Epiphany and Isaiah 63

We have been using the Narrative Lectionary (NL) for the past 2 ½ years. It has proven to be a blessing in following the Biblical narrative through the Old Testament and each Gospel. Year 1 (current year) is focused on Matthew as the Gospel readings.

In the original NL, there was only one reading each Sunday; from Christmas to Easter, the focus was on Gospel readings. However, over the past 2 ½ years I have added complementary readings (hence in Gospel time, I added Old Testament, Psalm, and Epistle readings) so that it offers the full liturgical complement of Scripture.

Jan. 4, 2015 the readings

Isaiah 63:7–9

Psalm 111:1–4

Galatians 4:4–7

Matthew 2:1–23

(Because of other issues, I have combined two Matthew readings for this Sunday)

Prayer of the Day:

Almighty God, you sent your only Son as the Word of Life for our eyes to see and our ears to hear. Help us to believe with joy what the Scriptures proclaim, through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord. Amen

Isaiah 63:7-9 NAS

The following posts on the NL are not definitive, complete in any way. They are some thoughts about the text, translation, and focs.

7 I shall make mention of the lovingkindnesses of the LORD, the praises of the LORD,
According to all that the LORD has granted us,
and the great goodness toward the house of Israel,
Which He has granted them according to His compassion
And according to the abundance of His lovingkindnesses.

8 For He said, “Surely, they are My people, sons who will not deal falsely.”
So He became their Savior.
In all their affliction He was afflicted,

9 And the angel of His presence saved them;
In His love and in His mercy He redeemed them,
And He lifted them and carried them all the days of old.

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63: 7 “Lovingkindesses” (חַֽסְדֵ֨י), the plural seems odd to us. Some (LXX, Luther, et al) understand the plural in the construct to be a character (abstract quality). But as Pieper notes, this use refers to “acts of lovingkindness.” The next plural (תְּהִלֹּ֣ת) is also translated as plural, “praiseworthy acts.” The third plural in parallel “compassion” (כְּֽרַחֲמָ֖יו) is an abstract, hence the singular translation. NAS follows that same understanding of the three words in translation.

HCSB: “faithful love” as abstract but then translates the next plural (תְּהִלֹּ֣ת): with “praiseworthy acts” then the last “compassion,” as abstract.

NIV: “kindnesses” and “compassion” and then the third: “the deeds for which he is to be praised”

NLT: translates all three plurals as singulars, hence indicating all are abstract qualities.

GW: Interestingly GW follows NAS and NIV in understanding each of these.

63:8 “Surely” (אַךְ), which Pieper notes is “strongly affirmative,” as translated by NAS and NIV. HCSB uses “indeed” but by moving it to the middle of the sentence seems to lose some of its emphatic sense; that may just be me.

Thoughts on Isaiah 63:7-9

The key is “they are My people.” Nothing could interfere with God’s lovingkindnesses, compassion for His people. His promises are dependent on His acts in behalf of His people. In following phrase “My people” is broadened to describe what His saved people are like, hence “sons who will not deal falsely” (NAS) or “children who will be true to me” (NIV. In other words of Exodus 20 come to completion when God delivers His people. The ten commandments in Exodus 20 describe how delivered people (Exodus 20:2) live (Exodus 20:3-17).

In this section, 63:7-14, Isaiah is recounting the deliverance(s) of God in history beginning with the Exodus and repeated in the period of the Judges and Kings. There is a sense in each deliverance of the actually ‘lifting up” but also in the daily care and nurture of His people.

Prophetically looking ahead, Isaiah shows that the fullness of this prophecy involved more than deliverance from Egypt and Exodus 20, Isaiah emphasizes that God will be their constant delivered. And fulfilled in Jesus Christ, who delivered not just Israel, but all who become “My people.” That is seen in the next phrase “ In all their affliction He was afflicted.”

Connections to Gospel reading:

In Matthew 2, we find that God’s acts of lovingkindness coming into play once again. God acts to bring the wise men from the east. They had the visual confirmation of something special, a king being born. But God brings them to Jerusalem to interact with the written proclamations about what they were seeking.

God further protects them from Herod when he wanted to use their new information to find the child and kill him. God warned the wise to take a different route back to their homes.

