1 John 4:12
12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.
Beginning on page 33 of The Deep End, Pastor David shares the story of Rhonda, who grew up in what we might describe as a broken home. Her parents separated before she entered elementary school, but Rhonda can still remember the fights that would explode in her home prior to her parents’ divorce. Both of Rhonda’s parents abused alcohol and many of their fights included outbursts of violent behavior towards one another. It was while they were living in Chelsea, Massachusetts that Rhonda’s father decided to leave and return to his hometown of Key West, Florida.
In the years that followed her father’s departure, Rhonda learned a lot about how to take care of herself and her younger sister. In those years, Rhonda remembers her mother going out frequently and coming home so drunk that she was unable to care for Rhonda and her sister the next day. When Rhonda went to school, it was often without any food. In fact, her strongest memory of those early years was the experience of going hungry.
Rhonda and her sister eventually went to live with their father and grandparents in Key West. When Rhonda’s father took her to the doctor she weighed only 24 pounds.
Her mom’s presence in her life was sporadic in the years that followed. When Rhonda was eighteen, she married a young man named Mike who was serving in the Navy and stationed in Key West. Eventually, Rhonda and Mike relocated to Missouri where Mike attended Bible College in preparation to become a minister.
Dealing with the abuse she had suffered as a child created a great strain in Rhonda’s relationship with her mom. After the birth of Rhonda and Mike’s first daughter, Rhonda received a particularly hurtful letter from her mother that led her to make a difficult decision. She decided it was time for her to walk away from the dysfunction of her childhood and the painful relationship she had with her mom.
Then, in January 2013, Rhonda received word that her mother was dying of cancer and that her mother would like for her to come and visit her before she died. After almost forty years of separation, Rhonda made the decision to buy a plane ticket to go and see her mom.
Rhonda spent much of the next three months at her mother’s bedside. During her initial visit, Rhonda discovered that there was no one caring for her mother in her final days. Rhonda became her full-time nurse, making sure she had all her medications at the proper time, offering prayers and comfort at her bedside, changing her and her bed sheets and working with the hospice team that was caring for her mother in her final days.
When Pastor David asked Rhonda why she decided to do all these things, she said this:
“No matter what she had done, she was still my mother. God forgave me. Jesus died for me. And I believe that the forgiveness I offered to my mother gave her the chance to forgive herself for not being a better mother for me and my sister.”
Rhonda’s husband Mike explained her service in this way.
“For Rhonda, her relationship with Jesus has been the driving force in this story. Her relationship with Jesus opened the door of grace in her life and enabled her to experience a relationship with her mother in the last three months of her life. I am proud of Rhonda because I’m not sure I could have or would have done the same thing in the same circumstances.”
Before she died, Rhonda’s mother expressed to her how much it meant for her to come back into her life after decades of separation. The day after her mom’s birthday, Rhonda’s mother died in peace. Rhonda was still there by her side.
Pastor David writes,
“What I have grown to understand is that we find God when we express and experience love.
In moments of pain and suffering,
In grief and brokenness and pain,
When it feels like life is crashing down,
When someone shows up to simply love us,
When we share the tears of others,
When forty years of brokenness and hurt are set aside by someone who has the courage to return love instead of bitterness and hate,
When the forgiveness that has set us free helps break the chains of someone else’s bondage.
When these things happen, it is an experience of the divine. We find ourselves connecting with something deep within us, a God we cannot see but we somehow know and find.
When you love,
God is there.”
Could it be that God is calling you to move closer to Him (and find where He is) by showing this kind of love to someone in your life today?
Holy God, thank you for your grace. Please help me move beyond the hurdles that trip me up and give me more faith in you and more assurance in your love for me. Amen.
Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version ® NIV ®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2014 by Biblica, Inc.®. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.