Sophie lived in an imposing stone house halfway up the winding hill on Third Street, one resembling a funeral home to passers-by. Mourning doves frequented the yard with their hauntingly beautiful “hoo … hoo-hoo” cries, and large sign in the front yard said “Liberty House” - features the neighbors thought only added to the image. In reality, the historic home had been converted into a halfway house for previously incarcerated women.
Some years before, Sophie had been found guilty in a court of law and sentenced to prison. Eventually she was released, but without a safe, supportive place to live. At Liberty House she was learning how to reenter society as a valuable, responsible citizen.
The housemother, Miss Rose, had once been imprisoned as well. Through participating in a recovery program, she submitted her life to the Lord Jesus, and now many years later eagerly led others out of their unique bondage into victory. She often quoted the Bible in the midst of everyday events, and especially emphasized her personal version of the Beatitudes(1).
“Blessed are the spiritually bankrupt with hearts broken because of their sin,” she chanted liturgically while flipping pancakes on a cast iron griddle one Saturday morning. “Blessed are those cleansed, compassionate ones who do God-like work by humbly submitting to God’s control, who willingly suffer because of doing right,” she added in a worshipful voice with closed eyes and an upturned face as her dough-encrusted spatula stirred the air for emphasis. “For theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Amen?” She turned abruptly to face Sophie and the other women as they set the breakfast table with plates and silverware, poured orange juice, and arranged tubs of butter and pitchers of syrup.
“Amen Miss Rose!” they chimed responsively as if on cue – almost, but not quite – in unison.
The women living at Liberty House respected Miss Rose, and liked the fact that she prioritized mercy as well as responsibility. She often quoted one Bible verse in particular: “’…because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved.’”(2) Then she would add, “Rich in mercy, girls. As poor and needy as we might be, He is RICH IN MERCY!”
One day when Sophie had been assigned to laundry duty, Miss Rose helped her fold bed sheets. “Sophie, God is mercy incarnate. Especially when we’re suffering, and when our dignity (and even our existence) is threatened, He becomes so very real: our Father who is rich in mercy.”
Sophie wasn’t sure how to respond. “Mercy incarnate? Rich in mercy?” She nodded as if in acknowledgement, but the words hung in midair without finding a place to land. “I know I’m spiritually bankrupt,” she finally said. “Broken-hearted. Sinful.” Her voice quaked. “But Miss Rose, I want to be submissive. Compassionate. Clean in my soul. Working for God.” She paused. “Even suffering for Him.”
Miss Rose smiled. “You’ve been meditating on the Beatitudes – good girl.” She cocked her head and gently patted the stack of white bed linens as if polishing the finishing touches on a snowman. “Your heart is soft toward God, Sophie. Whenever you feel without, just know He is there to fill the gaps. His storehouses of mercy are endless. We can trust Him implicitly.”
Sophie’s eyes glimmered with emotion. “It’s a match, isn’t it Mother Rose? For the One who is rich in mercy to love the spiritually bankrupt?”
A dove like the one carrying an olive branch after Noah’s flood cooed with soft lament outside the window from a spot beneath a towering pine tree. Perhaps it was a sign, Sophie thought, of hope. She would trust Him to complete the work He had begun in her.(3) She could not, and would not, doubt the riches of God’s grace.(4)
(1) Matthew 5:3-10
(2) Ephesians 2:4,5
(3) Philippians 1:6
(4) Ephesians 2:7
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