God’s protective care of His people, and specifically, “His Son,” continues when God warns Joseph to take the Child to Egypt. And then later brings Him out of Egypt in fulfillment of the greater deliverance (prophesied by Hosea, 11:1).

All for the purpose of delivering “My people.” And the death of the children of Ramah brings the reality of “in their affliction He was afflicted.” Jesus doesn’t die at this point, but this points ahead to Jesus’ own death, identifying with and delivering those who have died because of sin in the world. In other words, He died for all of us.

More thoughts tomorrow.

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Who Am I? Reflections

I take this opportunity to thank my friend for writing the five part series: Who am I? The range of human sin and emotions, overwhelmed by the grace of God, the love that sustains. We rejoice in his story, and even more in God’s story. As I reflected on this series one thing stuck out:

Ten years—no visitors

That is hard for me to imagine, and yet not so hard. We went ten years without any contact from our son. He was in prison most of that time. We know he had no family visits, but maybe a couple friends. So, yes, I can imagine. No family, no friends, just prison and fellow inmates—in the image to the right, not even one of those impersonal contacts.

That is the epitome of loneliness. How does one deal with such isolation? What impact will that have on the person’s life?

Frequent visitors

This last week I came across another blog that presented a view of imprisonment from a family member’s perspective (a role I am very familiar with). Shannan reveals her frequent visits to her son who was in prison. Most of the contact was over the phone. But now the visit was face-to-face.

Shanna’s story: Reconciled

I threw it out often, “Ask us anything! We’ll answer!”

But he hung back at the ropes, listening to all our stories, sharing his own. Never asking.

Until, one night, he did. “What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done?” he asked across the crackling prison line.

Her answer, unexpected by her son, the prisoner, began a new (positive) phase in their relationship.

The Hard Question

This brings me to my own reflections about our older son and his many times in prison. [Read the story here] This last week I mentioned that we have seen our son only one time in almost 17 years. The pain is there, the hurt is never far away.

Someone then asked me whether we had hired an investigator to look for him after all this time. I appreciated the genuine interest and concern. But the question stopped me for a moment. How do I answer this? Am I responsible for the continued gulf between us?

In all honesty I responded, “I’m not sure I (or my wife) could handle trying to search for him. That sounds almost uncaring, but for our own protection we are not at that place.”

We are concerned about him and yes, we still love him. But we have a history going back to 1978 with him and the deepening pain in living with him, without him, not knowing about him. I admitted to myself: Can we endure opening that door and exposing our selves not only to the painful memories but also to new pains, concerns, and agonies?

Right now for me that is a protective measure on my part. Is that appropriate? I have read the Prodigal Son parable for many decades. As I studied in detail in the 1990’s, one thing I noticed. The father in the parable does not seek everywhere to find his son. Rather, after the son has reached bottom, and the son returns to the Father, the father runs to meet him at the edge of the village to protect him from the ridicule and scorn of the villagers for what he had done. If our son were to contact us, then we would respond like the father.

I do know that in my ministry I have (and still do) minister to families who are going through some of the anguish that we endured from 1978 to 1998. And some who may be facing the not-knowing that we have faced from 1998 to the present. Every time it is a reminder of pain with flashbacks to knowing what people are experiencing, but also a reminder of God’s faithfulness to us, even when we were not.

Final thoughts

If nothing else from my story and the story of this friend, and Shannan’s story, that we live with life as we experience it. I wish that life were easier, that the pain would stop, the questions would not arise. I wish that families would not experience the loneliness of imprisonment, the fear and uncertainty of the missing, the sleepless nights of worry. But it is God who is the greater One, the One who sustains us in the deepest valleys. The One who reassures us that He will never leave us or forsake us. And that makes living worth living.

Who Am I? Pt 5

Part 4 (with links to parts 12-3)

Forgiveness and justification were life-giving words to me. But the forgotten twins of guilt and shame frequently haunted me on my journey. Through the wounds that I have experienced and suffered some stand out boldly to me in almost every conversation regarding faith. Forgiveness and being justified, contrary to the world view, are true words of freedom. But these deep running wounds often resulted in feelings of guilt and shame, which clung to the memory of my sins.

