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Posted on Sun, Jan 30, 2011 : 3:27 p.m.

The God of second chances: You can redeem mistakes by seeing the opportunities in them

By Heidi Hess Saxton

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 "parenting" channel, and is the founder of the "Extraordinary Moms Network" for adoptive, foster and special-needs families. You can reach her at


Jen Eyer

Mon, Jan 31, 2011 : 3:01 p.m.

@DagnyJ: As Steve mentioned, we have a wide variety of religious traditions covered in the Faith section, and they are all routinely promoted to the homepage and featured in the Faith section in print.


Mon, Jan 31, 2011 : 2:48 p.m.

I think it's a bad idea for the writer suggest to suggest that if Macabre doesn't agree, he/she should simply not read these pieces anymore. We should especially expose ourselves to the writings of people with whom we don't necessarily believe, and people who write in the Faith section should write with the non-believer in mind as well as the believer. I think Ahmed Chaudhry does a good job of this. Redeeming mistakes isn't the special purview of Christians or even of religious people. We all make mistakes; we all feel the need to redeem ourselves.

Heidi Hess Saxton

Mon, Jan 31, 2011 : 5:05 p.m.

I agree that it's a good idea to expose oneself to a variety of perspectives -- we should never stop learning. The sincere question is one of the most valuable gifts any writer can receive. On the other end of the spectrum, however, are individuals who are less interested in understanding than ridiculing. The commenter i was addressing objected to the title being on the front page -- seriously, in his case why bother reading further? I agree that redeeming one's mistakes isn't unique to Christianity. I believe I mentioned this in a previous comment. The examples I'm familiar with happen to fall within a Christian worldview -- but I'd like to hear others as well. Thanks for writing!

Steve Pepple

Mon, Jan 31, 2011 : 1:23 p.m.

@DagnyJ - if you take a look at our Faith section (<a href=",">,</a> you will see that we indeed have stories, columns and blog entries addressing various faiths, such as a story last week about the Zen Buddhist temple in Ann Arbor and regular entries from Ahmed Chaudhry, a Muslim blogger.


Mon, Jan 31, 2011 : 1:16 p.m.

Perhaps it would be useful for to solicit some faith and family articles from Muslims, Buddhists, Jews, or people from other faiths. I think what troubles some is the relentless focus on Christianity, and Roman Catholicism in particular.


Mon, Jan 31, 2011 : 1:05 a.m.

I first read of the Sisters of the Eleventh Hour in the Reader's Digest a number of years ago. The work she and her group perform is laudable.


Sun, Jan 30, 2011 : 11:21 p.m.

What a wonderful breath of fresh air it is to read a story such as yours - a story grounded in faith, love and appreciation for life! Thanks to also! I'm sure they (you too) get their fair share of &quot;haters&quot; opining on your expression of God's will working in your life. So &quot;BULLY FOR YOU&quot;! Keep writing Ms. Saxton. Please!!! We will continue to subscribe.

Macabre Sunset

Sun, Jan 30, 2011 : 11:08 p.m.

Seems rather silly to assume that someone is &quot;upset&quot; merely for expressing a concern about a frequent series of articles assuming unquestioning faith being posted along with news stories. I'm merely trying to help the people running this blog present a more professional product. Whatever helps you behave better is probably a good thing. Some need an artificial god figure watching them every second. Others don't. The proselytizing lies in the assumption that there was a force nasty enough to nearly kill you in a violent, terrible incident because it wanted you to help raise some children later on - children, who, apparently needed this help because of another incident this force created. The headaches necessary to butterfly-effect your insane god's rationales and motivations together requires more Advil than the drug companies could produce even with divine aid. It's ugly. It really is. You sit there in judgment about this redemption thing. Hurricane Katrina may have killed thousands of people, and the religious people around here wondered what kind of message their god was sending to the people of New Orleans. Ick. Redemption can go too far. We all make mistakes. Sometimes we make mistakes we can't possibly redeem because further imposition on another's life compounds the mistake. Since we only exist in the current time frame, the best course for life is the one that makes you feel good about yourself in the present and in the future. Morals can't change the past, they can only change the future.

