I wish Netflix had a genre called “Redemption Stories.” The suggestions would be filled with movies where all seems lost and then suddenly – BOOM – a change of events and hope is restored. Prisoners are freed. Debts are paid. Slaves become kings. In every story, the underdog would win.
I think we need more stories like this these days. These are the stories God likes, too, and the Bible is full of them.
I want to share a redemption story God has been writing in my life for the past six years.
The doorbell rang, and my heart raced. “Here we go,” I coaxed myself as I walked to answer the door.
Instantly, I hated it. Seeing my dad with another woman felt as gross as I thought it would. He held the door as she stepped in. He took her black leather coat as they both beamed like giddy school girls.
“Hi, my name’s Molly,” I said as I plastered a smile on my face and shook her hand.
“Hi, Molly. It’s so nice to finally meet you! I’m Jackie,” she said warmly. My dad put his arm around her as they looked at each other. It was offensive seeing this. Did he ever put his arm around Mom for no reason? I suddenly couldn’t remember. I couldn’t remember him taking Mom’s coat off for her either, and I felt a twinge of anger turn up the heat in my soul.
I led them inside, showing Jackie the dining room, office, and living room as we made our way toward the kitchen. Another twinge, this time of sadness, as I recounted the fact that I never got to show Mom and Dad my new house or serve them a meal at my kitchen table or recline with them in the living room sipping coffee.
Let’s just say the night could have gone better. I was wound so tightly that every ounce of fun they seemed to have together added gasoline to my anger. Quite frankly, their flirting like two teenagers made me want to vomit and tell them to grow up. I was seeing a side of my dad that I had never seen, and I didn’t like it with someone who wasn’t Mom.
Over dinner, Jackie pulled out her portfolio containing all of her professional artwork and talked endlessly about it. Why did she bring the portfolio with her the first night she met me? At that time, I didn’t care a lick about art, and she kept going on and on and on about it. I was very put-off by it. And then she kept reminiscing about the dates she and Dad had been on. Didn’t she know I didn’t want to hear this from her? I just wanted my mom back!
The evening was awful. The moment they closed the front door, I went straight to my room and bawled like a four-year-old.
This just wasn’t the way it was supposed to be.
The next five years, were a very slow crawl in a forced direction. As much as I didn’t like what was happening, I knew she was here to stay, so I needed to get a grip. I prayed that God would help me with my anger, but even after that first surrender, there were many ups and downs along the way. Graphs of difficult relationships often look less linear and more like a heart beat with only occasional high points. And so it was with my feelings toward Jackie.
When I found out I was pregnant, I prepared to feel the strongest dislike yet. All my life, I had looked forward to the time when Mom and I would excitedly prepare for my first child together, but I feared Jackie’s presence would instead remind me of all that would not be. I didn’t want her to get to take part in any of the baby festivities. I determined she could come, but that I didn’t have to spend time with her. I wanted Mom there, not her.
A couple months before Tage arrived, Jackie asked if she could give me a gift by painting the nursery for me. All of my initial thoughts were steeped in selfishness: no I don’t want you doing anything for this baby, but I hate painting and you’re really good at it, and maybe this will be the one thing you can do so I don’t have to feel guilty that I didn’t let you do anything else, and you’ll be painting while I’m at work, so we won’t even have to talk. Ugh. They were evil, ugly thoughts.
But all I said aloud was, “Sure. That’d be great!”
And while I was at work, Jackie painted alone, praying over the baby that was on its way into our lives and for me as I prepared to become a mama.
When she told me this as she showed me her progress one afternoon, I knew my attitude toward her had turned sour again, and so I prayed God would once again give me an attitude adjustment. I just didn’t realize that He would shape me with such an unlikely tool: Jackie herself.
When I saw Jackie next, she excitedly handed me some cute shoes and toys she had picked up for the baby. I pictured her thinking of my baby while she was out shopping and grinning over the things she’d found. All the while, knowing my inner chill toward her. Ahhh, dagger to my cold, hard heart.
