Has your preteen boy ever begged you to stay up later to read one more chapter? If you haven't had that pleasure, I can assure you that it makes your heart swell with pride and wonder. With Ethan, it's an exceedingly rare occasion. In fact, he probably hasn't been that into a book since Captain Underpants and the Perilous Plot of Professor Poopypants, and that was when he was nine or ten.
The other night, I found out there is an even better feeling: when your preteen begs you to read another chapter of the Bible. I used to read the Bible to him when he was a preschooler, and we both enjoyed the pictures and simple stories. Once he started school, though, our schedule always seemed too hectic, and he got to that awkward age when he was too old for the toddler Bible, but too young to understand any of the unabridged translations. In recent months, I've wanted to read the Bible with him again, but I never seem to find the time to get to Lifeway to search out just the right translation for a 12-year-old.
If you think I've been talking a lot about my Esther Bible study on the blog, you should hear me at home! Several times, I asked Ethan if he remembered the story of Esther, but you'd think he'd never even been to Sunday school or watched a Veggie Tales video for the blank stare he gave me. I told him we should read it together, and he said, "Nnnnn."
"It's a fabulous story!" I coaxed.
"Yeah," he said, unconvinced.
About a week ago, around bedtime, I grabbed my New International Version and walked into his room. "Turn off the TV, please. We're going to read a chapter out of Esther," I announced. He rolled his eyes and let out a huge sigh. Suddenly, I received some divine inspiration. "I'll scratch your back," I bargained.
He shrugged and turned off Mythbusters. I settled next to him on his futon chair, my left hand holding the Bible and my right hand lazily scratching his mildly sunburned back. I read a few verses at a time, stopping to explain and asking questions to be sure he was comprehending. (It was fun explaining virgins and concubines.)
We stopped after King Xerxes banished Queen Vashti and agreed to hold the beauty pageant to find a new wife. When I casually asked if he'd like to read another chapter or two the next night, he answered just as casually, "Sure, I guess."
For the next couple of nights, I read two chapters at a time, and it was so fun watching the story unfold through Ethan's eyes--especially since he's now old enough to appreciate irony and suspense. He had no idea what was going to happen, so the plot twists were even more riveting. I'd planned to string him along and read him the story bit by bit, but I knew he'd be leaving for Indiana with his cousins on Friday, so I had to accelerate the schedule.
On Thursday night, I had to work till midnight on a project that was due the next day. I was so ready to sink into bed, but I realized we hadn't read our chapter yet. Ethan was still up, playing a game on the computer, and I decided I could live without another 20 minutes of sleep.
I reminded Ethan about Haman's plans to hang Mordecai on the gallows he'd built next to his home, and then we read about King Xerxes' bout of insomnia. When Ethan learned how the king had been reminded of Mordecai's unrewarded heroism, a slow smile lit up his face. He saw it coming, and he loved it!
We laughed out loud together when Haman had to lead Mordecai through the city on the king's horse and in the king's robes as he proclaimed, "This is what is done for the man the king delights to honor!" (Esther 6:11)
I finished the chapter and told Ethan we'd have to find some time the next day to finish the story as he'd be leaving the next evening.
"Please, can you just read one more chapter?" he wheedled, and now the smile lit up my face.
"Well, maybe one more," I agreed, feigning reluctance.
We read about Esther's second banquet with Xerxes and Haman, and Ethan positively beamed when I called out, in my most melodramatic voice, "The adversary and enemy is this vile Haman!" (Esther 7:6)
At the end of chapter 7, I said, "Want to finish the whole thing? It's only another page and a half." Ethan agreed eagerly. We read about the king's edict authorizing the Jews to kill, destroy, and annihilate attackers of any nationality. Then we read about the 800 men they killed in Susa, and the 75,000 they killed throughout the provinces of Persia.
After we finished the story, although it was about 12:30 by now, I stood in Ethan's doorway for another 10 or 15 minutes while we discussed all the amazing plot turns. We talked about whether Haman had deserved mercy, and after we'd compared him to Hitler, we decided that he hadn't.
I asked Ethan if he'd noticed any clues to God's providence despite the fact that His name was never mentioned in the entire story. Then--as I so often do--I started to answer my own question. But Ethan--as he so often does--interrupted. "You can tell that God helped them win the battle. They'd probably never even held a sword, but they killed 75,000 men!"
"Yesss!" I agreed, and in my mind, my right hand punched the ceiling in triumph.
Then we talked about how God doesn't always answer our prayers immediately, and how we have to step out in faith and trust that He will answer at the perfect moment--though that moment might seem tardy to us.
Ethan surprised me with an unusual analogy. "It's like there's a robber in your house, and he wants to kill you. You're hiding in the closet while he's searching the house. Just when he gets to your room, and you're shaking in fear, the phone rings, and he leaves the room."
"Yes, I guess it is kind of like that," I said.
(By the way, Allyson made her own bizarre Esther analogy this week. She's been learning about Esther in her Sunday school class for the past couple of weeks, and she's brought home brightly colored pictures of Esther and a little paper crown decked with tiny paper jewels. We saw a picture of Beyonce Knowles on a billboard the other day, and Allyson cried out, "Oh, she's pretty. She looks like Queen Esther." I couldn't contain my laughter, and then I couldn't think up a good excuse for why I was laughing.)
When we'd finished our discussion, Ethan said, "So this Esther story is really in the Bible?"
"Yes," I said. "There are lots of interesting stories in the Bible, especially in the Old Testament."
"They should make a movie out of it," he said.
"They have," I said. "We'll have to watch it. In fact, I think we own the Veggie Tales version. Don't you remember?"
"No, but I remember Daniel in the Lion's Den."
We both started singing, "Oh no, what we gonna do? The king loves Daniel more than me and you!"
We agreed that I'd read him that story when he gets back from Indiana. And then I fell into bed, my lips curved into a smile as I drifted off to sleep.