles?”

 

“I know he is a friend of morons who have nothin’ better to do than believe in fantasy.”

 

“If you truly believe this, why am I here?”

 

The Vacuum was unsure of how to answer this question. He was not sure there was an answer. His emotions. They were eating him from the inside out. He thought perhaps a reverend could smother them once and for all.

 

“I…I guess… I’m feelin’ things I ain’t never felt and I know you dudes’re trained in stuff like that.”

 

“What have you been feeling, Giles?”

 

“Just stuff.”

 

“Perhaps, you feel pain? Remorse? Sadness?”

 

“I guess.”

 

“Did you know it doesn’t have to be this way, Giles?” The Vacuum hated the way the small man kept using his name.

 

“Doesn’t have to be what way?”

 

“You don’t have to be in pain. You can find freedom.”

 

The Vacuum chortled as he looked around his world of stone, which would soon become a world of darkness.

 

“Giles, will you do me the courtesy of listening to a Bible verse for one moment?”

 

“I guess.”

 

“I will read from 2 Corinthians 3:17, ‘Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.’”

 

“Sounds like crap ta me. I don’t know no Lord.”

 

“Giles, He knows you. He is waiting for you to confess your sins to Him. He wants you to join Him in heaven tomorrow night.”

 

“Why the hell would He want that?”

 

“He created you. You are His child.”

 

“I ain’t never been no one’s child.”

 

“You have always been His child and He will always be your Father. If you die tomorrow night without repenting, you will spend eternity separated from Him, in Hell.”

 

“Sounds good ta me. I deserve Hell.”

 

What the small man said next took The Vacuum by surprise, “Yes, you do deserve Hell and so do I.”

 

For the first time, The Vacuum took his eyes off the table and glanced at the small man, whose green eyes gazed at him with something unrecognizable. It wasn’t pity or hatred, the looks he was so familiar with. He couldn’t put his finger on it, but it unnerved him in the same way his emotions were tearing at him.

 

He expected the small man to go on, but instead Simon just sat back in his chair and surveyed The Vacuum. The Vacuum looked straight across the table at the wall on the other side of the room, he observed a spider making his way toward the vent and tried to focus on it. He could feel the small man’s eyes on him; his skin was itching again; he wanted to wipe that look off the small man’s face with one effortless motion of his arm. One hit–that is all it would take for such a small, fragile creature. One hit and he wouldn’t have to take any more of this.

 

Suddenly, the small man spoke, startling The Vacuum. “Giles, do you mind if I pray for you?”

 

“I don’t believe in prayers.”

 

“That’s okay. I will believe enough for the both of us.”

 

What the small man did next almost pushed The Vacuum over the edge. He scraped his chair against the stone floor, the sound echoing up to the corners of the room, and put his hand upon The Vacuum’s forearm.

 

His hand was soft and clammy; it had a slight tremor to it, perhaps due to fear or old age. For the first time in his life, The Vacuum hoped it was old age and not fear. He touched him in a way that signalled to The Vacuum that he did not see the chains on his body. He saw the human being under them, maybe he even saw his soul, too. The Vacuum knew this was nonsense, but the warm touch of the small man’s hand was seeping the logic away from him.

prayer

As Simon began to pray, the prisoner noticed the way he lowered his head and closed his eyes. The Vacuum did the same, not wanting to look stupid. He could no longer see Simon, but he could picture the words bumping against his skin and landing upon his clothes, becoming part of him. Words like forgiveness, heart, love, nearness, peace, and acceptance. These were the types of words The Vacuum always repelled like an alcoholic repels self-control. He didn’t understand everything Simon said, but Simon’s voice had a language of its own. His voice was tranquility; the meaning of the words hardly mattered.

 

For 8 long years, The Vacuum had only thought about time, in a place where seconds acted more like days. During Simon’s prayer however, The Vacuum forgot the existence of time. Simon perhaps prayed until morning, maybe it was only a few minutes. The Vacuum devoured his words the way an orphan does attention. Simon spoke and The Vacuum drank and drank and drank, his words more like water than sound waves.

 

When Simon began reading from the Bible, The Vacuum began to rock back and forth, slightly, swinging to the melody inside his body. His emotions had quieted; his hatred had shriveled like a flower without nourishment; God’s peace breathed into his hollow, desolate soul.

 

***

 

Simon’s voice had gained strength and passion by the time he said, “In Jesus’ Holy name, Amen.” He had moved to a kneeling position beside the prisoner’s chair.

 

Amen echoed throughout the room and throughout the prisoner’s body–he did not look up; he did not open his eyes; he did not cease rocking back and forth.

 

Both of Simon’s hands were on him now and the silence was creating something inside the room. Simon’s voice was gone now, but it was God’s who continued to speak to the prisoner.

