This is Redemption

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. 

New Foundations

For my faithful readers, you have been following a roller coaster ride on the relationship with my mom. I started this blog around 2011…. I think. (Just did a quick archive check… yup, November of 2011)

To do a quick recap (and for anyone that may be stumbling across this for the first time)… at that point in my life I was really struggling with a lot of anger towards her, a lot of temptation to blame her, and a stone cold heart. She’d say mean things to me, blame me for things, tell me I’m wasting time at church; I’d lie about how much I loved her and treated her like a jerk. But, at that time God was really knocking hard at my stone heart, knocking down walls and shining light into deep, dark infected places. The deconstruction began followed by this long, slow rebuilding of a relationship. The ministry of reconciliation that God has called us to mainly comes in sharing the gospel (reconciliation with Him, through faith in Jesus’s sacrifice and resurrection), but I believe it carries out in our relationships with one another. Specifically, I believe God has called ME to be reconciled to MY MOM. (2 Cor 5:11-21, Rom 12:18)

I was not convinced she was a believer at that time in 2011. It wasn’t until her boyfriend who’d been living with us for five years was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer and died a month later. It was during that time that the gospel became the most important truth, especially for Jeff. The need for Jeff to believe it allowed us to have conversations that resulted in her accepting, believing, and affirming that the Lord Jesus is her Savior and she will spend eternity with Him in heaven.

After that, everything changed. But, the one thing that was different was I found myself wishing she wasn’t saved so she would suffer for the things I’ve suffered through. Harsh, right?  I think Jonah probably felt similar, but I am ashamed…

So it was clear to me by my attitude that there was a lot of work to do in my heart. So God continued to deconstruct and renovate my heart like the good carpenter he is. This covers the last two years. There’s high points and low points, but it wasn’t until this last Christmas Break that I reached the lowest point and considered giving up on the relationship all together. “I’m done! This woman is infuriating!” I told the Lord on my 5 hour drive home.

I was driving back to Iowa to a conference in Des Moines called “Faithwalkers” where we gather and hear teachings and encouragement from our sister churches all over the midwestern USA. God always has a way of using that time to redirect my life. A pastor of ours shared about trials and how the key to overcoming trials isn’t their finish, but in our endurance. That to endure is God’s prime objective. (Rom 5:3, Heb 10:36, James 1:2-3, Col 1:9-11) If we don’t… what does that say of our faith? So I was encouraged as it says in Colossians to pray this:

 For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light.

May you be strengthened with power… so that you may have great endurance and patience…

I was really struck by that and considered that maybe God wasn’t calling me to give up, maybe this was a lowest of the low points. Maybe God is calling me to endure through the highs and lows of this journey to reconciliation. What I needed was to pray to persevere! God put it on my heart to do a little book study with my mom via the phone, so I mailed her some materials (because at this point I was all too frustrated to talk with her on the phone) and I thought if any thing could help this relationship, surely it was God’s word.

I thought Maybe I can’t trust her yet, and that’s ok. I can rest in the safety of God’s word. 

So each week (it’s been 3 now) we call each other on the phone and for 2 hours or so we study through the gospel answering questions about how Jesus claimed to be God and how we can have assurance for eternal life through faith in the blood of Jesus. There’s questions at the end that ask you to reflect on what you just read and there’s nothing sweeter than hearing my mom say “I’m so grateful for God’s mercy and I’m so glad I know I have eternal life because of Jesus.”

This breaks my heart of stone.

