Pastor Nate Yarborough knew since early on that he wanted to be a clergyman. He grew up in a Christian home and believed in God as long as he could remember. He dreamed of being a minister someday and becoming the pastor of his own church. At only thirty-one-years-old, his dream came true. He was young, yet head pastor at Hope Christian Church and had a medium sized congregation that was thriving. To add to his dream-come-true, he had a beautiful wife, Veronica, and darling three-and-a half-year-old daughter, Michaela.
Jesus was the center of his life, but Veronica was the one who kept him grounded. Michaela was just the light of his world, a special blessing in his life. She was a happy baby who was just a typical daddy’s girl. When her father came home from his job she would squeal with delight and go running to him, at first as a wobbly toddler and then to a quick, little girl who would sprint to the door.
“Daddy’s home!” she would announce in a big voice.
Nate would swoop up Michaela up in his arms as he planted gentle kisses upon her little cheek. “Michaela, my sunshine girl!” he would shout. “There’s my little beauty!” He definitely wanted more children, but he was thankful and felt so blessed to have her be his very first.
“That is how we should with our heavenly father”, Veronica told Nate, in admiration of those two in action, “and not run from him in fear.”
Yet one day Michaela was having seizures and became quite ill. She transformed from a bubbly child to one who fussed and cried and didn’t want to play very much. Her worried parents took her to the doctor, and she was put through a battery of tests. The church was praying for little Michaela, but the diagnosis was grim and shocking. She had a brain tumor. Her parent’s worst fears had been confirmed. Her tumor was malignant and it was inoperable.
Veronica would open up the outpouring of cards and letters of well wishes from parishioners. So many people were praying for the family. Veronica had hope even as her husband was growing distant as his little girl became sicker and sicker. In spite of treatment, in spite of prayers, little Michaela succumbed to her sickness. Her bright, little spirit was forever gone from their home.
“We will have more children”, Veronica assured her husband through her tears. “We will get through this—together. With God’s help, we’ll get through this!”
Nate didn’t respond. Veronica felt him stiffen in his lackluster embrace. She stiffened, too, for she knew that wasn't of Nate's character, and she could tell by his face that he wasn’t buying any of it.
His sermons now became shorter, far less engaging. They weren’t full of encouraging stories or inspirational words of faith, of challenging the defeated to never give up, and imploring everyone to always turn to the Lord—in bad times as well as the good.
People in the church rallied behind Pastor Nate and his wife. They offered meals during the time that Michaela was laid out in the funeral home and finally laid to rest. They offered more prayers, encouraging words, and hugs for the couple to make it through this rough storm in their lives. A pastor friend of Nate conducted the funeral but Nate hardly heard a word. Veronica grew worried.
There were many in the congregation who grew concerned, too. They still were supportive, but now the elders and deacons had no choice but to gather at a meeting and figure out what to do. Nate’s leadership role was falling apart. His life, no doubt, was falling apart.
“Why does God punish some on this earth who are innocent?” he asked one time at the pulpit. “There are no answers when your heart is torn out from you, when you serve God with all you have, and He does this to you. Why? Perhaps, there is no such being as God. Perhaps, it is wishful thinking and we have all been duped…I’ve thought about it and I’ve searched the Scriptures, yet I get nothing there . I think the atheists aren’t so out of bounds, after all.”
Sitting a few rows back, Veronica looked nervously around. She heard some of the gasps in the crowd, heard many whispers, and saw the shocked faces. She laid her head in her hands and was too scared out of her mind to even pray.
“We are sorry, Veronica”, one of the elders told her one day. “We tried to reason with your husband. We care about you both, but this cannot go on. We asked Pastor Nate to get seek out some help—to step down temporarily—but he didn’t even flinch. He says he’s never coming back. He just doesn’t believe anymore. And he just doesn’t care. ”
Veronica tried to get Nate to go to counseling with her. She needed it, too, and he wasn’t helping her any. This church was his dream, and sure his daughter had tragically died, but he needed to hold it together—for their sake. To crumble on her was too much on top of losing her daughter. He just couldn’t do this!
She could handle her grief far better if they could remain a team. But he didn’t want to talk, wouldn’t listen to anyone, and now how were they going to make ends meet without his role as pastor? Nate fell into a severe depression, and Veronica felt helpless to do anything about it.
After a few months of trying to get through to him, her faith grew dim. How could this happen to them? To save herself from going down with him, she decided she had to walk away. She didn’t want to, but she had made up her mind to move back in with her parents.
“It’s for the best, for now”, she told him. “It doesn’t have to be permanent.”
Nate sat there, staring at the blank TV. “Do what you want”, he replied.
One of the parishioners, Craig DeArmond, decided to pay him a visit. His mother, Marge, always admired Nate’s sermons. She was a big supporter of his, and wept when she heard of the news of his daughter's death. It was evident to her that his faith took a huge dip—actually a crash landing—and his world that revolved around his belief lay in shambles.
Craig was saddened by how quiet the place was, how unkempt and uninviting it appeared. He’s been to the house before, a once pleasant place to be. Now, it was bleak and joyless. “Will you talk to my mother?” Craig asked him. “She’s sad since my dad passed away a week after last Christmas, you know. Forty-eight years of marriage has been much of her life . My mom could use some counseling.”
Nate looked at him without much emotion. “Let her talk to the current pastor. She doesn’t need me.”
