To The Monica’s of the World: You Are Not Forgotten

 She sat next to me and we munched on Kenyan samosas. Every once in awhile she would peek over her cup and smile when our eyes met.

Monica’s look was expectant and she fidgeted nervous next to me. I could tell she wanted, no needed, to say something. She leaned over and whispered, “Please, may I say something to you.”

I set down my cup and turned to her and said, “Yes.”

Our day at Rehema (Mercy) House had been so full already. We met new faces, rubbed some growing bellies, and listened to baby giggles.

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We shared with these young girls, half mothers, half moms-to-be, about God’s beautiful plan for each of them.

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We talked about thanking him even for our painful past, appreciating our present circumstances and looking forward to our future hope.

The girls listened intently and wrote down gratitude and dreams in their journals.

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During the tea break, Monica sat next to me. Before I knew it, she wrapped her arm around my shoulder and put her warm hand in the center of my chest. She leaned in close, eye to eye.

Her words, thick with emotion, were said slow and heavy, “Thank you. Thank you for saving my life.”

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Immediately, tears threatened and I looked down at her still swollen feet.

Monica moved into Rehema House in Kenya just a month ago. She’s one of more than 20 current residents and graduates that Mercy House supports. Monica is unique though, not because she’s a total orphan or a victim of abuse, not even because she suffers from epilepsy. Monica is the first teen mom at the maternity home, who won’t become a mother.

Her baby died in her womb just as she was moving into the house. She’s a mother without a child.

And just as she was recovering from the loss of her innocence and then the loss of her unborn baby, she suffered unexpected kidney failure and faced a near near-death experience in ICU.

After many days fighting for her life, Mercy House paid her $5000 unplanned medical bill.

Monica hugged me tight, gratitude etched on her face, “Please tell the people who helped me thank you. I owe them my life.”

“I don’t know why God allowed me to suffer at the hands of evil, but maybe it was so I could come here. Because God has not forgotten me,” she whispered.

Her thanksgiving, even in so much loss, was tangible. Breathtaking.

Silent tears slipped down my cheeks and she reached to wipe them away. I continued, “God has a special plan for you, Monica. He sees you. He loves you so much. He chose you. I know it’s hard to be the only girl without a baby and you might feel left out, but God sees you. He will redeem your ashes and trade them for beauty.”

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I couldn’t help but think of the dozens of Monica’s supported by Mercy House and the countless Monica’s around the world today. Oppressed. Impoverished. Feeling forgotten. Yes, some wandering streets in Kenya, looking for hope, but many also in our cities, on our streets.

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Even in the mirror.

We may feel alone. We might feel forgotten. We may suffer physically or spiritually or emotionally. We may wonder where God is in our struggle.

As I looked deep into Monica’s dark eyes, I didn’t see a stranger, I saw myself.

I saw a reminder of God’s great love for her and for me. And for you.

“Please tell the people God has remembered me,” Monica said to me.

A broken girl, with swollen feet, an empty womb and a grateful heart wanted you to know that He remembers you, too.

 

Help us remember the forgotten women of the world by wearing our simple prayer bracelet that falls off. Our new love mercy prayer bracelet is a piece of hemp with 3 simple beads-two silver and one gold. One silver bead represents you, the other a girl who needs prayer and the gold bead represents God in the middle. Our new bracelets are wear one | share one (you get two for the price of one!) After you’ve done your part in prayer, the bracelet will fall off. Order a family service project kit today and help us put bracelets together and sell them. 100% of the proceeds go to support women all around the globe.

 

Special Delivery

I’ve been dealing with some very important business in Kenya for the last 48 hours.

There’s a new man in my life.

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It’s obviously been very exhausting work.

I introduced you to Maureen more than 5 years ago, the day I met her in a Kenyan slum and my life was turned upside down. She was a part of my undoing. Wrecked. Little did I know she would become the courageous Kenyan woman who would partner with me to help rescue impoverished and oppressed pregnant teens in her country.

