Posted by: Melissa Bane Sevier | February 12, 2018

The rainbow

There was talk at Grace Church. Sam Waters had come home.

Sam is Tom and Betty’s son, and even as a child he had been a handful. Veteran church school teachers suddenly decided to take a year off when it was their turn to teach Sam.

Betty and Tom also had trouble with Sam. Once he and some other boys broke windows around town, including windows at Grace Church. The church did not press charges and Tom and Betty replaced the windows.

Just after Sam turned 18, he was driving some friends around one night. He waited while they stole a bottle of whiskey from a liquor store. He didn’t know they had a gun. They emptied the cash register and shot and wounded the owner. Sam went to prison for 8 years.

When Sam got out of prison he moved away, but he could not get work. He came home to live with his parents. They were thrilled to have him home again and tried to make life normal. Sam spent his days looking for work and helping Tom on the farm. On Sundays, they came to church.

This is why people talked. How could Betty and Tom want Sam back after all he’d done? Some didn’t like the idea of having an ex-con in worship.

One day Sam showed up at the pastor’s office. He didn’t know what to do. His parents loved having him in church, and he had found he actually enjoyed worship. It meant something to him to sit beside his parents who had been so faithful. But every time they walked into the church people turned away. He was beginning to think that it might be better if he stayed home.

The pastor had seen the way Sam and his parents were treated, and had heard the talk. She’d noticed how Betty and Tom always placed Sam between them in the pew, as if to protect him from unfriendly stares. Still, she trusted the goodness of these church people. She knew they did not want to see Sam take advantage of his parents again. She said she would bring it up, with his permission, to the board.

The board grew quiet as the pastor recounted her talk with Sam. Nearly everyone in the room remembered when Sam went away. They had prayed and grieved with his parents and some of them had written to him. Now that he was back, they were confused.

John Hughes was the first to speak. “Did you know that as a teenager I went to a reform school?” They had no idea. John said he could offer Sam a job.

Then Margaret Offenbach told a story of Sam in her first grade Sunday school classroom. (They had all heard this story before.) The subject was Noah and the ark and they’d made rainbows from construction paper. After class, she remembered she’d left her lesson book in the room and went back for it. There stood Sam, drawing with permanent marker a multi-colored rainbow on the wall. “I didn’t have the energy to remove it,” she said, “so I just left it.”

Another elder said he’d been teaching in that classroom and had tried to paint over that rainbow several times but it still showed through. Everyone laughed.

“So. What shall we do?” asked the pastor. They made a plan.

The following Sunday, Sam served as liturgist. The congregation listened intently to the readings, including the one from Genesis about the flood.

The pastor took a couple of minutes off her usual sermon length, and at the time for prayer requests, she called on Sam.

He thanked the board for allowing him to be liturgist. He thanked John Hughes for giving him a job, and his parents for sticking by him, even when it had been very difficult. He thanked the church for honoring the vows they had made when he was baptized. He said he knew they had not pressed charges when he had broken church windows as a boy, and appreciated that expression of love for his family.

Sam then told how the day’s readings had reminded him of something that happened when he was in the first grade in Mrs. Offenbach’s class. He knew most of them had heard he drew a rainbow on that wall, but they probably did not know the whole story. When Mrs. Offenbach came back into the classroom that day and saw what he was doing, she did not fuss or even tell him to stop. She stood for a moment and then said, “Well, neither one of us will make it to church on time if I don’t help,” and she picked up the purple marker.

When Sam told this part of the story, everyone laughed and looked at Margaret Offenbach, who appeared quite embarrassed by this new and complete version of the story she had been telling for years.

Sam said he’d gone back in that classroom one recent Sunday just to look, and to his surprise the rainbow was still there. Someone had tried to paint over it, but it still showed through. That morning twenty years before with Mrs. Offenbach had been the most memorable moment of all his years in church, because that day, while they drew together on the wall, a wise teacher had talked to him about grace. She spoke of how sad God was over the way people behaved, and how the rainbow was God’s promise of grace. She talked about how all of us—including grownups—make God sad sometimes, and she spoke of the rainbows of grace in her life. He remembered that she mentioned her family, her church, and his class, and even that time with him right then coloring on the wall.

Now, Sam said, he knew that his life had reflected that lesson. God grieved over some of the things Sam had done, yet God still showed grace. Sam had nearly covered up that grace by ignoring it. But the grace still shone through, just like the rainbow on that classroom wall.

The grace of God for him, said Sam, was in being able to come home again. He knew he did not deserve it, but he was grateful for it. Then he sat down, embarrassed that he had talked so long. No one else had noticed the time.

From that day, it was easier for Grace Church to live up to its name.rainbow, LR adjusted, copyright low, blog 2-12-18

© Melissa Bane Sevier, 2018



  1. Oh my Melissa what an inspirational story. As always love your the writings in VIEWFINDER.

  2. Finally read this….did this happen in your congregation? Or did part of it and you embellish it?

    I needed this to close out this awful week. Thanks.



    • These characters and events live only in my head; it’s all a fiction. And yes, a horrible week. Thanks.

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