From my own personal experience the weight of guilt and shame hung around my neck like a millstone. Guilt overwhelmed me in two ways: false guilt (guilt for something someone else had done), and true guilt (guilt for my own sins).

False guilt came through the physical abuse that I suffered from my father’s hand and the berating of my step-father’s words. I continually felt guilt that I had done something wrong, even when I had not. These feelings of guilt affected how I viewed myself.

Genuine guilt (from my own sinful words and actions) often arose by asking the “if only” questions of life. (“If only I would have not said that…, if only I would have behaved…, if only I would have made better choices…, if only I would have stayed in the military…”). Both types of guilt only served to sink deeper into the pit of despair.

Even more I learned the hard way that a life full of regret and disappointment fosters a sense of shame, shame before others and especially before God, for what I had done.

The burden of guilt and shame weighed heavily on me. With every job application, interview, and personal meeting I had with people, the shame of my choices became my constant burden. Even now I struggle with guilt and shame as my poor decisions resurface to drive me back into a pit of despair. The message of the scripture for us to, “…let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water,” (Hebrews 10:22 NAS) was often lost on me in dealing with these emotions.

In my limited ministry experience I have encountered these feelings of guilt and shame on numerous occasions. Going back into prisons and jails to minister to others, I fight the “if only” statements ring resoundingly like being stuck in a bell tower at the noon hour. “If only I wouldn’t have gotten caught…, if only my parents would have loved me more…, if only the cops wouldn’t have been so quick to get there…, if only I would have made better choices…”

While every circumstance and situation in this environment is different, I discovered a common refrain: the heart felt plea/question of the individual is like my own. This is not limited to a prison life. Recently I sat with my best friend who was taken to the ER for a serious blood clot. Sitting by his side and with his family their words echoed in my head, “If only we would have eaten healthier…, if only I would have gone to the doctor…, if only I wouldn’t have yelled at my dad….”

The separation that sin causes that robs us of the peace, comfort and hope that only Christ can offer; and guilt and shame rise up to push harder against the gospel.  I have also learned that two passages help me deal with the guilt and shame:

Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the pledge of a good conscience toward God) through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 3:21 HCSB)

Note that Baptism saves, and cleanses the conscience. Further, my battles with shame were not unique as expressed in the Psalms and Isaiah prophesied (fulfilled in Christ, therefore mine by faith in him):

Guard my soul and deliver me; do not let me be ashamed, for I take refuge in You.  (Psalm 25:20 NAS)

“Fear not, for you will not be put to shame; and do not feel humiliated, for you will not be disgraced; but you will forget the shame of your youth, (Isaiah 54:4 NAS)

In Christ, everything is given freely in Christ: forgiveness of sins, cleansing of conscience, and freedom from shame.

In the wounded healer ministry the gospel alone serves as the sole source of comfort to me or anyone who if feeling the weight of sin.

“A minister is not a doctor whose primary task is to take away the pain….When someone comes with his loneliness to the minister, he can only expect that his loneliness will be understood and felt, so that he no longer has to run away from it but can accept it as an expression of his basic human condition…No minister can save anyone. He can only offer himself as a guide to fearful people.” (Wounded Healer)

The wounded healing of the wounded healer is comprised of making his own wounds a hospitable place for those who are wounded and looking for understanding and consolation. Understanding my own wounds and healing serves as the starting point of ministry with others. It is only when I begin to look at the miraculous restoration and healing that Christ has worked in my life that I can begin to understand that in my woundedness that I can become the source of ministry for others.

Who Am I? Pt 4

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

While I was no better off than them I knew that going back to a prison cell was not something that I wanted. So one night I remember laying in my bed in my room and began to recall all the things that I had experienced, and for the first time began to think about what my future held. Thoughts of my friends’ actions and mentality began to creep in, as well as a realization that their choices and decisions were not the ones that I was envisioning for my future. As I lay there that night I began to stew in my past and what a miserable hand that I had been dealt. I thought deeply about all of my life’s regrets and what had become to the 35 year old man.

