Cindy and Cathy are identical twins. Their parents were alcoholics and the girls had a dreadful childhood. Their dad died while they were still in high school when he rolled his car after a night of drinking. Their mother took an overdose of pills and died when the girls were away at college.
People say it’s a wonder the girls even survived. Their parents were always drunk, always fighting, always yelling at the girls, and oftentimes, their dad was physically abusive to his wife and daughters. Their mother never made meals, never cleaned the house, and the girls were washing clothes already when they were in the third grade so they would have something to wear to school. Cindy and Cathy never received any love or affection from their parents; only abuse, rejection, and neglect.
Cindy has been plagued by emotional problems, to no one’s surprise. She is filled with bitterness toward not only her parents, but also toward everyone else who was in her life– relatives, people at church, and neighbors. She blames them all for not stepping in to help. She doesn’t believe in God anymore– “Not after allowing that,” she says. And to this day Cindy has difficulty in all her relationships. Her own marriage is deeply troubled, and she is beginning to repeat with her children some of things that were done to her. She shows them little affection, yells at them constantly, and at times is physically abusive. Cindy dwells on her past constantly and blames all her problems on her miserable childhood.
Cathy, though raised in the same environment, has responded in a different way. She remembers all the same things– the hunger, the fear, the beatings, and the verbal abuse; but she refuses to dwell on all that. When Cathy does talk about her childhood she says, “Of course I wish it could have been different, but it wasn’t. However, God has used all that pain to make me a strong person, and someone who can be understanding of the problems of others. I need that in my work with abused children. I can understand their pain and fear, and I’m able to help them in some ways that many people cannot. I have the emotional strength to endure the day to day pressures and sadness of my work. God did not create my parents to be that way. They made their own sinful choices, but I believe God has helped me use even that tragedy to a good purpose. I see so many sad kids and I thank God that He can use me to help them.”
Cathy says she will be forever grateful to her aunt and uncle who, for many years picked the girls up for Sunday School and church. When their parents did not even go church for the girls’ Confirmation Day, this kind aunt and uncle were there, and took them out for dinner to celebrate.
Cindy and Cathy have the same terrible past which they cannot change, but they choose to see it differently. Cathy believed God would bring good even out of such sadness, and that hope has kept her from being destroyed by bitterness. Cindy, however, turned away from God and has not allowed His redemptive grace to change her life.
Cathy’s favorite Bible character has always been Joseph. He also was mistreated when he was young, not by his parents, but by his older brothers. They sold him into slavery and Joseph was taken away from his home and beloved father. In Egypt he did well, but then was again mistreated. This time, his master’s wife lied about him and he was put into prison. Joseph, like Cathy, suffered many years because of the sins of others. But when it was over, he did not become bitter.
Joseph had the opportunity to get revenge on his brothers, but he chose to not do so. He said to them, “Do not be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm the, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” Cathy said, “When we go over to my husband’s parents and I see such a loving family, it makes me sad for what I missed. But I have forgiven my parents. That is now between them and God. But I believe God used those bad times to help me help others, just like He used Joseph’s tragic life to help others. I choose to see those painful memories in light of my trust in God. God has healed my memories.”
Romans 5:3-5a — We can rejoice even in our suffering, because suffering produces perseverance, and perseverance produces character, and character produces hope; and this hope will not disappoint us, because God poured out His love into our hearts.
II Corinthians 1:3-4 — Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.
Joel 2:25a — (The Lord said), “I will restore to you the years that the locusts have eaten.”
O Christ, you calm the storm at sea;
In tempest sore, be calming me.
O Christ, you walk upon the wave,
When sinking fast, my footing save.
O Christ, the stricken child you raise;
My spirit, lift in joy and praise.
O Christ, you feed the crowd with bread;
With words of truth, let me be fed.
O Christ, you heal the man born blind;
Make bright the darkness of my mind.
O Christ, the Resurrection Man;
With your new life, my life adorn.
–Joyce Denham, A Child’s Book of Celtic Prayers, 1998, Loyola.