You joined Maureen and I four and half years ago and believed in an impossible dream to start Mercy House.

You rejoiced at her marriage engagement.

You donated money to save her mother’s life and you grieved with us when we lost her..

You celebrated her marriage.

And now . . .

 

 

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Before I catch you up on (or introduce you to) the amazing progress of the maternity homes Mercy House supports here in Kenya this week, or introduce you to our young pregnant residents, or the dozens and dozens of women being employed by Fair Trade Friday in the countries we are visiting…

I had to introduce you to my newest love.

I’m sure you understand.

 

photos by my friend, Suzanne Box

Facing Fear: What Scares You the Most?

I found the lump unexpectedly a little over two weeks ago.

In my abdomen, rolling under my fingers like it wanted to be found.

Fear covered me like a heavy blanket.

Terrell confirmed the golfball-sized mass and I made a doctor’s appointment.

We have several friends battling malignant tumors right now and immediately my mind starting asking the “what ifs?”  I didn’t realize how much I feared discovering something like this until I did and dread filled every corner of my heart.

I had to wait a very long three days for the appointment and I constantly pushed the thought I have a tumor out of my mind. I reminded myself over and over again that nothing had changed. God was still the same. He is writing my story and I love living it. I wouldn’t change it, even though I don’t know what the next chapter holds.

But y’all, I was so afraid.

My doctor confirmed the mass and was concerned at the size. She scheduled an ultrasound, blood work, and a cat scan in case the results showed abnormal tissue. Another long wait.

That night, I filled up the tub with hot water and played the worship song “You Make Me Brave” over and over.

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And I sobbed.

I did my best to act natural around my kids. I pushed bad thoughts away and continued to work and every time a negative thought entered my mind, I would pray. I’ve done a lot of praying lately. We went ahead with our scheduled Groupon trip to Washington D.C. (I can’t wait to tell y’all about it) last weekend.

I’m not sure when my teen daughter developed a fear of flying, but her white-knuckled grip on my arm and panicked look in her eyes, told me it was real.

The flight to Washington DC was turbulent and I felt my stomach roll with the lurches, but my daughter felt more than queasiness, she was deathly afraid.

“I’m so scared,” she whispered.

I tried to sooth and remind her that God holds us. Always. I tried to sooth myself with my own words.

“Don’t you ever get scared, Mom? What are you most afraid of?” she asked.

I couldn’t help but think of the paralyzing fear she didn’t even know I was living. I’ve never been a brave person. I’ve always struggled with worry and doubt.

“I’m most afraid I won’t be here for you and your brother and sister,” I could barely get the words out.

“I’m not afraid of death, you know,” she assured me. “Just the process.”

I had to laugh a little. I love honest kids. “Me, too,” I assured her. “Honey, sometimes we have to look fear in the face and remind ourselves God is in control. Someday, we just may face our greatest fear, but even there in that desperate place, God is with us. He loves us and He is glorified in our lives.”

We survived that bumpy flight and had a mostly-worry free, fun getaway Easter weekend.

But every time someone commented on how tired I looked (which was more often than usual), I just smiled. But I wanted to scream “You would look tired too if you were dying!” (Women, let’s not say that to each other, okay? It’s really a passive aggressive way to say “you look really terrible.” If we notice a friend who looks exceptionally tired, maybe we should say “Can I bring you dinner?”)

Monday afternoon finally arrived, I faced my fear and as the ultrasound tech measured the mass visible on the screen, I prayed.

Tuesday, I waited for the doctor to call all day long. And as my fear mounted, I pursued peace. But I discovered one is easier to find then the other.

I don’t think I knew how burdened I felt until I heard the doctor’s words, “Kristen, this mass is benign. You’re free to go to Africa tomorrow.”

I cried at the instant relief. I thanked God. And I continued packing.

Good news. Bad news. We don’t know what tomorrow holds. But we know who holds tomorrow.