I thought of my dad, step-father and mother. For the first time in my life I began to see the consuming anger and hatred that my life had become to the point of despair. For some reason that night I also thought of those messages that I heard in my grandparents’ church, those messages that my step-father preached, yet had not practiced, those messages that chaplains and preachers brought to me in some of the deepest and darkest times in my life. That night, through the anger, fear and hatred I began to recall those Biblical stories that told of a caring, kind, and compassionate God that desired happiness and peace for His sheep.

That night I began to see that what I desired is what I had been fleeing. No parting of the clouds or a burning bush but simply a softening of a very hardened heart, by which I could view these things in a differing light. Beyond my calloused flesh, I began to see the distant, flickering promise of God and a scripture, that I can never recall hearing before, began to settle on my heart, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (I didn’t know it was John 16:33, would soon).

I remember lying there that night, and for the first time since my mom was given the cancer diagnosis, prayed through a torrent of tears a very simple prayer, “God help me!” and I fell asleep. I awoke the next morning, still the same angry and tormented person, and tried to forget the previous night’s thoughts chalking it up to stress and desperation but with a new found realization of wanting to escape my present reality.

That next morning I had an job interview with someone that I had never met but who had heard through a Christian friend that I was looking for work. Despite my anger and stubbornness I found that something extraordinary might be going on. I met with the gentlemen and began working as a landscaper the very same day. After a month of working for him I had been promoted to a manager and had amassed enough money to move out on my own.

For the first time my past took a backseat to my future. Around this time the office manager of the landscape company asked me out on a date and I readily agreed. It did not take very long for her to express her Christian faith to me. It did not take long for me to see that she valued her relationship with God. I tried refute her position using shared pieces of my life and all of my reasoning behind my anger toward God. She sat patiently listening to my tirade, and then took out a Bible and began reading to me the scripture that had been placed on my heart a month ago. That verse from John 16:33 began to wrap my heart as she gently and lovingly began to show me a little of the trials and tribulations that she had faced in her life.

For the first time ever, I felt like I was not alone. As she began to share her own anger and resentment toward God I could not help but feel that there was something to it all. Many nights she continued to listen to this conflicted, angry man as he came to terms with the misplaced hostility toward God. She invited me to church; the whole time we sat in amazement as the pastor spoke directly into our lives.

We began attending Bible studies and exploring together the scriptural truths of God’s Word. Through the study of the scripture, the exploration of my past and the love and kindness of this amazing woman I began to view God not as a make-believe figure whom I could blame for everything but as a kind, loving and compassionate Lord who gave so dearly in order to free us all from the bondage and slavery to sin. We were married at that church, and Christ was no longer a foreign object to me but the foundation upon which our marriage was to be built. Yet again, a new reality had set in.

The Wounded Healer

From my many scars of deep and serious wounds (imposed or self-inflicted), I am beginning to understand what Nouwen meant. Nouwen states that the minister, “is called to be the wounded healer, the one who must look after his own wounds but at the same time be prepared to heal the wounds of others. He is both the wounded minister and the healing minister….” (Wounded Healer, 82) For the minister there is a connection between the suffering that this world has to offer and the suffering in the minister’s heart that leads to the precept of a wounded healer. The wounded healer is one who takes his own loneliness and suffering and through that lens of understanding creates a “hospitable space” for all of those who are wounded and looking for understanding and consolation. The wounds of the minister enable him to enter into the pain and affliction that the person is enduring, begin to understand them on a different level and connect with the person through a mutual suffering.

“For the minister is called to recognize the sufferings of his time in his own heart and to make that recognition the starting point of his service. Whether he tries to enter into a dislocated world, relate to a convulsive generation, or speak to a dying man, his service will not be perceived as authentic unless it comes from a heart wounded by the suffering about which he speaks.” (Wounded Healer, xiv)

I wish this could be the end of the story. But there is more…

Who Am I? Pt 3

See Part 2 here.

This new reality and routine continued on in my life until the fall of that year when I was again summoned to another office, but this time it was the Chaplain’s office. I vividly recall sitting in that chair and listening to the chaplain explain that my mother had finally lost her battle with cancer. He offered to pray with me as he explained that our God who is rich in compassion and cared for me dearly, who would not forsake or leave me during this time.