In all of my attempts of reconciliation, I never once realized how what we really needed wasn’t heart to hearts of disclosing past wounds (though there is time for that) or taking unsafe chances of sharing my life with her. What we need is a new foundation built up from the truth of the gospel. It’s there I find courage to confess my sins, to share how the truth impacts my life, to open up about who I am. Its there I build trust with a women who has the Holy Spirit living and active inside of her. It’s possible all of my attempts that seemed more harmful than good to reconcile weren’t useless, but it’s possible (and I pray so much for) that rebuilding our relationship on the word through studying it together will yield greater fruit than my plans to relive and bring up the past ever could have. I don’t mean to say there aren’t things we need to talk about or that everything is forgotten, but rather to allow time for God to knit our hearts together and to allow His word and His timing to reconcile our relationship. By having a relationship built on the trust of the Lord and His word, it makes it possible to talk about past hurts and pains in light of the gospel. It may be that the most glorious thing God will do with my life is to reconcile my relationship between me and my mom. And I pray for that. I’ve always prayed for that… that I would see His glory.

And a glorious thing it will be. Please pray for me. I am encouraged at what God has done in 3 weeks, but I need to depend on the Lord for strength and love and I can’t do it alone. Thank you!

In His love,
Teresa

 

Could this be love?

Your embrace felt like roses; your touch as warm rain
Your smile like sunshine
and if friendship could sing.

Like dew drops collecting, as when laughing begins
is this care that I’m carrying for you,
my dear.

Between sunsets and memories, there begins something to stir.
Between poets and melodies, a new life has emerged.

Like sweetness, aromas; like heartbeats and cheers
A heart of forgiveness now brings me,
so near.

I dare, can I taste it? Can I hear it begin?
Can I feel its sweet delicacy? Can I see it take wing?
Not, I could mock, to a lover I sing.

But one mother will do.

My mother, my heart.
I think I too love, though you’ve loved from my start.

A Letter to my Mother.

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Kido immediately jumps on my shoulders whenever I come home.

At home in Wisconsin for Spring Break! Feels a little more like winter break though. When I got home, I was happily greeted by my cat and an otherwise empty house. My room was ice cold because its been closed off since I left home last in January and the fridge was surprisingly empty. (These details are important because it leads to me walking aimlessly around the living room for a few minutes)

Then I stumbled upon a letter my mom had stored in a picture frame on our mantle. I remembered writing it, but I hadn’t remembered what it was really about so I took it out. I wanted to share it because I remember God convicting me to write this to show my mom gratitude and to focus on thinking about “what is pure, what is true”: what is good. It was good for my heart to do. Not to boast in my self, but to give God glory because He is the perfecter of our faith and the reconciler of our relationship with Him through Jesus that overflows into our relationships with others. Mother’s Day is coming up in a couple of months, maybe consider writing your mom a letter to tell her how special she is to God and to you regardless of your past experiences! Whatever is excellent or praiseworthy think about such things! (Philippians 4:8)

To my beautiful mom, “Walk beside me and be my friend”-Albert Camas
Love. If I can say anything first, its that I love you! Even in all ways I fail to express it, I do. I’m so glad to call you my mom because I see so much of God’s love through you. You always sacrifice for me and you’re willing to do pretty much anything for me. I really appreciate it and I thank God for you. He guides us on a great journey through life and I’m so glad that we are on that journey together.
The failings and trials along the way: I can’t count them, but only to attest that God is far greater than ourselves and that He can overcome anything. Besides, there are too many things to be grateful for to waste time thinking on the things that are harder to be thankful for. Thanks for always providing for me even when it was hard, thanks for always being there for me, teaching me things, and making me work hard, even when I didn’t want to. I see how hard you work and how you made so much out of so little. I’m proud of you. I know that I wouldn’t be where I am today without you.
I love my beautiful mom because she taught me how to serve people and how to have joy in life. She continually teaches me through her life that God loves us a lot, has made the greatest sacrifice: himself; and shows me that we can have life and have it abundantly. Though we are far apart, like with God sometimes, she loves me still, unconditionally.
So thank you mom! I want to honor, respect, and serve you that the world may see God’s restoring power and love through our relationship which is always being transformed into something greater than ourselves.
Loving and humbly, Teresa
“It is more blessed to give than to receive.” 2/21/13

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My mom and I at the west coast in May 2012

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that is may benefit those who listen….Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Eph 4:29,32)

Carry on in faith AND love! (1 Cor 13:2b)
-Teresa