Her name is Kate, although that’s not her real name.
Kate’s mother left when Kate was young, leaving her dad to care for Kate and her younger brother, with help from Kate’s grandmother.
Kate never knew why her mom left, and even if she did, how could she ever even begin to understand it?
When Kate was a teenager, she started going to a church — an unhealthy, abusive church. By that I mean that the pastor had absolute authority, strict and legalistic. He used fear and intimidation and church members did whatever the pastor said.
It was at this church that Kate met her husband. I’m fuzzy on the details, but Kate eventually left that church, maybe when she got married and moved away. She told me once that she wanted to find another church where she lived, but she didn’t know anyone who could get her an OK with a new pastor. At her old church, the pastor had to give his approval for a guest to even attend a church service.
I had never heard of anything like that before.
Meanwhile, Kate’s life continued to fall apart.
Her new husband decided he didn’t want any part of any church anymore, and then he decided he didn’t want to be married anymore either. He left Kate and came back again several times.
She got pregnant and miscarried. Her dad died. Her grandmother died.
Her husband decided to come home to stay and she got pregnant again and gave birth to a son. A year or so later she was diagnosed with cancer in her neck and maybe her lung. She had surgery, but the doctors didn’t get it all. She had to wait for her insurance to OK radiation and chemo, and it was a long time waiting.
She eventually had a second surgery to get the cancer that was missed the first time. She got pregnant and gave birth to a daughter, then fairly recently had another health scare and held her breath waiting to learn if she had pancreatic cancer, which, thank God, she doesn’t.
Through it all, through every one of her incredibly difficult and heartbreaking situations, even in her deepest doubts and fears, this young woman has continued to bless the name of God.
Centuries ago, the ancient Job, who, after God allowed Satan to take away everything from him except his nagging wife, declared, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust him” (Job 13:15). Likewise, Kate has said the same thing in her own way.
Some would say she’s nothing short of amazing. However, she would say she’s not. She would say and does say that God is the amazing and faithful one.
The more I’ve watched people of faith go through dark and difficult times, the more I’ve come to realize that it’s not their faith or their faithfulness that gets them through, but the faithfulness of God.
One of my favorite stories my pastor tells is about the time he went white water rafting with his youngest daughter and hit rough water and both tumbled out.
Into the water they both went, carried along by the current. Thrown against the rocks and fighting to keep himself and his toddler daughter from going under, my pastor had only one thought: Hold onto Amy.
After a harrowing few minutes, they arrived in calmer water, both intact and safe.
With eyes as big as saucers, Amy exclaimed, “I held on to you, Daddy!”
“She didn’t hold on to me,” my pastor says. “Her dad held on to her.”
Even as God the Father held on to them both.
I don’t know why some people’s lives are so incredibly difficult and others live lives of relative ease. I’m one of those who have had things easy. I don’t know what it is to be abandoned by a parent, abused by a church, deserted by a spouse, betrayed by my own body.
But I do know that if — when — the time comes, “even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for you are with me (Psalm 23:4).
In many ways, Kate knows God better than I do. I may know more about him, but she has known his faithfulness to her and his sustaining power in ways I can’t even imagine.
But this I know: God holds on to those who are his, bringing each one through this life until the day we are safely home.
Nancy Kennedy is the author of “Move Over, Victoria - I Know the Real Secret,” “Girl on a Swing,” and her latest book, “Lipstick Grace.” She can be reached at 352-564-2927, Monday through Thursday, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.