Breathe. Open the door. Take a step in. You recognize this place, but the memories are vacant like a moving box with the word “childhood” written on the flap in permanent marker with nothing inside. Maybe you can remember running down the stairs to the sunday school rooms or bobbing for apples out on the lawn, but besides the absent memories what this place really represents is the years of hurt and brokenness. The reminder of all the pain that has happened since you last stepped in these halls. The people? They are all different. The grown up children? They have all moved away. The pastor? You’ve never seen him before in your life.
We slide in the back row. My mom, me, and my brother. Why he started to go back to this church a month ago I have yet to understand entirely, but I have a guess that maybe we are all seeking the same healing from the pain that started all those years ago after leaving this place. There’s been a stirring of his heart, I reckon. A longing to understand, to make things right. Why now? I wasn’t really sure until we prayed together at the end.
The pastor, after a challenging message about being on mission and sharing the truth of Christ’s saving of our souls, asked us to gather with the people around us and lift up our joys and requests to God. We looked at each other knowing we aught to put our heads together, but there was a sense of awkwardness. How do we do this? We’ve never done this before or at least not in 17 years.
“Well…” he finally said hesitantly; so the three of us squished together as my brother gathered us under his arm like little chicks and began to pray. He told God how thankful he was for the life he’s given him, for keeping our dad alive after his recent heart attack, for his two sons and his wife, but mostly for forgiveness and for being able to be a new person in Christ, to be able to let go of the past, to have a new identity. As he prayed all I could think about was how God has changed us all. 5 years ago, my mom wasn’t a Christian, my brother didn’t think the bible had much merit, and I was still walking around withholding forgiveness from him for the years of sexual abuse. I was withholding the gospel from him. As a child I walked around claiming to be a follower of Jesus, but the only gospel message I was communicating to him was that God doesn’t actually forgive our sins.
As a child I walked around claiming to be a follower of Jesus, but the only gospel message I was communicating to him was that God doesn’t actually forgive our sins.
But I forgave him by God’s strength and mercy, and hardly with words as I couldn’t bare any more of a conversation than a cross with the words “forgive” on it that I gave him for christmas once. It was more so in my actions as allowed myself to trust him, hug him, spend time with him; to live like I’d forgiven him. I could trust him because he had changed and more importantly he could trust me and the truth I was sharing because I had changed too.
Then I thought about how my mom has grown as a disciple of Christ and how her change has influenced him. She’s growing to have a gentler, quieter spirit that understands her desperate need for forgiveness and to trust in the Lord alone. I can only imagine how seeing her growth has influenced my brother’s faith. I’ve only heard through the snippets of conversations they’ve had, but they too have shared forgiveness for one another.
As she started to pray, now almost distracted by the moment God was giving me that I hardly remember what she was praying, all I could think of what the years of hate and blame I held in my heart for her, the pain of life, the walls in my heart, the conviction of the Holy Spirit, the loss of Jeff, the conversion of her soul, the months of singing praise together at church, the conversations of forgiveness, the bible studies, the renewing of our minds, and the peace in my soul…
Here we are. The three of us. Tossed violently by the waves of life, forsaking even our faith. Wayward brides who were dumping out the boxes of memories; trying to fill it instead with what we thought would satisfy, but still coming up empty. We kept finding the memories in our mailboxes year after year, month after month, day after day; haunting us all. We were even drowning for a while looking for oxygen to breathe, looking for someone to save us.
But God, in his mercy, saw it fit to have “…Christ Jesus come into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.”
God had a plan to use my hard heart and choices of sin to work back around to teach me grace and obedience that impacts not only me, but shares Christ’s love for his children specifically my brother and mother.
All I can say now is that it works! It really does. He does work all things for the good of those who love him, who are called according to his great purpose. His promises are true, even when they don’t feel like it before it comes to fruition.
And it’s not over yet, its really just beginning, but standing there together in the arms of my brother and mother, I understand…
This is redemption.