I don’t know why we go through scary times or just the fear of them, but I know God loves us and He is in control.

Today, my teen daughter and I are getting on another couple of planes and going to Ethiopia and then Kenya. We will be meeting with Fair Trade Friday partners and new residents at Mercy House and celebrating Maureen’s newborn son. I hope you’ll check back in to read the updates, see the amazing pictures and join us in our yes to God.

We are going to a country that is experiencing random terrorist attacks.We are both facing our fears because we know who holds us.

What scares you the most? Say it out loud. Leave it in a comment below. Name your fears and believe that He is greater than all of them.

Because He is. No matter what the next chapter holds.

An Opportunity To Become Part of a Good Good Friday Story

Today, I want to tell you a story.

It has been lived at great risk.

And it comes to you at a great cost.

It’s about a woman we will call Mary. She was just a young woman when she moved into her aunt and uncle’s home. She went for love and acceptance, but she left pregnant with her uncle’s child. He threatened to kill her if she told. When her aunt discovered her secret, she was beaten until she miscarried.

This woman lives in an oppressive Middle Eastern country with few rights. Ultimately, she was rejected by her family.

If it sounds like a horror story, it is. It’s hard to even imagine what she or thousands of women like her endure every day in a country where Muslims who convert to Christianity face great prejudice and often opposition.

Mary visited Hope House, a hospitality home that offers refuge to women needing help, escaping violent marriages, seeking freedom. As you can imagine, there could be danger in operating a home like this.

At great risk, she left her religion and decided to follow Jesus.

Following Jesus is sort of an Easter Sunday thing in our culture for so many. In other parts of the world, it could be a death sentence.

My story intersected with Mary’s in an unlikely way, in the middle of my small town outside of Houston. I met Linda, a 75 year old grandmother and fireball. She is a part of East West Ministries and she works closely with the ingenious women who run this house of hope.

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Several months ago, I sat at her kitchen table and we talked about Fair Trade Friday and product and we came up with an plan to help women who’ve never created product before, do just that, as a way to sustain this refuge to oppressed women in the Middle East. We talked about earring ideas for our Earring of the Month option and how we might accomplish it.  Communication is tricky and so is partnership.

So, when I received word that silk clutches had been made against all odds, I was amazed.

Mary made these bags. 95 of them.

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They have come at a risk, smuggled in suitcases. Mercy House bought them, so we could sell them to you and support Mary and many women just like her, receiving comfort and the opportunity to meet Jesus at Hope House.

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When all you know is oppression, you risk your life for freedom. What better way to celebrate Easter and the price paid for our freedom than by supporting someone oppressed in a place that lacks freedom? Today, we can become a part of the story with a simple purchase.

These are more than clutches made from satin, it’s the picture of hope. And freedom. And mostly, Easter.

And that makes them priceless.

(Click to purchase and become a part of this story)

Learn more about Hope House and consider a donation to their work here. (names have been altered for protection)

10 Fun Ways to Keep Easter About Jesus

The Easter Season is the perfect time to practice intentional parenting. It’s more than bunnies and baskets and golden eggs-it’s an opportunity to teach our children about the most important event in history.

If we didn’t have the Cross, we wouldn’t have forgiveness.

If we didn’t have the Resurrection, we wouldn’t have hope.

If we didn’t have Jesus, we wouldn’t have anything.

 

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Here are 10 fun (and easy!) ways to keep Easter about Jesus:

  1. Read The Parable of the Lily and plant (or force) a lily bulb
  2. Create this easy, beautiful watercolor Cross Art
  3. Plant an Easter Garden 218495019391568479_3wI73Ndz_f
  4. Dye/hunt eggs. Share the reasons behind the traditions
  5. A Sense of the Resurrection – a great ebook to help little hands (ages 3-6) grasp the meaning of Easter.
  6. Make Resurrection Eggs. Read Benjamin’s Box: The Story of the Resurrection Eggs
    along with it.
  7. Bake Hot Cross Buns on Good Friday
  8. Fill Easter baskets with something meaningful (a new Bible, a cross necklace, eggs with Scripture)
  9. Make Resurrection Rolls for Easter morning breakfast
  10. Have a family devotion together and talk about the meaning of Easter (this is a good one)

updated post from the archives

The Hard Prayers of a Mother

We stand toe-to-toe.

