From Judgment to Grace – Changing a Family Story – Romans 14:4

I know we’re not supposed to judge, but I do it all the time. It’s so easy, especially when the person in mind is someone I’ve never met and who died in 1925. Years ago I heard things about him that made it clear his poor choices affected his family for generations after him. He was clearly guilty.

He was my great-grandfather, Robert Stowe, a married father of four who worked as an insurance salesman and music teacher in Elkhart, Indiana. His failing was that his addiction to alcohol ate up their resources and caused his family to live in poverty. His daughter remembered how the wind blew up through cracks in the floor. His wife took their children to church and taught them good values, but Robert’s was only a sad, depressing story.

That was the narrative I believed all my life, until a few months ago.

Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.

Romans 14:4 ESV

My Robert Stowe story changed shortly before my mother died, when she gave me more details about his life. She told me about his love for his children, how he taught music at their school, singing with Beneta, my grandmother, in his rich tenor voice.

His wife was musical too, singing soprano and playing her guitar. In their poverty they enjoyed making music. I hadn’t known they shared good times together. Instead I based my opinion of him on a repeated story, that single story, which in my mind marked him for life.

I felt no affection for Robert Stowe, however, until Mom told me about how his church held the belief that when it came to drink you were doomed. Even if you believed in Jesus as your Savior, drinking was considered a moral failure. You were labeled “backslidden” and no longer welcome in God’s presence—or theirs.

Robert Stowe would repent and get sober, attend church with his family for a time, then backslide again. Can you imagine how hard it would be to face your friends again and again, and have them reject you because of your struggles? And how heartbreaking it would be for a little girl to think her daddy wouldn’t go to heaven?

Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God.

1 John 3:7-9 ESV

Robert Stowe practiced a righteous life, humbling himself to admit his struggle with staying sober. He failed miserably, but the 1 John 3 scripture doesn’t say there’s a limit to how many falls we can experience. It does mention practicing, though.

I have three photos of my great-grandfather. In all of them he appears stern. Maybe he was hard on himself, a perfectionist that could never measure up. I can’t find any clues about his childhood or what happened to him. What I do know is that my heart changed. I understand him a little better now, and I have compassion for him.

I also know the graciousness of God and the truth that we all need a Savior. None of us come to God with a perfect record. And none of us are better people, or worse sinners, than another. God’s grace is enough.

Now I can easily imagine my great-grandfather performing the most requested song by his daughter’s classmates, Nita Juanita, and singing it with her name, “Nita” Beneta. If they share the love of laughter and the sparkle I’ve seen in his daughter’s blue eyes, it’s not a reach to imagine them enjoying a playful moment in heaven—free not only from his addictions, but from others’ judgments as well.

I can’t wait to meet him.

Kathy Sheldon Davis

A Gift for My Dying Mother – Matthew 6:19-21

A few days before she died, with the room full of talkative family members, Mom cracked a line that made my jaw drop. Befuddled, I didn’t know whether to laugh at her joke or cry. The conversation was about buying more Christmas gifts, but her remark silenced everyone.

At that point Mom only wanted to lie still and observe her family. No more therapies, no more interventions or procedures, fewer pills to swallow. She’d asked for a place of rest and peace, and that’s what we provided for her. The hospice center had quiet halls, gentle caregivers, beautiful scenery, and space for her loved ones around her bed.

As talk of Christmas preparations continued I watched my mother’s face. Too tired to smile, but not to engage, she said

“Well, you don’t have to get me anything.”

It could have been an incredibly sad moment, realizing that my precious mother was lying there in a hospital gown she didn’t own. The bed wasn’t hers either. Her photo albums, china, jewelry, mementos from her travels. Her iPad, her comfortable chair, her favorite foods at home in the refrigerator. She’d never enjoy them again. They were nothing to her now.

Yet, in Mom’s gentle yet powerful way, she’d spoken volumes. She didn’t want any gift except our love. She lay there content in the middle of her family until she followed Jesus out of our sight.

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.

1 John 4:7 ESV

The day after Mom passed I went into my bedroom and pulled my cell phone charger out of the wall. She didn’t need me to be accessible in the night any more. Mom didn’t need anything from me, and never would again. She had instead given me the most valuable gift, a legacy of love to share with the world.

Beloved, let’s love one another.

An unedited version was shared at the memorial service for my mother, Delores Sheldon, on January 4, 2020.


Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Matthew 6:19-21 ESV

In Mom’s passing from this life she was surrounded by love, her most cherished treasure. Upon entering eternal rest it is with her still.

by Kathy Sheldon Davis