How God's Love—and Forgiveness—Brought a Broken Woman's Soul to Life

It happens every day: God's grace changes hearts. Changes minds. And changes lives. It often brings people back to life. As another Easter rolled by the Sunday before last and Christians in America and around the world celebrated the resurrection of Jesus Christ, one story in my small town of Oxford, Mississippi, is worth telling.

She grew up near the Gulf Coast of Mississippi, not far from Biloxi and Gulfport—towns known for their fishing and shipbuilding industries. And their casinos. She didn't have much growing up. Her mom, who'd been married several times, did her best to raise her four daughters by herself. She worked as a waitress, pulling long shifts at a local restaurant to support her girls.

Her father was out of the picture: He never showed up, never paid child support and never provided the basics of life that a young girl needs from a dad. He was never there to show her what a man's love looks like.

A father and his daughter in Manhattan Beach, California. CHRIS DELMAS/AFP via Getty Images

Sometimes, as the month closed, there were hard choices to make. The choice between paying an electric bill or a grocery bill. Sometimes, there wasn't quite enough for both.

The young girl blossomed into a beautiful teenager, but there was an absence. A void she didn't yet know was a void. Without knowing it, she sought to find a substitute for the love she never received from her father.

In stepped a predator to do just that. He was a prominent lawyer in a nearby town, and decades older. He did what this particular brand of predators do. He paid attention to her. He praised her. He did the things he knew a vulnerable, unprotected girl with a father void longed for. Things that approximated what a broken young girl would think was love. In short, he groomed her for his own pleasure.

She was a 14 when it started. She was 17 when it ended, and more alone than ever. What she experienced wasn't love. It was the opposite: human cruelty of the worst and ugliest variety.

She didn't tell anyone what happened. Not her mom. Not her sisters. Not her friends, which she could count on one hand. She kept things to herself because she blamed herself for what happened. Because she felt ashamed for letting him take advantage of her. Because she was afraid to tell anyone—after all, who would believe her? And because she wanted to forget it ever happened.

For all of those reasons, and others she will never know, and no longer cares to know, she never told anyone.

She wanted to move on. So she moved north to Baltimore to start a new life. A new life with an anchor holding her down. A secret holding her down. A trauma holding her down that she couldn't name. Or run away from.

She was now a stunning young woman, with the kind of good looks that could stop traffic. She put herself through college and got a job at a local law firm. But her past kept haunting her. Especially when she drank, which wasn't often. But things ended poorly when she did. That's when the darkness descended. That's when the demons came out.

There were sexual encounters. There were abortions. There were fights and words uttered in anger. And blackouts. And more regret and shame.

She concealed these parts of herself to people around her. She was a world-class actress, and the outside world was certain she had her act together. And she mostly held things together. Except for those episodes. Those secrets. And that trauma.

She hadn't told anyone any of this in her 27 years in this world. Until she told me.

A few years later, I would marry her. And married her because she was beautiful and courageous and strong. So beautifully broken—and so eager to figure out how to make her life better. Make our life better.

With the birth of our child a few years later, a spiritual dimension awakened in my wife, one that was dormant most of her life. She was desperate to put the angry girl of her past —the wounded and bitter girl filled with resentment—behind her. And thus began a new, long walk with God. A walk that would bring miraculous changes to her life. To our lives.

She began to do things that, but for God's command, most people wouldn't. It started with forgiving her mother, whom she secretly blamed for leaving her so exposed and so vulnerable. If her mother had stayed married, she thought deep down inside, maybe that predator would not have done what he did to her. Maybe the father she never had would have protected her.

But her new walk with God softened her heart. It made her more compassionate and empathetic. Only a year or so after our daughter was born, she did something she never thought she'd do: She asked her mother to move from Biloxi to Baltimore—where we'd lived for some years—to help raise our daughter. Her mother has lived with us ever since.

Next came an even bolder spiritual move. She decided not long after our move back south to Mississippi to write a letter to her biological father. He didn't know she was married, let alone that she'd become a mother—making him a grandfather. And he didn't know she'd moved closer to home, to northern Mississippi. He quickly replied. It took time, but soon we would visit him in the small rural town he'd grown up in, a mere two hours from where we lived.

Those visits became quite regular. Watching her father play with my daughter was something we could not have imagined in our wildest dreams. When her dad got cancer, my wife was there to provide the care for him he'd never provided her. When he died, she was there to bury him. Happily for all of us, she'd buried her past—and her anger and bitterness toward him—long before.

Indeed, watching my wife put the past behind—and forgive the father she never knew—was not merely remarkable but downright inspiring.

"The past isn't dead," William Faulkner once wrote. "It isn't even passed." My wife would have given Faulkner, who lived in our small college town, an earful if he was still alive. She would tell him that he was wrong and that the angry, numb young girl she used to be was dead. That as unforgiveness yielded to forgiveness, God give birth to a new and better version of herself.

Soon, my wife's forgiveness walk included the man who raped her. It took many years to get there, but she did it. It was in my mind an almost supernatural journey to witness. Because it is so unnatural to forgive someone who raped you, and who raped you for so many years.

Luckily for my wife, the most important book in her life is not Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury. It's the Bible, which speaks powerfully and often about the transformational power of forgiveness. Two verses in the Bible come to mind: Hebrews 12:15 ("Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you, corrupting many") and Colossians 3:13 ("Make allowance for each other's faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others").

My wife now ministers to women who've suffered trauma at the hands of men. Women who've suffered from the trauma of absent fathers too. She has a message of hope for them. And the example of her own story.

"Forgiveness says you are given another chance to make a new beginning," Archbishop Desmond Tutu once noted. And it is true. As another Easter season passes, I thank God for the countless new beginnings all around us. The resurrections all around us. For lives restored all around us.

For we who call ourselves Christians—and even those who don't—the miracles of God's love, mercy and grace are everywhere.