Just like we did when she was a strong-willed three year old only I’m looking up at my teenager instead of the other way around. The argument has changed, but the passion and determination are the same.

I remember rubbing my hand over my swollen belly so long ago -praying that my daughter would be strong. I prayed that she wouldn’t give in to others, that she would fight for what she believed in.

All I can say is God answers prayers. Just usually not how I thought He would.

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When my kids were babies I prayed I could sleep. (Very holy prayers like, “Dear God, (yawn) Zzzzz.”)

When they were toddlers, I prayed they would sleep. (“Dear God, Is it actually wrong to turn the doorknob around?”)

When they are in school, I pray for summer. Halfway through July, well, you know…

When they were little, I prayed God would get me through the exhausting moments.

Now they are bigger and I pray He gets me through the emotional ones.

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When my kids make a great choice and put someone in front of themselves, my prayers become praise.

When my kids slam their doors, roll their eyes and push back, I mostly pray for me. (“Dear God, protect my children from my wrath.”)

Nothing could have prepared me for the hard prayers of motherhood.

One minute I’m beseeching God for wisdom, the next I’m telling Him I’ve got this.

One minute, I see a scary glimpse of rebellion, the next, revival.

For one child, I pray for kindness. For the other I pray for courage when kindness is absent.

For one I pray for goodness, for the other meekness when goodness is present.

And I pray for patience and self-control all the time for all of us.

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I have cried over harsh words and willful behavior and we both know I’m not talking about the kids’.

I have offered prayers of thanksgiving when they offered unprompted gratitude. (“Dear God, I am doing a fabulous job here.”)

I have sat next to their bed in the middle of the night and whispered broken prayers over them.

I have wept at their loss, their pain, and begged God to fix all that I couldn’t.

I have rejoiced at their wins, their gain, and praised God in the moment.

I wrapped each of my new babies up in blankets and offered them to God on a Sunday. He gave them to me and I gave them back. And I’ve spent nearly every moment since trying to figure them out.

Lately, I have whispered the hardest prayer of all: “Dear God, Break my children. Break their heart for what breaks Yours.  Do what You need to do in their heart and lives to draw them closer to You. They are yours.”

Maybe these are they hardest words a mother prays for her children? Or maybe just letting go of our illusion of control never gets easier.

But it’s this place that is my undoing: uttering these hard, gut-wrenching prayers when I don’t know what else to do.

Because I know He will answer.

All these things I pray and whisper over my children? He says them over me.

(“Come to me, Kristen. Give me that hurt, that burden, that sin. I discipline you because I love you. I break you so you will heal stronger.”)

I found Jesus when my life was wrecked.

And when the last thing a mother wants to pray over her child is chaos, so they can know peace, humility instead of pride, forgiveness instead of bitterness, joy instead of loss, it’s probably time she did.

We Were All Born to Ask This Question

It was an early Saturday morning when we loaded up the car and drove an hour to what we’ve been calling The Refugee Project for the past year. It’s really just a government housing apartment complex- one of twenty-two that line both sides of a long street, home to more than 50,000 refugees, relocated to our city.

It’s our Friday place.

But it wasn’t a Friday and we weren’t having class. Our husbands and kids  joined us to clean up the “clubhouse” and paint the place where our class has met the past year. It’s a vacant, musty three bedroom apartment filled with an assortment of books, broken chairs, dirty tables and walls.

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We were having a work day and it’s a good thing because there was plenty of work. We sorted and scrubbed and swept. We filled holes in the walls and shelves with books. We taped and painted, mopped and moved piles of trash to the dumpster.

