There was a certain creditor which had two debtors: the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both. Tell me therefore, which of them will love him most? Simon answered and said, I suppose that he, to whom he forgave most. And he said unto him, Thou hast rightly judged. Luke 7:41-43In the parable our Lord was speaking of the gift of salvation, but I think this applies to many different situations. Once someone asked me what is the one thing I wish I could forget. And the truth is, although my life has been filled with heartache and even though I have made many mistakes along the way, I wouldn't change a thing. Because remembering my sorrows and miss steps reminds me of how much I have to be grateful for today. As our Savior said, those whose lives have always gone according to plan, and those who have always had it easy, and those who have never made a mistake may not fully appreciate the gifts of forgiveness, mercy and salvation.
My home life growing up was anything but ideal. Our lives were driven by my parents horrible marriage, violent fights, alcoholism, abuse and neglect. Even on what should have been the most joyous occasions, we knew no joy. If both our parents were living at home and there was not already a brawl going on, we were all anxiously holding our breath waiting for a screaming match to break out. I would have given anything to live in one of the happy households I witnessed when visiting my school mates homes.
Because I have known the other side of the story, I am daily grateful for the happiness I share with my husband and children. Even in our trials, we have much to rejoice about in the family He has blessed us with. How many people run from day to day taking for granted the family they have because it has always been within their grasp?
Growing up, we went to church every weekend and on the holy days. We observed the times of fasting and were careful to partake of all the sacraments. My brother, sister and I attended Catholic school where we were taught the doctrine of the church. It was unthinkable to lapse in any of these things. “What a nice family,” people would say. “What good children.” We were called Christians and believed we had earned the name. However, at home, we did not live as those who have claimed His name should. We were working so hard to have salvation but all our works were in vain. We could never do enough or be religious enough to have a right relationship with the righteous God of Heaven. Today, because I have known the emptiness of a religious life, I am thankful for the free and effortless gift of salvation through the cross of Jesus Christ.
Even at a young age, I was always trying to figure things out, asking questions and getting frustrated that no one I knew could answer my “whys” to my satisfaction. I would read something or hear something in church or in our religion classes and it just didn’t work for me. Instead it just gave me more questions. The day a teacher told us we must all be baptized or we can’t get to Heaven particularly sticks out in my mind. The toddler daughter of our friend had just dropped dead on the play ground so this children and Heaven thing was very fresh in my mind. When I asked the teacher about the babies who die before they are baptized she said, "Well they have to be baptized!" She went on to explain if they are very sick and a priest can’t come to baptize them, anyone can do it. My mind wondered what would happen if there was no one who knew how to baptize properly. Would God really not allow this child into heaven? The teacher's answer was to tell us the steps to properly baptize someone should we ever find ourselves in that situation. But no one had an answer for those who never had the opportunity to get baptized before death.
We loved to sing when I was growing up. My mom sang us hymns and taught us hymns. We often would sing in the car on our way to and from school. One of the songs we sang was based on the scripture John 15:13 “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” One day Mom and I were working on something in the kitchen and singing this song when I realized, “Wow, this Jesus is pretty amazing.”
One spring, as Easter approached, and we fasted our way through the Lenten season I was particularly stirred by the teachings at church and in school about Jesus death on the cross. I had heard it plenty and been told that Jesus died so we could get to heaven, but it had never been so real to me before. This brought about so many more “whys”. If Jesus died so we could go to heaven, why do babies have to be baptized? Why do we have to go to church? Why do we have to take the sacraments? It was all so confusing. I talked to my mom. I spoke with my teachers. I questioned the priests. But every answer they gave only created more questions for me. And after a while it was made clear that my questions were impertinent.
So I did what I was told. Went to church. Took the sacraments. Volunteered. Tried to be a good enough person to make it to heaven one day. But never knowing for sure if I would ever get there.
Today I have all the answers at my fingertips. I have the Bible. The infallible word of the God who created me, judged me and saved me. In His book, He has given me the answers to every question I will ever need to know the answers to on this earth. In our country we are so blessed to have this in our hands. A Bible can be had by anyone in the USA who desires it. Yet, if you ask most Christians they could not tell you the last time they opened their Bible and read it on a daily basis. In fact, many people tell me they have never read their Bibles through even one time! Sadly, this comes from ladies who have had the blessing of being in church their whole lives. Today, because I have lived many years with the confusion and sleepless nights of unanswered questions, I am grateful for the undeserved gift of God's word. I love to read it. I love to study it. I look forward to going to church and hearing it preached. My girls asked me once how many times I've read the Bible through since I gave my life to Jesus. The answer is, "I don't know." However, this year I have read it through three times. Today, I am grateful that, in His word, the Lord tells us that we can know for sure if we will spend eternity in Heaven.