 

Eternity passed through the room when the prisoner finally spoke, now even the guards bowed their heads.

 

“Jesus, fergive me. I need lots of healing. I’m a nasty, gross sinner, but I want a Savior. I didn’t know you died fer me. I woulda confessed long time ago had I known that. I want to see you–man to man– tomorrow night. I ain’t got nothin’ to hide. I wanta fergive myself. Please, Jesus, I need you. Please come into my empty stuff and get rid of the hate and the monster–replace all that with yer love. I need you. I need you. I need you. I need you.”

 

Like the loathing used to pour from him, those final words continued to pour from the prisoner’s mouth as the tears, the first in years,  poured from his eyes. Simon allowed it to continue for some time, then, he stood up, placed his hands on the prisoner’s shoulders, and whispered into his ear, “The Lord forgives you. The Lord loves you. You can rest comfortably in this inarguable fact.”

 

***

 

After more prayer and Bible reading, Simon finally stood back to allow the guards to transport the prisoner back to his cell. Simon had laid the Bible into the prisoner’s hands urging him to read it throughout the night and gain all the knowledge of the Lord that he could.

 

“I ain’t able to read,” the prisoner admitted for the first time in his life.

 

“With God, all things are possible. Believe in Him and He will show you the way.”

 

The prisoner immediately missed Simon’s eyes, the moment he turned from him to float out of the room.

 

“Hold up a sec,” he said as he turned toward the small man. “Simon,” the prisoner paused insecurely, “My… my name is… is… Thomas.”

 

Noticing the sudden change in the man’s eyes before him–like a veil had been pulled away, Simon replied, “It is remarkable to meet you, Thomas.”

A Woman of Dirt

The heat acted as a kind of plug, quelling the tears in her eyes. Her mouth and nose were dry, but her eyes were their own rivers, threatening to crest at any moment. She did not want them to see her cry, but she knew this would be the last day of her life. It was not the pain of death that she feared, but rather the pain of disgrace. She would not have the chance to defend herself: her legacy would be adultery. The very utterance of the word made her sick to her stomach; although, that is the only name she had been called since she was a young girl. Most didn’t even bother to learn her real name. Adultery had become her identity. It seeped into her life slowly and was difficult to detect. By the time she realized it had consumed her, it was too late. She accepted it and welcomed it like a friend.

 

They brought her before the man she had been hearing about for many months. Throwing her down at his feet, she blended effortlessly with the dirt he trod upon. There was no way to distinguish where she ended and the dirt began; it was all the same. Strangely, she felt somewhat embarrassed in the presence of such a well-known man, even though she had convinced herself long ago he was a fake. Feeling unworthy to lie at his feet, she became aware that her garments were tattered and had no recognizable color.

 

She tried to keep her eyes low as the crowd gathered. They were keeping their distance, as if filthy sin was contagious. For the first time in her life, she was so thankful to have long, soiled hair that she could hide beneath, trying desperately, yet failing, to keep herself in a world where this was not happening. As hard as she tried, her eyesight caught glimpses of grimy hands reaching to the ground and ascending with stones.  When his sandals came into her periphery, she reached out to touch his robe, desperate to experience the healing that the rumors had spoken of. He was her last chance.

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She was mostly unaware of the activity around her. His voice was authoritative, but her mind was buzzing and she couldn’t make out what he was saying. He reached down to draw in the dirt, and she watched as his finger moved through the dust which was disturbed and then resettled on his sweaty knuckles. She became aware that the voices had ceased and silence permeated the circle of hate. The atmosphere had changed, though she did not know how. There was a sound she did not recognize and she was sure they had begun to throw the stones–this was it. As she squeezed her eyes shut the falling tears made a significant impact in the dust beneath them. She held her breath as the buzzing in her head reached its climax. 

 

On the verge of breaking into a million pieces, she recoiled at his touch. He lifted her chin until her eyes locked into his. His eyes enveloped her shame and in its place, she felt only love. The eyes were a deep blue, reminding her of the well she used to retrieve water from as a little girl. She would make sure to arrive at the well when the sun was at its highest–the way its light reflected off the water below always brought a smile to her face, and she lived in a world where it was uncommon to smile. The diamonds that the sun formed inside the well wafted to and fro in harmony with the movement of the water below. As he gazed into her eyes, she felt like the diamonds, transformed by the light that shone into her soul.

Adulterous Woman

“Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” His voice was the perfect mixture of authority and compassion; it made her heart beat twice in the time it normally takes to beat once, leaving her short of breath.

 

She managed to utter, “No one, sir.”

 

“Then neither do I condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin.” He took her hand and lifted her off the dirt, creating a void between her and it. She suddenly recognized the difference between herself and the dirt–it was unclean and she was no longer because of this man who called himself the Messiah.
My own interpretation of John 8:2-11.