Everyone had a job. The kids wrapped more than 600 crochet bracelets onto cards with the word Thrive. It’s our hope- that these displaced ones will find a place in Christ and thrive.

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I looked around the apartment and smiled at my husband painting a wall. He hates to paint (at least that’s what he tells me every time I ask).  I found my son wrapping bracelets next to my youngest winding yarn into balls. My teen was in the bathroom painting little faces and there was a long line of kids waiting their turn.

I stood in the center of that room and thought my children haven’t complained once. They haven’t ask for anything. They didn’t think of themselves while they worked hour after hour. They found a need and filled it. And the next thought hit me so hard I had to pretend something besides a tear was in my eye:

My family is at its best-our absolute best– when we are doing something for someone else.

Purpose is deeply satisfying.

When our hands are busy serving others, we aren’t thinking about what we don’t have. Instead, we are reminded about what we do have. We were created for more than filling our time and lives with more stuff and more space. We were created for a purpose to live our lives with purpose.

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Do good.

The words are written on the chalkboard in our living room. And friends, even family, have cautioned against a “good works” mentality. I’m not worried. I know there aren’t enough good things for us to do to earn our way into an eternity that’s been freely given to us.

But I hope when you add up my works, the grand total isn’t a list of good deeds–I pray the grand total is love.

“Love other people as well as you do yourself. You can’t go wrong when you love others. When you add up everything in the law code, the sum total is love.” (‭Romans‬ ‭13‬:‭10‬ MSG)

Because that’s why we go. That’s why we do. Love is a driving force.

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It was after 4pm when we piled back in the car. It was a comfortable kind of quiet as we drove home. Satisfaction was thick in the air.

I asked my kids if they remembered meeting the 16 year old refugee girl who helped us wrap bracelets. They did.

“She asked if she could learn to crochet too, like her sisters and mom and grandmother in our class,” I said.

“Doesn’t she go to school?” My 15 year old asked. I explained that she did, but she wanted the money for something special.

“She plays the cello and is very talented. She earned a scholarship for a music school, but she still needs money to make her dream a reality,” I said.

The car was quiet and I thought maybe my kids were thinking about how much they love music. Or maybe they were thinking about the instruments they own and love or the opportunity to take lessons. Or maybe they were wondering how to help a girl their age do the same.

“Mom,” my 12 year old son broke the silence,  “I loved today.”

His words were thick with emotion.

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I think we were all created to answer this question: What can I do that matters?

As a parent, my job is to lead my kids to ask it.

God Can Redeem Anything.

We sat in a circle and we waited.

She cleared her throat and began telling her story, looking over at her husband as he nodded in support.

I was 15 and in high school. I made mistakes. I got pregnant. It was so hard and I felt very alone.

I leaned in because I wanted to hear the whole story.

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She told of the absent teen father, how her parents did the hard work of mostly raising her baby so she could finish school.

When her child was 5 years old, she got married.

To the father of her baby.

He cleared his throat, “God redeemed me.”

I looked at this family and all I could see was redemption and restoration as I sat in their beautiful home. I couldn’t see the scars of wrong choices or missteps as clearly as I could the hope. Their son is now a teenager and other children have come and by this point, tears have pooled on the Bible in my lap.

And all I can think about is the young teen moms we seek to help on the other side of the world. Their situations are different, but brokenness is brokenness.

And redemption is redemption.

I tuck my friends’ story in my heart for the rainy days ahead.

A couple of weeks later I’m on the phone with someone I don’t know. She is dreaming of starting something like Mercy House. These calls come more often these days and I can’t help but smile at another audacious yes. But then she said something that made my heart stop,”You’ve made this look so easy and you haven’t had many problems.” And I know right then and there I have failed. I jot down a note to send her my book so she will know some of the unknown.