By the time I was in Junior High school my father had moved out. We scarcely saw him. My mom, while she was at home, really had very little to do with us. She drank more and more as time went on and spent most of her time watching television. It was a very lonely time for me. I worked very hard at school, at my job, and around the house in an effort to win approval from my parents that never came my way.
One night my mother announced she was done with raising kids. She packed her bag and left. We didn't even know where my father was living at the time. After school the next day we called dad at work. He said he would come home. As I look back I don't think it was because he was really interested in being home with his children, but rather because he wanted the house and its contents. I used to think he did as good a job as a father could in such a situation. But now that I look back, I see his heart wasn't in it. He was rarely home so we were left to care for ourselves, tend to the household chores and care for our brother who was 6 years younger than me. In my teen years, I desperately wanted and needed a relationship with him. But he was not interested in such things. My brother who was 18 months older than me, had been coming and going for some time. And at the age of sixteen, after an argument with my dad, he picked me up, set me on the porch and told me I was no longer welcome in his house.
Since then, I have always worked to secure this elusive relationship with my father. Over the years I have seen it wax and wane. As he loses interest and goes silent from time to time, even for years at a time, I always suffer great heartache and spend time beating myself up and wondering what I did to be so unlovable to my own father. It has been a year and a half since I last heard from him. Yet today I rejoice for my Abba Father God, who no matter that I don't deserve it, and no matter what mistake I make, He loves me and promises to remain with me welcoming me with His forgiving arms and not just for a time but for all eternity.
I spent the next two years trying to finish my high school studies while working to support myself and dealing with ongoing health issues. During this time I moved from one temporary living situation to another. I stayed night to night in the homes of various friends. I slept in my car. After my car was totaled, I slept wherever I happened to be at the end of the day. The stairwell of an apartment building, an empty house that was for sale, someone's front porch and on a particularly dismal night beside a pinball machine in a 7-11.
Today, because I have known homelessness, I am grateful for our happy little house the Lord has provided. To most people, our home is too small or too simple to be worthy of a second glance, but to me it is a palace and I wouldn't want to be any other place. What's more? Today I live with the promise of a future in Heaven where my brother Jesus has gone to prepare a mansion for me.
Eventually, I came to live with a woman who offered me housing in exchange for taking care of her children. I was there just a short time before I realized she slept with men in exchange for drugs. Her children and I got along well and it provided me with a roof while I tried to finish school. So I stayed.
That December, when I was 16, a fellow I had known who was in the Navy, came home on leave. We dated throughout the month he was in town and committed to an exclusive relationship when he left in January to return to his duty station. When he permanently returned home, a few months later, we were serious about each other.
In the meantime, my living situation became quite precarious. My roommate was involved with her ex-husband again and now we all were living together under the same roof. My room mate, her ex-husband, his girlfriend, their four children and me. All three of them were heavy into drug use and alcohol. The whole situation was so absurd. However, in exchange for watching the children and doing the laundry I had a place to live while finishing my junior year of high school. The husband B, lost his job with the post office when he failed a random drug test. He became increasingly more abusive to his wife, the girl friend and the children. It was not uncommon for either or both of the women to have a black eye. However, he was always cordial to me. Until one day, during yet another argument with the women, he cornered me in my bedroom. That's when I started running and never looked back.
I have two cousins who grew up in a good home with a mother who loved them and our dear grandmother. They went to a nice private school and had all their needs provided for. Yet, both of these brothers gave their lives over to heroine addiction and all the horrors that go with it. The older eventually lost his life in his early 20's and the other has spent most of the last 6 years in jail on various charges related to his drug addiction. I often look back on all I was exposed to in the nine months I was living in that situation. It would have been easy for me to fall into such a life. Even though I did not know the Lord, I am certain that He was guiding me all the time. I don't know why God chose to protect me, but I often look back on where I could be today and praise the Lord for where His goodness has brought me instead. Because of what He did for me I am grateful for the opportunity to live this life for Him. It is not the hindrance or duty that some see but rather my honor to do whatever is in my power to glorify one who has done so much for me.
With no other options for my future, I married J. shortly after turning 18. The month of my 19th birthday I found out we had a baby on the way. All the charm my husband had exhibited seemed to disappear overnight. He started drinking heavily and started getting high with old buddies. Then he was stealing from his family, from my family and even from his employers to support his habits. He was fired from one job after another. With a very troubled pregnancy, no income, and a husband who was becoming increasingly abusive, life was bleak. But things would get far worse before they got better. I know now that it was all part of God's plan for me.