With this news and through my floodgate of tears I lashed out verbally at him telling him of what I thought of his God. No longer could I contain my anger, fears, and outrage at life and what it had given me. I was sure going to let him, and everybody I ran across, know what I thought of this fictitious deity.  Soon after I stopped going to classes, began masking my pain with alcohol and marijuana use, and was given a hardship discharge from the military. Being an only child and having the rest of my family succumb to death I decided to stay in the area. Instead of looking at the new reality that I found myself in, I focused on the past and the entirety of what my life had become. I was angry, hateful, full of resentment—overall mad at the world. Words alone cannot express the depth of the emotions that seeped from every pore of my body.

I continued to deal with all of these emotions and pains by abusing substances that would allow me not to feel anything beside the sadness that dwelt within me. It was not long before I had yet again fallen into the “wrong crowd” and surrounded myself with people who were of the same ilk. I became good friends with the pot dealer who lived across the hall from me and we would spend every night, for the better part of a year, partying and selling marijuana to others. One night that all changed though— through a tip to the police we were raided and arrested in my apartment for possession, burglary and theft.

I spent the next nine months of my life in the county jail where my anger and frustration with life only seemed to grow more deeply and manifest in more ways. Eventually I was sentenced to fourteen years in the state prison. Now these feelings of anger, hatred, and embroiled passion manifested themselves toward any of those hypocritical, Bible-thumping Christians. I spent the next ten years of my life confined in numerous prisons throughout the state. I made sure that everyone I encountered knew how angry I was with their make-believe God.

Through my penal tour I became known and feared as a “bible basher” who would do some pretty deplorable things to anyone who professed a faith in Christ. Child molesters, woman abusers and rapists were often the target of my anger as they so desperately sought to go to these church services where God gave them such a false comfort and security.  Not one time in this ten year span did I ever enter a chapel, attend a service, or accept any amount of help from a religious community or group.

While I was released from the confines that I had so desperately wanted flee, I was still filled with anger and hatred. The new reality that I now faced was one of fear as I stood before the world a free man, but a free man who had no place within society. Ironically, the only places, people, and organizations that would help someone in my situation were those Christian groups that I despised so much. Not wanting to join the ranks of the hypocrites, I began my journey of new found freedom not by accepting any help from them, but by continuing on in my obstinate anger, and hence my own self-made prison.

Living in a shelter and endlessly searching for work proved to be quite challenging for an ex-convict with little work history and obvious anger issues. This routine continued for a month or so until I ran into some friends of mine from prison who offered me a place to stay as they too could relate to the difficulties in transitioning back into society.

Eager to escape the shelter I jumped at the opportunity for this new found freedom, but it did not take long before, yet again, reality kicked in. My friends, plain and simple, were up to no good as they were already back into the lifestyle that had led them to prison in the first place. While in one breath they would praise the freedom they had on the “outside,” in the next breath they would talk about how they could get their next fix or how they could rob and rip off people to support themselves.

Now my prison had no visible walls, but my prison was just as real.

God made flesh

Some discussion abounds on the internet about whether Dec. 25 is the actual birth date of Jesus. We don’t know the actual date; Scripture does not tell us. If a Christian does not want to celebrate this day, that is okay. But if a Christian denies who was born in Bethlehem and the importance of that in the Christian faith, then that is not okay.imgres

In freedom, this day is set aside to remember the fact that God did take on human flesh, becoming human (incarnation). This is one of the mysteries of the Christian faith (along with the Trinity). The incarnation is a stumbling block for many. But it is part of the foundation of the Christian faith.

C.S. Lewis wrote on the Incarnation of Christ:

In the Incarnation God the Son takes the body and human soul of Jesus, and, through that, the whole environment of Nature, all the creaturely predicament, into His own being. So that “He came down from Heaven” can almost be transposed into ”Heaven drew earth up into it,” and locality, limitation, sleep, sweat, footsore weariness, frustration, pain, doubt, and death, are, from before all worlds, known by God from within. The pure light walks the earth; the darkness, received into the heart of Deity, is there swallowed up. Where, except in uncreated light, can the darkness be drowned?

