A New Heart


Jerrie’s Story:  When I was little, Mom and Dad would hold my hands and lift me off the ground as we crossed a wooden bridge from the parking lot to our church. I loved the sound when I clomped down and hit the wooden boards with my shoes. I would squeal with laughter and say, “Do it again!”

As I grew up, I knew God loved me. I learned my first Bible verse – John 3:16 – from a neighborhood children’s Bible study.

I felt God’s love especially through my dad. Mom was a secretary who worked away from home, but Dad stayed home to run his bookkeeping business. Dad and I would eat lunch together and head to client’s offices where I would crawl under a desk and use his coat as a blanket, falling asleep to the sound of an adding machine.

Dad thought I could do anything and emphasized my education. He saw the bright side of life: Everything was possible. Dad also loved me unconditionally. Even when I fought with my sister, I knew he loved me. In fact, if I said I was sorry, I was no longer in trouble! Hmm, how many times could I just say I was sorry? I wondered. Did I really have to change? What did it really mean to be forgiven?

My sister and I fought often because we clashed. I liked order and she created chaos. I would dress my dolls and lean them against the wall from smallest to tallest. She would undress them and leave them in a pile. While she struggled in school, I excelled. I told her I was better because she was adopted.

As I grew up, I was the model young person: active in youth group, singing in choir, even volunteering 500 hours at the hospital by the time I graduated from high school – with honors. Later I became the first in my family to graduate from college and later I achieved advanced degrees.

When I got married, my husband attended church with me where I was also a model church member. I served on the church council, wrote a Vacation Bible School curriculum with the children’s minister, recruited and trained Sunday school teachers and joined the youth on mission trips.

My life of faith and church service collided with tragedy when Dad was diagnosed with Stage 4 melanoma. To treat his arthritis, he had been taking a medication known to cause cancer. He was given only six months to live.

When I got the news about Dad, I couldn’t concentrate on writing my dissertation for my PhD; instead I spent time with him. I told him I didn’t know how I would go on without him. I began searching for answers, only occasionally turning to prayers:

“God, heal my daddy because I need him.”

“God, you can’t take him away.”

When Dad got worse, I knew my prayers weren’t going to be answered. For his sake, I knew I needed to say goodbye. I told him one day, “Dad, I’ll be okay.” I promised him I would finish my dissertation.  He died that February night.

I was very angry about losing Dad, but I chose where to show my anger. When my husband crinkled his newspaper and distracted me from my dissertation, I hated the noise he made. I yelled at my husband and hated my job, my dissertation and even my mom. Most of all, I hated God because I felt abandoned, because God took Dad away. Like the words from the 1980 Pat Benatar song, I cried out to God, “Whatcha tryin’ a do to my heart? Whatcha tryin’ a do to my soul?” I hardened my heart against God.

I tried to resume a normal life and to keep my promise to Dad to finish my dissertation. As I spent hours in front of the computer, my arms and elbows hurt all the time. Do I have arthritis like Dad? What if I can’t finish? I would ask God for help to accomplish my goals. Sometimes I thanked God for Dad, realizing he had been a gift in my life. Sometimes I would allow my anger to subside enough to let God sit in the front seat, but only while I drove.

God was like a patient special education teacher who still loved me despite my stubbornness. Some days I would crumble and let Jesus take the wheel in a crisis, but when the crisis was over, I would resume my position in the driver’s seat.

One evening my husband said he needed to reveal a secret he couldn’t hold onto any longer: My mother had told him I didn’t need to worry about inheriting Dad’s arthritis because I was adopted too. I was about 30 years old and felt my whole life had been a lie: Mom and Dad weren’t actually Mom and Dad. Angrier than ever, I stopped going to church for several months. Days of livid anger turned into months and those months became years. Although I had resumed church attendance, I was still angry and could use words to cut.

One day I laughed when my friend called me the Velvet Sledgehammer. “You can cut someone down so quick, but you do it in a way they sometimes don’t even know it,” she explained.

Although I laughed, inside I felt hurt by this revelation. Surely the Velvet Sledgehammer wasn’t who God was calling me to be. Dad never raised me to be cruel to others. I felt guilty and ashamed. Was my heart softening? I reflected on questions similar to the ones I had asked as a child. What did it really mean to be forgiven? Would my sister ever forgive me for telling her I was better than her? Why did I have to say mean things when I was angry? How could God forgive me?

My friend Margaret told me I could be honest with God about my anger. She gave me a journal to write my feelings to God on the very Sunday the pastor began a sermon series on faith, hope and love. He read 1 Corinthians 13, and the words got my attention:

“Love is patient. Love is kind. It does not envy. It does not boast. It is not proud. It is not rude. It is not self-seeking.  It is not easily angered. It keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth … Love never fails. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

My journal was blank for a long time. How could I be worthy of being loved?

It was getting harder to keep all the anger inside; it kept coming out sideways. I sought counseling and began to “rejoice in the truth,” asking God for forgiveness for turning away from Him.

My sister was quicker to forgive me than I forgave myself. Even though my mother had died, I continued to work through anger at her from the hidden truth about my adoption. I persevered in prayer. God, Let me off this anger train.  Help me forgive. Please let me stop keeping records of all the wrongs. Help me stop pushing you away. Let my heart be filled with love.

Finally, gradually, I realized one day the anger was gone. I was able to forgive – not just say the words but truly mean them. I’m not perfect, but I see God at work in me. As a stubborn person, I keep having to say, “Jesus, take the wheel.”

It’s a relief to give over control to God. These days my heart is filled with joy, not anger. I still have wounds, but I’m healing.

Pat Benatar sang, “Whatcha tryin’ a do to my heart?” God says, “I’m giving you a new one.”

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