Thursday, August 23, 2012

God In The Shutters

So at least we know who to blame. According to, it was the Ancient Greeks who invented the window shutter, that HORRIBLE-TO-PAINT device that does nothing but 'decorate' modern houses and make teenaged boys of the 1980's miserable for their entire summer. Obviously, the Spartans had something to do with the invention - to aid in their austere, grueling, cruel training regimens. 

Spartan Drill Sergeant, very loudly:
You are to scrape every last bit of paint soldier! I want to see absolutely NO PAINT left on even one louver on that shutter! I want to see two coats of oil base primer on them with absolutely NO DRIPS and I want two gleaming black finish coats of paint on ALL SIXTY FOUR SHUTTERS! Do you understand, maggot?!

Newbie Spartan cadet:
Sir, yes sir! Thank you sir may I have another!

Though it felt like an eternity, I spent the summer of my 17th year scraping and painting the 64 shutters of my house. I slogged through it, louver by stinking louver...scrape after endless scrape, sanding till my hands were raw and I saw dancing paint cans in my dreams.


Church was boring to me as a kid. But there was this cool thing about our family's church: we were one of the 'founding families,' which meant that the church was started by a few families, ours being one of them. Though I never expressed it, there was a certain pride for me in being on the inside track, religiously speaking. Big fish, little pond, I suppose, but I wouldn't have known that when I was little. 

By the time I was 17, the new car smell had kind of worn off, and things were rolling with the church. They didn't have a regular pastor yet, but they brought in special guest speakers now and then, in addition to the interim pastor they'd hired. Little did I know what was in store for me in the summer of my 17th year.

Charles Price was one of these special guest speakers they'd brought in. Tall and young (at perhaps 32 years old) with a kind face and soft blue eyes, Charles was a Brit, which meant he was very listenable...Americans are suckers for British accents. But the truth is, accent or no, he was captivating. He spun out renditions of the bible stories I'd heard growing up in ways that engaged the imagination. He enabled and immersed the mind's eye, and brought the bible to life in such a way as I'd never heard before.

He came to visit our church in the fateful summer of the shutter-painting, or as it has since come to be known, the "Summer of Torture." To ease the pain and pass the time, I'd been listening to pop radio as I scraped, then sanded, then primed, then painted shutter after shutter out in the garage of my family's house. Sixty Four window shutters. Each one taunting me: "There's too many of us!" "You're just a kid!" "You'll never get us all!" "Muuuahahaha!" Daunted and broken, I slogged on, but my heart wasn't in it. Lamely grasping my scraper, I'd look at the next shutter and mutter, "I hate you."

Then along came Charles Price. And a wonderful invention called the audio cassette.

The audio cassette was an invention, for those readers born after, say, 1990, which held analog audio information on a long tape all rolled up on a roll, and you could place it in a "cassette player" so you could listen to audio...kind of like your ipod, only it had moving parts and could hold just one album at a time. I know, SO caveman.

The thing about Charles Price's messages was that there was so much content, and it was so engaging, that you felt a little intoxicated and you wanted more...yes, kind of like a drunk and his drink I suppose. Actually, for me it was more of an awakening happening in my my spirit. I wanted more, more of the God of the bible, more of the cohesive Story-of-the-entire-Bible Charles was relating. I wanted more of the Jesus he told of, whom up till then I, though I claimed to know Him, had kept at arm's length out of fear that He may ask something of me. I wanted More, and I got it in the form of the audio cassette. And I got time to listen, since it was the Summer of Torture. 

One message in particular I listened to many times. Charles creatively and wonderfully recounted the story in Exodus 14 where Moses, as he led the Israelites out of their captivity in Egypt, had the Red Sea before him, the entire Egyptian army behind him, and the two million irate Israelites all looking to him for an explanation.
"Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you led us out here into the desert to die?" So Moses went to the Lord. And here is the part that gripped me as I slogged through my scraping/sanding/painting debacle. I can still hear Charles' crisp, ringing accent as he pronounced Moses' command to the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” (Exodus 14:13-14). And of course the rest of the story was the miraculous parting of the Red Sea.


Many things happened in the many years since that summer: I got married to my high school sweetheart, we traveled some, we got jobs, and then other jobs, and apartments and even bought a house. Along the way, God gave us three beautiful children, whom we raised as best we knew how...and in the instruction and fear of the Lord. Though we had plenty of chances to be reminded of God's faithfulness to us through the years, nothing could really have fully prepared us for the news that awful day in 2004: "I'm sorry Mrs. Booth, but the results of your test are positive. You have breast cancer."

Twenty five years after that special summer, I watched the nurses wheel my wife Janie into the operating room for her lumpectomy surgery. And the words, in Charles' wonderful voice, came back to me in my helplessness: "The Lord will fight for you; you need only be still."

As she went in for her many chemotherapy treatments, they came back again sometimes: "The Lord will fight for you; you need only be still."

As she went for her umpteenth radiation treatment, they were still there: "The Lord will fight for you; you need only be still."

As she fought off another 3:00-in-the-morning panic, we fought hard to declare: "The Lord will fight for you; you need only be still."

As the terror gripped me when I watched her dying, the voice was still there, albeit distantly, "The Lord will fight for you; you need only be still."

And even today, as God guides me and my family along the road He has laid out for us, I still hear Him reminding us: "The Lord will fight for you; you need only be still."


I know it may sound crazy to some, but we did indeed experience God's peace and stillness many times through those days, and we do even now. And I suppose you've probably already guessed my point: I devoutly and sincerely thank God for the Sixty Four Shutters! I thank Him for every blister from the chafing wooden grip of the scraper, for the raw sandpaper hands and the dreary coats of paint. I praise Him for it all. In His wisdom He was providentially preparing me, through a simple cassette tape and a long summer, for the eventual hard days ahead that I could never have dreamed of.

Post Script: Just over a week ago now, I stood in the Tibbits Auditorium at Camp Of The Woods in upstate New York, where Charles Price himself had just delivered the Sunday morning message. Though I hadn't seen him at all in the intervening thirty years, I approached him, stuck out my hand and with a warbly voice, as I thought of all that Janie, myself and my kids have been through, I re-introduced myself. With a flood of emotion I thanked him for his faithfulness to God in serving Christ Chapel on Cape Cod back in the 1980's. He couldn't have known it back then, but he was playing a very special part in the spiritual formation and preparation of a certain young man. 

Here is a YouTube clip of Charles. 


  1. Oh, Chris, tears again. Must you keep doing this to me? Memories and floods of gratefulness. You push me to write again, too.

    Oh, and I do remember the shutters. I must say I do not remember helping at all. So sorry. I think I was on for porch rail spindles.

  2. Sorry Carol, I really don't mean to make anyone cry. I just tells it like I sees it :)

    Guh. I had forgotten about the spindles. Almost worse than shutters! At least the shutters could be done in the garage out of the sun.

  3. Hated the spindles. Love your writing. And the depth of your character.
    -Paul (cant remember how I sign on here...)

  4. Paul I thought of writing about the kitchen renovation...but I don't think I have the heart...