Likewise, as Christians we are not called upon to prove the incarnation, nor can we. Rather, we take this opportunity to proclaim the birth of Jesus. So, let’s return to the text of Scripture and read/hear this once again. And rejoice with the angels, the shepherds, Mary, and Joseph. And then rejoice in how this fits into all of God’s plan for redeeming humans.

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 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,

and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising Goda for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.  (Luke 2:1-20 NIV)

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The fact and importance of God taking on flesh appears throughout the New Testament.

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In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:philippians-2-5-11

Who, being in very nature God,

did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing

by taking the very nature of a servant,

being made in human likeness.

And being found in appearance as a man,

he humbled himself

by becoming obedient to death—

even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place

and gave him the name that is above every name,

that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,

in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5-11 NIV)

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But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. (Galatians 4:4-5 NIV)

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But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:4-7 NIV)

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Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. For this reason he had to be made like them, a fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. (Hebrews 2:14-18 NIV)

Christmas Greeting

Who Am I? Pt 2

Who Am I? Pt 1 The story of abuse continues…

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So life began anew for my mom and me. Within a year she had married a Baptist minister, and we moved to a little town, where we settled into a parsonage prepared to begin a new life. My mind was ablaze with the opportunity to start fresh and no longer live in the uncertainty and pain that the prior years had brought.

Unfortunately, it didn’t take long before the new reality kicked in and my hopes and dreams were extinguished. While my step-father was not physically abusive, he was very verbally abusive and morally demeaning toward my mom and me. While living in the parsonage next to the church, my step-father would often treat us like his personal slaves, demanding that we cater to his every need. He would often berate us with his words saying things like, “You are too much trouble to have around.” When not being wait upon hand and foot he, would vacillate between totally ignoring us and critizing us in front of other people for any action or word that was done that was not up to his standard.

Again this was quite a different message from the one that we would hear him preach and teach from the pulpit on Sundays. He, too, proclaimed to the people how caring, kind and compassionate God is, and how we are to mirror those same qualities in our lives. For me as a freshman in high school the hypocrisy of this situation, coupled with my past experiences, was just unbearable. Any thoughts of God’s grace, peace, and mercy toward His children switched back to that of being good for others and brought with it some serious doubt as to whether God even cared at all. My mother was not immune to this pattern of thinking either as we had a few occasions where we would be able to share our feelings and frustrations in a rare moment of privacy.

While this new reality and cycle of abuse began to affect our lives, it lasted only eighteen months. Upon returning from school one day, again holding my breath as I entered the door, I encountered my mom who was obviously distraught and crying. Earlier in the day she had been diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor; she was given less than a year to live. I will never forget the raw emotion that came from both of us that day as we sat in each other’s arms crying and begging God for His mercy. Upon his arrival home, after hearing of this diagnosis, my step-father – the pastor – demanded that we pack up all of our belongings and get out of his house because, “he didn’t have time to deal with this sort of thing.”

The police were eventually called as I lunged at him, swinging my fists erratically and cursing him with every ounce of my strength. We were escorted away from that home, only with what possessions we could pack in ten minutes, to begin yet again but now with new and frightening realities in our lives. At this point God was truly nothing more than a fictional character that only existed for a small few who had never experienced life to the extent that I had.

Picking up and moving on, coupled with the diagnosis of cancer and chemotherapy, brought with it numerous challenges and frustrations. At the age of sixteen my new reality had become: trying to maintain all of my school work, caring for a chemo patient, maintaining a steady income flow, and still trying to find time to be a teenager. My daily routine typically consisted of getting up to fix breakfast, scheduling appointments, going to school, coming home to relieve the caregiver, going to work at a movie theater or gas station, coming home to do homework and finally passing out on the couch from sheer exhaustion.

As medical insurance began to run out and my graduation from high school was approaching, I was left with little choice but to join the military to help support my mother and provide the care that she needed. Again, not learning from the past, I stood with eager anticipation and hope as to what this new change would bring.  All of my pay was sent home to provide care for her. I was granted special leaves of absence so that I might continue to support and care for my mother. In basic training, I began to attend the worship services and hear those messages of God’s grace peace and mercy, and although I was still hardened in the heart the appeal to the call of such things tugged at my heart.

Was this the turning point? Not at all…