One night, when my Kaitlin was 18 months old, J. took what money we had, our car and left to be with a girl he had been having an affair with. I found out later that she was not his only indiscretion. In those initial days, I was devastated. However, in God's goodness it wasn't long before I came to see this as the best thing he ever did for me. Although, this man was no good and I feared for our daughter's safety, I don't believe I would have ever left him. And our divorce was the first of the very important steps to me finding Jesus, which was the turning point of my life.
The Bible tells us this kind of man, who does not care for or provide for his family, is no better than an infidel. In wisdom would I have chosen this sort of husband and lifestyle? No, but I am grateful for those years and those painful memories. They cause me to daily thank the Lord for the many ways He provides for all my needs and even the desires of my heart. Because of these experiences I am daily thankful for the good husband God has given me and for our commitment to our marriage and raising our family to the glory and honor of God.
My life and heart were so troubled with financial, personal and spiritual questions after his leaving, that I ceased to sleep at all. Every night was the same. I would tuck Kaitlin in bed and then crawl into bed myself completely exhausted and my mind would start spinning. What am I going to do about this? What about that? How can I this? And so it went until the sun came up. I was so completely exhausted, I would doze off sitting up and even while driving. I couldn't focus and my memory was suffering terribly. Of course at night, when I fell back into bed, the questions just started again. But never did I arrive at an answer. What I now know, is that I couldn't ever find an answer to those questions because I was looking in the wrong place. In my surroundings, in finding the right job, in whatever I would do. But the true solution was not within me but by turning to the God who controls all.
Do you take advantage of your ability to meet with the God who controls our every breath? I remember acutely the long and sleepless nights without Him. Today, I am thankful that God allows me to walk in fellowship with Him. What an honor that I can speak to Him in prayer at every moment of the day or night. It is with joy and gratitude I remember how He was so good to provide the solution I needed in the dark hour.
In 1994, my brother invited me to attend a Bible study with him. As we sat and listened to the preacher talk about the Lord’s word, retelling the stories of the Old Testament saints, I was in shock at the passion he had. His overwhelming belief in the truth he was sharing and the faith of those he was teaching about. The unquestionable fact that this was truth, written just as it happened, to be understood and interpreted just as the Bible said. And here it was, in the Bible for all of us, everyone, to understand and KNOW for ourselves. That was such an amazing new revelation for me. Up to that point in my life, whenever I saw a conflict in what man said and what the Bible said, I was told that it was because I wasn't capable of understanding it. But here, for the first time, I knew that if there was a conflict, it wasn't my understanding that was lacking, but rather it was the understanding of the world being added to what God said. The bottom line? I could believe, without a doubt, every word God has given to us. That was when I knew if I could understand Moses literally called on God’s power to open the red sea and lead the Israelites across, than the other things written in His word were literally true, also. When the word said Jesus died to free all men who believe on His death as the full payment of their sins, then my sins had already been paid for.
I didn't know the lingo or even the steps to soul winning we teach others, but I will never forget the hot evening in 1994 when the Lord opened my eyes and heart to this truth. I gave up my sin, worries and ultimately turned my life over to Him. It felt as though my heart burst open and immediately there was a freedom and peace which had eluded me all my life.
Today I am thankful for the trials to show us His perfect peace which passes all understanding. When I look back I realize I could have been the prostitute, the woman at the well, a drug addict, a battered wife, the homeless woman on the street or even worse things I can't imagine. And that is when my heart swells and I am fully grateful for what Jesus did in sparing me, a worthless, imperfect, undeserving sinner. Without the difficulties I have faced I could not see the awesome ways my God has worked throughout my every breath. Without dark moments, I would not be able to see the light of my Lord Jesus Christ shining to brighten each of my steps in this dark world.
And because of the many challenges He has given me along the way I am able to minister in so many areas of life. My husband often tells me how much wisdom I have. Any wisdom I might have is not mine to claim but because of the experiences He has brought me through. If I had never walked this winding journey I would not be able to embrace the joy of reaching out to so many different girls, young ladies and women. I am thankful God has given me a heart especially to reach young ladies. Today I am thankful I was given the opportunity to share my journey with you. I thank you for taking a few minutes to remember it with me. It is my prayer that what He has done in my life will impact your life to make you a better servant for His kingdom.
My name is Kathleen Wachter and I blog about all I am Thankful for over at Art's Chili Pepper