The following week, I was over at Dad and Jackie’s house when I was approached by Chewy, the little dog she had brought to live in my childhood home. I looked down and refused to pet him, annoyed by his presence. A few minutes later, I watched her bend down and pet my childhood dog tenderly as if she were her own. She looked into Macey’s eyes and spoke gently as she rubbed a hand over the top of her head. She didn’t know I was watching her. I smiled to myself, and then remembered my behavior a few minutes prior toward her dog. Another dagger.
In Romans 12:20, Jesus quotes Proverbs 25 when He says,
If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat;
if he is thirsty, give him water to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head,
and the Lord will reward you.
In my mind, Jackie was the enemy. She didn’t do anything to deserve that title, but I was hostile toward her. She didn’t know we were enemies, so she wasn’t trying to manipulate me by being nice, and she didn’t even know half of the selfless things I’d watched her do. Plain and simple: she loves Jesus, so she actively loves and serves the people around her.
But each of her kindnesses heaped burning coals of shame on my head because she was treating me far better than I knew I deserved.
When Tage was born, I watched her love him with her whole heart. She was always willing to watch him if I needed to run out, and it was clear he enjoyed being with her, too. My emotions were bittersweet – I still wished my mom were there, but I was so thankful my boy was the recipient of so much love from his Nana.
Six months later, we learned of his terminal diagnosis. During the week we spent in the hospital with him, I was a ball of stress. But every day, Jackie would ask me if she could rub my back and shoulders. I hate rubbing peoples’ backs, so her willingness to serve me in that way was something I knew I wouldn’t do for someone who didn’t actively love me back. Her touch was so gentle and her love broke down the grief-knots in my shoulders…and the bitter knots in my heart. More daggers.
For months that year, I also watched her go with my dad to my grandpa’s house every night after work to help him pack up and prepare to move into assisted living. She painted all the walls with a fresh coat of paint so it would look updated among many other things. Then, once he was in assisted living, she went with my dad to visit him every night as he adjusted to the change, taking his laundry home to wash and bringing it back the next day, doing grocery shopping for him, and making him smile with her teasing. This was a man she had recently met who was not even her own biological father. I knew she was tired at the end of each day and had plenty of other things to do, but she chose to love my grandpa and help my dad over and over and over. Ten tiny daggers!
And then the daggers broke right through the hard, crusted shell around my heart.
As I drove home from their house one night after watching Jackie clean and fold Grandpa’s laundry, I couldn’t take it anymore. I knew I had a heart problem! God refers to it as sin – where I know what God desires that I do, but I do what I want instead. I knew all along He wanted me to show love to her, but I just. didn’t. want. to…until now.
“If you love Me, obey my commands.” –John 14:15
“Those who obey My commands are the ones who love Me.” –John 14:21
“Remain in My love. When you obey Me, you remain in My love…I have told you this so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow! I command you to love each other the same way that I love you. And here is how to measure it—the greatest love is shown when people lay down their lives for their friends. You are my friends if you obey me…I command you to love each other.” –John 15:9-16
In other words: Obey me. And what I want you to do is love each other by serving each other. And you will be filled with joy when you do.
I love the historical account in John 5 where Jesus meets a man who had been unable to move for thirty-eight years. Thirty-eight years of lying still and helpless! When Jesus meets him, He asks the man, “Do you want to get well?”
At first, I want to say to Jesus, “Well, what do you think, Jesus? What kind of question is that? Of course he wants to get well! He’s been paralyzed and pitied for thirty-eight years!” But as always, Jesus’ questions are meant to get past the top layer and straight to the heart. Perhaps Jesus is showing the man (and us) that He does not force anything upon us, so even in our healing, we have a choice to make. Perhaps He is letting us know that He wants us to actually ask Him for healing, lest we think we have healed ourselves. Or, even more severe, perhaps He knows there were beneficial parts of the paralyzed life that would be difficult for the man to let go – the pity from others that gave him attention, the built-in excuses for why he couldn’t work or why he couldn’t address other issues in his life, the ability to hide in the midst of a crowd because no one saw the real him.