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I think over the past four years of 19 pregnant teens and 19 babies and there are more problems than I can count. Problems I haven’t shared. Problems that would shock over and over again. Maybe I was trying to protect the moms we help, the babies who shouldn’t have been born or maybe I was just trying to protect myself. Maybe I was trying to keep this yes from looking like a failure.

Maybe I should have told you of the young mom who brought a tangible evil presence with her into the home and left in the middle of the night. Or about the young mom we loved, but after trying everything to ease the post traumatic stress she’d suffered during a gang rape, we had to send her back home because she was violent and continually threatened the safety of everyone in the home. Maybe you should know about the mom we have desperately loved, who was just about finished with the 3 year program in Kenya, the one who made us proud, only to end up pregnant. Again.

I hung up the phone with the lady and I wanted to bury my head on my desk. Because the problems people can’t see are overwhelming.

I thought about the parenting book I’m in the middle of writing and the ugly words one of my kids yelled at me earlier that morning, “I hate my life.” Not exactly what I was planning on calling the next chapter. Nobody likes failure. But that’s exactly what I felt like-a failure, an impostor.

I’ve always believed God uses failure as much as success to reveal Himself and bring redemption. But who wants failure? I don’t want to live it and even more I don’t want you to see it. The unfinished, ugly stories of unbelievable pain are uncomfortable. There isn’t a happy ending to some of our stories  yet and there may never be until Heaven.

A few minutes after that phone call, Maureen, who runs the Kenya-side of things, asked if we could talk. I hold my breath. She doesn’t always bring bad news, but it comes often enough, usually on the heels of a new rescue or new babies or new victory. There’s nothing simple or easy or clean about stepping into the pit of Hell and taking girls from the grips of the enemy.

After some small talk, she started off the conversation with this question, “How do you know if we’ve been successful?”

I give her the same answer I’ve told anyone who has asked the past few years, “That first baby born made us a success. We’ve had 18 more now.” I could tell she was discouraged and so I reminded her,”Maureen, what we are doing is an act of obedience. He asks us to say yes, the results are up to Him.”

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In tears, she says, “I’m glad you said that because I have to tell you something.” And then I learn of a devastating decision by one of our new graduated 18 year old moms. And I can’t see the screen for the tears and my platitudes are empty and I wonder at our audacity and I question our resolve. This is what it must feel like to watch the kids you’ve sacrificed for and loved deeply leave your home and make bad choices and you can do nothing to stop them.

We’ve come to the point in the conversation where there aren’t words to fix the problems and we both know this battle is unseen and we must wage it on our knees.

My husband and I sat on the edge of our bed and cried. “God, why did you ask us to do this? It is too hard. We are too weak.”

I swiped away tears in time to get my kids off the bus until I can find a moment alone and grieve, which happened to be 30 minutes in my car during my daughter’s flute lesson.

The words hammered in my chest: God can redeem anything. God can redeem anything? Can you really, God? Even this? God can redeem anything. He will redeem everything.

We don’t talk about the anything very often. We don’t reveal the depth of our pain, the problems we face, the uncertainty. People think I know what I’m doing because it all looks neat and easy and maybe that’s what I’ve shown them.

I’m letting you into my weakness today because I’m a bigger failure if I don’t.

My daughter returned to the car and asked if I’d been crying. “No,” I whispered as a silent tear fell. She awkwardly patted my back and said, “It will be okay, Mom. It will be okay. We have God.”

That night, I am back in my friends’ living room. Their family picture smiles down at me. And I thank God for their story. For the redemption and restoration in front of me.

Maybe you’re grieving a yes or regretting a no. Maybe you feel hopeless or hopeful. Maybe this feels like the end and you really just want to began again.

I don’t know what mountain you’re facing today.

But I know God can redeem anything.

We might not see it overnight or in our lifetime, but He promises to work it out for His good.

Pregnancy, bankruptcy, rape, marriage, diagnosis, adoption, unemployment, rebellious kids, abortion, a cross-country move, divorce, failure, addiction, mistakes, even death.

He will redeem even this.