Craig said, “But she looks up to you, and it might do you some good, too.”
Nate scoffed at that. “Look, I’m not in the faith business anymore. There’s no way I can be of comfort.” He dismissed Craig with his hand and said, “She goes to me or she goes to a fortune teller—tell her she’ll get about the same results, either way.”
Craig stood up over Nate, hoping Nate would look up at him. He wouldn’t, so Craig was about to walk away but turned around and replied, “God forgive me, for I want to make this clear. Listen to me, Nathan Yale! You are one selfish *******!”
Nate suddenly shot a look at him. “A what?” he demanded.
“You heard me”, Craig said, his arms crossed. “I know you are a man of God—or at least you used to be. He grew more bold, was on a roll and said, “Look, you are pushing everyone away! People who love and care about you have lost you! Your wife, for crying out loud, is a wreck! I know you’re in pain, but—”
“What do you know of my pain?” Nate shot back. His eyes were bloodshot from lack of sleep. Perhaps, he had been crying or even drinking.
“I don’t know!” Craig shouted. “But what do you know of faith?”
Nathan didn’t know what to say, for he was never prepared for this. Craig continued, “My mother lost both of her parents by the age of thirteen. She grew up in an alcoholic home, so she watched her parents slowly drink away their lives. She had no choice but to live with her aunt while her other siblings were spread out to stay with other relatives.”
Craig had Nathan’s full attention now. He took advantage of this and pulled up a chair and sat right in front of him, saying, “Her aunt’s husband—her so-called uncle—wouldn’t stop pawing at her and trying to put his hand up her blouse. She had no lock on her bedroom door and so this guy would sneak in--and guess what? He ***** her! At first, it was shocking! The second time, it was Hell. The third time it was worse! The forth time….should I go on?”
“Oh, God, why?” Nate said, tears in his eyes at the thought.
“Yes, he ***** her”, Craig repeated, “until one day she was pregnant and her aunt was demanding how she ended up this way , calling her a **** and shaming her. Mom finally blurted out that it was her uncle who got forced himself on her, and the aunt didn’t believe her.”
Nate was fully engaged. “What happened to your poor mother?” he asked, trying to keep his mouth from quivering.
“She was kicked out on the streets... nothing but the clothes on her back. With nowhere to go, she went to a friend’s house. The stress was so bad on her that she miscarried the baby, laying on the floor in agony. So the authorities placed her in a home for girls and never did she have to live in that house again…but the scars are still there--ugly, deep scars!”
So Craig left Nate’s house, but Nate had joined him in the car. Craig told his mother what he had revealed to Nate—without her permission—but he felt he had to do it. She agreed it was the right thing to do.
Nate gave Marge a huge hug during his visit. She was such a motherly figure, and he admired her for what she went through. “How on earth did you survive?” he asked her.
“Like you”, she confessed. “I was so angry with God. I hated Him, just hated Him. But when I was living in the home for girls, I met a girl who had huge faith. It was sickening to me, at first. I thought to myself, ‘How can you have such faith when you’ve ended up in here?’ And she didn’t know what happened to me, for I was too scared to tell anyone back then.”
“But you have great faith now”, Nate stated. “Better than even I ever had, I’m ashamed to say. I’ve seen your faith in action! ”
Marge put her hand to his cheek. “I fought for every bit of it”, she said. “I didn’t want to believe in God, but their was a nagging presence that wouldn't go away!”
Nate smiled. “I love the way you put it, Marge”, he said.
“Well, I had that friend who talked about Jesus, and then I went to rent out a room of a woman who took in boarders. She had a strong faith, and she took me to church. I’ve never been to church in my life, and I just wanted to get her off my back for asking! But my heart slowly softened, for I never thought that I’d ever believe in God…and didn’t want to…ever!”
“Neither did I…after loosing Michaela”, Nate said. “I loved her so much." He began to cry and put his face in his hands.
Marge put her arm around him and said, “But I found out that I really needed God. I needed to forgive a lot of people—my mother and father, my aunt and uncle—especially myself because I felt so hateful all the time.”
Nate sobbed, “I feel hateful, too—and guilty. I don’t know if I’ll ever have faith again. It scares me to feel that way.”
Marge held him in her arms like he was her little child. “Oh, but you haven’t really lost it, Pastor. You see, I didn’t want to believe in God, either, because I felt He was against me. If God existed…well, than how come my parents were alcoholics? How come my uncle ***** me? How come I got pregnant and the baby died? Ended up by myself? How come…how come? I think we all can ask our share of questions in this world.”
“They are valid questions”, he admitted, tears still streaming down his face. “Frankly, many problems pale in comparison.”
Marge couldn't have disagreed more. "No, Nate..,pain is pain. Yours is just as valid as anyone else's. It just is just when it is an excuse to be bitter that is dangerous. And I used that as a reason for being bitter!” she said. “But the bitterness was killing me. Slowly, I was dying.”
"But you made it through. You're quite alive, Marge, quite alive... and quite amazing."
They lingered in conversation, for they both needed this to take place. After it was over, Nate went home, feeling like a dam of walled up emotions had been finally released. It was certainly a start. He called Veronica up and he managed to say, “Veronica…please forgive me. Let’s start again…our lives together…” before his voice broke and the tears poured out again.
“Of course”, she responded, her voice trembling. “I already have forgiven you because I’ve been waiting and praying for this moment to come.”