And Jesus asks us the same thing. Molly, do you want to get well? Do you really want to love Jackie? Do you really want to let go of the bitterness that gives you a sense of power? Are you really ready to do the work this will require? Are you ready to lay down your own life and let Me fix your heart which may hurt at first but will make you more like Me?
These are not questions to take lightly. They are life-transforming questions. And when we finally say we are ready, He will do the healing.
The process started when I asked God to change my heart toward her, but then I had to walk toward her.
The Lord invited me to start looking for reasons I was thankful for her, and as I was genuinely looking, I discovered gratitude. By the time her birthday rolled around, I gave her a letter titled, “The Top 10 Reasons I’m Grateful To You, Jackie.” And I meant every one.
Truly, the Lord has changed my heart. HE has done it.
Jackie and I stood in her kitchen a few weeks ago, and I told her the Lord was leading me to write what He has done in me toward her. We spoke openly with one another about the last few years of our rocky relationship (made that way by me). When I asked her what she would have done differently, she chuckled and said, “I would not have brought over my portfolio the first time I met you.”
I was stunned. That encounter had always stuck out in my mind, and I had never really understood it. I was shocked to hear she remembered it, too, all these years later.
She went on to explain that she now realized bringing her portfolio gave the impression she was full of herself and that she didn’t care about getting to know others, and then she said, “but Molly, I felt like that was the one good part of me I could offer. I didn’t have money, and I had baggage as we all do. So in my mind I had very little to bring to this family, but I knew my art was good. I knew it was what I had to offer.”
In that moment, I saw her as a product of this broken world like the rest of us who want to feel validated, loved, and accepted. She was just like me. And suddenly her portfolio wasn’t annoying. It was beautiful. She wanted to give the best of herself to us.
And unexpectedly, the final shard of my heart of stone toward her fell off.
“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” Ezekiel 36:26
The Lord has used Jackie’s kindness to me to bust through my heart of stone, and He continues to soften my heart toward her even now as my love for her grows. Do I still wish my mom were here? Yes. Absolutely. But God has done a miracle in my heart toward a woman I thought I could never love. I can say now that not only do I love her, I enjoy her. GOD did that in ME.
And He wants to do that in you, friend. Do you want to get well?
A few months ago, Dad came over to hang something for me, and Jackie came with him. We chatted casually about life over the sound of Dad’s drill. As Dad was wrapping up, Jackie asked me pointedly, “How are you sleeping?”
I was surprised by the question, because the previous two nights had been miserable.
“Not well, actually,” I said, trying to keep it casual.
“Why not?” she asked warmly.
“Honestly, I’m waking up all night long and battling my thoughts.” I waved my hand and said, “But I know they are lies from the enemy.” I really wasn’t sure if I wanted to go here right now, but then she said, “What is he saying to you?”
With that question, my eyes filled with tears. I hadn’t spoken these things out loud before, and they were waging war in my head and heart.
“That I’m unloved….That I’m alone…That I’m unwanted,” I responded as large tears rolled down my cheeks.
“Oh, Honey,” she said, as tears filled her eyes. She grabbed my shoulders and looked into my face and said, “You’re right, Molly. Those are lies. You are so loved and wanted. And you are not alone. The Lord is always beside you, and we are always here for you.” She looked over at my dad who was watching. “Will you come pray with us?” she asked him.
And there in my bedroom, as the three of us stood with our arms around each other and our foreheads pressed together, Jackie prayed for me.
I have slept soundly every night since.
Never could I have pictured that scene back in 2010. But God did. I am so thankful His plans are greater than mine. He is never in a hurry, but His plans are good. His redemption stories are always the best.
Ask Him to write yours.
I can rejoice like David and say, “The Lord has done this and it is marvelous in our eyes.” (Psalm 118:23).