The God of second chances: You can redeem mistakes by seeing the opportunities in them
I recently had an opportunity to view La Mama, a fascinating documentary by Jody Hammond about Mother Antonia Brenner, a twice-divorced Beverly Hills matron with seven children who at the age of 50 became a nun and spent the next 30 years of her life ministering inside La Mesa Penitentiary in Tijuana, Mexico. Mother Antonia also founded "Servants of the Eleventh Hour," a religious order for women who feel called to religious life but are too old (or otherwise encumbered) for traditional orders.
It was riveting, watching Mother Antonia reach through the bars of a prison cell and touch the faces of her "sons"—inmates and guards alike. Outside of the prison, her sisters reach out to the families of these men, seeking to alleviate their desperate physical and spiritual poverty. In the words of one prisoner, "We can't have our mothers with us . . . but Madre, she is our mother now." Features soften, eyes shine, and the mutual affection is so real, it kind of takes your breath away. Not a trace of fear radiates from her, only love.
Early in the 20th century, Oswald Chambers (the story of the great Scot and his wife Biddy may be found here) wrote: "If you're going to be used by God, he's going to take you through a myriad of experiences that are not meant for you at all. They are meant to make you useful in God's hands."
Like many people, when I look back on my life I recall certain choices that, had I chosen differently, could have sent my life on a very different trajectory. One car ride in particular comes to mind—a split-second choice at the top of a long, steep hill in the middle of a snow storm. It was one of those "myriad of experiences" that would change my life forever. I chose to drive past a friend's house in my determination to make it home, and on the way my car skid on a patch of black ice and careened down a mountain.
When I awakened in the hospital a week later, the doctors informed me that my internal injuries were so extensive, it was unlikely that I would ever have children.
Nearly 20 years passed before this became an issue for me. But when I finally settled down enough to get married and think about starting a family, I got my second chance. A sibling group of three landed on our doorstep. They needed another chance to get all the things children need: loving parents, a secure home, full tummies and cozy beds. Had it not been for that night in the snowstorm, it might never have occurred to me to give them that chance.
Like Mother Antonia, I had made some bad calls in my life. And like her, I was given a chance to be "useful in God's hands," redeeming the mistakes of the past by recognizing in them opportunities to bless other people.
Under different circumstances—had she been younger, or had less "baggage"—Mother Antonia might have been welcomed into a traditional order. Had that happened, those inmates might never have been able to experience a mother's love.
And if my own circumstances had been different, my children might still be waiting for a family. In the words of the psalmist, "Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom" (Psalm 90:12, NIV).
Heidi Hess Saxton is a contributing writer to the AnnArbor.com "parenting" channel, and is the founder of the "Extraordinary Moms Network" for adoptive, foster and special-needs families. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.