Heidi Hess Saxton

Mon, Jan 31, 2011 : 12:01 p.m.

Not because I didn't go see a friend -- because I chose to drive in unsafe conditions. As the car started to skid, God didn't stop time and send angels to right the car. The laws of physics took over - most notably the one that says a body in motion will stay in motion until acted upon by an outside force. You have admitted that you have issues with religion. If you are determined to be &quot;horrified&quot; then there's not much more I can say to you. You, too, have free will. I would say, however, that the fact that you are so sensitive about matters of faith, so easily &quot;horrified&quot; suggest that you are still searching for the truth. Seek and you will find, brother. God bless you!

Macabre Sunset

Mon, Jan 31, 2011 : 3:15 a.m.

I find your choice of words horrifying. You're essentially saying that you deserved a violent, terrible punishment for not choosing to visit a friend one day. The way you're presenting religion is ugly. As is the judgment aspect of religion. I'm not upset. But I definitely have issues with organized religion, and your words only reinforce that opinion.

Heidi Hess Saxton

Mon, Jan 31, 2011 : 12:40 a.m.

When people use phrases like &quot;constant proselytizing&quot; and &quot;you sit there in judgment&quot; and &quot;your insane god...&quot; it tends to give the impression that the person writing these things has issues with organized religion. So, yes, you sounded upset. Now, to address some of your points: &quot;The proselytizing lies in the assumption that there was a force nasty enough to nearly kill you in a violent, terrible incident because it wanted you to help raise some children later on ...&quot; You are putting words in my mouth -- ones that are totally inconsistent with the traditional Christian worldview, which teaches in the reality of free will. God did not shove me down the mountain; as I made it abundantly clear in the piece, I CHOSE to drive past my friend's house. Real choices have real consequences. However, the cause-and-effect is a bit more complex than that (as your Hurricane Katrina example illustrates). People die every day, for all kinds of reasons. Death and taxes: life's only two constants. It's what we do, and how we treat each other, before that final curtain call that matters in the end. Morality cannot control the future; it can only guide the present. That's where the &quot;choosing&quot; begins. Good luck.

Heidi Hess Saxton

Sun, Jan 30, 2011 : 10:44 p.m.

Given how much faith-based pieces upset you, perhaps it would be best in the future if you simply didn't click on the link to those articles clearly labeled &quot;Faith and Family.&quot; However, proposing that one can and should learn from past experiences hardly constitutes &quot;incessant proselytizing.&quot; The Psalms are part of a broad Judeo-Christian tradition, and the idea of &quot;redemption&quot; is common to most world religions. Being &quot;religious&quot; isn't essential to being a kind, considerate person, of course -- I've especially appreciated the &quot;30 over 30&quot; columns, which has given me better insight as to how people without faith view the world. I'd be interested to read comments that were of a more philosophical frame of mind. Is a personal sense of &quot;redemption&quot; -- making up for past mistakes -- at all important to those who don't believe in God? Why or why not?


Sun, Jan 30, 2011 : 10:27 p.m.

It is indeed a wonderful thing to be able to redeem the mistakes we make.

Macabre Sunset

Sun, Jan 30, 2011 : 9:29 p.m.

It would be nice if this incessant series of proselytizing articles were placed on an opinion page away from the main blog. You wouldn't see the Detroit News, for example, putting &quot;god of second chances&quot; underneath &quot;City Council Votes for Tax Increase&quot; on page one.

Jen Eyer

Mon, Jan 31, 2011 : 12:08 a.m.

Macabre: It's just the way the site is set up. Everything we choose to highlight on the homepage runs through the main content well, and we do try to get a mix of content from all sections through there every day. That's why we clearly label which section the pieces are from, so you can know what to expect before you click. One benefit of this is that it exposes readers to articles they might not necessarily seek out. Thanks for reading!